U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2 (HB)

To the shame and detriment of the entire comics industry, for most of his career Sam Glanzman was one of the least-regarded creators in American comicbooks. Despite having one of the longest careers, most unique illustration styles and the respect of his creative peers, he just never got the public acclaim his work deserved. Thankfully that all changed in recent years and he lived long enough to enjoy the belated spotlight and bask in some well-deserved adulation.

Glanzman drew and wrote comics since the Golden Age, most commonly in classic genres ranging from war to mystery to fantasy, where his work was – as always – raw, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules,The Haunted Tank, The Green Berets, The Private War of Willie Schultz, and especially his 1980s graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons – which you should buy in a single volume from Dover – Glanzman produced magnificent action-adventure tales which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. His stuff always sold and at least won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists, if not from the small, insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In later years, Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds outfit on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger, Jonah Hex and barbarian fantasy Attu. Moreover, as the sublime work gathered here attests, he was also one of the earliest pioneers of graphic autobiography; translating personal WWII experiences as a sailor in the Pacific into one of the very best things to come out of DC’s 1970s war comics line…

U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 was a peripatetic filler-feature which bobbed about between Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories and other anthological battle books; quietly backing-up the cover-hogging, star-attraction glory-boys. It provided wry, witty, shocking, informative and immensely human vignettes of shipboard life, starring the fictionalised crew of the destroyer Glanzman had served on. It was, in most ways, a love story and tribute to the vessel which had been their only home and refuge under fire.

In 4- or 5-page episodes, the auteur recaptured and shared a kind of comradeship we peace-timers can only imagine and, despite the pulse-pounding drama of the lead features, us fans all knew these little snippets were what really happened when the Boys went “over there”…

A maritime epic to rank with Melville or Forester – and with stunning pictures too – every episode of this astounding unsung masterpiece is housed in one stunning hardback compilation (also available digitally for limp-wristed old coots like me) and if you love the medium of comics, or history, or just a damn fine tale well-told, you must have it…

That’s really all you need to know, but if you’re one of the regular crowd needful of more of my bombastic blather, a much fuller description follows…

As I’ve already stated, Glanzman belatedly enjoyed some earned attention, and this tome opens by sharing Presidential Letters from Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush for his service and achievements. Then follows a Foreword from Ivan Brandon and a copious and informative Introduction by Jon B. Cooke detailing ‘A Sailor’s History: The Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman’.

Next comes a brace of prototypical treats; the initial comic book appearance of U.S.S. Stevens from Dell Comics’ Combat #16 (April-June 1965) and the valiant vessel’s first cover spot from Combat #24, April 1967.

The first official U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 appeared after Glanzman approached Joe Kubert, who had recently become Group Editor for DC’s war titles. He commissioned ‘Frightened Boys… or Fighting Men’ (appearing in Our Army at War #218, April 1970), depicting a moment in 1942 as boredom and tension are replaced by frantic action when a suicide plane targets the ship…

A semi-regular cast was introduced slowly throughout 1970; fictionalised incarnations of old shipmates including skipper Commander T. A. Rakov, who ominously pondered his Task Force’s dispersal, moments before a pot-luck attack known as ‘The Browning Shot’ (Our Fighting Forces #125, May/June) proved his fears justified…

Glanzman’s pocket-sized tales always delivered a mountain of information, mood and impact and ‘The Idiot!’ (OAaW#220, June) is one of his most effective, detailing in 4 mesmerising pages not only the variety of suicidal flying bombs the Allies faced, but also how appalled American sailors reacted to them.

Sudden death was everywhere. ‘1-2-3’ (OFF #126, July/August) details how quick action and intuitive thinking saves the ship from a hidden gun emplacement whilst ‘Black Smoke’ (Our Army at War #222, from the same month) shows how a know-it-all engineer causes the sinking of the Stevens’ sister-ship by not believing an old salt’s frequent, frantic warnings…

All aboard ship were regularly shaken by the variety of Japanese aircraft and skill of the pilots. ‘Dragonfly’ (OFF #127, September/October) shows exactly why, whilst an insightful glimpse of the enemy’s psychological other-ness is graphically, tragically depicted in the tale of ‘The Kunkō Warrior’ (OAaW #223, September).

A weird encounter with a wooden WWI vessel forces a ‘Double Rescue!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #153, October/November) before OFF #128’s (November/December) ‘How Many Fathoms?’ again counts the human cost of bravery with devastating, understated impact. ‘Buckethead’ (OAaW #225, November) then relates one swabbie’s unique reaction to constant bombardment.

‘Missing: 320 Men!’ (G.I. Combat #145, December 1970-January 1971) debuted Glanzman-avatar Jerry Boyle who whiled away helpless moments during a shattering battle by sketching cartoons of his astonished shipmates. ‘Death of a Ship!’ (OAaW #227, January 1971) then deals with classic war fodder as submarine and ship hunt each other in a deadly duel…

A military maritime mystery was solved by Commander Rakov in ‘Cause and Cure!’ (Our Army at War #230, March) whilst the next issue posed a different conundrum as the ship loses all power and sticks ‘In the Frying Pan!’ (April 1971).

The vignettes were always less about warfare than its effect – immediate or cumulative – on ordinary guys. ‘Buck Taylor, You Can’t Fool Me!’ (OAaW #232) catalogues his increasingly aberrant behaviour but posits some less likely reasons, after which old school hero Bos’n Egloff saves the day during the worst typhoon of the war in ‘Cabbages and Kings’(OFF #131, July/August) whilst ‘Kamikaze’ (OAa #235 August) boldly and provocatively tells a poignant life-story from the point of view of the pilot inside a flying bomb…

An informative peek at the crew of a torpedo launch station in ‘Hip Shot’ (G.I. Combat #150 October/November) segues seamlessly into the dangers of shore leave ‘In Tsingtao’ (OFF #134, November/December) whilst ‘XDD479’ (Our Army at War #238 November) reveals a lost landmark of military history.

The real DD479 was one of three destroyers test-trialling ship-mounted spotter planes. This little gem explains why that experiment was dropped…

Buck pops back in ‘Red Ribbon’ (G.I.C #151 December 1971-January 1972), sharing a personal coping mechanism for making shipboard chores less “exhilarating”, whilst ‘Vela Lavella’ (OAaW #240, January 1972) captures the claustrophobic horror of night time naval engagement before ‘Dreams’ (G.I.C #152 February/March) peeps inside various heads to see what the ship’s company would rather be doing. ‘Batmen’ (OAaW #241, February) uses a lecture on radar to recount one of the most astounding exploits of the war…

Every U.S.S. Stevens episode was packed with fascinating fact and detail, culled from the artist’s letters home and service-time sketchbooks, but those invaluable memento belligeri also served double duty as the basis for a secondary feature.

The debut ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ appeared in Our Army at War #242 (March 1972): a compendium of pictorial snapshots sharing quieter moments, such as the first passage through the Panama Canal, sleeping arrangements or K.P. duties peeling spuds, and precedes an hilarious record of the freshmen sailors’ endurance of an ancient naval hazing tradition inflicted upon every “pollywog” crossing the equator for the first time in ‘Imperivm Neptivm Regis’ (OFF #136 (March/April 1972).

A second ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #244, April) reveals the mixed joys of “Liberty in the Philippines” after which a suitably foreboding ‘Prelude’ (Weird War Tales #4 (March/April 1972) captures the passive-panicked tension of daily routine whilst a potentially morale-shattering close shave is shared during an all-too-infrequent ‘Mail Call!’ (G.I. Combat #155, April/May)…

A thoughtful man of keen empathy and insight, Glanzman often offered readers a look at the real victims. ‘What Do They Know About War?’ (OAaW #244, April) sees peasant islanders trying to eke out a living, only to discover far too many similarities between Occupiers and Liberators, whilst the next issue focussed on the sailors’ jangling nerves and stomachs. ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!’ (#245, May) reveals what happened when DD479 was mistakenly declared destroyed and, thanks to an administrative iron curtain, found it impossible to refuel or take on food stores…

Cartoonist Jerry Boyle resurfaced in a ‘Comic Strip’ in OFF #138 (July/August) after which Glanzman produced one of the most powerful social statements in an era of tumultuous change.

