Nobody’s Fool
By Bill Griffith

Schlitzie the Pinhead
Schlitzie the Pinhead, from FREAKS

Griffith, creator of the comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, interviewed by Bill O’Driscoll at pghcitypaper, talked about his new graphic novel undertaking: “[It’s] called Nobody’s Fool,” said Griffith, “and the subtitle is ‘The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead.’ [Sideshow performer] Schlitzie is the original inspiration for Zippy. It’s a real person.

“I first saw Schlitzie in [Todd Browning’s 1932 film] ‘Freaks,’” Giffith continued, “— actually that’s the only place to really see Schlitzie. … I was lucky enough to find his last manager, [who] lives in Florida. And I found a guy my age who traveled throughout Canada in a circus sideshow in 1968, when Schlitzie was in his last year of performing, and had wonderful, wonderful stories, that really made Schlitzie come to life. … Without those two interviews, those two people, I really wouldn’t have had a book. … It would have been all guesswork.”

Zippy-Bill Griffith photo

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The Fun Family
By Benjamin Frisch
240 pages, color
2016 Top Shelf

Due in July, this graphic novel follows the life and work of beloved cartoonist Robert Fun, who is known for his idyllic circle-shaped newspaper cartoons about wholesome family life, supposedly based upon actual events in the Fun family. (Sound like anything we know?) But the Fun family apparently harbors some dark secrets, says the press release. “As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world?” Who knows? The book purports to be “a surreal deconstruction of childhood, adulthood, and good old American obsession.” I wonder if Jeff Keane knows about this; can’t imagine that he doesn’t.


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Balls of Fire: More Snuffy Smith Comics
By John Rose
138 7.5x7-inch pages, b/w
2016 Lulu paperback

This is the second collection of this famed comic strip from Rose, who took over the feature in 2001 after the death of Fred Lasswell, who’d been assisting its creator Billy DeBeck and inherited the strip in 1942, soon after DeBeck’s death. Rose had been assisting Lasswell since 1998, and he has the appearance of the classic cast of hillbillies down pat — even to the visual tic of making all the characters talk out of the sides of their mouths. The strip started June 17, 1919 under the title Take Barney Google, F’Instance; it is, therefore, the second oldest comic strip still in daily circulation (Gasoline Alley is the oldest, debuting in 1918 on November 24). But Lasswell and then Rose kept the comedy contemporary albeit just a little cornball, in keeping with the happy hillbilly ambiance.


Despite the title of the strip — Barney Google and Snuffy Smith — Barney (the original star of the feature) hasn’t been seen in it much since he was formally written out in 1954. Lasswell brought him back occasionally “for the old folks” (fans), but Rose has let Barney visit about once a year since 2012, when he came back for a week for the first time in 15 years. Barney appears two or three times in the volume at hand, culled from releases in 2013 and 2014. And he’s around a couple of times in Rose’s preceding tome, The Bodacious Best of Snuffy Smith (same dimensions and price, also from Lulu).

Here is a sampling of the bounty in Balls of Fire.




For the complete Barney Google, Snuffy Smith, DeBeck, Lasswell and Rose saga, beam up to the Usual Place to visit Harv’s Hindsight for December 2009, where all is divulged.                       

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Batman Noir coverBatman Noir: Eduardo Risso
A collection of stories by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
220 7x11-inch pages
black and white
2013 DC Comics

This book exists because of Risso, the Argentinian artist (who started drawing in 1981) whose work began to surface in this country in 1997, it’s his artwork that is on exalted display throughout. The content reprints Risso-drawn stories “Scars” (Batman Gotham Knights, No.8), “Broken City” (Batman, Nos.620-625), “Knight of Vengeance” (Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance, Nos.1-3), and Wednesday Comics, Batman Nos.1-12 (one pagers).

Azzarello’s stories are what we’ve come to expect of Batman tales — crime-fighting, psychological portraits, tortured consciences, brute action. And through “Broken City” wafts a faint chorus about a boy who witnessed his parents’ murder. All good stuff, but not remarkable.

The remarkable content is Risso’s. Noted for his work on Azzarello’s 100 Bullets, his page layouts are always inventive, startlingly so. And entirely in black and white in this volume, they are stunning demonstrations of just how adventurous a comic book artist can be. Here are a few samples.




