Page 45 Breaks Its All-Time Sales Record at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2018 – for the 5th consecutive year!

October 17th, 2018

It’s time for our annual photo-filled blog!

Kendal is kindness personified, and you’ll find every single comicbook creator in Page 45’s Georgian Room, captured below, beaming with unbridled delight! Look, here’s Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura guerilla-signing LICAF’s brand-new TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR graphic novel.

 

 

Page 45 Breaks Its Sales Record at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival for the 5th Consecutive Year!

In 2014 we broke our all-time weekend sales record at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival by taking £5,500, then kept exceeding previous records until we hit £10,000 for two years running.

But in 2018 we’ve just smashed it again by taking £11,006.91 with just 1% of the range of our stock!

£1,784.48 of which – taken on LICAF comics, books, prints and postcards – goes directly to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, its Creators’ Development Fund and the OCD Action charity etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may have something to do with all the gorgeous graphic novels we bring, the glamorous Georgian Room which we are given to curate by ourselves,  the creators who give up their time so generously, and the fact that the Kendal Clock Tower is FREE ENTRY!

That means that those entirely unaccustomed to comics come in out of curiosity, flow through the room, and browse through our books to their hearts’ content.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll bring you more books in a bit. You can pop any of the titles you see – or their creators – into Page 45’s search engine for our reviews. We Ship Worldwide!

Meanwhile, the rest of the Kendal Clock Tower is pretty spiffy too! Here’s the room opposite ours, for example, (there are many) both empty as we’re setting up (it takes us six hours, so we have to start early – you’ll see!), then bustling just 10 minutes after the doors open.

 

 

 

“Who did you have signing and sketching, Stephen?”

Officially we had the beaming ray of sunshine that is Eleanor Crewes all weekend, sketching portraits of her readers in THE TIMES I KNEW I WAS GAY.

Plus the effervescent Una survived a train journey in which a guard carried an axe through her carriage in order to chop down a tree that had fallen across the tracks (I kid you not), to sign and squiggle on Saturday in BECOMING UNBECOMING, ON SANITY and her new book CREE which we’ll have on our system hopefully by the time you are reading this!

 

 

 

 

She’s kindly sketched in all our shop copies for us!

We had Guy Delisle drawing in PYONGYANG (North Korea), SHENZHEN (South China), BURMA CHRONICLES, JERUSALEM and his most recent book HOSTAGE, and if you look in Page 45’s Signed / Bookplate Graphic Novels Section you’ll find, for a limited time, that we still have signed copies of those exceptional observations of the absurd. There’s a lot that’s absurd in North Korea – not short of material, there.

 

 

Then on Sunday, after their triumphant nocturnal steampunk parade / performance with students whom they’d been tutoring on interactive storytelling, we were graced by long-term LICAF exhibitors turned special guests Corey Brotherson and Yomi Ayeni of CLOCKWORK WATCH fame.

True fact: Yomi was one of the very first people I ever met at LICAF five years ago, after I heard him coming two corridors away. Nobody laughs like Yomi Ayeni!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh look, there’s volunteer Dave, out of his Red Shirt and dappered up to the nines! (New verb: to dapper)

He’s standing outside The New Union Kendal (run by the adorable Phil who hosted Page 45’s 20th Birthday Party in 2014, at which Lizz Lunney ate all the cake) where the parade ended and the performances truly began!

Also on Sunday, because it’s now a tradition, we snatched up Emma Vieceli, co-creator of Young Adults LGBT BREAKS and so much more (some clues in the photo, but again, activate search engine, please!) for a special hour of pencil biting. She’s very, very good at it.

 

 

But before that came Phillips & Phillips, that famous legal firm, to launch their brand-new original graphic novel written by Brubaker, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES. At the time of typing we still have a limited number of Page 45’s Exclusive Bookplate signed by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and indeed Jake Phillips, thanks to Sean’s exceptional generosity, and indeed Ed’s, because we can’t seem to get either of them to bill us for the printing and transatlantic postage. Don’t you just love comics people? (A refrain I heard over and over again, throughout the weekend.) This is it:

 

 

Please pop Sean Phillips into our search engine, because I have personally reviewed every piece of paper he’s ever been printed on.

Here he is being photographed with a super-fan who’d traveled all the way from Greece specifically to see him at LICAF.

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Phillips drew while Jake Phillips industriously coloured, until Sean Phillips stopped drawing and just jabbered away. What an outrageous slacker!

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the weekend we were proud to sell LICAF’s official comics, prints, postcards, more copies of THE SPIRIT NEWSPAPER which Sean Phillips curated and personally paid for out of his own pocket (reviewed at that link and now on sale exclusively via Page 45 – and yes, We Ship Worldwide!) co-created by Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragonés, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho….

… and LICAF’s brand-new graphic novel TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR (again, now available worldwide via Page 45’s website) by Marguerite Abouet, Charlie Adlard, Simon Armitage, Edmond Baudoin, Juan Díaz Canales, Aurélien Ducoudray, Efa, Ergün Gündüz, Régis Hautière, O. Hiroyuki, Joe Kelly, Kris, Denis Lapière, Virtuel L’Atelier, Victoria Lomasko, Maël, Dave McKean, Mikiko, Robbie Morrison, J.D. Morvan, Ken Niimura, Sean Phillips, Ian Rankin, Riff Reb’s, A. Samama, Scie-Tronc. Orijit Sen, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Thomas Von Kummant.

 

 

 

 

The night before I’d waylaid THE WALKING DEAD‘s Charlie Adlard in a new super-secret speakeasy sequestered down a side-street (again, not joking – I only heard about it because Emma Vieceli, Pud and Steven Appleby snatched me away from The Brewery and led me there, blindfolded), and as promised he kindly popped by unannounced to sign in TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR, along with I KILL GIANTS‘ Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura. All of them, absolutely lovelies!

 

 

 

 

All proceeds of our LICAF sales over the weekend went to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (£1,784.48!) – we took not a penny, as is good and proper – and so many more creators kindly popped by to ruin mint copies with their Sharpies including Bryan and Mary Talbot (search engine, please!) who even sketched and coloured in them. (Mary is most excellent at spot-blacks and colours.)

Here’s Edmond Baudoin similarly sketching for us. What a star!

 

 

 

Jonathan and I are so very grateful for these impromptu offers of extra love, especially to Bryan Talbot who sat down to sketch in some special GRANDVILLE bookplates for us completely out of the blue.

For far, far more of our 5-year involvement with LICAF (we are proud Patrons!), please see Page 45’s dedicated Lakes International Comic Art Festival hub with links to LICAF, previous years’ blogs, even more photos and everything!

I type that now (I may reprise it later) because I’m going to go a little off topic with a) How A Room Is Built then b) What We Got Up To In Cumbria. Because if you’re coming to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival – rain or shine – you’re going to want to gawp at the countryside!

How We Cluttered Up Our Georgian Room With Comics

 

 

That is Page 45 Central. It doesn’t normally look like this, honest. We try to make it  as easy as possible for you to hand over cash at the counter.

Every year Jonathan and I ponder previous years’ graphic novel sales at LICAF, figure out what is still working but mostly which brand-new beauties to bring. Bearing in mind that we can only take what Jonathan can fit, Tetris-like, into our van (this is a special skill), it takes some strict discipline and fierce negotiation.

Then we ignore all that and order loads more of the last month’s arrivals to boot.

That’s Jonathan’s job and as I am always adamant in emphasising that none of this would be possible without Jonathan. Dee and Jodie then meticulously catalogue numbers as the books get packed, after which we trundle of to Kendal.

 

 

 

That van was rammed!

Thankfully not by a ten-tonne truck.

This is our room rather naked, soon to be filled with boxes of books courtesy of Mr. Lift and Mr. Minion.

 

 

 

It’s actually Craig Dawson, Page 45’s highest-ever spender at something like £1,600 in a single spree, who is one of loveliest blokes you could meet, generous enough to help us unload every single year. Saves us a good couple of ours with his unpacking too.

Don’t worry Craig, it’s only a listed building.

 

 

 

I think you’ll agree that’s rather a lot of books.

I would remind you that our room looks like this…

 

 

… until it doesn’t after five hours of me tearing my hair out!

(So now you know where it’s gone.)

That’s my job. I try to re-arrange the room each year for increased accessibility, aesthetic beauty and to showcase these glorious graphic novels in the most attractive fashion that they so richly deserve.

 

 

 

Also, you don’t want to bugger up a room as beautiful as that.

We don’t have any round tables at Page 45 so I can’t practise, but the very first year we discovered that the long tables were less conducive to a smooth, organic, undulating thoroughfare accessible to wheelchairs and therefore maximum perusal. Live and learn, eh?

Anyway, here are the books. Reminder: you can pop any of the titles or their creators into our search engine for reviews and Worldwide Shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re using our search engine, right?

Excellent!

 

 

 

 

 

Did I do an okay job?

Dear lord, I hope so! I had to race in on Saturday morning an hour before anyone else was officially let in, so that I could make all the final adjustments.

THANK YOU, SUB-WARDEN PHIL!

 

 

 

 

I liked that shot, so you’ve got it again.

What We Got Up To In Cumbria

or

It’s More Pretty Than A City!

Rain or shine, Cumbria is so bloody romantic.

Which is fortunate, because this year this rain was torrential, and the gales of such strength that the LICAF banner had to be taken down the day after I took this shot on Thursday night.

 

 

 

That’s the view from our Riverside Hotel bar’s balcony above the, err, river.

Fortunately half of it’s undercover, from which we spied this poor, desolate umbrella, snatched out of its owner’s hand. You can see it in situ in the photograph below this if you look hard enough at the bridge’s triangular cutwaters.

 

 

 

That umbrella almost demands narrative, doesn’t it? What is its story, and that of its owner?

As Jonathan observed, it’s like a graphic novel by Chabouté (THE PARK BENCH or ALONE, both pictured above, the first of which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month).

I found it a day later outside the Kendal Clock Tower.

 

 

That seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Anyway, on our way up on Thursday afternoon we called into Kirkby Lonsdale where I taught comics on behalf of LICAF at the Queen Elizabeth School. I’m heading back there again next year, thanks to its ace school librarian Gemma. Below you’ll find photos of Ruskin’s View.

We loved the church’s well wonky clock tower (seriously, just look at that clock’s positioning) and its graveyard’s Mr. Tickle Tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then back in Kendal we spotted this most alluring of alleys, and I love what they’ve done with the down-lit lighting, making maximum use of the textured stone walls.

 

 

 

 

And that’s where we’ll leave it, I think.

I was going to show you Ullswater where the inland lake was as choppy as a stormy sea, but you can discover it all for yourselves next year, eh, when you all come along to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019. Good on you! I would. We will!

Oh wait, the speakeasy hahaha!

It’s now open all year round down a side-alley on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was told not to tweet about it while I was up, so I didn’t. I’m not normally that well behaved. But I did take a shot away from it on Friday night, if you can discern from this where it might lurk.

 

 

On Saturday night I could tell that Jonathan was curious even though he did his best to hide it, so I led our ensemble down the street in search of it… a full 50 yards further on until I told them they’d missed it. Truly, it is that covert!

I’m not about to spoil things now, but it is well worth the hunt, for within lies such exceptional character acting and cocktails composed individually to your specific tastes. Jonathan asked for something smelling of bonfires (!) and I swear to god that I have never sniffed anything so reminiscent of an autumnal bonfire than the glass which this magnificent madman concocted out of his incomparably arcane and erudite knowledge of alcohol.

 

 

Oh, go on, then, you can glean clues of your own from following him @blind_bus on Twitter!

I’m @PageFortyFive

There’s More Of A Story Than Anywhere Else You Will Visit

Even the torrential rain gave me so many romantic shivers. It really is more pretty than a city which you might visit for a comicbook convention, and it’s overwhelmingly free-entry

Plus we broke our all-time sales records, regardless of the gales!

Of course it all cleared up on the Sunday afternoon! Of course it did!

 

 

And, in case it needs saying, all these photos are my own from this very year. Feel free to use them in order to promote LICAF.

Huge love for all that they do to Julie Tait, Carole Tait, the incomparable Aileen, Chris, Chris, Dave, so many Phils and everyone whom I’ve so rubbishly failed to mention!

LICAF Volunteers are the best in the world. I am in awe and, ever since year one, I’ve been forever in their debt. As a visitor, please do ask and they will provide!

For far, far more of Page 45’s 5-year involvement with LICAF (we are proud Patrons!), please see Page 45’s dedicated Lakes International Comic Art Festival hub with links to LICAF, previous years’ blogs, even more photos and everything!

I’ll see you in 2019, then?

Marvelous!

 – Stephen xxx

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2018 week two

October 10th, 2018

Featuring Tillie Walden, I.N.J Culbard, Luke Jones, Anna Mill, Greg Rucka, Justin Greenwood.

On A Sunbeam h/c Exclusive Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition (£24-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden…

“Gracie. Time to go.”
“Not yet. Mia is coming to say good-bye.”

Arrrrgghhhhh. 271 pages in to this 534-page tome, just past the halfway point, and I could feel a little tickle in the tear ducts beginning… I’ll give no spoilers – which is actually going to be impossible, thinking about it so forget that – but suffice to say, some goodbyes will haunt you… Even if it’s only one you’re reading about rather than experiencing first hand… I then spent the remaining 263 pages desperately hoping that Mia would… could… somehow… sniff… where’s my hanky…?

Speaking of moist moments, I have to say, as a complete digression, I almost had another one reading the afterword. It is one of the sweetest, most complimentary ones I think I might ever have read. It is certainly one that only Tillie could have written. Bless her, just when you thought you couldn’t love her any more than you already did!

Right, what to expect from this epic interstellar romance set in two time periods a mere five yet interminably long years apart…?

 

 

Well, we will see the budding romance between moderately tough-nut fourteen-year-old Mia and the mysterious new girl at school Gracie. They are quite literally worlds, if not galaxies apart, and yet… there’s a mutual attraction which neither can deny. Mia doesn’t particularly want to. Gracie it seems might, but then all that’s to do with the whopper of a secret she’s hiding…

“You’re an IDIOT.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said you’re an IDIOT. You don’t get it, do you?”
“Um, I…”
“I like ALL of you, Grace. Even the parts I don’t get yet. I’m not dating the 12% of you that I understand, I’m dating 100% of you. Including all your secrets that I don’t know. So don’t EVER say I’d hate you because that’s stupid and not true.”
“Oh, Mia. I’ll tell you everything someday…”

 

 

And that sad day will come dear reader… But fast-forward five years and Mia is cast adrift, emotionally at least, on the spaceship Aktis. Well, I say spaceship, imagine a beautiful tropical fish with a huge caudal fin and vast wing-like pelvic fins, all dazzling of colour, twizzling friskily through the vacuum like a salmon desperate to get upstream for some fun and games and you should get the picture. I seriously think Tillie Walden should design spaceships. Perhaps someone can have a word with Elon Musk? She’s also very good at naming them too…

This time(-period) around it’s Mia’s turn to be the newbie, joining a rag-tag crew assigned to renovating weird old buildings like abandoned churches that just happen to be merrily floating in space. They’re an extremely tight bunch, yet over time, as she proves herself to be just as much of an oddball as the rest of them, Jules, Charlotte, Elliott and Alma welcome Mia into their little family of sorts. Indeed when she reveals her secret to them, she finds to her complete surprise they are more than amenable to help her with an epic quest of the heart… not least because of a couple of guilty secrets of their own…

 

 

Ahhh… so many secrets! I wish Tillie would let us into the one of how she keeps getting better and better! For this is, for me, her finest work yet. Not just in the storytelling, which will both melt and break your heart over and over, but also artistically. The trademark gentle, almost too delicate, linework, is still very much in evidence, but she’s given her imagination full rein in terms of design and expression. This work brings together and incorporates all the different aspects of her pencilling we’ve seen so far, from the architectural grandiosity evident in THE END OF SUMMER to the quiet intimacy between characters that proved so moving in I LOVE THIS PART to the sudden flights of the fantastical that made A CITY INSIDE so compelling a read.

