The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0 (HB/Digital edition)

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist regime still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994.

As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips featuring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and – with Juan Miguel Aguilera – devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

Roca’s earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history: El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 (his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali) and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro. These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles – adapted into equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie Arrugas.

More wonderful stuff you’ll want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday newspaper strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from Las Provincias and El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and grasp of human nature, Roca makes animated films and hosts his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime, elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – celebrating the solace of imagination, which recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

Spain: as the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and this wounded youngster has no intention of being interned… or worse. After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and, after passing out, finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, Francisco finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The elder’s good humour is infectious and gradually infects even battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days, the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually, sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and starts sharing Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting and is supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, production art and sketches – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and a perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

Bluecoats volume 12: The David


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-849184-30-4 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

From its first sallies, the substitute strip swiftly became hugely popular: one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe. In case you were wondering, it is now scribed by Jose-Luis Munuera and the BeKa writing partnership…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and after his sudden death in 1972, successor Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually adopted a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin was also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy – and began a glittering, prolific writing career at Le Journal de Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence. Cauvin passed away on August 19 2021 but his vast legacy of laughter remains.

Here, our long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen defending America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume – Du Nord au Sud – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil War. 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.

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

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a proud career soldier of the 22nd Cavalry who passionately believes in the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and hungers to be a medal-wearing hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in… a situation that stretches their friendship to breaking point in this deceptively edgy instalment.

The David is the 12th translated Cinebook volume and 19th sequential European release. As Les Tuniques Bleues: Le David it was originally serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #2265-2275 before collection as another mega-selling album in 1982, with C.H.A.B. & Philippe Francart credited for additional research.

The comedic drama is another based on – but broadly extrapolating upon – actual historical events, specifically the deployment of the CSS David: an early success in the development of submarine warfare. Built in 1863 by businessman T. Stoney in Charleston, South Carolina, it was a 4-man, steam-powered submersible torpedo boat used by the Confederate States Navy to challenge the Union’s shipping blockade. David was largely unsuccessful and one of many different protypes built to challenge the North’s “Ironclads”, with its last recorded action occurring on April 18, 1864. As is usually the case, legend far exceeds factual truth, but that’s no bad thing here as the unlikely warriors undertake one of their most dangerous ventures…

Off the Carolina coast, a Union warship spots a blockade-runner trying to reach port with desperately-needed supplies. As the warship confidently closes in, the steamer sends a signal to shore, and within minutes disaster strikes…

Days later, in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln and the War Cabinet argue the impossibility of fighting an invisible enemy. With the almost-accomplished siege of attrition endangered, the President orders the mystery solved and neutralised at any cost…

Meanwhile inland, Blutch has had enough of the bloodbath battle tactics of utterly deranged, apparently invulnerable maniac Captain Stark. That glory-addicted cavalry charger has caused the deaths of more Union soldiers than the enemy ever could. Thus, at the end of his tether, the little man has downed tools. Refusing to ride again directly into Confederate guns – apparently 11 times in one day is his limit – he has gone on strike. This leads to detention in a stockade where he happily awaits execution by firing squad. At least, at last, his worries will be over…

Nothing loyal Chesterfield can do will change his mind, but when the time comes, typical army inefficiency keeps Blutch impatiently hanging on. In the meantime, the Generals receive orders to send two spies into Charleston to discover the secret of the invisible ship-killer. Knowing no regular soldiers are crazy enough to volunteer, they ask Gung Ho Chesterfield, and offer his inseparable little pal a full discharge from the army if he goes with him. The wily “Brass” are confident neither pest will return…

It’s not quite a done deal or easily achieved, but eventually the pair roll up in Charleston, disguised as wounded soldiers proudly wearing their grey uniforms. Blutch is feigning blindness whilst Chesterfield sits comfortably in a chair with wheels and directs… as usual!

As well as providing plenty of slapstick moments for us, the disguise works well for them and their calamitous progress through the enemy port is painful but largely unimpeded. One very public accident dumps them onto a German-flagged steamer unloading provisions, where – over a little schnapps – the Captain volubly discloses that the South have a diabolical machine ensuring his safe arrivals and departures…

Almost immediately after, Chesterfield and Blutch join crowds rushing towards the seafront to see it in action, and witness the deadly power of the secret weapon sinking another Union ship. When their imposture as veterans fails to get them inside the shipyard housing the devil boat, they resort to cruder methods, ultimately discovering the secret of The David – but only at the cost of their liberty.

Indomitable and utterly dedicated to preserving their own skins, the Odd Couple soon escape, and after failing spectacularly to destroy the weapon, flee desperately for their own lines, frantically pursued by the Confederate army. A sublime chase sequence across swathes of enemy territory proves their wiliness and when the spies are finally recaptured, it’s by their own side and the last person they ever wanted to see again…

With their information changing the shape of the war, Blutch and Chesterfield can only wait for their eagerly anticipated rewards (the big man was promised promotion to Lieutenant if he survived) but there’s a double sting in store as ponderous military procedure glacially expedites their cases…

Combining searing satire with stunning slapstick, this yarn delivers a hugely gratifying poke at the blood-&-glory boys of history. Deftly delivering its anti-war message to younger, less world-weary audiences, The David weds fact to fiction while delivering an uncompromising portrayal of state-sanctioned mass-violence and government’s callous disregard for individual citizens.

These stories weaponise humour, making occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting. Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story and Western to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1982 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2019 Cinebook Ltd.

Black Knight volume 1


By Kai Tsurugi (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59816-522-7 (TPB)

So, it’s Pride Month and not all comics are about genocide or racial slaughter. Here’s a lost gem long overdue for another run in the sun – or at least a new English language revival on paper or in digital form…

Japan’s vast comics industry is formally sub-divided into discrete categories to avoid dithering and confusion. This is a fine historical example of a Yaoi story – a romanticised fantasy relationship drama starring beautiful young men in love. The genre was devised for female audiences: like Shounen-Ai (stories of two young men, but with more erotic content) although very mild – to the point of chaste gentility – by that standard.

