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Saturday, 24 October 2009

In Review: The Misadventures of Jane

Janepett.jpgThe Book: Charts some of the cartoon (mis)adventures of Britain's first and best-loved World War 2 pin-up - the scintillating, blue eyed, blonde-haired, clothes-phobic cartoon legend that is Lady Jane Gay. This collection features two full strips (no pun intended) - "N.A.A.F.I. Say Die!" and "Behind the Front", first published during the second world war, and some bonus features from the magazine Jane's Journal, including pin up art and an eight page full colour adventure.

The Review: When we interviewed collection editor David Leach last month it was clear then that The Misadventures of Jane - hopefully the first of a series if sales are good - was a labour of love. We're not disappointed: not only does this hardback collection offer two full stories, including Jane's first full 'strip' for her thousands of adoring fans who followed her adventures avidly in the Daily Mirror; the bonus features, which include a delightful, whimsical colour section and a fascinating contemporary feature n the strip's creation are a delight.

Created by Norman Pett for the Daily Mirror in 1932, using Christabel Leighton-Porter as the model (named Chrystabel or Crystabel Leighton-Porter on some sites, if you're the kind of person who will go off looking), the ever patriotic Jane wasted no time in joining up following Britain's entry into the war. It is two of these adventures that take up the bulk of the book, offering a fun, often fast-moving and comedic adventure as Jane battles spies and Nazis in her own inimitable, often chaotic but much-loved fashion. Modern political correctness may balk at the star's regular state of undress, sometimes caused by the most unlikliest of circumstance, but Jane herself more than proves she's a match for any of the men she's pitted against, be it at a sleepy army camp where the local handyman looks like Hitler (because he had his moustache before the dictator and is damned if he's shaving it off) or on the front line in more, shall we say, active service.

Jane is fun, joyous whimsy, and a fine example of British newspaper adventure strip - a creation that held its four-million strong audience for over 25 years, the original strip running until October 1959, and reportedly provoked outrage against the newspaper that published it when it tried to axe it.

This first volume stories is well chosen, and the quality of reproduction is much better than their previous appearance some years back, in Jane At War, although of course there are the usual, inevitable problems from greyscale drop out and muddying of line due to the age of the source material. Perhaps some collector of the original strips will step forward and remedy this minor issue - which does not diminish the enjoyment of the stories - for future volumes.

The inclusion of items from the rare and much sought-after Jane's Journal is also welcome, as this material has not been widely circulated in print for over 60 years. The quality of these pages is superb and a real bonus.

While the content of the book is of course what fans will buy it for, there are some wonderful touches to the finished product: remove the dust jacket, for example, and you'll find a gorgeous embossed Jane image on the deep red book cover, a hidden delight.

As I said, it's clear that a lot of work has gone into making this a memorable and well-presented collection and the result is a fine book that will appeal to many newspaper strip fans, setting a benchmark for the the presentation of such material for the future. Let's hope further collections follow.

More Reviews:

Lew Stringer

"Edited by David Leach, The Misadventures of Jane is another top quality book from Titan that is sure to appeal to aficionados of newspaper strips, glamour art and wartime memorabilia."

Steve Holland on Bear Alley

"Overall it's a nice selection. Even the strips that have appeared before are reproduced better (and on far superior paper) than in the Jane at War collection. An excellent feature from the pages of the Canadian magazine The Maple Leaf (18, 19 & 24 July 1945) offers a detailed background to the strip and an excellent introduction to Pett and his work."

Web Links

Let's Talk About Jane

An interview with collection editor David Leach

Lambiek: Comic Creator Norman Pett

Norman Pett at Work

Videos from Pathe, published on Bear Alley

Wikipedia: Jane

Go Comics: The Unforgettable Jane

The original GI Jane

A good short biography of Christabel Leighton-Porter

Daily Telegraph Obituary for Chrystabel Leighton-Porter: The Death of Jane, the model who helped win the war

New York Times Obituary

"When she reflected on the comic strip's popularity, Mrs. Leighton-Porter chose not to dwell on the risque. 'I think it was because Jane was a bit girl-next-doorish, a bit of England for the boys,' she said. 'Jane became a cult thing really, and I think wives and girlfriends were glad that their boys had something to get a kick out of.'

CNN Obituary

Friday, 23 October 2009

Solipsistic Pop Launch Date Set


Solipsistic Pop - a new, bi-annual anthology featuring the best alternative comic artists based in the UK - will be launching book one at London's ICA on 8th November.

"The book has been created with the intention of providing a support structure and outlet for inventive, original comic artists in a unique and beautifully designed printed product," says Publisher Tom Humberstone. "Think of it as a British Raw, Mome, Kramers Ergot, or McSweeneys...