 

 

Here she seamlessly visually blends profound emotional drama and high concept fantasy with such ease that at differing times you could very easily forget this is both science fiction and romance. Because at one moment you’ll be quietly observing star-crossed lovers looking intently into each other’s eyes and the next simply marvelling at an intricately constructed landscape. So very cleverly done.

Colours-wise, I think this is also the most I have ever seen her use in a single work and the shifts back and forth between the few subtly different palettes is used to great effect, not least when Mia’s quest takes her to the strange region of space known as The Staircase where there’s a wondrously alien yet comfortingly animistic feel to the world we encounter. The textures and depths she manages to achieve with complimentary pale colours such as lilac, pastel blue, cornflower yellow and burnt ochre are spectacular.

 

 

I genuinely wonder how on earth, or indeed space, she can possibly top this work. I will wait with bated breath to find out. The brilliant thing about the prolific Miss Walden, though, is that I will probably only have to wait a few months! Which is a very good thing, because I don’t believe I could hold my breath much longer than that…

 

 

Were the above exhortation of excellence not enough to entice you to purchase this work Tillie has also produced an exclusive Page 45 signed and numbered bookplate for us, available whilst stock last. Oh, and don’t forget to read that afterword. It will truly make your heart melt one last time.

For more Tillie Walden, please see her autobiographical SPINNING which sheds new light on I LOVE THIS PART, and her recent contribution to I FEEL MACHINE.

THIS IS THE SIGNED BOOKPLATE:

 

 

JR

Buy On A Sunbeam h/c Exclusive Page 45 Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Square Eyes h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Luke Jones & Anna Mill ~

“Picture it in your mind… think about its shape, its texture.
“… Not too hard…
“Don’t injure yourself…
“It just starts to take shape on its own… reading the impression you mentally project.
“See how it starts to emerge kind of hazy at first but your mind starts to populate it…
“… Now it’s sharpening.
“Can you see it?”

Fin is the creator of a cutting-edge computer programme that blurs the boundaries between the real world and the digital by creating an interface between the visualisation space and the brain. Called ‘Corvis’, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of technology that allows its users a collective, visual experience, which just a few days ago Fin was demonstrating live-on-air to a completely captivated studio audience.

 

 

But now Fin has woken up disoriented and disconnected. There is a strange woman living in her apartment – at least she thinks that’s her apartment – and her memories are vague and unrecognisable, if indeed they even are her memories at all…?

 

 

SQUARE EYES is a cyberdelic mind-melt of a mystery, set in an entirely plausible, indeed rapidly approaching, near-future of augmented reality and constant connectivity; where technology is a part of your very being, and every piece of information you would ever need is literally at your finger tips. But when the most talented programmer out there finds herself cut off from the world and her code stolen, it becomes a race to find out who has it, before such incredible power falls into the wrong hands.

 

 

Visually stunning, you’ll certainly be fully immersed in this overwhelming, holographic world, no headset required! Overlapping imagery and choice colours of reds, blues and purples create a gently kaleidoscopic aesthetic, which might leave you thinking that perhaps you were missing a set of cardboard 3D specs. I’m actually intrigued to see what difference they would make!

 

 

You will also be treated to an elegant interface of carefully constructed chaos, looking as though it has been hacked directly from the dreamy depths of Chris Ware’s sleeping mind, and the most intelligent use of negative space as a storytelling device I have ever seen in comics. Square Eyes truly is an outstanding achievement of design.

Runner Up in the 2010 Observer / Cape Graphic Short Story prize to a certain Stephen THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL Collins, it is absolutely fascinating how this story has evolved, both artistically and in plot terms, beyond practically all recognition from that comparatively sparse initial concept. You can see for yourselves from this article. It’s certainly makes a compelling case for believing in your artistic vision and persevering with a good idea.

JP

Buy Square Eyes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

HP Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories h/c SIGNED & SKETCHED IN (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by I.N.J. Culbard…

I.N.J. Culbard gives terrifying form to four classic tales by H.P. Lovecraft: ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’, ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,’ ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ and ‘The Shadow Out of Time’ in a gorgeous hardcover collection priced lower than two of its constituent softcovers!

Here are all my original reviews in the order the softcovers appeared.

At The Mountains Of Madness

“Do you have a name for them yet?”
“Yes I do. Remember the book that Professor Armitage kept under lock and key in the university library? The Necronomicon?”
“I… I do.”
“Then you’ll understand when I speak of Elder Things.”
“Bill?”
“I’m here.”
“I think… err… think we should tone down reports to the outside world for now… until at least until we’ve substantiated these findings.”

 

 

On the face of it Ian Culbard’s well rounded style of art so ably demonstrated on the four recent SHERLOCK HOLMES adaptations is not perhaps the most obvious for adapting a classic horror story, probably one of the two finest works within Lovecraft’s Cthulhu canon along with (in my opinion) The Silver Key. Except in fact in this case, it is absolutely perfect, because MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is nothing to do with gore and everything to do with a very unsettling story that moves the reader inch by imperceptible inch nearer to an uneasy psychological state. This is classic horror, in that fear of the unknown, “What exactly is it lurking in the hidden depths?” type of horror. Or in this case, within the Mountains Of Madness, a virtually impenetrable mountain range right in the heart of the frozen Antarctic wastes.

I can certainly understand why they’ve picked this particular work for adaptation as it is in some ways the most straightforward and comprehensible of Lovecraft’s books, simply because whatever else it is, it’s also a great Boy’s Own adventure tale. To set the scene it’s September 1930 and an expedition from Miskatonic University is in the Antarctic taking deep geological samples when they make some rather puzzling and shocking finds. These inexplicable discoveries quickly change the planned intent and indeed course of the expedition, taking the learned explorers into hitherto unexplored and inaccessible territories. Discoveries and geography which start to seem disturbingly familiar to some of the explorers who have read the fabled Necronomicon, kept safely under lock and key by a colleague back at the university.

Indeed the marked similarities of what they find, compared to the widely considered fictional rantings of a madman suggest the world may have a rather longer, darker and most disturbing pre-history than current academic wisdom would opine. As things take a sinister and even more suspenseful turn with the disappearance of part of the exploration party, those that remain at base camp feel compelled, against all good sense and reason, ever nearer the soaring jagged mountain range ahead.

If you like intelligent horror, do take a look at this. It’s been very cleverly adapted by Culbard who works in the more fantastical elements in a manner than never seems completely outlandish or utterly unbelievable. Indeed his warm art style and vibrant colours perfectly counterpoint the bleak locale of the situation, where it’s all too easy to believe, in a time where the world still had some unexplored and remote regions, that such a place could just possibly exist.

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward

What a wonderfully evocative opening two pages, as we pan in from the depths of frigid outer space very gradually down to the surface of Earth at night, reminding us, lest we forget, how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, before finally reaching an empty cell in a sanatorium. The perfect beginning for a Cthulu story, though at the risk of mixing my authors for a moment I could almost hear Richard Burton intoning “slowly and surely they drew their plans against us” from H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds whilst Jeff Wayne begins to play in the background. Anyway, it sets the atmosphere straight to spooky levels instantaneously, which is my point!

What follows is the finest H.P. Lovecraft adaptation in comics to date bar none, as a most curious case of nocturnal nefariousness and ghoulish experimentation is uncovered by the family physician to the Ward family, Dr. Willett. Asked to investigate by Charles’ father, growing increasingly concerned about his son Charles’ mental state and obsession with an ancestor named Joseph Curwen (who apparently practiced alchemy of a most unwholesome kind some two hundred years previously), what Dr. Willard begins to uncover scarcely seems believable, with suggestions of reincarnation or reanimation of ancient cadavers by a cabal of individuals of greatly extended lifespans seeking arcane knowledge of mysterious rituals. Yet, the further Dr. Willett progresses in his search for answers, the more likely it seems that such a cabal is still active today, and that Charles is slowly being drawn into their midst, for reasons yet unknown.

 

 

Ian Culbard has done a truly sterling job adapting this work, essentially a detective story, which is in complete contrast to the innate Boy’s Own adventure flavour of his previous Lovecraft adaption AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (which I also loved), and again, his unique art style is perfect for a creeping tale of eldritch horror. It’s entirely credible art, yet sufficiently dissembled from a realist approach that we are little by little unnervingly tugged towards the inevitably unpleasant conclusion (good old H.P. just did NOT do happy endings) as the emotional intensity of the story is gradually ratcheted up to, then well beyond, breaking point.

The whole point about Lovecraft’s monsters (and indeed his approach to horror) was that they were amorphous, indescribably alien, completely incomprehensible to the human eye and mind, so when they do finally make an appearance how on earth do you actually draw them?! Well, no spoilers but suffice to say, were you ever to see in real life what Ian has drawn, I think your sanity would go in an instant. I know mine would! And once you have finished reading and are left to make your own conclusions about the… resolution… of Charles Dexter Ward’s curious case, Ian then pulls the masterstroke of reversing his initial opening page, panning back out to show the Earth as a tiny, helpless marble in the vast stygian depths of dark, very dark, space, in case we’d momentarily forgotten the Elder ones are still out there watching us, just biding their time…

The Shadow Out of Time

“Oh dear God, no!”
PLINK
“NO, NO, NO! Remember, for God’s sake, remember.”

Yes, yes, yes! Another gloriously sanity-shaking adaptation from Mr. Culbard to tip us even further into a state of irreparable discombobulation. I really do marvel at his ability to produce such cogent works from such… steeped… source material. The original novella is probably one of my favourite Lovecraft works, simply because so much is revealed of the various Elder races and the prehistory of Earth before humanity became the dominant lifeform. It isn’t that straightforward a read, though, and I think Ian has done an exceptional job portraying what is revealed to the main protagonist, Professor Nathaniel Peaslee of Miskatonic University, as his mind is snatched from his body and replaced by that of another.

 

 

There is some speculation amongst Lovecraft biographers that certain elements of this character are auto-biographical or perhaps inspired by Lovecraft’s father, or that the idea for this story came from repeatedly watching a 1933 science fiction film called Berkley Square. In any case, what he wrote is one of the most chilling pieces of speculative horror fiction I have ever read. One of Lovecraft’s great talents lay in his unparalleled ability to make the reader feel truly insignificant, a veritable speck in a total alien and unfathomable universe, which in turn induces a genuine sense of trepidation in the reader. It’s horrific because of its very subtlety to infiltrate your mind, engendering a sense of unease.

Ian has captured that perfectly here as poor old Peaslee is well and truly put through the wringer both physically and mentally. The PLINK sound effect above, for example, is the sound of a torch going out leaving the poor chap very old in the dark, in somewhere he really, really doesn’t want to linger. Then, the sequences during which we learn precisely where Peaslee’s mind was during the period his body was occupied by… the other… are truly stygian in their alienness. It’s a quite literally mind-blowing reveal and you really get the grandiose sense of scale involved from the artwork, which is a real feat. I keep thinking Ian can’t raise the bar even further with Lovecraft material, but he keeps on managing it.

I am therefore delighted to report Ian has already agreed to do at least one more Lovecraft adapation for Self Made Hero, though I was unable to prise from him precisely which work it will be. I am planning on bodysnatching him, though, with a mind-swap device I keep in my laboratory on the fourth floor of the shop, so rest assured, dear readers, I will let you know more soon enough <fiendish cackles repeated with mild reverb tapering off in a most disturbing fashion>…

The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath

One of my favourite Lovecraft yarns, this, featuring heavily as it does Nyarlathotep, he of a thousand forms and indeed mangled pronunciations.

Ian did try and instruct me in the correct pronunciation when he popped in to sketch in all our copies but unfortunately my dulcet northern tones were not able to effect the correct enunciation, which is probably just as well as I have insufficient sanity points to begin with and can scarce afford to lose any more through an injudicious summoning of the emissary of the Outer Gods…

 

 

I do like how each of these four Lovecraft adaptations demonstrate a very different aspect of the Cthulu mythos and H.P.’s writing. I have commented upon it before but AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is a real Boys’ Own Adventure, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD a puzzling whodunit, THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME a piece of pure science fiction and a real Rosetta Stone to understanding the mythos, and this a veritable hallucinogenic Alice in Wonderland nightmare of a trip to the darkest recesses of the human mind, to the dimensional spaces beyond those we can normally access in our waking lives.

I think this tremendous variety in the scope of his writing is partly the reason why Lovecraft has endured. That and we all love being scared senseless. In many ways, though he is not beyond some outright in-your-face horror when required, Lovecraft frequently taps into humanity’s deepest and most complex subconscious fears, that of losing the sense of self, one’s sense of identity, our very coherence of reason itself, by the mere suggestion that there is far more to this world, this unimaginably vast, cold universe, than meets the eye. That in those spaces which we can sense but cannot see, there are beings that lurk, so alien, to encounter them directly would be enough to destroy the delicate balance of one’s mind forever. At least one such victim does shop at Page 45, I think, and he once engaged me in a conversation regarding Lovecraftian characters in such a manner I was left thinking he quite believed they were absolutely real… I kid you not.

[Editor: he told me he began reading Lovecraft aged 4. It showed.]

That very variety and complexity also means Lovecraft is very hard to adapt, of course. In every case I think Ian has done an incredible job deconstructing the work, really allowing the core story to stand out in a manner which makes it sufficiently rich and rewarding enough for the aficionados but also completely accessible for the neophytes. I would be astonished were there not readers out there who have been occasioned to commence reading Lovecraft prose on the basis of encountering these adaptations.

So… Randolph Carter begins to search for the hidden city of Kadath because he has dreamt three times of its glorious spires but awoken each time abruptly just before he can reach it. Repeated prayers to the gods of dream go unanswered, even for the next issue of SANDMAN: OVERTURE to finally arrive, but Carter resolves to find Kadath, no matter what the cost.

What follows is a strange, shifting journey, that on the face of it makes no sense at all, but viewed within the confines of the sleeping world seems not so fanciful at all. Along the way he will encounter strange entities and apparitions, some rather less friendly to travellers than others, and also the sinister Nyarlathotep in more than one of his many guises. Carter, desperate to tread the streets of the hidden city at last, is rather more trusting than he really ought to be. Obsessed, he starts to believe that there could be no possible fate worse than not reaching Kadath. He ought not to be so sure about that…

I can imagine this may well have been the most fun of the adaptations for Ian to undertake, from the perspective of the illustration, because there are the elaborate soaring sequences of pure fantasy which must have been a true delight to envisage. In fact, the book is arguably simply one long fantasy sequence. It’s certainly not as dense or intricate a story as many of his others, a fact which Lovecraft acknowledged during his lifetime, but it is an immensely vibrant, fevered construction, which engenders a sense of both wonderment and unease in the reader, and Ian captures this beautifully with his stygian, soporific cast and wild dreamscapes and netherworlds.

The wonderment comes because we are willing Carter along on his extraordinary journey, but also significant unease because we can see his most fervent desire is blinding him to both obvious dangers at virtually every turn, but also the malevolent, manipulative wiles of others, not least Nyarathotep. Will Carter finally reach Kadath? Well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil it for you would you? Suffice to say nothing is quite as it seems, with an ending that is in some ways as puzzling as it is enlightening, which I think is very appropriate indeed for the resolution to this most unusual of quests.

A true triumph once again, this adaptation, and I personally think Ian deserves great praise indeed for his own unique addition to the Cthulu mythos, which I believe all true Lovecraft fans will rightly hold in the highest regard.

JR

Buy HP Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories h/c SIGNED & SKETCHED IN and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 3 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood…

“That was a total flop. You saw the way she was holding me?”
“Oh, I saw it… Now I’m wondering when you’ll finally get over yourself and ask her out?”
“Fuck you.”
“Hot sweaty bodies colliding roughly… if it’s not love, it’s lust, admit it.”
“She’s from Seattle. I do not date Flounders. The way you let her score on you, you’re one to talk.”
“That sounds like jealousy to me.”

P.I. Dex Parios returns, and in a football-related story to boot! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, I’ll give myself a stern talking to, and a yellow card…

Ah, I really wish Rucka would make this an ongoing monthly series, his characterisation and dialogue are superb. He’s also got an artist to match his talents in Justin Greenwood, who also illustrated Antony Johnston’s THE FUSE.

