Fraggle Rock is one of those shows that you sink into with warmth, nostalgia and a comforting sense that, all evidence in the real world to the contrary, everything is going to be all right.
The show itself is long over (1983-1987), although not even close to being forgotten, but it has found expression, as so many TV shows do (those that aren’t being revived anyway) in comic form (the first issue came out in 1985), with new tales of friendship, love and belonging, not to mention sage life lessons, coming to life in colourful 2D.
Jared Cullum, who will write and illustrate a new 4-part comic book series from BOOM! Studios’ Archaia imprint, perfectly captured everyone’s love affair with this whimsically-engaging show when he spoke about why bringing back Fraggle Rock comics back after a seven-year absence was a complete no-brainer:
“Fraggle Rock was an exceptionally unique show where the characters were never 2-dimensional. They have authentic feelings, character flaws, and learned, as we do in life, through stumbling to the right decision in a very immersive and connective way. It will always resonate with our hearts.”
Cameron Chittock, Editor, BOOM! Studios echoed this sentiment when he spoke about the new series:
“We’re proud to celebrate 35 years of Fraggle Rock with all-new stories from an eclectic group of creators. Each issue captures the spirit of the series in an exciting way, honoring the tradition Jim Henson established of telling stories with genuine heart and a confident belief that what we share outweighs our differences.”
With a typically heartfelt story – “Mokey Fraggle is losing her love for creating her art and needs her friends’ help to rediscover her inspiration.” – these new Fraggle Rock adventures look set to be every bit as wonderful and heartwarmingly inspiring as anything that’s come before.
You get your hands on the first issue when it releases in May this year.
There is a quiet peace and an air of bucolic contentment that comes from knowing you belong to someone and belong somewhere that is your own.
Contrast that sense of intimate belonging with the loss of it and the person that helped make it so and you have the essence of Aileen Leijten’s quirkily heartwarming tale Lint Boy, a graphic novel composed of both a deep, abiding heart and some of the most delightful art you’re likely see anywhere.
At its heart, and Lint Boy has it in entirely non-mawkish spades, this beautiful book is a testament to the power of friendship and love, but also to how these unbreakable bonds fuel a willingness to do the kind of amazing, envelope-breaking things that can topple the status quo.
In this case, the overlordship of a terrified house by a bitter, cruel old lady called Mrs PinchnSqueeze who decades earlier was a still very curl girl called Tortura, who delighted in the most sociopathic of ways in destroying other kids’ beloved toys and playthings.
Decades later, she’s still at, with the seventh iteration of her pet pugs named Snort by her side – unwillingly; she is horribly cruel to them too – and a host of toys including the butchered beauty of a doll named Pinhead (her lustrous locks replaced by you-know-what) hanging in cages from the roof, close enough that she can bang them together whenever the urge strikes her in a terrifying “game” called Rattle-and-Battle.
Into this macabre chamber of hanging horrors, comes Lint Boy in search of his very special friend Lint Bear, their home in the clothes dryer where they were worn foregone in the name of saving the one you love.
In one sense, the story of Lint Boy is not overly complex but that is the beauty of it – it takes an admirably simple tale of fighting to save the one you care about more than anything, and fashions a redemptive narrative where the odds stacked against you and the tyranny of the evil that besets you are no march for a tenacity born of love.
Possessed of gorgeous washed-out colours and minimalist dialogue which pays tribute to the Belgian-born, LA-resident artist’s superlative ability to capture an idea in a taut, skillyfully-worded sentence or phrase, Lint Boy is reminiscent of books like The Velveteen Rabbit which sings a similar story of the power of love to transform things that do not look transformable.
With a history of animating for the likes of Hanna-Barbera and Disney Imagineering, it is clear that Leitjen has a great eye for judging just how much detail to put on a page, and the precise amount of emotional resonance that will capture the moment, and the heart, without inducing nausea.
Lint Boy is pitch-perfect in almost every day.
It celebrates love, belonging, bravery and waking from inertia borne of long imprisonment – Lint Boy awakens the other cage dwellers to the possibility of seizing back from their lives from Tortura grown up who keeps them caged because she’s convinced they’re alive; which they are but none will give her the satisfaction of confirming her Toy Story-is-right thesis – with quiet verve, never pretending the task ahead will be easy but always erring on the side of the idea that its fulfilment is entirely possible, and yes, necessary.
