Saturday, September 23, 2017


Pleased to receive for review the latest crop of titles from SelfMadeHero [their 10th Anniversary year] which, as usual, cover a very wide field and demonstrate the wonderful richness and variety of the world of graphic publishing.

Published to coincide with this year's Labour Party conference in Brighton, 'The Corbyn Comic Book' is an anthology of 34 contributions by cartoonists, artists and writers from the UK, US and Australia. They include well-known cartoonists and established graphic novelists, a crop of young upstarts alongside a number of illustrators whose work has never before been published.

As you would expect, many of these contributions picture JC as a heroic figure thwarting the evil forces of Conservatism and Capitalism. Many express the passionate expectations and hopes that he has stimulated for an administration that is more in touch with people on the street. There's a lot of dark humour here reflecting the mood of the moment as well as contrbutions that pick up on Corbyn's well-known predilection for working on his allotment and making jam - the latter beautifully written and illustrated by Richard Dearing. There's a touch of Buddhism to this which I like.


Reinhard Kleist is an internationally feted illustrator with a string of graphic biographies to his credit that have earnt him some of the biggest awards in the Comic world. Perhaps best known to many is his wonderful portrait of the life of Johnny Cash entitled 'I See The Darkness'. From the Man In Black to Nick Cave is in many ways a natural step as blackness is a colour best suited to the character and work, both musical and literary, of his rangy anger-filled persona. Kleist does use colour in some of his work but this 300p+ biographic stunner is pure black and white used to startling effect. It's a masterclass which is worth detailed study.

The book cleverly interweaves episodes from Cave's actual factual life story with the strange and fantastical worlds he conjures up in his songs. Rock's Prince of Darkness, Cave's band The Birthday Party earnt a reputation for their violent on-stage performances. After the band broke up in 1983, Cave formed a band named Bad Seeds who have released 16 albums of original songs to date. In 2006, he also started a garage rock band named Grinderman with two albums so far to its credit. Cave's other outpourings include two novels and a roster of highly regarded film scores.

Kleist the perfect artist to document such an extraordinary life.The sheer amount of detailed work in this book is stunning. particularly his visualisations of the live gigs in which he captures the speed, action and emotion in powerful, energetic frames. Nick Cave himself approves. In a cover quote he says: 
'Reinhard Kleist, master graphic novelist and myth-maker has - yet again - blown apart the conventions of the graphic novel by concocting a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that's for sure. But for the record, I never killed Elisa Day.'
Check out Kleist's website which includes something I've never seen before - pics from gigs where a band plays and Kleist does live drawing projected on a screen behind the group. Great idea.

Tillie Walden is just 21 years old and this is already her fourth graphic novel. A twin, born in Austin, Texas in 1996, her extraordinary natural talent flows out of her pen as you can see on her beautiful website. Tillie went to the Centre for Cartoon Studies in Vermont to develop her craft but she told Paul Gravett in an interview here  that it was her father who first lit the spark: 

 “When I was a kid,my dad got me one of those huge collections of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland [1905–26]. It was so big (and I was so little) that I could sit on top of the pages." and read the comics.”

This new whopping 400+page book is a departure for her as its autobiographical. For twelve years figure and sychronised skating was Tillie Walden's life and 'Spinning' is built on her own experiences.

In the author's note at the back of the book, she explains that she didn't want to collect memorabilia and try and tie all the facts down accurately. She wanted the whole thing to come only from her own memories even if they were not entirely accurate. She says she was trying to capture the feeling:  'I care about how it felt to be there, how it felt to win'. 

She says that in the end she realised it was not only about ice skating as there were lots of other narratives to do with things in her life that influenced her skating which included her sexuality - she is a prominent LGBT figure in the US.

The whole work is realised in a kind of purple ink with the occasional effective highlight in a subtle yellow. Even if it's not your world, the story is touching and affective and emotionally honest. It's a mature work about a confusing adolescence, Walden demonstrates once more her remarkable facility. A stunning career lies ahead.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


VANNA VINCI / Source: Zero

Like many women artists of her time, Frida Kahlo did not consider herself a feminist. Yet in the 60+ years since her death her extraordinary life and remarkable artworks, have earnt her iconic status amongst the sisterhood worldwide.

Her personal image and the images she created have permeated global consciousness. Plays and feature films have been produced about her and a library of biographies and academic works have examined her life and ouevre in complex detail.

This wonderful new graphic biography by Vanna Vinci is a marvellous new addition to the literature. It not only chronicles her life but also finds ways to reach into Kahlo's inner self. These two double-page spreads document the tragic accident that marked a huge rupture in her life, crippling her body and setting the scene for a lifetime of pain.

