Sacred Heart


By Liz Suburbia (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-841-0

What would have happened when you were a teenager and your parents went away for the weekend?

What if they didn’t come back for four years? And what if the same thing happened to every household in your little town at the same time?

Visually, elements of Charles Burns and Johnny Ryan crackle and charm beside graphic echoes of the Hernandez Brothers in Sacred Heart: the stunning graphic novel which tackles the conundrum with perspicacity, near-feral insight, righteous anger and a great deal of sentiment-free warmth.

As much mystery thriller as “Having Come of Age” tale, the mesmerising story opens in little everytown Alexandria which at first glance seems to have gotten a little rowdy of late, but for all the late-night drinking, hot-rodding, incessant partying, lewd behaviour and hijinks is carrying on as best it can.

The older teens are looking after the little kids, school is still attended, the local store still carries provisions and life goes on pretty much as before, even though there hasn’t been a responsible adult in situ for years…

Ben Schiller cares for her rapidly maturing – and consequently increasingly difficult – little sister Empathy; her life-long nerdy punk friend Otto still works part-time at the video store – when he’s not stealing girls’ panties – and he and she still watch weird movies most evenings, trading gossip and stories about who they’re currently seeing…

Elsewhere in their unique community, local garage-band The Crotchmen are the only good thing to see of an evening and Erica’s baby still hasn’t come.

Jocks still act like meatheads and the pretty girls still chase them whilst standoffish Ben remains involved but apart. She isn’t ignored or reviled these days as she’s devised a method of tattooing which makes her a vital component of the new society…

Recently though, some of the little kids have been acting a little weird: descending into mysticism and fortune telling whilst default storekeeper Jack Brown is claiming that soon he won’t be able to get any more booze or gas for the town’s remaining functional cars, but of course the real downer is how many of the older teens have been found murdered in the last few weeks…

The kids all apparently accept the growing “Dead Kids Club” as a part of life in their little town, but as the summer of excess rolls on towards Fall, things start to change. Firstly Ben and Otto endanger the perfect friendship by bringing sex into the equation, after which an actual adult is seen in town but escapes and Crotchmen’s lead singer joins the casualty list and is replaced with a girl.

Hulking drummer Hugo starts planning how to take his little charges and break out to freedom as the kindergarten seers all predict the end of everything is coming, but worst of all, as colossal storm clouds gather, when Ben discovers who the serial killer is, she can do nothing about it…

Compiled and cunningly rearranged from her webcomic, Liz Suburbia’s chilling yarn is potent, uncompromising yet guardedly hopeful: a glimpse at teenagers who terrify all us old farts as they deal with a dangerous world not by crumbling as we assume they will, but by rising to the challenge and accepting the responsibilities we probably wouldn’t.

Gripping, compelling, rewarding and astoundingly readable, this is a book to exult in.
Sacred Heart © 2015, Liz Surburbia. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970s-1981


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4 (PB)

Comics is an all-encompassing narrative medium and – even after 40-plus years in the game – I’m still amazed and delighted at innovative ways creators find to use the simple combination of words and pictures in sequence to produce new and intoxicating ways of conveying information, tone, style and especially passion to their audience.

A particularly brilliant case in point was this compulsive compilation of strips and extras from self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber geek Ed Piskor (author of the astonishing Hacker graphic novel Wizzywig) which originally appeared in serial form on the website Boing Boing.

In astounding detail and with a positively astounding attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor detailed the rise of the rhyme-and-rhythm musical art form (whilst paying close attention to the almost symbiotic growth of graffiti and street art) with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Charting the slow demise of the disco and punk status quo by intimately following fledgling stars and transcendent personalities of the era, ‘Straight Out of the Gutter’ begins mid-1970s with South Bronx block parties and live music jams of such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

The new music is mired in the maze of inescapable gang culture but as early word-of-mouth success leads to first rare vinyl pressings and the advent of the next generation, the inevitable interest of visionaries and converts leads to the circling of commercial sharks…

The technical and stylistic innovations, the musical battles, physical feuds, and management races by truly unsavoury characters to secure the first landmark history-making successes are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed through the lives – and, so often, early deaths – of almost-stars and later household names such as Furious 4-plus-1, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, and those three kids who became Run-DMC.

