An Irish Worldcon, Part 2: Friday

You can read the first part of my Worldcon write-up here.

Chuck Tingle Buckaroo
By now I had turned into one of those Worldcon weirdos who has a load of ribbons hanging off their name badge. These magic charms did not protect from the ministry of Satan, whose works meant that I failed to rock up to the Convention Centre in time for any 10.00 a.m. panels. Instead I tried to attend a panel in Point Square on The Continuing Relevance of Older SF (with the programme notes including works by Margaret Atwood as an example of what was going to be covered, which seems a bit strange as although Atwood is old she is a currently active writer whose latest SF novel is about to hit the shelves). However the room was full before I got near it, perhaps because the panel included both Robert Silverberg and Joe Haldemann, so I skipped off to another academic session (good iron law for Worldcons: you can always get into academic sessions and they are always worth attending). This saw Peter Adrian Behravesh looking at depictions of empowered women in the Persian fantastic, which was interesting but I did note that he was talking more about mythic tales than actual fantastic literature, for all that he was referring to written versions of the tales that named people had written in historical times. An interesting discussion could perhaps be had on where myth ends and fantasy literature begins.
The session also included a presentation by Katja Kontturi (the Ducktor), whom I had seen previously in Helsinki. Her thing is postmodernism in Disney comics, which are very popular in Europe generally and Finland in particular. European publishers produce their own Disney comics with minimal oversight from Disney’s central command, and some of these comics go in pretty strange directions. In Helsinki I remember her talking about a comic in which the characters start being attacked by the strip’s narration panels; here she discussed Mickey’s Craziest Adventures, which was published in 2016 but purported to be a reproduction of a tattered copy of a previously lost comic from 1965 found in car boot sale. The book sees Mickey Mouse and his pals enjoy the kind of adventure more commonly seen in the weirdo underground comix of that era. The description reminded me somewhat of Alan Moore’s 1963, while in some ways being more completely mental. I also found myself thinking of how surreal British kids comics could also be (and perhaps still are), which I think is something they could get away with because children have far less sense of the “normal” way a narrative should work.

A long stint thereafter on the Point Square information desk thereafter sapped my energy and left me unable to attend any further programme items. If you are one of the ten thousand people who came to the information desk asking where the Alhambra or Stratocaster rooms where then perhaps it was I who with a world weary sigh directed you out to the nearby Gibson Hotel. That these rooms were not in the Odeon complex but in the almost adjacent hotel was not something highlighted in the programme, so Worldcon attendees understandably found all this a bit confusing.

Unknown Pleasures
Late on Friday afternoon I was freed from the information desk and had a bit of a look at the Odeon art show, which had a lot of nice stuff. However I am not really in the market for original art and do not fully trust my own taste in that regard, so I did not put down any bids for the works, though I must admit I was tempted to throw down the five figure sum being sought for the original of the cover of one of the Gollancz SF Masterworks editions of Philip K. Dick. I then wandered back to the CCD and had my picture taken in my Unknown Pleasures t-shirt next to a poster showing the uninverted image. I was a bit surprised to not see anyone else wearing that t-shirt at the whole con. OK, I know most SF fans are not mad into post punk bands like Joy Division, but the image does show transmissions from the first pulsar known to humanity, the one discovered by guest of honour Jocelyn Bell Burnell when she was a PhD student. I was wearing the t-shirt to honour her (and because Unknown Pleasures is awesome and came out 40 years ago this year) and thought more people would do the same, but they did not.

Perhaps coincidentally, Friday evening saw me sneak away from SF fandom completely to instead hang out with music fan buds who like me are members of Frank’s APA, the amateur press association for people who like music. However sacred vows of secrecy oblige me to keep to myself the astonishing occurrences that happened during our meeting.

Keep coming back to Secret Panda for more Worldcon action real soon!

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures image source (Duck Comics Revue)

More of my Worldcon pictures, not all of which are of me

Finding the other Retro Hugo finalists online

In Dublin this August the Hugo Awards for the best science fiction and related stuff from 2018 will be awarded. Dublin will also be awarding Retro Hugos for material from 1943. In a previous post I linked to where most of Retro Hugo finalists in the novel, novella, novelette, and short story categories can be found online. But what of the other categories? Sadly here things seem to be a bit more difficult, but there is still more than nothing that can be looked at online for free.

