Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"So your book. I have to be honest, I didn't know you could do that with comics. I guess I'm a bit old fashioned. Thinking of the strips I used to read in the base newspapers."
"It's a brave new world out there, Tim."
Indeed it is!
Well, well, well, hasn't Julian Hanshaw come a long way since the crowd-splitting THE ART OF PHO? This is one of the best written pieces of graphic novel fiction I have read this year, and the art is rather good too.
Tim Ginger is passing his twilight days living in a trailer in a deserted caravan park in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. A former test pilot, replete with eye patch, his only hobby these days is his cricket played with a group of ex-pats at a nearby field they lovingly set up for matches. His beloved wife Susan passed away a long time ago, and he seems content to see out his days sitting drinking a few beers outside his trailer during the day, and gazing at the near-infinite number of stars in the clear desert sky at night.
The only thing that might tempt him to break his regime is his publisher Mike, who is always trying to get him on the lucrative sci-fi and comic convention circuit. For you see, during Tim's last tragic flight to the edge of space, something happened. Something strange and inexplicable, that he wrote a book about, which was hugely successful with UFOlogists and conspiracy theory nuts.
Unfortunately for Tim, given his position that there are certain matters he isn't at liberty to speak about due to his military background, there are those who still believe he knows much more than he revealed. So when he agrees to do some conventions, one such nut, Karl, begins to hound him and chastise him for his part in perpetuating the 'big cover-up'. He's particularly enraged when Tim reveals he's working on a follow-up book... about cricket. There's a wonderful scene, that neatly conveys how cleverly written this work is, where Karl is sat in the audience at a panel Tim is speaking on and takes his opportunity to cross-examine Tim in public. Tim's reply blows Karl's mind...
"Do you really want to know the truth, Karl?
"About the universe.
"And still be stuck in supermarket queues.
"Or waiting on the end of a phone to some call center on the other side of the world?
"Or. Why not just kill yourself?
"Hurry up the moment of enlightenment.
"Or perhaps that's a leap of faith too far?
"And you know what, Karl?
"The real kicker?
"The government are no smarter than you.
"They can't believe society manages to tick over as it does. And there isn't rioting in the streets.
"They do their four years.
"Fill their pockets.
"Get on some quasi non-governmental body.
"And pray it doesn't all go tits up.
"On their watch.
"We worry too much.
"I still worry too much.
"There is already too much information out there.
"Live the life you love, Karl.
"Choose a God you trust.
"And don't take it all so seriously."
The scene then cuts to Karl, still sat in a deserted auditorium, immobile, eyes staring into the distance, hours later, as the light is eventually turned off.
So where does the opening quote about comics come into it then? Well, whilst on the convention circuit, Tim runs into Anna, a member of his ground crew who used to prep his planes for his flights. She's written a book too, a graphic novel as it happens, the true stories of various people who have chosen not to have children and why. People like her and her ex-husband Chuck, and indeed Tim and Susan, who were the only ones of their wide circle of friends on the military base who made that choice. Which firmly cemented their mutual friendship as the rest of their friends got embroiled in the day to day minutiae of kids.
Anna separated from Chuck a long time ago, and truth be told, Tim and Anna always had an unspoken, unacted-upon, mutual attraction. Anna would be interested in rekindling those romantic feelings, but Tim isn't over the loss of Susan, whom he dearly loved, and nor is he fully over what happened on the edge of the atmosphere that day. For something quite remarkable did happen. Something that he only ever shared with Susan.
Ahh, what a fabulous story this is! I was absolutely gripped from start to finish. I was so intrigued by Tim's story, what exactly did happen to him up there, and were he and Anna going to get their happy ending? There are some wonderful twists and reveals Julian throws in mid-way, (the eye patch has two of its own!!) which only add to the poignancy of Tim's tragically reclusive lifestyle choice. The art is really excellent too, entirely in keeping with the tone of the work. Julian reminds me of Michael DeForge quite a bit, though without the surrealism. I love the gentleness and subtlety of people's expressions he captures. This is going to end up on my top five books of the year list for sure.