Tuesday, November 28, 2017


By Cameron Ashley

Hi Strangers!

Too many comics, too little time to write about them. Woe is me.

To remedy this, let's ram together four excellent comics in the form of bullet reviews. So with no further preamble, here they all are, in no particular order, to get us somewhat back up to speed and ready to strut into the New Year with our empty book bags begging to be filled.

By Herg√© 
Published by Fantagraphics

Serialised in 1934, Peppy In The Wild West is Belgian comics legend Herge's near-forgotten work. Thanks to Fantagraphics, it makes its English-language debut in a handsome, smartly-designed, album-sized edition. Peppy the bear is a hat maker. With bare heads now the trend, our industrious but struggling hero hits the trail and heads out west, accompanied by his love Virginny and his horse Bluebell. Selling his wears to the natives (drawn in the form of rabbits by Herge), a squabble breaks out when the local medicine man sees profits decline and the local chief take a loss in tax as a result. War is declared, and Peppy faces the wrath of the entire tribe. Absurd in all the right ways, Herge slips in plenty of digs at war profiteering and the ridiculousness of violent conflict. The pages are far less intricate that subsequent Tintin books (underway during the same period), but the artist's trademarks are all here and the liveliness of his line is present even at this early stage. It's also a very funny book, with slapstick gags aplenty and it comes with an excellent introduction by Cynthia Rose, tracing the long road Peppy took to publication and the various controversies that dogged Herge and his work. Essential for fans of classic comics and for Herge lovers in particular.

By Various
Published by Heavy Metal Media

Okay, so the arrival of Grant Morrison as Heavy Metal Editor in Chief has not exactly propelled HM back into the stratosphere of comics excellence. There have been some good stories, Atomahawk chief among them off the top of my head, but there have also been some serious misses filling out the periodical's pages since Moz's much-hyped arrival, chief among them the entirety of that recent music issue. Ugh. But! Here to save the legendary title from the pull list chopping block is Richard Corben, HM alum and all around comics Titan, returning to the pages that (arguably) made him a serious comics player in the first place and providing some serious artistic clout and much-missed fantasy aesthetic. 

Corben's "Murky World" sees the now 77 year-old creator in playful and utterly undiluted form - how he remains so consistently terrific at his age is a mystery. Riffing on his own '70s HM classic, "Den," Corben gives us a hero named Tugat, an amnesiac newly awakened in a fantastical landscape tasked with travelling to a far away citadel where all his questions will be answered. It's a quest that already goes awry in this opening chapter, the first of many apparently, and it's a thrill to see his long and distinguished career come full circle.

Come for Corben, stay for James Harvey, whose "Mouth Baby" is possibly the best short comic I've read this year. Weighing in at just over thirty pages, Harvey's densely packed pages and frequently creative layouts are a showstopper. A young woman finds herself pregnant in the most unusual of places and when her baby is born, her and her partner find themselves raising a rapidly growing, social media-obsessed monster child. It's brilliant. Armed also with a great Weird short by Grant Morrison and Dominic Regan and a cool little Hellraiser tale by Ben Meares, Christian Francis and Mark Torres, this is a terrific issue, great enough to make us all forget that there is apparently an upcoming comic based on Nikki Sixx's autobiography...sigh. 

NOW #1
By Various
Published by Fantagraphics

More anthology goodness! Showing us all how it's really done is veteran Fantagraphics editor Eric Reynolds, whose new anthology project, Now, has finally made its long-awaited debut. With a thrice-yearly schedule and a very wise mandate to scrap serialised comics entirely (the bane of Image's Island and, let's be honest, an ongoing problem with Heavy Metal), Now #1 comes loaded with comics talent. With Noah Van Sciver's hilarious standout "Wall of Shame" as its centrepiece, the 130-page debut issue also features Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, Malachi Ward & Matt Sheean, Sammy Harkham, JC Menu and more.

Ward & Sheean's "Widening Horizon" is a fave, a short docu-style comic retelling the origins of an altogether very different history of human space travel. As with the duo's other work together, last year's Ancestor and the recently released Expansion, "Widening Horizon" is whip-smart and attractive high-concept SF. Another fave, Menu's "SOS Suitcase" is a scratchy nightmarish loop of a story. Sammy Harkham provides a quiet single page featuring Marlon Brando in Tahiti, and Tobias Schalken's "21 Positions/The Final Frontier" does remarkable things with comics page space. Honestly, though there's not a dud strip amongst the assembled crew, a testament to both editor Reynolds' taste and guiding hand. A killer debut issue.

By Gou Tanabe
Translated by Zack Davisson
Published by Dark Horse

Easily the most atmospheric translation of Lovecraft into comics is Gou Tanabe's remarkable The Hound and Other Stories, a collection of three tales of cosmic horror. It's the pacing that makes this work so very good, with Tanabe's long stretches of quiet moments opening up into double-page spreads of intricately detailed supernatural menace. I've had the Japanese edition for years and it's a particular treat to see Tanabe's work reach English-language readers, translated excellently by Zack Davisson, who clearly and wisely had the original stories on hand.

"The Temple" kicks things off perfectly, with Tanabe updating Lovecraft's 1920 tale to WWII as the crew of a German U-boat descend into madness and murder as they evade their mortal enemies and succumb to the influence of a strange artefact brought on bought connected to something that waits way down in the depths. The wonderfully creepy "The Hound" follows, a tale of grave robbing gone especially awry, that introduces readers to the wider Lovecraft mythos cleverly. "The Nameless City" closes proceedings, with an explorer searching for, and finding, the cursed Nameless City, as referenced in The Necronomicon. Perhaps visually the book's highlight, Tanabe takes the task of bringing the altar in Lovecraft's Nameless City to life with great seriousness, creating intricate inky menace on every page. Dark Horse plan to bring further Tanabe Lovecraft adaptations into print, hopefully sooner rather than later as The Hound and Other Stories is truly excellent.

 Love your comics.

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