Best Graphic Story

Readers will I think struggle to find some of the finalists in this category. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man #1: The Game of Death is available in full on the Digital Comics Museum for online reading and downloading. Steve Dowling’s Garth is downloadable from the blog British Comic Compilations (the Garth 001 download contains the material from 1943).

They seem to be the only finalists readily available in full online. The blog The Wonders You Can Do has an interesting post summarising and analysing Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood (by William Moulton Marsden and Harry G. Peter), complete with some illustrations. The Black Gate blog meanwhile has an illustrated summary of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon: Fiery Desert of Mongo. Hergé’s The Secret of the Unicorn is available in many libraries and all good bookshops; a summary with sample illustrations can be seen on Your local library may also have the 1969 edition of The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which contains Philip Nowlan and Dick Calkins’ Martians Invade Jupiter

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Heaven Can Wait and Münchhausen are both available in full on YouTube. The Internet Archive meanwhile appears to have Batman, Cabin in the Sky, and Phantom of the Opera. And OK.RU has A Guy Named Joe.

Better quality versions of these films may be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Ape Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and Super-Rabbit are all available on YouTube. The Seventh Victim is on Dailymotion.

That leaves I Walked With a Zombie, for which YouTube has just a trailer. It might be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Here are links to what the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists the finalists as having edited in 1943. Have a look at each issue’s table of contents and see if it tickles your fancy. If you have infinite time, consider popping over to the Internet Archive to skim some of these issues.

John W. Campbell Jr.: Astounding Science Fiction & Unknown Worlds

Oscar J. Friend: Thrilling Wonder Stories

Mary Gnaedinger: Famous Fantastic Mysteries

Dorothy McIlwraith: Weird Tales

Raymond A. Palmer: Amazing Stories & Fantastic Adventures

Donald A. Wollheim: The Pocket Book of Science Fiction

Best Professional Artist

Samples of Hannes Bok‘s art can be seen here on the blog Monster Brains. Readers can also check out his illustrations to Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign” in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

While primarily famous for her saucy covers for Weird Tales, Margaret Brundage appears to have had a fairly quiet year in 1943, producing just the one somewhat tame cover then. A Google image search gives a broader look at her career.

Virgil Finlay‘s work can be seen on the covers of the March 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and the February & May 1943 issues of Super Science Stories. Finlay is also noted for his interior art, examples of which can be seen in his illustrations for C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner’s Earth’s Last Citadel (separately a finalist in the Best Novel category).

Unless you have been living under a stone you almost certainly are broadly familiar with the illustrations Antoine de Saint-Exupéry created for his own book The Little Prince, but if you need a refresher check out this post on the blog Faena Aleph.

J. Allen St. John‘s work can be seen on the covers of the January and February 1943 issues of Amazing Stories.

The art of William Timmins can be see on the covers of the February, June, and October 1943 issues of Astounding Science Fiction.

Fanzine and Fanwriter

FANAC.ORG is an amazing archive of fan stuff of yore. The people that run it created a portal page for fanzines from 1943 there, and there you will find links to scans of the finalists in both of the fan categories.

In case you can’t remember, the best fanzine finalists are:
Futurian War Digest, editor J. Michael Rosenblum
Guteto, editor Morojo (Myrtle R. Douglas)
The Phantagraph, editor Donald A. Wollheim
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, editors Jack Erman (Forrest J Ackerman) & Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
YHOS, editor Art Widner
Le Zombie, editor Wilson “Bob” Tucker 

The Best Fan Writer finalists are:
Forrest J. Ackerman
Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
Jack Speer
Wilson “Bob” Tucker
Art Widner
Donald A. Wollheim
So there you go. With voting in the Hugos and Retro Hugos closing on 31 July, this does not leave much time to research your ballot.

In the meantime, here is another picture of my cat, with SF books in background:

More cat action

edited with a link to a download of Garth and information on where Buck Rogers: Martians Invade Jupiter can be found (information provided by Ambyr), and also to correct an error in the listing of the nominees in the fanzine category.

1943 Comics and the Retro Hugos

I wrote some pieces on 1943 publications for the Dublin Worldcon blog, as a guide to people who are nominating for the Retro Hugo awards, which will be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin this year. One of these posts included a discussion of 1943 comics. Comics are a visual medium but I did not include images there for fear of getting Worldcon into copyright trouble. I have no such fears regarding my own blog, so here is a discussion of 1943 comics, with added images.

