Page 45 Review by Stephen
An eloquent and really quite complex autobiographical evocation of a friendship that was unlikely to have outlived its first few childhood years, I believe this will surprise you.
Certainly the cover doesn't do it any sort of justice at all: it doesn't welcome you in. It has none of the tenderness, balance and keenly judged space of the interior art. Instead we see a bitter and angrily resentful Mari - when she is neither within - in a sort of nicotine-perpetuated anger trap.
Please persevere long enough to look instead, for instead this is told with a charmingly direct, warts-and-all seeming simplicity, yet there are a variety of unexpected angles subtly deployed and underneath lies a truthful understanding, clearly conveyed, that within friendships much goes unsaid; that too few survive long enough for a conversational reflection on what went unsaid; that so many shared experiences may have meant different things to one friend than to the other; or maybe they did mean the same but you never knew; whereas other events might have had a profound effect upon one to which the other was oblivious so quite possibly the event never registered at all and was subsequently forgotten.
Each one of those scenarios ticks my own recognition boxes, as well as another which I'll leave for my punchline.
So why was this friendship unlikely to last and why did Mari think that Mirabai hated her?
Well, the things we say when we are 9!
For a start, Mirabai was introduced to Mari by her already existing friend, Harmony.
"This is my new friend, Mirabai.
So there's a territory claimed. Mari was never confident, but what little confidence she had was completely undermined by Mirabai constantly leading her on, then pulling the rug from under her. Cue Charles Schultz homage, ever so appropriately. You'll see exactly why it's spot-on when you read this yourself, but brilliantly there's a break between how Schultz uses this throughout PEANUTS and when Marinaomi repeats it. There is... a progression.
Mirabai's increasing artistic confidence is demonstrated by her diminishing competitiveness, feeling no need to accept compliments with triumphalism. Mari's honest adulation is conveyed in her accepting Mirabai's instructions without resentment. Mari even levels up when she suddenly finds a teen fashion style of her own and - on being photographed - seeing herself newly arrived as an adult. Okay, it's a work in progress, but that has to tick recognition boxes too, yes?
So here's one of those fresh angles I loved. Every single-page entry here is titled time- and site-specific: 'Slumber party, 1985' or 'Sausalito Steps, 1987'. Suddenly it's 'Everywhere We Go, 1987' and a spacious, single-panel page on which everyone is swooning, love hearts in their eyes, over Mirabai who is "oblivious" and Mari who is "jealous". That's it: nothing more complex than that, but "Everywhere We Go" says quite enough.
Mirabai, a year older, was always more precocious than Mari in art, poetry and experimentation, give or take drugs (I loved the reversal of a particular famous slogan with a couple of opposing TM-ed arguments for good measure). So when 'Mirabai Moves To The Big City, 1989' leaving Mari behind, their reunion isn't so much a conversation as one long outburst of genuine enthusiasm on Mirabai's part...
"...And my new friend Patrick told my new friend Ashu that my new friend..."
... but oblivious as always, this time as to its inevitable reception. I should reiterate that Mari's reaction isn't to glower; she simply hangs back, walking in Mirabai's wake, looking forlornly to one side in isolated reflection. Am I really the only one here determined that Marinaomi has nailed it?
I'm going to leave you where I first thought to begin, at a 'Late-night Diner, San Francisco, 1989'. Mirabai and "this one guy" have been talking animatedly all night while Mari sits silently, forgotten.
"Oh god, please don't fall in love with Mirabai.
"Please, just this one guy,
"Just this one."
Afterwards, outside, it's Mari and the new guy.
"She's really something, isn't she?"
"Yeah, Mirabai's the best!"
A love heart of genuine adoration accompanies Mari's speech balloon.
You have pages and pages to go, and many in between to discover for yourselves, like the precise nature of which shared, early experience first changes the direction of their relationship from the careless bully and the enduringly bullied to something more mutual and respectful.
But what one doesn't realise when one begins reading - because Mari didn't realise this, either, until later - is that the title of this comic is a two-way street.