Reading Lint Boy takes you back to those heady, anything-is-possible days of childhood when you earnestly believe, even in my case in the face of incessant bullying and cruelty from others, that anything is possible.
It’s a much-needed, astonishingly beautifully-illustrated shot in the arm to jaded adulthood, an artfully-joyful reminder that life can be tough and arbitrary and just plain nasty at times but that it is entirely dealable with if you have love on your side.
Again, the love Leitjen celebrates is not mawkish Hollywood-lite stuff; rather she upholds and lauds the kind of love that pushes you beyond comfort levels, way outside the place you call home, to accomplish things you might have previously thought are quite beyond you.
They’re not, of course, not when you really love someone or something or even an idea, and this joy of a book is an immersive, thoroughly idiosyncratic reminder that you can overcome the villains in your life, that it may be tough and you and those you surround yourself with may doubt themselves on a multitude of levels, but that persisting through to the end is worth every last moment of terror and loss and pain.
Joy of joys there is a trailer and it is, like the book itself, simply beautiful to behold …
A decade ago 300,000 citizens of Philadelphia were suddenly lost in Oblivion. The government made every attempt to recover them but after many years they gave up. Nathan Cole… won’t. He makes daily trips, risking his life to try and rescue those lost, alone and afraid, living in the apocalyptic hellscape of Oblivion. But maybe… Nathan is looking for something else? Why can’t he resist the siren call of the Oblivion Song? (synopsis via Bleeding Cool)
So what do you do when the mega-popular franchise you created is well-advanced, some might say in its dotage, and you need fresh challenges to keep the creative juices flowing?
Well if you’re Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead and spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, you team up with artist Lorenzo De Felici (additional artwork by Annalisa Leoni) and create a whole new comic book series, one with one foot in an apocalyptic horror landscape and the other in our rather ragged, tipping towards the edge of dystopian nightmarish present.
As Bleeding Cool in recounting the writer’s recent appearance at Image Expo 2018, the focus is less on the people taken into the apocalypse than those left behind and dealing with the aftermath:
“Kirkman stated that Oblivion Song is a ‘very complicated, dense sci-fi story’ that he, De Felici, Leoni and Wooten have been working on for two years; and it deals with the impact that the event had on those left behind.”
It’s an evocative premise, one resonant with all kinds of emotional drama and if the trailer is anything to go by, and it’s more suggestion than anything else, one Kirkman has executed very well.
Quite how well we find out when Oblivion Song releases issue #1 today, 7 March.
Is there a trailer for this imaginatively expansive new series? Why yes, yes there is, in fact …
When news first emerged that DC Comics were going to re-interpret a sizable array of Hanna-Barbera’s most iconic stars such as The Flintstones andScooby Doo and give them a modern makeover, there some doubt expressed that this could be achieved with any sort of creative substance.
After all, delightful though they were to watch in cartoon series of old, and though they had many an entertaining quality, pretty much every single character was reasonably cardboard cutout-ish, possessed of a few key attributes but not much in the way of backstory or meaningful insight.
But as these new reinterpretations demonstrated, it is possible to bring the slapstick jokesters of old and give them a serious new sheen and even say something worthwhile and socially aware, and The Snagglepuss Chronicles are Exhibit A for how brilliantly well this has been done. (To be fair The Flintstones and Scooby Doo also have some serious Exhibit A-cred going on.)
In this brave new Snagglepuss world, there is far less camp tomfoolery and no “Exit Stage Left!” to speak of, and a whole lot of serious introspection about the way society demands everyone fit into the same narrow mold, and how if they fail to do so, all hell can break loose upon their heads.
In The Snagglepuss Chronicles, the character once voiced by the great Daws Butler to deliciously flamboyantly rambunctious effect, is a much-vaunted 1950s playwright, a southern Gothic doyen of the creative arts who dresses like a dapper Southern gentleman (he hails from rural Mississippi) whose play “My Heart Is a Kennel of Thieves” is wrapping up a famously long-run on Broadway, is friends with Dorothy Parker, she of the Alonquin Table and who is, marriage to Lila Lion to the contrary, secretly gay and in love with the Cuban exile Pablo.
His is a life simultaneously lived in the glare of public adoration and in the shadows, a doting husband to stage actress Lila to keep the social gatekeepers happy and morally assuaged, and a caring boyfriend who meets his true partner at Stonewall in The Village in New York and wherever prying eyes aren’t lurking.