Comics have sometimes been a bit of a problem category for the Retro Hugos. Lots of people like comics and lots of comics were published in years eligible for Retro Hugo recognition, but many 1940s comics were extremely ephemeral, never reprinted and only read in more recent years by serious collectors. There are online databases containing scans of vintage comics now in the public domain, notably Comic Book Plus and the Digital Comic Museum, but they are a bit terrifying in the amount of material they offer. The Digital Comic Museum unfortunately does not have an obvious means of searching its database by year, but Comic Book Plus does at least allow readers to see comics published month by month in 1943. If readers start here they will see comics books whose precise 1943 cover date is unknown. Clicking on next brings up January 1943 comics, and so on. Comics here can be downloaded (after registering) or viewed online. So, trawling there might uncover comics worth nominating, but beware: many big comics of the era are still in copyright and are not included in Comic Book Plus (or indeed in the Digital Comics Museum). Batman and Superman appeared in a variety of titles and formats in 1943 but neither of them are to be found in these datasets.

One comic that is not in either of those databases, presumably because it remains in copyright, is The Victory Garden, which appeared in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #31. This sees a popular anthropomorphic duck’s attempts to grow vegetables being thwarted by some greedy crows. The Victory Garden is noteworthy as the first Donald Duck comic drawn by Carl Barks. Carl Barks also gave us The Mummy’s Ring (originally appearing in Four Color Comics #29) in which Donald and his nephews find themselves caught up in Egyptological adventures.

Wonder Woman and Plastic Man have appeared separately in two 1943 comics that have received some praise. Plastic Man and the Game of Death (by Jack Cole for Quality Comics) sees the stretchable superhero take on a death cult, Japanese spies (with the usual problematic stereotyping) and cowboys in a series of bizarre adventures. Meanwhile in Battle for Womanhood (by created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter for All-American Publications and appearing in Wonder Woman #5) Wonder Woman faces up against Dr. Psycho, who attempts to undermine the US war effort by creating a spectral George Washington who warns against the employment of women in war industries. Dr. Psycho’s motivation seems to be straightforward misogyny rather than axis-sympathies, with this villainous genius wanting to reverse the gains women have achieved in American society. Marva, his wife, is bound to him by his hypnotic powers and he is keen to reduce all women to a state of servitude, something Wonder Woman is keen to prevent (although she is briefly enslaved by Dr. Psycho herself). As befits Marston’s feminist views, the story ends with Dr. Psycho’s defeat and Marva freed to receive a message of female empowerment.

Newspaper strips were an important part of the comics firmament in 1943. The year saw the conclusion of the Flash Gordon series Fiery Desert of Mongo (by Alex Raymond for King Features Syndicate).

Two Buck Rogers strips concluded this year, Martians Invade Jupiter and Mechanical Bloodhound (both by Dick Calkins for National Newspaper Syndicate); these were subsequently collected as Volume 9 of the Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: Dailies.
The Brick Bradford newspaper strip On the Throne of Titania, created by Clarence Gray and William Ritt for the Central Press Association, finished its run of more than two years in 1943. Like Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford started life as a Buck Rogers knock-off before embarking on his own travels through both time and space, eventually becoming better known in Europe than in the USA. As well as the daily strips, Gray and Ritt also produced a weekly Brick Bradford strip for the Sunday newspapers, with The Men Of The North and Ultrasphere both finishing in 1943.
1943 also saw the conclusion of the Sunday newspaper strip John Carter of Mars, adapted by John Coleman Burroughs from his father’s books and distributed by United Feature Syndicate. The strip was less successful than Rice Burroughs’ novels and was sadly cancelled in midstream in March 1943; readers never did get to see Dak Kova’s prize).
A more popular newspaper strip in 1943 was Prince Valiant, created by Hal Foster for King Features Syndicate. Readers may have encountered Fantagraphics’ reprints of Prince Valiant, volume 4 of which includes stories from 1943. Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray, for Tribune Media Services) was also widely read.
In 1943 as now comics were not just being published in the Anglophone world. In Nazi-occupied Belgium, Hergé was writing Tintin comics, with Secret of the Unicorn published in book form by Casterman and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure serialised in Le Soir. Unlike some other Tintin titles, neither of these deal particularly with science fictional or explicitly fantastic themes, yet there is a strange outlandishness to all of Tintin’s adventures that could slide them into Hugo eligibility.