 

 

This case opens with Dex playing in goal against the lovely ladies of Seattle Muddy Balls. Still, her team is called Reál Pain, which isn’t much better frankly, but considerably more classy than FC Vagisil, which was the name of my friend’s Sunday league team for a number of years… But, as Dex has to point out to her teammate Hoffman, it’s just a game. Hoffman, in the vein of Shankly, disagrees vehemently, and if you know the rest of Bill’s famous quote you might have half an idea where things are going…

After her kickabout, Dex is off to take her younger brother Ansell to the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Flounders local derby. It’s a fiery affair to be sure, as much off the pitch as on it, I hadn’t realised Americans soccer crowds had become so skilled in the art of verbally abusing the opposition supporters as their transatlantic cousins. It quite took me back to my own salad days of terrace serenading. The first issue of this volume concludes with Dex’s friend Mike being found near the stadium, having taking a serious beating. On the face of it, it’s a simple case of hooliganism, but of course there’s much more to it than that.

I really feel like Rucka is back on track with the emotional components of this series again after STUMPTOWN VOLUME TWO where I can’t say I really warmed to anyone, and Dex herself felt somewhat peripheral to the main action. Dex and her brother are key elements of what makes this title so interesting so I’m pleased the focus, for this first issue at least, is squarely on them.

I am also extremely happy Justin Greenwood is on board for this arc. It’s exactly what this title required art-wise to bring it back to the forefront of crime comics. Clearly they’ve decided to go for a less gritty and more colourful approach, but Justin’s style still adds a hard-nosed edge to proceedings.

All that remains now is to leave you with that classic parting shot by Bexsy (Gary Oldman) from what remains to this day, hands down my favourite football hooligan film, The Firm. The original from 1989, not the wishy-washy remake from a few years ago. As a young lad skirting around the periphery of football related violence back in the late 80s, early 90s, well, trying to avoid it at all costs frankly, his terrifying performance was seared into my mind’s eye creating a football hooligan bogeyman potentially lurking around every corner at away games, tooled up with hammer and Stanley knife, ready to smash me up then cut me to ribbons…

“I come in peace. I leave you in pieces…”

JR

Buy Stumptown vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo

Iron Maiden: Legacy Of The Beast s/c (£8-99, Heavy Metal) by Lexi Leon, Ian Edginton & Kevin West

Konungar: War Of The Crowns s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Sylvain Runberg &  Juzhen

Retrogade Orbit (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Kristyna Baczykski

Royal City vol 3: We All Float On s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Doctor Strange vol 1: God Of Magic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Terrifics vol 1: Meet The Terrifics s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, others

Aposimz vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Escape Journey vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ogeretsu Tanaka

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2018 week one

October 3rd, 2018

Featuring Jon McNaught. Juan Díaz Canales, Jose-Luis Munuera, Andi Watson, Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, José Villarrubia, Kago, and Posy Simmonds with news of her next graphic novel!

Kingdom h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught.

This is sublime.

And it is going to resonate profoundly with almost every single one of you, for it’s the most astutely observed and skilful evocation on paper – through light, colour, carefully regulated pacing and that which is said and sometimes left sullenly unsaid – of sights, sounds, sensations and behavioural moments during a key time common to us all.

These are the four chapters: ‘To the Sea’, ‘Landmarks’, ‘Passing Time’, ‘The Waves’.

So how were your family holidays, as a child aged perhaps seven, ten or thirteen, and what lasting memories of them do you retain?

They’re about to come flooding back in the most minutely discerned detail!

‘To the Sea’

They set off in silence – the mum, son and daughter – though you can almost hear the drone of the traffic on the morning motorway.

 

 

McNaught nails the temperature and time of day through the angle of the shadows cast by the sun, the cars almost hovering over asphalt which is as pitted in the sunshine as it is pock-marked in the shade. And cars do glide now, don’t they, such is their suspension? We hear so much less of our own vehicle’s engine while inside, and although we are looking down from without on that page, it is the senses of the drivers and passengers which are paramount in successfully communicating this experience.

And, oh, the colours!

They may not actually set out in silence, but it’s that lull-time part of the journey which we come in on. Gazing out of the car window as a child on such a long journey, we see exactly what we did or would now of Britain’s countryside from a motorway: glimpses of grazing sheep between monumental overpasses or gigantic pylons overhead, their arms outstretched, perhaps a brief glimpse of oh no it’s gone! When you’re young (so reasonably unseasonably travelled) that which is mundane to adults all seems so much stranger, more exotic and even exciting.

You know, for the first few furlongs, at least.

Then there’ll be rain. Of course there’ll be rain! It’s British Summertime and you’re off on your holibobs! There’ll be lashings more of that later, I’m sure! So there’s the odd horse suffering in water-drenched silence and you look into the back seat of the family saloon and it’s already cluttered with empty Haribo packets and a bottle of juice just lolling about, back and forth on the floor. The windscreen wipers reveal what they can rhythmically, then eventually there’s drowsiness, sleep. Mum checks her rear-view mirror….

 

 

“Four more hours!?” the son bleated earlier. “Why’re we going somewhere so far away?”
“Well, it’s a great place! You guys will love it! … It was my favourite place in the world when I was your age.”

Ah, but so much more has changed in the two or three decades than it had when I were a lad. A mobile phone signal wasn’t exactly a priority back then.

Their destination is a coastal caravan park. And, oh, the colours (reprise)!

 

 

How do you think they’ll get on?

As the sun sets on their first night and the lights go on one by one, through like intimate orange heat sensors below the vast purple heavens, that too is rendered magnificently, with a majesty or melancholy, you take your pick.

 

 

The next morning Mum takes Suzie on An Expedition (capitals courtesy of ‘Winnie The Pooh’) because Andy’s “being awkward”. The boy’s now just a little too old to be interested in a family holiday and wants to be left to his own devices.

“If we keep heading this way, we’ll get to the Mermaid’s Cave! That’s what your Grandpa used to call it! He used to tell us about the mermaids who lived there… guarding the treasure. He said you could hear them singing at night. If you listened carefully.”

Suzie’s spotted a crab.

“Eugh.”
“What?”
“This one’s had its legs bitten off.”

Way to ruin the romance! But the Mermaid’s Cave, when they reach it, will surprise you and twice. It’s priceless, really.

It’s all very pertinent, poignant, bitter-sweet and of course some aspects of magic are, one prays, immutable and universal, like the sparkles of sun on wavering water when the sun lies so low in front of you.

 

 

Just the other day I sat staring at a long stretch of river, then lapping lakes, in precisely those dazzling conditions, absorbed by the sun falling full on my face while the cool blowing breeze set my spine off all tingling. McNaught’s diamond-shaped spangles of light capture that very specific, sensual beauty to nothing short of a thrilling perfection. There are even whole sheets of white light when the brilliance of sun upon water becomes almost too much for the unshielded eye to bear, and we love it!

It is oh so familiar, all of this – an almost impossible task, you would have thought, given the different configurations of diverse family dynamics and destinations, but McNaught has improbably succeeded through an extraordinarily keen eye, judicious selection and an uncanny ability to render with exquisite precision what to most of us would be fleeting and ephemeral or at least not quite communicable – and I am desperately looking forward to comparing notes with as many of you as possible, page by page and perhaps over a glass of wine, to see which instances you recognise most as well.

This, for example:

Visiting an elderly Great Auntie whom you’ve never met, with their drab rooms and fuddy-duddy old ornaments; your Mum and her Aunt chatting away about people you’ve no clue nor a care about. You’re left to look around the room, idly. Ah, but a tin of biscuits will be opened to go with the tea!

“There we go… There might be some chocolate ones in there… if you dig down deep enough.”

 

 

Over and over again, McNaught nails it. These are my memories. Only with more moths and spiders, and I don’t I ever saw the ramshackle roof of an ancient local museum glass cabinet, with its stray wires etc.

That it’s a single mum makes for a particular dynamic which is really quite sad, for there’s no sharing of the onus to keep the kids constantly entertained, but nevertheless it all rings so very true.

“Suzie, don’t waste your fries.”
“I’m not.”

She is. She’s flinging them at the crows. But don’t you just love the way that kids are so very contrary that they will blatantly lie to your face?

“Stop kicking my chair!”
It’s the back of Suzie’s big brother’s passenger seat.
“I’m not!”

She is.

What do you think Andy’s been up to?

 

 

Few creators pack the page with as many panels as this (Chris Ware, quite often, within the likes of BUILDING STORIES) but then there’s so much to see when you do have the time to stop and look around you, or when times stops to pass so seemingly slowly when you’re very young. Nature is forever getting on with its own thing, whatever you’re doing or not.

There are also some spectacular full-page phenomena which I won’t give away here for fear of ruining your surprise. But you mark my words: you’ll remember it all.

You’ll remember the rain, especially. It’s a staple of every British holiday, holed up in a tent, caravan or rented cottage and – once on the road, decisively – cramped in the confines of car, having beaten a hasty retreat from a harbour or seafront to eat your boiled eggs while staring out of the increasingly steamed-up windows.

And this will be remembered forever, as an all-time British classic.

 

 

Jon McNaught has exceptional award-winning form already, but at the time of typing all his other graphic novels – like Andi Watson’s and Nabiel Kanan’s mainstream British fiction – languish sadly out of print. Here’s hoping that this is the book which will catalyse a mass resurrection so that we can proudly create an entire Jon McNaught counter-corner display!

SLH

Buy Kingdom h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rose (£2-99, self-published) by Andi Watson ~

“You rent a new place.
“It is conspicuously cheap.”

Who could resist? Especially in this housing market! I’ll take whatever I can get my hands on, personally, and if that turned out to be a monolithic European-style castle I certainly wouldn’t say no. But first the garden may need tending, just a little, and the rooms will certainly need a thorough dusting. With a new home this vast, exploring is a must; who knows what secrets a building like this could hold?

“She doesn’t know you’re here.
“She had a shiny bead of blood on the tip of her finger.
“No need to tiptoe around.”

At first glance this is seemingly merely a fresh take on ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ fable. We are presented with the familiar story from the perspective of an unsuspecting chap who simply needs a place to rent. Bemused by the sheer amount of dusting, and entirely clueless as to what, or more precisely who, lies hidden within his new home… until he stumbles across her… he nevertheless takes it all in his stride, over time finding himself becoming her valiant caretaker.

 

Look! Free sketches (left) in the entire Andi Watson Collection!

 

But this is a society with the slight quirk of having princes in abundance, all of whom are now attempting to break into our young protagonist’s new digs for their chance to awaken the fair maiden and claim her as their own. At first he simply calls the police and lets the flowers grow back a bit, but soon the princes start pushing their luck…

Deceptively gentle, you’ll be drawn in by wonderfully tender moments such as the perfectly content dormouse nestled in the snoozing beauty’s hair. But don’t be fooled as this is not a love story, for it wouldn’t be an Andi Watson comic if things were as straightforward as that! Consider it more of a cautionary tale of the potent effects of falling in love, of obsession, and of possession. Tread carefully, new renter, or you might not get your deposit back…

For another view-askew of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, please see Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE.

For more of his mini-comics, please see our burgeoning Andi Watson Collection, the first of which we made our last Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

JP

Buy Rose and read the Page 45 review here

Infidel (£14-99, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell with José Villarrubia.

“My mother’s all about obsessing over shadows in a room full of light. We’re not doing that to Leslie.”

There’s so much humanity and individuality in Aisha’s face, there, as she talks to her best friend, Medina. Her mouth lies slightly open and gentle, but her eyes gaze into the distance, the future, determined. On the previous page – in recollection of her mother – Aisha’s shoulders were slumped while leaning forward, with the weight of having been rejected. But she will not give up on her mother-in-law.

One of the many wonders of this is that the evidence remains deeply ambiguous as to whether Aisha is being too trusting and optimistic, or whether her fiancé Tom knows his own mum better than she does.

What could any of this possibly have to do with a horror comic?

 

 

Well, there are so many more horrors other than the occult or the alien. There is uncertainty and vulnerability, not knowing if you can trust someone: the threat of harm, physical or otherwise, can be just as frightening as its actuality. Ask anyone who’s ever worried about being bullied at school the next day, for hours upon end, day after day. Or read JANE, THE FOX & ME.

Aisha is confident that Leslie’s no threat, either to herself or to her step-daughter, Kris, even in the knowledge of what’s gone before, but her university friend also has substantial doubts and we, the audience, are privy to some extra moments which they are not.

Secondly, there’s the very real, current and all too enduring horror of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia: ignorance voiced with pride, spread sheep-like by osmosis or deliberately through disinformation as a virus which currently culminates increasingly not decreasingly in America, England and some parts of wider Europe in extreme intimidation and outright violence: beatings, acid attacks, murder and mass, white-supremacist terrorism.

But equally there is the horror for Aisha of being rejected by her mother simply for becoming engaged to a non-Muslim, Tom, no matter how devout she’s remained.

What’s this series called again?

 

 

Then, of course, there is absolutely the horror of the creeping, the intangible and supernatural against which we have no defence. Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you. If no one else experiences what you do, then you go through it alone. That, I would suggest, is the ultimate horror, and this book racks that up to almost unbearable degrees, on multiple occasions, in from several different viewpoints, as you shall see.

Aisha is experiencing nightmares. They’re growing increasingly vivid and intense. A corpse-white cadaver wraps itself around her, draining her sleep and suffocating what’s left with its cloying stench of rotting meat. Ghastly grey hands creep over her shoulders and thighs, an intimacy of the unknown, invading her like an incubus with cold hands, cold fingers, cold heart.

 

 

Ah yes, that which cannot be fought or reasoned with. With that we come back again to real-life horror: those who are violent that cannot be reasoned with on the street, at work, in your home. It’s chilling.

Aisha, Tom and Kris have relatively recently moved into Tom’s mother’s apartment on the top floor of a tenement building on the Lower East Side which was the target of a bombing attack. I spotted the smoke stains on the very first page past the prologue, rising from the top of the fourth-storey windows.

 

 

It’s there on the metal shutters on the ground floor too. The bomber was verified by law enforcement as a lone wolf, but they had once glanced at an ISIS website, so you know how that goes…  Now the tenement has few tenants left for it is far from repaired, and some of those that remain, well, they don’t like seeing a Muslim of colour and Pakistani origin climbing their rickety stairs. There is still so much anger, and even if hatred is suppressed then it will usually out somewhere, somehow.

I swear to whatever (if any) god you believe in that INFIDEL has been ridiculously well thought through and comes with a sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives, for the final irony is that it is non-Muslim Tom, Aisha’s fiancé, who is so determined to protect Aisha and respect her faith along with its sacred traditions that he is the one fighting her corner against his own mother, Leslie. He was reluctant to move his family in because Leslie used to poison his daughter with sweeping Islamophobic slurs, as if all Muslims obeyed barbaric laws, condoned or actively encouraged terrorism. For example when Kris once played with Aisha’s hijab:

“Women who wear this let people get killed for drawing cartoons. They let men throw rocks at girls like you!”

 

 

But to Aisha that was two years ago, she believes Leslie has learned and that it’s vital that Kris know her grandmother because her biological mother died so early that Kris can’t even remember her.

The first chapter begins in paranormal terror and it climaxes in paranormal terror, before an even more awful real-world ellipsis of a cliff-hanger which could have gone any number of ways, but it is completely eclipsed by the second chapter’s real-world ramifications, which will have you screaming in vicarious terror. Now that is emotional investment.

 

There’s a sequence in the third chapter which perfectly exemplifies the “sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives” I mentioned earlier which especially needs commending without, I hope, giving away that gut-wrenching ending to chapter two.

It involves Haley, one of the tenement’s other occupants whom Aaron Campbell does a masterful job of depicting at her most genuine, natural, open, friendly – in fact bubbly – as she meets and greets Medina, Aisha’s best friend and fellow Muslim, thanking effusively her helping to carry in shopping.  Haley is blonde; Haley is white. The dialogue is so cleverly directed during a single page from the brightest of bright which should lift anyone’s soul when it comes to kindness and inclusivity… to the darkest of dark, at its most abrupt, in the most awful accusation of racism, at its most personal.

