Battle Stations – War Picture Library


By Hugo Pratt & Don Avenell (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-752-7 (HB/Digital Edition)

Born in Rimini, Ugo Eugenio Prat, AKA Hugo Pratt (June 15th 1927 – August 20th 1995) was wandered the world in his early life, whilst becoming one of its paramount comics creators. His enthralling graphic inventions since Ace of Spades (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts in 1945) were many and varied. His signature character – based in large part on his own exotic formative years – is mercurial soldier (perhaps sailor is more accurate) of fortune Corto Maltese.

Pratt was a consummate story-teller with a unique voice and a stark graphic style that should not work, but so wonderfully does: combining pared-down, relentlessly modernistic narrative style with memorable characters, always complex whilst still bordering on the archetypical. By placing a modern, morally ambivalent anti-hero in a period where old world responsibilities should make him a scoundrel and villain, yet keeping him true to an utterly personal but iron-clad ethical integrity that goes beyond considerations of race, class or gender, he has created a yard-stick with which we cannot help but measure all heroes. As empires fade and colonies fall Corto Maltese deals with and is moved by people, not concepts or traditions. He is also a whimsical man of action and a faithful humanist with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. We’ll return to him another time…

After working in both Argentinean and – from 1959 – on English comics like top gun Battler Briton, plus combat stories for extremely popular digest novels in assorted series such as War Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library and others – Pratt returned to and settled in Italy and later France in the 1960s. In 1967 with Florenzo Ivaldi he produced a number of series for monthly comic Sgt. Kirk.

In addition to the Western lead star, he created pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, detective feature Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea). When it folded in 1970, Pratt took one of Una Ballata’s characters to French weekly, Pif Gadget before eventually settling in with legendary Belgian periodical Le Journal de Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career…

In Britain the ubiquitous delights of the mini-books also included Super Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library, Action Picture Library and Thriller Picture Library: uniformly half-sized, 64-page monochrome booklets with glossy soft-paper covers and presenting complete stories in 1-3 panels per page, with yarns that were regularly recycled and reformatted. The story featured here was printed twice – as War at Sea #34, June 1963 and in War Picture Library #1078, June 1975 – with the painted covers and fascinating, well-annotated features on art changes as inflicted on the tale with each iteration making a compelling fact-feature at the end. Rebellion boss Ben Smith even offers an informative Introduction to launch the whole affair…

During his sojourn in British comics Pratt crafted all unheralded a number of mini-masterpieces like this one. Rescued and suitably repackaged by Rebellion Studios in their Treasury of British Comics imprint, Battle Stations was written by national hero and unsung legend Donne Avenell, who began his own strips career before WWII in the editorial department of Amalgamated Press – which evolved into Fleetway and eventually IPC. Avenell’s starter was anthological household name Radio Fun.

Born in Croydon in 1925, he served with the Royal Navy during the war, before returning to publishing: editing an AP architectural magazine whilst pursuing writing for radio dramas and romances under a slew of pseudonyms. He returned to comics in the 1950s, with many contributions to childhood icons like War Picture Library and Lion, directing the sagas of The Spider, The Phantom Viking, Oddball Oates, Adam Eterno and more. He co-wrote major international features like Buffalo Bill, Helgonet (The Saint) and The Phantom for Swedish publisher Semic, and devised the strip Django and Angel whilst also toiling on assorted licensed Disney strips.

In 1975, with Norman Worker, he co-wrote Nigeria’s Powerman comic which helped launch the careers of Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. Avenell was equally at home on newspaper strips such as Axa (1978-1986, drawn by Enrique Romero), Tiffany Jones and Eartha (illustrated by John M. Burns). He also worked in television, writing series like The Saint and their subsequent novelisations. He died in 1996.

This story concerns just another small battle lost in the bigger war as three sailors on convoy escort duty in June 1942 endure the sinking of their anti-sub trawler off the coast of the USA. When the vessel they were guarding goes down too, their shipmates and the merchant marine survivors are all machined gunned in the water at the command of the German U-boat captain, and an implacable bond of undying hatred grips Stoker First Class Scully, Lieutenant Rayner and Leading Seaman Ford

Months later, rescued, recuperated and reassigned to Light Cruiser H.M.S. Vengeful, the trio are looking for payback and clearly suffering what we today know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when their ship again encounters the ruthless enemy. A savage battle then leaves all ships gone and sailors stuck in a drifting lifeboat. Scully, Rayner and Ford are still alive, but due to the exigencies of combat they’re lost in the Atlantic with an equal number of despised Germans in the lifeboat…

What happens next is powerful, shocking and not at all what you’d expect from a kid’s comic crafted to sell in the heyday of UK war films commemorating the conflict their parents lived through.

