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PG Tips No. 6:

Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading

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

Streets Of Dublin
by Gerry Hunt & Bren B.
Dublin Comics
If you’ve yet to visit Dublin’s fair city, this 56-page colour album, the fourth in a series, presents Gerry Hunt’s vision of his hometown, “a city part forgotten, part ignored but one which can be seen everyday.” His expertise in architectural drawing helps him situate his characters among vividly rendered local settings, like Smithfield’s monthly horse fair, a nightclub in Temple Bar or the back streets and housing estates. Hunt’s story and art have the gritty smarts of the great original 1976 Action in the bonds that form between his urban underdogs: the unemployed teen Johnny who is beaten up by a horse trader for mounting a mare; Bernard Brady, who saves him and employs him collecting scrap iron for his foundry; and Brady’s son, a police sergeant after a Chinese heroin gang, whose guilt over a girl’s death drives him to drink. Streets of Dublin packs almost too much melodrama into too few pages and its weaknesses in narrative flow and spelling could have been caught with a little editing. Still, it’s a distinctive example of sincere, community-rooted comics and a great way to visit another side of Dublin you won’t find in the holiday brochures.

The Red Diaries
by Gary Reed,  Chris Jones, Laurence Campbell, Larry Shuput & Ken Meyer Jr.
Image Comics
Gary Reed and his cohorts never set out to reveal one definitive solution, but present a fictional yet chillingly plausible scenario about what lurks behind the “suicide” of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The three fictional keys that unlock this mystery are Marilyn’s private Red Diaries, lost but now recovered, another diary kept by her minder after her death, and finally, the discovery of her own son, fathered by a Kennedy. It’s been over forty years now and as one member of the investigative team Raven Inc. says, “There’s been so many versions of what really happened, I gave up trying to figure out what was what.” That’s the danger, no longer caring. Amid all the unanswered conspiracies about September 11, this gripping blend of thriller and docudrama is a vital reminder never to give up asking questions.

by Franco Frescura & Luciano Bernasconi
Hexagon Comics
In his introduction, Will Eisner distinguishes two broad categories of modern European comic artists: “strong innovators” with “a distinctly obtuse style” and “those who remained loyal to the conventions upon which the earlier comics depended’, i.e. to the illustrative American masters. Italy’s Bernasconi belongs to the latter group, a classicist who drew this French cult comic in 1969 before it was censored and cancelled after its sixth issue. Wampus is one of the great alien monsters of comics, a creator of chaos on a global scale, his exposed skin stretched over his skeleton, his evil eyes able to possess any human or animal. Using local “print on demand” avoids the need for big printruns and transatlantic shipping, though the package is pricier and its set format cramps the art. Minor quibbles, if it brings us this obscure gem of bande dessinée pulp paranoia.

The Fantasy Art Of Oliver Frey
by Roger Kean
Thalamus Books
It all began in Ludlow, Shropshire in 1983 with a 16K Sinclair Spectrum and a few hundred copies of a mail order catalogue for the games, reviewed by ocal schoolboys. Catching the computer game boom right at the start, the business grew into the newsstand magazine Crash Micro Games Action, launched in 1984. On its covers Swiss-born illustrator Oliver Frey caught the electrifying rush felt by the first generation of videogamers. His exuberant paintings in inks and acrylics for Crash, Zzap! 64, Fear and Frighteners, free of their texts, fill this book, but there’s room for a revealing biography about his youth and his breaks on War Picture Library, Dan Dare, Trigan Empire and the retro opening sequence for the first Superman movie. It’s a handsome tribute to an extraordinary fantasist still painting at his peak.

Bolland Strips!
by Brian Bolland
Knockabout - Palmano Bennett
Back in 1987, Peter Stanbury and I were putting together issue 12 of Escape Magazine, when young Brian steps up to the Fast Fiction table at the Westminster Central Hall Comic Mart and sheepishly offers to show me some of his etchings, nudge, nudge. Now these were not the lavishly crafted fantasy masterpieces for his 2000AD or DC paymasters. They would not have gone for his (relatively) looser, scratchy style, drawn same-size on typing paper, much less for his balding, overweight, undersexed ‘hero’, Mr. Mamoulian. He’d done these brilliant, funny, surreal twelve-panel pages for himself, and they became an Escape fixture. Encouraged, Brian did more, 54 before he paused, it seems permanently. All their pathos, loose ends and dangling plots are compiled here. The star attraction is a new 20-page Lovecraftian episode of The Actress and the Bishop, plus his episodes for A1 and two DC shorts. If you only know Bolland from Dredd or Batman, discover how warped he really is in this book. "And it’s lovely and big and hard bound", as the Actress said to the Bishop…

Hic Sunt Leones
by various
Here’s proof that there’s much more to Belgian comics than Tintin in his quiff and plus-fours. Bries is Ria Schulpen’s Antwerp-based independent label, where she promotes some of the country¹s most cutting-edge young Flemish talents. With support from the Flemish Literature Fund, Ria has edited this attractively designed 168-page selection box. It showcases fifteen diverse, dynamic strip creators, together with six illustrators, mostly in lavish full colour and all either in English or wordless and universal. The range and quality in Hic Sunt Leones (Latin for ‘here are the lions’) is impressive, from Pieter de Poortere’s blackly farcical pantomime The Invisible Man to Bruno Seys’s Chris Ware-inspired abstractions Rolling. For me, the big revelation is Olivier Schrauwen, whose twisted father-and-son relationship is brilliantly cast in the faded charms of the Sunday colour funnies pages from early 20th century American newspapers. A hot tip: Ria is promising a forthcoming solo album from him later this year.

The R. Crumb Handbook
by Robert Crumb & Peter Poplaski
MQ Publications
Less a graphic novel, more a mini-doorstop of an (auto)biography with new writings, unseen photos, mostly classic art, and a free CD of his musical endeavours. For collectors, there is a limited clothbound edition, with a signed print for £350, and the Whitechapel Gallery’s edition has an extra 16 pages: a curator’s intro and a listing of all the works in display.

Posted: November 5, 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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Featured Books

Streets Of Dublin
Streets Of Dublin
by Gerry Hunt
& Bren B.

The Red Diaries
The Red Diaries
by Gary Reed,  Chris Jones,
Laurence Campbell,
Larry Shuput & Ken Meyer Jr.

by Franco Frescura
& Luciano Bernasconi

The Fantasy Art Of Oliver Frey
The Fantasy Art Of
Oliver Frey

by Roger Kean

Bolland Strips!
Bolland Strips!
by Brian Bolland

Hic Sunt Leones
Hic Sunt Leones
by various

The R Crumb Handbook
The R. Crumb

by Robert Crumb
& Peter Poplaski