"It has also been established as a way of finding comics a broader audience and to promote the medium as a viable artform."

The limited edition book – just 500 copies will be published of the first issue - costs £12 and features over 50 full colour pages, a 16 page insert and two mini-comics.

It includes the work of artists such as Andrew Blundell: Anna Saunders, whose work has appeared on Channel 4’s Big Brother, The Friday Night Project, and BBC’s Dead Ringers; Daniel Locke, whose work has featured in Attitude Magazine and can be seen on the TV show Dating In The Dark; Howard Hardiman who's perhaps best known for his web comic about a lonely badger moping around South London; Web Comics Nation creator Joe Decie; Julia Scheele, who's running the 69 Love Songs, Illustrated Project on the internet christianyear.jpgand can often be found at zine fests and conventions throughout the UK - she's contributed a seven-page comic titled "My Year As a Christian" to the first issue; Dancing Eye founder Mark Oliver, whose projects include a self-published book about a performance by Lenny Bruce and series of prints about sex; journalist Matthew Sheret; Ninja Bunny artist Philip Spence, also a freelance web and graphics designer; surface artist/designer and stylist for sets and photography Philippa Johnson; Rachael Reichert, who says she lives in a bubble of comics, fashion and ignorant bliss in London and is continuing the theme of anthropomorphic escapist fantasies of nature in her work; Richard Cowdry, probably best known for his comic strip anthology, The Bedsit Journal, which was widely available in the
UK for a few years and whose weekly strip Somersault appears on the award winning
Forbidden Planet International blog; freelance illustrator, comics, dinosaur and Star Wars fan Robbie Wilkinson; illustrator and animator Sarah Gordon, who says she is working on being the best at drawing things and standing on one leg without falling over (not necessarily at the same time, although you would be surprised how often they coincide); and the ever-wonderful talent that is Stephen Collins, who won the Cartoon Arts Trust award for Best Strip Cartoonist for The Day Job – his weekly strip in The Times.

launch.jpgFinally, there's publisher Tom Humberstone himself, creator of Art School Scum, You’re Wrong, and Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Crohns Disease and whose latest comic, How To Date a Girl In 10 Days, won an Eagle Award in 2008 for “Favourite black and white British comic”.

He is also the co-author of My Fellow Americans, a book written and drawn during an eight week roadtrip across America following the 2008 Presidential elections and is currently working on a collection of short stories for his next book – Ellipsis.

• For more info visit the Solipsistic Pop web site

In Review: The Best Of Battle

The Best of BattleIt feels like it has been a long time coming but Titan's Best of Battle has finally hit the stores and surprisingly, for a "Best Of" book, the wait has been worth it.

Battle Picture Weekly was IPC's answer to DC Thomson's Warlord, a straight shooting war comic named to tie-in with IPC's long running Battle Picture Library digest which was some 890 issues old when the first issue of Battle Picture Weekly appeared dated 8 March 1975. Battle quickly amalgamated the older Valiant and in late 1977 was given the remnants of Action to become Battle/Action. While the title would eventually become home to Palitoy's licensed Action Force toys and, for a while at least, lost some of its individuality in a Whizzer and Chips style two comics in one publication, everything included in this book is from the early years of the title.

Taking its cover from the 1979 Battle annual, the Best Of Battle has total of 18 different stories - from the popular Johnny Red set in the USSR, to the acclaimed Charley's War set France, via Vietnam in Fighting Mann and Burma in Darkie's Mob. Each story has a one page introduction with background information on the creation of the story plus copious quotes from editors Pat Mills and Dave Hunt. While it would have been nice to see a similar short introduction to the comic itself at the beginning of the book, perhaps using the two pages given over to the single cutaway of an aircraft, this is a minor gripe as these introductions raise the quality of the publication above the normal multi-story reprint books.

The book has art by a lot of names familiar to British comics fans such as Joe Colquhoun, Cam Kennedy, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury, Pat Wright, Jim Watson, John Cooper and Mike Dorey and it also shows just how much of a crossover in artists there was between Battle and Warlord. Perhaps most interestingly, for 2000AD readers at least, it has two stories with pre-Judge Dredd art by Carlos Ezquerra. Rat Pack was Battle's version of The Dirty Dozen and a popular early strip while Major Eazy, rather more bizarrely, was a laid back James Coburn-style loner driving his 1930s sports car around the North Africa desert during WWII. Yet the strip that stands out for me is Fighting Mann, a much later story, both story-wise and publication-wise, about US Marines Colonel Walter Mann's battles against the Viet-Cong while trying to discover what happened to his son. The story by Alan Hebden gives Cam Kennedy the chance to include a wide range of well drawn military equipment in his work and is different enough that I would like to read much more of it.