Our Army at War #247 (July 1972) featured a tale based on decorated Pearl Harbor hero Doner Miller who saved lives, killed the enemy and won medals, but was not allowed to progress beyond the rank of shipboard domestic because of his skin. ‘Color Me Brave!’ was an excoriating attack on the U.S. Navy’s segregation policies and is as breathtaking and rousing now as it was then…

‘Ride the Baka’ (OAaW #248 August) revisits those constant near-miss moments sparked by suicide pilots after which Glanzman shares broken sleep in ‘A Nightmare from the Beginning’ (OFF #139, September/October) whilst ‘Another Kunkō Warrior’ (OFF #140, November/December) sees marines taking an island and encountering warfare beyond their comprehension.

1973 began with a death-dipped nursery rhyme detailing ‘This is the Ship that War Built!’ (G.I.C #157 December 1972-January 1973) before ‘Buck Taylor’ (OFF #141 January/February) delivers an impromptu lecture on maritime military history. Glanzman struck an impassioned note for war-brides and lonely ships passing in the night with ‘The Islands Were Meant for Love!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #167 February)…

Terror turns to wonder when sailors encounter the ‘Portuguese Man of War’ (OAaW #256 August), a shore leave mugging is thwarted thanks to ‘Tailor-Mades’ (OFF #143 June/July) and letters home are necessarily self-censored in ‘The Sea is Calm… The Sky is Bright…’ (OAaW #257 June), but shipboard relationships remain complex and bewildering, as proved in ‘Who to Believe!’ (SSWS #171, July).

The strife of constant struggle comes to the fore in ‘The Kiyi’ (OAaW #258 July) and is seen from both sides when souvenir hunters try to take ‘The Thousand-Stitch-Belt’ (SSWS #172 August), but, as always, it’s non-combatants who truly pay the price, just like the native fishermen in ‘Accident…’ (OAaW #259, August).

Even the quietest, happiest moments can turn instantly fatal as the good-natured pilferers swiping fruit at a refuelling station discover in ‘King of the Hill’ (SSWS #174, October).

An unlikely tale of a kamikaze who survives his final flight but not his final fate, ‘Today is Tomorrow’ (OAaW #261, October) precedes a strident, wordless plea for understanding in ‘Where…?’ (OAaW #262 November 1973) before the sombre mood is briefly lifted with a tale of selfishness and sacrifice in ‘Rocco’s Roost’ from OAaW #265, February 1974.

The following issue provide both a gentle ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ covering down-time in “The Islands” and a brutal tale of mentorship and torches passed in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, after which a truly disturbing tale of what we now call gender identity and post-traumatic stress disorder is recounted in the tragedy of ‘Toro’ from the April/May Our Fighting Forces #148…

‘Moonglow’ from OAaW #267 (April 1974) reveals how quickly placid contemplation can turn to blazing conflagration, whilst – after a chilling, evocative ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #269 June) – ‘Lucky… Save Me!’ (OAaW #275, December 1974) shows how memories of unconditional love can offset the cruellest of injuries…

‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!’ (OAaW #281, June 1975) explores how both friend and foe alike can be addicted to risk, after which the next issue’s ‘I Am Old Glory…’ sardonically transposes a thoughtful veneration with the actualities of combat before ‘A Glance into Glanzman’ by Allan Asherman (Our Army at War #284, September 1975) takes a look at the author’s creative process.

Then it’s back to those sketchbooks and another peep ‘Between the Pages’ (OAaW #293, June 1976) before ‘Not Granted!’ (OAaW #298, November 1976) discloses every seaman’s most fervent wish…

Stories were coming at greater intervals at this time and it was clear that – editorially at least – the company was moving on to fresher fields. Glanzman, however, had saved his best till last as a stomach-churning visual essay displayed the force of tension sustained over months in ‘…And Fear Crippled Andy Payne’ (Sgt. Rock #304, May 1977) before an elegy to bravery and stupidity asked ‘Why?’ in Sgt. Rock #308 from September 1977.

And that was it for nearly a decade. Glanzman – a consummate professional – moved on to other ventures. He was, however, constantly asked about U.S.S. Stevens and eventually, nearly a decade later, returned to his spiritual stomping grounds in expanded tales of DD479: both in his graphic novel memoirs and comic strips.

The latter appeared in anthological black-&-white Marvel magazine Savage Tales (#6-8, spanning August to December 1986) under the umbrella title ‘Of War and Peace – Tales by Mas’.

First up was ‘The Trinity’ blending present with past to detail a shocking incident of a good man’s breaking point, whilst a lighter tone informed ‘In a Gentlemanly Way’, as Glanzman recalled the different means by which officers and swabbies showed their pride for their ships. ‘Rescued by Luck’ than concentrated on a saga of island survival for sailors whose ship had sunk…

Next comes the hauntingly powerful black-&-white tale of then and now entitled ‘Even Dead Birds Have Wings’ (created for the Dover Edition of A Sailor’s Story from 2015) after which a chronologically adrift yarn (from Sgt. Rock Special #1, October 1992) evokes potently elegiac feelings, describing an uncanny act of gallantry under fire and the ultimate fate of old heroes in ‘Home of the Brave’

A few years ago, by popular – and editorial – demand, Glanzman returned to the U.S.S. Stevens for an old friend’s swan song series; providing new tales for each issue of DC’s anthological 6-issue miniseries Joe Kubert Presents (December 2012- May 2013).

More scattershot reminiscences than structured stories, ‘I REMEMBER: Dreams’ and ‘I REMEMBER: Squish Squash’recapitulate unforgettable moments seen through eyes at the sunset end of life; recalling giant storms and lost friends, imagining how distant families endured war and absence and, as always, balancing funny memories with the tragic, like that time when the stiff-necked new commander…

‘Snapshots’ continues the reverie, blending a veteran’s war stories with cherished times as a kid on the farm whilst ‘The Figurehead’ delves deeper into the character of Buck Taylor and his esoteric quest for seaborne nirvana…

Closing that last hurrah were ‘Back and Forth 1941-1944’ and ‘Back and Forth 1941-1945’: an encapsulating catalogue of war service as experienced by the creator, mixing facts, figures, memories and reactions to form a quiet tribute to all who served and all who never returned…

With the stories mostly told, the ‘Afterword’ by Allan Asherman details those heady days when he worked at DC Editorial, and Glanzman would unfailingly light up the offices by delivering his latest strips, after which this monolithic milestone offers a vast and stunningly detailed appendix of ‘Story Annotations’ by Jon B. Cooke.

This is a magnificent collection of comic stories based on real life and what is more fitting than to end it with ‘U.S.S. Stevens DD479’ (coloured by Frank M. Cuonzo & lettered by Thomas Mauer): one final, lyrical farewell from Glanzman to his comrades and the ship which still holds his heart after all these years…?

This is an extraordinary work. In unobtrusive little snippets, Glanzman challenged myths, prejudices and stereotypes – of morality, manhood, race, sexuality and gender – decades before anybody else in comics even thought to try.

He also brought an aura of authenticity to war stories which has never been equalled: eschewing melodrama, faux heroism, trumped-up angst and eye-catching glory-hounding to instead depict how “brothers in arms” really felt and acted and suffered and died.

Shockingly funny, painfully realistic and visually captivating, U.S.S. Stevens is phenomenal and magnificent: a masterpiece by one of the very best of “The Greatest Generation”. I waited 40 years for this and I couldn’t be happier: a sublimely insightful, affecting and rewarding graphic memoir every home, school and library should have and one every reader will return to over and over.
Artwork and text © 2015 Sam Glanzman. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 13: 1961-1962


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-925-7 (HB)

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur premiered on Sunday February 13th 1937: a fabulous rainbow-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Pioneering comics creator Hal Foster developed the feature after a groundbreaking and astoundingly popular run on the Tarzan of the Apes strip.

Prince Valiant offered action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked barbarians played out against a glamorised, dramatized Dark Ages backdrop. The never-ending story follows a refugee lad of royal blood, driven from ancestral Scandinavian homeland Thule who grows up to roam the world, attaining a paramount position amongst the fabled heroes of Camelot.

Foster wove his complex epic romance over decades, tracing the progress of a feral wild boy who became a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, avenger and ultimately family patriarch through a constant storm of wild, robust and joyously witty wonderment. The restless champion visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The glorious epic spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections. Prince Valiant was – and remains – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end-times of newspaper strips as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster soloed on the feature until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator whilst the originator remained as writer and designer. That ended in 1980, when he finally retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of other extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates & Mark Schultz.

This luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback (tragically, the series is still unavailable digitally) re-presents pages spanning January 1st 1961 to 30th December 1962 (individual pages #1247-1351) and comes with all the regular bonus trimmings. This time, renowned illustrator and storymaker Charles Vess (The Book of Ballads and Sagas; The Sandman; Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth; Stardust; The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition) discusses and critically appraises his creative roots and the influential role of the strip – including his own contributions – in the Foreword ‘We Are All the Sum of the Stories We Have Been Told’, after which the illuminated wonders resume.

At the other end of this titanic tome Brian M. Kane continues plumbing the master draughtsman’s commercial endeavours with a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations highlighting the acme of domestic luxury available to well-heeled customers in ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Home and Hearth’. Captivating as they are though, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: After a ceaseless session of troubleshooting for King Arthur, and with his long-suffering wife Aleta increasingly aggrieved at Valiant’s wanderlust and neglect, tensions boil over in the apartments of the Prince of Thule, Valiant again leads a Royal Quest: perhaps the most crucial in Camelot’s troubled history…

The Knights of the Round Table have become obsessed with the search for the Holy Grail. Arthur, agonised as his best and bravest are lost or maimed in search of it, charges Val with proving once and for all whether the story of the sacred cup is fact or myth…

The search takes Val the length and breadth of the nation, eventually brings him to the Mendip hills in search of the isle of Avalon. At the Great Tor and Glastonbury, he finds a Papal mission from Rome building a cathedral, and meets again an old acquaintance from Ireland. St. Patrick happy shares all he knows about the Holy Grail and the questor at last realises what he must tell Arthur…

Returning to Camelot, he embraces every opportunity to fight and delay attempts to reconcile with Aleta. A brief and brutal war almost costs the prince his life, but finally bring him and Aleta together again, and the family decide to return to Thule for his recuperation. With son Arn in tow, the entire clan head for Aleta’s ancestral kingdom in the Misty Isles, escorted by Viking reiver Boltar to shield them from Mediterranean pirates and brigands…

At their destination, rival ruler Thrasos has resolved to add Aleta’s islands to his growing empire, but has never encountered as savvy a strategist as Aleta or canny tacticians like Valiant and Boltar. His dreams of a Mediterranean empire explosively founder against the devious ploys and armed might of the northern warriors, and he perishes in a cataclysmic last battle…

Now, having barely survived the elemental duel, the exhausted prince learns that Aleta too has barely escaped death, and that he is now the father of four! As the parents recover slowly together, focus shifts to Arn and his commoner pals Paul and Diane, whose idyllic beach frolics are shattered when prisoners of war from Thrasos’ crushed army escape abduct them. Fleeing out to sea, the rogues plan on ransoming the royal heir, and selling the other children…

Quickly discovering the crime, Valiant pursues in the speedy vessel of viking Gundar Harl, but is almost too late as his capable son has already escaped and plots to save his comrades from a slavers’ auction block. When a greedy local governor seeks to exploit the little princeling, he falters as soon as the elder Valiant arrives with blood in his eye and the Singing Sword in his mailed fist…

With peace and quiet abundant, the Misty Isles welcome many ambassadors and prepare to ceremonially christen the new addition, granting Val time to spend with Arn, but that ends when a shipwreck washes up pilgrims heading for the Holy Land. Duty-bound to offer aid, and eager to promote the produce and wares of his island home, Valiant ships out beside them, taking his firstborn too. Arn’s days of childhood indolence are over and the time has come time to learn his place in the world…

Arriving in Jaffa, father and son proceed to the Dead Sea, acquiring a manservant/body-slave named Ohmed, and extending their commercial embassage and religious tour into Damascus where they hire wily, canny – and ultimately, dishonest – Greek Nicilos to manage the trade side of their mission. Their odd caravan is finally bolstered in Baghdad by the addition of a Mongol outcast: a warrior woman skilled in handling horses. Despite the constant strife and many close calls that has marked all the players in their recent journeys alone and together, Taloon will inadvertently spark envy, chaos and the bloody end of the alliance…

Eventually, the pilgrimage ends in Aleppo where Boltar waits to ferry father and son back to a recovered and much wealthier Aleta. A brief period of glorious relaxation ends when a knight near death arrives, carrying a desperate plea from King Arthur. Gaul is besieged by Goth hordes, and safe passage across Europe has ended. England’s ruler needs his greatest hero to be his representative to the Pope and end the crisis…

Aleta heads for Albion to secure a sea route, while Valiant and Arn perilously trek overland from Ostia to Rome, finding the city and province a corrupt and degraded viper’s nest of self-serving officials keeping him from the Pontiff. Eventually, Val accepts his mission cannot succeed, but at least young Arn adds fleeting escape and joy to the life of a dying blind girl…

Undaunted, Valiant turns his energies and ingenuity to creating an alternative trade route between the Holy Father and still-imperilled Christian Britain: visiting the future Spain and France and encountering a lost land where monks seem to be guarded by monsters.

The bedevilled region is a hidden bulwark against the superstitious Goths, and introduces the English warriors to a doughty but distressed noble from neighbouring Aqueloen, where Stephan has been disinherited by sadistic usurper Duke Sadonick. The greedy villain’s machinations and bloody intentions for the princely travellers quickly falls foul of Val battle-savvy and political acumen and soon the province welcomes back Stephan as its rightful ruler…

Meanwhile, Aleta’s ships are anchored in the Bay of Biscay. While awaiting her men’s arrival the Queen strikes up a friendship with an otter, accidentally donating a crown jewel to the beast’s campaign to secure his own mate, but at last Valiant and Arn ride up, and a grand trade armada forms a convoy to embattled Britain…

With material needs assuaged, a fresh crisis mounts after a stopover at a monastery unleashes a charismatic iconoclast whose revolutionary spin on Christian doctrine furiously foments civic unrest, starvation and potential regime-change. When Arthur despatches newly-debarked Valiant to investigate, the troubleshooter must first decide if Wojan “the Voice” is a true instrument of God, a well-meaning anarchist or a simple dupe of his scurrilous scholar attendants/business managers Sleath and Dustad

As the near-insurrection ends, bored Aleta decides to join her husband and takes Arn with her. They reunite at the site of a new church under construction, not far from the fens where the boy Valiant grew up. The lure of his sire’s old adventures beguiles Arn, who takes off to explore the boggy waterways and is soon hopelessly lost. In the week that follows, he experiences many of the same privations and perils his father had, before Valiant finds him.

However, as they all thankfully take ship to comfortably return to Camelot, the Royal Family are unaware that greedy, ambitious eyes are watching…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, it is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2016 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2016 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2016 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods


By Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-746-8 (HB)

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey first appeared as a Dark Horse comic book in 1998. The extraordinary cast of characters have since achieved bizarre notoriety as adored favourites of gentle lovers of whimsy and the degenerate darlings of clued-in, cynical post-moderns.

The original tales featured a lovable handmade simian puppet, a toy crow with button eyes and a much-repaired doll experiencing multiple-award-winning all-ages adventures published as occasional miniseries between 1998 and 2007. Between 2002 and 2004, they starred in a couple of hardcover storybooks and were later recycled and repurposed for an adult-oriented (by which I mean surreal and clever, not tawdry and titillating) newspaper strip…

Tony Millionaire comes from a dynasty of exemplary artists, loves to draw and does it very, very well: referencing classical art, the acme of children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman.

His own creative endeavours – words and pictures – seamlessly blend their styles and sensibilities with European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket.

Born Scott Richardson, Mr Millionaire especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows; Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences. That’s particularly obvious from the range of stunning pictures in this rousing yarn starring his plushy paragons in a memorable collaboration with animator, screen writer and director Matt Danner (Ren & Stimpy, Loony Toons, Monster High and The Drinky Crow Show).

With a variety of graphical strings to his bow such as various animation shows, his own clutch of books for children – particularly the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series – and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies (detailing riotously vulgar, absurdly surreal adventures of a nautically-inclined Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and fellow über-alcoholic Drinky Crow: grown-up world iterations and mirror universe equivalents of the sweet and simple stars herein), every Millionaire project seems to be a guarantee of endless excitement and quality.