Another noteworthy Belgian comic of 1943 is Le Rayon U (translated much later into English as The U Ray) by Edgar P. Jacobs (more famous for his subsequent Blake & Mortimer comics). Le Rayon U appeared in the pages of Bravo and is a fantasy/science fiction tale in the Flash Gordon mould, which it was produced to replace, as the US entry into the war meant that Flash Gordon comics could no longer be imported into Europe.

image sources:

The Victory Garden (The Disney Wiki)

The Mummy’s Ring (Pencil Ink)

Battle for Womanhood (The Wonders You Can Do: Doctor Psycho: One of Wonder Woman’s Vilest Villains)

Flash Gordon & Desira (Black Gate: Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Nineteen – “Fiery Desert of Mongo”)

Brick Bradford (Comic Art Fans)

John Carter of Mars, the final episode (The Daily Cartoonist: First and Last – John Carter of Mars Comic Strip)

Prince Valiant (The Comics Journal)

Tintin & co. land on an island (Tintin official site: Red Rackham’s Treasure)

Le Rayon U (Cool French Comics)

Octocon Day 3

Readers, apologies for the delay in bringing my Octocon write-up to a conclusion. In my defence let me say that I was very busy with my amazing World War 1 blog in the run up to the centenary of the Western Front armistice and then was away in Utrecht attending the Le Guess Who music festival. I also had my v important day job to attend to, but let’s be honest, the real reason this is so late is that I am a slack-ass and have spent my time in dissipation when I should be blog-writing.

If the time-lag is so long that you have completely forgotten what previously happened at Octocon then let me refer you to part 1 and part 2. And if you are too busy refer back to those, a quick reminder: Octocon is the Irish national science fiction convention, which this year took place in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Blanchardstown.

Sunday morning, I made it out to Blanchardstown too late to catch the Sunday Service, at which John Vaughan talked further about the worst films he has seen this year (possibly featuring further unsound comments on Hereditary) and rofflin’ James Brophy talked about television. I did however make it to Janet O’Sullivan’s interview with comics creator Colleen Doran, Octocon’s other guest of honour. A lot of fascinating stuff came up here, not least regarding the materiality of the craft, with Doran drawing attention to the non-durable nature of the original comics art from a surprising number of artists, which is often drawn onto paper that falls apart over time with paint that will degrade even if the art is kept in a cupboard. Although she does write comics (both for other artists and herself), Doran works primarily as an artist and I was taken by her praise for writers she has worked with like Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman; she mentioned how when Alan Moore writes very detailed instructions to artists it is because he has thought very deeply about how the comic should look, which is sadly not the case with some other writers who have also taken to providing artists with ponderously descriptive scripts.

However, the Colleen Doran interview really ramped up towards the end when the subject of Comicsgate and online harassment. I have not been paying attention to comics in recent years but it appears that all those Gamergate Sad Puppy dipshit man-babies have moved on to comics and taken to harassing comics creators. Doran noted that harassment is something she has had to deal with from the earliest days of her time in comics but that it has escalated of late as the dipshits use social media to swarm their enemies. At the same time she reports that it is somewhat easier to deal with now because the targets are able to talk amongst themselves, thereby realising that they are not being singled out for dipshit attention. It also appears to be the case that male comics creators are now receiving their own share of targeted harassment, making them suddenly aware of what their female colleagues have had to put up with for years. What is still a bit problematic about all of this is that the comics companies are pushing (sometimes requiring) the creators to establish social media presences but are being a bit slack about assisting them when they start attracting attention from the arseholes.

