Peach Slices


By Donna Barr (Aeon/Mu)
No ISBN:                    : 978-1-89225-325-5 (2006 Director’s Cut edition)

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of Erwin Rommel, the legendary German soldier universally hailed as “the Desert Fox”.

Set mostly in Africa during World War II, this priceless gem of a series effortlessly combines hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, with stories describing the dalliances and daily tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel. This younger sibling also served, albeit as an unwilling but dutiful cog in the iniquitous German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although in his own ways as formidable as his beloved brother, the caring, gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence. Thus, he spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and ever-so patient with and to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate all-encompassing conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th harbours the very worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact, the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace, but arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt.

This is a man (we’re at least assured of that!) of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This eccentric aggregation of extras, excerpts and exotica was first released in 1993, re-presenting extraneous material from a variety of sources and covering the period 1987-1993: as much an affectionate art-book as delicious dose of non- or mis-canonical hi-jinks.

The entire package was subsequently re-released in 2006 in a Director’s Cut edition which added issue #25’s WWI Transylvanian Hammer-Horror pastiche ‘Beautiful’ to the mix and includes reminiscences, background commentary and creator-kibitzing regarding all the esoteric tales and titbits.

The gloriously visual treat begins with an Unused Pin Design and a splendid Badge Design from the San Diego Comic-Con 1989 after which a quartet of stunning and bizarre Beer Labels (for ales created by micro brewer Wendell Joost in 1988) precedes ‘Peach on Earth’ from A Very Mu Christmas 1992 – one of the very best Christmas stories ever produced in the notoriously twee and sentimental comics field.

Set in the harsh December of 1945, it follows the demobbed and repatriated Pfirsich as he wanders through his broken and occupied homeland, avoiding trouble and American troops but not the gnawing starvation and freezing snows which would kill so many returning, defeated German soldiers. On the verge of despair and death the Peach is brusquely adopted by a strange, brittle and utterly fearless little boy who has only known the Fatherland in the throes of decline, but still looks eagerly to a brighter tomorrow…

This is followed by a rather risqué Rosen Kavalier pinup from Paper Phantasies (1991) and an unused strip originally commissioned by Rip Off Press after which ‘Whipping Boy’ offers a full-on adult escapade of the unconventional lovers as is ‘I Am What I Am… (I Think)’. This was a “Desert Peach Pitt Stop” that also languished unpublished until this collection preserved it.

Bits ‘n’ Pieces was a short-lived self-published magazine the indefatigable author used to disseminate assorted works which never made it into the regular, normal-length Desert Peach title.

‘The Veteran’ comes from the first issue in 1991, returning focus to the motley cast of the hapless 469th for a deliciously philosophical foray starring a most peculiar and innocent warrior named Thommi, whilst, following a frolicsome Desert Peach pinup from the 1989 Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special, ‘Hindsight’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991) dabbles into personal politics before ‘Reflections’ from #3 offers a few New Year’s observations on the cast and stars from Barr herself.

The 1991 San Diego Comic-Con booklet provided another beguiling Pinup before ‘Udo and the Phoenix’ (from Xenophon #1, 1992) relates another tale of the spirited Arab horse accidentally owned by Udo and cared for by the equally magnificent Pfirsich.

Next ‘Reluctant Affections’ (from Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991, before being redrawn as ‘Pigeonholed’ for Gay Comics #16) explores a tender, fragile moment and adorable chink in the macho armour of uber-Mensch Rosen…

‘The More Things Change’ from benefit book Choices in 1992 debates the abortion issue with characteristic abrasive aplomb after which ‘Sweet Delusions’ (Wimmin’s Comix #16 1991) gets down to the eye-watering nitty-gritty of Rosen & Pfirsich’s love life and ‘Wet Dream’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #3 1991) follows up with more of the same in a hilariously wry maritime moment.

Barr’s creations are never far from always internally consistent flights of extreme fantasy, as deliciously seen in glorious diversion ‘The Oasis’ (Centaurs Gatherum 1990) with Pfirsich and brother Erwin finding a militarily priceless waterhole with a fantastic secret and forced to spend a truly outrageous time trapped as hybrid half horses…

This captivating chronicle concludes with a selection of ‘Peach Pits’ miscellanea: illustrations, roughs and small press items culled from the Desert Peach Musical books, T-shirts and posters. There’s some fascinating rough layouts from the aforementioned ‘Peach on Earth’, an unused page from DP #17 (the superb ‘Culture Shock’ as seen in The Desert Peach: Marriage & Mayhem) and assorted stuff from Zine Zone #13, 1992. Even more extras comprise covers from Germanophilic Amateur Press Association magazine ‘Krauts’ and shirt designs before the whole outrageous affair ends well with an implausibly “true tail” starring half-horse Stinz Löwhard, Pfirsich and Erwin in a ‘Character Revolt’ from 1987’s Fan’toons 19.

Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging: bizarre (anti) war stories which rank amongst the very best comics of the 1990s. Even now they still pack a shattering comedic kick and – if you’re not quite braced – poignantly emotional charge.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continued as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs as well as grown-up comics in general.

All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have any facility with the digital world they can still be found. You might want to start with these addresses: http://www.donnabarr.com or http://thedesertpeach.com and if you just have to own your own Peach product http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach offers a huge double collection that also comes as economical loadable files and The Desert Peach (plus Stinz and Bosom Enemies) are all re-printed with colour extras at http://www.Indyplanet.com at marvellously economical rates.

So you should do all that, Macho Schnell, before the month is out!
© 1987-1993 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Superman: The War Years 1938-1945


By Roy Thomas, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster with Don Cameron, Mort Weisinger, Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, John Sikela, Sam Citron, Ira Yarbrough, George Roussos, Stan Kaye & various (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3282-9

The creation of Superman and his unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form. Within three years of his debut in the summer of 1938, the intoxicating mix of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early exploits of the Man of Tomorrow had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy: all deep and abiding issues for the American public at that time.

