Page 45 Review by Stephen
There is probably no truer portrait of teenage and parental angst.
- Posy Simmonds of TAMARA DREWE, GEMMA BOVERY etc.
This was the summer that Daniel Bagnold was supposed to staying with his dad and heavily pregnant step-mother in Florida, but this step-mother cancels at the last minute. Instead hes stuck with his weary mother Sue whos sure he must be devastated.
Daniel Bagnold thinks of everything he will be missing this summer: a 14-hour plane journey, heat wave weather in all-black clothes, a father he faintly remembers, a stepmother he has never met but who still would rather be seen as a friend, a new born baby sister crying through the night and
6 whole weeks of no Kerrang magazine
There is a tiny, sly smile on his face. But he doesnt let on. Instead Daniel daydreams of forming a band called Skullslayer hes busy writing lyrics for. The gigs theyll play will be mosh-mazing. He drew a really cool skull back in school.
So begins a touching tale of a weary mum and teenage son living life together yet worlds apart. Danielss got it all to look forward. His mum finds she doesnt like looking back. Or forward. Or in the mirror.
The dialogue such as there is between the two nails the contrariness of a sullen teenager determined to hide any happiness.
You seem in a good mood.
No I dont.
In contrast, Daniels mate Ky is much more chipper and communicative, his mother positively effusive. Here Sues driven them to a signing by Kys favourite author (then been asked to stand well away Daniel says shes embarrassing them), and Kys now at the front of the queue.
Can you put To Kyran, from one genius to another.
That too embarrasses Daniel. Everything embarrasses Daniel. Being spotted by other kids from school. Girls. Conversation. Hes terminally shy and resolutely uncommunicative, especially at home. Some mothers will recognise this all too well:
Over the last few days, Sue has noticed Daniel around the house a lot. Not that she has actually seen him any more than usual, but there are other ways of telling hes in. [A pair of discarded trainers] The bass rumble of footsteps and music coming through the kitchen ceiling
the trail of black hooded tops left throughout the house
the frequently empty fridge
with the occasion grunted exchange on the landing
In again tonight, love?
Meanwhile poor Sue soldiers on, trying to make contact as best as she can. She doesnt understand Daniels music. She mistakes the lyrics hes transcribed from a Metallica song for his own existential angst about parental rejection, instead of burying her head in the sand, she takes the opportunity, however hesitantly, to ask if he really feels that way. Daniel declines to come clean.
All of which would be woefully tragic and poignant in its own right, but the art counterbalances whats being said (and what emphatically isnt being said) to exceptional comedic effect. Daniel there looks both to and past camera (a very neat trick to pull off), looking both sheepish and pathetic but above all recalcitrant and dumb.
This is yet another of those books whose style the ignorant will mock as grubby and unaccomplished. You know, more badly drawn, black and white indie bollocks or as Richard Emms, director of APCOMICS, once wrote to me (and I quote, without spell-corrections) a de-caffinated black and white underground book printed on toilet paper... which you continue to support each month within your columns in CI. Oh, how he made me laugh and thats a whole letter column begging to be reprinted!
But no. Daniel is all droopy and dreary, while Sue Bagnold in particular is masterfully depicted in all her fatigued fragility, looking up optimistically through oversized glasses from above heavy wrinkles weighted with years of unrewarded stoicism. She wears baggy, he wears saggy. Also, he has no chin.
This is absolutely tremendous and theres nothing quite like it in comics to date. Unsensationalist, British and brilliant, its full of heart and humanity and please make it through to the end. Sue does.
The sequences which really broke my heart were those involving labrador Maisie. Once Daniel and Maisie were inseparable he even insisted on her appearing in the family photograph (dad long since gone) but now he ignores Maisie who lies in his way, leaving Sue to walk her instead. She used to settle between them on the sofa, happy, content and much loved.
Now she is too arthritic to climb up, so she just licks the place where she used to lie...
Maisie no! Bad girl!