It’s a fraught existence in some respects but Snagglepuss has long ago made his peace with it; well as much peace as you can make with a dual existence that never allows you to lay down your guard.
How much of a balancing act this double-life is is brought home to Snagglepuss when his Southern novelist friend Huckleberry Hound arrives in town – against all expectations writer Mark Russell weaves in Huckleberry, Squiddly Diddly and Augie Doggie to impressive effect – recounting how he has been found to leave his marriage, child and entire life behind when his wife discovered his relationship with another man.
This revelation, which seems to do little to unsettle Snagglepuss’s cheeky, highly-literate bravado, throws the dilemma many men in 1950s America faced – be true to themselves and be ruined or flit between the light and shadows and hope notices you moving between the two.
The consequences as Huckleberry Hound demonstrates, and which Russell depicts with great sensitivity and insight, can be near cataclysmic, the end of all things as society, or that section of it that polices morality for dubious reasons, exacts its price for unacceptable transgressions.
The greater threat, and yes hard as it is to believe, there is a deadlier force at work, comes from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Senator Joe McCarthy’s oppressively virulent crusade to keep America safe from the undemocratic tyranny of the much-ballyhooed communist hordes.
Of course, the supreme irony is that a crusade designed to supposedly protect democracy actually ended up running cruel and merciless roughshod over it, with many innocent people dragged through the personal and professional mud on some sort of demented crusade.
Snagglepuss’s friend, playwright Lillian Hellman is one such person, who describes her treatment this way in a conversation post-appearance with Snagglepuss:
“Were they terribly rough on you, dear?” “No, they were just shabby. Shabby little men in a shabby little room. They just want to make you shabby too.”
That conversation out on the terrace, cigarettes in hand, beautifully typifies Russell’s elegant style, which never comes close to being manipulatively polemic or rantingly clumsy.
Rather he allows his characters to simply live their lives, with their opponents and oppressors effectively hanging themselves on their own petards with their own actions and words.
It’s a masterful piece of storytelling that, coupled with exquisitely rich, colourful and evocative art by Mike Feehan, delivers up a stinging rebuke to the small minds and cold, judgmental hearts who position themselves as the arbiters of morality, ethics and human decency.
That they are obviously nothing of the sort becomes graphically clear in the first two sublime-good and confrontingly-nuanced issues of The Snagglepuss Chronicles with the decency and authenticity of the likes of the titular protagonist and a wide array of friends such as Huckleberry Hound, standing in stark contrast to the base shabbiness of McCarthy and his tawdry ilk.
Snaggelpuss, of course, wants nothing to do with Gigi Allen, Special Counsel to the House Committee on Un-American Activities when she calls him, at the Alonquin Table no less, to act as a propaganda mouthpiece for McCarthy’s attempts to remake America in his blighted, small “s” style.
He nails it with his pithy, take-down of what it is Allen and her accomplices in democracy-sabotaging are attempting to do:
“I think what you want is not my help but my capitulation.
“I think you don’t give two feathers about how some playwright from Mississippi might affect the outcome of World War Three. You’re not enlisting my help against the Soviets. You’re enlisting the Soviets to help you control what we say and do.
You are asking me for my pen and that I cannot give … it’s all I have.”
With that one speech, which occurs close the end of issue #2 and as you might expects ends nothing, Russell nails his and Snagglepuss’s colours firmly to the mast, setting up some thrilling and no doubt potently incisive issues ahead.
Think there might be some thematic corollaries between the re-imagined Snagglepuss and our troubled modern reality? You would be right and this video does a beautiful job of explaining it …
Most of us will far too young to recall those headily optimistic days when everyone envisaged the future as a time of limitless potential, a paradise-in-waiting given form by flying cars, machines doing all the drudgerous tasks that take us away from the doing the things we love, and an enviable trust and belief in the all-but-inevitable upward progress of humanity.
Ah, those were the days (or so I hear).
Of course now, all that optimism has largely vanished, replaced by talk of zombie apocalypses, environmental degradation and collapse, obliteration by the very machines created to serve us, and an ever-present sense that we are heading for oblivion at breakneck speed.
