Page 45 Review by Stephen and Dominique
Was there ever an artist so in love with an era? I think not.
These three stories are mesmerising in and of themselves but this new edition with colours by Lee Loughbridge also boasts the best selection of back-matter sketches and associated finished art I can recall: page after page of lush, sensual, sexually charged portraits of men and women at one with their natural environment.
There are trees, there are leaves, and aquatic fronds reflected in the reptilian skin of those hiding behind them. There are tresses! Now, "tresses" is a word that evokes not necessarily a singular style of hair but a particular period in which it was worn, bound for courtly consumption. As to the guys, you can almost smell the male musk and taste the built-up grease by the way the thick strands fall heavy and thick over their eyes which glare up through their parted curtains in anger or seduction.
This reprints the three self-published A5 comics WOLVES and THE MIRE originally reviewed by myself and DEMETER reviewed by our Dominique, now out of print.
A haunting tale of blood and lust that gives up its secrets slowly.
There is a naked man gone feral in the forest. A skilled hunter, he can down birds with a single stone then feast on them raw. But he is cursed - cursed by his king, cursed by what he has done, and cursed by its memory which won't go away.
It's all in the eyes.
"Please remember, this letter means the difference between life and death."
On the eve of battle, Sir Owain dispatches his young squire on an urgent errand. He is to deliver to Castle Ironwood a letter which is sealed with wax and stamped with the knight's signet ring. The squire protests, for he swore an oath to fight at his master's side, but when Sir Owain insists that this is a most noble and vital task, the squire promises to be back before the fighting is done.
However, the swiftest route is via the Withering Swamp, a stagnant mire rumoured to be haunted. What will our squire encounter during this treacherous endeavour?
"We all have ghosts that haunt us."
This is Cloonan at her finest, crafting a tale so clever that you will want to re-read the second you are done, for hindsight is a funny old thing. It's also beautifully written: I love how Cloonan maintains the metaphor between these two sentences:
"The trees stood guard like a row of immovable sentinels. Any light that managed to break their lines felt old and mouldy."
She's also employed a neat little trick which David Mazzucchelli utilised in CITY OF GLASS whereby speech bubbles drifting directly out of the mouth imply that the words aren't spoken - no lips are moving - so emanate from somewhere much deeper and darker and colder within.
"So I kept moving. You should keep moving too."
Like the previous two comics, DEMETER is a short story which seems at first to be simple but which you know from the outset will have a twist. It's not so much the surprise of the twist which grabs you, it's the inevitability. As with a fable, you know the lesson is coming and dues must be paid; the hook lies in watching the protagonist as the moment approaches.
Will they go peacefully or will they refuse to accept what has come calling for them? Are they the victim or did they bring this on themselves? And if so, can their weakness be forgiven; is their eventual sacrifice enough to settle the bill?
In proper Gothic Fiction tradition Cloonan's setting here is Olde Worlde; a beautiful, pregnant young woman tends house by the sea while she waits for her husband's boat to return. What should be simple and charming is overlaid from the outset with a tinge of dread; even in her husband's arms our lady seems tense, watchful, on the edge of panic. She is asking him to recall the time they first met but he can't seem to remember. He's lost some of his memories, it's like there's a boundary in his mind beyond which he can't move, some trauma that has disconnected him from his past. Is something about to come home to roost?
I love these comics from Becky Cloonan, I hope she always finds time amongst all her other work to turn them out because they are just so gorgeous and satisfying! Her art is clean and line-perfect, her stories punchy and paced just right. Really handsome slices of comicbook goodness.