As Kuro no Kishi, the serial first appeared from August 2003-October 2005 in Magazine Be x Boy, before filling 4 subsequent tankōbon tomes. These were translated via TokyoPop’s Blu Manga imprint and released between July 2006 and February 2009. There’s no English language digital editions that I know of, but the physical copies are still readily available.

This lyrical, sexually explicit fantasy opens by introducing wayward hero Zeke O’Brien: a trainee mercenary of lower class origins who rises to the rank of Black Knight by saving the life of a lovely young Prince targeted for assassination by the hidden enemies of the King of Aran.

When the royal neophyte is assigned to train as a Black Knight, Zeke thwarts every attempt to murder the elfin Prince Chris, but falls hopelessly in love with his charge. He is delighted to discover the feeling is mutual and furtively, frequently, passionately reciprocated. However, the King’s enemies are many and the trials for the young lovers are only just beginning in this splendidly Ruritanian Romance of intrigue and melodrama.

Lavish, ostentatious, beautifully illustrated and inoffensively charming, this initial volume carries an additional, modern tale of boy-on-boy romance that might upset some readers, but not for obvious reasons.

‘Deadly Sin’ tells of the intimate (and naturally, graphically explicit) affair between a young priest (a son of IRA terrorists who subsequently murdered the SAS killers of his parents) and an athlete/poet he meets on holiday. Despite being well written and drawn, this type of material is bound to offend devoutly Christian, sectarian and/or conservative sorts (note the small ‘c’) so if you are the type hanging around waiting to be outraged, please save us all some grief and don’t read it.
© 2003 Kai Tsurugi. English text © 2006 BLU Inc. All rights reserved.

The Boxer – the True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft


By Reinhardt Kleist; translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-906838-77-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

In 2011 he again turned to boxing for inspiration, adapting a Holocaust biography written by the son of a survivor of the death camps. Hertzko/Herschel “Harry” Haft might be regarded amongst the more noteworthy of those benighted souls: a ruthlessly determined individual who overcame every iteration of horror and privation, using his fists and low cunning.

His life was first recounted in 2006 by his son Alan Scott Haft in prose biography Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, and as well as the graphic novel under review here, you can absorb the tale in filmic form in Barry Levinson’s movie adaptation The Survivor.

Delivered in stark monochrome, Kleist’s compelling and uncompromising interpretation opens with the protagonist a humble grocer in America, trying to relate to his young son. Harry is a hard man to relate to, but in a moment of contrition he promises to one day share with his boy what made him that way.

Alan waited another forty years to hear the truth and turned it into a narrative for everyone…

The story proper opens in 1939, in the Polish town of Belchatow. Since the Germans came, the Jewish Haft family have become smugglers, and 14-year old Hertzko thinks himself invincible.

His father had sold fruit and veg but found it increasingly difficult to support a wife and eight children. When he died, the family splintered and only Hertzko and brothers Aria and Peretz stayed with their mother. When the invasion took hold, their illicit activities made them all targets, but amidst daily outrages, he found opportunity for love and was betrothed to Leah Pablanski, daughter of the receiver of all the contraband he shifted across the Nazis’ new borders…

When Hertzko was transported to his first labour camp, seeing Leah again one day was the dream that kept him going. Barely literate but strong and determined he had a gift for being useful and, despite toiling in the most horrific circumstances and being present for every atrocity of the regime, he endured – especially after his smuggling experience made him an essential tool of one particular guard officer who was methodically enriching himself at the prisoners’ expense…

Moved from camp to camp as a slave labourer, Hertzko eventually arrived in Jaworzno camp and was reunited with his brother Peretz. Here his sponsor found him less egregious duties. All he had to do was fight other prisoners in Sunday exhibition matches for the officers. Haft had never boxed before, but would do anything for better conditions and what passed for “guaranteed” survival. What he did there remained with him for the rest of his life…

Despite his resilience and adaptability, Haft always found himself at the mercy of superior and more ruthless forces. As the Allies slowly pushed the Nazis back on all fronts, he was left to the “death marches” the SS instigated to empty the camps and hide evidence of their industrialised slaughter factories. Over and again, Haft dodged certain death and committed more sins until finally captured by American troops. Soon his underworld experience was being exploited by the GIs as Hertzko ran a bordello for the soldiers. When Peretz resurfaced, Haft finally had time and enough money to go looking for Leah. That trail led ultimately to America.

While in US-occupied Straubing, Haft had won a boxing competition organised by the Army, and was – after further machinations – allowed to emigrate in 1946. He was 23 years old…

The second half of Haft’s life began in the New World. He still wanted Leah and decided fame would be the key. The fight game in America was popular but increasingly under the control of organized crime. Nevertheless, Haft – now calling himself “Hershel” and “Harry” – pursued his chosen path with relentless zeal.

Overcoming every administrative obstacle, he found a manager, learned how to actually box rather than fight and kept on winning.

The equation was simple. Leah was here somewhere. If he could get his picture in the papers or newsreels or even on this new television thing, she would see him and get in touch. Sadly, it only brought him to the attention of mobsters. After his moment of glory fighting Rocky Marciano in 1949, Haft learned how his chosen world really worked…

Walking away, he married a neighbour’s daughter in November and opened a grocery store in Brooklyn. In 1963 the family took a trip to Florida and young son Alan helped locate a woman named Leah Lieberman…

Please be warned: The Boxer is not just a testament of atrocity or celebration of the human spirit under the most appalling conditions. It’s also a real world love story where the always-inevitable ultimate reunion does not follow the rules of romantic fiction or bring about a happy ending.

Kleist’s graphic tour de force is supplemented by a stunning gallery of sketches and working drawings, and backed up with a picture-packed essay from sports journalist Martin Krauss.