The story follows and connects a bewildering number of key and crucial personalities – with a wealth of star-struck music biz cameos – and ends with Hip Hop on the very edge of global domination following the breakout single Rapture (from new wave icons and dedicated devotees Blondie) as well as the landmark TV documentary by Hugh Downs and Steve Fox on national current affairs TV show 20/20 which brought the new music culture into the homes of unsuspecting middle America…

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (an oversized – 334x234mm – reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection (available in very large paperback and variably-proportioned digital formats) – also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Discography’ and ‘Funky Index’, an Afterword: the Hip Hop/Comic Book Connection (with additional art by Tom Scioli) and a fun-filled Author Bio.

Moreover, there’s also a blistering collection of ‘Pin Ups and Burners’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including The Beastie Boys by Jeffrey Brown, Afrika Bambaataa by Jim Mahfood; Fat Boys by Scioli; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five by Ben Marra; Vanilla Ice by Jim Rugg; Run-DMC by Dan Zettwoch; Eric B. and Rakim by John Porcellino; Salt-n-Pepa by Nate Powell; KRS-One by Brandon Graham & Snoop Dogg by Farel Dalrymple, to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Cool, informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild, fun and deliciously addictive: sparking a revolution and sub-genre in comics creation. This is what cultural cross-pollination is all about and you should dive in right now…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2013 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2013 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Elvis Puffs Out – a Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN:  978-1-52485-819-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly Seasons Never Looked So Good… 10/10

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet. In fact, just ask your cat… if you dare. Those of us “blessed” with designated feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

Some years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy housemates (the ones with more than two feet) earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Breaking Cat News began as a hilariously beguiling web-based comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

And now they’re all over books such as this latest paperback/digital delight, as well as a slew of delightful merchandise…

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is the fourth collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and devastatingly debilitating sad bits starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters they share space with.

If you’re a returning customer or already follow the strip, you’re au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than that which the author intends…

Be warned though, Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and this time around a more formal narrative underpins the episodic joys. Keep hankies close.

It all begins in winter, resulting in an extended sequence about snow which opens with ‘There’s Nothing Outside’ With the news room abuzz, incidents come in such as ‘Tommy is in the Studio!’ featuring the former lost cat who became an outdoors correspondent semi-regular. The blizzard season continues until ‘The Sun is out and Man is forging a path into the Void!’ happily closes with the breaking report ‘The Real World has returned outside!’

Dunn is quite rightly fervent about cat welfare and a new (lost) kitten gets temporarily housed and named, leading to lots of larks and ‘Hunting Lessons are underway in the living room’

The fate of the kitten rolls out throughout the collection (did I say “hankies”?) interspersed with many madcat moments such as ‘This Just In: The plant of many teeth has a new hat’, some rather salty commentary on the status of Corned Beef and a ‘Climbing contest in the laundry room!’

Spring comes and enquiring minds ask ‘Is it getting warmer yet?’, even as examination of and rumination over the nature of snakes and dogs is pushed off the schedule by ‘The Man brought home something called “donuts”’ and Bulletins like ‘The doorbell rang!’

Domestic reports reveal ‘The Baby is turning one!’, ‘There’s a fight in the living room’ and ‘Peep Toads are out!’ as well as an interview with the legendary Baba Mouse (a barn cat of tremendous vintage), but through it all pressure mounts in the newsroom and ‘Elvis is needier than usual’.

There are ‘New cat toys’ and revelations that ‘We may have an ally at the dinner table’ as well as Sophie’s new art installation and that ‘Elvis Fell asleep with his eyes open’. Before the newsflash that ‘Potty training is underway’

There’s even a follow-up outside broadcast at the bookstore and the garden where an owl and a pussycat finally achieve their destiny, prompting a big criminal exclusive, an abduction and a manhunt (sort of…) before in the end Love Conquers All and it turns out fine again, thanks mostly to The Mice

Augmenting the tons of mirth and moving moments are further activity pages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore: sharing how to create ‘Wooden Spoon Dolls’ and providing an extensive tutorial on ‘Reporting News Around Your House’.

Warm, witty, imaginative, deliciously whimsical and available instantly in digital formats – as well as profoundly gift-wrappable paperback should you be so inclined – this glorious romp of joyous whimsy will brush away the blues and dangle hope of better times in your face until you swipe at it with a frantic paw (well, probably not, but you know what I mean…).

Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch to bedazzle and bemuse not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. And there’s no better time than now for those, right?
Elvis Puffs Out! © 2020 by Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

World of Warcraft: Comic Collection Volume One


By Raphael Ahad, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, Christie Golden, Micky Neilson, Andrew Robinson, Antonio Bifulco, Linda Cavallini, Sebastian Cheng, Alex Horley, David Kegg, Ludo Lullabi, Miko Montilló, Nesskain, Suqling, Emanuele Tenderini & various (Blizzard Entertainment/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-95036-613-2 (HB Blizzard Entertainment) 978-1-78909-646-0 (HB Titan Books)

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) that began in 2004. It’s very popular.

If you needed to look up any part of that paragraph, this might not be the book for you – although if you’re a fantasy fan with a penchant for convoluted sagas and love of bombastic comics art, it might be worth sticking around to the end of the review.

Like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Game of Thrones or other complex invented environments, WoW is more about worldbuilding and made-up history than individual heroes like Conan or Elric excelling and triumphing. Here variety is the spice of life (and Unlife, Orc-kind, wizards, Dwarves, Gnomes, automata etc). This collection of tales – originally an online supplement and enticement to the game – might feel a little formulaic, but that’s pretty much the point…

These lavish auxiliary tales were all released between 2014- 2018 as World of Warcraft: Warlords of Drainor, World of Warcraft: Legion, and World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth: moody, action-heavy and suspenseful vignettes, packaged as digital comics miniseries specifically linked to one of the eight Expansion Packs released to sustain that frantic MMORPG mythmaking momentum.

First freshly arrayed in Warlords of Draenor as ‘Gul’Dan and the Stranger’ (by Micky Neilson & Alex Horley), the opening yarn reveals bloodshed brewing, whilst ‘Blackhand’ (Robert Brooks & Horley) details the fate of the feared and fabled Doomhammer, before ‘Blood and Thunder’ (Raphael Ahad, Cynthia Hall & Horley) offers some historical context with the origins of mighty warrior the Iron Wolf

Legion opens with Matt Burns & Ludo Lullabi’s ‘Magni: Fault Lines’ as the daughter of the venerable King under the Mountain awakens him to meet the growing crisis facing the dwarves. Meanwhile, Night Elves are having a few difficulties with monstrous Gul’Dan in ‘Nightborne: Twilight of Suramar’ (Burns & Lullabi) whilst the animalistic tribes are called to action in ‘Highmountain: A Mountain Divided’ (Brooks & David Kegg) before the humans of Stormwind Keep survive a royal assassination attempt, inspiring King Wrynn to mobilise in Brooks & Nesskain’s ‘Anduin: Son of the Wolf’

It ends with reports from the Battle for Azeroth, as a repentant mage reassesses her life choices in ‘Jaina: Reunion’(Andrew Robinson, Linda Cavallini & Emanuele Tenderini) before wandering Dwarf-King ‘Magni: The Speaker’ (Burns & Suqling) endures a moment of existential crisis…

Steve Danuser, Christie Golden, Robinson, Antonio Bifulco & Sebastian Cheng detail the past and futures of ‘Windrunner: Three Sisters’ after which the gathering storms pause with the salutary tale of ‘Mechagon’ (by Burns & Miko Montilló), proving you should watch what you wish for even if you’re a dedicated master smith like Kervo the Explorer

Garnishing all the drama and mayhem, the book also offers a vast selection of production art – from preliminary designs and roughs to full finished pages – in a Sketchbook section.

Gathered into a lavish luxury hardback that just screams “Christmas gift”, these adventures won’t be everyone’s goblet of grog, but for those who covertly yearn to resolve their daily annoyances with a honking great Warhammer or dismemberment spell, this should be subject of your very next quest…
World of Warcraft: Comic Collection © 2020 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In a Glass Grotesquely – Selected Picture Stories


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-797-0 (PB)

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to weave a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts and, after beginning a career as an illustrator, rediscovered his early love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! as well as animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the gloriously trenchant storybook investigator Peculia probably the most well-known characters in his gratifyingly large back-catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

In a Glass Grotesquely is one of his very best: an irresistible tract of baroque pictorial enchantment, deftly combining a 2014 webcomic with a triptych of visceral and saturnine delusions from the end of the last century, all exploring the bleakest corners of the modern world’s communal fantasy landscape and applying his truly skewed raconteur’s gifts to giving us a thrill, a chill and a chortle…