The Jetsons, DC Comics latest comics excursion into the re-imagining of various Hanna-Barbera characters – see The Flintstones, Dastardly & Muttley and Scooby Doo to name but three – has jumped aboard this tectonic shift in the perception of humanity’s fortunes, in the process illustrating just how much things have changed from the 1960s when the original The Jetsons TV series aired and 2017/18 when the new comic books appeared.
In an extremely general overall sense, things look much as they always did.
Society looks glossy and advanced, buildings and car are suitably airborne and spectacularly-new, and life is made easier by robots and other technological niceties that make life in the future appear to be every bit as bright and hopefully as the retro-futurists foresaw.
That is, however, where the similarities end.
The new The Jetsons strips back the shiny panels and endless metaphorical sunshine of the future to reveal a world essentially hanging on barely by its collective fingernails.
And yes, we’re talking about the entire world, people.
In this brave new future dreamt up by writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Pier Brito, Earth has weathered massive damage caused by climate change and a meteor, but barely, with all land sunk beneath the waves long ago.
After fleeing into the space stations in orbit, an escape plan which only helped a minority of survivors, leaving millions to perish in a hellish waterworld (no sign of Kevin Costner), humanity has returned planet-side, residing in floating cities adorned by artificial everything- even the trees and grass are the product of synthesised mimicry of the natural world.
In this visually-appealing utopia – be careful, looks can be deceiving – live The Jetsons who are introduced, courtesy of the same jaunty, lilting cadence of the animated 1960s fun-filled theme song …
“Meet George Jetson … His boy Elroy … Daughter Judy … Jane, his wife …”
This sweet nod to Jetsons iterations past is belied by the sage reality of their current life – George is a beleaguered mechanic at Spacely Sprockets, talented and clever but eternally overworked and underappreciated, Judy is a socialite trying to make her mark in the film world, goodhearted Elroy is falling in love with Lake Cogswell and journeying illicitly to Earth’s sunken cities and Jane is a brilliant scientist with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Astro is there, of course, as is Rosie although she is not the Rosie you once knew.
This incarnation of The Jetsons‘ tirelessly helpful robotic assistant is in fact the new body of George’s mother who decided that life in a new synthetic body beat the declining rigour of her old biological shell.
While she is cheerfully upbeat about her new life, though a little regretful at times such as when she’s straining to remember what water felt like on her skin, and Judy and Elroy accepted her new life with relative equanimity, George is struggling – happy to have his mother around but unsure how to handle the fact that she won’t die and go to be wherever his now-dead father is.
It’s a poignant piece of existential storytelling that adds considerable depth to a brilliantly-realised story that examines what happens when the shell of that bright, shiny future is visibly in place, but it is underpinned by so much loss, pain and ongoing threat.
A threat which comes in the form of the Jacob Meteor which is hurtling straight towards our blue home, ready to finish off what climate change and the Hanlon Meteor could not.
With the clock ticking, and only nine to twelve days to find a way to preserve life as The Jetsons and humanity’s rump knows it, what is present of what’s left of the world is facing oblivion, a reveal that accidentally confronts the family on the day of George’s 40th birthday.
Not only is a meteor incoming but Elroy’s journey to one of the sunken buildings to recover a sealed original artwork to give his father for his birthday has released bombs which have fused with the core of the Hanlon Meteor, a ball of unknown metal perpetually rolling around the ocean floors of the Earth, changing it in weird and strange ways that no one quite understands.
So not a whole lot of optimism to hand.
The cleverness of this new iteration of The Jetsons is that it’s preserved the warmth and love of the family of old, staying true to the warm dynamic that made the animated series such a joy to watch.
Whatever happened to the family outside of their shiny floating building up in the sky, they were safe and loved within their home and that remains the case in the new comic series.
What has changed and changed profoundly – or not possibly; after all, no one really explained why everyone was in floating cities, it was simply a futuristic given – is that the reason for all the floating buildings, cars and robots.
It’s not pretty, it’s gritty and dark but it is beautifully and perfectly articulated, the world-building that is both fulsome and thoughtful, delivered elegantly and with insight about where our future perils may lead us in time.
As re-imaginings go, it’s breathtakingly good, both hewing close to the spirit and look and fun of the original but enlarging and building on the original premise, adding in some existential angst, some apocalyptic horror and some counting of the costs of modernity, realising in the process a version of The Jetsons that is bright, shiny and appealing but very real, deeply confronting and wholly engrossing.