‘Boxing in concentration camps – a report’ details the long-neglected topic of Nazi sports exhibitions in work and death camps and relates it to Haft’s later professional career in America, including a chilling sidebar on ‘US boxing and the Mafia’. Also on the bill are biographies of other ‘Forgotten champions’ of the camps: Victor “Young” Perez; Noach Klieger; Leendert “Leen” Josua Sanders; Leone “Lelletto” Efrati; Salamo Arouch; Jacko Razon; Johann “Rukelie” Trollman; Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski and Francesco “Kid Francis” Buonagurio.

Potent, powerful, moving and memorable, this is a quest tale well told and one not easily forgotten.
© Text and illustrations 2012 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. © Appendix 2012 Martin Krauß and CARLSEN Verlag. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

Bootblack 


By Mikaël, translated by Matt Maden (NBM) 
ISBN: 978-1-68112-296-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-297-7 

Certain eras and locales perennially resonate with both entertainment consumers and story creators. The Wild West, Victorian London, the trenches of the Somme, and so many more quasi-mythological locales instantly evoke images of drama, tension and tales begging to be told. In these modern times of doom and privation, one of the most evocative is Depression-era America… specifically the Big City… 

Perhaps because it feels so tantalizingly within reach of living memory, or thanks to its cachet as the purported land of promises and untapped opportunity, America has always fascinated storytellers – especially comics-creators – from the “Old World” of Europe. This inclination has delivered many potent and rewarding stories, none more so than this continentally-published yarn by multi-disciplinary, multi award-winning French-born, Québécois auteur and autodidact Mikaël (Giant; Junior l’Aventurier; Rapa Nui, Promise)  

Published in Europe by Dargaud in 2018, Bootblack originated as twin albums before being released as a brace of English-language digital tomes courtesy of Europe Comics. It now manifests as an oversized (229 x 305mm), resoundingly resilient hardback edition that gets the entire story done-in-one. 

We open in Germany in 1945 where a weary G.I. pauses on a corpse-covered, crow-ridden battlefield to reflect on how he got there. Once upon a time, his given name was Alternberg: after the German village his family fled to America from. One day in 1929 – even before his tenth birthday – the boy rejected that name and his family; running away from his New York City ghetto hours before tragedy erased it, making him forever an orphan of the streets. 

As “Al”, he grifted and grafted with other homeless kids, mostly making money by shining shoes. His best pal was James “Shiny” Rasmussen and he adored from afar shopkeeper’s daughter Maggie. That ambitious, self-educated go-getter had no time for him, but her mute little brother William – whom everyone else called Buster – was readily accepted by the street kids who eked out a precarious living. 

Their scavenging for every cent was punctuated by clashes with rival kid gangs whose members had grown up as peewee versions of their nostalgically nationalistic, backward-looking elders. Al’s guys considered themselves True Americans, with no ties to some former “old country” that had no time or place for them…  

Al’s life changed again in 1935 when charismatic boy-pickpocket Joseph “Finger Joe” Bazilsky moved into the district. Soon after, Al became Al Chrysler and shoeshine shenanigans grew into errands – and worse – for local hood/entrepreneur Frankie… 

Throughout those years, Al pursued Maggie, gradually wearing her down and building a rapport with his constant promises of a dream trip to Coney Island. However, just when he got close enough to learn what made her tick, another clash with the “German” bootblack kids caused the death of someone they all loved.  

Al and Maggie never really had a chance, not with her home life and Joe always somehow in the way at the most inopportune moments… 

Ultimately, the increasingly hostile situation escalated into crisis, inevitably drawing every player into a tragic confrontation prompting more bad decisions and wrong choices, leading to betrayal and a destiny-drenched denouement in a field that could never have been Al’s homeland… 

Told in a clever sequence of overlapping flashbacks – like Christopher Nolan’s Memento – everything about this stylish Depression-era drama is big, powerfully mythic and tragically foredoomed in a truly Shakespearean manner. Packed with period detail and skilfully tapping into the abundance of powerful, socially-aware novels, plays and movies which immortalised pre-WWII America, this collection also includes a gallery of stunning art tableaus at the back of the book.  

Bootblack is moving, memorable and momentous, another triumph of graphic narrative you must not miss. 
© 2019, 2020 Dargaud-Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – Mikaël.    

Boot Black is scheduled for UK release May 19th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. 
Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com.

The Bluecoats volume 11: Cossack Circus


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-383-3 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

Ever since its first sallies, the substitute strip swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe… and in case you were wondering, the stellar series is now scribed by Jose-Luis Munuera and the BeKa writing partnership…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually adopted more realistic – but still overtly comedic – tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence.

Our long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen defending America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume – Du Nord au Sud – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil War. 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.

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

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who passionately believes in the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and hungers to be a medal-wearing hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in… a situation that stretches their friendship to breaking point in this deceptively edgy instalment.

Cossack Circus is the 11th translated Cinebook album (and 12th sequential European release). As Les Tuniques Bleues: Les bleus tournent cosaques it debuted on the continent in 1976, serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #2000-2014 before collection as an album in 1977.

As so often it opens with another spectacular bloodbath instigated by apparently invulnerable maniac Captain Stark. The glory-addicted cavalry charger has now decimated the Union Army (and remember, that’s the side he’s fighting for) to such an extent that there’s no one left to ride into the Confederate guns…

Having depleted everyone who can be “volunteered” into the army and faced with the prospect of sending in officers or withdrawing, “The Brass” devise a brilliant solution: diverting immigrants who have been induced to America to work in the now-empty mines into nice blue uniforms…

Assigning Chesterfield and Blutch as “recruiters” and instructors, the Generals sit back in anticipation of literally fresh blood. They will soon come to regret this stratagem.