A powerful psychological thriller that beaks the rules of comics combat, Battle Stations is

subtly subversive, straightforwardly told and startlingly compelling, far from the bread & butter war stories that sustained British comics readers for decades; and few have ever looked so good doing it. If you’re a connoisseur of graphic thrills and dramatic tension, don’t miss these salty sagas.
© 1963, 2019 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All rights reserved.

History of the DC Universe (New Edition)


By Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-77952-139-2 (HB/Digital edition)

Over the past few years DC have spent a lot of time and effort rationalising and rectifying their multiversal shared continuity, which has been chopped about, excised, reinstalled, revived resurrected and tweaked over and over again since landmark saga Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Now with a revamped cinematic/TV universe unfolding the company’s editorial ranks have been happily returning prior landmarks to the greater whole and started to sensibly curate past glories, presumably because now the buying public are suitably au fait with wild ideas like parallel timelines and alternate realities…

History of the DC Universe is a fan’s book. The material it contains was originally an early 2-part prestige format miniseries designed to complement and complete the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover which celebrated 50 years of DC by trashing it all and starting afresh. The magic commences with candid Introduction ‘Printing the Legend…’ as author Wolfman grants behind-the-scenes access to how the monolithic task actually happened…

In HotDCU, The Monitor’s devoted assistant Harbinger chronicles the new run of cosmic history and universal events for the last remaining reality after the creation-altering events of the Crisis have finally settled. It was a smart and extremely pretty way of telling fans just what was and wasn’t canonical from now on: the “real and true” if you like, in the DC Universe.

It was ambitious, concise, informative, lovely to read and – creators being what they are -pretty much redundant almost before the ink had dried. As a tool it was useless, but as a tale it still looks and reads very well. As well as setting foundations for all future DC stories, it also linked all prior characters and possible futures, as well as incorporating stars from the company’s numerous genres star-stables into one vast story-scape. It even became source material for major crossover events to come…

The series was quickly collected into numerous editions – each with different bonus material – and this definitive edition gathers much of it into one bumper ‘Extras Gallery’ section incorporating the original covers, 15 pages of original art tableaus by George Pérez & Karl Kesel and Alex Ross’ un-liveried wraparound cover for the new edition.

The 1988 Graphitti Designs hardcover included a 3-page gatefold (later made into a poster and mural) crafted by 56 star artists. The list included Neal Adams, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Joe &Adam Kubert, Kurt Schaffenberger, Steve Lightle, Steve Bissette & John Totleben, Jack Kirby & Steve Rude, Ramona Fradon, Pérez & Frank Miller, and was augmented by a Julius Schwartz piece studded with a dozen pictures by more of DC’s finest artists. The fold-out features 53 of the company’s greatest characters from the first five decades, nestled behind new illustrations of Sugar & Spike by Sheldon Mayer and Space Ranger’s pal Cryll by Art Adams. All the component drawings of a signature character were signed and are reprinted here with the final poster in black-&-white and full colour. Thankfully art fans, it all comes with a priceless ‘Gatefold Directory’ of Who’s Who and by whom…

Pure comic book wonderment in a classy timeless package…
© 1986, 1987, 2021, 2023 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Pride of Baghdad


By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB) 978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB) 978-1-4012-4894-9 (Deluxe Edition)

It’s a stomach-turning truism that war is a political tool of many modern leaders. It would be beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion (or any other proxy war for blatant political gain of grudge-settling) but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad derived from that pocket conflict and at least offered a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of bloody history. Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde (2000) and Joe Kubert’s Fax from Sarajevo (1996) worked in a similar vein for the last Balkan conflict of the previous century. I wonder what will become the fictions and dramas of the catastrophes we’re not stopping now in Ukraine, parts of Africa and Gaza; and what effect – if any – they might have on future generations?