This one pushes the featured creatures into the rarefied atmosphere inhabited by such esteemed and established children’s favourites as the Moomins, Wonderland, The Velveteen Rabbit and the assorted chronicles of Oz

A prose tale scripted primarily by Danner with ideas, contributions and 46 stunning monochrome illustrations (in a variety of media from soft pencil tones to crisp stark pen & ink) from Millionaire: the sublime saga details how, one day in a Victorian House by the sea, an old Sock Monkey named Gabby and his constant companions Crow and dilapidated, much-repaired doll Inches discover their beloved guardian Ann-Louise is missing – presumed taken by the recently discovered monstrous beast dubbed the Amarok

Determined to save her, the ill-prepared trio plunge into the terrifying Deep Woods, armed only with maps and a compass from the library of Ann-Louise’s grandfather Professor Rimperton. Braving all manner of terrors – and with the occasional assistance of strange creatures such as wood-elf Trumbernick, a partly digested sea captain and an undersized bear carpenter – the toybox heroes defeat, or more usually narrowly escape, such threats as Venomous, Triple-Spiked, Hog-Faced Caterpillars, stormy seas, a Sea Serpent, horrid Harpies and the unpleasantly ursine Eastern Mountain Guards of Bear Town, until they find her.

However even after the dauntless searchers have finished dodging pursuers, roaming the wilds and soaring the skies to be reunited with Ann-Louise, there is one final trial after the remorseless Amarok tracks them to the beloved little girl they would lay down their lives for…

Like the very best children’s classics, this is a book (available in proudly traditional hardback and ultra-modern digital formats) that isn’t afraid to confront dark matters and actively embraces fear and sadness amidst the wonders in an effort to craft a better story.

Compelling, beguiling and visually intoxicating, this Sock Monkey yarn judiciously leavens discovery with anxiety, heartbreak with gleeful imaginative innocence and terror with bold triumph.

Millionaire describes his works as intended for “adults who love children’s stories” but this collaboration may just have turned that around by concocting a tall tale of adult intent which is one of the greatest kids’ books of modern times.
Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods © 2014 Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books.

The Puma Blues: The Complete Collection in One Volume


By Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli, with Alan Moore & various (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-846-79813-4 (HB)

Introduction by Dave Sim and Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette

During the 1980s, American comics experienced an astounding proliferation of new titles and companies following the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to specialised, dedicated retail outlets – rather than overprint and accept returned copies from general magazine vendors – the industry was able to risk resources on less commercially-driven titles whilst authors, artists and publishers could experiment without losing their shirts.

The huge outpouring of fresh material deriving from the Direct Sales revolution resulted in a plethora of innovative titles and – naturally – a host of appalling, derivative, knocked-off, banged-out trash too. There were even some genuine landmarks and milestones…

The period was an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. Comics shops – run by people in touch with their customers and who actually read and loved at least some of what they sold – sprang up everywhere and a host of new publishers began to experiment with format, genre and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra money to play with.

Consequently, newcomers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had wearied of getting their sequential art jollies from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European, Japanese and Canadian material began creeping in, and by 1983 companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First, Renegade and others established themselves and made impressive inroads.

Most importantly, by circumventing traditional family-focussed sales points like newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent or sexually explicit but also more political and intellectually challenging too. Subsequently, the “kid’s stuff” stigma afflicting comics largely dissipated and America began catching up to the rest of the world, at least partially acknowledging that comics might be a for-real art-form.

New talent, established stars and different takes on old forms all found a thriving forum and marketplace desperate for something a little different. Even tiny companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time. Lots of great material came – and, almost universally, as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted. One of the most critically acclaimed and enthralling features was published by the Moses of Independent creators, Dave Sim.

Sim started self-publishing Cerebus the Aardvark in 1977 and pretty much trail-blazed the entire phenomenon for the rest of us. Passionately, stridently non-mainstream, he soldiered on in complete control of every aspect of his creation and occasionally published other titles by creators who impressed him or he liked. Eventually, however, Sim ditched a coterie of fine and uniquely different books that were nurtured by his Aardvark-Vanaheim outfit, leaving them with his ex-wife’s new company Renegade, re-concentrating all his efforts on Cerebus once more.

And then in 1985, a couple of casual acquaintances showed Sim the opening instalment of something called The Puma Blues

The full story – including how that strangely compelling, so-slowly unfolding eco-fable became a helpless hostage and collateral casualty in the one-man publishing house’s lengthy battle with an international distributor determined to dictate how creators did business – is related here in painful, sordid detail in Sim’s Introduction for this impressive archival edition – complete with his equally stunning pin-up of the series’ iconic signature invention…

This monolithic monochrome tome gathers every published issue of The Puma Blues comic (except the non-canonical Benefit Issue #21, which was rushed out in solidarity by incensed fellow creators to generate publicity, support and funds) before, after almost a quarter century, reuniting writer Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli to finally complete their story…

That aforementioned funnybook hostage was an eerily beautiful, disturbingly pensive oddment which first debuted as a black-&-white title in June 1986 (so Happy Anniversary, folks!); marrying then-escalating ecological concerns and tropes of science fictive paranoia with torturous soul-searching and the eternal quest for place in both family and the world…

The Puma Blues is a tale more about the Why and How of things rather than the usual Who and What of plot and character, so this overview will be brief and short on detail. Trust me, you’ll be grateful for my forbearance when you read this magnum opus yourself…

Accepting the premise that all Science Fiction – whenever it’s created – is always about Right Here, Right Now, the abiding undercurrent of The Puma Blues is an inexorable slide to tragic, unfixable, unwanted change. With the planet either on fire, suddenly underwater, poisoned or choking, it never been more relevant to ponder “what happens next”?

Since the 1970s and proceeding ever more unchecked into the 21st century, nations and human society have been plagued by horrors and disasters exacerbated – if not actually caused – by a world-wide proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid bosses and governments. You could call it retro-futurism now, but Tomorrow, at least in terms of society – as seen from the shaky perch of 1986 – was for many a foredoomed and hopeless place.

Looking at my TV screen or out of a window, I’m not sure that Murphy & Zulli weren’t fundamentally right and doubling as prophets when they set their gentle epic 14 years into the future. 2000 AD and government agent Gavia Immer (look it up, they’re being very clever) is monitoring changes to flora and fauna in the wilderness Reserve around Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts on behalf of the US military.

Still a beautiful, idyllic landscape dominated by ancient apex predators like mountain lions, despite perpetual acid rains, ozone layer breaches and radioactive toxins left after White Supremacists nuked the Bronx, the harsh area monitored by the solitary researcher is the site of some radical changes…

Gavia’s job is not simply clerical. His mission is to periodically test fluctuating PH levels of the lake in between the state’s continual chemical readjustments of the body of water and, whenever he discovers a mutant species – whether “animute” or “biomute” – he has to utilise state-of-the-art technology to instantaneously ship specimens to a US-Sino laboratory Reserve somewhere in China.

That hasn’t prevented the hauntingly lovely flying mantas from proliferating and dominating the skies above his head, however…

Gavia’s only contact with the rest of humanity is his TV screen. It delivers reports, interviews and pep talks from his superiors and allows him to talk to his mother: allowing the solitary agent plenty of time to brood about his father’s death and their unresolved issues.

The fanatical film-maker has been gone four years now, but Gavia is still drowning in unresolved conflicts, which is probably what prompts his mum to forward tapes of all the strange documentaries he neglected his wife and son to make…

Is Gavia imagining it or is he actually gradually divining some inner cosmic revelation from his dad’s tapes and theories? Their examination of recent historical events draws solid links between the declining state of the world and a (frankly baffling and seemingly implausible) connection to patterns of UFO sightings. Surely though, his father’s clearly growing obsession with the strange “alien” creatures popularly known as “Greys” must only have his metaphorical way of searching for incontestable Truth?

Nonetheless, they slowly begin to have a similar effect on the thinking of the equally soul-searching son…

There’s certainly plenty of room for new answers: the growing dominance of flying mantas is clearly no longer a secret – as Gavia learns to his regret – after an old soldier and radical “neo-Audubon” called Jack invades the Preserve looking for proof of the flying (former) fish. Despite himself, Gavia lets the affable old coot stay; a decision he soon has cause to regret…

As animals old and new jostle and tussle to find their niche in the new world order, Gavia sinks further into his father’s videotaped philosophies until he has his revelation and takes off into the heart of America to find out how and why things are falling apart…

Proffering an increasingly strong but never strident message of environmental duty and responsibility, The Puma Blues outlined its arguments and questions as a staggeringly beautiful and compelling mystery play which ran for 23 formal issues, a Benefit special designated “Eat or Be Eaten” and a tantalisingly half-sized #24 before the exigencies of publishing made it extinct.