As these pages show, she is in conversation with death from then on.Vinci pulls no punches. The blood, the sex, the murder, the infidelities are all vividly displayed. Kahlo's remarkable resilience, the power of her spirit are captured in powerful vignettes. The drawings and colouration are beautiful. A triumph. [Published by Prestel]

By chance or design, Prestel have published another title - 'Radical Women: Latin American Art: 1960-1985' - which follows on neatly from Frida Kahlo.

A ground-breaking survey of Latin American women artists and Latina and Chicano women artists in the USA, it's a mammoth book linked to a major exhibition that took some seven years to research and stage.

Claiming to be the first genealogy of radical and feminist art in the region, it covers the work of 120 women artists and collectives from 15 countries. Sixteen of the featured artists died during the lengthy reaserch and production process.

The majority of this work has been marginalised and hidden. Most of the artists at the time were unaware of each others' works. Less than 20 women artists from the region are widely recognised in the gallery system and several of those are wives of male artists. In the past Kahlo's work was considered "unhealthy" and her craziness "transmissible".

 [Left] Maris Bustamante: 'The Penis as a work instrument' 1982.

One of the two curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill (the other being Andrea Giunta) writes: 

'The reality is that many more women artists participated in the shaping of twentieth century art than have been accounted for. In Latin America this has been partly because of sexism and because the system, both on the continent and internationally, judges the quality of  artists' work on the basis of visibility and success,which are often denied to women.'

[Left] Sonia GutiƩrrez 'We'll Keep Saying Homeland' 1972.

In the introductory essay, the curators say that most of the work they're presenting is:

  'deeply bound to the political situation in much of the continent at the time, particularly in countries ruled by the authoritarian governments that aimed to control behaviour, thought and bodies...The lives and work of these artists are emeshed in the experiences of dictatorship, imprisonment, exile, torture, violence, censorship and repression.'

Apart from Mexico (since the late 1970s), no other country in the region had a organised feminist art movement. The curators claim their purpose is to write a new chapter in art history.

A word on the book's structure. Front and back are essays - general comments before, at the back a series of country by country papers by various scholars, with an appendix of detailed artists biographies.

In-between is a substantial gallery of Plates showing the artists' work, organised in alphabetical order. The exhibition itself is organised around themes: The Self Portrait / Body Language / Mapping the Body / Resistance and Fear / The Power of Words / Social Places / The Erotic.

[Above] Ana Mendieta. Facial Hair Transplants. 1972

During the 25-year period the book focuses on, the depiction of the female body became the battlefield in these women's commitment  to revolutionary struccle and resistance to the region's dictatorships. In Latin America the relationship between the body and violence was central. Women were being held in detention illegally, or exiled. Their children were stolen. There were specific methods of torture on women's bodies.

In response, these brave artists subverted the portrait, depicted the faces of the "disappeared", made artworks with tortured bodies, works using blood, semen, urine and excrement, portrayed eroticism, sexuality and revolutionary kisses between gays and lesbians.

One of the book's essays is a conversation between three women, practitioners and/or academics, which concludes with a statement that underlines the importance of bringing this work to the attention of the world:
'In the current context of violence against women in Latin America, where, according to the Pan American Health Organization, sexual violence—including human trafficking, domestic and sexual abuse, and femicide—are an everyday reality, we believe that for a work of art to be called feminist it must do more than address the issues that afflict women in patriarchal Latin American societies. Artists must go further and embrace feminist politics. 
'The act of calling oneself a feminist artist or artivist, as those who came before us did, is extremely significant in today's world, which would like to see us dead or disappeared, enslaved or submissive. The legacies of artists from the 1970s are alive in the present. This is evident in feminist art collectives, in the individual work of many artists, and in feminist art organizations...[there are] more than one hundred artists and artists' groups that make up the Latin American feminist art scene.'
[Above] Untitled work, Part of a series by Liliana Maresca. 1983

This remarkable book, beautifully produced to the highest print quality, is a seminal work. The artworks on display cover a huge range of forms of expression: paintings, prints, performance pieces, photography, video clips, sculptures and beyond. True inspiration for the next wave of female artivists and an object lesson in creativity and bravery.


Friday, September 08, 2017


THE GENERALIST is pleased to have the opportunity of writing what is possibly the first review of this book, published by Rocket 88 on October 5th, in a hardback - the Classic Edition (£35) and a limited edition (£250). Am reviewing on the basis of a pdf version as the printed book has not yet arrived.

The book is based on the collection of James Birch, a well-heeled collector with a passion for the underground press and is mainly written by Barry Miles, author of some 50 books, many of them concerning the Beat and Hippy Culture. Miles is well known as one of the founders of International Times and as an expert chronicler, archivist and biographer of key figures in the Beat movement. He was there. For him. this is a well-trodden road.