An unfortunate consequence of attending the wonderful Colleen Doran interview was that I missed a session on the new season of Doctor Who, but I did make it to a live recording of the CinePunked podcast by Robert JE Simpson and Rachael Kelly, at which they discussed the mid-1970s sudden and possibly coincidental appearance of three Frankenstein-related films in a short period, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Young Frankenstein (1974). The last two of these are obviously homages to vintage horror and SF films while the first one was the last film of old Hammer, making it almost a homage to itself (and featuring David Prowse, subsequently of Darth Vader fame, as the Monster). I have somehow never made it to a podcast recording before and have a surprisingly limited exposure to podcasts themselves (if I wanted to hear people talk I would turn on the radio or pay attention to the people at work) so I was fascinated by the process, in particular the completely and preternaturally fluid nature of the conversation between Mr Simpson & Dr Kelly. I was also struck by their comment on how much the 1931 Boris Karloff film defined how we think of Frankenstein and the Monster, introducing tropes like the hunchbacked assistant and the Monster being stitched together from corpses (Shelley herself never describes the monster thus and is deliberately oblique as to how the Monster was created or indeed what he looks like). The problematic sexual consent issues raised by all three of these films added to a troubling and recurring theme for the weekend. That said, for me the panel never really grappled with the question of whether the roughly simultaneous appearance of these three Frankenstein-related films was merely coincidental or whether there was something in the air that caused these three works to appear in a short period (and if so what that something was). The fact that roughly the same period also the Frankenstein-themed Doctor Who story, The Brain of Morbius (1976), so maybe there genuinely was something in the Zeitgeist. But what?

Much of the rest of my time at Octocon was taken up with the Golden Blasters, which is a science fiction short film competition run by none other than John Vaughan. This year previous winners were competing for the most golden blaster of them all, with winners of the Silver Blaster (the audience award) also thrown into the mix. This allowed me to see again films I had seen at previous Octocons in 2017 and 2015 as well as some works that were new to me. Olga Osorio’s Einstein-Rosen, the winner of both Golden and Silver Blaster in 2017 once again one both prizes. It is an entertaining tale of two kids who discover a wormhole to the future outside their apartment block, an amusing mix of just about credible funny science and some disarming performances from the child actors (the author-director’s sons), it was a worthy winner. I know, you’re thinking, “A cute kids film? I think not”, but there is a genuine charm to the two boys’ performances.
Nevertheless, with my own taste for darker fare made me prefer Sleepworking by Gavin Williams, a creepy tale about a future in which people can earn extra money by renting themselves out while they sleep to perform menial tasks as somnambulists. The creepiness comes in when two of the sleepworkers start remembering flashes of their slumbering labours, with the whole thing being very evocative of the confused state of those who are never quite sure whether they are awake or dreaming. On a lighter note, I was happy to renew my acquaintance with Andrew Chambers’ The Detectives of Noir Town, a film that manages in its short length to be more than just Roger Rabbit with puppets. I was also intrigued by John Kim’s Steadfast Stanley, an animated film about a good dog in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and found Simon Cartwright & Jessica Cope’s steampunk stop-motion The Astronomer’s Sun to be both mysterious and poignant.

The call of a pint and convivial chit chat after the Blasters meant that I missed the last proper panels and the ever-interesting round-up of upcoming cons, but I did make the closing ceremony of the convention at which Chair Janet O’Sullivan revealed two pieces of amazing news. Firstly, even though Worldcon is coming to Dublin next year, there will also be a mini-Octocon, probably a one day event taking place once more in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown. The reasoning here was that for various reasons some people will not be able to go to Worldcon but will still want to get together with other science fiction fans at a smaller, shorter and more intimate event. The other piece of sensational news was that Raissa Perez (this year’s volunteer coordinator) is joining Janet as co-chair, putting Octocon into another pair of safe hands.

What madness is this?
That was pretty much it. Some people found a way of watching the third episode of the current Doctor Who series (the one about Rosa Parks). I was one of these people. The experience reinforced my view that the current Doctor Who series represents something of a levelling up by the series. Perhaps more of that anon. It also reminded me of how much fun is to be had with shared viewings of good things. And then we were off first to enjoy a meal with houseguest Nicholas Whyte and then home to feed our hungry cat.
Impatient Cat

For another view of Octocon day three, see this post by SaraWIMM.

What comics to read after “Watchmen”?

With friends I have been in a group reading Watchmen, the popular comic by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. We have been reading it a chapter a month, to recreate the original experience of reading it issue by issue. While some of us have been re-reading Watchmen, others are reading it for the first time, and of these some are people with little or no experience of reading comics. This is my attempt at producing a list of comics that someone who liked Watchmen might want to have a look at if they wanted to further explore the world of graphic fiction.