For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Lee Falk and MandrakeThe recently arrived Mandrake the Magician reprint tome understandably has little to say about writer Lee Falk’s other comic strip creation, the Phantom, but St. Wikipedia tells us that the character was “inspired by Falk’s fascination for myths and legends, such as the ones about El Cid, King Arthur, and Nordic and Greek folklore heroes. ... Falk originally considered the idea of calling his character The Gray Ghost, but finally decided that he preferred The Phantom. In an interview, he revealed that Robin Hood, who was often depicted as wearing tights, inspired the Phantom’s skin-tight costume.”

In the A&E Network's “Phantom” biography program, Falk explained that Ancient Greek stone busts inspired the novel facial treatment of the Phantom when masked: his eyes don’t show. Instead, we see only blank slits in the mask. The old Greek busts had no eye pupils, which “Falk felt gave them an inhuman, interesting look.” Actually, the old Greek statues did have eyeballs; Falk, working from photographs, just didn’t notice.

Ray Moore, who was Davis’ assistant on Mandrake, was the first artist on The Phantom; he was succeeded by his assistant, Wilson McCoy. Both drew relatively simply. McCoy died unexpectedly in 1961, and after a short time, Sy Barry took it over, drawing more elaborately in a knowing style. He did the best job on the strip—and the longest, over 30 years until he retired in 1994. Other artists followed. Mike Manley took over with the strip dated May 30, 2016.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


I’ve never been (until now) much intrigued by Mandrake. The protagonist’s “gesturing hypnotically” always reminds me of an old story about a pulp fiction writer who was writing a serialized thriller for one of the numerous magazines of the day. He did his writing in the office, showing up once a month to write the next installment. On one occasion, he ended an installment, as usual, with a cliffhanger: his hero was bound to a chair and gagged in a room in a deserted house, and the villain set fire to the place and departed the premises. The writer turned in the story and left the office.

Mandrake gesticulatingAt the very last minute, the writer came in, sat down at a typewriter and began to write. He finished and left the next chapter with the editor. The editor, desperate to know how the hero fared, quickly picked up the typewritten pages and read: “With a single bound, he freed himself and escaped.”

“With a single bound” looks an awful lot like “gestured hypnotically.” Reads like abdication of authorial responsibility.

But in scanning the book at hand for the review in this vicinity, I began to realize the appeal of Falk’s magician. His “magic” often served as a kind of punchline, a joke, in the continuity. When visitors to his backstage dressingroom speak scornfully of Mandrake’s being “a stage magician,” he convinces them that he is more than a “stage magician” by making their chairs disappear so they appear to be sitting in mid-air. And he removes the clothing from one of them. “Stage magician” indeed, Mandrake says.

Mandrake’s magic is always amusing. He turns rifles held by guards into writhing snakes. He turns a panther into a beautiful woman (and vice versa). At the rate of about one “gesture” every week, Mandrake removes all obstacles to his plans and threats to his person—with a single bound. It’s the ingenuity of his tricks that keep readers coming back. And did for almost eighty years.

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Mandrake the Magician - Hidden Kingdom coverMandrake the Magician
The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers: Sundays, 1935-37

By Lee Falk and Phil Davis
156 9x12-inch pages, color
2016 Titan Comics hardcover

On the reverse of the title page, we are advised that “much of the comic strip material used in this book is exceedingly rare” and so “the quality of reproduction achievable can vary.” And that’s true, but for the most part, the strips herein are readable and clear. The first adventure, “The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers” (which gives the book its subtitle), from February 3 through May 26, 1935 suffers the most: the lettering on the first few strips is almost too small to read, and the lines of the artwork often fade. The source for these strips was doubtless flawed. But with the release for June 2, the strips have been re-lettered (presumably for this volume), and the drawing seems more confidently rendered, perhaps because Davis started using Ray Moore as an inker.




The volume includes 5 more adventures, ending with the strip for August 29, 1937, altogether 134 Sunday pages. Sixteen pages of front matter include an appreciation of the strip by Sweden’s Magnus Magnusson and biographies of Falk and the artist, Phil Davis—all amply illustrated with photographs and promotional artwork and advertisements.

We learn that Falk drew the first two weeks of the Mandrake daily, which debuted June 11, 1934. Reproducing the release for June 21 reveals that Falk’s drawing ability at the age of 19, when he conceived the strip, was superior; we’ve included a scan of it near here. In later years, when asked why the magician looked so much like himself, Falk replied, "Well, of course he did. I was alone in a room with a mirror when I drew him!" He soon gave up the drawing, though — probably too much work in addition to writing the strip.