Before it was squeezed out of existence the saga was collected as two trade paperbacks – Watch That Man and Sense of Doubt – but this monumental hardback tome (also and preferentially available in an eco-sustainable digital edition) belatedly completes the story before offering a passionate defence and valiant elegiac testimony in ‘Acts of Faith: a Coda’by devoted follower and occasional contributor Stephen R. Bissette: even finding room to reprint two items from the aforementioned Benefit Issue: a page from ‘Pause’ by Murphy, Zulli & Bissette, plus the eerily erotic ‘Acts of Faith’ by Alan Moore, Bissette & Zulli, exploring the mating habits of those sky-borne Birostris (look that up too, now I’m being clever…)

The long-delayed walk on the wild side concludes with the quasi-theosophical ‘Mobile’: the full contents of Puma Blues #24½ mini-comic by Murphy & Zulli.

Haunting, chilling, beguiling, intensely imposing and never more timely than now, this is a massive accomplishment and enduring triumph in comics narrative. Read it now, before we’re all too busy treading burning water…
© 2015 Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli. Introduction by Dave Sim © 2015 to be reciprocally owned by both Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli. Afterword © 2015 by Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserve.

Osamu Tezuka’s Original Astro Boy volume 6 & 7



By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-681-6 (TPB 6) 978-1-56971-790-5 (TPB 7)

There’s nothing like the real thing. After a range of robotic rapscallions and kid-friendly constructions, here’s a double dose of the original and genuine mechanical marvel of any age…

From beginning his professional career in the late 1940s until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived in his own country and, ultimately, across the globe. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairy tale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades, Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

Tezuka died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics; created the Japanese anime industry and popularised a uniquely Japanese graphic narrative style which became a fixture of global culture.

These monochrome digest volumes (173 x 113 mm in the physical world and any size you like if you get the eBook edition) continue to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon and one of post-war Japan’s better exports) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The series began in 1952 in Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years, both in comics but in also in other media such as the newspaper strips reprinted and repackaged here. Over that period, Astro Boy spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom, starred in comic book specials and featured in games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently drew himself into his tales as a commentator, and in his later revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series of collections seem to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so stories aren’t treated as gospel and order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most groundbreaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

One day, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or indeed, any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot, the Prof closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as providing friends and admirers the familiar environment turned up another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

The wiry wonder’s astonishing exploits resume after the now traditional ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

The author was also keen on combining all aspects of his creation into one overarching continuity. This volume opens with ‘“Once Upon a Time” Astro Boy Tales Part 1’ January 24th – December 23rd 1967: reprinting modified strips from the serial that ran in the Sankei newspaper. In his cartoon persona, the God of Comics explains how the cliffhanger ending of the TV series (falling into the sun on a malfunctioning nuclear fusion blocker) never sat well with him.

Filling in gaps, Tezuka here reveals how the depowered robot boy was originally rescued and repaired by insectoid aliens and restored to Earth, but also how he has since rejected that plot twist and replaced it with a new one in ‘Beginning of the Contradiction’

Now, while enjoying an evening flight over his beloved city, Astro is caught in the explosion of a crashing spaceship. He also saves a locust woman passenger who has taken more-or-less human form. After sharing her tale convoluted tale of romantic woe – involving two males determined to fight to the death for her – Scara Ohara realizes she is marooned on Earth, but that’s not the biggest problem she and her robot rescuer face. When Astro goes for help, he discovers the detonation has cracked the time barrier, plunging them back 50 years to March 1969…

While scouting ancient (by his lights) Tokyo and reeling in shock, Astro meets and befriends a little boy. He soon learns that there are no other true robots in existence and that little Shin-Chan is the world’s greatest beggar.

The diligent mendicant offers the stranded strangers accommodation in his plush house and is astounded when Astro reveals his artificial nature and great dilemma. The mechanoid needs constant atomic fuel top-ups or he will cease to function, but now – decades away from sustenance – is living on borrowed time…

‘Living on Earth 101’ finds Shin-Chan urgently schooling the strangers on the primitive, intolerant world they now live in: building a home, getting jobs as Astro deduces that – if he’s careful – he can live three more years. There are numerous embarrassing and simply dangerous moments where their secret is almost exposed, such as the time he digs up rare gems from inside a volcano but cannot explain how he got them to extremely curious diamond sellers…

Scara cannot understand the concept of work, but easily adapts to the joys of shopping, and lure of “fun” with a succession of attentive men, piling pressure on the sensible robot and triggering an encounter with ruthless thieves and the first of Astro’s contacts with people he will know half a century from “now”.

It’s the birth of the age of automation and Astro regularly meets prototype constructs that painfully remind him of home, where robots are sentient and have equal rights. Here, his kind are considered, silly fantasy, toys and potential job-stealers. Pioneering scientists often work in secret, such as the masked dabbler building his metal men in a secret underground lair.

The Birth of Neva #2’ sees a painfully young Ochanomizu take on the human-seeming weird kid Astro as an assistant… with startling repercussions.

As Scara continues to flounder in a strange world, ‘Baro, the Robot’ finds her at odds with her rescuer after she reveals that on her world, all mechanoids are slaves. Incensed, Astro rockets away, wasting precious energy to ostensibly investigate the rogue nation of Peakok, which has shocked the world with twin announcements: it is now a nuclear power, and its H-bombs are deployed by a robot delivery system…

As Astro enters the sinister police state, President Bundell is already taking charge of scientist Carpon’s beloved brainchild Baro. The dictator has no idea that the sentient machine has the mind and personality of a human toddler, whilst the nuclear weapon really hates the idea of killing or dying: opinions fortified after meeting and debating with Astro. That all tragically changes when the President murders rebellious Carpon and Baro seeks revenge…

Squandering power, Astro only has six months energy remaining when the next crisis occurs. ‘Scara Disappears’, reveals how the emotionally dislocated alien – growing evermore discontented – flees to the mountains to escape humanity. When the boy bot returns, guilt drives him to investigate Mount Tanigawa, eventually finding Scara has changed shape and joined the bugs living there. With time running out, he and Shin-Chan make contingency plans: a scheme to store Astro’s power-depleted form for the decades necessary to catch up with the technology needed to sustain him, when the moment of total depletion finally comes…

In the meantime, Astro works with young Ochanomizu on developing robots. Faced with constant failure and the fact that society hates and does not want truly autonomous mechanoids, the boffin is despondent and Astro considers sharing his astonishing secret. Suddenly disaster strikes when a building collapses, and the heroic droid sacrifices most of his dwindling reserves to save people trapped in the wreckage. To keep his secret, Astro wears an old robot shell, but the act provokes a crisis as the authorities want the saviour machine that Ochanomizu knows could not have even moved, let alone independently rescued the victims. Revealing his true nature to the Professor, Astro accidentally sparks a national manhunt before falling into the hands of spies with only three days power remaining.

These monstrous thugs have their eyes on another nation’s top-secret technology.

‘The Energy Tube’ could preserve Astro’s existence so he reluctantly agrees to join them and is soon being smuggled out of Japan in a submarine…

This volume ends on a chilling cliffhanger as Astro’s conscience overrides his survival instincts. Refusing to be anybody’s secret weapon, he scuppers the sub and escapes, only to fly into a massacre: US jets bombing peasants. The war in Southeast Asia was in full swing when Osamu Tezuka crafted these stridently anti-war episodes which depicts the Mighty Atom routing American ground and air forces with his last vestiges of energy. When he collapses and is reverently interred, his “corpse” is disturbed and sinks into the Mekong river when the revenge-hungry Americans return to obliterate the village that even ‘The Angel of Viet Nam’ could not save…

To Be Continued…

Osamu Tezuka’s Original Astro Boy Volume 7 offers the same standard preliminaries and The Story Thus Far’ before resuming the Sankei newspaper adventure ‘“Once Upon a Time” with Astro Boy Tales Part 2’ (spanning December 24th1967 to September 27th 1968). Returning to prognostication, the master jumps to ‘The Summer of 1993’ and a world largely at peace and thriving on scientific progress. A dredger in the Mekong plucks a strange doll out of the mud, and – thanks to a handy note attached by Astro Boy – is returned to a certain person in Tokyo.