These are not exactly my own favourite comics (there is no Marshal Law, Skreemer, Claremont-Byrne run of X-Men, Seaguy, Flaming Carrot or any of the comics I grew up reading in 2000 AD). Rather these are books that I think have the kind of crossover appeal that would make them interesting to someone who has not been reading comics for decades.

Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, Klaus Jansen & Lynn Varley
The story is about an old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to put on the Batsuit once more. And like Bagpuss, when Batman wakes up, all his friends wake up too, except Batman’s friends are psychopaths like Two-Face and the Joker. It is an obvious companion piece to Watchmen, as it was published at more or less the same time and also features a revisionist take on superheroes. It also played a large part in making the Batman character interesting to grown-ups; without this book none of the Batman films that appeared since the late 1980s would have been made. It is however a very different book to Watchmen. They share a 1980s Cold War paranoia theme, but where Watchmen critiques the fascistic elements implicit in the superhero, The Dark Knight Returns embraces them.

Frank Miller has written and drawn a lot of comics and many of them are dreadful, though some of his Daredevil and Sin City comics might be worth your while.

From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
This is Alan Moore’s other masterpiece. but very different to Watchmen. Instead of the 1980s superhero costumes and clean lines of Dave Gibbons’ art, here we find ourselves back in 1888, with Victorian London rendered in gloriously scratchy art by Eddie Campbell. The book is not for the faint-hearted, as it deals with the Whitechapel murders of that year and is largely told from the point of view of the murderer. For me a big part of its appeal lies in its exposition of Moore’s strange occult ideas.

I myself have attempted to re-enact chapter 4 of From Hell (which does not feature any murders, I hasten to add).
Other Alan Moore titles that might be worth your while include Swamp Thing (various volumes of weird horror), Captain Britain (superhero stuff), Batman: the Killing Joke (problematic), & Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (two brilliant Superman stories in one volume). Lots of people also like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (steampunk capers featuring every fictional character ever; I particularly recommend the second volume, a retelling of the War of the Worlds, and suggest not bothering with the rest). The Ballad of Halo Jones is a particularly impressive but hard to classify work. His non-comics novel Voice of the Fire is also a stunning piece of work.

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Memoir comics became a bit thing. This is Satrapi’s memoir of her time growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and then during her time outside the country, all drawn in a faux naive childlike style of blocky art with thick lines and large areas of black ink. One thing that is intriguing about this book is how unsparing Satrapi is about the more unsavoury aspects of her own past actions.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman
One narrative strange of this book tells the story of Spiegelman’s father in the 1940s, a Polish Jew who found himself being herded first into a ghetto and then to Auschwitz. The other follows Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father at the time he was writing the book in later 1980s. The title comes from the Jewish characters all being drawn as mice, with the Germans as cats and members of other nationalities being various other types of animal. As a Holocaust narrative Maus will always have readers but when I finally got round to reading it myself I was stunned by how good it is and how far removed from the worthy but dull tome I had expected.

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones
Neil Gaiman made his name writing Sandman, the goth-friendly comic about Morpheus, Lord of the Dreamworld. It was big in the early 1990s and while I have not read it in years I remember it fondly for its cleverness, wry humour, and embrace of every strange mythological thing Gaiman could lay his hands on. Preludes and Nocturnes is the first book in the series; if you like it there are plenty more to follow.

Locas: The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., by Jaime Hernandez
Originally appearing in the pages of the magazine Love & Rockets, this comic tells the story of two Latina women in some American town, as they fall in love, play in punk bands and hang out with friends. The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. is the second book in the series but it is probably the best one to start with as the first is famously a bit hard to get into. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not mad on comics by Jaime Hernandez myself but loads of people love them, so you might too.

Palomar & Luba: Heartbreak Soup, by Gilbert Hernandez
This also appeared originally in the magazine Love & Rockets. Where his brother’s stories are set among the Latino community in the United States, Gilbert Hernandez deals with people who are still living in Central America, in this case the fictional backwater town of Palomar (though later volumes follow characters who have emigrated to Los Angeles). For me there is an incredible richness to the Palomar narrative and a depth of characterisation seldom seen in comics, like his brother’s work very focussed on women characters, though not exclusively so. Heartbreak Soup is the first of the Palomar collections; if you like it then you will love Human Disastrophism, the second volume.

one of Joe Sacco’s books
Joe Sacco has written and drawn a number of books of what are basically comics journalism, mostly focused on the Palestinian issue or the war of the early 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. All of his books are worth reading but I particularly recommend The Fixer, which deals with Neven, a fixer character he encountered in Sarajevo when he was researching his book Safe Area Gorazde. Neven is a larger than life character with a questionable relationship to the truth, someone who has both done astonishing things in the course of the war and a bullshitter who shamelessly exaggerates his exploits to impress the gullible.
FULL EMBARRASSING DISCLOSURE: I have never actually read a Joe Sacco book all the way through from cover to cover but I have greatly enjoyed skimming the various copies in Panda Mansions.