 

 

Haley, you see (and this is where I have to be careful not to give the game away), has accused Aisha – to others – of something truly hideous. But the thing is, Haley doesn’t have a racist bone in her body and has only reported precisely that which she’s seen. She just didn’t see what Aisha saw.

At which point I’d remind you of what I wrote earlier, for it applies to Aisha, to Hayley and will soon to Medina, and it forms the whole heart of the horror here:

“Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you.”

 

 

The argument is reprised six pages later on. Huge props to Pichetshote for giving both scenes – and perspectives – so much punch.

HELLBLAZER used to combine occult and socio-political horror to successful, cathartic effect, but it was always a little bit burlesque because its star, John Constantine was a dabbler in diabolism et al. This is a very different beast, being grounded firmly in the street-level, down in the subway or on the park bench: on what we see all around us right now. I would suggest that the exceptionally uncomfortable paranormal aspect is merely a symptom, side-effect or result of the rot, not its cause, but that which it will come to catalyse only fuels it further.

So it doesn’t make it any less pants-wettingly terrifying or grotesque.

 

I’m sure that I read somewhere that artists and co-collaborators on all aspects of the comic, Campbell and Villarrubia, chose to illustrate all the everyday elements in digital while pulling back to the traditional, more physical art process for the psychically parasitic. They rendered that on Bristol board.

It may seem perverse, but I’ve seen so many other offerings where the purportedly real has been rendered in pen and ink and the preternatural given a computer-driven day-glo and gloss. The result has always been a distancing disassociation between the two elements: here is the real world, but the other is freaky, immaterial so won’t matter to you – they’re special effects, so you don’t empathise.

What Campbell and Villarrubia have achieved, by contrast, is an unholy marriage which makes what would otherwise be ethereal all too sensually and so immediately repugnant, overwhelming and nasty.

So, you know, thanks for that.

SLH

Buy Infidel and read the Page 45 review here

Fraternity h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Juan Díaz Canales & Jose-Luis Munuera…

Whilst the world waits patiently for the concluding volumes six and seven of BLACKSAD (which were meant to be out in French already though there is absolutely no sign of them, so goodness knows how long us Anglophones will have to wait…) at least we have… the forthcoming BLACKSAD UNDER THE SKIN animated movie…

Sorry, got a bit excited there! Doesn’t that trailer look glorious?! Not as remotely fabulous as Juanjo Guarnido’s artwork in the comics, I have to say, but then I don’t believe that would be possible. Anyway, what I meant to say is at least we have this… Here is the rallying call to arms of the publisher to tell us more…

“Fraternity is a haunting horror story written by Juan Diaz Canales the co-creator of the popular BLACKSAD series and illustrated by the talented Jose-Luis Munuera. During the [American] Civil War, the inhabitants of a small frontier town discover a mysterious beast is prowling the forest around them, a beast that may have a connection to a feral child found several years earlier. Fraternity is perfect for fans of the monster genre and people who have a love for the classic universal monster movies as this tale feels like it would have been right at home amount them.”

What that little nugget doesn’t tell you is anything about the small town of New Fraternity, Indiana, where this story takes place. It was founded as a social utopia by a well-meaning idealist where everyone would share in the collective bounty of the community, but the fragile experiment now finds itself on the verge of collapse as food begins to run scarce and those of a more capitalistic mindset start to decide that perhaps a less egalitarian approach is what’s required. To benefit themselves at least… Throw in some hardcore communists, a few American Civil War deserters and of course that mysterious beast and feral child and it’s probably no great surprise when the proverbial powder keg finally ignites.

This is certainly no BLACKSAD, but it is still a well-written western horror mash-up that is far more to do with the malaises afflicting society and the population at large than a lurking monster, who in fact seems to have a far larger heart than pretty much any of the townsfolk.

Art-wise, it’s a nice clean, crisp Euro-ligne combined with a very subdued palette of primarily light brown and pale blue. It’s actually probably more one for those who enjoyed the likes of THE LIGHTS OF THE AMALOU by Christophe Gibelin & Claire Wendling.

JR

Buy Fraternity h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dementia 21 (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Kago…

“I… I don’t understand… There must be some kind of mistake!”
“We’ve had a lot of complaints from your former clients. Mixing up medicines, miscounting calories, allergic reactions… These have cancelled out your high scores.”
“There must be some kind of mistake!”
“At this rate we’ll have to cut your pay. And your bonus.”
“Let me care for them again. I’ll clear this up!”
“Sorry, but they say they never want to see you again. I can’t let you go back now.”
“But… but…”
“So I’m sending you to another client. This is your chance to redeem yourself. Don’t let me down.”
“Yes, sir! I’ll pour my heart and soul into this job!”

“Heh heh. Nice work.”
“Are you happy now? Don’t you think this is a bit cruel? Sending her there?”
“I relish the thought. I hope she turns into a basket case.”

As you might now already suspect, there has indeed been “some kind of mistake”… A dastardly rival to the delightful, devoted Yukie Sakai, beloved by her clients and always winning the coveted Employee of the Month title and bonus, has managed to sexually blackmail the area sales manager into fixing the customer feedback. Gasp!!! So now Yukie’s being sent out on the ‘special’ jobs, the ones that have caused the demise of more than a fair few care assistants…

 

 

Fortunately for Yukie, she’s not just got a heart of gold, she’s got nerves of steel to boot. She’s sure going to need them, though, as the various jobs she’s forced to take by the idiotic area sales manager become ever more surreal and testing on her sanity, not to mention increasingly dangerous to life and limb! We very quickly step out of the realm of realistic horror and into Junji Ito-style darkly comedic shenanigans and indeed full-on body horror. If you are an Ito fan impatiently waiting for his FRANKENSTEIN STORY COLLECTION (later this month!) trust me, this will more than fill the contorted, twisted gap in your head, I mean life…

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently Shintaro Kago refers to his genre of storytelling as ‘fashionable paranoia’. Not entirely sure if something has been lost in translation there or he’s just been hitting the ketamine a bit too hard but if you enjoy seeing others being put through the proverbial meat grinder rather than yourself, this will be perfect for you. I also highly recommend the zombie apocalypse with a twist I AM A HERO, including some very twisted zombies, for body horror fans.

JR

Buy Dementia 21 and read the Page 45 review here

Mrs Weber’s Omnibus (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.

 

 

Rejoice, rejoice! All my Christmas quandaries have been answered once again, in one fell swoop, for this is back in print! I do hope no relatives read my reviews.

“No one reads your reviews, Stephen!”

From Posy Simmonds MBE, the creator of LITERARY LIFE, TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY, I commend to you without equivocation one great big brick of a book, collecting Britain’s best-ever series of self-contained newspaper comic pages. I promise you unfaltering brilliance from cover to cover: a body of work which is both timeless and yet a time capsule of cultural mores as seen in Britain during the 1980s. Improbable, yes; impossible, no – not in the right hands.

Let us take a stroll down any street and eavesdrop on ‘Well Known Facts’. From the mouths of babes…

“But why can’t you walk on the cracks?”
“Because my mum says if you tread on the lines, bears will get you.
“And my mum says if you make a face like that & the wind changes, you’ll get stuck like that for ever & ever!
“And my mummy says if you swallow pips like that, an apple tree’ll grow out of your mouth & suffocate you to death!
“And my mum says if you pick a guinea pig up by its tail, its eyes drop out…”
“Liar!”
“And my mum said if I’m good, the tooth fairy will put 50p under my pillow.”
“Liar Liar! Pants on fire! Nose as long as a Telegraph wire!”
“And my mum says if you unscrew your tummy button, your bottom falls off.”

… and adults alike…

“And my mum says if we have another baby, it’ll bring Mike & me together again.”
“And my doctor says if I had a more positive attitude to motherhood I wouldn’t feel so sick!”
“But my mother said if we stay together, it’ll be better for the children…”
“And my architect friend says if we knock down the front & back, it’ll give us more privacy.”
“And my husband says if he gave up smoking he’d only eat and then die of a fatty heart…”
“… and Peter said if we kept it discreet, Eric wouldn’t suspect a thing!”

That, my friends, is the perfect page of Posy Simmonds: searingly well observed, beautifully composed, artfully juxtaposed, and rammed to its riotous rafters with timeless truths, even when they’re lies. Like husbands fobbing off their wives with transparent lies about where they are and why they’re not home from work on time. God help you, morons.

 

 

There will always be children’s parties to be endured, full of fun, tears and trauma; family holidays with their preparation, packing and inevitable rain-drenched afternoons; the innuendo-obsessed and overenthusiastic soul of the party; editors bleaching authors’ individuality to oblivion in search of commercial conformity; mother-in-laws (and indeed mothers) unsubtly critiquing your house and domestic endeavours; parents judging other people’s parental skills via the behaviour of their children; mothers taking on all the worries of their children, their husbands, their own mothers, their babysitters… even their cats!

But Posy presents all these so wittily, so deftly, so mischievously, and with a lot of lateral thinking!

 

 

Take ‘Lonely Heart’, the heartbreaking ballad of Action Man and his Trudi-Doll – such a sad state of affairs! Once she lay up his manly torso at the top of the toy box, as sexy as a supermodel, then she started wearing his clothes, carrying his gun, and “Finally, last week, she moved into a gyro-powered assault craft, with rotating gun turret”. Truly their fate was in the tiny hands of playful Gods toying with their lives. “I have now moved in with a duck. It is far from ideal.”

There’s also an extended sequence involving Stanhope Wright, advertising executive and serial philanderer (hmm, there’s always one, isn’t there? See TAMARA DREWE), preparing to shoot a soup commercial, and the secretary he ignores in favour of the more flamboyant members of his creative team. Entitled ‘True Love’ (with a softly arched eyebrow), within Janice Brady wistfully daydreams of the boss she believes will one day notice her – the boss who one party did notice her when she nearly caught him snogging at the Christmas works do, and fobbed her off with a jar of stilton. Oh, the jar of stilton – she carries it around with her everywhere! In her dreams she is the irresistible queen of comicbook romance, Posy adroitly shifting styles to nail the hair, the mascara and then, once scorned, the blonde-haired beau who swoops in to make all around jealous, then carry her off into the sunset once tragedy has struck and she lies dying (in her mind) after a triumphant moment of self-sacrifice, trampled to death by a flock of satanic-eyed sheep sent stampeding by a jar of mint sauce.

 

 

Wonderfully ridiculous and yet, if we’re honest, once more absolutely true! I love the predatory Stanhope’s hooked nose and jutting chin, and the addition of red to the black and white pages works wonders.

The real draw and central stars, however, are ex-nurse and aspiring children’s author Wendy Webber and her husband George, a lecturer in Liberal Studies at an unnamed Polytechnic. Here George queues at the student canteen to be served by Marie and prepares a farewell speech in his head. Ah, and the things we dream of saying, but never do and never would!

“As one of the longer-serving lecturers here at the Poly… it is my great pleasure to remind the Staff & students that, after 15 years’ survive, Marie is going to New Zealand… and, therefore, things in the canteen can only get better…
“I think one can say that, during Marie’s despotic reign, never in the field of institutional cooking has so much food been left by so many… I for one will not miss her air of truculence, her fault finding, her inability to give the right change… I won’t miss her rudeness, her racism, her petty economies & above all, her congealing food, cooked & served in PURE BILE!”
“Go on! Take it! What d’you think I am??”

Lethal, I’d have thought.

 

 

Wendy and George are children of the ‘60s with children in the ‘80s, striving to live lives informed by those original ideals while passing them on to their children. Dispelling the taboo of boozums comes back to bite George when on the bus with young Benji, who can’t help but speak his little mind! Wendy despairs at the ignorance, petty parental prejudices and outright racism she sees outside the school gates when the scandal of headlice and nits starts doing the rounds. They are dismayed as city dwellers buy up seaside cottages and visit for just three weeks a year. They cater for neighbourly street parties while teenage Belinda, post-punk as you like, scowls at her parents disdainfully, resentfully, critically. Belinda is full of wrong-headed rebellion – a superficial elitist spouting social reform while practising none of it, snapping at her parents’ community-orientated offerings like their home-made wine and striding off to drink Pimms instead.

 

 

Simmonds’ layouts are impeccable: she always manages to pack in far more information on a page than you’d imagine possible whilst clearing the deck off all clutter – no extraneous self-indulgence here. Her characters are never caricatures – not even the boisterous and bulbous-nosed whisky salesman Edmund Heep – but full of humanity and individuality, and I particularly love Wendy Weber’s eyes drawn as dots on her glasses. The prevailing fashions and fabrics of the day are nailed, as are the day-to-day details of domestic routine on the early diary pages: appointments, phone numbers, rotas and little money sums. “Yes, yes, yes!” I cried when I saw the table keeping track of which of offspring had encountered which childhood diseases (chicken pox, measles, German measles and mumps) and so grown immunity.

 

 

So much here will strike familiar family chords: burst pipes, nativity plays, learning lines for school – the days when banks kept the hours they pleased rather than actually catering for their customers.

On top of that, over-analytical George is a hoot, seeing complex socio-political messages in a simple bourgeois and bucolic fabric pattern. Here an old friend from the sixties is over, hoping to join George on his faculty, and George cannot resist another opportunity for purple pontification:

“Wear a suit by all means, but don’t cut your hair! The Dean & the interviewing panel may draw probalistic inferences from your hair… Seen structurally, the pig tails signifies an identification with the North American Indian – giving you a political dimension. And you’ve got a rubber band round your hair… Rubber is a symbol of the mechano-cultural colonisation, compounded by rape, of the Amazon by Europeans! And your pigtail will link you in the Dean’s mind with his interdisciplinary here: Benjamin Franklin.”
“But, Dad, the student representatives on the panel will look at his hair & think: Boring, Geriatric old Hippy.”

That was indeed Belinda, yes. Her boyfriend Jasper is pretty exasperating too, but also prone to bursts of eloquence which may miss the point but certainly hit the mark. What a way to speak to your in-laws, eh?

“That’s a typical remark of you woolly liberals! Look at you! All your soft, frayed, faded, patched, ethnic, woolly, comfortable, old clothes sum up your attitude to life!
“Whenever controversy comes you way, you swaddle it in woolly deference and smother it in a cushion of irreproachable tolerance!
“You bile never bubbles! Your gorge never rises… your blood never boils! …because you sit on the bloody fence. You’re… TEPID!”

Exit Jasper & Belinda. I leave the last word to Mrs. Weber.

“That Belinda’s metallic pants & Dagger heels… Jasper’s piranha-teethed zips & crushing boots point to a life of unrestrained aggression? People like that meet violent ends!”
“And what happens to woolly liberals?”
“Ah, woolly liberals! An agonising death… We get moth eaten…”

 

 

Posy Simmonds’ CASSANDRA DARKE arrives on November 11th 2018, and it’s brand-new, not previously serialised, as others have been, in The Guardian.

SLH

Buy Mrs Weber’s Omnibus and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Tales From The Inner City h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan

Conspiracy Of Ravens h/c WITH FREE, EXCLUSIVE PAGE 45 SIGNED BOOKPLATE (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Leah Moore, John Reppion & Sally Jane Thompson

The Wicked + The Divine vol 7: Mothering Invention s/c (£15-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Annie Sullivan & The Trials Of Helen Keller s/c (£10-99, Disney) by Joseph Lambert

Bastard (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Max de Radigues

Brat h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Five (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Castle In The Stars vol 2: The Moon-King h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Alex Alice

The Complete Angel Catbird s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Harrow County vol 8: Done Come Back s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

The Nameless City vol 3: Divided Earth (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks

Passing For Human h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Liana Finck

Square Eyes h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Luke Jones & Anna Mill

Stumptown vol 3 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood

Batman: White Knight s/c (£16-99, DC) by Sean Murphy

Teen Titans vol 3: The Return Of Kid Flash s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by various

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Avengers vol 1: The Final Host s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Sara Pichelli

Doctor Strange vol 2: City Of Sin s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Niko Henrichon, Frazer Irving

Devilman Vs. Hades vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai &  Team Moon

Erased vol 5 h/c (£12-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanbe

Your Lie In April vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa

Your Lie In April vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa

Your Lie In April vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2018 week four

September 26th, 2018

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies comes with a free signed bookplate exclusive to Page 45.