The majority of this spookily sublime confrontation with the cartoon dark side is taken up with the gripping saga of ultimate enemy of America ‘Super-Enigmatix’, a diabolically inspired super-villain determined to avenge himself upon America for slights both imagined and tragically real… and no, he has never run for political office, and it’s too late for the “write-in” option…

Delivered in punchy alternating doses of surreal full-colour splashes and moody monochrome subplots, the story details how the brilliant weird-scientist – served by an army of beautiful female zealots and hidden race of mole people – tries to destroy modern society, only opposed by disenchanted ex-cop Natalie Charms and a dedicated band of “conspiracy nuts”…

The struggle against a self-created monster hiding behind a smoke screen of urban legend is fast-paced, Byzantine, and insidiously politically charged: a mesmerising chase-caper and delight of post-modern paranoia meeting classic pulp-fiction melodrama…

Like a bleakly mordant reinvention of the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross, ‘It Will All Be Over Before You Know It…’ is a sequence from single panel monochrome epigrams building to a tableau of modern terrors for women seeking work, after which 1998’s ‘Stranger Street’ silently details the building tension as a psycho-killer haunts the streets of an already chilly town…

The cracked chronicle then concludes with a Kafkaesque shaggy bird story delivered in barrage of grey wash, as an ineffectual nobody receives – and loses – a once-in-a-lifetime boon in ‘The Prestigious Banquet to Be Held in My Honor’

Available in paperback and digital formats, In a Glass Grotesquely amusingly exposes the seamy, scary underbelly of existence with these enigmatic, clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging yarns, blending nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of kids scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night. It will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she/they are just you, imaginary or even relatively real…
In a Glass Grotesquely © 2014 Richard Sala. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Take it Away, Tommy! – a Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-6209-1 (PB)

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet. Those of us “blessed” with designated feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

Some years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy housemates earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling web-based comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is the third collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and rather moving moments starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters that share space with them.

If you’re a returning customer or already follow the strip, you’re already au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than which the author intends……

Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and this time around a more formal narrative underpins the episodic joys. We learn more about the old converted mansion house the cats inhabit – as well as the history of the previous inhabitants and their humans – in an extended ghost story filled with chuckles and shattering poignancy. I’m not kidding. Bring hankies. Many, many hankies.

The first hints come in ‘The People have abandoned the Children’, build in ‘Something’s gotten into Puck’ and ‘There’s been… a disturbance… on the ceiling’ before ‘Things are getting Strange’ prompts The People into doing a little research and discovering what occurred in the old pile they are abiding in amongst numerous other cat-owning tenants. The mystery is finally resolved in a long-delayed ceremony and ethereal reunion in ‘The People are going outside’

More recognisable comedy fare comes as ‘Bacon has been spotted on the breakfast table!’, ‘It’s fuzzy blanket season!’, ‘The laundry is out of control’ and ‘Elvis has a new toy’ whilst the team expands after ‘There’s a new cat in the backyard’ introduces cocksure barn moggy Burt (who ultimately takes on the role of AV facilitator) and ancient wisdom source and problem-solver Baba Mouse (she’s a barn cat too and has been for a very long time)…

Recently rehabilitated wandering cat Tommy introduces his four-footed home-share companion Sophie. Could she be more than just a talented creative type? ‘Local artist creates magnetic masterpieces’ suggests otherwise, but Tommy is hopeful and persistent…

Covering traditional festive cat events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, an edge of drama creeps in after the Robber Mice Gang abducts Puck’s greatest friend and toy, demanding an impossible ransom…

Outright war ensues until sagacious Baba intervenes, ensuring the Holiday Season and New Year’s are times of joy and rapprochement…

The rolling news continues with such items as ‘The Man has been groomed’, ‘The new plant is armed and dangerous’, ‘Elvis got into the butter’ and ‘Vacuum Cleaner Preparedness’.

Augmenting the tons of mirth and moving moments are further activity pages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore! close out this tome: sharing how to create your own ‘Pet Rock Reporters!’, as well revealing the details of ‘The Big Pink House’ comprising their home, a map of ‘The Apartment’ . 

Warm, witty, imaginative, deliciously whimsical and available instantly in digital formats – as well as paperback should you be so inclined – this glorious romp of joyous whimsy will brush away the blues and dangle hopes of better times in your face until you swipe at with a frantic paw (well, probably not, but you know what I mean…).

Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. And there’s no better time than now for those, right?
Take it Away, Tommy! © 2020 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Adulthood is a Myth – A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection


By Sarah Andersen (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44947-419-5 (PB)

Scary times need radical solutions, but in lieu of that and considering how helpless we all are, all I can suggest is burying yourself in a book (gallows pun not intended). Here’s one that both funny and incisive and is available online either in physical form or digitally. Moreover, as it’s about – and by – a millennial, all us old sods who lived through a few crises can chortle and feel smugly superior in the knowledge that problems such as these in here are transitory and shall also pass. That one was deliberate…

Sarah’s Scribbles started in 2013 as a webcomic (first on Tumblr, and latterly Facebook, Instagram and Line Webtoon) before going legit in 2016 in book from Andrews McMeel. Adulthood is a Myth was followed by Big Mushy Happy Lump in 2017 and Herding Cats in 2018. Each collection won that year’s Goodreads Choice Award. That’s because the strips and lead character are accessible, personable, relatable and fetchingly funny.

Autobiographical to a degree I’m unqualified to assess and distressed to acknowledge, what you get are pithy observational comedy gag strips with a semi-surreal undertone about the thoughts and (mostly) inactions of an arty student who lives with an exceptionally critical but ultimately supportive rabbit. Think of it as pictorial inner monologue from a very nervous and unconfident teen, roaring and giddy with hormones and expectations she can’t possibly hope to meet and indoctrinated with standards she can’t let go of…

As well as casual interactions with her peers, major causes of cartoon comment include projections of her eventual senility and decrepitude (‘Me in the Future’), social anxiety, body issues, relationships, housework, fashion, awkwardness, bingeing and attraction through episodes with such enticing titles as ‘Nightmares for Introverts’, ‘When to Change/Wash’, ‘Things I Know’, ‘Habits of the Common Bookworm’, ‘Getting Drunk (For Beginners)’, ‘Social Media in Real Life’, ‘What I Eat on a Typical Day’, ‘5 Phrases that make My Blood Run Colder than Ice’, ‘Watching Stuff’, ‘Things that make me Feel Safe’ and ‘Benefits of Stealing Boys’ Hoodies’.

On less excoriating days you’ll share her views on ‘Normal People’ versus ‘Me’, ‘How Graduating Feels’, ‘Internet Comment Threads’, ‘Folding Laundry’, ‘The Introvert’s Brain’, ‘How to know Your Partner is Serious about the Future’, and the potential of ‘The Future’, so that’s pretty much a view on everything to deal with…

Brooklyn-based Sarah Andersen was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art before this took over her life so she knows the value of Extra Credits. That’s why this tome includes lots of strips created specifically for the collection so if you’ve been following her on the interwebs, you’ll still miss some good stuff if you don’t get this delirious delight.
© 2016 by Sarah Andersen. All rights reserved.

Who Killed Kenny? – 45 Cases to Solve


By Pera Comics (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2224-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Crime Cartooning… 8/10

There’s an irreverent, adult-oriented animated TV show about really unpleasant kids that’s quite popular around the world. It’s got a number of catch-phrases that people in the know often quote to each other. This book is nothing to do with that show in any way at all and besides, imitation as the cheapest sincerest form of flattery…

Seriously though, this tiny (130x 160 mm) hardback – or digital – diversion is as much game and quizbook as comics extravaganza, and although tipping its hat to the iconic South Park, is in fact a hugely popular fair play mystery game developed by cartoonist Alessandro Perugini and unleashed periodically on Instagram.

As “Pera Comics”, the artist explains it all in ‘Who is Pera’ and ‘Who is Kenny?’ but unless I’ve already convinced you to dash off and buy, I’ll blather on a bit and describe how the eponymous latter is a perpetual victim cast adrift in time and space and how each easily-accessible cartoon adventure finds him dead. From clues visual and verbal, participants must decide whether his fate is accident, suicide or murder. You get points for correct answers and rise up the rankings from Simple Agent through various Detective grades to, ultimately, a Pera Detective!

The eccentric exploits begin in ancient Rome with lengthy introductory adventure ‘The Ides of Kenny!’, to be followed by a flood of rapid-fire, funny, quirky brain-teasers such as ‘Who Killed Kenny? Devil or God?’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? Beethoven or Mozart’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? A, B, or C?’, ‘Homicide or Suicide?’, and ‘Who Killed Kenny? Zombie or Vampire?’.