In Pride of Baghdad, author and screenwriter Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls, Saga, Lost) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combined the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell to reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions. These mighty innocent bystanders were unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and left to run loose in those deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts were scared, hungry, under constant attack but utterly convinced that everything would be great because now they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This inexplicably out-of-print book is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful tale with characters you will swiftly come to love and they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. It’s a story that’s happening again right now but with different victims…

The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy that results a confusing and wondrous experience: Vaughan’s script could make a stone – and perhaps even a right-wing politician – cry. In 2014 a deluxe edition was released containing a trove of developmental sketches, commentary and other materials.

The original comic story was derived from a random news item which told of escaped zoo lions roaming war-torn Baghdad streets, and throughout readers are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and governmental spin-doctors, and hopefully we can use those off-message opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, brutally sad story: a modern masterpiece showing why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types. Brace yourself for a wave of similar material from contemporary condemnatory cartoonists. It’s the very least that we can do.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7 (TPB)

Unbelievably, STILL not a Major Motion Picture, The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran wild there until #137 (May 1968). It skipped only three issues: #91, 93 & 126, the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla. Look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together most but not all of the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128, cumulatively spanning April/May 1960 to August 1966. Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or The Land That Time Forgot) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and surely many girls too, if truth be told – could dream of with giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes employing lots of guns and gear and explodey stuff…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature War comics, Horror stories, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Iron Man, Lois Lane, Steel Sterling, Batman and other genres and stars too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as The Flash to the superhero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original (Shazam!-fuelled) Captain Marvel. In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He scripted Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable female foes Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting superhero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, and in 1952 became writer/editor of the company’s combat titles All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War. He launched Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, cowboy Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, The Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces vs Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here. Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters initially appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably, the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island – from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is assaulted by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’ Each yarn is superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Larry and Charlie, sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attack their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass. ‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ takes up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as paratroopers versus pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ before ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island. The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy & Steve won fame as paratroopers. For #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escaping death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

In #101 ‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ ramp up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the primordial preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue: tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that dwarfs the dinosaurs. The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots encored in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement. ‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against pernicious, eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ sees a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ when the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft. ‘The Last Soldiers’ then pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debuts in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters. This time, though, there’s a giant gorilla on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried unit leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts locale to ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ revisits snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ sees a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, before a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace & Morgan’s barely-suppressed animosity, and ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until our leather-winged little guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan & Mace pop back with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur. They also make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy, before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’ Star Spangled War Stories #121 then presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains a Suicide Squad berth, proving to be a formidable fighter and ultimately ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw and much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to #122’s ‘The Divers of Death’ wherein two Frogman siblings battle incredible underwater insects but still can’t win the respect of their landlubber older brothers, and Gene Colan illustrated aquatic adventure ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’, before Andru & Esposito reenlisted to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124, and stuck around to illumine the return of G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ (#125), after which Andru & Esposito limned Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127. The last tale here (#128) sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Big Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before many more eons pass.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 4)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-320-7 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of art quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed. These strips soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this sublime oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of author ER Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – debuting in February 1937. Once the 4-month backlog of material he built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by precociously brilliant 25-year old Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This fantastic fourth tome begins with the spectacularly illustrated ‘Jusko on Hogarth: An Education in Form and Movement’ with the fantasy painter harking back to his childhood comics experiences and influences after which the astounding action/adventure epic recommences. At this time, Hogarth was sharing the scripting chores veteran collaborator Rob Thompson, having only recently returned to the feature after a dispute with the owners. He had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago, and then United Features to create comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

‘Tarzan and N’Ani’ (episodes #875-896, 14th December to 1948 – 9th May 1948) offers more raw drama as Tarzan visits old friend Pangola only to find the chief dead and his Wakamba warriors under the thumb of apparent spirit soldiers and their White Queen. A little spirited resistance and dedicated investigation by the Ape-Man soon reveals crooked circus performers exploiting and enslaving the natives, but before he can confront the villains they take his wife Jane hostage. N’Ani’s big mistake is thinking her captive is a weak and feeble civilised woman…

