He’s a hulk, and a menace!

Thanks to the services of some good souls that shall remain anonymous, I came across a number of issues of the early 1980s Marvel UK run of The Incredible Hulk weekly, which mainly consisted of black and white reprints of Hulk stories from the late 60s along with some editorial content and posters.

What struck me, though, was that the comic also ran a half-page strip chronicling the mishaps of a hulk-like boy who also looked a lot like one of the mainstays of British comics, straight from the pages of the Beano, spiked hair and stripey top included. Apparently the general mood in the British comics industry was mellow enough to allow Marvel to parody Dennis the Menace without DC Thomson even clearing their throats.

The strips were made by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett, who also did strips like Earth 33 1/3 or The Fantastic 400 in other Marvel UK weeklies. And my inner child kinda likes them. Especially the huge belch.

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Beware of the inheritors!

In a recent installment of No Such Thing As A Fish, one of my favourite podcasts, my attention was drawn to this case, which involved an elaborate scheme to claim the inheritance of fabled swashbuckler (and onetime Plymouth mayor) Francis Drake, which was supposed to be held back surreptitiously by the British government.

To cut a long story short, Oscar Hartzell, the organizer of the grand claim was charged with racketeering and swindle along with seven of his cronies, and after a long trial locked up in a mental institution (see this rather amusing article from the Jan 24, 1937 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, only one of the many that were written about this case that got international attention.

This quaint little story reminded me of that other famous case of a treasure left behind by a legendary pirate and claimed by his supposed inheritors. Red Rackham’s Treasure was first published in Le Soir in 1942, some five years after the whole Drake kerfuffle. The scene with the inheritors has no bearing on the rest of the story, and only provides a droll action scene with Haddock and the Thompson twins, so why include it in the story if not to remind readers of a well-documented case of a few years earlier? Naturally, there’s no way of proving that Hergé actually knew of the Hartzell claim, but it would be a nice story in itself if he did. If only because Hartzell convincingly looked like a Hergé characer.

Incidentally, the Rackham claims involved a party able of dealing a swifter type of justice than the court. Blistering barnacles, I think we all could do with a Haddock in our lives at times…

(imagery from Hergé’s Red Rackham’s Treasure, Methuen 1959 edition. Tintin © Hergé / Moulinsart 2021 – All rights reserved)

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When talking to God, use bubbles

On the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the foundation of the Premonstratensian order, the (now defunct) Parc Abbey in Leuven opened its freshly restored rooms to the general public. It proved to be a strange look into what was considered to be bon genre some 250 years ago, with almost psychedelic wallpaper and some of the most over the top stuco ceiling decorations I have ever seen.

Much of the artwork (by 17th Century master Jean-Christian Hansche) celebrated aspects from the life of St Norbert of Xanten, the founder of the order. In the dining room, one of the cassettes in the ceiling showed how Norbert was struck by lightning one day and decided to turn his life around from a future as a regular church functionary to a life of penance, prayer and service. What’s cool about this image, is that Norbert’s words (“Domine, quid me vis facere”, or “Lord, what would you have me do”) are shown in some kind of speech bubble, but one that also makes clear to whom the utterance is directed.

I also discovered a similar scene in one of the quite splendid stained glass windows of the abbey’s cloisters (by 17th century artist Jan De Caumont). It shows Norbert presenting his chosen successor to lead his Order to Christ, saying “Hunc a te Domino mihi commissum tue S.S. Maiestati repraesento”. The speech bubble in this case has more of an illustrated ribbon, rising to the heaven, which constributes to the pomp of it all. And, as can often be seen in early speech glyphs, the speech is very much attached to the speaker’s mouth, rather than ending in the direct vicinity of his head.

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Pictures say it all

I used to think Green Arrow was one of the sillier characters of the DC Major Arcana, with his King Of Hearts beard and his arsenal of quirky arrows. But it turns out (and thank you, arrowheads anonymous who brought me up to speed) that over the past 80 years some great stories were made featuring the Emerald Archer (there’s no word in A that can replace “Green”, apparently). The recent 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular (gotta love these superlative blancmanges) has quite a few, covering all kinds of aspects and interpretations of the character that you don’t seem to get in Batman or Superman anthologies that seem to be limited to a growing codification of their main character.