Sean Phillips and Jake Phillips will be signing and sketching and colouring in My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival from 10-30am to 12-noon on Sunday 14th October.

Published Wednesday 10th October, here’s your full review, a fortnight early.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies h/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jake Phillips.

“I was much further out than you thought
“And not waving but drowning.”

 – Stevie Smith, ‘Not Waving But Drowning’,1957

“Hey, I never said I had a drug problem.
“That’s everyone else’s opinion.”

–  Ellie on the cover, to eighteen-year-old handsome lad Skip, inside.

Inside a palatial, five-grand-a-week rehab clinic, to be precise, with colonnades and balustrades, encircling protective wings, poplars and locked gates.

To herself: “And I sure as hell am not planning on getting sober.”

That’s a lot of money to throw away without any intention of detoxifying. So what’s Ellie really up to, and why did she scope out every other patient’s private files the night that she was admitted?

 

 

A few years ago, Sean Phillips – Ed Brubaker’s creative partner on the emphatically noir CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED – asked Ed to write him a romance comic. Sean: “And this is as close as he could get.”

Previous efforts haven’t been promising for the protagonists involved. Romance in comics rarely ends well in any event, but FATALE proved particularly problematic for the men caught blinking in Josephine’s headlights, while the whole crux of CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT was one man’s attempt to reverse his wrong romantic turning at the crossroads of life by running over his wife… metaphorically speaking.

 

 

But this is indeed, on the surface at least, a strikingly different beast, so Sean Phillips has shifted gears accordingly, and startlingly, away from the twilight world of long shadows and motive-masking, half-lit faces to spot-blacks for some clothing, but otherwise crisp lines and clear forms. These are left open for Jake to dapple and daub with sprays of light blue, silky cream, pinks and admittedly bruised purple. I love that the walls have almost been sponged.

Is it just an affectation of innocence? Surprisingly, predominantly, no – it’s the evocation of a youthful innocence retained against all odds.

The first surface we encounter is the cover. I could be wrong but it bears a striking resemblance to Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Blue Marilyn, 1964’, only less lurid. That was rendered after her death, and innocent the image is not. Here all the knowing guile is gone, replaced by wide-open eyes, the face-on portrait bathed under watery waves of light – although it is still quite the poker-face, no?

Young Ellie’s not lost, but she is perhaps rudderless, without an anchor, parental, guardian or otherwise.

 

 

Inside the combined effect of clean line and colour, as well as Ellie’s hair, smacks to me of 1970s fashion advertising and romance comics, as evoked / referenced so often by Posy Simmonds (LITERARY LIFE, TAMARA DREWE, GEMMA BOVERY and especially the relevant, pastiche passages of the MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS). Innocence, once more.

All this in unexpected and clever contrast to the central theme of drug dependency: that’s what they’re all holed up in rehab for after her all, and Ellie’s heroes have indeed always been junkies, including Van Gogh. As they drive off into a sunset (of course they do – at least, halfway through) there’s a page dedicated to the artist’s perceptions as enhanced by absinthe and digitalis, and Jake Phillips earns every penny that I hope you’ll throw their way in the most arresting, full-colour, Vincent Van flourish.

 

 

So yes, you may perhaps have spied a few preview pages before now and believe you’ve caught Ellie and Skip, thrown together and on the run from a society which simply doesn’t understand their mutual intoxication and drug-addled ways, then taken Ed and Sean at their word that this is a traditional romance / crime combo. And there is romance in being outside the law – all the romance in the world in setting yourself contra mundum.

However, however, this is Ed Brubaker.

While Ellie may be romancing 18-year-old Skip in the clinic, she’s more than a little perturbed to find herself falling for him. Also, as I’ve suggested, she’s more interested in romanticising her own past and all the soulful singer-songwriters whom her dead junkie mum once worshipped. It’s her rebellious inheritance, if you like. Ellie’s not above singing their praises, either, in group therapy, extolling the virtues of that which everyone else is in there to quit.

“It’s like Keith Richards said… The worst thing you can say about heroin will still make somebody want to try it… I mean, talking about dope just makes you want to do it… It’s like a worm in your brain. And it seems like being sober is just constantly talking about all the times you got high. So how stupid is that?”

 

 

Group leader Mitch is getting ruffled, but Ellie is just getting started. She’s on a roll.

“And why do we automatically assume that getting clean is this great thing?
“What if drugs help you find the thing that makes you special?”

I do love the way in which young, be-quiffed Skip is enjoying these iconoclastic moments, with quiet, corner-mouthed smiles to himself. Hey, he’s a teenager, a virtual synonym for rebellion, and Ellie knows precisely what she is doing, twitching that particular, fly-adorned, hook-hidden line.

She’s going to cite Lou Reed and David Bowie in a moment, isn’t she? I remember an interview with Bowie some 35 years ago in which he refused to apologise for the promise that he would never again put take such elephantine quantities of horse simply to create another ‘Scary Monsters’ album. And I can’t say I blame him – it wouldn’t have been us who’d have to suffer the subsequent withdrawals – but a world without ‘Hunky Dory’ or ‘Scary Monsters’ doesn’t really bear dreaming about.

 

 

Anyway, in stark contrast to the feathered, sky-bright colours of blue and yellow and pinks which radiate Ellie’s seemingly unclouded optimism, her recollections are framed in funereal black and shaded in a grey which we associate with the past. There she laments the fate of the recording artists featured on a mix-tape her mum made for her dad who was languishing in prison. They were every one of them drug addicts. One of her mum’s favourite albums was recorded by Billie Holiday who was arrested in a hospital bed for possessing narcotics, and died handcuffed, under police guard, after they’d forced the doctors to stop giving her methadone. Holiday’s own dad had fared little better, having been refused treatment at a ‘Whites Only’ hospital. The link between them was the song ‘Strange Fruit’, and mum would listen to Billie Holiday while staring out of at the rain, when Ellie was four-years-old.

“That was the year I learned what a junkie was.”

 

 

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that both you and Ellie were finally going to be forced wide awake by a brutal memory to puncture Ellie’s almost determined dreamlike reverie, but instead you are treated to yet another rose-tinted spectacle of almost supernatural beauty.

So what did Sean Phillips mean, by “this was as close as he could get”?

Where is the come-down, the crash, the fatal flaw which almost always propels the protagonists in noir to fuck things up for themselves, good and proper?

It’s all there if you read carefully enough, early on, only to resurface a little later.

 

 

“It’s a dream, living like this… But I start to think, why do dreams have to end?
“I hear Judie Garland in my head, singing about a faraway land, where troubles melt like lemon drops… and bluebirds fly.
“Judy was caught in the pull between downers and amphetamines as she sang that, of course. Maybe that’s why it sounds so true.
“But anyway, my troubles aren’t the kind that melt away.
“They’re the kind that follow you.
“Even over the rainbow.”

SLH

Buy My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Please note: Published Wednesday 10th October, you can pre-order this exclusive edition now and select Worldwide Shipping, Collect In Store or Collect In Kendal, postage free. We’ll simply bring your bookplate edition along with us for you to read and get sketched in by Sean and Jake at the Lakes Festival. Hooray!

Agrippina Arithmetic (£2-99) by Andi Watson ~

“You have a mother and a father, three brothers, two sisters, two husbands, a cousin, an uncle, a son and five canines.”

No, this is not the beginning of one of those convoluted math problems that plagued our childhood classrooms, though you would certainly be forgiven for thinking so. This is the title story ‘Agrippina Arithmetic’; a tale of a domineering young woman, her somewhat unconventional family, and power. You are the empress Agrippina, a woman of great beauty and an extra canine in her upper jaw (apparently held as a symbol of good fortune, but that would certainly depend on your perspective of things.) A catalogue of chaos, this is the story of the demise of one of ancient Rome’s most prominent families and the empress in the shadows of a tyrannical son. And you’ll be glad of that math-problem-style opening. Recurring throughout, it poetically punctuates the timeline, centralising the many characters packing the pages of this ominous tale.

 

 

Another delightful display of diversity, Andi has once again presented us with a wonderfully eclectic mix of mini-comics. After Ancient Rome we’re jettisoned into a haunting short of speculative fiction in ‘The Future’s So Bright’, followed by a melancholic, mid-century number ‘The Picture’ with aesthetics very reminiscent of ASTERIOS POLYP.

 

 

Finally, we are grounded back in present day with ‘Speak Your Weight’; a humorous perspective of that all too relatable moment in our lives of taking those tentative steps onto the bathroom scales. I certainly know which one speaks to me, and it is the succinct statement of “hummus”.

JP

Buy Agrippina Arithmetic and read the Page 45 review here

Vern And Lettuce (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Sarah McIntyre.

I’ve only just spotted it, but stairs!

Those tiny bunnies are forever finding stairs to bounce down!

You may by now be more familiar with Vern and with Lettuce from Sarah McIntyre’s 2018 picture-book pleasure THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wrapped its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers and comes (at the time of typing) with free signed bookplates designed exclusively for Page 45 by La McIntyre herself.

This, then, is a reprint of those characters’ earliest appearances in fully fledged comics, a long lost treasure rescued from legal-rights limbo by Bog Eyed Books publisher Gary Northfield, creator of the equally exuberant DEREK THE SHEEP and so much more that you can find reviewed in Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Collection Section.

I’ve found the graphic novel’s original review by our Tom who left to become a chef, so I’m going to adapt a few of his choice cuts to bounce off myself.

“Vern is a park keeper, trimming its grass, a job that doubles as an all-you-can-eat buffet when you’re a sheep. All he normally has to worry about are biker moles wrecking his immaculate green.”

 

 

Yup, you can really plough a furrow on a Harley-Davidson. I love the way that they’re treated throughout like Hells Angels – the underground movement of the animal kingdom!

If you look closely during the fairground escapade you might spot an un-signposted background joke as the everyday anarchists engage in a gleeful game of whack-a-mole.

“His neighbour, Lettuce, in the flat below, is the oldest daughter in a huge family of bunny rabbits, who is constantly lumbered with looking after her many excitable, poopin’ brothers and sisters.”

They call Vern their uncle, in the way that you do some family friends, and oh the dedicated sacrifices that Vern often makes! “Unca Vern, can we plait your hair?” “Uh, ok.” It’s quite the comical make-over. I don’t suppose many of you whippersnappers have caught your mother or even grandmother – let alone your granddads – in curlers, but that’s kind of what happens to Vern, with the additional indignity of finding one of the little bunnies still lurking within.

“I seem to have an ingrown hare.”

Ooof!

 

 

“The early one-page comics here are brisk set-ups for puns, but quickly evolve into clever explorations of stereotypes and prejudices when a family of Polar Bears move into their block after their ice floe melted. It’s snow joke.”

Oh Tom! You’re fired!

It should be noted that Polar Bears aren’t vegetarians, their go-to diet naturally including all sorts of inhabitants native to the land they’ve been displaced from. The popsicles they keep in their fridge-freezer may contain Inuit, innit.

 

 

That’s not the end of the naughtiness, either. One early page presaged by bunnies bouncing and bonking downstairs all higgledy-piggledy (as they do in THE NEW NEIGHBOURS) involves put-upon Unca Vern agreeing to their cake-baking ‘cooperation’.

“We’re here to help!”
“Uh huh.”

Oh dear. There’s quite a left-over mess on the floor of flour and sugar and….

“I didn’t buy any raisins.”
“Sorry, Vern.” “They’re not raisins.”

 

 

The colours are highly unusual, lots of nature-derived blue and green, all suffused with the softest of cream.

Even back then the cartooning was exquisite, Vern’s wool portrayed like some thread-embossed, spiral-patterned duvet. Later there’s a page in which both Vern and Lettuce dress up as extravagantly as Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve do for their kiss-thrilling public appearances!

 

 

My favourite combines composition and colours in the most magical way during a moon-and-star extemporised slumber session that put me in mind of some sort of dimly recalled, mythological Eastern midnight: Vern the sheep stuck most awkwardly up a tree, yet Lettuce reclined, equanimous to it all, her normally never-letting-up brothers and sisters adapting with ease, going native, getting into the swing and hanging upside down from its branches like bats.

“Look, one foot!” one boasts, as if doing a wheelie or something.

 

 

And the gentle social satire never falters, either, with cellophane-packaged super-health foods parodied well ahead of their time in place of what would be far more nutritious, natural and accessible fruit and veg.

For far, far more from Sarah McIntyre, I commend to you all these beautiful books reviewed in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section I’ll just leave you with this insignificant little observation which I believe is no more than the most magical of typically fortuitous serendipities: the very last panel of VERN AND LETTUCE could be interpreted as leading you straight into the first page of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS, right there on the rooftop!

SLH

Buy Vern And Lettuce and read the Page 45 review here

Follow Me In (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Katriona Chapman…

Well, I think I will, my dear. In fact I did, and was utterly enraptured for the entire 248 pages of Mexican majesty I found within. Long-term Katrionaddicts may recall seeing a sneak peek preview of ten pages in her KATZINE: THE GUATEMALA ISSUE in its pure pencil state without colours. It was a thing of beauty already, but now enriched with lush, soft colours that actually look like they have been done with coloured pencils, it is elevated to a level higher than Popocatépetl itself.

Now, Katriona and her long ago ex-boyfriend Richard Popocatépetl didn’t attempt to scale Popocatépetl, it’s just an active volcanic mountain in Mexico I’ve long held in fond regard for no other reason than my favourite bar in Prague was named after it. A suitable name for a place that could erupt into riotous life at any moment. I once saw a woman dance off the top off a table in there in response to an impromptu nonsensical song my friends and I were regaling the patrons with to accompany a gypsy quartet playing various stringed instruments I’d never seen before nor since… I digress… but I should probably just add the lady in question leapt right back up and carried on dancing. A real trouper…

Before we get back to Mexico proper, Katriona starts us off with what is actually a mini-epilogue in considerably colder climes, a conversation with at that point her most definitely ex, regarding her intentions to produce this graphic novel of their trip together. Over a decade has passed since they went adventuring together, but Katriona feels it necessary to advise Richard, and therefore also the reader, that the book will be quite personal, an allusion to the fact that his excessive drinking was responsible for the deterioration of their relationship. In fact, Richard is completely fine with it, encouraging Katriona to include it. I too, mention this in advance of talking about their trip, because it is a significant sub-plot. Another very fascinating sub-plot is that this trip inspired her to start drawing again. Thank goodness for that!

 

 

Right, Mexico! It’s a country I’ve never visited, despite a deep desire to see the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in the ancient city of Teotihuacan one day. But after reading this work, I want to see far, far more of Mexico and its people! Katriona, in addition to superbly presenting her own travelogue and the beautiful locations she took in also does a brilliant job of highlighting the very diverse and distinct pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures that still exist in Mexico, albeit in localised, often very rural and isolated pockets. It’s a country rich in traditions and steeped in ancient beliefs that a casual visitor would miss. I can honestly see many a reader being inspired to consider a trip there after reading this. I certainly am!

 

 

A perfect example of how to do a travelogue, capturing not only the intensely personal aspects of such a journey – because it is impossible to undertake such a trip and not be changed by the experience – but also the heady combination of cultural diversity and geographical gloriousness of the destinations themselves.

 

 

Note: our initial copies from Avery Hill themselves have been very kindly sketched in by Katriona. Don’t miss out!

JR

Buy Follow Me In and read the Page 45 review here

Marilyn’s Monsters (£22-99, Humanoids) by Tommy Redolfi…

“Holy Wood. The sacred forest.
“The only place that can make a face shine for millions to admire on giant, silver screens.
“Because in the movies, people become larger than life.
“Big enough to be seen and never forgotten.
“It’s a tried-and-true formula.
“Perfect nobodies have often become true symbols of success and happiness.”

