Monday, 21 July 2014

Vaughn Bode Jamboree

Vaughn Bode would've been 73 today, so let's celebrate. Unfortunately, we can't all sit on a mountaintop contemplating our place in the universe whilst engaging in wildly inventive sex and ingesting gargantuan amounts of hallucinogens, as Vaughn would like us to, so if you're not able to fit that into your schedule today, here's the next best thing.
Here's the legendary Cartoon Gooroo in interview AND in concert AND in combination with Berni Wrightson. Not the best quality clips, but beggars can't be choosers as there's so little of Da Bode on film. Enjoy!

And here's some beautiful work from Bode & Berni, from Swank magazine circa 1971.
Bode asked Wrightson to chip in on this strip, as he was struggling to make deadlines, but unfortunately, the partnership didn't last long. According to Vaughn: ' Berni nearly OD'd on the 'tits and ass ' cartoons, he couldn't stand it and wanted to go back to the Swamp Thing '
So enjoy what there is, 'cos it's fantastic. It's also, obviously, very much adults only, so don't go looking at it at work, ok? Unless, of course, you happen to work at Swank magazine...

And what would today be without some Cheech Wizard?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Beetle Bailey On Parade

Throughout the Bronze Age, Tempo Books produced a seemingly endless run of lovely little slim paperbacks of various newspaper strips, and I bought every one I could find in Cambridge's legendary remaindered bookshop.
From Rick O'Shay to Mandrake to Flash Gordon, they seemed to get a new one in every week, all with that telltale remaindered groove cut into the top or bottom of the book.
( Funny how you can get nostalgic even about that groove - If I see a book like this from this era that hasn't got a groove in it, I always feel slightly cheated )
I bought this collection of Mort Walker's long, long running military yoks strip in 1972, and loved it. Walker is a master cartoonist and animator with an expert sense of timing, his style both slick and simplistic, and the characters are loveable and genuinely funny.
Some have accused the strip of not dealing with real world or real war issues. No, Beetle Bailey doesn't address real issues, and yes, it could just as easily be set in any huge, unwieldy organization, but those who accuse it of not being something Walker clearly has no interest in it being are missing the point. This is lightweight laffs, troops.

Beetle himself is a slacker before the word existed, who hates being in the army, and seems on permanent KP, but the real star of this collection is the strip's first black character, the Luke Cage of newspaper strips, Lt. Jackson Flap ( who definitely does have that groove, baby ).
Allegedly, Walker did lose some papers in the South when Flap was introduced, but equally gained about a 100 more, mostly in the Carribean. Swings and roundabouts. Interviewed in 1984 in Nemo Magazine, Walker had this to say:
Stars and Stripes banned me when I brought in Lt. Flap. The story was: They were having racial problems anyway and they thought this might heat up a few things, and cause some more trouble. They were the only paper that really actually banned me.
People were a little concerned when I started doing it, because they thought I was going to do a funny stereotype. And after a while they realized I wasn't making fun of him, he's just a funny character.
Right on...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Damnation Alley

He raised his goggles and looked at the world through crap-coloured glasses, which was pretty much the way he looked at it without them, too.

One of my favourite books as a kid was Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, a kind of post-apocalypse Wages Of Fear or Dirty Dozen, first published in the UK in 1971.
Some years after World War 4, America is a bombed out shell, the survivors huddled into the remains of California and Boston with 3000 miles of radioactive, mutant-infested wasteland between them, dubbed Damnation Alley.
A plague strikes Boston, San Diego has the serum, and somebody has to get through the Alley to deliver it safely.

That man is Hell Tanner, the last of the biker angels, a scumbag who is: 'The lowest, most reprehensible human being' who 'once gouged out a man's eyes, just for fun.'
Hell ( so named 'cos when his father first saw him as a baby, uttered one word: 'Hell!' and left ) is granted a pardon for his many crimes in return for taking the trip in one of two giant Landmaster vehicles.

If all this sounds more than a little familiar, well take your pick. Tanner went on to inspire further End Of The World anti-heroes such as Snake Plissken and Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer.

As well as the direct rip-off that was Judge Dredd epic The Cursed Earth, which has the exact same plot and vehicles, but with Dredd teaming up with a punk version of Tanner named Spikes Harvey Rotten.

Damnation Alley was also adapted into a not particularly edifying movie, with Hell being sanitized into army rebel Jake Tanner, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, alongside George Peppard, who equally shares little but his name with the character from the book.

The film also boasts incredibly bad special effects ( even for the '70's ), Peppard uttering the immortal line 'This whole town is infested by Killer Cockroaches!' and a ludicrous ending, where Tanner finally reaches Boston, which doesn't seem to have been affected one iota by the apocalypse, and is full of nothing but white people. Hmm...

Although fast paced, the novel itself doesn't have quite as much action as you would like, being actually more of a character study of a rat bastard who nevertheless retains some small sliver of humanity. For instance, Hell cripples his younger brother, who also volunteered, to get him out of the running, knowing that the kid is too soft to make it through the Alley alive.
I also like the section where he falls in with a God fearing, farming family and is forced to pretend to be a decent human being to get their help and continue his odyssey.

But Damnation Alley is such a perfect set-up for a story, and the book such an enjoyable, fast read, I'm always surprised no one's tried to put Hell Tanner into comics, either by direct adaptation or giving him new adventures. But then, I'm equally puzzled as to why no one's ever tried to remake the movie, and do it properly.

The following spring, on the day of it's unveiling, when it was discovered that someone had scrawled obscene words on the statue of Hell Tanner, no one thought to ask the logical candidate why he had done it, and the next day it was too late, because he had cut out without leaving a forwarding address.