So you can contrast and compare, well somewhat at least, here’s the opening intro to the original 1960s iteration of The Jetsons …
The Bee Gees once rather harmoniously asked “How deep is your love?” (let’s be fair they asked they asked everything that way and it sounded SOOOO sweet)
One person who doesn’t need to ask or even have that question answered is the partner of illustrator Kells O’Hickey who gave his beloved ample proof of his deep and undying love in the form of illustrations of the couple in the style of some cartoons du jour.
Ranging from Bob’s Burgers to The Simpsons, Dragon Ball Z to Adventure Time, the ten illustrations are a lot of fun, full of love and yes Lindsay loved them:
“On Christmas Eve, when we both got off work, we exchanged gifts.
“She ripped the tissue paper off, grabbed the drawings and ignored the other gifts in there for about 30 minutes as she carefully paged through the drawings. When Linds finished, her eyes looked pretty puffy, she jumped on me and gave me a huge hug and kiss, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I love you to the moon and back,'” he continued. “It was perfect, her reaction nearly made me cry.” (source: Mashable)
So there you are – if you’re a talented illustrator, and O’Hickey most definitely is, this is the best, most complete way to your loved one’s heart, no questions needed.
One of the great delights of Rocko’s Modern Life, one of the great cartoons of Nickolodeon’s ’90s line-up which is finding new life in comics and on the screen again, has always been its devotion to anarchic silliness.
Taking a leaf out of the manic hilarity of Looney Tunes and turning the existential goofiness up to a billion, everyone’s favourite life-challenged wallaby has always walked on the chaotic wild side of life.
Not by choice mainly; life has simply refused to play by Rocko’s rules, besetting with him with well-meaning but unhelpful friends, a near-constant exposure to Murphy’s Law, and an elusive sense of zen and calm content.
Not so good for Rocko but a boon for those of us who love his over-the-top crazy adventures that far from being brainless and silly, come with a great deal of insight and cleverness, commenting with gleeful colourfulness on the human condition (or let’s be fair, the wallaby condition.)
What makes BOOM! Studios and Nickolodeon’s new Rocko comic book series – he was the previous recipient of a 1994 series – such an eye-catching bundle of fun is that the writer and artist, Ryan Ferrier (Regular Show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) and artist Ian McGinty (Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors) respectively, so perfectly capture what we love about dear, sweet, up-to-his-neck-in-it-once-again Rocko.
Everyone from dear blighted O-Town is back including, naturally enough, Rocko, Spunky, Heffer, Filburt and the Bigheads and they’re pretty much up to their old tricks, albeit in a much more modern setting where employment is precarious, homelessness is a real issue, and visits to the dentist and O-Town’s own comic-con come laden with kinds of portentous comic possibilities.
Declaring in the back of issue #1 that “we have some absolutely wild things planned for everyone, and nothing is off the table!”, Ferrier is clearly right on board with Rock’s eternal struggle to cope with life that keeps throwing an endless series of benighted curve balls at him.
Facing the real possibility of homelessness after he is fired from his job at one of those godawful factory-like call centres, Rocko has to make a series of stinging compromises to get by and make sure that Spunky has food in his bowl, all without the substantial support of his friends Heffer and Filbert who mean well but just … don’t … get … it.
All of which means Rocko, for better or worse is all on his own.
Uh-oh; not because Rocko isn’t capable but well life doesn’t just seem a fan of him and no matter what he does to rectify the situation, everything keeps ending up way less than optimal.
How less than optimal you cry? (Seriously do it – no one’s going to notice; OK they totally will but hey, it’s very Rocko thing to do.)
Why he ends up with the housemate from hell who seems to have more a few boundary issues – endless amounts in fact; trust me, he makes the residents of Jersey Shore look sagely mature – ends up being employed by Peaches, the “top dog” of Heck who has a few hygiene issues with his stinky rumpus room.
While Rocko’s tries to put a positive spin on his dire predicament – he commutes to Heck each day via a fiery porthole, rationilising to himself that it’s “better than the bus, I suppose” – which is very much a Rocko thing to do but the truth is life is besting him and you wonder if he’s going to come out the side okay.
What? Of course he is and it’s way he does, as he always does that is so amusing, so insightful and so crazily heartwarming with Ferrier nailing both Rocko’s haplessness and near-unstoppable optimism perfectly (and his devotion to Spunky) and McGinty capturing the colourful chaos of Rock’s world, and the one beneath it, in ways that make you feel like you’ve plunged into the show’s manically-colourful, psychedelically-fun fair visuals.