A completely different take on perhaps the most famous nobody made good of them all. Here’s the trailer from the Humanoids studio to tell you how this particular type of movie star gets made…

 

 

“The famous Holy Wood Hills. A strange spooky forest filled with freaks and old trailers. This is where movie stars are born in this alternate world. Determined to become one, shy Norma Jean Baker a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe comes to this ghost-town with hopes and dreams. She’ll have to face all kinds of monsters to reach her ultimate goal.”

That she will. But don’t expect ghouls and goblins. There’s the odd classic 1920s-esque cinema freak, for sure, and there is a touch or two of dark magic deployed to spooky effect, but the true LA monsters, as in real life, are of course the movie execs and producers. You will see Norma Jean reborn as the titular blonde bombshell only to die as Marilyn all over again, but just experiencing a very different and primarily first person take on it in doing so.

 

 

Always nice to see someone try to do something a touch unconventional with an established story, especially when the art is as delicate but as dangerous as Marilyn herself. I guess this fantastical fable is intended to come off as a Brothers Grimm-esque fairytale, all dark and brooding with a tragic death awaiting the protagonist. It certainly succeeds in that respect. It’s painful to relieve Norma Jean’s inevitable demise with the ‘monsters’ playing their inevitable parts in any format. But I guess it is good to see that just for once there is no fudged-up Hollywood happy ending!

JR

Buy Marilyn’s Monsters and read the Page 45 review here

Estranged s/c (£11-99, Harper) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

“Oh, oh man. This is just too adorable.”

Alexis is being embraced by both her young brothers, out of their depth, but determined to triumph. It is not a development which will be easily won, not least because, until earlier today, she only knew she had one. And he’s been a bit of a brat.

“Don’t take your pubescent moods swings out on me.”

Now there’s an ace line for any older sisters or brothers to strike back with.

And Edmund isn’t even her real brother. Unfortunately she didn’t know that. Perhaps the publisher can explain?

“Edmund and the Childe were swapped at birth. Now Edmund lives in secret as a changeling in the World Above, his fae powers hidden from his unsuspecting parents and his older sister, Alexis. The Childe lives among the fae in the World Below, where being a human makes him a curiosity at the royal palace. But when the cruel sorceress Hawthorne seizes the throne, the Childe and Edmund must unite on a dangerous quest to save both worlds, even if they’re not sure which world they belong to.”

 

 

We begin down below in the Fae court, a decadent society of preening self-aggrandizement, stifling in its haughty, dismissive sneering mockery which extends from the royal mother to her son.

“Where is it anyway? Fetch the Childe! … There it is, everyone! I present our Childe, a proud knight of the realm!”
*courtly applause*
“You needed me, mother?”
“Did you hear that? It called her “mother”! How precious!”

They are all too aware that the Childe is human, is other, and treat him like a monkey that’s learned to talk. It’s a spectacular realm whose courtyard ceilings are lit with crystal and glass, but there is no sky.

Above ground, however, the first page of chapter two comes as a breath of fresh air, the lines and colour crisply contrasting with what was really rather fetid down there. And the chapter breaks themselves are exquisitely designed, tree roots crawling round grey metal drain pipes.

 

 

The family above have no idea that Edmund isn’t theirs – that he isn’t even human – something which Edmund is desperate to keep a secret, for he treasures all that he has and is terrified of losing it. But he’s experiencing growth spurts and mood swings and, with them, the emergence of pyrokinetic powers he finds impossible to control. So when Childe emerges from down below after his adoptive parents’ throne has been challenged, taken and usurped, desperate to find his “twin” and persuade the Changeling to join them in defying the sorceress, Edmund, to say the least is conflicted.

 

 

There’s a huge heart and tenderness here (the tears are well done), along with some breathtaking art and very fine finery and so much that minded me of Mark Oakley (THIEVES AND KINGS, 3 volumes of STARDROP). In a graphic novel filled with wonders, Aldridge is clever in keeping the greatest spectacles for later. For example, however intriguing the land of the Fae seems to begin with, it is only upon their return that the artist really lets rip with full-page spectacle.

 

 

It’s then that the conflict – already begun up above, endangering Edmund’s family – really begins.

For there be dragons.

 

 

Some of the later more confrontational dialogue / posturing struck me as a touch forced, but there are plenty of ideas I haven’t seen elsewhere, like a city arranged as a set of shelves and the Chylde’s guardian Whick, a wax-candle Golem who’s rendered inert whenever his flame is snuffed out. His hair cascades down in clotted, molten-wax dreads. Superb use of androgyny too.

Young Adults and Adults alike will be staring at the detail for hours.

SLH

Buy Estranged s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Flocks s/c (£19-99, Other A-Z) by L. Nichols…

An extremely affecting auto-biographical work that covers one person’s arduous journey of self-realisation of their trans status set against a relentless backdrop of all too predictable prejudice. With that said, it is chock full of pure spirit-lifting, soul-lightening joy too. Here is a psalm of calm from the publisher’s pulpit to bless you further…

“L. Nichols, a trans man, artist, engineer and father of two, was born in rural Louisiana, assigned female and raised by conservative Christians. Flocks is his memoir of that childhood, and of his family, friends and community, the flocks of Flocks, that shaped and re-shaped him. L.’s irresistibly charming drawings demonstrate what makes Flocks so special: L.’s boundless empathy.”

That is what shines through this work, actually, L.’s empathy and it is indeed boundless. For his parents, his schoolmates, his college friends and even his backwater church congregation and their pastor. It’ll not surprise you the ecclesiastical crew are by far the worst of the bunch when it comes to being, well, ignorant.

Consequently I found chapter three (the book moves forward in chronological order through L.’s life with some very cute photos of him as a child as chapter breaks) particularly affecting where L is determined to reconcile his belief in God, which is very much of the blissful wondrous ‘all-encompassing awe of nature and one’s place in it’ kind, with the word of man, here the local preacher repeatedly railing against the ‘sins of homosexuality’.

 

 

The whole chapter is effectively an extended essay on the subject of L.’s faith versus the prejudice of the preacher, a constant valid point and pointless counter-point which I found extremely powerful indeed. L is certainly a forgiving person who has very clearly realised that prejudice stems from learned and inculcated ignorance, which unfortunately the preacher is doing his very best to pass on to everyone else in the congregation. Still, turning the other cheek and love your enemy and all that is easier said than done, so I am impressed with L.’s clarity of mind and wisdom and above all, compassion.

Maybe one day the proverbial scales will fall from the community’s eyes. If that is eventually going to happen, works like this will certainly have played their part.

The rest of the work details L.’s slightly fraught relationship with his warring parents, who are utterly oblivious of his youthful growing belief that he had to be a lesbian, coupled with his own gradually ever-expanding understanding that the wider world and people outside of rural Louisiana were at least a little more socially enlightened, some of them anyway.

 

 

By the time he got to college, to study engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts, his worldview was beginning to be ever-more rapidly transformed, helping to create an environment for his sense of identity to be also. A triumph of positivity, and indeed, empathy.

JR

Buy Flocks s/c and read the Page 45 review here

As The Crow Flies (£26-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Melanie Gillman.

Long-sought-for-restocks! Hooray!

Do you want something to make your hearts soar and your souls sing?

Melanie Gillman presents you with two hundred and seventy pages of warm, rich, full-colour beauty successfully celebrating the awe-inspiring majesty of nature and the equally impressive ability of young individuals to reach out to one another while keeping you worried that they won’t.

And they don’t, some of them – not to begin with. No one is perfect: we can’t ask for that. People are complex, behaviour can be mean and words very careless indeed.

History and religion are complicated too, and it behoves us all to dig a little deeper. But if you think I’ve already given too much away, oh no: there are many mysteries for you to discover for yourselves, some of which I won’t even allude to here.

 

 

“I always thought that was cute – girls with boys’ names.”

Charlie Lamonte has only just arrived, and is already worried that this was all a massive mistake: electing to spend an entire week at a remote Christian youth backpacking camp where, it transpires, all the other twelve-to-fourteen-year-old girls are white.

Charlie, you see, is black. She’s also self-aware, as painfully self-conscious as any teenager, queer and beginning to question her formerly firm belief in God.

 

 

Not only that, but the other girls have already arrived and seem far more confident than Charlie. A couple of them are quiet and dubious, but others have made friends and are playing cheerfully, energetically, even raucously. What greets Charlie is daunting, to say the least. She’s hoping not to get noticed. She’s hoping not to stand out. She’s hoping to find the reason that she believes she was led here today.

“Please talk to me again.
“Don’t go silent.
“Please.
“Please.
“…
“Don’t leave me here all alone.”

There are admittedly worse things in life, but being alone in a crowd is excruciating, particularly when you are young.

 

 

The early signs are not good. Sydney, 13, is combative, swiftly attracting the contempt of the older, slightly sanctimonious Adelaide and Therese for her age, flat shoes and skirt.

“Who wears a skirt on a backpacking trip??”

Therese and Adelaide pair up fast over supper, establishing a pecking order and bonding over the romance of weddings – so that’s another awkward subject for Charlie (“I’ve never really been the, uhh… marrying type)  – and Adelaide even manages to drop in the word “gay” as a lazy, disdainful pejorative.

 

 

The good news is that this week-long camp is thoroughly feminist and so empowering in nature, which is a refreshing change for such a patriarchal organised religion. Counsellors of Charlie’s six-strong Cherokee group – Bee and her 18-year-old daughter, Penny – are at pains to point out that the backpacking hike that they are all about to undertake together follows in the footsteps of the women of the former gold-mining colony who did all the farming on top of domestic duties and raising as many as seven kids, so found themselves with less time and fewer opportunities than the men to form bonding ties on hunting trips or down the local saloon. Led by a woman called Beatrice, they broke ranks with their husbands to proceed undaunted on an expedition of their own up, up and into the chartered wild, creating their own space right at the range’s apex where they celebrated in a ceremony which the girls at Camp Three Peaks will be re-enacting when they too reach the summit. But both Bee and Penny are determined to keep the nature of that ceremony secret from their young charges, and that gives Charlie some concern, to say nothing of the loaded language used to describe it.

Here’s another mystery: if the wives all defiantly struck out in secret and at night leaving their husbands back at base, who looked after their newly-born babies still needing to suckle?

 

 

The trek is arduous.

Over and again Gillman give us silent panels of huge endeavour emphasising both the scale of what these young women are undertaking, but also the difficulties that they casually encounter along the way. One panel gave me extreme vicarious vertigo.

But the views are epic, they are heavenly, and hues are sublime. Gillman’s softly textured coloured pencils really come into their own as the white-hot disc of the sun sweeps across the sky, casting the farthest, hazy ranges into an otherworldly Martian red while the nearer verdant peaks, denser in rugged detail show off both coniferous green and purple concave shadow. 

 

 

It’s easier for some than for others, but Charlie is finding it particularly problematic: she’s just come into her period a week earlier than expected so hasn’t brought any sanity-towel protection. Already de-hydrating, this loss of blood is both embarrassing to Charlie but also dangerously debilitating, on top of which she’s plagued by the most excruciating cramps. And she is trying to make friends! And not stand out! The last thing she needs is to feel a burden.

She discovers she’s bleeding while assigned to collect and purify mountain water for the group with 13-year-old Sydney who provides her with tissue paper from her backpack as a stop-gap.

“You okay in there?”
“Fine! Just met some too-friendly foliage.”
“Tell it to keep its grubby tree-mitts to itself!”
“Heh.”
“If I’da known, I could’ve gotten you the mace from my bag, too!”
“Mace?”

They don’t collect much water, but at least they’re beginning to bond and Sydney is kind and inclusive.

“I think we’re destined to be terrible water-bearers, you and I.”

 

 

But Charlie’s curiosity won’t go away.

“Okay, I gotta ask – did you actually pack mace?”
“Would it weird you out if I did?”
“I guess I’d just want to know why.”
“… Not everybody’s equally safe in places like this.”

Sydney looks away, cautiously.

Charlie starts to smart.

“What the hell does this girl know about feeling unsafe?” Charlie thinks.

And Sydney looks back.

 

 

 

Yay for Young Adult diversity and friendships! This will sit beautifully on our shelves next to Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS, Maggie Thrash’s HONOR GIRL and the recent, more urban BREAKS by Malin Ryden and Emma Vieceli, for example.

The art could not be more welcoming, the borderless panels radiating with natural beauty of green, gold and brown between clean white gutters. I make no pretence of knowing Gillman’s visual inspiration, I only observe that some of Charlie’s expressions while she and Sydney are (not!) collecting water put me surprisingly in mind of Richard Sala’s. Eyes / nose, everyone?

 

 

What I loved above all about this on top of Sydney and Charlie’s burgeoning trust and innocent collusion is the absence of unquestioned, theological perfection (why does organised religion insist that such an omnipotent being as God even has a limiting gender? – rhetorical) as well as the complete absence of two-dimensional stereotypes set up purely for the purposes of antagonism. People have the ability to disappoint (and I include myself there), but also to surprise and delight you.

Here’s Adelaide, freely admitting that she really needs to work on being mean (which she can be, even to friends):

“Sometimes I think we’re trained to do just that – make friends like we’re jockeying for position.
“By the time you realize it, it’s already become engrained.
“It doesn’t feel very Christian.”

Amen.

SLH

Buy As The Crow Flies and read the Page 45 review here

Beowulf s/c (£17-99, Image) by Santiago García & David Rubin.

“To idly live is to wait for death.”

It won’t be long coming.

I give it three pages.

Even the first eerie offering foreshadows the doom. Lit like Charles Burns, an underground river cascades through a bleak, black cavern below jagged stalactites and knotted, invasive roots. Lurking in the darkness, a pair of glowing, inhuman eyes incarnadine the gristly, reptilian, obsidian flesh surrounding them.

Something has already had its fill.

Up above on the snow-swept, pink-dawn plains something hasn’t so much raised a dog’s hackles as left them buffeted weakly by the wind. A deafening murder of blood-stained carrion crows has formed and is feasting, fighting each other for the most prized pickings: the eyes. There appears to be a lot of carrion.

 

 

 

 

Behind them still stand the fractured remains of the Danes’ banqueting hall of Heorot, if only barely. Its broad timbers have been shattered like wooden toothpicks and smeared with blood.

“Fortune favours the Danes!
“I, Hrothgar, son of Beow, son of Scyld, arrived on these shores in but a humble driftboat…
“Now I lead the Danes’ most glorious era!”

It’s very well done: Hrothgar’s boastful pride is presented through flashback panels embedded above the very same pages on which he discovers its painfully brutal rebuttal in the form of the corpse-ridden obliteration of the very hall which he hailed at the Danes’ greatest glory. It is a perfect piece of juxtaposition, his face falling between past and present as he comprehends his own hubris.

“Who dared massacre our own?” he demands, post-pyre, while we’re shown a sequence of panels inlaid once more above, showing that self-same, limb-rending massacre with mere glimpses of the intruder: a gigantic arm, eyes and teeth which will prove many and set fast in a crocodilian jaw.

 

 

Welcome to a big book of blood, guts and the shredding of sinews. Sinews will feature prominently, as will cleverly inset panels.

The first known manuscript of Beowulf – following many centuries of being passed down through the oral tradition – is dated roughly around 1000 AD. Even once written it preserved the importance of the oral tradition for sung stories featured prominently. These were how names were remembered, how histories were celebrated and how eternal glory became a goal far more treasured than mere trinkets.

“You’ve no debt to my kingdom. Why would you come to die so far from all you know?”
“Eternal glory, M’lord. After all… gold’s spent, life ends. Only glory remains eternal.”

So speaks Beowulf, more than a decade after Hrothgar commanded his finest warriors to seek out the murderous demon Grendel and exact retribution for the massacre.

“May the fury of Danes rain upon the earth.”

It didn’t. They failed. They have since retreated to a fortified town high up an isle like Mont St Michel, only land-bound. Now Beowulf has learned of this Grendel, has come to slay the beast with his bare hands, and as the stranger leads his men up the steep, icy path through its outskirts more inset panels show their own furtive glances and the reception by bird, beast and man alike.