Hate: Hey Buddy!, by Peter Bagge
Hate is a comic telling the story of Buddy Bradley, a slacker in his early 20s who lives in a flat in Seattle in the early 1990s with his scuzzy friends. If you are or have ever lived a scuzzy young person lifestyle or know people who did then this will strike chords with you. It is funny but also interesting in its portrayal of the characters growing and maturing (though frankly the later volumes where Buddy is properly grown up and living a settled domestic life in New Jersey are a bit boring). It was also a bit zeitgeisty, portraying Seattle during the grunge boom. For me another thing to love about this comic is that the main character is clearly modelled on one of my old friends. Hey Buddy! is the first Hate book.

A comic by Daniel Clowes
Dan Clowes started off creating strips that appeared in Eightball and went on to write and draw comics that appeared in standalone books. He has a singular aesthetic often focussed on people who seem to be drained of emotion and hovering on the brink of a breakdown; if I am feeling depressed I often think of myself as having become an Eightball character. Ghostworld (adapted into a popular film) is probably his best known work though I have always found that one a bit dull. More interesting to me titles include Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, The Death Ray, Ice Haven, Wilson, and David Boring.

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
The author looks back on her childhood and adolescence, during which time she comes out as a lesbian. Her father also kills himself and is revealed as a closeted homosexual involved in legally dubious relationships with underage boys. I have not actually read this book myself but it comes highly recommended and is always near the top of comic books I plan on reading in the near future.

Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods, by Jeff Lemire
This is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where a pandemic has decimated the world’s population, with the few scattered survivors waiting for a second round of the disease to finish them off. And since the plague hit babies have started appearing with strange animal characteristics; the eponymous character (also known as Gus) has a set of antlers and deer-like hooves. Although he is a naïve child (and his naivety is mirrored by Lemire’s art), his moral sense drives much of the story. The other main character is Jeppard, a morally ambiguous brute of a man who is one of comics’ great creations. Out of the Deep Woods is the first book in the series.

So that is my list of comics I am recommending to people who have  read Watchmen and what to further explore the comics world. I am aware that the list of creators is a bit white Anglophone male, which reflects the comics I have been exposed to over the years. They are also mostly from quite a while ago, for similar reasons. I invite readers to recommend their own favourites in the comments.

image sources:

Batman and punk (DC Comics Database)

From Hell pentagram (Den of Geek: 13 Essential Horror Comics)

Marjane Satrapi and Michael Jackson (The Comics Reporter: Bart Beaty On Persepolis)

Maus (Comics Alliance: Examining Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’)

Sandman (Bookworm the Hippie: Branching out to Graphic Novels)

The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. (Fantagraphics: The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.)

Heartbreak Soup (Fantagraphics: Heartbreak Soup)

The Screening, from Footnotes in Gaza (Art Threat: interview with Joe Sacco)

Buddy Bradley from Hate (Guasíbilis: Buddy Bradley en “Odio los sábados por la noche”)

The man who could not digest ketchup, from Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (The Slings and Arrows Graphic Novel Guide: Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron)

Panel from Fun Home (Fifty Books Project 2016: Fun Home)

Gus & Jeppard from Sweet Tooth (The Comics Journal – From Essex County to DC: The Transplanting of Jeff Lemire)

Comics for girls, other than “Persepolis”

I asked on Facebook and Twitter for recommendations of comics by women and/or with female protagonists that I could give to my teenage niece, with my initial request specifying things that are a bit like Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of her growing up in revolutionary Iran) but not actually Persepolis, as teenage niece’s mother (my sister) already has a copy of that. I also said I’d rather not go down the superhero road. One person came back to me on Twitter, loads did on Facebook.