However, once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors and the Man of Steel was again in the vanguard.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world and had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was a popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

Thankfully, the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster informed and infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

Superman was definitely every kid’s hero, and the raw, untutored yet captivating episodes reprinted here were also been completely embraced by the wider public, as comicbooks became a vital tonic for the troops and all the ones they had left behind…

I sometimes think – like many others of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the appropriated (but now offensive) contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.

This superb hardcover archive has been curated by comicbook pioneer Roy Thomas, exclusively honing in on the euphoric output of the war years, even though in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

A past master of WWII era material, Thomas opens this tome with a scene-setting Introduction and prefaces each chapter division with an essay offering tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: The Road to War

Following the cover to Action Comics #1, the first Superman story begins.

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have in later years been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 and 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the electric chair and delivering rough justice to a wife-beater, the tireless crusader works over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving suave and feisty colleague Lois Lane from abduction and worse, since she was attempting to vamp the thug at the time!

The mysterious Man of Steel made a big impression on her by then outing a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment ‘Revolution in San Monte’ sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly shutting down the hostilities already in progress…

Maintaining the combat theme, the cover of Action Comics #10 (March 1939) follows and the cover and first two pages of Superman #1 (Summer 1939): and expanded 2-page origin describing the alien foundling’s escape from Krypton, his childhood with unnamed Earthling foster parents and eventual journey to the big city.

A back-cover ad for the Superman of American club and the October 1939 Action Comics #17 cover precedes Fall 1939’s Superman #2 cover and rousing yarn ‘Superman Champions Universal Peace!’, depicting the dynamic wonder man once more thwarting unscrupulous munitions manufacturers by crushing a gang who had stolen the world’s deadliest poison gas weapon…

After another concise history lesson Part 2: War Comes to Europe re-presents a stunning outreach article. Look Magazine commissioned a legendary special feature by the original creators for their 27th February 1943 issue. ‘How Superman Would End the War’ is a glorious piece of wish-fulfilment which still delights, as the Man of Tomorrow arrested and dragged budding belligerents Hitler and Stalin to a League of Nations court in Geneva.

Accompanied by the March 1940 cover, Action Comics #22 and #23 then declared ‘Europe at War’: a tense and thinly disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA, and a continued story – almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing. Here Lois and Clark’s fact-finding mission (by Siegel, Shuster and inker Paul Cassidy) spectacularly escalated, and after astounding carnage revealed a scientist named Luthor to be behind the international conflict…

The anti-aircraft cover for Superman #7 (November/December 1940) and an ad for the Superman Radio Program precede Siegal, & Wayne Boring & Don Komisarow’s ‘The Sinister Sagdorf’ (Superman #8 January/February 1941). This topical thriller spotlights enemy agents infiltrating American infrastructure whilst ‘The Dukalia Spy Ring’ (Superman #10 May/June 1941) references the 1936 Olympics and sees the Action Ace trounce thinly-veiled Nazis at an international sports festival and expose vicious foreign propaganda: themes regarded as fanciful suspense and paranoia as America was still at this time still officially neutral in the “European War.”

Behind Fred Ray’s Armed services cover for Superman #12 (September/October 1941, ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ (Siegel, Shuster & Leo Nowak) finds Lois and Clark at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all after which a Fred Ray gallery of covers – Action Comics #43 (December 1941), Superman #13 (November/December 1941), Action Comics #44 (January 1942) and Superman #14 (January/February 1942) – closes the chapter.

All of these were prepared long before December 7th changed the face and nature of the conflict…

After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor everything changed and Part 3: America Goes to War reflects the move to a war footing, beginning with the infamous Siegel & Boring ‘Superman Daily Strips’ from January/February 1942, wherein an overeager Clark Kent tries too hard to enlist and only succeeds in getting himself declared 4F (unfit to fight)…

Timeless Ray patriotic masterpieces from Superman #17 (July/August 1942) and Superman #18 (September/October 1942) precede a stirring yarn from the latter. ‘The Conquest of a City’ (Siegel & John Sikela) sees Nazi agents use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

The other great patriotic cover master was Hardin “Jack” Burnley and a quartet of his very best follow – Action Comics #54 (November 1942), Action Comics #55 (December 1942), World’s Finest Comics #8 (Winter 1942 and with Batman and Robin thrown in for good measure) and Superman #20 (January/February 1943).

That last also provides ‘Destroyers from the Depths’ wherein Hitler himself orders dastardly Herr Fange to unleash an armada of marine monstrosities on Allied shipping and coastal towns. Of course, they prove no match for the mighty Man of Steel,

After Burnley’s Action Comics #58 cover (March 1943), Siegel, Ed Dobrotka & Sikela detail the saga of ‘X-Alloy’ from Superman #21 (March/April 1943) as a secret army of Nazi infiltrators and fifth columnists steal American industrial secrets and would have conquered the nation from within if not for the ever-vigilant Man of Steel…

Sikela’s cover Action Comics #59 (April 1943) concludes this section as Part 4: In for the Duration discusses the long, hard struggle to crush the Axis. By the time of the tales here the intense apprehension of the early war years had been replaced with eager anticipation as tyranny’s forces were being rolled back on every Front….

Following Burnley’s May 1943 Action Comics #60 cover, Superman #22 May/June 1943 provides Siegel & Sam Citron’s ‘Meet the Squiffles’: a light-hearted yet barbed flight of whimsy wherein Adolf Hitler is approached by the king of a scurrilous band of pixies who offer to sabotage all of America’s mighty weapons. Neither nefarious rogue had factored Superman – or patriotic US gremlins – into their schemes though…

Action Comics #62 (July 1943) and Superman #22 (July/August 1943) are two of Burnley’s very best covers, with the latter fronting an astounding masterpiece of graphic polemic. Don Cameron scripts and Citron illustrates ‘America’s Secret Weapon!’: a rousing paean to American military might as Clark and Lois report on cadet manoeuvres and the Man of Steel becomes an inspiration to the demoralised troops in training…

Covers by Burnley for Action Comics #63 (August 1943) and Superman #24 (September/October 1943) – which latter provides ‘Suicide Voyage’ – follow. This exuberant yarn by Cameron, Dobrotka & George Roussos finds Clark (and pesky stowaway Lois) visiting the Arctic as part of a mission to rescue downed American aviators. Of course, nobody is expecting a secret invasion by combined Nazi and Japanese forces, but Superman and a patriotic polar bear are grateful for the resultant bracing exercise…

‘The Man Superman Refused to Help’ comes from Superman #25 (November/December 1943) and follows Burnley and Stan Kaye’s cover for Action Comics #66 (November 1943). It is a far more considered and thoughtful tale from Siegel, Ira Yarbrough & Roussos exposing the American Nazi Party – dubbed the “101% Americanism Society” – whilst offering a rousing tale of social injustice as an American war hero is wrongly implicated in the fascists’ scheme… until the Man of Steel investigates.