The enjoyment and bloodletting never seem to end!
Deliriously daft, morbidly macabre and insanely addictive, this is a splendid treat for the easily bored with idle hands and will make for an ideal stocking-stuffer.
© 2018 Pera Comics/Tunué S.r.l. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Who Killed Kenny? will be published on November 14th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

Lupin Leaps In: A Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-5130-9 (HB) 978-1-4494-9522-0 (PB) 978-1-5248-5252-8 (eISBN)

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet.

Those of us “blessed” with appointed feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

A few years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy house mates earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is a second collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and rather moving moments starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters that share space with them.

If you’re a returning customer or follow the strip online, you’re already au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than which the author intends……

Thus, you can learn that ‘The Man Has Lost his Tail’, the repercussions of ‘There are Other Cats in the Building!’ and that ‘The People Bought a Bird Magnet’, or question just why ‘The People Went Out and Bought us Expensive Cat food’

Life meets art – and sports – in ‘The Baby is Finally Asleep, which means it’s time for…’ and ‘Reports of Slander are Coming in from the Living Room’ whereas ‘The People are having a Quiet Night In’ and other seasonal treats lead to the shocking revelation that ‘The Annual Gourd Sacrifice has begun’, and the terrible consequences as ‘We’ve Been Forced into Stupid Little Suits’

Domestic equilibrium is eventually restored, but ‘There’s a Mysterious Lump in the Bed’ only piles on the drama as ‘The Ceiling Cats are Everywhere tonight!’. Typically, just as ‘The Woman is Reporting in the Nursery’ calms things down, the territory abruptly expands after ‘A Tower has been Erected in the Living Room!’ and chaos ensues when ‘There’s a Cricket Somewhere in the Apartment’

Hilarity mounts with in-depth scoop ‘CN News Investigative Report: Who’s a Good Boy?’, scare-story ‘The Vacuum Cleaner is Back!’ and ‘Lupin got into a Pen’, while ‘The Man is Doing Push-ups’, ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why does the water in People Glasses taste So Much Better?’ and ‘Delicious Smells are coming from the Kitchen’ herald the approach of another festive occasion and a sharp change in tone after ‘A Tree Grew in the Living Room!’

Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and the trauma of a loved one being lost in the snow at Christmas hits like a hammer. ‘Elvis is Missing!’ is surprisingly powerful so mind out how you let the kids (and grandparents) read this unsupervised. Tough guys like you should be okay though…

The rolling news continues in ‘We’re Nearing 3 Hours since Elvis got Outside’ and ‘We’re 4 Hours into “Elvis Watch”’, but unlike the home-bodies you can see how the lost lad survives… and because of whom…

Events come to a head in ‘Puck Here. Still Awake’ and ‘Elvis is Back Inside!’ but the story can’t end until it ends happily, so ‘ELVIS WENT BACK OUTSIDE!’ sees the prodigal save his saviour in ‘There’s a Woman at the Door!’

Christmas miracles safely covered, its back to business in ‘The Baby is Mobile!’, ‘The People have erected Hurdles!’ and ‘That Cat is in the Backyard again!’, before domestic issues come to the fore in ‘And in Local News, the People went Grocery Shopping’

Another extended adventure begins after ‘Lupin found a Tiny Door in the Bathroom Closet’ escalates into ‘Lupin fell down a Laundry Chute or some nonsense’ and ‘Unexpected Developments in the Laundry Room!’ introduce a rival Hispanic feline reporting contingent…

The epic escapade only ends after ‘Elvis has just Joined Lupin in the Laundry Room!’ and ‘The People are Looking for Lupin and Elvis’, result in international cooperation before ‘Elvis and Lupin have to Escape the Laundry Room’

Security re-established, what we’ll define as normality returns in ‘A Can of Whipped Cream has been heard in the Kitchen!’, ‘Elvis has been in a Standoff with the Man’s Feet for 45 minutes’ and ‘The People have brought home a Thing of Beauty’ and extra hilarity comes in ‘The Heat is On!’, ‘The Woman is Folding Laundry’ and ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why do open books make the best Cat Beds?’