Two people recommended lists others had combined of female centred graphic novels, both of which have lots of interesting things:

VPL – Female Centred Graphic Novels
“I want to read all of these”

A Mighty Girl
“Check out reading lists on A Mighty Girl website, they are divided by age and then genre.”

Here are the recommended books, more or less in the order they were recommended:

Blue is the Warmest Colour, by Julie Maroh
“perhaps not appropriate”
I have not read this myself though I understand it to be well-regarded.

Diary of a Teenage Girl, by Phoebe Gloeckner
Even the people who like it suggest that this might be bit grim.

Irmina, by Barbara Yelin
I had not previously heard of this one though the account of a young German woman’s romantic with a Black Englishman in Oxford before the Second World War sounded intriguing.

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
“+1 for ‘fun home’ if she wants a primer on post modernism.”
Bechdel’s memoir of her own coming of age as a lesbian and her father, a closeted homosexual whose life ended in suicide. Always near the top of my own list of comic books I want to read in the near future.

Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Bryan Talbot & Mary Talbot
“brilliant, albeit a bit sad”
Both a biographical account of Lucia Joyce and Mary Talbot’s memoir of her childhood as daughter of Joycean scholar

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, by Bryan Talbot & Mary Talbot
A fictional account of the struggle for women’s votes.

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, by Bryan Talbot & Mary Talbot
A biography of Louise Michel, French revolutionary feminist

Red Rosa, by Kate Evans
A biography of Rosa Luxembourg, German Marxist revolutionary

Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot
Possibly a bit grim

something by Kate Beaton
I am unfamiliar with the work of Ms Beaton though I have heard she did a strip about the Frankin Voyage.

The Ballad of Halo Jones, by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson
Neither of the creators of this book are women but most of the characters are. One of my own favourite comics from when I was growing up though I’m not sure how entry-level it is.

Marzi, by Marzena Sowa
“A memoir of childhood in 1980’s Poland. Real, but not too grim”

Papergirls, by Bryan K Vaughn & Cliff Chiang
I am unfamiliar with this book, though Vaughn wrote Y: The Last Man, one of my favourite comics from back when I was reading comics.

Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi
“brilliant – but possibly for older teenagers”

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue De Connick, Valentine De Landro & Robert Wilson IV
“a bit like a dystopian SF Orange Is The New Black. Definitely one for older teens though!”

Monstress, by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
“Not quite similar to Persepolis but I’d recommend Monstress , predominantly female characters with female artist and writer.”; “Brilliant stuff, but lots of hitting!”
I am unfamiliar with this work myself but its publisher’s blurb gives the impression that it is fantasy asian steampunk.

Jem and the Holograms, by Kelly Thompson & Sophie Campbell
“strong female characters, a it’s not “victory by punching”, but there are same-sex relationships in it if that’s an issue…”

Love & Rockets: Locas, by Jaime Hernandez
“Can’t go wrong with Love & Rockets either. Locas is my favourite comic of all time and the collected editions are easy to get hold of. Perhaps best starting with book 2 as he’d yet to hit his stride and work out what it was all about in the first one, fun as it is.”
I myself have never warmed to the work of Jaime Hernandez though so many people love it that clearly I am the one at fault here; I greatly prefer the L&R comics by his brother, Gilberto, but I think they might not be so entry-level.

Blue Monday, by Chynna Clugston Flores
“may not fit your criteria exactly. Definitely worth checking out, even if for yourself.”

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, by Emil Ferris
“+1 for ‘my favourite thing is monsters’ if she wants the best comic book of the last few years- it’s incredible.”

Poppies of Iraq, by Brigitte Findakly

Rolling Blackouts, by Sarah Gladden

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, by Ryan North & Erica Henderson
“have heard good things about Squirrel Girl, but male author and kind of superheroey”

Whiteout, by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber
“Whiteout is great. Male writer & artist but female lead. Good”

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier

The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks

Lumberjanes, by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
“I have heard good things about Lumberjanes”

Ms Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
“most of the ridiculousness comes from being a teenage Muslim girl in the US rather than a superhero as such. ”

image sources:

Persepolis cover (

Halo Jones (Tygertale, a blog about brilliant childrens’ books)

Love and Rockets #31 (Wikipedia)

Ms Marvel: No Normal (Marvel Comics)