Next up and from the same issue is much reprinted and deservedly lauded patriotic classic.

‘I Sustain the Wings!’ by Mort Weisinger & Fred Ray was created in conjunction with the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command under Major General Walter R. Weaver and designed to boost enlistment in the maintenance services of the military.

In this stirring tale Clark Kent attends a Technical Training Command school as part of the Daily Planet’s attempt to address a shortfall in vital services recruitment – a genuine problem at this time in our real world – but the creators still find and space for our hero to delightfully play cupid to a love-struck kid who really wants to be a hot shot pilot and not a mere “grease monkey”…

Wayne Boring & Roussos’ cover for Superman #26 (January/February 1944) precedes Boring’s ‘Superman Sunday Strips #220-227’ for January – March 1944 with the Metropolis Marvel heading to multiple theatres of War to deliver letters from loved ones on the Home Front after which Roussos’ ‘Public Service Announcement’ (from Superman #28, May 1944) urges everybody to donate waste paper.

July/August 1944’s Wayne Boring cover for Superman #29 find’s Lois greeting the USA’s real Supermen – servicemen all – before Action Comics #76 (September 1944 and Kaye over Boring leads to anonymously-scripted ‘The Rubber Band’ from World’s Finest Comics #15 (Fall 1944).

Illustrated by Sikela & Nowak and concentrating on domestic problems, it details the exploits of a gang of black market tyre thieves who are given a patriotic “heads-up” after Superman dumps their boss on the Pacific front line where US soldiers are fighting and dying for all Americans…

Drawn by Boring, ‘Superman Sunday Strips #280-282’ from March 1945 then rubbish and belittle the last vestiges of the Third Reich as Hitler and his inner circle desperately try to convince the Action Ace to defect to the side that is comprised of Supermen like them…

In Superman #34 (May/June 1945) Cameron, Citron & Roussos attempt to repeat the magic formula of ‘I Sustain the Wings’ with ‘The United States Navy!’ as Clark is despatched to follow three college football heroes whilst they progress – in different maritime specialisations – through the hellish war in the Pacific…

This enthralling sally through Superman’s martial endeavours conclude with one final Thomas-authored article as Part 5: Atoms for Peace? Reveals who the fruits of the top-secret Manhattan Project changed everything…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly situated in these gloriously luxurious Archive Editions; a worthy, long-lasting vehicle for the greatest and most influential comics stories the art form has ever produced. These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Jerry Grandenetti, Joe Kubert, Jack Abel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-2

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 and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Flash, Batman and others genres too numerous to mention here.

He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age introducing Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-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 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. Whilst writing Flash and Hawkman, he created Black Canary and, decades later, debuted another memorable female lead in Lady Cop, as well as many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn.

This last torrid noir temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, the ever-resourceful writer/editor shifted over to westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning battle-portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while providing scripts for Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected in this stunning and economical monochrome war-journal.

This terrific first monochrome tome re-presents the early blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins as depicted in G.I. Combat #87-119 (April/May 1961- August/September 1966) and also includes guest-star missions from The Brave and the Bold #52 (February/March 1964) and Our Army at War #155 (June 1965).

The eerie action begins with ‘Introducing – the Haunted Tank’, illustrated by the sublime Russ Heath. In this introductory tale the now-adult pals are all assigned to the same M-3 Stuart Light Tank, named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a strategic wizard of cavalry combat. During a patrol the underdog neophytes somehow destroy an enemy Panzer even though they are all knocked unconscious in the process…

Narrated by Jeb as he mans the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remain inside) the tanker recounts how a ghostly voice seems to offer advice and prescient, if veiled, warnings. These statements and their midget war machine soon draw the jibes of fellow soldiers who drive bigger, tougher war machines…

Eventually the little tank proves its worth and Jeb wonders if he imagined it all due to shock and his injuries, but in #88 ‘Haunted Tank vs. the Ghost Tank’, Jeb is actually seeing and conversing with his phantom namesake as he and the boys solve the utterly rational mystery of an enemy battle-wagon which seems to disappear at will.

‘Tank with Wings’ in G.I. Combat #89 was illustrated by Irv Novick and describes how old General Stuart’s impossible prophecy comes chillingly true after the M-3 shoots down a fighter plane whilst hanging from a parachute, after which Heath returned to limn a brutal and staggering clash against German ‘Tank Raiders’ who steal the Americans’ haunted home on treads.

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted his sanity, but ever since he began to see the spirit soldier Stuart Smith had somehow become a tactical genius. His “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible, impossible odds.

In #91’s ‘The Tank and the Turtle’ a chance encounter with a plucky terrapin leads to brutal clashes with strafing aircraft, hidden anti-tank guns and a booby-trapped village whilst ‘The Tank of Doom’ (illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti) sees the snowbound tank-jockeys witnessing true heroism and learning that flesh, not steel, wins wars…

In #93 Heath depicted a ‘No-Return Mission’ which depleted American tank forces until the Ghostly General took a spectral hand to guide his mortal protégé through a veritable barrage of traps and ambushes, after which ‘The Haunted Tank vs. the Killer Tank’ seeks to widen the General’s role as the phantom protector agonises over intel he is forbidden to share with his Earthly namesake during a combined Allied push to locate a Nazi terror-weapon.