When the squabbling squaddies arrive at the holding camp, their misgivings are confirmed on discovering the future cavalrymen speak no English, and have no idea that they are now expected to officially enlist and give their lives for their new country. To the Russian- and Chinese-speaking internees, this is just a stop en route to their new life underground. If the army has its way, that’s almost the truth…

Without interpreters, our Bluecoats are helpless to convey their demands, which Blutch is increasingly convinced are illegal, immoral and stupid. His arguments with duty-blinded Chesterfield bring them to blows, and mutual murder, testing their affection for each other to the limits.

Ultimately, depriving the foreigners of food leads to their signing papers they don’t understand and donning uniforms they instinctively do, but mounting animosity vanishes when the boot camp prisoners are given horses. After Blutch demonstrates a few mounted manoeuvres he almost dies of embarrassment when the Russian clods seamlessly perform astounding synchronised riding tricks while screaming with joy… or perhaps singing?

At that moment, the camp commandant hands over their despatch orders. Next stop: the Front where Stark is itching to lead another charge into death (for everyone else ) and glory (for him)…

However, as the former best buddies carry out their orders with feelings poles apart, fate has a bizarre denouement in store, which manifests once the hereditary equestrian performers are unleashed on a battlefield they choose to see as the biggest circus ring on Earth…

Combining searing satire with stunning slapstick, this yarn is as much iron fist as velvet glove, delivering a hugely gratifying poke at the blood-&-glory boys of history. Deftly delivering an anti-war saga targeting younger, less world-weary audiences, this tale is agonisingly authentic, and always in good taste while delivering an uncompromising portrayal of state-sanctioned mass-violence. These are comedic tales whose humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Thankfully, the divergent attitudes expressed by our put-upon pair, and their inevitable rapprochement in the midst of a magnificent plot twist, makes this battle anything but arrant folly. Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story and Western to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1977 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 3


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2771-5 (TPB)

In America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was at DC.

In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a generation, the home of Flash, Green Arrow and the Justice League of America was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting combat on a variety of fronts and from differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a Homefront death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) military-themed comicbooks became even more bold and innovative…

Sgt Rock and the “combat-happy Joes” of Easy Company are one of the great and enduring creations of the American comic book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in a constant welter of life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

So pervasive is this icon of comics combat that’s it’s hard to grasp that Rock is not an immortal industry prototype like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – with us since the earliest moments of the industry – but is in fact a late addition to and child of the Silver Age of Comics: debuting as just another Kanigher & Joe Kubert tale in war anthology G.I. Combat (#68, January 1959).

The archetypal and ideal sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all punishment dealt out to him. When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted, that same Horatian quality attained mythic proportions as he held back an overwhelming Nazi attack by sheer grit and determination, remaining bloody but unbowed on a field littered with dead and broken men. The tale inspired an instant sequel or two before, in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959), the mythmaking truly began…

This third monumental military milestone collects in chronological publishing order and stark, stunning monochrome more of the groundbreaking classics which made Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories were taken from the still-anthological Our Army at War #149-180 (bracketing December 1964 to May 1967), a period when American comics were undergoing a spectacular renaissance in style, theme and quality even as the Vietnam war took over the nation’s consciousness and conscience.

They are also still criminally unavailable in modern colour and/or digital editions…

Scripted throughout by Writer/Editor Kanigher and illustrated primarily by Kubert, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘Surrender Ticket!’ as the German High Command randomly pick an American Company to endure unrelenting pressure until they crack, thereby proving Nazi superiority. They really should have picked again after selecting Easy Company…

In ‘Flytrap Hill!’, Rock is forced to request a retreat before instead leading his brutalised men to unlikely victory. They all found fresh inspiration through the example of a messenger who gave his life to reach them…

‘War Party!’ then sees the Sarge undertaking a trial organised by Little Sure Shot to become an “honorary Apache Indian”, with the always-advancing Germans inadvertently spoiling his chances at every turn.

OAAW #152 is a full-length yarn in which a shipment of green replacements find themselves frozen under fire, until Rock recounts the tales of Ziggy and Hopeless, who found courage with their final breaths in ‘Last Man – Last Shot!’ This narrative device of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario played over and over again in Sgt. Rock but never got old.

‘Easy’s Last Stand!’ saw the stony serviceman battling alone in the mistaken belief he was the only one left alive, whilst ‘Boobytrap Mascot’ found Easy accompanying boy soldier Andre Lune in search of hidden artillery emplacements as the lad tried to live up to – and die for – the pressure of generations of warrior ancestors who gave their lives for France…

‘No Stripes for Me!’ found the non-com in the middle of a family feud as a valiant GI continually refuses well-earned battlefield promotions his father – the General – keeps foisting upon him, after which a bumbling medic deemed unfit for combat fatally proves his worth, saving Easy as ‘The Human Tank Trap!’

The shell-shocked last survivor of an eradicated relief company goes through hell at Rock’s side as the topkick strives to prove that ‘Nothin’s Ever Lost in War!’ before OAAW #158 introduces some insight into the pre-war world of civilian Frank Rock, as well as an antithesis and arch-enemy for Easy’s front man in ‘Iron Major – Rock Sergeant!’

With the American captured, tortured and used as bait in a blizzard by a steel-handed master strategist, it takes sheer guts and unflinching to save Easy from a deadly ambush…

Wounded in combat, hunted by a German kill-team and guided by the sister of a nurse he feels responsible for killing, Rock becomes ‘The Blind Gun!’ before recovering his sight and finding a measure of solace in groundbreaking epic ‘What’s the Colour of Your Blood?’

Here black G.I. – it’s a comic book making a point about a crucial point in modern US history: please ignore the appalling and sordid truth about US Army segregation during WWII – and former boxer Jackie Johnson is forced to bare-knuckle battle the racist Aryan prize-fighter he trounced in the years before the war.