The book begins with an intro by Birch which sets the start date of the underground press in Britain as being the launch of IT in 1966. He claims that this book contains 'every cover of the underground press launched in the 1960s'  and that this new printed media was the medium that transmitted personal, social, political and aesthetic changes in society.

Miles' first essay tracks the precursors of the underground press - the pacifist Quaker paper Peace News (June 1936), Paul Krassner's The Realist (June 1958), and the satirical Private Eye (October 1961) and, most importantly, The Village Voice (October 1955)

The first of what came to be known as "underground" papers was the Los Angeles Free Press, launched by Art Kunkin on May Day 1963. Two years later came the Berkeley Barb and the East Village Other. By 1966, when the term "underground press" was coined,  these titles were joined by the San Francisco Oracle, the Fifth Estate from Detroit and The Paper from Lansing, Michigan.
The Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed and it was agreed between them that they would send copies of their papers to each other and that each should be allowed to reprint material from each other's papers for free. [At its height, there must have been more than 100 titles across America].

Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, the poetry reading at the Albert Hall in June 1965, which featured Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso amongst many others, is Miles' marker for the birth of the 'undeground' in England. When 7,00 people turned up, Miles and John "Hoppy" Hopkins realised there was a big audience out there and set a company called Lovebooks that led to the birth of International Times, the history of which Miles covers in great detail.

Next in the book comes the IT comic spin-off Nasty Tales. The underground press was a perfect medium for the new style comic artists, cartoonists and illustrators like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton to name just the best known.. The artists soon realised they could also produce their work in comic book form. Crumb launched Zap Comix  and many other titles followed, being sold and distributed by Rip Off Press in San Francisco.

OZ was launched in the UK in 1967 by Richard Neville and Martin Sharp, who had travelled overland for three months to get to England from Australia, where they'd produced 26 issues of the first OZ and had been charged with obscenity, sentenced to three months imprisonement, nullified on appeal.

The UK edition made 48 issues and closed in November 1973 having survived a major legal action against them over the SchoolKids OZ. Miles doesn't go into the details of this but a recent article by Mick Brown in The Telegraph provides an excellent account based around a long interview with Jim Anderson (the last surviving member of the OZ trio). A section of the book then looks at cOZmic Comics, another spin-off title.

Next comes two niche titles: Gandalf's Garden, the hippiest of mags produced by Murray Muzz from a mystical community centre and shop down in Chelsea's World's End, opposite the hip boutique Granny Takes a Trip; Black Dwarf  was a Marxist broadsheet launched and edited by Tariq Ali in June 1968 when there really was revolution in the air. It lasted until March 1970 when, after an idoelogical split, Tariq and comrades left to form Red Mole.

Friends/Frendz follows on. Launched initially as a UK Rolling Stone spin-off with plush offices in Hanover Squar, funded by money from Mick Jagger, featuring mainly US material with some UK stuff, it was a business arrangement that wasn't going to last. When Jann Wenner insisted that they submit all editorial material and just sell ads, Alan Marcuson left to form Friends, a more radical title, which survived for 28 issues before Marcuson gave up the struggle in May 1971. The new paper Frendz was run by a company called Echidna Epics operating out of 305/307 Portobello Road.

Finally comes Ink an ill-fated adventure to try and run a Village Voice style weekly paper, a plan hatched by Richard Neville and Ed Victor, an Editor at the publishers Jonathan Cape. With a staff of 30 and a former Sunday Times journalist Alex Mitchell as Editor, things looked good, particularly as the Ed promised a massive scoop for the first issue which he only revealed the details of at the last moment. When the paper was printed, they discovered that the non-story had already appeared as a squib in The Times. Mitchell did a runner and was never seen again. The paper managed to survive for 29 issues but failed to catch a major readership and closed in February 1972.

There is a final Appendix with lot of graphics, documents and ephemera from IT and OZ.

So how does it rate? Its great to see all the covers again and I am sure that they will prove incredibly stimulating both to the survivors of that period and to younger generations who I think will be inspired by the cornucopia of inventive styles, imagery, typography and design that are on display. Producing papers at that time was a much more difficult process than it is now, very labout intensive
and demanding. I know. I was there.