When the bad guys and their trained big cats are dealt with, the excitement briefly subsides, but all too soon the Jungle Lord is duped into boarding a scientist’s reconditioned atomic submarine and whisked away against his will to uncanny uncharted regions in year-long saga ‘Tarzan on the Island of Mua-Ao’ (pages #897-947 and running from 16th May 1948 to 1st May 1949). After some Nemo-like subsea escapades (the mad scientist not the cartoon fish) Tarzan and his unwelcome companions fetch up on a Polynesian (minor) lost continent only to be captured by the scientifically advanced but morally barbarous Lahtian people. This slave-owning totalitarian kingdom is ripe for revolution and after our hero – with worthy warriors Soros and Timaru – escapes a gladiatorial arena they go about arranging one. Of course, that necessitates traversing the savage jungle hinterlands, surviving its ubiquitous feline predators and making peace with the dominant Ornag-Rimba and Thalian tribes…

A little complication crops up when local witchdoctor Totama feels threatened and repeatedly seeks to assassinate Tarzan, but the Ape-Man counters every plot and foray in his own unstintingly decisive manner…

Eventually, Tarzan has his coalition in place and leads an unstoppable assault against the Lahtians which inevitably leads to regime-change and his return to Africa…

The titanic tome concludes in a macabre yarn and a radical overhaul of the strip. During ‘Tarzan and the Ononoes’ (#948-972) which ran from May 8th to 23rd October 1949, the venerated traditional full-page vertical format was controversially downgraded to episodes printed in landscape format, allowing a certain liberalisation of layouts but making pages seem cramped and claustrophobic…

Narratively, the tone is full-on fantasy as Tarzan swears to expiring explorer Philip Ransome that he will rescue his lost daughter from mysterious creatures holding her beyond the impassable Ashangola Mountains.

That mission brings him into conflict with Waloks – intelligent missing-link anthropoids – and their bitter enemies, a race of depraved monsters called Ononoes. These carnivorous horrors are giant heads with arms but no legs or torsos with a penchant for human sacrifice. Their next victim is to be an outworlder girl named Barbara Ransome

Grim, grotesque and genuinely scary, Tarzan’s struggle against the rotund terrors is a high point of the strip and anticipates even greater thrills in the forthcoming final collection.

To Be Concluded…

Tarzan is a fictive creation who has attained an immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips.

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Queen


By Jean-Marc Rochette, translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-19-5 (HB)

In conjunction with scripters such as Jacques Lob, Matz, Oliver Bocquet, Bejamin Legrand and others, painter/illustrator Jean-Marc Rochette (Altitude, Bestiaire des alpes, Les loup, Les Aventures Psychotiques de Napoléon et Bonaparte, Le Transperceneige/Snowpiercer sequence) rapidly became one of the key bande dessinée artists to watch.

In 2022 he confirmed that status and surmounted it with the release of La Dernière Reine: a self-contained naturalist epic which quickly garnered many major awards. It was named “Book of the Year” by Lire Magazine Littéraire and Elle Magazine, was radio station RTL’s Grand Prix for Comics winner and was an Official Selection of the lauded Angoulême Festival 2023.

As can be seen in this new translation from SelfMadeHero, even in English, it’s a bloody good read.

Rendered in moody colour washes and stark line, The Last Queen took Rochette three years to complete and explores all the passions of its creator: love of wilderness, scaling mountains, contemplative solitude and the balance between humanity and nature.

Those fascinations are expressed here in the millennial history and last gasp of a clan of red-headed outsiders living on the Vercors Massif of the French Prealps since neolithic times. Often regarded as witches, the ancestors of doomed outcast Édouard Roux have lived with and in the wilds throughout history. His kind enjoyed a particular affinity for the great bears that were indisputable masters of the range for all of time, until as a child he witnesses the end of the last mighty monarch of the peaks.

As the 19th century closed, a she-bear dubbed “the Last Queen” is killed by a shepherd and her carcass gloatingly desecrated by villagers. The other kids cruelly call little Édouard “son of the bear” and say vile things about his mother, but he’s used to it.

When war comes in 1914, Roux marches off and is a hero of the Somme trenches. All it costs is the lower part of his face…

In 1920, the despondent pensioned-off warrior is on his uppers: a despised, pitiable gueule cassée – “broken face” – shrouding his disfigurement and shame beneath a sack-like hood. He is but one of thousands…

When Roux hears of a woman artist who helps injured soldiers, he travels to Paris and meets Jeanne Sauvage who builds a new lower face for Roux based on the visage of a Greek god. Based on actual sculptor and proto-feminist Marie Marcelle Jane Poupelet, Sauvage has been making supple, lifelike masks for France’s defaced heroes and – refusing payment he cannot afford – does the same for Édouard.