Battle Picture Weekly Annual 1978The problem with "Best Of" reprint titles is all too often the question of just who the audience is. While the books must always be aimed at the general public, are they actually of interest to the fans as well? Carlton/Prion's Best Of 2000AD fell into the double trap of reprinting partial stories that the fans knew were available elsewhere in more complete forms while also pricing the book so high, at £20, to put off the casual purchaser who only remembered the title because they bought the comic as a youngster. At a cover price of £9.99 for a flexi-covered 288 page B&W reprint book, The Best Of Battle is much more competitively priced and while the Charley's War pages are available in the first of Titan's Charley's War reprint books the rest of the stories, so far, are not.

For the casual reader who may remember the comic this is a good purchase with its wide range of stories and its cheap price. For the more dedicated reader of Battle it gives a wide range of stories from 1975 to 1982, enough factual information on them and a very pleasing selection of artists in a well presented, good value book that hopefully will stimulate interest in the Titan's forthcoming collections of Darkie's Mob, Major Eazy, Pat Pack and Johnny Red that are to come.

There are more details of Battle on "Captain Hurricane's Best Of Battle" website and "Colonel Marbles' Battle" website.

Comic Conference Announced at Manchester University

Manchester Metropolitan University will host an academic conference on comics next April, with deadline for papers in January - and report that a new academic journal about comics will be published next year.

Grandly titled The Graphic Novel and Comic Conference: Comics: Cultures & Genres, organisers point to the paradoxical relationship comics and graphic novels enjoy with mainstream culture. "Their narratives and characters are familiar to mass audiences through their adaptations in film, television and other mass media. However comics texts are rarely known or read outside comic book cultures," they note.

"In recent years comics have instigated themselves into the public consciousness due, to a number of diverse circumstances such as the narrative possibilities they offer in an increasingly complex transmedia landscape. This conference aims to explore the intersections between comic books, graphic novels, their audiences and the ways they reflect the cultures and subcultures that produce them."

The conference themes reflect the scope and aims of Routledge's new journal, The Journal of Comics and Graphic Novels, edited by David Huxley and Joan Ormrod, the team behind the University's 2007 Aesthetics of Trash conference also featured comics (see news story), which will launch in July 2010.

David Huxley is Senior Lecturer on the University's BA (Hons) Film and Media Studies course. whose specialisms include Cartoons and the Comic Strip. His current research interests include the graphic novel and the comic strip and he has also drawn and written a wide range of adult and children's comics and has supervised a wide range of Phds in the fields of the graphic novel and the comic strip.

Joan Ormrod lectures on the Film and Media with her units, Representing Youth, Youth Cultures and Subcultures, Fantasy Narratives in Popular Culture, Science Fiction in the Media reflecting her research and publications. She also teach on Horror and The Aesthetics of Trash.

David and Joan are now seeking abstracts of up to 250 words, around the following key issues in comics including, but not limited to: genres (horror, romance, superheroes, autobiography, experimental etc); underground/alternative comics; Censorship; Online comics; Political and topical issues; Fans and audiences (subcultures, gender, subcultural production); Comics production and distribution systems; and epresenting famous people in comics (American Presidents, sports heroes, film stars, iconic figures from history.

• The Graphic Novel and Comic Conference: Comics: Cultures & Genres will take place at Manchester Metropolitan University on 13-14th April 2010. The deadline for abstracts is: 15th January 2010. Abstracts should be sent to David Huxley ( and Joan Ormrod ( )

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Don't Forsake The Prisoner


Fans of The Prisoner reading this blog might want to check out the various web sites of US band Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, which has a new music project in the works inspired by the show aptly suited a group whose very name is inspired by a The Prisoner episode.

The band plan to record 17 songs all inspired by the episodes of the series: three are available for download here, and they sound good to me!

"Our set-up is kind of unusual," says drummer and vocalist Sophia Cacciola, formerly with the band Blitzkriegbliss. Together with bassist Michael Epstein (current frontman of The Motion Sick) "We are a duo - I sing and play drums, and and the bass player plays through both a guitar-rig and a bass-rig."

Sophia and Michael met in early 2001 while working different aspects of intelligence for the same US government agency. Both had been fascinated all of their lives with spies and had sought out spy-related careers after childhood obsessions with TV shows like The Prisoner, The Avengers, Danger Man (known in the US as Secret Agent) and Mission: Impossible. They each found, however, that real-life intelligence work was not as glamorous as they had hoped. Epstein was better at mathematics than gymnastics, so he was put to work in a secret computer laboratory. As an expert in cryptography, he spent his spy years working to identify and decipher transmissions hidden in digital images.

Cacciola, on the other hand, is still not allowed to disclose the specifics of her five years of government work, but she will admit that she never had to shoot anyone. In fact, she never carried a gun at all.