Little beggar Shin-Chan is now prestigious, powerful businessman Shingo Yamanaka, but he has never forgotten his childhood companion and despite his subordinates suspicious quibbling, spends a fortune on a new energy tube system to repower the inert doll. Marginally successful, the magnate introduces Astro to a world far closer to, but still not his own.

He and his flighty daughter Surume are the only ones who know his secret, and share his woe that although robots are now commonplace, they are still deliberately limited: a worker underclass who “know their place” and always end up on scrap heaps…

With only one day of full power, Astro knows this is not a situation he can fix. Dutiful and loyal, his first action is to check on Scara, who has been with the locusts on Mount Tanigawa for a quarter of a century now. Unsuccessful in this task, he allows Surume to show him the sights, especially the colossal Fun-Zone where humans go to release tensions, Dancing, playing or acting out their frustrated desires to kill in robot-staffed theme parks. Thy have to be careful though, unsupervised robots are illegal and subject to instant destruction if caught in human zones…

Professor Ochanomizu has not been idle. He still seeks to perfect sentient robot creation and his latest success is his pride and joy. However, its advanced nature makes the construct a perfect patsy when criminals frame it for a bold robbery. ‘Robot Chiruchiru in Danger’ finds the nobly stoic automaton on trial for its life. Surume and Astro strive mightily and heroically to save it, but tragedy strikes when the thieves outsmart the robot boy and justice takes a cruelly biased turn…

After turning the tables on the crooks ‘Astro’s Energy Runs Out’ and his day in the sun ends with him again shutting down, this time in the meadow where he had last seen Scara…

More time passes and the story almost comes full circle, as the origins of Astro Boy revisited in ‘Dr. Tenma’ with the tragedy of the deranged genius and his son Tobio expanded to reveal how parental neglect, overwork and compensating guilt all contributed to the construction of the dead boy’s synthetic substitute, and what the obsession to build him actually cost…

A further unknown complication is simultaneously beginning on Mount Tanigawa, where hibernating Scara awakes beside the eroded body of Astro Boy and realises a long-anticipated time-loop paradox is about to occur with two versions of the same person now occupying the same timeline. The solution is horrible, inevitable and ultimately miraculous…

‘The Tragedy of Bailey’ focuses on the robot boy’s painful failure to fit into the Tenma household: his mother’s anxiety and father’s spiralling into madness, and reappearance of aged Professor Ochanomizu, with constantly-baffled “Tobio” stumbling from crisis to crisis before being summarily handed over to a businessman whose behind the scenes dealings had enabled Tenma to complete his resurrection project…

This embroils him in a bizarre doomed plot to force America to recognize robot rights, but end horrifically for pioneering freedom fighter Bailey…

Returned to Japan, Tobio’s relationship with Tenma further deteriorates and ‘Astro Goes to the Circus’ sees time turn a full circle as the Science Minister wearies of the farce and sells his robot boy to inspirationally sadistic circus impresario Hamegg who renames his goldmine star attraction Astro Boy…

Subjected to an escalating round of gladiatorial combats and life-threatening stunts, Astro rebels and runs away, but even personal tragedy and the wiles of Ochanomizu are enough to keep the mighty mech out of Hamegg’s brutal clutches and despite showing his valiant mettle, this tome concludes on another cliffhanger with Astro Boy a battered slave of the worst that humanity can produce…

To Be Continued…

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts, which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels. The melange of marvels is further enhanced here by an older, more sophisticated tone and the introduction of political and social commentary, proving Astro Boy to be a genuine delight for all ages.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies volume 1 1936-1937


By Lee Falk & Ray Moore: introduction by Ron Goulart (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-41-5 (HB)

There are plenty of comics-significant anniversaries this year, and this guy is probably right at the top of the birthday cake.

For such a long-lived, influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market (except in Australia where he has always been accorded the status of a pop culture god).

Numerous companies have sought to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success. At least the former issue began to be rectified with this initial curated collection from Archival specialists Hermes Press…

This particular edition is a lovely large hardback (albeit also available in digital formats), printed in landscape format, displaying two days strip per page in black and white with ancillary features and articles in dazzling colour where required.

Born Leon Harrison Gross, Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his King Features Syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician. Although technically not the first ever costumed champion in comics, The Phantom became the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits…

The Ghost Who Walks debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against an ancient global confederation of pirates. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over illustration to artist Ray Moore. A spectacular and hugely influential Sunday feature began in May 1939.

In a text feature stuffed with sumptuous visual goodies like movie posters; covers for comics, Feature and Little Big Books plus merchandise, Ron Goulart’s eruditely enticing ‘Introduction: Enter the Ghost Who Walks’ tells all you need to know about the character’s creation before the vintage magic begins with ‘Chapter 1: The Singh Brotherhood’.

American adventurer Diane Palmer returns to the USA by sea, carrying a most valuable secret making her the target of mobsters, society ne’er-do-wells and exotic cultists. Thankfully, she seems to have an enigmatic guardian angel who calls himself  “the Phantom”…

As successive attacks and assaults endanger the dashing debutante, she learns that an ancient brotherhood of ruthless piratical thieves wants her secret, but that they have been opposed for centuries by one man…

Kidnapped and held hostage at the bottom of the sea, she is saved by the mystery man who falls in love and eventually shares his incredible history with her…

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and – washing ashore on the African coast – swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance and unswerving war against injustice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades, one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle. And he’s looking to propagate the line…

In the meantime, however, there’s the slight problem of Emperor of Evil Kabai Singh and his superstitious armies to deal with…

‘Chapter 2: The Sky Band’ (originally published from 9th November 1936 to April 10th 1937) finds the mystery avenger caught in love’s old game as a potential rival for Diana’s affections materialises in the rather stuffy form of career soldier Captain Meville Horton – an honourable man who sadly knows when he’s outmatched, unwanted and in the way. Mistakenly determined to do the right thing too, The Phantom concentrates on destroying a squadron of thieving aviators targeting the burgeoning sky clipper trade: airborne bandits raiding passenger planes and airships throughout the orient.

His initial efforts lead to the Phantom’s arrest: implicated in the sky pirates’ crimes, before escaping from police custody with the aid of his devoted pygmy witch doctor Guran and faithful Bandar tribe allies, he’s soon hot on the trail of the real mastermind…

On infiltrating their base, he discovers the airborne brigands are all women, and that his manly charms have driven a lethal wedge between the deadly commander and her ambitious second in command Sala

A patient plaything of the manic Baroness, The Phantom eventually turns the tide not by force but by exerting his masculine wiles upon the hot-blooded – if psychopathic – harridan, unaware until too late that his own beloved, true-blue Diana is watching. When she sets a trap for the Sky Band, it triggers civil war in the gang, a brutal clash with the British military and the seemingly end of our hero, triggering Diana’s despondent decision to return alone to America…

‘Chapter 3: The Diamond Hunters’ opened on April 12th 1936 and revealed how the best laid plans can go awry…

In Llongo territory, white prospectors Smiley and Hill unearth rich diamond fields but cannot convince or induce local tribes to grant them mineral rights to the gems they consider worthless. Like most native Africans, they are content to live comfortably under the “Phantom’s Peace” and it takes all the miners’ guile – including kidnapping a neighbouring chief’s daughter and framing the Llongo; gunrunning and claiming the Ghost Who Walks has died – to set the natives at each other’s throats. Recovering from wounds, the Phantom is slow to act, but when he does his actions are decisive and unforgettable…

With the plot foiled and peace restored, Smiley flees, only to encounter a returned Diana who has acted on news that her man still lives. Seeing a chance for revenge and profit, Smiley kidnaps “the Phantom’s girl”; provoking his being shunned by all who live in the region, a deadly pursuit and a spectacular last-minute rescue. Smiley’s biggest and last mistake is reaching the coast and joining up with a band of seagoing pirates…

At least he is the catalyst for Diana and The Ghost finally addressing their romantic issues….

To Be Continued…

‘Afterword: For Those Who Came in Late…’ then sees editor Ed Rhoades offer his own thoughts on the strip’s achievements and accomplishments.