Soon they are lovers and she introduces him to her circle of artist friends in Montmartre …more dangerously disruptive outsiders in a world increasingly governed by inconspicuous wealth, covert prestige and urbane uniformity: one that simultaneously tolerates, despises and exploits them all.

When the city life grinds them down and spits them out, Roux takes Jeanne to the mountains and shows her the secrets of the massif and a long-held family secret: stone age cave paintings and a neolithic carved bear lost from human knowledge for hundreds of years. The bounty of wonders inspire her great artistic breakthrough but Jeanne’s creative triumph is swindled from her by the elegant, cultured elite of modern civilisation. She and Édouard retreat from the emerging world for a timeless natural idyll that is paradise on Earth, but their days of true happiness are already numbered…

Uncompromising, deeply poignant and painfully sad, this is a saga of love and extinction: a testament to the passing of the past, with raw nobility lost to greed, crushing conformity and rise of mass mediocrity. It’s a struggle with no room for mercy or grace allowed for the unconventional or out-of-step. A paean to the fading call of the wild, uncomfortable or troublesome heritage, these lovers’ loss encapsulates and symbolises so many small wonders destroyed by progress, with revenants and outsiders pushed beyond even the few oases of fringe and margins not taken from them yet…

In a world that has no place for so much any longer, The Last Queen is a powerful call to cherish and preserve what can so easily die and never be regained…
La Dernière reine © Casterman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Tarzan versus The Nazis (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 3)


By Burne Hogarth with Don Garden & Rubén Moreira (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-319-1 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comic books) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The dramatic adventure serial as we know it started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. An explosion of similar fare followed, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Hal Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances. As detailed in previous volumes of this oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur which debuted in February 1937. Once the four-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year-old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose astounding anatomical acumen, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect…

This third titanic tome begins with the prolifically illustrated ‘Hogarth on Burroughs’: George T. McWhorter’s interview with the master draughtsman from 1982’s Edgar Rice Burroughs Quarterly volume 1 #1, after which the timeless adventure resumes. At this time Hogarth had assumed writing the strip too, with veteran collaborator Don Garden leaving to pursue other, more patriotic pursuits.

Running from 30th October 1943 – March 12th 1944 (episodes #660-679), ‘Tarzan Against Kandullah and the Nazis’ is an explosive procession of coiled-spring action and crushing suspense as the Ape-Man, incessantly crisscrossing fabled, unexplored Africa returns to the lands of the Boers. Here he discovers his old friends infiltrated by insidious Nazi deserters. The human monsters have seen the tide of history turn against them and instead of fighting on or surrendering are attempting to secure this desolate enclave from which they can rebuild a Fourth Reich to attack democracy again at some future date…

Their plan is to divide and conquer: fomenting strife between the indigenous Mogalla tribe and the isolationist Afrikaaners. After narrowly averting one blood-stained crisis, Tarzan swears to deliver a military packet for a dying Allied airman, undertaking a staggering trek across the hostile lands before anonymously completing his mission and heading back into the veldt. His travels next bring him into contention with a baroque and murderous slave-master in ‘Tarzan Against Don Macabre’ (#680-699, running from 19th March to 30th July). After rescuing beautiful captive Thaissa from his decadent clutches, the all-conquering Ape-Man decimates the Don’s menagerie of savage beasts – everything from a ravening bull to a giant octopus – and leads a slave revolt deep within his island citadel…

Once back on the mainland there was an extended return engagement for modern history’s most popular bad guys in ‘Tarzan Against the Nazis’ (#700-731, August 6th 1944-March 11th 1945). This clash began innocuously enough with the Jungle Lord saving albino ape Bulak from his own dark-pelted tribe, before being distracted by sadistic Arabian hunter Korojak. The vile stalker was trapping hundreds of animals for his master Emin-Nagra – and secretly mistreating his prizes for his own sick amusement – until Tarzan taught him the error of his ways. Sadly, it was not a lesson which stuck and before long both Bulak and Tarzan became part of the booty being transported to golden-domed city Bakhir

While the Ape-Man chafed in captivity as part of Emin-Nagra’s Circus, agents of Germany and Japan were negotiating for the oil under the cruel potentate’s pocket kingdom and quietly confident of a favourable deal, due to their column of storm troopers. However, when Tarzan faced a tidal wave of starved jungle beasts in the Circus, he turned them into his personal army to bring down the despot. Then he turned his merciless attention to the Nazis and their nearby new oil wells…

