The Hendersons are coming!

The Far Side trails ‘new online era’ for Gary Larson’s beloved cartoons

Fans of the surreal, the bizarre and sardonic anthropomorphic cows are in a fervour after The Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson’s website was updated this weekend with promises of “a new online era”, 24 years after the reclusive creator retired at the age of 44.

This was published at the start of last week, so I’m a bit late here, but no matter. The Far Side is coming back and, having been a huge fan of Gary Larson’s offbeat view of the world back in the day, I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

It’s not clear whether this will be new content or re-issues of existing cartoons. Obviously new cartoons would be much preferred but, as long as the new site has an RSS feed, I will be more than happy to start enjoying a digital dose of absurdist surrealism.

Promethea: Book 2

When talking about icons of the graphic story medium, writers don’t come much more iconic than Alan Moore, whose credits include Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Ballad of Halo Jones…

And Promethea.

Originally published as a 32 issue series of comics between 1999 and 2005, Promethea was then collected into a set of five graphic novels with each comic as a separate chapter. Book 1, which I really enjoyed, collected the first six issues and Book 2 covers issues seven to twelve. And it’s here that things start to go a bit awry.

The series tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a student in an alternate version of New York, who (in Book 1) comes to embody a god-like entity known of Promethea. This is a character that keeps recurring in stories down the ages and, we discover, is brought forward when someone uses their imagination to make her real, becoming a version of Promethea.

There is a lot to like in this concept. Not only does it allow for the relationship between fiction and reality to be explored but it also, with the different incarnations of Promethea, underlines the way in which the same thing — or person — can be interpreted differently according to the viewer.

Book 2 starts suitably spectacularly with a potentially world-shattering Y2K bug, closely followed by a demonic attack. In the course of this attack, Sophie’s predecessor is fatally wounded and Sophie sets out to find out more. And this is where things start to go awry.

For the last three chapters, Moore simply stops bothering with the story and decides, instead, to treat us all to a lecture on his rather idiosyncratic views on sex, magic and history and the final chapter, quite frankly, is a mess.

Alan Moore’s writing has always had a polemical edge to it and this is something that, normally, I really like about him. In this case, his opinions aren’t particularly interesting and this is a problem compounded by the complete absence of anything resembling a narrative.

Carissa made a relevant point recently in relation to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere when she noted that she was already older than the target market when she read it. I have a feeling that this also applies to me and Promethea: I’m just too old for this stuff.

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover. The central character almost merging into an intricately detailed background left me really wanting to know what this graphic novel was all about.

Having read it, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. I enjoyed it, certainly, but there is so much density to the story that it takes a while to fully appreciate the full impact of the narrative.

Set in the aftermath of a war between Humans and half-human Arcanics, the story centres on Maika Halfwolf, a teenager seeking the truth about her past, her mother and a weapon so devastating that it brought the war to a sudden halt. Not only is Maika an Arcnic, but she is also possessed by a powerful entity which she cannot fully control.

I am skimming over the surface of a very convoluted plot here and I don’t want to give anything more away as it’s the slow revelation of details that ensures the story remains so engrossing.

There is so much going on in this book that I often found myself flipping back a few pages just to keep up with it all. Writer, Marjorie Liu has developed a richly detailed steampunk tinged fantasy world, and populated it with characters that are as diverse as they are captivating.

And then artist, Sana Takeda brings all of this to life with a style that remains as intricate and detailed as the cover. I can’t claim to be any sort of expert, but it does feel as if she has drawn together a diversity of comic book styles (Japanese, European and probably more) and synthesised them into something that is both familiar and unexpected.

The world of Monstress is dark, violent and richly detailed almost to the point of being overwhelming.

Maybe I should just read it again.

Happy Birthday Tintin

I’m a day late with this because yesterday, January 10th, marked 90 years since the first appearance of Tintin in Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s section of a Brussels newspaper.

Over time the Tintin stories have become larger and introduced an eclectic cast of characters, including Captain Haddock (a personal favourite) and identical but unrelated detectives Thompson and Thompson, who inspired a band.

And, of course, there was the 2011 film which, although we have the DVD, I haven’t actually seen. Not all the way through, anyway.

Inevitably, there are year long celebrations in Belgium, including a €5 coin due to be released sometime this month. If I lay my hands on one of these, I’m keeping it!

Forty years of thrill-power

The Guardian notes that 2000ad turned forty on Sunday.

It’s not, strictly, correct to say the world had seen nothing like 2000AD before. A few months earlier, in October 1976, a title put out by the same publishers, IPC, had died an ignominious death. Action was stuffed to the gills with anti-authoritarianism, ultraviolence and gore. Hugely popular with kids, especially boys, it proved too unpalatable for the nation’s moral guardians. Questions were asked in the House, tabloids fulminated against its bloody violence.

“I felt, in a way, that science fiction could escape the heavy flak we had got with Action,” says Mills, who now lives in Spain. “With Action, the message was loud and clear because most of it was set in what was the present time. With 2000AD, we could do the same sort of thing but if anyone complained we could say, ‘Look, it’s just some robots in the future.'”

That’s Pat Mills, the writer/editor who created Action, and the first editor of 2000ad.

Although I grew up with 2000ad — and continued reading it way too far into my 20s — I can’t claim to have been there at the beginning. For me, it all started in 1978 with Starlord, a sister title which merged with 2000ad by the end of the year. This merger brought both Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters (which later morphed into the ABC Warriors) into the merged title which went from strength to strength.

What made 2000ad so durable is that the stories tend to work on several levels. There is, of course, plenty of violence and plenty of action; but there is also a depth and a moral complexity to the stories and it is this that keeps them fresh and interesting long after the initial thrills have worn thin.

In 2002, [Matt] Smith was appointed the ninth editor and is currently the longest-serving incarnation of Tharg the Mighty, as well as the one to see the comic reach its milestone birthday.

“It’s a great achievement,” says Smith, “and one that is testament to the creative teams who have worked on the comic over the years.”

And long may it continue.

Judge Dredd to (finally) take on Ronald McDonald

A page from the now uncensored Cursed Earth storyline. If you are British and of a certain age you will be well aware of 2000AD and you will probably remember the Cursed Earth, in which Judge Dredd travelled across the irradiated wasteland that is the future North America to deliver a vaccine to Mega-City Two.

It turns out that a couple of episodes of that series, in which Dredd took on corporate mascots such as Ronald McDonald, the Burger King, the Michelin Man and the Jolly Green Giant, were pulled due to legal fears.

Now for the good news Comics Alliance (via) reports that “due to recent changes in UK law governing parody” the full story can now be told.

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored, a new printing of the story, will not only restore the pulled episodes but will also reprint reprint Brian Bolland and Mick McMahon’s color spreads.

It’s due to be printed in the US and the UK next July and is going straight on my Amazon wishlist.