Magnusson says that Davis drew Mandrake from the third week of the daily and the first of the Sunday until he died, December 16, 1964.

Howard “Fred” Fredericks took over at Davis’ death and continued until 2013, when he retired, leaving the strip in mid-story on July 6; on July 8, reprints from 1995 started. Fredericks also wrote the strip after Falk’s death in 1999.

Mandrake, because of his power to change the appearance of things by “gesturing hypnotically,” has often been called comics’ first superhero, gesticulating being his superpower. Falk’s other comic strip creation, The Phantom, which began February 17, 1936, is usually considered comics’ first costumed hero.

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Pogo Dell Vol 1 coverWalt Kelly’s Pogo: The Complete Dell Comics
Vol. 1, Animal Comics, Nos.1 - 30 (except Nos.4, 6,7, in which Pogo did not appear)
Vol. 2, Dell Four Color No.105 (April 1946) & No.148 (May 1947), plus Pogo Possum Nos. 1 & 2
Vol. 3, Pogo Possum, Nos. 3-7

300, 240 & 220 7½ x10-inch pages, color
Hermes Press hardcovers


All three volumes offer the same basics -- Table of Contents that lists and dates the volume’s contents (a highly helpful aspect, especially to historians), introductory essays by Thomas Andrae (and, in Volume 1, an Afterword by Mark Burstein; Volume 2, Preface by Trina Robbins), and reproduction of a smattering of original art, showing Kelly’s blue-line penciling. The color in all three books is quite satisfactory: shot from the comics themselves, the color has been somewhat enhanced, making the reds redder and the blues bluer; printed on white glossy paper, the over-all effect is bright and slightly garish.


The source comic books were the best printings so we find virtually no out-of-register colors. Hermes has clearly taken great pains to produce the best possible archival Dell Pogo.

Volume 1 is fastidiously (even tediously) reviewed in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves Archive, Opus 332); I’ll add here only that in Animal Comics No.19, we learn that Pogo’s full name is Ponce de Leon Montgomery County Alabama Georgia Beauregard Possum — “or Pogo, fo’ short,” adds the patient ’possum.

The volumes as a whole offer not only superlative comical whimsy by Kelly but insight into his growth and maturation as a cartoonist and satirist. Kelly’s early comic book work does more than prefigure the comic strip: many of the gags and antics of the Animal Comics stories are recycled in the Pogo newspaper strip, and it’s instructive to watch how Kelly refined and improved his initial concepts.

Each volume includes scraps of the essential history of the strip. In Volume 1, for instance, we witness the debuts of Howland Owl and Churchy La Femme (Animal Comics No.13), and in Volume 2, we meet the irrepressibly prickly Porky Pine, calling himself Pompadour Q. Porcupine (in Four Color No.105).

Volume 2 also rehearses the “origin story” of Pogo and Albert’s relationship—their fateful initial encounter— in which Albert first enslaves Pogo and then tries to cook him for dinner, thinking he’s a duck. Along the way, Pogo gets stuck in a cooking pot and is consequently mistaken for a turtle as he crawls away on all fours. As usual, Albert loses sight of his objective before accomplishing it, and everyone runs off happily in all directions at once.

And Volume 2 corrects an error in Volume 1, which unaccountably left out two pages of the Pogo story in Animal Comics No.3; to make up for the oversight, the entire story is included in this volume.

Volume 3 is all from Pogo Possum, Nos.3 through 7, and with No.6, text stories begin on the inside front and back covers. (Were these written by Kelly? Probably, but it would be edifying if Andrae tole us.) Otherwise, the verbal-visual content of the stories includes Kelly’s usual antics both verbal and visual, crammed with leap-frogging puns and cascading malapropisms and stampeding misunderstandings that run off into further misunderstandings, all of a highly comical sort.




Subsequent volumes of the Hermes Pogo project will finish the Pogo Possum run (which ended with No.16, April 1954), plus one-shots in Our Gang No.6 (July 1943) and Santa Claus Funnies (Four Color No.254, 1949). That’ll take at least two more volumes by my calculation, and I’ll be looking forward to each delicious one of them, however many it takes.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com



The Rancid Raves Book Grotto is littered, literally, with books we acquired with the intention of reviewing them. Alas, they’ve piled up over the years, and it has become increasingly apparent that we’ll never give most of them the kind of intensive examination they deserve. So rather than let the accretion be entirely in vain, we’ve started this new department wherein we’ll briefly describe books by way of urging them upon you, beginning, this time, with:


Road to America coverRoad to America
By Baru with Jean-Marc Thevenet
45 8 ½ x11-inch pages, color
Drawn & Quarterly, 2002

The pictures pulled me into this one. The story focuses on an Algerian prize fighter (boxer) named Said Boudiaf during Algeria’s bloody struggle to free itself from French colonial rule. The political climate is so intense that everyone must ally him/herself with one side or the other — the French or the Algerian nationalists; but Boudiaf wants only to escape the turmoil, pursue his chosen profession, and get to America. The book follows his rise in the boxing hierarchy, his falling in love, and his efforts to maintain a neutrality in the conflict. But, as I said, it’s the pictures that absorb my attention. Here are some of them.