The best story in the book, however, only features Green Lantern in a very cursory way. In Tap, Tap, Tap, writer Larry O’Neil pays homage to his father Denny, one of the geniuses that essentially made the DC universe the way we know it today. It’s a very fragmented story, focusing on key moments in O’Neil’s life (beautifully rendered by Jorge Fornés, slowly but surely my favorite artist of the moment). What makes it very special  is that the only language it uses, is the “Tap, tap, tap” of typewriters of various kinds.

All dialogue balloons contain visual references to comic characters that played an important part in O’Neil’s life, as well as important milestones (and sometimes both). But the best part is that the shape of the balloons mirrors the message, making the story essentially six pages of just gripping visuals. The irony of which, as it is the life story of a man who made his living writing words, should not be lost on anybody.

Even if you rarely buy superhero comics, get this book. It’s not grand in its aspirations, but it has some mighty great stories, and not in the least this moving send-off of one of the truly greats by his own son.

(Illustrations from the Green Arrow 80th Anniversary 100-Page Spectacular, © 2021 DC Comics)

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Seth covers early sci-fi

A couple of years ago Seth created the logotype and the pretty moodful covers of All the Wrong Questions, Lemony Snickett’s other series of books, which ended after only four volumes. It looks like Seth fans may need to make some room on their shelves, as more books are a-coming.

Radium Age, a new series from MIT celebrating early science fiction writers and precursors of the genre, just announced their first wave of titles, none of which are familiar to me (but that’s me), but each with their own bespoke, splendid Seth cover illustration perfectly reflecting the time and the mood of the books. And with an appropriately retro series logo to boot, what’s not to like?

So far four books have been presented, including a short story collection, with eight more in various stages of approval. Stay tuned!

(via HiLoBrow)

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Who read comics (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Somehow I think it is quite apt that McCartney found some enjoyment from reading Jimmy Olsen

(thanks, Tom!)

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Hello / Goodbye bubble

With vaccination rates steadily growing (at least in my country), everybody seems to be preparing for the grand reopening of social life. Will we escape from our bubbles, or has our frame of reference shrunk so much that we can only talk about ourselves? Another inventive and funny illustration by Klaas Verplancke for Belgian weeklies Knack Weekend and Le Vif Weekend.

(And for a moment I thought that the speech bubble had lost its lustre!)

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Wilhelm Busch on stamps

I recently came across two sets of stamps dedicated to German comics pioneer Wilhelm Busch. I already knew, of course, of the numerous issues that the German post office made about this author. They started with what must be the oldest set in my collection, two little stamps from 1958, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Busch’s death, and ending in an issue from 2015 on the 150th anniversary of his most famous creation, Max und Moritz.

In 2008 the neighboring country of Liechtenstein did their own issue on the centenary of Busch’s death, with eight stamps featuring his most famous creations. The stamps have a nice silver finish in the lettering, but I can’t say I’m over the moon about the bland PhotoShop colouring. I understand the aim was to emulate the watercolours that were added to the illustrations, but this just looks lousy.

I’m more enthralled with this other little set of three sheetlets, each telling a short Max Und Moritz story in four images, complete with rhyming couplets in German and English. They are an issue from the Penrhyn Atoll, which is part of the Northern Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, smack on the official date line.

I guess those are the most exotic in my albums, or at least they’ve traveled the longest distance. And in these the colouring is spot on. Incidentally, they were issued in the International Year of the Child, 1979, which also was the year my dad gave me the new Tintin stamp, which started all this madness.

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Anima with Pieter de Poortere

When Pieter de Poortere creates the poster for a major event like next year’s Anima, the Brussels international festival for animated film, you know you’re in for a treat.

De Poortere opted to visualise the iconic Flagey building, which hosts the festival, almost completely submerged by the rising sea level. But don’t fear, this is not just a comment on the consequences of climate change, this is fun! His anti-hero Boerke looks on, rather fed up by the gulls that are defecating all over him, as other Brussels landmarks like the Atomium and the Media tower sink away in the background.

All the while sea creatures have a field day, flexing their muscles, having ice cream and enjoying a movie of their own. And have you tried to spot all references to animation classics?

(Illustration © Pieter De Poortere / De Hofleveranciers)

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Ever covers Kevin

Just when everybody’s talking about his splendid new book for Louis Vuitton, in which he guides you through the big buildings and petit histoire of Brussels, Ever Meulen just goes ahead and creates his first Humo cover in years. Just in time for Euro 2020, it features Kevin de Bruyne with his typical nr 7 and a rather atypical grin.

(Illustration by Ever Meulen, courtesy DPG Media nv)

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