Health matters are tackled in ‘Studies have shown Regular Ankle Reinforcement is crucial to People’s Confidence’ and ‘The People have dressed Elvis up like a Lamp’, after which ‘Another People Holiday is Happening’ sees the kitties go green and heralds ‘Signs of Spring have been spotted in the Back Yard!’

With the reporting team augmented by a new and jolly journalist, the year moves on. ‘Lupin is playing with the Baby’s Toys’ and hints of another human addition as ‘The Woman keeps getting up off the Couch’ are confirmed in ‘The Baby is turning into a Toddler’ and ‘The People are Missing!’. ‘There’s an Intruder in the Kitchen’ inevitable resolves into banner headlines when ‘The People have returned – with a New Baby!’

‘The Woman is trying to have Plants Again’ brings us back to solid ground and everybody shares human elation when the strip marks a real-world moment of triumph in ‘There are Rainbows Everywhere!’, after which ‘The Man is being attacked!’, ‘There’s been a Kibble Spill in the Kitchen!’ and ‘Cats everywhere have been locked out of the Bedroom’ restore the madcat madcap japery.

‘Lupin is Invisible when he’s in the Sink’ takes us to ‘It’s that hot time of the year again’ while ‘The Woman is sewing a Blanket’ sees Elvis take on more family responsibility before ‘A Can Opener was heard in the Kitchen’, ‘There’s a Great, Big Box in the Living Room’ and ‘THAT JUNE BUG IS BACK!’ add some action to the comedy. We’re in mellow mood for ‘Today has been Canceled, due to rain’ which only grows after ‘The People Bought a Tiny Cat Couch!’, before Puck reveals the astounding news that There’s a Button under the Computer Desk that makes the Man scream’

‘This Reporter Read the News. What happened next will Shock you’ offers a bunch of clickbait and vox-pops before ‘There’s a Tear in the Kitchen window screen’ sparks a dispute in reportage methodology and ‘The Toddler is Sick’ leads to some in-depth number crunching… and sniffing.

A true crisis looms when ‘There has been a Hairball’ and anxiety increases as ‘Flowers are flying out of the Garden’, but tidings that ‘There’s a new Toy in the Bathroom!’ soon deescalates the tensions to conclude this segment of the far from fake fur news for a while…

Some In-Depth packages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore! close out this tome starting with Georgia Dunn’s tips to begin cartooning’, developing into ‘How to draw the Good Boys of BCN’ – following from rough pencilling to inks and colour – and splendidly culminating with ‘Drawing Face Expressions’, ‘Drawing your pet as a Reporter’ and expanding the franchise to ‘Other News Affiliates’ as fish, birds, rats, lizards, dogs and ferrets join the quest for truth and fun…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Lupin Leaps In is a glorious all-ages romp of joy. Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. Chase it! Catch it!, Who’s a Good People?
© 2019 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Sailor Twain or, The Mermaid in the Hudson


By Mark Siegel (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-636-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime and delightful… 10/10

Even after decades in the business every so often something comes along that makes me feel like a drooling delirious fanboy again. It still does.  This superb hardback compilation of a fabulous weird tales webcomic is a certifiable classic that it’s never too late to enjoy.

Mark Siegel was born in Michigan and raised in France; one of those story-obsessed prodigies who began drawing wonders as a kid and never grew out of it… only better at shaping them.

After a childhood concocting yarns, comics, cartoons, posters and animated films he returned to the USA to study Creative writing and Fine Arts at Brown University. Upon graduation he stayed stateside, tentatively beginning life as a jobbing designer/illustrator.

He got his big break with the award-winning strip-book Seadogs, written by Lisa Wheeler. This was followed by Long Night Moon, To Dance, Boogie Knights and more.

Increasingly intrigued and fascinated by the history and geography of the Hudson River Valley where he lives with wife and creative collaborator Sienna Cherson Siegel, the artist began to craft a lyrically beguiling mystery tale from the glittering, sophisticated and callous brutal days of the Riverboats which once plied their glamorous trade along that famed and fabled watercourse. This he published online at sailortwain.com.

Rendered in mercurial melancholic charcoal tones, Sailor Twain tells the tale of a poet who has lost his muse and becomes a riverboat captain to pay for his invalid wife’s medical treatment.