Of course, if he raises his hands to defend himself in this impromptu rematch, Storm Trooper Uhlan’s comrades will shoot Jackie’s Easy Co. buddies… until the right word from Rock changes all the odds…

An over-eager replacement almost dies to prove he’s not a coward like his court-martialled brother in ‘Dead End for a Dog Face!’ before ‘The Prince and the Sergeant!’ revives an old DC star for a truly bizarre team-up.

When superheroes were in decline during the 1950s, comicbook companies sought different types of action hero. In 1955 Kanigher devised traditional adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured historical strips and stalwarts such as Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood and Silent Knight. Already legendary, Joe Kubert drew the fantastic exploits of a dynamic Norseman dubbed the Viking Prince.

He appeared in nearly every issue, eventually monopolising Brave and the Bold entirely, until the resurgent superhero boom saw the comic retooled as a try-out title with the 25th issue. Before that, however, those fanciful Scandi-sagas were among some of the finest adventure comics of all time (and they’re still too long overdue for a definitive collection of their own).

In Our Army at War #162, Easy Company are sent to Norway on a proverbial suicide mission and subsequently separated under fire. Taking cover in a cave, Rock discovers a warrior frozen in ice moments before an explosion shatters the frigid tomb. Soon the revived Prince Jon is slicing his way through the modern “Huns”, determined to sell his life dearly.

Before his entombment, he had fallen in love with a Valkyrie and had to die gloriously in battle to reunite with her in Valhalla. Of course, offended Odin had stacked the odds and decreed no mortal weapon could now harm him…

Despite his best efforts, Jon and Rock kept winning and so the saga continued in the next issue as the doughty comrades complete the suicide mission with the Viking crying ‘Kill Me – Kill Me!’… until a seeming martial miracle occurred…

Our Army at War #164 was an 80-page Giant reprint issue (not included here) and #165 heralded the ‘Return of the Iron Major!’ with the Nazi Superman back from the dead and seeking revenge, only to find Rock kissing his former fiancée Contessa Helga von Hohenschlag-Lowenburg…

That results in another brutal death-duel after which ‘Half a Sergeant!’ saw the indomitable human force-of-nature suffer a crack-up, until an inconsolable loss on the battlefield shocks him back to normal, after which ‘Kill One – Save One!’extends the psycho-dramas as Rock shoots a sniper and discovers he’s killed a child. The guilt cripples him so completely he can’t raise a hand against the boy’s even younger comrade who takes the topkick prisoner…

An element of supernatural mystery flavoured ‘I Knew the Unknown Soldier!’ in Our Army at War #168, as Rock proudly recalls an enigmatic G.I. who repeatedly saved and inspired Easy to overcome impossible odds. This short yarn would be the genesis of future combat superstar The Unknown Soldier…

Again blinded in battle, Rock unwittingly treks across the African desert towards German lines with an American-educated ‘Nazi on My Back!’ in #169 but is back in Europe for ‘No One Comes Down Alive from – Buzzard Bait Hill!’: dealing with a shell-shocked veteran who had been reliving the war since the last time Germans invaded France.

War’s insanity was a recurring theme and in ‘The Sergeant Must Die!’ Easy had to steal a relic of huge symbolic importance from a mediaeval castle defended by a deranged Nazi who believed himself the reincarnation of legendary Hun Barbarosa. A perilous stalemate is only broken by vicious single combat; a situation echoed in ‘A Slug for a Sergeant!’ as Russ Heath slowly began to take over illuminating Rock’s sorties.

German Sgt. Schlum is every inch Rock’s equal and when the hostage American chooses to duel his counterpart rather than betray Easy into ambush, the outcome is anything but certain…

Our Army at War #173 was another reprint – also omitted here – and Kubert returned in #174 as ‘One Kill Too Many!’sees the Sarge suffer another breakdown and freezing under fire after reliving the moment he shot that child-sniper. His inaction leads to Easy’s medic being killed and the broken soldier gives up fighting to take his place… until the wounded men he treats show Rock where he truly belongs…

Heath was back in #175 to deliver the ‘T.N.T. Letter!’ from Rock’s stateside sweetheart Mary which leaves him broken and suicidal until he meets a battlefield gamin who restores his perspective, and Kubert limned the strange saga of Crusher Cole: a beefy replacement who wanted the sergeant’s job and kept crying ‘Give Me Your Stripes!’

Following another 80-Page Giant in #177, ‘Only One Medal for Easy’ (Heath, #178) returned to the series’ picaresque, portmanteau traditions as Rock is given one gong and a Pass to dispense to Easy’s most outstanding combatant. Of course, the medal is passed around the entire company as every time the enemy attacks, a different hero saves the day…

Kubert was back reprising that landmark tale of bigotry and tolerance in OAAW #179 as white supremacist Sharkey joins Easy and makes things tough for the unit’s only black soldier. Even Rock can’t change his attitudes but the trials of war and the patience of a truly noble man finally crush racist views of a soldier who wouldn’t give ‘A Penny for Jackie Johnson!’

Russ Heath ends this cataclysmic comics campaign with another stunning moral quandary as Rock captures a German officer and has to endure unbearable provocation as he escorts his prisoner to base: coming within an inch of breaking all the rules as the cunning monster brags ‘You Can’t Kill a General!’…

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as here – his work was imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending. He was a unique reporter and observer of the warrior’s way and the unchanging condition of the dedicated and so very human ordinary foot-slogging G.I. He was also a strident and early advocate of equality and integration.

With superb combat covers from Kubert fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually vital compendium and a certain delight for any jaded comics fan looking for something more than flash and dazzle. A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every comics fan and combat collector should see and one day we’ll have them in the full archival dress and trimmings they deserve…
© 1964-1967, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1


By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Hank Chapman, Len Wein, Bob Haney, Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragonés, Joe Kubert & various (DDC Comics)
No ISBN: digital only edition

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate major licensed newspaper strip Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded, however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC, doing a few covers as inker or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC have regularly curated and reissued his work in a series of commemorative collections. This is the first of a proposed series of eBook tomes extracted from heftier physical artefacts covering the artists’ minor efforts (those not starring Batman, Deadman or “Hard-Travelling Heroes” Green Lantern/Green Arrow) in themed original publication order.