 

 

The very finest deployment of these “windows”, however, lies within a double-page spread of the Danes’ new banqueting hall, glowing red late at night after the warriors have eaten and drunk their fill and lie sleeping on its think-planked, bear wooden floor. It is so tight with tension that I stared at its details for a good half an hour. And there’s a lot of subtle detail.

At the far right, furthest from the entrance lies Beowulf, naked on fur. The others are clothed but oblivious to the creature who, having ambushed the sentry with its prehensile tail then bitten him in two, has gained entrance. Now, seen from above, Grendel slithers stealthily and unimpeded across the hall in four movements, its freedom to roam emphasised by the absence of vertical panel borders. Instead, multiple square panels hung in mid-air like free-floating portraits depict close-ups of the demon’s potential victims as its gaze darts left and right, assessing them, sniffing them, its steaming jaws mere inches from their faces. But Garcia and Rubin aren’t done, for there is an additional clutch of panels tangential to each of those already inset, all in bright red and revealing the ribbed, skin-peeled muscles underlying their arms, chests and heads. The beast can see through to their actual prowess: let’s call it Grendel-vision.

 

 

That’s about as far through the story as I’m prepared to take you, except to say that the next few pages come with a slight surprise which has sent this book straight to one of our top shelves. Consider that a Parental Warning for I have known Gareth Hinds’ interpretation of BEOWULF (back in stock and on our site in a fortnight – I’ve found an American edition now that Walker Books have sold out) be bought for the whole family. This gladdens my heart but, if you want to avoid some awkward dinner-table chit-chat, I would probably not be sharing this with your young sons and daughters.

I will also add that the title of this book is BEOWULF, not Grendel, and it is much wider in scope that you might initially imagine.

Comparison points for the art come in form of Becky Cloonan, Paul Pope and Rafael Grampa. It’s not as faithful in its literary nuances as Gareth Hinds’ version but it is absolutely riveting in its own right. There’s no real point in replicating others’ interpretations, and what I can promise you in lieu of the strictest tradition is visual innovation and jaw-dropping, jaw-splitting spectacle.

 

 

This is an over-sized book bursting with page after page of visceral, slice-and-dice conflict and gore as the stakes increase exponentially in line with each successive, monstrous adversary so that the pages, however large, can no longer contain the leviathans that lie within. At this point we reference Jack Kirby, Geof Darrow, Michael Oeming et al. None of those are random.

But it’s not just about the battles. The primal, raw sensuality is maintained by feasts depicting mouths dripping with rare-cooked meat and red-berry juices. And, oh lord, the colouring! I don’t think you could make this much more luminous or lambent if you’d lit it on fire: subterranean, glowing greens poisoned by reds and a dragon’s breath which appears to fill the air not just with cinders but it’s as if every single molecule were a curled piece of combusted paper, blinding and burning your eyes.

 

 

If that weren’t enough, the coup de grace comes in the form of an epilogue so unexpected but also so exceptionally apposite for a tale that’s been passed down through so many generations and translated into so many different languages.

SLH

Buy Beowulf s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Knights: Fantastic Four 1234 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee with Manuel Gutierrez.

Astute psychological thriller, lit to a thunderous, midnight perfection, this will in no way appeal to fans of superhero series outside of the likes of Paul Jenkins’ & Jae Lee’s THE SENTRY and INHUMANS.

I found it both extremely tense and exceptionally funny.

The following is a mash-up of one-liners I loved.

“Sue. It shouldn’t sound like that. It’s not raining outside…”
“That’s not thunder, is it…? It’s under the ground….”
“Johnny, I love what you do to me, but these are third degree burns…!”
“Shut up. Stop trying to hurt us, you stupid, lonely, ignorant man!”

There’s a storm brewing over Manhattan, and Marvel’s most dysfunctional family, wandering through the echoing chambers of their soulless, high-tech skyscraper, are coming apart at the seams. Someone’s playing a game of chess with their lives. It’s rigged, of course, with a scattering of rogue pawns lying in wait across the board. One by one husband and wife, brother and friend are being isolated and taken down by their own hopes, fears and inadequacies.

 

 

Reed Richards isn’t just brooding, he’s hooked up to his machines like some reclusive techno-junky, leaving his wife to feed fake fish, his careless, callous brother-in-law to preen and party, and Ben Grimm, the most insecure of the lot, in temptation’s way.

 

 

Morrison and Lee strip away all comfortable elements of this superhero family team title, with its preposterous dialogue and garish colours, leaving some vulnerable, emotional individuals to crash and burn by their own hands. Once again, it’s time to ignore the publisher and trust the creators, for, like the INHUMANS, this is far more Vertiginous in style and content, and you’re going to kick yourself if you let the title dissuade you from grabbing another slice of prime Grant Morrison.

Jae Lee has once more risen to the challenge of adapting his art to the task at hand. The backgrounds are relentlessly slate or green-grey, with a mass of sharp, angular blacks, crumbling sympathetically with its occupants. It’s a miserable, neo-Gothic environment for miserable, 21st Century people. 

 

 

“Richards. In one short evening, I’ve taken everything. The boy is blinded, crippled and enslaved. The monster is shattered, lost, his lover now the Mole Man’s bride in his kingdom of filth. Your wife is drowning in the deep fathoms of her adulterous frenzy. And all that remains… is Doom. While you’ve been locked away, I’ve been busy destroying the life and loves of your family forever, Richards. Tell me… what have you been doing?”
“Well, Victor…  I’ve been thinking.”

It’s cold out there. Get ready to shiver.

SLH

Buy Marvel Knights: Fantastic Four 1234 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 1 h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

“Mooooooomin….”

They call to me at the night, and through the early hours of the morning.

We’ve built quite the collection of MOOMIN at Page 45, including the very first illustrated prose book, THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, so do please take a gander.

Childhood favourites, this restless, resourceful, hyper-inquisitive and highly inventive family of white, bulbous beauties – like bipedal, bleached cartoon hippos – may have reached their audiences first as comics, animation, or illustrated children’s books. Most were charmed at first night, although I have heard a significant number of complaints (from young men only) that they were scarred for life by some creepiness they discerned. I blame the Japanese anime.

Anyway, later editions I attended to more thoroughly, but books one and two never got their full due so do so now.

Contains ‘Moomin And The Brigands’, Moomin and Family Life’, ‘Moomin on the Riviera’ and ‘Moomin’s Desert Island’.

 

 

Moomin On The Riviera

“What a wonderful feeling to be poor… and listen to the rain on my little hut.”

There speaks a very rich man!

“Of course it is romantic to play poor, but I don’t like it when the roof leaks… and it is rather chilly sleeping under a boat at dawn.”

Hmmm. That’s the Marquis Mongaga in love with the idea of being bohemian and slumming it with the Moomins after they’ve had enough of high society and posh hotels, neither of which they understood. Nor could they comprehend why almost everywhere was marked “PRIVATE”.

“I think picking flowers would soothe our nerves. It usually helps.”
“This is a private wild meadow. Get off this property!”
“But who owns everything here, then?”
“People with money, of course!”

Yup.

I think you’ll find that 99% of the biggest Bajan houses are owned by 1% of Barbados’ population and 99% of them will be white and only part-time residents.

 

 

Still, Snorkmaiden and Moominpappa did want to see The South (it really was that vague) and so they set sail to foreign climes with alien customs. They found it surprisingly easy to get a room at the snazziest hotel but they were under the impression it was a house and they were its private guests. Do you suppose that it all went horribly wrong?

Over and over again Tove Jansson in the form of right-minded Moominmamma extols the virtues of a modest life in MOOMIN. She finds the hotel room way too big for comfort so they retire to the bed instead and set up shop under its canopy.

I love the way she answers everyone about everything with “Yes, dear”, reassuring all and sundry whilst sort of ignoring them.

 

 

Moomin’s Desert Island

“Help!”
“Pirates!”
“Are they after us?”
“I hope so!”

Everyone loves to be chased.

Thirty-five pages of in which our flailing family of unceasing optimists finds itself marooned on a desert island. They don’t mind: in MOOMIN VOL 7 they actively set out to shipwreck themselves, and found it surprisingly difficult!

Moomin Mamma’s immediate priority is to go foraging for food, carrying her handbag (as you do) and hunting a wild boar with her compact. I’m not even kidding you. She blows make-up powder up its nose and into its eyes, seasons it with salt (it’s a well equipped handbag) then sets fire to the poor brute, shaggy coat and all.

 

 

However, Moomin Mamma isn’t the only Moominmummy on the island. Plus Moomintroll discovers a message from The Mymble bobbing in a bottle on the sea.

“Help! I am the beautiful prisoner of the pirates on board the Black Shark!”

Beautiful? Uh-oh. Well, it wouldn’t be MOOMIN if Moomintroll’s missus, Snork Maiden, didn’t sulk. It’s so like Tove Jansson to be that random: Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll and… Snork Maiden. Maybe Moomin’s the name of the family, not the species – that’s only just dawned on me!

The laugh-out-loud sequences involve the Professor who boarded the helicopter against his better judgement having forecasted a storm. A death-obsessed doom merchant, his umbrella was up before the first drop of rain and remains firmly aloft on each and every page until the, err, accident. It’s an exquisite piece of timing when, after a dozen or so gloomy projections, the imminent disaster is left hanging in the air on the last panel of a page, just like the agent of destruction above the poor Professor’s head. I don’t think that umbrella will help much.

SLH

Buy Moomin: Comic Strips vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

For an introduction which sets the scene for all that will follow, please see MOOMIN VOL 1.

Here, however, begin the adverse weather conditions and enter the first of many irritating, overly presumptuous house guests.

Being restless, resourceful, hyper-inquisitive and highly inventive made for great drama, but above all the Moomin family were ever-welcoming and felt duty-bound to find room in their house for even the strangest of strangers, so built up quite the circle of equally curious friends whose definitions of ‘friendship’ varied considerably, often straying into “How do we take maximum advantage of this limitless hospitality?”  The Moomins’ naivety in this regard often made them victims of their own innocence, so there’s more drama to be gleaned there.

 

 

If not, the weather will oblige and one can’t help but consider Jansson well ahead of her time environmentally, for winter is one thing but the floods could be biblical in proportion.

This edition includes ‘Moomin Mamma’s Maid’ and ‘Moomin Begins A New Life’ plus…

 

 

Moomin’s Winter Follies

“I do think the behaviour of the human male very strange.”
“Yes. But they are wonderful.”

Hmm…

The family Moomin break their tradition of winter hibernation to discover the joys of a snowswept Moominvalley, only to be roped into winter sports by the officious Mr. Brisk of the Great Outdoors Association.

 

 

Ever so swiftly it grows way too competitive and people’s feelings get hurt. Especially Mymble’s: she’s only gone and fallen in love… again!

Includes what is possibly the only snowball fight ever to be thrown (arf!).

 

 

Moomin Buillds A House

“Pappa? There is some villain outside!”
“How exciting!”

That’s no villain, that’s Mymble’s mother and her seventeen new brothers and sisters! Oh wait, it is a villain because she’s invited herself to stay with no warning at all and no plans to leave until Midsummer. Also, she’s oblivious to the wretched little monsters’ chaos and destruction.

“Don’t they fight each other?”
“Of course. But I don’t like to keep scolding them. I just… pour some water over them… or lemonade.”

 

 

Little My is the worst, rousing the rabble into abducting Mrs. Fillyjonk’s offspring and tying them to totem poles. She’s relentless and remorseless in terrorising the Moomin household, while her mother takes a positive pride in what she sees as skills. Poor Moomins: always the victims of their own goodwill and hospitality! In the end, they can only persuade her to behave by abiding by My’s harsh ultimatum: she wants Moomintroll’s bedroom all to herself.

And that’s why he has to build a house for himself and Snorkmaiden. He’s… not very good at it.

 

 

The ultimate in poor parenting and the dangers of D.I.Y..

Which is why I don’t do any.

D.I.Y. or parenting – you take your pick. See also: dusting, vacuuming, washing up… We could be here all day.

SLH

Buy Moomin: Comic Strips vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Kingdom h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught

Amulet vol 8: Supernova (£11-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi

Art Matters h/c (£9-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell

Be Everything At Once: Tales Of A Cartoonist Lady Person (£10-99, Chronicle Books) by Dami Lee

Check Please Hockey vol 1 (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Ngozi Ukazu

Dementia 21 (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Kago

F*ck Off Squad (£13-99, Silver Sprocket) by Dave Baker & Nicole Goux

Fraternity h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Juan Díaz Canales & Jose-Luis Munuera

Infidel (£14-99, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell

Kabul Disco vol 2: How I Managed To Get Addicted To Opium In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild

Klaus: New Adventures Of Santa Claus h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Grant Morrison & Dan Mora

Mrs Weber’s Omnibus h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Posey Simmonds

Open Earth (£17-99, Limerence) by Sarah Mirk & Eva Cabrera

Saga vol 9 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 3 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson

The Ideal Copy (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Ben Sears

DC Super Hero Girls vol 7: Search For Atlantis s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Flash vol 7: Perfect Storm s/c (£14-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico

Hulk: World War Hulk II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Carlo Barberi, Marco Lorenzana

Iron Man: Armor Wars s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by David Micheline, Bob Layton & Mark D. Bright, Barry Windsor-Smith

You Are Deadpool s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Salva Espin, Paco Diaz

Laid Back Camp vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Afro

RWBY 2: Mirror, Mirror (£11-99, Viz) by various

Page 45 at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2018 with Special Guests

September 25th, 2018

Includes Book Launch of My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies original graphic novel published October 10th by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Jake Phillips with free signed bookplate and a Sean Phillips & Jake Phillips sketching session!

 

 

Page 45 is proud to present hundreds of swoonaway graphic novels – many of which you won’t find elsewhere – for you to browse through, buy and then fondle forever in the privacy of your own home!

Entry is free all weekend long. We accept both cash and credit cards.

Where: Georgian Room, upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower (access by lift)
When: Saturday October 13th, Sunday October 14th 2018

What On Earth Will We Bring This Year?!

 

 

We Will Definitely Be Bringing Luke Pearson’s HILDA, all of which have been signed, and some of which have been sketched-in for YOU for FREE! Cheers, Luke!

 

 

 

Page 45’s Comicbook Creator Guests Signing & Sketching

Eleanor Crewes: all Saturday and Sunday FREE!
THE TIMES I KNEW I WAS GAY

Una: all Saturday FREE!
BECOMING UNBECOMING, ON SANITY, CREE (brand-new!)

Yomi Ayeni & Corey Brotherson: all Sunday FREE!
CLOCKWORK WATCH

Emma Vieceli: Sunday 14th 1pm to 2pm FREE!
BREAKS, VAMPIRE ACADEMY, FROSTBITE, SHADOW KISS, DOCTOR WHO: EIGHTH DOCTOR, OLIVIA TWIST etc

 

 

Guy Delisle: Saturday 13th 3-30pm to 5-00pm LICAF pass required
HOSTAGE, PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES, JERUSALEM

Sean Phillips & Jacob Phillips: Sunday 14th 10-30am to 12 noon LICAF pass required
Book Launch: MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES
Sean: CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT, KILL OR BE KILLED, USER etc.
Jake: STARTING, COELIFER ATLAS

 

 

To find out more about their books, please click on their links for reviews or pop the creators into our search engine at www.page45.com.

 

 

Any graphic novels on our website can be brought by us to the festival, postage-free if you buy online at www.page45.com then “Collect In Kendal 2018” at the checkout. Offer closes Monday 8th October 2017 when we’ll be all but packed up to go!

Lakes Festival Merchandise on sale in our Georgian Room.

 

 

This includes comics, cards, prints and last’s year’s SPIRIT NEWSPAPER (reviewed).

All proceeds over the weekend go to the LICAF Creator Development Programme etc.

2018’s big launch is the TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR anthology of stories exploring the continued relevance and resonance of the First World War and its aftermath in our lives today. Creators include Charlie Adlard, Simon Armitage, Edmond Baudoin, Juan Díaz Canales, Régis Hautière, Joe Kelly, Kris, Thomas Von Kummant, Denis Lapière, Victoria Lomasko, Maël, Dave McKean, Mikiko, Ken Niimura, Sean Phillips, Ian Rankin, Riff Reb’s, Robbie Morrison, Orijit Sen, Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot.