This time it’s the young sergeant who has to provide his own answers…

The rest of the crew are near breaking point and ready to hand Jeb over to the medics in #95’s ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank’, but when Slim assumes command he too begins to see and hear the General amidst the blistering heat of battle…

In ‘The Lonesome Tank’ Jeb is back in the hot-seat and scoffing at other tank commanders’ reliance on lucky talismans, until the General seemingly abandons him and he is pushed to the brink of desperation, after which G.I. Combat #97’s ‘The Decoy Tank’ proves that a brave man makes his own luck after a Nazi infiltrator takes the entire crew hostage.

‘Trap of Dragon’s Teeth’ allows the Ghostly Guardian to teach Jeb a useful lesson in trusting one’s own senses over weapons and machinery in combat, and issue #99 greets the legendary Joe Kubert who opens a stint on the series in the book-length thriller ‘Battle of the Thirsty Tanks’, with the Stuart labouring under desert conditions which reduce both German and American forces to thirsty wrecks as they struggled to capture a tantalising oasis.

The crew reveal that their fathers had all been tank jockeys in WWI who had disappeared in action when ‘Return of the Ghost Tank’ in #100 finds the lads back in Europe. Shock follows shock as they realise their sires had all been part of the same crew and credibility is further stretched when the M-3 begins to retrace and re-enact the last mission of their missing fathers…

Any doubts about whether the General is real or imagined are finally laid to rest in #101’s ‘The Haunted Tank vs. Attila’s Battle Tiger’ (illustrated by Jack Abel), as the evil spirit of the barbarian becomes patron to a German Panzer and opens a campaign to destroy both the living and dead Jeb Stuarts, after which Kubert returned for ‘Battle Window’; a moving tale of old soldiers wherein a broken-down nonagenarian French warrior is given one final chance to serve his country as the American tank blithely trundles into a perfect ambush…

A particularly arcane prognostication in #103 drives Jeb crazy until ‘Rabbit Punch for a Tiger’ shows him how improvisation can work like magic in a host of hostile situations, whilst ‘Blind Man’s Radar’ helps the crew complete a dead man’s mission after picking up the sightless sole survivor of an Allied attack…

In the mid-1960s before the Batman TV show led to rampant “Bat-mania”, The Brave and the Bold was a comicbook featuring team-ups of assorted DC stars.

Issue #52 (February/March 1964) grouped Tankman Stuart with Sgt. Rock and Lt. Cloud as the 3 Battle Stars in ‘Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!’ (Kanigher & Kubert). In this superb thriller the armoured cavalry, infantry and Air Force heroes join forces to escort and safeguard a vital Allied agent who had been sealed into a cruel and all-encompassing iron suit.

Fast-paced, action-packed and utterly outrageous, the perilous chase across occupied France produced one of the best battle blockbusters of the era.

Back in G.I. Combat #105 the ‘Time-Bomb Tank!’ starts seconds after the B&B yarn as the Haunted Tank receives intel that Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company are under attack. As they dash to the rescue, however, circumstances soon cause the M-3 to become a mobile Marie Celeste…

The ‘Two-Sided War’ finds Jeb promoted to Lieutenant and suffering apparent hallucinations where he and his crew are trapped in the Civil War, after which #107’s ‘The Ghost Pipers!’ details how the tankers aid the last survivor of a Scottish battalion in an attack that actually spans two wars, before the armoured cavalrymen again team up with Rock in ‘The Wounded Won’t Wait’. As Rick, Arch and Slim are injured, the Easy Co. topkick rides shotgun on the brutal return trip back to base…

Issue #109’s ‘Battle of the Tank Graveyard’ downplays the supernatural overtones in a more straightforward clash deep within a deadly mountain pass whilst ‘Choose Your War’ has the Confederate General chafing at his role assisting “Union” cavalry… until circumstances again seem to place the modern soldiers in a historical setting and the two Jeb Stuarts work out their differences.

For #111’s ‘Death Trap’ the uncanny crew again work with Easy Company – in the desert this time since continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher – but when the M-3 is captured by the enemy, Jeb and the boys endure a bloody taste of infantry fighting before taking it back.

‘No Stripes for Me’ is actually a Sgt. Rock adventure from Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) with the Haunted Tank in close support as a battle-hungry General’s son continually refuses the commendations and promotions his valiant actions deserve, no matter what the cost to men or morale around him…

Rock and Jeb stayed together for G.I. Combat #112’s struggle against the Luftwaffe ‘Ghost Ace!’ who is Attila the Hun’s latest mortal avatar: a blistering supernatural shocker that once more forces the Phantom General to take a spectral hand in the battle against evil, after which ‘Tank Fight in Death Town!’ sees the war following the M-3 crew back into a much-needed leave.

Luckily Rock and Easy Co. are around to provide vigorous fire-support…

After nearly four years in the saddle, scripter Kanigher decided to revamp the backstory of the crew and issue #114 (October/November 1965) featured the Russ Heath illustrated ‘Battle Origin of the Haunted Tank’ with the General revealing that he had been assigned to watch over the M-3’s boys by Alexander the Great.

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsor mortal combatants but Stuart had refused to pick anybody and was stuck looking after “Damned Yankees”. Happily, the courage and mettle of the boys under fire had changed many of his opinions after watching their first battle in the deserts of North Africa…

Heath also drew the team-up in #115 wherein Jeb is reunited with Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud as ‘Medal for Mayhem’ pits both spiritually-sponsored warriors against overwhelming odds and forced to trade places in the air and on the ground. (Cloud regularly encountered a cirrus-mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his fighter missions…)

Novick then illustrated a sequel when Cloud and Stuart help proud Greek soldier Leonidas fulfil his final mission in the stirring ‘Battle Cry of a Dead Man!’