Revisiting Teen Titans #20-22 and gatherings material from Detective Comics #369; Superman #254; Justice League of America #94; Our Army At War #182, 183, 186, 240; Star Spangled War Stories #134, 144; Fanboy #5 and Amazing World of DC Comics Special Edition #1 it cumulatively embraces November 1969 through July 1999.

Following a contextualising Foreword by Paul Levitz and Adams’ thoughts in his own ‘Superheroes Foreword’ the comic dramas commence with a tale of slinky sleuth The Elongated Man who solves a bizarre theft connected to the ‘Legend of the Lovers’ Lantern’ (scripted by Gardner F. Fox from Detective Comics #369, November 1969).

We then encounter a bold triptych from Teen Titans #20-22 (March/April to June/July 1969), written by Adams and pencilled by him and Sal Amendola with inks by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Completing s a long-running plot-thread of extra-dimensional invaders by endowing everything with a counterculture twist, ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’ is a spectacular rollercoaster romp deftly blending teen revolt, organised crime, anti-capitalist activism, bug-eyed monsters and cunning extraterrestrial conquerors…

Symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove briefly join the proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy): chasing smugglers, facing evil ETs and ramping up the surly teen angst quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards stunning conclusion ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ wherein the abduction of Kid Flash and Robin leads to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invaders forever…

Excerpts from Justice League of America #94’s ‘Where Strikes Demonfang’ – specifically pages 1, 5, 20 and 22 – tie up loose ends from the Deadman saga seen elsewhere (in Strange Adventures of the Adams Deadman collections) before a modern pin-up of ‘Ra’s al Ghul’ brings us to a delightful treat scripted by Len Wein taken from The Private Life of Clark Kent backup series.

‘The Baby Who Walked Through Walls’ comes from Superman #254 (July 1972): scripted by Len Wein and deliciously detailing how even the mighty Man of Tomorrow is no match for a toddler determined to dodge her babysitter and go exploring…

Unpublished Superman pages and thumbnails culled from ‘Amazing World of DC Comics Special Edition #1’ (February 1976) segue into a selection of public service messages starring the Caped Kryptonian – specifically ‘Justice for All Includes Children 1, 2, 6 and 7’ – and are followed by a monochrome and a full-colour v ‘9/11 Tribute’…

Self-parody changes the tone as an excerpt from Fanboy #5 (July 1999) finds Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragonés joining the master of moody in an unlikely iteration of the Daft Knight…

A ‘Batman Sketchbook’ offers preliminary doodles for Robin’s new costume, Batman roughs and Joker redesigns, culminating in finished pin-ups of all before the tone twists back to hyper-realism and a ‘War Stories Foreword’ by Neal Adams begins a chronological excursion through the artist’s combat contributions to DC canon.

All recoloured in Adam’s lush modern manner, the lean sparse sagas commence with ‘It’s My Turn to Die’ from Our Army At War #182 (July 1967), with Howard Liss scripting the tale of an officer who’s reached his emotional limit, whilst ‘Invisible Sniper’ (Liss again from OAAW #183, August 1967) tracks an embattled GI hunting an infallible enemy with a killer gimmick…

‘The Killing Ground’ (Star Spangled War Stories #134, August -September 1967) is a Robert Kanigher moment from The War That Time Forgot, with PT Boat survivors striving against a succession of seaborne antediluvian atrocities, after which ‘My Life for a Medal’Our Army At War #186 (November 1967, by veteran scribe Hank Chapman) – holds a shocking lesson for a glory-hungry go-getter.

A visual triumph, Joe Kubert inked hot new penciller Adams on Kanigher’s ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ (SSWS #144, April-May 1969) as another macabre death-dealing French aviator – dressed as a skeleton – terrorised and butchered Jagdstaffel pilots at will, forcing the Kaiser’s Enemy Ace Hans von Hammer into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

War takes a weird – and socially relevant – turn as we visit the future for our concluding clash in Bob Haney’s ‘Another Time Another Place’ (Our Army At War #240, January 1972) as an elite squad meet the enemy and get a sobering surprise…

Sadly short of Adams incredible canon of covers, we wrap up with only full ‘Biographies’ as a bonus, but this beautiful book still offers a look at less often seen gems that were in many ways more informative than all the big-banner achievements of a major force in comics. Now, if only DC would sort out his horror stories and truly lost gems like Jerry Lewis, we’d all be happy…
© 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1999, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Willie & Joe: Back Home


By Bill Mauldin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-351-4 (HB)

Throughout World War II William Henry “Bill” Mauldin fought “Over There” with the United States Infantry whilst producing cartoons about the fighting men and for the fighting men. He told as much of the real nature of the war as his censors and common sense would allow and became an unwilling international celebrity as much because of his unshakable honesty as his incredible artistic talents.

He was incontrovertibly “one of the guys” and American soldiers and civilians loved him for it. During his time in the service he produced cartoons for the folks back home and intimately effective, authentic and quirkily morale-boosting material for military publications 45th Division News, Yank and Stars and Stripes.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he made his own and introduced to the world at large – giving a trenchant and acerbically enduring view of the war from the point of view of the poor sods ducking bullets in muddy foxholes and surviving shelling in the ruins of Europe.

Willie and Joe, to the dismay of much of the Army Establishment, gave an honest overview of America’s ground war. In 1945, a collection of his drawings – accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay – was published by Henry Holt and Co.

Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Willie even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23 year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize. Like so many other returning soldiers, however, Mauldin’s hard-won Better Tomorrow didn’t live up to its promise…

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge, anti-bigot views never changed, but found simply new targets at home. However, during the earliest days of the Cold War and despite being a bone fide War Hero, Mauldin’s politically strident cartoons fell ever more out of step with the New America: a place where political expediency allowed racists to resume repressing ethnic sections of the nation now that their blood and sweat were no longer needed to defeat the Axis.