Stuffed with chases, assorted fights, torture, blood & thunder antics, daredevil stunts and many a misapprehension – police and government authorities clearly having a hard time believing a pistol-packing masked man with a pet wolf might not be a bad egg – this a pure gripping excitement that still packs a punch and quite a few sly laughs. …

© 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc.: ® Hearst Holdings, Inc.; reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

 

The Complete Peanuts volume 6: 1961-1962


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-672-1 (HB) 978-1-60699-949-3 (PB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical surreal epic for half a century: 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that matters. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived: proving cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

Following Diana Krall’s Foreword – discussing past times and secular humanism – the timeless times of play, peril and psychoanalysis resume as ever in marvellous monochrome, with more character introductions, plot advancements and the creation of even more traditions we all revere to this day…

As ever our focus is quintessential inspirational loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly fanciful high-maintenance mutt Snoopy, remains at odds with a bombastic, mercurial supporting cast, all hanging out doing kid stuff.

As always, daily gags centre on playing, musical moments, pranks, and a seasonal selection of sports; teasing, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. However, with this tome, the themes and tropes that define the series (especially in the wake of all those animated TV specials) become mantra-like and endlessly variable.

Mean girl Violet, prodigy Schroeder, self-taught psychoanalyst and world dictator-in-waiting Lucy, her off-kilter little brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” are fixtures perfectly honed to generate joke-routines and gag-sequences around their own foibles, but now another clutch of new disruptive players join the mob.

Moreover, Charlie Brown’s existential responsibility for baby sister Sally expands crushingly as she grows and he assumes the mantle of dumber, yet protective, big brother…

Resigned – almost – to being an eternal loser singled out by fate, Charlie is helpless in the clutches of relentless Lucy who monetises her spiteful verve via a 5¢ walk-in psychoanalysis booth – ensuring that whether at play, in sports, flying his kite or just brooding, the round-headed kid truly endures the trials of the damned…

Perpetually sabotaged, and facing face-to-face abuse from all females in his life. Charlie Brown now endures a fresh hell in the form of smug attention-seeking Frieda who demands constant approval for her “naturally curly hair” and champions the cause of shallow good looks over substance. Even noble Snoopy is threatened, as the newcomer drags – literally – her boneless, functionally inert – but still essentially Feline – cat Faron into places where cats just don’t belong!

Other notable events include a sinister escalation in the Blanket war as Lucy sadistically seeks ways to decouple Linus from the fabric comforter that sustains him in the worst of times…

Moreover, when she isn’t stealing, slicing, mutilating, interring or otherwise assaulting the cloth, Snoopy is there to fight the tormented kid for it. And worst of all, Linus is afflicted with the compulsion to collect things and diagnosed with a need to wear eyeglasses. Oh, the humanity…!

The bizarre beagle increases his strange development in all ways. Other than his extended Cold War duel for possession of the cherished comfort blanket, the manic mutt must adapt to that darn cat, but still finds time to philosophise, eat, dance like a dervish, stand on his head, converse with falling leaves, play with sprinklers, befriend birds, eat more, brave the elements and coin a bucketload of new slogans like “Happiness is a piece of fudge caught on the first bounce”…

The Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than 4-panel dailies. Thwarted ambition, sporting failures, explosive frustration – much of it kite-related – and Snoopy’s inner life became the strip’s signature denouements as these weekend wonders afforded Schulz room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

Particular moments to relish this time involve the increasingly defined and sharply-edged romantic triangle of Lucy, Schroeder and Beethoven; Sally’s extended performance anxiety over starting kindergarten; Linus discovering the magic of a library card; the satisfaction of shoelace-tying; more “pencil-pal” communications; snow-games, rain, hiccups, stargazing ruminations; cooking gaffes; television, and grandeur and weirdness of Autumn.

There’s also slow-maturing madness through the first converts to the cult of The Great Pumpkin and the dread power of romance manifests with the return of Linus’ unattainable schoolteacher/inamorata Miss Othmar

To wrap it all up, Gary Groth celebrates and deconstructs the man and his work in ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000’whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume ensures total enjoyment: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that still adds joy to billions of lives, and continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962 (volume Six) © 2006, 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. The Foreword is © 2006, Diana Krall. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2006 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 5: 1959 to 1960


By Charles M. Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-149-3 (Canongate HB) 978-1-60699-921-9 (Fantagraphics PB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical surreal epic for half a century: 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that matters. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived: proving cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

Following a Foreword of fun and frank shared reminiscences between editor Gary Groth and mega star Whoopi Goldberg, the timeless times of play, peril and psychoanalysis resume as ever in marvellous monochrome, but this time major changes are in motion as the feature enters its true glory days …

Our focus is quintessential inspirational loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, remains at odds with a bombastic, mercurial supporting cast, all hanging out doing kid stuff.

As always, daily gags centre on playing, pranks, and a seasonal selection of sports; musical moments, teasing, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. However, with this tome, the themes and tropes that define the series (especially in the wake of all those animated TV specials) are truly bedded in.

Mean girl Violet, prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy and her off-kilter little brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” are fixtures sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles, but a new disruptive force is introduced. The existential angst of Charlie Brown is magnified by more responsibility with the coming of his new baby sister Sally

Resigned to his role as eternal loser and singled out by fate and the relentless, diabolical Lucy – who now intensifies and monetises her spiteful verve with a 5¢ walk-in psychoanalysis booth – the round-headed kid really endures the trials of Job from now on. His attempts to fly a kite or kick a football are perpetually sabotaged, and he faces from all the females in his life constant face-to-face reminders of how rubbish he is. Can this new one in his own house be any different?

Other notable events include the first instances of Linus’ doomed relationships: primarily with alternative mythical entity The Great Pumpkin, but also unattainable, equally unseen schoolteacher/inamorata Miss Othmar

Wonder beagle Snoopy increases his strange development in all ways. His extended Cold War duel for possession of Linus’ cherished comfort blanket escalates but the manic mutt also finds time to philosophise, dance like a dervish and battle City Hall to save his doghouse from a proposed Freeway Bypass…

The Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than 4-panel dailies. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements as these weekend wonders gave the auteur room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

By 1959, rapid-fire raucous slapstick gags were riding side-by-side with increasingly abstract, obscure, edgy, psychologically barbed introspections: deep ruminations in a world where kids and animals were the only actors. The relationships are now deep, complex and absorbing but there was still room and time for pure artistic expression. The “Clouds” page for Sunday August 14th was instantly revered by readers and cited by Schulz as his all-time personal favourite.

Sheer exuberance and a spontaneous tendency to barrack perceived failure or weakness at any provocation remains a trusted standby, supported by sporting crises, loneliness, the difficulties of learning to read and wearing long pants, plus a growing attention to issues of motherhood.

Particular moments to relish here involve Snoopy’s muzzle-pugilism; Charlie Brown’s “pencil-pal”; snow-games, rain, cooking gaffes; television, the dread power of romance and grandeur and weirdness of Autumn: all while offering more examples of Schroeder’s eternal love affair of Beethoven and inability to discern Lucy’s far-from-apparent attractions.

The general trends for all the kids being beguiled by stargazing, waxing philosophical at the heavens’ splendour and enduring St. Valentines’ Day traumas continues and there’s even a sighting of Lucy’s softer side. This collection features the first incidence of a minor phenomenon springing from the April 25th daily which first disclosed that “Happiness is a warm puppy…”

To wrap it all up, Gary Groth celebrates and deconstructs the man and his work in ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000’whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume offers a rare example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that remains part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1959-1960 (volume 5) © 2006 United Features Syndicate, Inc. The Foreword is © 2006 Whoopi Goldberg. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2006 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Princess Knight volume 1


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Maya Rosewood (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-25-4 (PB)

Osamu Tezuka revolutionised the Japanese comics industry during the 1950s and 1960s. A devoted fan of the films of Walt Disney, he performed similar sterling service in the country’s fledgling animation industry.

Many of his earliest works were aimed at children, but right from the start his expansive fairy tale stylisations – so perfectly seen in this splendid romp – harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers…

Ribon no Kishi or “Knight of the Ribbon” is a series which Tezuka returned to repeatedly during his life and one continued in the 21st century by his disciples. The simple tale has been turned into TV anime seen all over the world (generally known as some variation of “Choppy and the Princess”) and in 2006 became a stage musical.

The serial originated in Kodansha’s Shoujo Korabu (Shōjo Club), running from January 1954 to January 1956, with a generational sequel appearing in Nakayoshi magazine from January 1958 to June 1959. The original tale was updated and revised in 1963-1966, forming the basis of the version in this magnificent tome, translated from the Tezuka Osamu Manga Zenshu Edition 1977.

