Propaganda and the Leather Nun. All done for the sake of you dear reader….
by Paul Gravett & Peter Stanbury
(Published in the USA by St Martin’s Press as Holy Shit! The World’s Weirdest Comic Books – but personally I think we got the better end of the deal as we get the great Charles Burns cover)
Okay, to get it out of the way, this is obviously, blatantly, blindingly obviously a novelty book from Gravett & Stanbury. You want serious discourse over comics? Go elsewhere, try some of Paul’s other books for a start. This is all about the weird and wonderful comics that have existed at various points in our medium’s history. It’s no coincidence that Jonathan Ross gets the cover quote as it’s exactly the sort of thing he’d have made a Channel 4 series out of a few years ago.
And that cover quote pretty much covers exactly what this book is for. It’s a stocking filler, the unusual gift for strange Uncle George. Of course, this is not to say that it isn’t a very enjoyable stocking filler indeed. Part of the fun is going through it and seeing all the weird comics and imagining what sort of a wonderfully weird world the creators lived in. Another fun thing is seeing how many of them you’ve either seen or read. Try it, it’s fun.
For example I’d completely forgotten Longshot Comics by Shane Simmons. An incredibly fun comic with 160 panels per page, 3,840 panels in total from 1995 which features nothing more than dots to represent the characters. As I recall it took ages to read and was genuinely quite funny and certainly excellent value for the price of a regular comic. And marvellously, in the course of writing this I’ve discovered that Shane Simmons is still around and still doing comics. For an example of what Longshot Comics was all about here’s a recent entry in his website’s “Films in longshot” series:
Now imagine that for another 3,836 panels with a huge cast of characters and I think you can see just why Longshot Comics warrants entry in this book.
The Leather Nun And Other Incredibly Strange Stories is 128 pages of the strange, weird and downright bizzare comics that have been published in the last 50 or so years. Each double page spread covers a single comic, write up on one page, cover on the other. All firmly tongue in cheek and continually asking the question; What in god’s name were they thinking?
(Leather Nun by Dave Sheridan, published by Last Gasp, 1973. Amputee Love, cover by Brent Boates, published by Last Gasp 1975. Just a couple of the offerings from the US Underground scene.)
The great thing about it is that Gravett and Stanbury have cast the net far and wide to find not just the obvious titles from the Underground comics movement (Leather Nun, Amputee Love, Binky Brown meets the Holy Virgin Mary etc) but have looked at some more wholesome comics that, with the benefit of hindsight, are perhaps the strangest of the lot. Take for example Hansi; The Girl Who Loved The Swastika. Not, as you may expect, some nasty propaganda book on behalf of Hitler’s Germany, but a well meaning look at how a good bible and a healthy dose of Christianity can save anyone. Or maybe it was a nasty propaganda book after all? Published by Spire Christian Comics in 1976. Archie meets Nazis.
Or what about PM; The Preventive Maintenance comic book published by the US Army and drawn for many years by the late, great Will Eisner. The blonde heroine would regularly purr seductively to her GI readers about the benefits of keeping their equipment in good condition and no doubt made a far greater impression than any dry technical manual ever could.
(Hansi, The Girl Who Loved The Swastika from Spire Christian Comics 1976. PM by Will Eisner, published by the US Army)
And it goes on in this vein, page after page of wonderful entertainment, the trippy, alternative undergrounds, the incredibly innocent and sweet romance comics of another time (Just Married – Should a Jewish boy and an Irish girl fall in love?), the bizarre instructional manual type comics (Saving Can Be Fun, Driving Like A Pro), the social comics to tempt wayward teens from lives or crime, drugs, illicit sex and worse (that would be Communism). From Purple People Eaters, through the Gospel Blimp and right on through to Steve Ditko’s exercise in Ayn Randian Objectivism of Mr A. It’s all here, in all its glorious strangeness.
(Purple People Eater, based on the Sheb Wooley / Barry Cryer hit, by Terry Trwoell, 1958. Mr A, the comic that really showed us how strange Steve Ditko’s philosophy could be from 1973. Alan Moore is a huge Mr A fan, as you can see with the Rorschach character in the pages of Watchmen.)
The Leather Nun a great little hardback package, slightly smaller than comic sized, and perfect to fit into anyone’s stocking this Christmas time. The Leather Nun is published 25th September 2008 and should be available from all good comic shops and bookshops and is, of course, available here at the FPI webstore.
Weird Uncle George will thank you for it. But do yourself a favour – have a good look through yourself first, it’s well worth it.
Paul Gravett’s website.
Recent interview with Paul by Joe Gordon here at the FPI blog.
There is an exhibition related to the Leather Nun at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts from November 13th – November 26th as part of the Comica Festival, directed by Paul Gravett.
Richard Bruton has discovered the the DVD Cardinal Sin and the Leather Nuns of Lust is not, as he thought, related to this collection and he denies utterly that he was aware of this before picking it up.