This new America expected women to surrender their war-time freedoms and become again servants and consumers and baby machines: happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell. This nation was far too eager to forget the actual war and genuine soldiers in favour of massaged messages and conformist, inspirational paper or celluloid heroes.

The New America certainly didn’t want anybody rocking their shiny new boat…

When Sergeant Bill Mauldin mustered out in 1945, he was notionally on top of the world: a celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately for him, Mauldin was as dedicated to his ideals as to his art. As soon as he became aware of the iniquities of the post-war world, he went after them. Using his newspaper tenancy as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and side-lining of actual combat veterans. During the country’s entire involvement in WWII, less than 10% of military men actually fought, or even left their home country, whilst rear-echelon brass seemed to increasingly reap the benefits and unearned glory of the peace.

Ordinary enlisted men and veterans were culture-shocked, traumatised, out of place and resented by the public, who blamed them disproportionately for the shortages and “suffering” they had endured. Black and Japanese Americans were reduced to second class citizens (again, for most of them) and America’s erstwhile allies were pilloried, exploited and demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage…

Mauldin’s fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripesvetoed it, and the demobbed survivors moved into a world that had changed incomprehensibly in their absence…

Always ready for a fight, Mauldin’s peacetime Willie and Joe became a noose around the syndicate’s neck as the cartoonist’s acerbic, polemical and decidedly non-anodyne observations perpetually highlighted iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen and attacked self-aggrandising politicians. He advocated such socialist horrors as free speech, civil rights and unionisation, affordable public housing and universal medical care for everybody – no matter what their colour, gender or religion. The crazy cartoonist even declared war on the Ku Klux Klan, American Legion and red-baiting House UnAmerican Activities Commission: nobody was too big. When the Soviet Union and United Nations betrayed their own ideological principles, Mauldin went after them too…

An honest broker, he had tried to quit early, but the syndicate held him to his contract so, trapped in a situation that increasingly stifled his creative urges and muzzled his liberal/libertarian sensibilities, he refused to toe the line and his cartoons were incessantly altered and reworked.

During six years of War service his cartoon had been censored three times; now the white paint and scissors were employed by rewrite boys almost daily…

The movie Up Front – which Mauldin wanted to reflect the true experience of the war – languished unmade for six years until a sappy, flimsy comedy bearing the name was released in 1951. The intended screenplay – by Mauldin, John Lardner and Ring Lardner Jr. – vanished: deemed utterly unsuitable and unfilmable …until much of its tone reappeared in Lardner Jr.’s 1970 screenplay M*A*S*H…

As the syndicate bled clients – mostly in segregationist states – and contemplated terminating his contract, Mauldin began simultaneously working for the New York Herald-Tribune. With a new liberal outlet. His tactics changed in the Willie and Joe feature: becoming more subtle and less bombastic. He still picked up the best of enemies, however, adding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to the roster of declaimers and decriers…

When his contract finally ended in 1948, neither side wanted to renew. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist, freelance writer and illustrator. He was a film actor for a time (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean Conflict and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1956.

He only finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958 in a far different world: working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to the Chicago Sun-Times, winning another Pulitzer and a Reuben Award for his political cartoons

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and properly-appreciated career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall and to eulogize Milton Caniff).

Also available digitally, this magnificent hardback companion volume to Willie and Joe: the WWII Years covers the period of work from July 31st 1945 to 31st December 1948, supplemented by a brilliant biographical introduction from Todd DePastino: a superb black-&-white compendium collecting the bittersweet return of the forgotten heroes as they faced confusion, exclusion, contention and disillusion, but always with the edgy, stoic humour under fire that was Mauldin’s stock in trade.

Moreover, it features some of the most powerful assaults on the appalling edifice of post-war America ever seen. The artist’s castigating observations on how a society treats returning soldiers are more pertinent now than they ever were; the pressures on families and children even more so; whilst his exposure of armchair strategists, politicians and businessmen seeking to exploit wars for gain and how quickly allies can become enemies are tragically more relevant than any rational person could wish.

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, sanguine observation and uncomprehending betrayal, this cartoon chronicle is an astounding personal testament that shows the powers of cartoons to convey emotion if not sway opinion.

In Willie & Joe: Back Home we have here a magnificent example of passion and creativity used as a weapon of social change and a work of art every citizen should be exposed to, because these are aspects of humanity that we seem unable to outgrow…
This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Cartoons © 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

G.I. JOE Classics volume 1


By Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe, Steven Grant, Don Perlin, Mike Vosburg & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-345-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Nostalgic All-Action Romps… 8/10

Toys have always been a strong and successful component of comics output, and have frequently been amongst the most qualitative. For people like me, the distress experienced because DC’s Hot Wheels (by Joe Gill, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Alex Toth, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano) or Captain Action (Jim Shooter, Wally Wood & Gil Kane) tie-in titles will never be reprinted because intellectual properties lawyers can’t get their acts together is practically existential. I’m pretty sure that feeling is universal in my field and everyone has their own title to add to the list…

The problem has been the understandable tendency to include proprietary characters (such as Spider-Man in Transformers and the entire Marvel Universe in Rom, Space Knight and The Micronauts) for their immediate cross-selling potential with no regard for who actually owns what. Merchandise-driven comics are of necessity fully negotiable whereas such team-up combinations are by definition short-term and non-binding.

Publishers got a lot smarter and far-sighted in the 80s and – as a rule, but not always – stopped mixing and matching imported/temporary stars except for special events.