‘Tank in the Icebox’ in #117 is another Heath martial masterpiece wherein a baffling mystery is solved and a weapon that turns the desert into a frozen hell is destroyed before Novick assumes the controls for the last two tales in this volume, beginning with ‘My Buddy… My Enemy’ wherein a bigoted Slim learns tragically too late that not all Japanese soldiers are monsters and #119 again asks difficult questions when Jeb and the crew must escort an American deserter to his execution, with German forces attempting to kill them all before they got there in ‘Target for a Firing Squad!’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath, Kubert and Grandenetti, many of them further enhanced through the stunning tonal values added by DC’s brilliant chief of production Jack Adler.

These spectacular tales cover the Haunted Tank through the blazing gung-ho early years to a time when America began to question the very nature and necessity of war (Vietnam was just beginning to really hurt the home front in 1966) and combat comics started addressing the issues in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

The stories here combine spooky chills with combat thrills but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank amongst the very best war stories ever produced. This is a series long overdue for a modern archival and digital renaissance.
© 1961-1966, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

Team-ups are a valuable standby of comics, and war stories have always thrived by mixing strange bedfellows together. None more so than this splendid composite: another woefully neglected series in today’s modern print/digital graphic novels marketplace.

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82.

The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel, DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The March to Death – Drawings by John Olday


By John Olday, edited by Donald Rooum (Freedom Press)
ISBN: 978-0900384806

We tend to remember World War II as a battle of opposites, of united fronts and ubiquitous evil; of Us and Them. In these increasingly polarised days where any disagreement or demurring opinion on any issue is treated as heresy punishable by death or flogging, it’s valuable and comforting to be reminded that even under the most calamitous conditions and clearest of threats, dissent is part of the human psyche and our most valuable birthright.

The March to Death was an unashamed political tract, a collection of anti-war cartoons and tellingly appropriate quotations first published in 1943 by Freedom Press, the Anarchist publishing organisation.

Comics strips and especially cartoons are an astonishingly powerful tool for education as well as entertainment and the images rendered by German emigré John Olday (neé Arthur William Oldag) were, are and remain blistering attacks on the World Order of all nations that had led humanity so inexorably to a second global conflagration in less than a generation.

He drew most of the images whilst serving in the British Royal Pioneer Corps before deserting in 1943. For that he was imprisoned until 1946.

The accompanying text for this edition was selected by his colleague and artistic collaborator Marie Louise Berneri, a French Anarchist thinker who moved to Britain in 1937.

Still readily available, the 1995 edition has a wonderfully informative foreword by cartoonist, letterer, and deceptively affable deep thinker Donald Rooum which paints the time and the tone for the young and less politically informed. This is a work that all serious advocates of the graphic image as more than a vehicle for bubble gum should know of and champion.

Makes you Think, right. Hopefully it will make you act, too.
© 1943, 1995 Freedom Press.

Enemy Ace: War in Heaven


By Garth Ennis, Chris Weston, Christian Alamy & Russ Heath, with Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-982-9

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in issue #151 of DC’s flagship war comic Our Army at War (cover-dated February 1965): home of the already legendary Sergeant Rock. Produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert during a period when the ongoing Vietnam conflict was beginning to tear American society apart, the series told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans Von Hammer: a noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the increasingly industrialised business of mass-killing.

The sagas – loosely based on the life of “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen – were a magnificent tribute to the profession of soldiering whilst condemning the madness of war, produced during those turbulent days of foreign conflicts and intense home front unrest. They are still moving and powerful beyond belief, as is George Pratt’s seminal 1989 sequel, Enemy Ace: War Idyll.

In 2001, Garth Ennis – no stranger to combat fiction – took another look at the flyer on the other side in a 2-issue miniseries that extended his martial longevity by transplanting him to World War II and a far less defensible ethical position…

Bavaria, 1942 and forty-six-year-old Baron Hans von Hammer is visited by an old flying comrade who desperately urges him to come out of retirement and serve his country. No lover of Nazism, the old ace has kept himself isolated until now, but Germany’s attack on Russia has proven a disastrous blunder, and this last plea is as much warning as request…

The neophyte pilots on the Eastern Front need his experience and leadership, whereas Hitler’s goons and zealots don’t need much excuse to remove a dissident thorn…

Based loosely on the lives of such German pilots as Adolf Galland, book I of War in Heaven (illustrated by Chris Weston) finds von Hammer as indomitable as ever in the Eastern killer skies but unable to come to terms with the increasing horror and stupidity of the conflict and its instigators.

The phrase “My Country, Right or Wrong” leaves an increasingly sour taste in his mouth as the last of his nation’s young men die above Soviet fields…

Book II is set in 1945 and witnesses Germany on the brink of defeat with von Hammer flying an experimental early jet fighter (a Messerschmitt 262, if you’re interested); shooting down not nearly enough Allied bombers to make a difference and still annoying the wrong people at Nazi High Command.

He knows the war is over but his sense of duty and personal honour won’t let him quit. He is resigned to die in the bloody skies that have been his second home, but then he is shot down and parachutes into a concentration camp named Dachau…

With art from comics legend Russ Heath, this stirring tale ends with a triumph of integrity over patriotism: a perfect end to the war record of a true soldier.

This slim paperback volume (still findable, despite being incomprehensibly out of print and unavailable digitally) is supplemented by a classic anti-war tale of WWI by Kanigher & Kubert, taken from Star-Spangled War Stories #139.

‘Death Whispers… Death Screams!’ explores the Enemy Ace’s childhood and noble lineage as he endures the daily atrocities of being one of the world’s last warrior knights in a mechanised, conveyor-belt conflict. Just another day above the trenches but never away from them…

Here is another gripping, compelling, deeply incisive exploration of war, its repercussions, both good and bad, and the effects that combat has on singular men. This should be mandatory reading for every child who wants to be a soldier…
© 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 9: El Padre


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-286-7

Les Tuniques Bleues began in 1968; an occasional comedy western strip created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The feature was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic lone gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to comic rival Pilote.

His rapidly-rendered replacements swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée stars on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement – Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte – gradually moved towards an edgier, more realistic (although still broadly comedic) illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and studied Lithography before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: amassing more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags centred about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War.