With the real-world war winding down, escapist fantasy became a larger part of the Sunday strip environment. ‘Tarzan Against the Gorm-Bongara Monster’ (#732-748, 18th March to July 8th) saw the nomadic Ape-Man encounter a lost tribe of pygmies in a primordial valley, battling against them before becoming their champion against a marauding, voracious dinosaur. His inevitable victory led directly into ‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part One’ (#749-768, July 15th – November 25th) wherein landless Prince Kurdu begged the Ape-Man’s assistance in overthrowing a usurper and saving his oppressed kingdom. The turbulent alliance offered privation, hardship, a quest for mystic relics and – for one of the heroes at least – the promise of true love. This romantic epic is divided into separate chapters because from December 2nd 1945 onwards, Hogarth was replaced as illustrator by Ruben Moreira, who finished the tale from his predecessor’s scripts.

‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part Two’ (pages #769-778) concluded with the February 3rd 1946) instalment, after which Don Garden returned to provide fresh material for Moreira. You won’t find that here…

Hogarth was in dispute with the feature’s owners and had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and thereafter United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

After his two-year hiatus, Hogarth bombastically returned to the Lord of the Jungle in 1947, midway through an ongoing story. For the sake of convenience, Garden & Moreira’s ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part One’ (#840-856, April 13th-3rd August 1947) is included here, setting the scene as sassy Texan heiress Dallas Doyle journeys to the home of Tarzan and his mate Jane, determined to recruit the famed adventurer in the search for her long-missing father. It takes a lot of persuading, but eventually Tarzan capitulates, due in no small part to the urgings of native mystic Maker of Ghosts

Following an old map of a diamond mine, the expedition proceeds slowly until sneak thief Dirk Mungo and a devious riverboat skipper steal it and frame Tarzan. Jailed by a corrupt police official, the Ape-Man abandons the niceties of civilisation and breaks out, following the villains with Dallas and golden lion Jad-Bal-Ja rushing to keep up. The trail takes them through all manner of incredible horror before culminating in an aeroplane dogfight. Shot down but surviving, the pursuers doggedly press on, until captured by pygmies who trade them to decadent priests…

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Two’ (#857-861, August 10th to 7th September 1947) sees Hogarth’s spectacular re-emergence, illustrating Garden’s script as the lost Doyle patriarch is finally found and rescued, just as the entire lost world he ruled succumbs to volcanic destruction. Hogarth then took sole control again for the concluding instalments.

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Three’ (#862-874, 14th September-7th December 1947) swiftly wrapped up the saga with the hero saving his companions but almost losing his own life in the process.

Wounded unto death, Tarzan is lost and expiring with rumours of his passing inciting various villains of the jungle lands to begin their raids and depredations again. However, saved by the tender ministrations of Manu the monkey and elephantine comrade Tantor, Tarzan soon storms back to restore his fair if heavy-handed peace…

To Be Continued…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and the other contributors spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor action over months of non-stop wonder and exoticism. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral responses, and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violently expressively explosive motion: stretching, running, jumping, fighting in a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to explore and enjoy.
Tarzan ® and Edgar Rice Burroughs ™ & © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2015. All text copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2015.

The Misadventures of Jane


By Norman Pett & J.H.G. “Don” Freeman & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-167-0 (HB)

For the longest time, Jane was arguably the most important and well-regarded comic strip in British, if not World, history. The feature panel debuted on December 5th 1932 as Jane’s Journal: or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing: a frothy, frivolous gag-a-day strip in The Daily Mirror, created by freelance cartoonist Norman Pett.

Originally a nonsensical comedic vehicle, it consisted of a series of panels with embedded cursive script to simulate a diary page. The feature switched to more formal strip frames and balloons in late 1938, when scripter Don Freeman came on board whilst Mirror Group supremo Harry Guy Bartholomew was looking to renovate the serial for a more adventure- and escape-hungry audience. It was also felt that a second continuity feature – like Freeman’s other strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred – would keep readers coming back: as if Jane’s inevitable – if usually unplanned – bouts of near-nudity wouldn’t…

Jane’s secret was skin. Even before war broke out there were torn skirts and lost blouses aplenty, but once the shooting started and Jane became a special operative of British Intelligence, her clothes came off with terrifying regularity and machine gun rapidity. She infamously went topless when the Blitz was at its worst.