Sunday, 13 July 2014


This here is the oldest comic book I own, not in terms of publication date, but as to how long it's sat on various family bookshelves, and is a real childhood favourite.
Alix: The Black Claw came out in 1971, and is one of only two English language appearances for this long, long, long running Franco-Belgian strip. If my parents thought about it at all, they probably bought it because it looked historical, and therefore vaguely educational.
I, of course, wanted it because the bad guy crouching in the trees there looks more than a little bit like The Black Panther.

Alix is kind of a Roman Age Tintin, a former slave from Gaul, who's been adopted by a high-ranking Roman family, and now enjoys some level of social status and fame. That, or like every Boys Adventure hero, adults just unaccountably listen to his opinion for no other reason than that he is the hero.
He's a real take-charge kinda guy, always rushing into dangerous situations and leaving befuddled grown-ups in his wake. He's also, on occasion, a bit dim, as you'll see.
Creator Jacques Martin draws in the 'Ligne Claire' ( clear line ) style pioneered by Tintin's Herge, as did every Belgian cartoonist of the time. It's a way of drawing I never liked as a kid, finding it flat and unexciting, but as an adult am coming to admire immensely.
The story starts in Pompeii, with a nice travelogue around the town. Alix apparently was always historically accurate, and from the first panel, you absolutely get the feel of being in the Ancient World.
Alix is in town to visit his cousin Petronius, but almost immediately, danger lurks!

The mysterious prowler attacks noted Senator Flavius with his poison coated Black Claw, leaving him completely paralyzed and condemned to a living death.
When, at a feast to welcome Alix to Pompeii, the prowler strikes again, doing the same thing to Petronuis' old friend Sulla, it's clearly time for action for the comic world's other Gaulish hero.

Alix gives chase, but soon loses the lurker in the maze of streets around the city. Trying to make sense of it all, he comes across Egyptian sidekick and best pal Enak, hanging around the local cemetery. ( Love that panel of Alix moodily looking out over the scenery, by the way )

In the cemetery, Alix & Enak find the scroll guides them to yet another paralyzed body. It's Senator Marcus, another friend of cousin Petronius, laid out on the slab for all to see.
But when the boys lead Petronius back to the graveyard, the body has vanished. Petronius, by this point, is starting to suspect what's going on, but won't talk, so Alix sneaks into Marcus' house to find the villain of the piece, who seems to be drawn by C.C. Beck:

Enak breaks Alix out of his trance just in the nick of time, and the pair are rescued from the Wizard ( named Rafa ) by Servio, a slave who happens to have the perfect name for a slave, and who belongs to a tribe that are sworn enemies of Rafa, and who handily possess an antidote to the paralyzing poison.
Returning home, Petronius finally admits that the reason people are dropping like flies is that Rafa is after him and his four friends, for having led the legion that massacred his city 20 years before.
Racing to the last surviving officer, the equally C.C. Beck-like Gallas, they find out that Rome ordered the town destroyed for the supposed murder of a shipful of Roman soldiers. Gallas helpfully fills in the the rest of the story:

So the whole  thing was a huge mistake, and the missing ship crashed on the reefs nowhere near the town, meaning Petronius and pals massacred a whole city of completely innocent people. Some days nothing goes right.
All through this, Gallas' beloved nephew Claudius has slept through the revelations about his uncle, and when the Black Claw makes a play for Gallas, Alix fights him to a knockout before making the single dumbest mistake any hero made ever:

That's right. Of all the places you could put a poisonous claw, he puts it....on the pillow next to a sleeping child. I mean, look at the previous panels, there's tables and chairs all around the room, for Jupiter's sake.

While Alix is busy being a doofus, Rafa sneaks back in and murders Gallas, drowning him in his ceremonial pool, before running for the safety of an old, unused temple. The townspeople corner him there, and:

Rafa escapes the city, and Alix swears revenge. Eventually he traces the wizard to Africa, where Alix, Enak, Servio and a whole Roman Legion merrily set up a camp and go looking for a) water and b) Servio's village so they can get the antidote. If they happen to bump into Rafa along the way, that's nice, but they don't seem unduly bothered about that.

Anyway, Rafa and his army know Alix is in town, and pretty soon, our hero and his chums are up against rampaging Gorilla's:

Slithery snakes:

Man-eating crocodiles:

And savage tribesmen:

All while, back at the camp, his beleaguered pals are staving off repeated attacks from Rafa's army, led by crony Niarcus:

Eventually, Alix manages to scare off the tribesmen by escaping onto 'The Accursed Mountain' in this wonderfully creepy scene:

And are free to get to Servio's village for the antidote. If only things were going as well back at the camp:

On his return to the camp, Alix is nearly trapped by Naircus' cunning plan ( which basically consists of hiding ):

But is rescued by his pal's in the ship, who've been moored behind some trees Niarcus didn't bother checking. Then, Alix realizes he's made his second bonehead play, having lost the phials of antidote in all the excitement. Luckily though, Enak & Servio both have theirs. Well, until a bunch of pirates attack the ship. Life for an Ancient World hero is never easy.

Finally, the gang make it back to Pompeii, and give the only remaining antidote to Claudius, 'cos, y'know, children are the future, and all's well that ends well. Except for the still paralyzed victims. And the fact that Rafa basically got away scott free. And the fact they're living in a world where slavery seems like a good idea. And...

Alix is great fun, total Boy's Adventure, and it's a shame that in it's nearly 60 year history, it's never been made fully available in English. But wait, I've just come across this:

It's a bit weird seeing Alix all grown up, in his '50's, and with a modern style of art, as for me this character is completely frozen in time. It's like seeing Winnie The Pooh as an adult or something. Presumably though, his and Enak's son there regularly go off and get into the kind of scrapes he used to, so some things never change, I guess.