That origin was discarded and rewritten a decade later, finally and canonically describing how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war as seen in previous volume Auld Lang Blue. All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Les Tuniques Bleues: El Padre was first seen on the continent in 1980, serialised in Spirou #2192-2202. Originally the 17th Euro-compilation, it comprises Cinebook’s 9th compellingly charming Bluecoats translated album of 60 thus far released in French…

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, feigning death and even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other, easier, option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; an apparently ideal career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like an old married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

It opens on the Rio Grande as our heroes are pursued by a determined party of Confederate troops. The pair have stumbled upon critical military information and the Greycoats are resolved they will not get back to their own lines…

With no other options, Chesterfield and Blutch cross into Mexico, painfully aware what might happen if they are captured by the nation’s own army, or – worse yet – its rampaging bandits…

With the Rebs posted all along the US riverbank, the lads have no choice but to head inland and eventually – with Blutch whining all the way – are forced to make camp. It’s actually a ploy to distract the vigilant Southern soldiery, but instead draws the attention of a roaming band of Indian renegades, forcing the Bluecoats even further south and into the clothing of a murdered monk and peon they discover near an abandoned mule cart.

Dreading the prospect of Mexican prison, the lads seek another river crossing but are quickly captured by Apache outlaw Jacomino before being saved by an even more deadly murdering cutthroat…

Sadistic but (sort of) devout bandito El Señor Diaz urgently needs a priest. He has subjugated a local village for his own nefarious purposes, but the Peones are refusing his demands for food and tribute until their new overlord replaces their recently murdered holy father…

The obviously-Americano Padre will have to do and with the help of the villagers – who aren’t fooled for a moment by the feisty, two-fisted cleric in a badly-fitting, blood-stained robe – Chesterfield goes about his secular and temporal duties.

Father Chesterfield’s plan is to keep the peons safe until he can get back to the war, despite the constant harassment of Jacomino’s monk-hating band, but events cascade out of control once he learns that Diaz has a hidden treasure that will earn him vast wealth and a constant supply of weapons and ammunition from the Bluecoat Army…

A little dutiful prying by Blutch exposes the horrific secret: the prize is Emily Appleton, daughter of his commanding colonel and the blithely unaware object of the bluff sergeant’s unrequited affection…

With no other option, the enraged soldier resolves that he and Blutch will steal her back and make a break for the border. As usual the plan almost works but before too long both Diaz and Jacomino are in hot in pursuit even as the confederates await at the river’s edge for the fugitives.

If there was ever a moment for a last-minute cavalry rescue this would be it…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting. Nevertheless, the scope for light-hearted, hot-blooded adventure is always high and this wild ride is also is heavy on comedy too: a fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable yarn to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1981 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee & Dick Ayers, with George Roussos, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta, Chic Stone, Carl Hubbell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2928-8 (HB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963, one of three teams concocted by men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as a publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when espionage shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the 007 film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies. However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids spending money) and quickly moved on leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues and Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974). The title then carried on until its ultimate demise in December 1981 with #167.

Following an enticing and revelatory reminiscence from Ayers in his Introduction, this second hardback and eBook compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #14-23 and the first Annual (collectively spanning January to October 1965) opening with a Lee scripted, George Roussos/Bell inked milestone as harassed Adolf Hitler decrees the creation of a Nazi answer to Fury’s elite attack force.

All ‘The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!’ had to do was lure the Howlers to a V2 rocket base and spring their trap… Yeah, that was all…

Regular supplemental feature Weapons of War then provides all the gen on the ‘B-26 Martin Marauder’ to inform and entertain in equal amounts.

Steve Ditko stepped in to ink Ayers in issue #15 as ‘Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die’ related an ill-fated mission in Holland to destroy the dykes and flood the occupation forces. The job soon goes drastically wrong and the Howlers “flee” back to Britain with nothing but a broken-hearted boy named Hans Rooten – who had no idea that his despised quisling father was in fact the Allies’ top spy in the region…

The boy is adopted as the Howlers’ plucky mascot but can’t accompany them when the squad is despatched to Africa in #16 to eradicate yet more Nazi super-weapons in ‘A Fortress in the Desert Stands!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia using the pseudonym Frankie Ray). From there it’s only a short camel-ride south until the ragtag rovers encounter spear-wielding natives and nasty Nazis engaged in a battle of Hearts & Minds ‘While the Jungle Sleeps!’ (by Lee, Ayers & Vince Colletta).

All this time the chalk-and-cheese romantic relationship between Nick and English aristocrat Lady Pamela Hawley had been developing to the point where the Yankee lout was ready to propose. That all ends in #18 when, whilst the unit is busy sinking a German battleship in a Norwegian port, she is ‘Killed in Action!’ (Chic Stone inks).

Crushed and crazy, Fury goes AWOL in the next issue, remorselessly hunting down the leader of the bomber flight which had targeted the hospital she worked in before extracting ‘An Eye for an Eye!’ in a satisfyingly shocking Stan Lee story sensitively rendered by Ayers & Giacoia. The Howlers go along for the ride, but whether to help their leader or hold him back is debatable…

A far grimmer Fury is still in the mood for cathartic carnage in #20, so when ‘The Blitz Squad Strikes!’ features the German Kommandos invading a Scottish castle filled with imprisoned Nazi airmen, he and the Howlers are more than delighted to lead the sortie to retake it.

In the next issue the long-running rivalry with First Attack Squad; Baker Company again results in frantic fisticuffs before being interrupted by another last-ditch rescue mission in Czechoslovakia ‘To Free a Hostage!’ (inked by Golden Age legend Carl Hubbell, as was the next issue).