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The True Death of Billy the Kid:
Being an Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in His Brief and Turbulent Life
Graphic Biography by Rick Geary
56 8x10-inch pages, b/w
2014 Hometown Press

True Story of Billy the Kid coverThe life, crimes, and lamentable death of Billy the Kid have been written about nearly endlessly, making the New Mexico outlaw’s fate one of the best-known in American biography. Here, Geary adds his take to the pile. As always, he is scrupulous in covering the known as well as the unknown ground. Geary focuses on the last two months of the Kid’s life, beginning with his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse Jail on April 28, 1881, during which he killed both his guards, deputies James Bell and Bob Olinger.

How the Kid broke loose and killed Bell is one of the many disputed aspects of his life, and Geary covers all three of the traditionally cited possibilities.

Geary covers the principal events of the Kid’s life up to his jail break in three pages of illustrated captions. Thereafter, he deploys his usual method, coupling captions to pictures and authenticating the narrative with diagrams, maps, and the floorplans of buildings. I asked Geary, who lives in New Mexico near the action of his tale, how he determined the layout of Lincoln and the courthouse, and he told me the town and the building are today pretty much the way they were when the Kid was jailed there.

Geary’s captions are terse, almost devoid of adjectives. And the people in his pictures, as always, have about them a haunted almost furtive air, looking as if they knew they were being examined and were uncomfortable about it. The combined effect is of deadpan narrative, an entirely suitable mode for factual history.


Both the Kid’s escape from the Lincoln Country Courthouse Jail and his death on July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner are rehearsed in detailed documentary fashion, action depicted and related step-by-step.

Geary’s drawing style, which I have admired for years, is ideally suited to the manner of his storytelling. Shaded linearly, the pictures have a flat, documentary aura; and his outlining with a naked unflexing line sometimes curiously crocheted at the edges adds a fustian old-timey feel to the proceedings, making history live again in a time-worn manner.

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Ann Tenna: A Novel
Graphic Novel by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
240 7x9-inch pages, color
2015 Knopf hardcover

In Marchetto's second aventure into the graphic novel genre (her first in 2006, Cancer Vixen, a memoir of her 11-month victorious battle with breast cancer, reviewed in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves Archives, Opus 205), Ann Tenna is a fashionable New York gossip columnist whose power has seduced her away from “her true self,” as the dust jacket blurb tells us, continuing: “It takes a near-fatal freak [car] accident on her birthday — April Fool’s Day — and an intervention from her cosmic double in a realm beyond our own to make Ann realize the full cost of the humanity she has lost [and to enable her recovery].

“Told with laugh-out loud humor, spot-on-dialogue (including via cameo appearances from Coco Chanel, Gianni Versace and Jimi Henrix), [the book] is a timely, necessary [satiric] tale for our overly ‘media-cated’ times.”

The New York celebrity-oriented story is not the sort of tale that interests me—too brimming with “with-in” witicisms — and I don’t pretend to have actually read it (see Book Marquee rationale above), but I’ve thumbed through it enough to appreciate what Marchetto has accomplished here by exploiting the capacities of the medium.

Billed as a New Yorker cartoonist (whose cartoons appear occasionally in the magazine, the most fashionable and high-fallutin’ cartoon venue in the country), Marchetto abandons the conventions of her single-panel cartoons for that publication in this novel. Herein, she produces some of the wildest visual variations on comic-strip/comic-book storytelling, breaking out of page layout grids and using a parade of symbols to achieve her objective—in which Ann Tenna recovers her humanity at last (sigh).





In short, this volume could well serve as an inspiring example of one of the many ways the graphic novel form can be deployed to tell stories that other narrative modes (the prose novel the epic poem) cannot achieve. And Marchetto’s experimental manner gives her story a pictorial excitement that enhances its satirical comedy.


For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com