The new comic book series is the pitch-perfect marriage of nostalgia and the here-and-now, deftly melding everything we love about Rocko and his modern world, now with added mobile phone, tech-based jobs and 3D printer modernity, and handing us further adventures in the endearingly strange, dream-like surrounds of O-Town.
In fact, so well do Ferrier and McGinty capture the look, feel and intelligent narrative of Rock’s Modern World, that it’s hard not to hold them as an exemplar of how you can bring an old show back, give the old fans everything they loved about it while allowing new fans the chance to fall in love with Rocko and the gang like we did all those years ago.
If you’ve looked around you this year and thought the world had gone quite horrifically, cartoonishly mad (hate to break it to you but it has), then you’ll find a lot to appreciate in the new(ish) Dastardly and Muttley series from DC Comics.
Continuing the mostly clever reimaginings of a host of classic Hanna-Barbera characters from The Flintstones to Scooby Doo and The Jetsons, Dastardly and Muttley plunges the world into a crisis of quite comical – quite literally as it turns out – when the explosion of new Unstabilium 239 reactor in the fictional country of Unliklistan (home to every over the top Middle Eastern trope you can think of; you find out why later) leaves not so much a toxic radioactive wasteland in its wake as a weirdly-coloured cloud of hippie-ish symbols that strangely affects everyone who comes into contact with them.
Ignoring the usual laws of physics and a host of other constants in the natural world, this extraordinarily odd new world, where people have holes shot through their chest and live and politicians’e eyes literally bulge out where they get angry, changes a great many things.
Including our titular characters, decorated US Air Force pilots who suddenly find themselves profoundly transformed when their mission to check out what happened to Unliklistan takes a very unexpected turn; what should have been a crash into a nightmarish radioactive mess instead changes Captain Dudley “Mutt” Muller into a talking dog/man (he brings his dog along for the mission) and Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Atcherly increasingly into an old time Vaudevillian-looking villain.
That is but the start of a, dare we say it, wacky series of events which see a US drone spreading the effects of the explosion, engineered by one Professor Dubious, far and wide, even infecting Washington DC with its strange brand of warped reality.
As events progress, and Dastardly and Muttley do their best to find out who’s behind the twisting of reality into ever more surreal, cartoonish extremes where decorated pilots such as Captain “Zee” Zabarnowski start speaking like Penelope Pitstop, to her horror and her co-pilot Lieutenant “Uncle” Longman (who remains unaffected by the weirdness enveloping everyone else) and Wiley E. Coyote and Roadrunner (in animal form) go dashing through the Oval Office.
It’s absolutely inspired, totally bonkers and cleverly hilarious and it’s all thanks to the brilliantly good talents of writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher) and artist Mauricet (Harley Quinn & The Gang Of Harleys).
From the word go, Dastardly and Muttley is an enormously clever, grounded – quite an achievement given the glorious absurdity of the series’ premise – and funny as hell takedown of the way our world, all flashy, digital civilisation and human progress can so easily devolve into a wacky place where up is down, down is up and hitting someone with a mallet seems like a fun idea (trust us, even in this new cartoon universe, it’s not).
One of the chief effects of the Unstabilium cloud is the way it erases the inhibitions of anyone who comes into contact with it, while simultaneously giving them the comedic means to do something about their new, unchecked impulses.
This means that while there are some decided serious dynamics playing out – try a widening conspiracy that may or may not involve Dastardly and Muttley’s commanding officer General Harrington and Muttley trying to de-canine himself so he can get back to his wife and kids looking normal – the storyline uses a range of cartoonish devices to push the surprisingly emotionally-resonant action along.
Take the scene where our two comically-mutated heroes steal a plane to get back to the USA to confront General Harrington, get to the bottom of what’s going on and reset their lives (if that’s even possible anymore).
As Dastardly, who is increasingly speaking like a cartoon character with alliterative hilarity – “Out of our way, you goose-stepping goons! You Nuremberg Ne’er-Do-Wells! Begone! ” – urges Muttley to “Embrace the horror!”, an acknowledgment that the world has gone haywire and they should make the most of it rather than fight it.
If there’s still time left to do that.
The final page of issue 4 indicates that time may be something that the world doesn’t have much left of, at least in its present form.