However, even after Allied scientist and captive daughter are reunited, the bubbling beef with B Company doesn’t diminish and when both units are subsequently sent to sabotage the oil refinery at Ploesti the defending forces capture everybody. However, after the gloating Nazis try making Fury and his opposite number to kill each they quickly learn ‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Bull McGiveney!’ and even Strucker’s Blitz Squad can’t contain the devastating destruction that follows…

The final WWII exploit contained herein is the Giacoia-inked saga of ‘The Man Who Failed!’, wherein a rescue jaunt to Burma to save nuns and orphans results in shameful revelations from English Howler Percy Pinkerton’s past: simultaneously supplying close insight into why our True Brit upper lips are so stiff…

This combat compendium then concludes with the 15-page lead story from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos King Size Annual #1 (1965) as the post-war Howlers are called up and mustered to the 38th Parallel to defend democracy from Communist aggression. This particular escapade sees them rescuing former Commanding Officer Colonel Sam Sawyer and results in Fury winning a battlefield ‘Commission in Korea!’ to at last become a Lieutenant in a rousing romp by Lee, Ayers & Giacoia. Also extracted from that that might special are pictorial features ‘A Re-introduction to the Howlers’; ‘A Birds Eye View of HQ, Able Company – Fury’s Base in Britain’; ‘Plane’s-Eye View of Base Tactical Area, Sub-Pen, Dock and Air-Strip!’ and ‘Combat Arm and Hand Signals’ before a 2-page house ad feature for the hero’s super-spy iteration as ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ wraps everything up in Marvel’s military fashion.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre.

Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1965, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Buz Sawyer: The War in the Pacific


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-362-0 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public – and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924 Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip that evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane crafted pages of stunning, addictive quality yarn-spinning whilst his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929 led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually impressive of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (as seen in Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1).

Almost improving minute by minute Crane’s imagination and his fabulous visual masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comics creators like Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The work was obviously as much fun to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les turner in 1937 was the NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated – although the compelling text features in this book dedicated to his second masterpiece reveal a few more commercial and professional reasons for the jump from the small and provincial syndicate to the monolithic King Features outfit.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy page, concentrating on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features to create the World War II aviation strip Buz Sawyer; lured away by the grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result is 75 years old this year and still one of the freshest and most engaging comics strips of all time…

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but comedic Lothario and Easy a surly tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a happy amalgam of the two: a plain and simple, good-looking popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him.

After the gripping and informative text feature ‘Crane’s Great Gamble’ by Jeet Heer, the strip explodes into action on Christmas Eve 1942, as new Essex Class Aircraft Carrier USS Tippecanoe steams for the Pacific Theatre of Operation carrying 100 fighter-bombers and an extremely keen pair of cartoon paladins.

Buz Sawyer is a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot and his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney a bluff, simple ordinary guy – as well as one of the best comedy foils ever created.

The strip is a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing whilst staying alive.

Like contemporaries Bill Mauldin and Milton Caniff, Crane was acutely aware that all his readers had someone involved in the action and therefore felt he had a duty to inform and enlighten as well as entertain. Spectacular as the adventure was, the truly magical moments focus on the off-duty camaraderie and candid personal interactions that pepper the daily drama.

This beautiful archival hardback covers the entire war years of the strip from November 1st 1943 to October 5th 1945, wherein the great artist perfected his masterly skill with Craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones which Crane employed to add miraculous depths and moods to his superb drawing) and opens with the lovable lads shot down whilst tackling a Japanese carrier.

Marooned, their life raft washes up on a desolate desert island where they’re hunted by enemy troops and discover a marooned German farmer and his beautiful daughter. At first hostile, lovely fräulein April soon succumbs to Buz’s boyish charm. Helping Buz and Roscoe escape, the trio only make it as far as the next islet where fellow pilot and friendly rival Chili Harrison has also been stranded since his plane went down.

Eventually rescued, the Navy fliers return to “the Tip” for training on new planes (Curtiss SB2C Helldivers; in case you were wondering) in preparation for the push to Japan. Amidst spectacular action sequences shipboard life goes on, but during a raid on an occupied island Buz and Sweeney are once more shot down. In the middle of a fire-fight they effect repairs and head back to the Tippecanoe, but not without cost. Rosco has been hit…

Sawyer’s exemplary exploits haven’t gone unnoticed and, whilst Sweeney is recovering from wounds, the hero is selected for a secret mission deep into enemy territory; ferrying an intelligence agent to a meeting with enigmatic underground leader the Cobra.

It all goes tragically wrong and the American agent is captured. With the enemy hunting high and low for the pilot, Buz then falls back on his most infuriating ability: falling into the willing laps of beautiful women…

‘Sultry’ is a gorgeous collaborator high in the favour of the occupying Japanese, but she too finds the corn-fed aviator irresistible. Of course, it might simply be that she’s also Cobra…

This extended epic is a brilliant, breathtaking romp blending action, suspense, love and tragedy into a compelling thriller that carries Buz all the way to December 1944.

As a result of his trials, the hero is sent back to America on a 30-day leave – enabling Crane to reveal some enticing background and invoke all the passions, joys and heartbreaks of the Home Front.

Buz doesn’t want to go but orders are orders, so to make things a little more bearable he takes the still-recuperating Sweeney with him. It isn’t that the young flier despises his origins – indeed, his civilian life is a purely idyllic American Dream – it’s simply that he wants to get the job done against the enemy. Nevertheless, with a warrior’s grace under pressure, he resigns himself to peace and enjoyment whilst his comrades soldier on. If he knew the foe he would face in his little hometown, Buz would probably have gone AWOL…

Crane’s inspirational use of the War at Home was a masterstroke: it’s not a world of spies and insidious Bundists, but just an appetising little burg filled with home-comforts and proud people: the kind of place soldiers were fighting to preserve and a powerful tool in the morale-builder’s arsenal. It’s also a place of completely different dangers…

Buz is the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that egalitarian environment the kid was the sweetheart of the richest girl in town, and when Tot Winter’s upstart nouveau riche parents hear of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turn it into a self-serving publicity carnival.