Both of the band members have since retired from the intelligence business. Although neither has ever cartwheeled between lasers to avoid alarm systems, transported microfilm, or even directly encountered enemy agents, the pair has crafted a series of songs drawn from a blurry mixture of real-life experience and Hollywood depictions of espionage.

They have also drawn on the minimalist approaches of classic spy television, known for its plodding cerebral traversals, rather than modern explosion-heavy fare to create the sonic landscapes for their stories, with a music style that echoes the sound of proto-punk/new wave/no wave bands and dark songwriters like Joy Division, Einsturzende Neubauten, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and even Leonard Cohen.

• Check them out at they're also on myspace, twitter and Facebook.

• Download the new EP: The New Number 2:

• Mailing list:

• See the band in action playing Episode 6 - Many Happy Returns in this live youtube video

Sunday, 18 October 2009

In Review: The Chimpanzee Complex - Paradox

The Chimpanzee ComplexThe latest science fiction offering in Cinebook's increasing number of translated bandes dessinee albums from France is The Chimpanzee Complex. Unlike Aldebaran or Orbital this is a story that takes place in the near future of 2035 and begins on a familiar Earth.

The US Navy recover an Apollo capsule from the sea off Madagascar which contains two men who claim to be Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin just returning from their 1969 mission to the Moon. Held in secret by a shadowy agency of the US Government, the men are questioned by NASA astronaut Helen Freeman who was scheduled to command the first manned mission to Mars before it was cancelled for financial reasons. The information given by the mysterious men takes Helen and her team into space and a landing on the Moon which suggests that more than was made public had been happening behind the cover of the Cold War space programmes of America and the Soviet Union.

This is the first of a three book serial by writer Richard Marazano and artist Jean-Michel Ponzio. In Paradox Marazano's plot builds slowly, leaving time for the back story of the cancelled Mars mission and Helen's daughter Sofia's thoughts on her mother's career keeping her away from Sofia to come to the fore. Ponzio's artwork, while apparently photographically based, is detailed and clear and his futuristic spacecraft designs are logically conceived.

The "chimpanzee complex" of the title relates, not to a zoological building, but to the concept that the chimpanzees used by NASA in their early spaceflights were intelligent enough to know what was happening to them and to be aware that they could do nothing to stop it. They were trapped in the inevitability of the situation that they found themselves in. It is translated here into the plotline that Helen is effectively locked into a situation which takes her further and further away from her daughter, both in distance and duration, and there is absolutely nothing that she can do about it.

The book itself reprints the original 56 page album of Le Complexe Du Chimpanzé: Paradoxe which was published by Dargaud in France in 2007. The Chimpanzee Complex book 2, The Sons Of Ares, is due to be released by Cinebook in January 2010 with the third and final book, Civilisation, expected in the second half of 2010.

The Chimpanzee Complex has a mature storyline, devoid of sex or violence, that draws you into the plot and leaves you wondering just where the story will end up over the next two books.

• More details of the British edition are available on the Cinebook website.

• More details of the original French editions are available, in French, on the Dargaud website.

Emma Vieceli's Dragon Heir: Reborn

British artist, writer and general ambassador for all things Manga, Emma Vieceli, has added a webcomic to her website.

Dragon Heir was the first comic series that she worked on providing the story and art with Andrew Ruddick providing the script. The 32 page B&W fantasy comic has reached issue 9 with the first three print issues now sold out. The first six original issues have been collected into a 168 page graphic novel which is available direct from Sweatdrop Studios.

In the story of Dragon Heir, Protus sets out on a journey to find the other three Dargon Heirs and take them to the location chosen for Spiratu's Ritual of Transcendence. This act will leave the four young men free of the dangerous dragon spirits they have harboured since they were born; free to begin their mortal lives with Spiratu's blessing.

"However", says Emma on her site, "the original pages had begun to show their age. I am currently working to smarten up and rework the first 5 issues to bring some cohesion to the series." She goes on to say, "The story that was told in the first five issues of the comic is being redrawn and in some places entirely rewritten, so even the Dragon Heir veterans amongst you should find interest here."

These reworked pages are now becoming available on her website with new ones being put on at a rate of five pages per week. In addition Emma will be providing a blog post for each new batch to allow readers to leave their comments on the Reborn version of her tale.

Dragon Heir: Reborn webcomic begins on Emma's website.

Original Dragon Heir comics and the graphic novel are available from the Sweatdrop Studios webshop.

Emma Vieceli will be appearing in the Comic Village at the MCM Expo next weekend, 25 and 26 October, in the Excel Centre in London and at the Thought Bubble comics convention at Saviles Hall, Leeds, on 21 November 2009.

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