Ennis deftly guides the narrative between outright nonsensical silliness and some rather sage and sober moments, injecting humour where its needed and going with Catch-22/Dr Strange darkness where it will be most effective.
Mauricet’s art is colourful and cartoonish but also real and stark, a visual tip of the hat to the way the world sits poised between the two extremes, with the tide tilting towards cartoons come to life.
You could well argue that the world is pretty much like that now, without all the visual absurdities, and indeed there is some delicious political parody thrown in for good measure, and Ennis and Mauricet make merry with this idea, delivering up one of the most inspired, compellingly-readable and loopy as Hanna-Barbara reimaginings to come down the DC Comics pike.
There is something about the Roman Empire that has always cried out for satire.
Perhaps it is that it was, and remains, the greatest empire in the history of humanity. Or perhaps that it was so domineering, so efficient, so all-encompassing and damn near omniscient and omnipresent, that besting it was well nigh impossible.
Whatever the appeal, Frenchmen René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo saw great potential in the Roman Empire under its emperor Caesar and mercilessly lampooned it with written and visual flair in the Asterix series, which kicked off in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote on 29 October 1959.
Their parodying brilliance, which came complete with very amusing word plays on names, visual gags, and most importantly, that one small isolated village in Gaul (France) that could, by virtue of a magic potion and the defiant tenacity of its people, stare down the might of the legions in comprehensively successful fashion.
Asterix, and his best friend/menhir-maker/roast boar addict Obelix, who fell in a vat of the potion as a baby and is forever invincible, have gone on to have 37 adventures including the most recent one, Asterix and the Chariot Race, written and illustrated by the new team of Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad (this is their third Asterix title).
The new instalment, which see Asterix and Obeklix take on the best charioteers or Auriga that the Empire has to offer, in a race that gallops its way down Italy from Modica (Monza) through Parma to Sena Jvlia (Sienna) to Tibvr (Tivoli), finishing in Neapolis (Naples) in a galant celebration of the high quality of Roman roads (it could be, and in fact is, that the Senator in charge of these arteries of the Empire, one Lactus Bifidus, has diverted the funds for the roads to his own personal orgiastic pleasure and needs a diversion from Senatorial scrutiny).
Whatever the motivation for the race, which Caesar is determined shall be won by a Roman citizen by fair means or foul – no prizes for guessing which option is employed – in this case the celebrated Auriga Coronavirus (the playful names are a delight throughout), Asterix and Obelix enter it with gusto and set in train the customary Roman legionnaire bashing, silly quips, wry observations and rampant silliness (with a very clever underpinning) and Empire humbling that has been the gleeful mainstay of the Asterix books since the start.
With the English translation baton, for the Commonwealth market at least, moving on from the legendary Anthea Bell to Adriana Hunter, you could be forgiven for wondering if the sustained wit and intelligent whimsy of the previous titles has been sustained.
The good news is that it most certainly is, and in common with all 36 previous titles, we’re treated to a gleefully madcap romp through the very heart of the Roman Empire where it turns out that things are not quite as united as our favourite Gauls had been led to believe.
In fact, Coronavirus aside, whose identity turns out to be very surprising indeed once his eternally-smiling gold helmet is removed, the race turns out to be a spirited, if often sabotaged, contest between the various rebellious scions of the Empire’s multiplicity of races, with the Etruscans, inhabitants of the Kingdom of Kush (southern Egypt), the Lusitanians, the Bretons (Madmax and Ecotax – how I love those names – who are rather British it must be said) and many, many others.
Good old Asterix tries to unite them all, in a rousing speech at an inn one night reminding that “We all have the same goal! Proving to Caesar that we can beat his champion!”
Weirdly it works and the end of the race is an absolute treat as a result, with the Romans once again not winning a damn thing (hardly a spoiler – Asterix books tend to always end with the Romans chastened and the Barbarians NOT.)
Inbetween, we have all kinds of Roman skullduggery, brilliantly-inspired references to everything from the building of Venice to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, from possible toppings for flat bread (hello pizza) to a peasant woman who looks like the Mona Lisa and a barkeeper like Pavarotti.
They are but a small selection of the myriad treats that await in this engaging and very funny addition to Asterix’s catalogue of adventures which lives up to the stellar standards of its predecessors.
The true joy, all silly cultural references and riotously humourous quips aside, and they are many and often, is the camaraderie between Asterix and Obelix, as always one against the might of the Roamn empire.