Pett drew the strip with verve and style, imparting a uniquely English family feel: a joyous lewdness-free innocence and total lack of tawdriness. The illustrator worked from models and life, famously using first his wife, his secretary Betty Burton, and editorial assistant Doris Keay, but most famously actress and model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter – until May 1948 when Pett left for another newspaper and another clothing-challenged comic star…

From then his art assistant Michael Hubbard assumed full control of the feature (prior to that he had drawn backgrounds and mere male characters), and carried the series – increasingly a safe, flesh-free soap-opera and less a racy glamour strip – to its end on October 10th 1959.

This Titan Books collection added the saucy secret weapon to their arsenal of classic British comics and strips in 2009 and paid Jane the respect she deserved with a snappy black and white hardcover collection, augmented by colour inserts.

Following a fascinating and informative article from Canadian paper The Maple Leaf (which disseminated her exploits to returning ANZAC servicemen), Jane’s last two war stories (running from May 1944 to June 1945) are reprinted in their entirety, beginning with ‘N.A.A.F.I, Say Die!’, as the hapless but ever-so-effective intelligence agent is posted to a British Army base where someone’s wagging tongue is letting pre-D-Day secrets out. Naturally (very au naturally) only Jane and sidekick/best friend Dinah Tate can stop the rot…

This is promptly followed by ‘Behind the Front’ wherein Jane & Dinah invade the continent, tracking down spies, collaborators and boyfriends in Paris before joining an ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) concert party, and accidentally invading Germany just as the Russians arrive…

As you’d expect, the comedy stems from classic Music Hall fundamentals, with plenty of drama and action right out of the patriotic and comedy cinema of the day – but if you’ve ever seen Will Hay, Alistair Sim or Arthur Askey at their peak, you’ll know that’s no bad thing – and this bombastic book also contains loads of rare contemporaneous goodies to drool over.

Jane was so popular that there were three glamour style-books – called Jane’s Journal – for which Pett produced many full-colour pin-ups and paintings as well as general cheese-cake illustrations. From those lost gems, this tome includes ‘The Perfect Model’, a strip feature “revealing” how the artist first met his muse Chrystabel Leighton-Porter; ‘Caravanseraglio!’ – an 8-page strip starring Jane and erring, recurring boyfriend Georgie Porgie – plus 15 pages of the very best partially- and un-draped Jane pin-ups.

Jane’s war record is frankly astounding. As a morale booster she was reckoned to have been worth more than divisions of infantry, and her exploits were regularly cited in Parliament and discussed with complete seriousness by Eisenhower and Churchill. Legend has it that The Daily Mirror‘s Editor was among the few who knew the date of D-Day so as to co-ordinate her exploits and fullest exposures with the Normandy landings…

In 1944, on the day she went full frontal, American Service newspaper Roundup (distributed to US soldiers) went with the headline “JANE GIVES ALL” and subheading “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW”. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter toured as Jane in a services revue – she stripped for “the lads” – during the war and ultimately in 1949 starred in her own feature film The Adventures of Jane.

Although a product of simpler, far-less enlightened, indubitably more hazardous times, the naively charming, cosily thrilling, innocently saucy adventures of Jane, her patiently steadfast beau Georgie Porgie and especially her intrepid Dachshund Count Fritz Von Pumpernickel are incontestable landmarks of the art form, not simply for their impact but also for the plain and simple reason that they are superbly drawn and huge fun to read if you can suspend or hold in abeyance the truly gratuitous nudity.

Don’t waste the opportunity to keep such a historical icon in our lives. You should find this book, buy your friends this book, and most importantly, agitate to have her entire splendid run reprinted in more books like this one. Do your duty, citizens…
Jane © 2009 MGN Ltd/Mirrorpix. All Rights Reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/ Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even factually or fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented. Moreover, as we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity than simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (nee Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden (in the Dutch Netherlands) to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children raised in wealth… until her father lost it all. Margreet’s life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French firing squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and artfully remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted a stage name – Mata Hari (which means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) – and her gifts, drive and determination led to her becoming a successful courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an operative in the dangerous world of espionage.