I have some caveats which I have shared with Miles, who is a friend of mine - some actual factual points mainly to do with the coverage of Frendz, the paper I worked on in my youth. It has been given short shrift in this account and, in my view, doesn't do justice to what was an important paper at an important time. But I would say that wouldn't I. Here's some notes I scribbled:

Nick Kent wrote his first important pieces for the paper [Bowie/Grateful Dead/Captain Beefheart] and Pennie Smith did some great design before becoming an important rock photographer at the NME. Colin Moorcraft pioneered the British Whole Earth Catalog as a pullout in many issues. Barney Bubbles made a big contribution design wise as did Pearce Marchbank. We were often being raided - bomb squad, drugs squad, Special Patrol Group. The office was a regular pre-gig meeting spot for Hawkwind and Mike Moorcock was a regular visitor wqho was producing 'New Worlds' around the corner. No-one got paid properly. The end came not because the material had moved elsewhere but because we simple ran out of road and money. 

The book will be launched at an exhibition which will be well worth attending. The price of the book may be a barrier to many young people but lets hope the publishers have a cheaper paperback version in mind in due course.

Yoi can order the book here or here

The 'You Say You Want A Revolution?' exhibition at the V&A, the publication of a 50th Anniversary issue of International Times and now this. Is there are new counter-culture on the rise. Methinks so.

Let's not forget that the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love will be followed by the 50th anniversary of 1968, the Year of Revolutions. Hold on to your heads!


Wednesday, September 06, 2017


Published by Maclehose
This is the first Cult Books post for a while. Have been working hard on review copies whereas most of the novels I read I pick up second-hand at random, always hoping for a marvellous surprise. I generally work through a large pile before hitting pay dirt. These four come highly recommended.

Let me start by saying that A Naked Singularity' by Sergio De La Pava is wonderful. It is also 864 pages and 270,000 words long. I was drawn to it immediately (it was £1) but unsure whether I could possibly digest such a monster work. The answer is not to rush. Hit a steady pace and look forward each day to reading a bit more.

Sergio was born in New Jersey, the son of Columbian parents and works as a legal defendant, largely for poor people caught up in the US criminal justice system. The novel takes us into that world (it ain't pretty), into the life of an extended Latino family, into a complex heist and many more lines of action, enquiry and intrigue. Some sections are almost entirely dialogue. Others are devoted to lengthy disquisitions on boxing.

Published by Canongate [210]

It's an entire world and though sometimes I got frustrated and felt why am I reading this, the book would immediately surpise me by shifting ground, scenery, action and zapping back into focus. It's got incredible energy and gusto and an encyclopaedic spread. Its also full of humour, unusually structured, highly passionate and full of great characters.

Finished in 1999, it took the author (with the help of his wife) ten years to get this unusual and unwieldy book published in the US and it came out in the UK in paperback in 2014.

There are two great Guardian pieces - an inciteful review by Stuart Kelly who felt the book needed a sterner edit but loved it anyway, and an incredibly interesting feature on the author's life and the story behind the book by Sunsanna Rustin. I recommend not reading them until you've swum in the ocean of this brilliant work.

A companion volume is another whopper, this time by the creators of 'The Wire'. Their focus in 'The Corner' is a year in the life of an inner-city neighbourhood. It's an intensely researched and written work, novelistic in style but drawn from minute and detailed journalistic investigation. It's emotionally intense territory and the figures within it are so real that one feels their pain. The complex network of drug suppliers and users form a remarkable social and economic system that operates outside of normal rules and the law. Its hard reading but it takes you there and gives you an understanding of life in black America that adds further depth to the world of 'The Wire'.


Published by Sceptre [2011]
Best known for his book 'Cloud Atlas'  - made into a pretty great movie by the Wachowski's (once brothers, now sisters) -  David Mitchell's 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' is, by contrast, a historical novel set in the 18th century, which follows the adventures of a young Dutch clerk who has come to Japan to earn his fortune. 

At that time, Westerners were not allowed on the mainland so Jacob is stationed on the small artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki, where the Dutch traders do what business they can with the ancient and powerful Japanese authorities. 

There is of course intrigue, spies, adventures, love affairs and much more in its 560 pages. Mitchell has studied and worked to make his world as accurate and three-dimensional as possible and the vividness makes this book a satisfying read.

First published in the US in 1999, it took until 2012
before it reached the UK in this edition from Corsair.

This first novel by the now established Jennifer Egan was written in her early thirties. Set in 1978, it tells a story of Phoebe O'Connor's determination to find out the truth of her sister's death, a journey that leads her from the States through Europe to Italy. 

It's genuinely gripping, has a freshness of plot, three great characters and a sureness of tone that gives the reader confidence that they are in the hands of a writer of natural talent.

Egan has gone on to write three more novels - one of which, 'A Visit from the Goon Squad', won a Pulitzer prize in 2011 -  and a book of short stories. A fourth novel 'Manhattan Beach' came out earlier this year. More interesting reading to come.