Sure they bicker like the two old friends they are, but it’s good-natured, affectionate and the source of much of the heartwarming characterisation that grants the Asterix series so much of its emotionally-resonant narrative richness.
They’re in fine form in Asterix and the Chariot Race and as they race along the length of Italy in The Great Transitalic Race in a chariot obtained from Turbocatalitix, you feel like you’re back spending time with two very good old friends, and a bunch of highly-entertaining one-off characters have long been the mainstay of these books.
The only downside? The wait to the next book but if Asterix and the Chariot Race is any indication, it will be very much worth the wait.
Love, Actually is not everyone’s idea of the perfect holiday movie, but to me, it is perfect (look it up – it’s a “cannily”-woven in line from the film) and Giant Days, one of the best, most heartfelt comic strips to emerge in recent years, has made inspired use of the themes of love, romance, connection and belonging that join together a cast of disparate but like-minded (they all want that someone special, like we all do) characters.
In this year’s holiday special, which follows last year’s 2016 Holiday Special which was suffused with a distinctly It’s a Wonderful Life feel, Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooton, close university friends despite being vastly different personalities with considerably different upbringings and outlooks on life, head to London to see their Susan’s lucky-in-career-unlucky-in-love friend Shelley Winters.
They’re barely in London, with not much money or big city experience to their name, when they realise they’ll have to intervene in Shelley’s love life, which is currently split between the debonair, cool motorcycle-riding Grant, hunky nerd neighbour with the heart of gold Cecil and Sid from work who’s shooting an in-work documentary that seems to suspiciously feature Shelley.
Shelly for her part declares she doesn’t want to be died down but it’s this indecision which quickly a mess of improperly raised expectations by all three men who think they’re in with a chance.
What to do, what to do? Why employ every romantic comedy trope in the book in the hope of setting Shelley’s love life on the Cupid-approved straight and narrow, which is where the Love, Actually and Bridget Jones allusions come in, according to Eisner Award-nominated Giant Days creator John Allison (Bad Machinery):
“It’s a tribute to the films of Richard Curtis, and the Bridget Jones movies, by someone who has seen those movies perhaps once, and maybe not all the way through.” (source: Comic Buzz)
As usual in the world of Susan, Esther and Daisy, their time in London in what Allison refers to as “the fictionalised London-as-written for Americans, [where] iconic locations are presented as if they’re a brief walk away from each other, 1950s throwbacks still seem to walk the streets, it’s very clean, there are no poor people. Further “the ghosts of Mary Poppins and bad dentistry loom large, but not as large as Colin Firth. He’s everywhere” is spent with only the best of intentions.
Frankly, I’m quite OK with the romanticised view of London since it matches perfectly the delightfully fey and sweet of the Giant Days special, which takes us to Oxford Street in all its festive light-bedecked glory (though with the attendant crowds so maybe not so perfect after all?), gentrified Soho, and to Shelley’s huge, cute apartment which in the tradition of sitcoms and romcoms since time immemorial bears no resemblance to its occupant’s actual earning power.
It fits with these kinds of festive tales which are supposed to take a magical step away from the everyday in a season where we’re supposed to believe, and actively do, that some tinsel, carols and TV specials will make the world around a better place.
They don’t, of course, well not enough really, but it’s the artful pretense, the heartwarming make believe of it all that makes the season such a wonderful place to be, and in many cases, all this elaborate planning becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy anyway.
Quite whether that’s the case with the Giant Days special is up for debate, especially with its hilariously openended finish where things don’t really go according to plan, but hey even if the best laid plans of Daisy, Susan and Esther go awry involve luxurious trope-heavy Christmas shopping, late night wines with cute guys and festive meet cutes, then they’re not that far off a holiday happy ever after are they?
As always Allison and artist Jenn St-Onge serve up a lovely, rich, warm, and funny tale of three close friends out of their depth but plowing on regardless, beguiled by romanticised ideas of London, love and what’s possible at the most wonderful time of the year.
And so what if things don’t exactly deliver as advertised? That’s kinda life generally, a theme brought home again and again in the Giant Days comics, and given the kind of festive touch that makes the 2017 Special a wonderful, reality-removed delight, a welcome return by three of our favourite ladies who enter into the spirit of the season in a way that will a little extra loveliness, mirth and good cheer to your Christmas observances.