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PG Tips No. 1:

Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading

In the first of a regular series of PG Tips articles, Paul Gravett reviews books of and about comics from his recommended reading list.

Tex, The Lonesome Rider
by Joe Kubert & Claudio Nizzi
SAF Comics
Tex is an Italian institution, a true ‘Spaghetti Western’ which has sold more than half a billion graphic novels worldwide since it was created in 1948 by writer Gian Luigi Bonelli and artist Aurelio Galleppini. The exploits of rugged yet humane Texas ranger Tex Willer and his partner Kit Carson are still huge sellers in Italy today in monthly 100-page albums and in larger 240-page specials. Ever since I heard that the great Joe Kubert had illustrated one of these fumetti giants, I’ve longed to see it in English. A while back, Dark Horse announced that his epic would be translated as a series of pricey colorized hardbacks (if the first of these really did see print, I’m not the only one who missed it). Now SAF are finally releasing it the way it was meant to be seen, in its original Italian format of one bumper black-and-white package, the biggest wodge of prime Kubert ever put between covers. Yeeee-hah!

Frankenstein Now & Forever
by Alex Baladi
Typocrat Press
From Switzerland, where comics were ‘invented’ in the early 19th century, comes Alex Baladi, one of the most provocative members of an engaging generation of early 21st century Swiss graphic novelists. As Baladi unravels the fragile lives and minds of two young women lost in a soulless city, he weaves in the Frankenstein story’s themes of alienation, rejection and the need for companionship and love. Baladi’s stark graphics and subtle transitions reassert the power of Mary Shelley’s monster as a timeless metapor for our fractured, patchwork identities. His poignant meditation will haunt you long after you put his book down.

Kramer’s Ergot Vol 5
Edited by Sammy Harkham
Gingko Press
Like Zap in the Sixties or Raw in the Eighties, Kramer’s Ergot is America’s defining comix laboratory for the new 21st century. What started in 2000 as a modest, monochrome, pulp-paper anthology self-published by editor/cartoonist Sammy Harkham has blossomed into a oversized, colour doorstop of an artbook. Sammy’s purview now goes beyond America and Canada to welcome Helge Reumann and Xavier Robel from Switzerland, Fabio Viscogliosi from France and Scotland’s Tom Gauld, over 20 authors in all across 320 pages. If anything, KE5 is even stronger than the last, more tightly edited and focussed on forms of storytelling. David Heatley condenses his sexual history, "slightly abridged" but still painfully honest, into tiny, loosely drawn boxes, up to 48 on a page, giving it both an intimacy and an unsettling flatness. Several artists living in Bush’s Amerika question life after death, from Kevin Huizenga‘s suburban treatise to Paper Rad‘s game of existential consequences, while J. Bradley Johnson gets some overdue acclaim for his enthused outsider funnies.  However varied their styles and roots, most of this crop of creators display affinities with Gary Panter‘s art brut ‘ratty line’ and/or Ware‘s super-precise diagrammed circuit boards, and these two giants of the artform also contribute. Not empty, easy candy floss, this is a nutritious feast and a rewarding workout for your comics-reading muscles.

Smelling A Rat
by Paul Wright
Jonathan Cape
Times cartoonist, book jacket illustrator and son of David Wright, who drew the Carol Day newspaper strip, now Paul Wright unleashes his bonkers painted comedy about young Trevor Gristle, comics fan and wannabe sidekick, who brings home a flatulent 7-foot tall rat named Ratman in a green-spotted black suit. At first like a cross between Raymond BriggsSnowman and Fungus, this eccentric English sitcom soon spirals delightfully out of control to tackle global corruption, weird science, magic tricks and scattershot celebrity satire. “Parp!”

by Chris Odgers
Sawhorse Books
In the traditions of EC, Wrightson and Edward Gorey comes this water-logged 40-page horror picturebook by Cornish author/illustrator Chris Odgers, who combines intense sepia-toned vignettes with jaunty rhyming prose (marred only by a few typos). The heavens have opened and like a pair of wrinkly Noahs, moonshiners Willy and Clea are swept away in an open coffin with a corpse for company, whose actual toe-tag is tied with string to the front cover. You’ll be swept away too.

Adventures from Mauretania
by Chris Reynolds
Magic Symbol
Chris Reynolds gathers a baker’s dozen of short stories from Mauretania Comics 1985-1992, some of which also ran in Escape, and adds 17 pages for 2 new tales. Characters include his enigmatic helmeted Monitor, bearded teacher Mr Ranger and Chris’s lookalike singer “James T. Kirk”. His thoughtful, unpredictable narration and viscous, almost woodcut inkwork confirm him as still one of the most atmospheric voices and visualists in UK comics.

The Bart Dickon Omnibus
by Borin Van Loon
Severed Head Books
You may have met this ideologically sound, bizarro Dick Barton in The Chap magazine. From Max Ernst and the Situationists to Biff, collage strips lend themselves perfectly to wild surrealism and satire, key ingredients in Borin Van Loon’s madcap remixing of old British comics and story-papers. In “A Severed Head”, the central novella in this 108-page gatherum, our ideologically sound secret agent literally loses his head. Can his female sidekick Snowy save the day? Van Loon disturbs and amuses in equal measure.

Tozzer 2 Special Edition
by Rob Dunlop & Peter Lumby
Ablaze Media
“Hollywood has been violating your favourite comics for years… it’s PAYBACK time.” Three years in the making, the long-awaited sequel to 2002’s Tozzer debut arrives, compiled from the 5-issue B&W mini-series colorized by Eric Erbes. Dunlop’s pun-filled, cynical banter and merciless meanness fuel this blistering 120-page assault on the farce of Hollywood blockbusters, parodying Star Wars with Luke Gorgeous, Matrix with Morphine, and Harry Potter with the film school Boarboils and Tozzer himself. Subtle, this is not, and Jacko and Michael Moore are easy targets, but it’s a slick, sick romp with real reach-out potential for movie fans and anyone with a warped funnybone.

Posted: March 12, 2006

PG Tips is a monthly sidebar to Paul Gravett’s Novel Graphics column in Comics International providing shorter reviews of the latest recommended books of and about comics.


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