Page 45 Review by Stephen
"That day, like so many others, the London sky was sad like a cold cup of tea."
If any first or second line can make you smile, then you've already won over your audience. It gets better:
"The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
"I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me."
Yes, like parts of Chris Ware's great big chocolate box of comics, BUILDING STORIES, the narrator of this whimsical and delightfully dotty graphic novel - about the two years leading up to David Jones becoming David Bowie - is the personable building which David and Angie moved into in 1969, and then invited their friends.
Haddon Hall would come to consider its new occupants dearly beloved friends. They were quite the community, and you'll have heard of many more of them than you might initially suspect.
The second and third pages are equally endearing as the old-fashioned villa, aware of its own shortcomings - being a bit dated and sparse - holds out hope that its "discreet decrepitude" will nonetheless prove its prime attraction, so securing the company it craves.
It is indeed discrete - surrounded by woods on the outskirts of London - so the perfect place for a party, both indoors and out, into whose Fashionista throngs strolls dear Marc Bolan. His band, T-Rex, had yet to find success in the form of the deep, groovy, grinding guitar and the celebratory wails across which Bolan would declare himself to be the ultimate 20th Century Boy or croon the most laid-back encouragement imaginable for us all to Get It On and so bang a gong while his cheeks glittered beneath kohl and his mouth - nay, his teeth - did that irresistibly sexy thing which David Sylvian became so found of. At this point he's still strumming on about pixies. The man who would become Bowie, by the way, had already released 'The Laughing Gnome'. Not many careers could survive such a thing.
The hair and the clothes of those suited and booted are delicious. No jeans in sight, of course, but boy are there bell bottoms! It was as if men were expressing a femininity which was nonetheless typically competitive by wearing two flaring skirts round their ankles.
Néjib eschews realistic colour throughout, using it expressively instead, here in livid salmon pink, a glowing sky blue and mustard yellow. These are blocks of flat colour without gradients which define the otherwise borderless panels and often the objects within, for sometimes their outlines are only partially drawn. On the second and third pages I mentioned earlier, these free-floating snapshots of the hall, stairs and landing in orange and purple surrounded by so much white-paper-space enhance Haddon Hall's sense of emptiness as well as its dated decor.
This choice of compositions also gives the pages a free-flowing energy which matches the narrative, for however informed it is - and it really is - with historical detail, this is no laden, lumpen, po-faced, drudgery enslaved by its subject like AGATHA: THE REAL LIFE OF AGATHA CHRISTIE which I described as "one long, insultingly clunky, two-dimensional, expository mess". At great length.
This is its very antithesis with no clunky exposition at all. When David and Angie watch 'A Clockwork Orange' you're expected to recognise the film from Malcolm McDowell's iconic asymmetrical make-up, and I didn't think the surname 'Visconti' is ever attached to Tony nor 'Ronson' to Mick.
Parenthetically, did you know that straight Visconti was once propositioned by New York godfather Don Constanzo as the prospective "girlfriend" for his dandified gay son?
"I'd rather it be you. You're a nice boy. Not some nutcase he picked up in a smutty club."
Poor Tony's face melts in horror.
"You don't say 'no' to Don Constanzo."
No wonder Visconti ended up in England - almost immediately afterwards.
That's just the sort of flashback vignette you'll be treated to here: whatever Néjib believes will amuse, like David and Tony rescuing Mick Ronson from rock'n'roll retirement as a gardener, catching up with him in a winter park raking up leaves. David dives gleefully into Mick's wheelbarrow stuffed full of autumnal detritus with a large set of shears... to do what, exactly?
That's what I mean by "dotty" - this is a joy!
There is, however, no small degree of turbulence. No career is a straight line or even inevitable, ever-upward curve to fame, and the same goes for personal fortune. Quite early on David manages to secure the release of his self-sectioned brother from Cane Hill asylum, but only on the condition that he take custody of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett too. Terry, his brother, gradually disappears into this own little world, dispersing into the air as multi-coloured butterflies.
There are so many more neat visual tricks and accomplishments: Hadden Hall's secluded back garden in canary yellow and orange, with its urns and its foliage coming off like an overgrown Arcadian idyll; contrasting musical tastes, construction and orchestration represented visually, an auditioning guitarist's as a maze-like mass (but not mess) of unbroken, fiddly, squiggly lines, David's as more angular, meticulous composed and pictorial, like a free-range farmyard of Aztec chickens, to be honest.
Lastly, I think you will love the passage showing how Bowie is first taught to think outside the box. I believe I will be trying that one on so many people I know. Ask me, on the shop floor, and I will happily demonstrate with a pen and paper!
Thinking outside the box: you have never seen it done so demonstrably well.