Page 45 Review by Stephen
"It was never supposed to be this way. We were supposed to be a team. You and me against the world. You left me, Sonny. Left me to do all this on my own."
Oh, just pick your favourite UK creators: they're virtually all there. Yes, you read the credits right, even TAMARA DREWE's Posy Simmonds has joined in and half the joy of this unequivocal masterpiece is anticipating which top-tier artist is coming next!
This isn't, however, an anthology: it's a single story told by a relay race of craftsmen somehow coordinated with remarkable precision and dexterity by original instigator Rob Davis (DON QUIXOTE) and the mighty Woodrow Phoenix of RUMBLE STRIP fame. Each artist has been allocated up to half a dozen pages to recount a snapshot day in the life of one Nel Baker from 1968 to 2011, and the variety of styles is as delightful as the baton-passing is fluid. Not one single transition jars. Sean Phillips, for example, has switched styles accordingly from his detailed twilight to a no-less-expressive burst of open summer sunshine for a family confrontation over a barbeque. It's absolutely seamless.
What's more it is even appropriate that this book shifts styles, for each of our own differing days are coloured by our mood swings, our environment, the company we keep, the opportunities that arise, the maturity we muster
the drugs that we take, whether medicinal or otherwise. Harvey James' evocation of a first rave fuelled by ecstasy is sublime, whilst the choice of Philippa Rice (MY CARDBOARD LIFE) to illustrate Nel's recuperative holiday on 'happy pills' after Fegredo's dark watercolour washes is absolutely inspired.
Nel Baker was born on June 15th 1968. Her dad anticipated a son and heir he was going to call Nelson. He even bought a hollow statuette of the navy commander to commemorate the day. Turns out that Jim and Rita Baker had twins, so they divided the one name in two: Nel and Sonny. Unfortunately Sonny lasted all of five months, leaving young, rebellious and hyperactive Nel with a vacuum in her life - a feeling of loss - which she is instinctively aware of from an early age, compensating with an imaginary substitute she blames for her own misdemeanours and which, after a series of hard knocks, will return to plague her later. As Nel grows older her one dream, vital vein and passion for Art is rubbed raw against both the pressures to earn a decent living, the supercilious antipathy of her tutors towards true individuality, and finally her materialistic younger sister's badgering to give up, "grow up" and compromise; to settle down and live a life like hers with a husband, two kids and an extension. Her mother doesn't give up on the idea of more grandchildren, either.
"Just part of Operation Nail Nel's feet to the floor..."
Nel's journey, like anyone else's, is no straight trajectory. Friendships flourish, then some wither away; others are rekindled later on. Sometimes it's the least likely ones whose bonds are strongest. Tabitha, raised in relative seclusion by her domineering, hyper-religious parents would seem an odd match for Nel but some rebellions start later than others and it may be the very clandestine nature of their friendship, conducted whenever they can, which appealed to the rogue in Nel. Sex has a habit of complicating things, even early fumblings. There's a great scene drawn by D'Israeli, set on some swings as a fifteen-year-old Nel buckles under the threat of extra maths tuition at the expense of her afternoon Art lesson and she falls against Les, stealing a kiss. Surprised, he returns the passion only to get smacked in the face and called "perv!" But as Nel walks away her sly satisfaction is obvious
Moments which appear random turn out to be key when reprised later on. The big ones I'll keep to myself, but one of my favourite moments occurs when clearing out Aunt Kitt's house. Nel would be sent to stay there occasionally as a child - why, she only discovers as an adult - and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell does a bang-up job in four short pages of breathing a ridiculous amount of complexity into the seemingly strict old lady.
"Do you remember my rules?"
"I am very welcome here and I am not to touch your things."
But this same Aunt Kitt - who makes Nel wash up, peel the spuds and then pluck a chicken - merrily chuffs on a pipe all day, falls asleep in her armchair after a bottle of booze and has a house filled with exotica including a lavishly illustrated, leather-bound copy of 1001 Arabian Nights. And (just as I defaced my early LPs with wax crayon) Nel can't resist scrawling all over the two beautiful pages before hearing Aunt Kitt stomp up the stairs. Gasping, she quickly returns to the book to the shelf. Thirteen years later and Nel's back in that bedroom, and there on the shelf is the book with her juvenile drawings. A note falls out in Aunt Kitt's handwriting that will certainly make you smile!
Bursting with social history, this is virtually the story of our own lives too. Anyone living in Britain during this period will recognise the political events and cultural artefacts that in so many ways informed our existence: the overt racism of a previous generation that found its way into the home; the first moon landing, an event of such significance that whole families would congregate around their first TV set; energy shortages and three-day week; space hoppers, Daleks, 'I Spy' books; taping the Top Twenty by microphone on early cassette recorders, dancing to Mud's Tiger Feet; the Notting Hill Carnival whose sound pounds on the pages thanks to Paul Peart-Smith; horrible orange and brown wallpaper; "Coal Not Dole" stickers, the Socialist Worker and mass unemployment; the rise of the vegetarian movement; the fall of the Berlin Wall; raves and ecstasy; September 11th
It's familiar, it's funny and halting in places, and I loved every single page by every single artist.
It's also a very special book in that all the profits go to Shelter, the charity for the homeless (http://www.shelter.org.uk/) - both the publisher's and some retailers' as well. We took no discount but paid the cover price ourselves. So why not give a little Christmas cheer to those who need it most, and discover a new favourite artist at the same time, then pop them into our search engine to see what else they've created? I know I have. I've then followed them on Twitter!