After a chequered life during a volatile period when European society seemingly embraced and welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and rapidly convicted. Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari became and remains the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

However, in the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture. Among the most compelling was an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint: a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she strives and struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and great love for a Russian soldier that led to her downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. Packed with documentary photos, this contemplative fable carefully acknowledges all that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering even more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’, relating oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body plus an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potently beguiling, evocatively uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived moment in history any student of the past and lover of comics will adore.
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

Horizontal Collaboration


By Navie & Carole Maurel, translated by Margaret Morrison (Korero Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91274-001-7 (HB)

With its world-shaking reordering of society and all the consequent, still-felt repercussions World War II remains very much in people’s minds. This translated European tale is a potent counterpoint to the usual commemorative bombast, devoting much-delayed attention to the ever-dwindling last of “The Few”. Here, as well as the valiant men, we see acknowledgment of the nigh-universally disregarded contributions of women caught up in the conflict, not to mention unsung heroes of all nations who were drawn into the horror.

Horizontal Collaboration is not about heroes. It deals with people: civilians and fugitives, women and invading occupiers: the ones who are seldom celebrated but who also confronted the triumph of global darkness, all in their own small, unnoticed way…

France was taken by the Nazi war machine in 1940: occupied and partitioned on June 22nd, with the Germans holding the industrial north and central regions whilst Marshal Philippe Pétain’s puppet protectorate Régime de Vichy was allowed to govern the south and pacified colonies such as Algeria. When France was liberated in September 1944, a wave of retaliation began against those who “cooperated” with the conquerors in all ways great and small.

A sordid time of scores (real, imagined or fabricated) settled and cruel abuses arbitrarily inflicted on guilty and innocent alike plagued France for years afterwards. The most telling indignities were perpetrated upon women – wives, mothers, sisters or strangers – accused of fraternising with or giving comfort to the enemy. Such liaisons were called “Collaboration Horizontale” and even the most nebulous or unfounded accusation carried a heavy and immediate price…

Just about now, a grandmother listens to her granddaughter unload about her current amour and her mind drifts back to the war and a secret she has never shared with anyone…

In 1942, a large apartment house on Passage de la Bonne-Graine is filled with families, all dealing with the German conquerors in their own way. Despite the change in their fortunes, they have not found any way to overcome the petty grudges and ingrained social difficulties that have always kept them at odds with each other… even before war broke out.

Surly aged crone Madame Flament is rude to everyone. She spends all her time complaining or disappearing into the cellars to feed her cats. What secret is she really hiding?

Old Camille is deemed the man of the house, but he is gentle, ineffectual and blind: blithely letting life go on around him and apparently noticing nothing. His wife is the building’s concierge. Brusque matron Martine Andrae is a snooping busybody loudly championing decency and family values, but her home life is nothing to envy and her sharp tongue scores points off family, friends and foes indiscriminately. She despises the younger women and their families in the building, especially pretty Joséphine Borgeon who makes ends meet through her theatre act. Surely, everybody knows what she really does to survive?

Also viewed with suspicion is young mother Rose. Her husband Raymond has been taken away to work for the Nazis, so his friend and neighbour Leon – a gendarme – has been keeping a “friendly” eye on her, even though his own pregnant wife Judith keeps clumsily falling and hurting herself and certainly needs proper supervision…

Strangely boyish artist Simone keeps to herself as much as she can and – originally – there was also a Jewess called Sarah Ansburg and her little son. They somehow disappeared before the Germans could find them. That must be the reason Abwehr intelligence officer Mark Dinklebauer spends so much time in the building. It couldn’t possibly be that he has fallen in love with one of the occupants, or that this most forbidden of passions is dangerously, illegally reciprocated, can it?

Crafted with deft incisiveness by media writer and historian (Mademoiselle) Navie and rendered in a beguiling style (powerfully reminiscent of Will Eisner in his later years) by seasoned illustrator/author Carole Maurel (Luisa: Now & Then, Waves, L’apocalypse selon Magda), this is a meditative but uncompromising glance at ordinary lives under relentless pressure: an ensemble piece of human drama taking as its heart and centre point an unlikely flowering of true but doomed love…

Moving, beguiling and evocatively rewarding, Horizontal Collaboration is a beautiful tragedy and potent reminder that love takes no prisoners while enslaving all it touches.
© Editions Delcourt – 2017. All rights reserved.