It’s also the tale of French wastrel Dieudonné who inherited his entrepreneurial older brother’s exclusive, high society river boat business when the inspirational Jacques Henri de Lafayette had a breakdown and vanished…

…And finally, it is the sad and sobering tale of a lady who could not accept her place or fate in a savagely proscribed and repressionistic masculine culture…

Set in the transitional era of 1880s New York where and when science and rationality began at last to supersede wonder, mystery and romance, and specifically during the months May to December 1887, the story opens with an enigmatic meeting in ‘Overture’ before ‘Part I: Twain’s Secret’ begins with ‘The Frenchman’s Steamboat’ as the diligent captain of the luxurious Lorelei recalls how the dissolute young European assumed control of a hugely profitable touring business after the elder Lafayette vanished. Also introduced are below-decks crew Horatio and Aloysius, Negro engineers who know more of the route’s peculiar history than they’re willing to share in ‘An Unlikely Survivor’

The new owner seems a bad sort. In ‘A Prayer Down Below’, he demonstrates an indecent and almost unhealthy interest in bedding women, but after Twain rescues ‘The Mermaid in the Hudson’ and secretes her battered and wounded body in his cabin the trusty salt’s judgemental world is forever changed.

‘Beaverton’s New Book’ introduces another intriguing strand as a publicity-shy yet popular author’s latest sensational publication offers to reveal the “Secrets and Mysteries of the River Hudson” – everything from love-sick ghosts to the cure for a mermaid’s siren song – to both Twain and his increasingly odd employer.

The Captain, obsessed with ministering to the silent, wounded creature hidden in his cabin, is amazed when he is asked to post ‘Lafayette’s Letter’ to the enigmatic author, whilst in ‘South’s Promise’ Lafayette’s debauched dalliances multiply manically as Twain remembers his far-off wife and how her beautiful voice was stilled by disease. Nevertheless ‘Pearl’s Song’ is slowly being forgotten as the seaman becomes increasingly closer to the mythical beauty recovering in his bunk…

The lascivious Frenchman is rapidly losing touch with reality, constantly throwing messages in bottles to the murky roiling river waters as ‘Three Prisoners’ sees the now voluble sea-woman eagerly communicating with Twain just as Lafayette takes him into his confidences over his amorous actions…

Inspired again to write, Twain’s fevered imagination is sent reeling when he realises his employer is seeking ‘The Cure for Mermaids’ and, thanks to the Beaverton book, discovers his uncanny charge’s origins in ‘South of the North River’

Entranced in a way no other man has been, the worthy Captain is utterly unaware of how the situation is spiralling madly in ‘The Missing Muse’ after which ‘Part II: Camomille’ takes a closer look at the louche Lafayette when ‘The Beaverton Revelation’ exposes the author’s shocking identity and New York Society gathers itself to take its chilly revenge in ‘Ink Stains’

Lafayette’s carnal campaign hits a strange snag in ‘“The Dame’s Audacious”’, leading to most peculiar dinner conversation in ‘Eclipse’ and the culmination of long-laid plans in ‘Sevening’, all whilst Twain finds to his horror that his submersible companion has vanished in ‘Enticement’.

Before the tragedy moves towards the impossible endgame, she suddenly returns to assuage ‘The Strains of Absence’ prompting fantastic delirium when ‘Twain Dreams’

‘Part III: World’s End’ moves fully towards otherworldly experiences ‘In the Other Realm’ of ghosts, drowned men and stranger things where the desperately querulous Twain finds ‘The Lost Brother’, learns of ‘A Lady Beguiled’ and discovers the power of ‘The Chained Heart’ as his tumultuous affair ploughs on to an astonishing denouement…

It all comes crashing down in stormy disaster as ‘Part IV: The Twain Shall Meet’ delivers another dreadful blow to the Captain’s divided heart as he and Lafayette mutually incur and endure ‘The Siren’s Wrath’

…And with the world reshaped and set to (some sort of) rights, an evocative ‘Coda’ lends fruitful finality to the fearsomely fantastic proceedings…

Intoxicatingly complex, expansive and enchanting, seditiously, scarily seductive, the supernatural odyssey of the Lorelei and its doom-gripped crew is a gloriously baroque and simultaneously gothic epic of unnatural desire and supernal suspense that absolutely unwrites the twee, safely sexy modern mythology of marine maidens and restores to them the dolorous drama of sinister, implacable, irresistible sirens.

A perfect fantasy fable for adults, Sailor Twain is a truly graphic novel that every devoted dark dreamer must read.

© 2012 Mark Siegel.  All rights reserved.