Moreover, ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspires with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage. Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing are enemies Buz and Sweeney are ill-equipped to fight, but luckily that annoying tomboy-brat Christy Jameson has blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman. She’s scrubs up real pretty too…

After a staggeringly smart and compelling soap opera sequence that would do Eastenders or Coronation Street proud, Buz ends up (accidentally) engaged to Tot after all. Mercifully the leave ends and he and Sweeney must return to the war… but even then they are disappointed to discover that they won’t immediately be fighting again.

Posted to Monterey, California, they are to be retrained for new planes and a new squadron, reuniting with rowdy rival Chili Harrison: but Mrs Winter is determined to have a war hero in the clan and pursues them with Tot in tow, determined to get Buz married before he returns to the Pacific.

Insights into another aspect of the military experience (Crane had almost unfettered access, consultation privileges and the grateful willing cooperation of the US Navy) are revealed to readers as the whiz-kid is suddenly back in school again – and usually in the dog-house because of his hot-dogging.

Dramatic tension divides evenly between Buz’s apparent inability to be a team-player and the increasingly insistent and insidious ploys of Mrs. Winter.

Moreover, the squadron’s training commander has an uncanny ability to predict which pilots will die in training or combat and Buz’s name is high on that list…

At last the training concludes and – miraculously alive and unmarried – Buz and Sweeney ship out back to the Pacific and the relatively easy task of ending the war. Part of a massive fleet mopping up the island fortresses en route to Tokyo, they are soon flying combat missions and before long, shot down once more. This time they are taken prisoner aboard an enemy submarine…

After another incredible escape and rousing triumph, the war ends, but Crane actually ratcheted up the tension by covering the period of American consolidation and occupation as Buz and Sweeney await demobilisation. Whilst posted to a medical facility in Melatonga, the boys and Chili encounter a woman from Buz’s chequered past they had all believed long dead…

When their discharge papers finally arrive (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle ends. However, with such a popular and pivotal strip as Buz Sawyer that only means that the era of Globe-Girdling adventure is about to begin…

This superb monochrome hardback also contains a selection of Sunday strips in full colour. The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either dailies or Sunday strips, not both) meant that many strip creators would produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb: using the Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created a prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met; with Buz Sawyer he turned over the Sabbath slot to Rosco Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on laughs and situation comedy.

Set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship it was a far more family-oriented feature and probably far more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically and sophisticated saga that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

Also included here – and spanning November 28th 1943 to 25th February 1945 in delicious full-page fold outs – are fifteen of the best (many with appearances by Buz): a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully one day materialise as an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the grand masters of our art-form.

This initial collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s second magnum opus – spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate adventures that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer: War in the Pacific ranks as one the greatest strip sequences ever created: thrilling, rousing, funny and moving yarn-spinning that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible.
Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Kabul Disco Book 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Mark Bence & Fabrice Sapolsky (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-868-6

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Fallacious – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a superb case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts. It is also the initial release of trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ new Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

This fabulous monochrome travel memoir is the debut episode in a sequence by French writer/artist Nicholas Wild and details his globe-trotting quest for employment: a worthy endeavour which took the wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005.

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters and our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals or adversaries or opponents or even those who disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas…

‘Part One: A Winter in Kabul’ follows the culture-shocked scribbler as he arduously transitions to a country in the throes of enforced reconstruction and modernisation, joining the somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO Zendagui Media as they work to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Wild’s proposed task is to help define the fancy notion of democracy for the still-largely illiterate populace through comicbook versions of Afghanistan’s new Constitution…

The artist’s early difficulties in adjusting to the primitive conditions and superb gift for wry commentary then afford the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple as Wild succinctly unpicks Afghanistan’s convoluted history through the 20th century via a cartoon political primer that brilliantly defines how the place got to be such a corrupt mess. I certainly wish I’d had more comics like this when I studied modern history…

Days pass and Nicholas settles in, toiling against impossible deadlines, conversely feeling locked in or anxiously exposed whenever he goes exploring; always aware that in this place foreigners go missing every day…

Although the security situation remains tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing in the stunning Bamiyan Valley…

All too soon the job is done and Wild is afraid he’s going to be let go…

‘Part Two: No Spring in Kabul’ finds Wild on April 1st 2005, happy to be retained, albeit on a 3-month contract as a graphic designer for Zendagui’s new project. The brief is to supply materials for a US military-sponsored push to recruit native Afghanis for the new National Army. The thought of crafting military propaganda is not a comforting or comfortable one…

Spiced with further insights about his improbable and unpredictable bosses and new eating experiences, the real kicker is meeting new recruit Laurie White: a political communications expert who worked with the 2000 Bush Election Campaign…

Trips to the University of Herat and enjoyable days amidst the villagers soon cement the visitor’s sense of belonging but that all takes a hard knock as the political situation intensifies and overconfidence leads to Wild getting lost in old Kabul…

When a fresh kidnapping results in a full lockdown for Zendagui staff, Laurie teasingly reveals the true story of Bush’s “victory” in Florida but once the panic subsides it’s back to work. Even though Al Qaeda and the Taliban are ramping up their activities, Nick is sent to the far end of the Jalalabad Road to observe the filming of a recruitment ad even as Laurie is despatched to consult on the new voting form for a nation of more than two dozen different tribes and sects who don’t speak the same language and can’t read…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home again…

But is it for good?

Although rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco also provides a stunning, full colour ‘Bonus Section’ comprising candid personal photographs of Wild’s stay, plus extensive examples of Yassin & Kaka Raouf: the 10-volume educational comicbook he illustrated to explain the new Constitution for the newly democratised country.

Captivating, warm, funny, scarily informative and unobtrusively polemical, Kabul Disco is a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature. I can’t wait for the second volume scheduled for later this year – although I’m just going to have to.

Moreover, the quality of this book augers exceedingly well for Life Drawn’s other imminent releases (Vietnamese Memories: Leaving Saigon by Clément Baloup; Louisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel &‎ Mariko Tamaki; Madame Cat by Nancy Peña): a barrage of personal stories certain to challenge any comics fan’s definition of fantastic fiction and true-life drama.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 1: Comment je ne me suis pas fait kidnapper en Afghanistan, © 2007 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.