During that era Marvel’s biggest successes – driven by Jim Shooter in his role as the company’s Editor-in-Chief – were those aforementioned Transformers and another: one of the oldest toy brands in existence, and since the property was hived off the franchise into its own superhero-adjacent sub-universe, current license holder IDW was able to reprint the run of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in its entirety…

It didn’t hurt that the stories were superbly crafted and didn’t insult the intelligence of the target readership (presumed to be kids of toy-buying age) and perfectly picked up the macho America tone of the times…

Arguably Marvel’s biggest success in merchandised publishing (even outdoing Star Wars and Conan), the triumph of the phenomenon convinced Marvel to create their juveniles and licensed titles imprint Star Comics, and the continuity of this series was carried over in its entirety when the property eventually landed at IDW. In 2009, writer Larry Hama (Wolverine; Elektra; Nth Man) simply picked up where he left off in 1994 and the series even continued the numbering…

This initial compendium collects the first tranche of Marvel’s output issues #1-10 spanning June 1982-April 1983: a hugely successful mini-franchise that encompassed three regular titles plus many specials at one stage.

I’ve no real interest in the film, or toy, and TV cartoon, but the comics phenomenon reached way more impressionable minds that most modern comics could even imagine and many of the strip adventures (both US and Marvel UK’s) were highpoints of sequential narrative at a time when innovation and imagination were highly regarded – and rewarded – so it’s great to see some of them finding a fresh audience.

In case you came in late: GI Joe is the operating name for an American covert, multi-disciplinary espionage and military intervention force drawing its members from all branches of the military. At the time of these tales the Joes and terrorist secret society Cobra Command are well known to each other and engaged in a full-on but clandestine global war…

Under Shooter’s reign Marvel became a hugely profitable home for businesses with properties to licence. The comic versions sold by the truckload and have become part of the nostalgic fabric of a generation. They still are.

The Marvel series ran 155 issues (ending with its December 1994 issue), plus numerous spin-off series such as GI Joe Special Missions: specials and overseas analogue such as Marvel UK’s Action Force (the British toy was branded as Action Man since the 1960s)

We begin at the start with ‘Operation: Lady Doomsday’ as Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe (Ka-Zar; Phantom Eagle; The Defenders; Iron Man; Machine Man) & Bob McLeod introduce the squad and their foes when a whistleblowing US atomic scientist is kidnapped by Cobra Commander and his deadly assistant the Baroness, and the Gung Ho Joes are assigned to rescue her traitorous, unpatriotic ass. The all-American heroes are successful but fully exercise their democratic right to complain all the way home…

Whilst namechecking dozens of characters and vehicles, the series was always intoxicatingly high energy and deceptively sophisticated in dealing with social and geopolitical issues. The next mission details ‘Panic at the North Pole!’ – by Hama, Don Perlin (Werewolf By Night; Ghost Rider; The Defenders; Solar, Man of the Atom; Bloodshot) & Jack Abel – as a small squad investigate the extermination of a US research station, uncovering a prototype Soviet secret weapon and clashing with “eskimo” (hopefully we’d say Inuit or something else less charged these days) mercenary Mighty Kwinn to keep the deadly device out of Cobra’s clutches…

Crafted by Hama, Trimpe, Abel & Jon D’Agostino, ‘The Trojan Gambit’ in #3 then delivered a thrilling countdown thriller as the Joes’ secret underground citadel is infiltrated by a deadly modular robot programmed to send back a signal and make it a target for Cobra assault…

For over a decade Herb Trimpe had been synonymous with the Incredible Hulk, making the character his own, and daily displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. With #4’s ‘Operation: Wingfield!’, he added story plotting to his creative dossier, as Hama scripted and D’Agostino & Abel inked a tale of infiltration wherein a squad joins the private army of a survivalist nutjob and his private militia – in a tale more relevant now than ever…

In #5, Hama, Perlin, Abel & Mike Esposito’s ‘“Tanks” for the Memories…’ adds notes of bellicose slapstick as Cobra attempt to steal the Joes’ super-secret Mobat (Multi Ordnance Battle Tank) during a parade in New York City, and our heroes had to fight without ammo…

As now, Afghanistan was a hot button topic in the mid-1980s and #6’s ‘To Fail is to Conquer… To Succeed is to Die!’ by Hama, Trimpe & Abel sees a select team despatched to aid mujahideen fighters against Soviet invasion and recover a downed experimental Russian spy-plane. The three horse race between the Good Guys, Cobra and Soviet Special Forces team the October Guard sees both tech and training stretched to the limit in the hostile terrain and makes for an unlikely alliance in #7’s explosive conclusion ‘Walls of Death!’ by Hama, Trimpe & Chic Stone.

G.I. Joe #8 was an all-Trimpe treat as ‘Code Name: Sea-Strike!’ sees the heroes valiantly defending a satellite launch and thwarting Cobra’s scheme to weaponise space from their floating subsea fortress, after which Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg & Stone explore the lives of top Joes Clutch, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Stalker as they draw tedious and unwanted protection duties for an unsuspected traitor in ‘The Diplomat’ and find themselves in more trouble than they can (probably) handle…

This initial collection closes on a foreboding and portentous note of gathering doom as Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Zap are captured during a mission and end up in a suburban nightmare. In #10, Hama, Vosburg & Stone expose anonymous everytown Springfield as Cobra’s most sinister development: an ultra-immersive company town designed by vicious Dr. Venom and dedicated to mind-bending, brainwashing and overruling hearts and minds in ‘a little town like ours…’

Thankfully resistance and rebellion are everywhere and an extraordinary boy named Billy is able to orchestrate their narrow escape…

To Be Continued…

The ten tales gathered here are very much the basis of all successive comics merchandising and nearly 40 years later prove that the secret is in the comics themselves, not the product, No one there is republishing Marvel’s Inhumanoids,Popples or Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos adaptations…

I’m never sure of the social value of stories where secret government operatives act beyond the law or the constraints of Due Process, but the kid in me adores the pure satisfying simplicity of seeing a wrong and righting it: so on those terms this book of clever, witty action-packed adventures of honourable warriors doing their job is a delight worth sharing.
© 2009 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.