In 1967-1968, to tie-in with a television adaptation, Tezuka reconfigured the tale with science fiction overtones. Limned by Kitano Hideaki, it ran for a year in Shōjo Friend.

The series is a perennial favourite and classic of the medium and this volume is part of a 2-volume softcover (or digital) English-language edition, containing the first 16 episodes in vibrant monochrome.

‘Once Upon a Time’ opens in Heaven where junior angels are busy with soon-to-be-born souls, installing either blue boy hearts or pink girl hearts to the ante-natal cherubs in their care. Unfortunately, easily distractible Tink (AKA “Choppy” in many foreign iterations) cocks up and one proto-baby gets both…

Tink is dispatched to Earth to retrieve the superfluous metaphysical organ and lands in the feudal kingdom of Silverland, where a most important child is about to be born. The King and Queen desperately desire their imminent first-born be a boy, for no female can rule the country. Should the child be a princess, then vile Duke Duralumin’s idiot and nastily maladjusted boy Plastic will become heir-apparent.

Thus, due to a concatenation of circumstances, a baby girl with a dual nature spends her formative years pretending to be a prince…

Fifteen years pass before ‘Flowers and Parades’ resumes the saga. Tink has been lax in his mission and Prince Sapphirehas become the darling boy of the kingdom. Duralumin and crafty henchman Sir Nylon have spent the intervening years certain the gallant boy is actually a useless girl, but have been unable to prove it. In that time, Sapphire has grown into a dutiful, beautiful – if androgynous – specimen skilled in riding, sports and all arts martial, but passionately yearns to openly wear the dresses and make-up which are her family’s most intimate secret. When Tink finally reveals himself and exposes the heir’s hidden nature, Nylon overhears…

‘The Carnival’ sees gorgeous Prince Franz Charming pay a royal visit from neighbouring Goldland. Sapphire, aided by her mother and nurse, dons a blonde wig and party frock to clandestinely give vent to her true nature, turning all heads and captivating her regal guest. When she returns to her public identity, all Franz can talk about is the mysterious girl with flaxen hair, blind to the fact that she is sitting beside him…

In ‘The Tournament’, the evil Duke turns a fencing exhibition to his advantage, killing the King and framing Franz for the deed, after which the ‘Prisoner Prince’ is helped to escape by his Flaxen maid. Heir Sapphire accedes to the throne in ‘Coronation’, only to have it all snatched away as the Duke’s latest scheme succeeds beyond all his wildest dreams. Sapphire is publicly exposed as a girl, and her recently widowed mother is accused of betraying the nation by concealing the fact…

Reviled and shunned, mother and daughter are imprisoned with ghastly hunchback jailer Gammer in ‘Sapphire in Coffin Tower’, wherein the distraught girl befriends the vermin of the Keep just as Gammer gets his orders to dispose of his charges. Meanwhile, Tink has been searching high and low for Sapphire…

Narrowly escaping being murdered, the princess becomes a masculine masked avenger of wrongs in ‘Phantom Knight’s Debut’, punishing the wicked men who have ruined her nation since Plastic was enthroned by Duralumin.

In the Palace, the villains look for ways to control the increasingly off-kilter Plastic in ‘The Idiot King’s Bride’. Little do they know that Briar Rose, the fetching companion they’ve acquired, is Sapphire, on an infiltration mission…

When she is inevitably caught, Sapphire’s life takes an even more dramatic turn in ‘Devil’s Whisper’ when terrifying witch Madame Hell materialises, offering her untold wealth and power if she will sell her female heart and nature. Luckily Tink’s angelic power drives the horror off, but is unable to prevent the princess being sentenced to a life of penal servitude in ‘Two by the Quarry’.

Here she again meets Franz, who has long believed Sapphire responsible for his frame-up and imprisonment in Silverland’s dungeons. Nevertheless, the Prince helps Sapphire escape, almost dying in the effort. Soon after the girl is transported to ‘The Witch’s Lair’ and meets Hell’s daughter Hecate, who violently opposes her mother’s scheme to marry her off to Franz. That young worthy, however, has meanwhile recovered from his wounds and is still searching for the flaxen-haired girl, oblivious to her true identity and nature…

Hecate does not want Sapphire’s girlish heart and frees the Princess Knight by turning her into a ‘Grieving Swan’ who is captured by Franz and added to the Royal Flock. The Prince too is being pressured to marry and beget an heir, so when Madame Hell arrives with a huge bribe and a now compliant Hecate the boy’s uncle is keen to cement the nuptial alliance until the ensorcelled swan Sapphire exposes their true natures with Tink’s angelic assistance…

Just as Franz begins to finally notice the similarity of his flaxen dream girl to the freshly restored Sapphire in ‘Two Hearts’ she and Tink are fleeing – right into the clutches of Nylon who is keen to wipe out any loose ends. At the worst possible moment, the angel completes his long mission and reclaims the boy-heart, leaving her helpless, but cannot betray his friend and returns it, consequently losing his place in Heaven…

Together again the pair attempt to rescue Sapphire’s mother from Coffin Tower but are too late. The Queen and Gammer have been taken to Sea Snake Island where vengeful Madame Hell’s dark magic has transformed her into a petrified ‘Stone Queen’.

The drama pauses with Sapphire and Tink adrift on the ocean and encountering brilliant, dashing, gloriously charismatic ‘Captain Blood, Pirate’ who instantly penetrates the princess’ manly disguise, seeing a woman he must marry at all costs…

Princess Knight is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking adventuresome fairy tale about desire, destiny and determination which practically invented the Shoujo (“Little Female” or young girl’s manga) genre in Japan and can still deliver a powerful punch and wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels. Still one of the best and most challenging kid’s comics tales ever, it’s a work that all fans and – especially parents – should know.

© 2011 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2011 by Mari Morimoto and Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Valentine for Charlie Brown


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699- (HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most broadly accepted, since – after the characters made the jump to television – the little nippers become an integral part of the American mass cultural experience.

Charles M. Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for 50 years, publishing 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and TV spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire. That profitable sideline – one Schulz devoted barely any time to over the decades – is where this little gem originates from…

Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

The usual focus of the feature (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, endures a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast who hang out doing kid things in a most introspective, self-absorbed manner.

The daily gags centred on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The consistently expanding cast also includes mean girl Violet, child prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy Van Pelt, her other-worldly baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen”: each with a signature twist to the overall mirth quotient and sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles. As a whole, the kids tackled every aspect of human existence in a charming and witty manner, acting as cartoon therapists and graphic philosophical guides to the world that watched them.

Charlie Brown is settled into his existential angst and resigned to his role as eternal loser as if singled out by a gleeful Fate. It’s a set-up that remains timelessly funny and infinitely enduring…

Available in a child-friendly hardback and the usual digital formats, A Valentine for Charlie Brown offers a trio of extended vintage sequences revolving around further crushing the spirit of the saddest, yet most optimistic kid on Earth. All he wants is someone to love, but for many of us, it’s not that easy to find the one – or even anyone…

The tales are told in a series of monochrome panels (generally four to a page) and we open with ‘Valentine’s Vigil at the Mailbox’ as the perpetually anxious and responsibility-burdened Charlie anticipates a card or maybe more at this time of romantic intensity. Sadly, the mail is not an ally and most post goes to the hairy pal who truly does dote on him…

Of course, there’s always Linus to share thoughts with, sister Sally to show him up and Lucy to be… well Lucy…

Not that Van Pelt has much joy with her own chosen inamorata. Schroeder loves music and would do anything to be alone with his passion

A new year brings fresh hope as Charlie discovers ‘The Little Red-Haired Girl’, but even after burdening all his pals with his aspirations and disappointments, our gallant would-be swain painfully realises the course of true love never yadda, yadda, yadda…

Wrapping up the melancholy mirth is delicious change of pace ‘My Sweet Babboo’ which sees Sally set her cap for Linus with terrifying determination: an all-points pursuit to delight jaded older souls and simultaneously chill the heart of anybody with pet bunnies..

Sally and Linus take centre stage in this outrageous and inventive sequence but there’s still plenty of time for Charlie and the others to suffer their usual hang-ups, between marvelling at the dogged determination on show…

Timeless and evergreen, Charlie Brown’s existentialist travail and amorous aspirations have been delighting readers seemingly forever and clearly will not be stopping or superseded anytime soon. If you haven’t joined this club yet, why not sign up now?
A Valentine for Charlie Brown © 2015 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.