As to our own graphic novels, we’ll be on hand to provide personal recommendations tailored to your tastes, or take you through any comics which attract your attention, spoiler-free. Please do ask! Or, if you’ve a mobile phone handy, you can pop titles or creators into our search engine for our written reviews at www.page45.com

We’ll be accepting cash and credit cards all weekend long!

I may well have mentioned that.

 

 

More Lakes Festival Information

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival website
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival Programme 2018
Page 45’s Dedicated LICAF Blog featuring links to photo-filled blogs of every year we’ve attended.

LICAF Twitter: @comicartfest
Page 45 Twitter: @pagefortyfive

Our Twitter’s very handy for when other creators pop into our room for impromptu sketching!

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival

It’s More Pretty Than A City!

 

 

Even in a car park.

 

 

Occasionally wet, but with sheep!

But it’s adored! And this is just our room. The Kendal Clock Tower is massive!

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2018 week three

September 19th, 2018

Featuring Jason Lutes, Shaun Tan, Tillie Walden, Julian Hanshaw, Box Brown, Krent Able, Erik Svetoft, Tom Manning, Benjamin Dickson, Eric Shanower, Terry Moore, Rich Tommaso, Robert Kirkman, Lorenzo De Felici, more…

I Feel Machine (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Krent Able, Box Brown, Julian Hanshaw, Erik Svetoft, Shaun Tan, Tillie Walden…

“Sometimes I miss the rhythm of it.
“That sweet mindless staring,
“…going from this to that,
“…that to this,
“…over and over.
“That doesn’t happen any more.”

Can you imagine a world where all technology: phones, laptops, even televisions just turned off and never turned on again? Tillie ON A SUNBEAM (EXCLUSIVE PAGE 45 BOOKPLATE EDITION) Walden can, and I have to say, it sounds idyllic to me.

Suddenly people are forced to communicate using the old-fashioned tried and tested ways again. Speech… and touch. For some it’s a boon, others a curse…. It’s definitely unfortunate when two such people share a relationship, for sure, as Tillie elucidates for us.

 

 

It would certainly increase comic sales too, I reckon…

Can you imagine an anthology where six top comics creators each come up with a very different take on the myriad interfaces and interplays between technology and humanity? You don’t have to. Because curators of the curious Krent Able and Julian Hanshaw have done it for you. Happily, they even had it printed courtesy of the kind folks at SelfMadeHero, just in case there is such a technology outage…

The result is six very different vignettes approaching this broad topic from utterly different perspectives. We open with a typically bonkers look at how physical death might soon not be an end but merely a stepping stone from Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS Brown.

 

 

Followed by Erik Svetoft’s crackpot take on how vintage jpgs and mp3s might become a hot black market item in the future for digital smugglers. Completing the first half of our scheduled programming is Shaun TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA Tan, (YES, that Shaun Tan!!!) with his equivalent of a 2000AD Future Shock about an astronaut looking for a lost girl done in his own inimitable sweet, gorgeous way. It is as mesmerisingly beautiful as it is subtly surreal, both in the art and the storytelling.

 

 

Then we recommence with Tillie’s poignant tale of the heart… If you know someone that really ought to put their tech away and engage their loved ones a bit more, you could do worse than push this under their nose! Julian CLOUD HOTEL Hanshaw then immediately presents us with a complete change of tone by means of a very special projector and a chicken… Nothing salacious or unsavoury I hasten to add, but there is a bit of fowl play, I have to warn you…

 

 

Speaking of foul play, Krent Able concludes matters, very finally for most of his cast, with some rather disturbing horror. It’s like a modern day House Of Hammer story. Very British, very wrong, very Krent and left me feeling more than a little perturbed. The more I reflected on it, though, and it did stay with me as I am sure it will you, the more I liked it. It would make a very good episode of Black Mirror, actually.

 

 

Between the six stories here, you will get all your proverbial buttons well and truly pushed. You will laugh, you will want to cry, you may want to run and hide. But you can’t outrun the advance of technology. A superbly crafted and wonderfully eclectic selection, I must say. Kudos to Krent and Julian for organising it all in addition to their own contributions.

I will finish simply by commenting on the cover, which I was initially rather underwhelmed by upon first inspection. I thought to myself, when you have all that talent contained within, bursting to get out, isn’t it a little underwhelming, indeed perhaps bland? However the material within is so diverse both visually and plot-wise, that the cover is actually perfect in its own unique simplicity, utterly distinct from everything that lies within. It’s the equivalent of a loading screen – I’m talking old-school Spectrum standard not modern movie-quality cut scenes – nothing more, nothing less. A very clever piece of well thought through graphic design.

JR

Buy I Feel Machine and read the Page 45 review here

A City Inside h/c (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Tillie Walden.

“You gave up the sky for her.”

That’s possibly the most romantic sentence ever written.

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem from Tillie Walden, creator of I LOVE THIS PART, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and one of my favourite little books in the shop.

Along with her autobiographical SPINNING – released aged 21 in 2017 and another Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month – this, from 2016 and now in hardcover, also comes with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

 

 

The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?

 

 

“Then one day, you met her.”

She was cycling through the sky.

“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

Yes, so what did you do?

“You gave up the sky for her.” Obviously.

Bittersweet does not even begin to cover this tale.

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence instead – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.

High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.

 

 

Out next week, Tillie Walden’s epic ON A SUNBEAM, the first 100 copies of which will come with a free, exclusive and exquisite Page 45 bookmark drawn, designed and signed by Tillie Walden herself.

SLH

Buy A City Inside h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Berlin (Complete) h/c (£35-00, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jason Lutes…

“In Berlin I have found the world – the great, messy, beautiful world beyond the hedge surrounding the haute-bourgeois home of my youth. Sometimes it frightens me, sometimes it terrifies me – but I still wake every morning in anticipation of the city’s next surprise. I will remain where I have found love; where people fight in the street; where I can feel the world spinning underfoot.”

Back in April 1996 issue #1 of what was destined to become a true comics classic arrived on comics retailers’ shelves, with absolutely no idea of what stoic patience would be required of the loyal faithful that read it, adored it and decided to sign on for the long haul. A mere twenty-two years later, ironically matching the number of single issues the series comprised in that time, we have finally arrived at its conclusion.

Jason Lute’s BERLIN is an epic endeavour with an exceptional scope of detailed storytelling and a beautiful black and white, clean-line drawing style that makes an absolute truism of the term graphic novel. This is undoubtedly the most impressive work of historical fiction I have come across in our medium to date.

Set in the final years of the failed Weimar Republic, in a Berlin gradually being torn apart by the ideologically opposed Communist and fascist National Socialist factions and their street-level thugs and militias, this work perfectly captures and conveys the polar opposites of bare survival and nihilistic hedonism variously endured and enjoyed by the city’s many citizens.

 

 

We follow the lives of an extremely varied and engaging set of characters from all walks of life illustrating the very different social strata of Berlin between the wars. Their stories are inevitably intertwined, both with each other and the historical events occurring rapidly around them: a journalist, ill at ease with the growing sense of German nationalism and apparent abuses of the Versailles treaty by the Weimar leadership; an art student who is gradually drawn into a decadent, hidden high society scene determinedly trying their hardest to ignore the reality of what is happening around them; a Jewish family concerned only about the increasingly bitter political struggles and its implications for them; a gentleman tramp, trying his hardest to simply survive by bartering anything he can find for food; and a poor working class family, brutally torn apart as the parents choose conflicting sides in the escalating struggle between the Communist and Nationalist Socialist grass roots movements.

 

 

In a story crammed with fascinating historical factual detail, Lutes perfectly captures the growing sense of impending dread and potential civil cataclysm that starts to penetrate the lives of Berlin’s citizens on a more frequent basis as gradually, it seems, everyone is eventually forced to choose a side.

 

 

A special mention must be given to the artwork which allows the city itself to come to life as another character in the story. Dramatic views across the beautiful city are interspersed with close-up street portraits of the daily hustle and bustle of a vibrant if troubled populace. In whole, it has the feel of a beautifully and lovingly directed film. Even the choice of an ivory coloured paper rather than stark white adds to the atmospheric period flavour of the work.

 

 

Also available as three separate volumes for those who have been collecting this in trade paperback form instead of ad-hoc periodical as it has been coming out, BERLIN VOL 1: CITY OF STONES is set against the backdrop of the events of September 1928 to May Day 1929, culminating with the massacre at the May Day march concluding the first book. BERLIN VOL 2: CITY OF SMOKE takes up the story immediately after May Day 1929 through to September 1930 when the National Socialists are brought to power in a then surprising landslide election victory. The concluding BERLIN VOL 3: CITY OF LIGHT takes us through a somewhat tumultuous additional three and a bit years to mid-1933, when a certain Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, formally signalling the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the inglorious Third Reich…

If, however, you are brand new to the series, or indeed just fancy an upgrade for the ages, this expansive hardcover containing the complete series is the one to go for. With an ominous cover, replete with a close up partial Nazi Swastika starting to obscure the peaceful bustling cityscape of the Alexanderplatz central square, bathed in rays of glorious sparkling sunlight, it perfectly visually foreshadows and bookends what dramatic upheavals the city and inhabitants were about to experience. A true triumph of comics. I’d just like take a moment to personally applaud and thank Jason Lutes for his own stoicism and will power in seeing this project through to its completion.

JR

Buy Berlin (Complete) h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A New Jerusalem (£12-99, New Internationalist) by Benjamin Dickson…

“Feels strange that the war is over.”
“Yeah. The soldiers must be on their way home by now.”
“Mum said they won’t be back for a while. They’ve got to go to Japan first.”
“Japan? Yeah. The Japanese are still fighting, aren’t they?”
“Do you think that’s where our dads are?”
“Probably.”

Ralph’s dad is actually already on his way back to Blighty after six years at war. Dave’s dad… that’s a different matter entirely… Here’s a dispatch from the publisher to give us our reading orders…

“1945. The war is over. Eleven-year-old Ralph lives with his mother, plays in bombed-out buildings, and dreams of the day his father will come home and tell him all about his heroic battles.

 

 

“But when his father actually does return, he’s far from what Ralph expected: his father is sullen, withdrawn and refuses to discuss the war at all. As Britain looks to a future fit for heroes, Ralph’s father struggles to adjust to civilian life. Susceptible to fits of crying and uncontrollable rages, his behaviour starts to directly impact Ralph and his mother, and the community around them.”

Not sensationalist in any way, nor over-sentimental or remotely mawkish, this work deals with the harsh realities faced by a returning soldier attempting to re-assimilate back into his family and everyday working life without first being able to deal with the extreme traumas they experienced during the long conflict. It has the feel of a classic kitchen sink drama in that both Ralph’s dad, and then by extension Ralph, are the archetypal angry disillusioned man. For Ralph’s dad, it’s abundantly clear to our modern minds he’s suffering from PTSD, but Ralph simply can’t understand why he’s taking it out on those closest to him. Violently.

 

An immensely informative and engrossing drama about the lives of those left behind when their husbands and fathers went off to war for King and country, and the extremely disturbed dynamics many a family must have had to endure, to some degree at least, when, indeed if, their loved ones returned home. It’s a painful topic that Jacques Tardi also attempted to process for us with the recent I, RENE TARDI, PRISONER OF WAR IN STALAG IIB concerning his dad’s time as a prisoner of war and subsequently trying to come to terms with his incarceration and attempts to reintegrate into society.

Artistically you’ll spot strong comparisons to Bryan Talbot in his DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES mode, which isn’t too much of a surprise as I believe Bryan has mentored Benjamin in the past. It’s a style that works perfectly for this bleak, bombed-out story. A highly recommended addition to the realistic war story canon that’s just as dramatic as any bullet-ridden conflict zone yarn.

JR

Buy A New Jerusalem and read the Page 45 review here

Eric (£24-99, Robots & Monkey Publishing) by Tom Manning…

“Theeeeeere you are. Well, hello… I’m Carmelita.”
“I… uh… I’m Phil.”
“Phil, huh? Well, Phil, what brings you to the Hollywood Hawaiian?”
“I gotta…lay low, you know. I don’t think I should… leave.”
“Heaven help the one who leaves.”
“There’s some people looking for me. And… um… OWLS. I, uh…”
“HEY, don’t worry. I get it. I come here for the piña coladas, myself.”
“I’m a normal guy…”
“Hey… we’re all normal and we want our freedom, right?”
“E-excuse me?”
“But you know, except in dreams? You’ll never really be free.”
“Don’t the sun look angry at me? I… I gotta go.”
“Well, then… take care, Phil. Or was that Bill?”
“Oh… it’s… uh Phil. Phil.
….
“Except…
“In…
“Dreams…
“Except…
“In…
“Dreams…”

‘Phil’ really did need to go. And he really isn’t a normal guy. Not least because his name is actually Eric…

Eric is… confused or drug-damaged or both. Both, definitely. Unfortunately for him, or possibly fortunately for him, the only way he can see to get out of his current predicament is get right out of it. So he decides to call Carloan Eddie. Not about a car loan, clearly. No, he wants to travel Route 87 and he’ll need fifty gallons of gas to get to where he wants to go. Route 87 isn’t a road, clearly. Nor is fifty gallons a quantity of gasoline, either. Meanwhile, Eddie tells Phil, I mean Eric, that Trout needs to get a hold of him. Now, Trout is a real person, not a fish, and that really is his name. The owls, though… those folk no one is particularly sure about. Not yet, anyway.

Confused? Don’t worry, that’s entirely the point, and we’ve barely got started. Eric was a ‘pioneer of beach bum culture and psychedelic surf rock’ from the early sixties. He was big for a while, huge in fact, before he burnt out spectacularly. Now he’s ready for a comeback. And another gigantic breakdown, seemingly…

 

 

Our story doesn’t actually open with Eric. It opens with a peculiar magic ritual performed by cloaked figures with owl masks in front of an audience of besuited, wealthy-looking capitalist types in the woods. Their ritual does not go entirely according to plan… It goes to someone’s plan, though.

Still confused? Don’t worry, that’s really is entirely the point, and trust me, we’ve barely got started…

So after reading the opening couple of chapters I was thinking ah-huh, Bohemian Grove dialled up a notch, yep, got that, coupled with a Brian Wilson-esque figure in Eric. I understand what this is. Then it all started getting really, really strange in a Grant Morrison’s INVISIBLES fashion. For Eric is about to find himself embroiled in a reality shifting conflict. Or is just completely off his nut? Or both? Possibly both… Definitely both.

 

As the scenery keeps shifting, as well as the proverbial ground beneath Eric’s feet, plus just plain old real honest to goodness reality itself, you’ll find yourself drawn into a labyrinthine rabbit hole of lunacy. There is an epic conflict afoot, I’ll give you that much to go on. As for Eric’s chosen role in it, not chosen by him that is, well, that will take some time and space to unfold it. What it will reveal when it does is anyone’s guess…

One of the most deliberately complicated and fabulously convoluted works I’ve ever read. Eric’s role as the damaged idiot savant, the unconscious potential saviour, and the mental tortures he is put through and puts himself through, makes for surprisingly emotional reading. He is the very definition of a complex character. With is a shame for him because he could really do with a simple life just to be able to survive. He’s not going to get it.

It’s wonderful to see self-publishing on this epic scope with such excellent production values. If you didn’t know this 392-page walk on the weird side(s) wasn’t published by the likes of Fantagraphics you’d have no idea. The intense mind-frazzling orange and white cover featuring Eric’s face, with his deeply haunted eyes staring out at you, is part entreaty to / part warning against opening this up and being dragged into something completely beyond your rational comprehension.

 

 

Inside, by complete contrast, the art style is dark, by which I mean its black and grey with some white elements, frequently the foreground characters or the lettering, which provides a stark, quite deliberate almost jarring effect in addition to depth. Combined with a certain looseness of line, heavy inking and the odd dash of faux Letratone for added texture, it is quite its own beast stylistically. The dense shadow only adds to the obtuse sense of it all. You feel like the next plot twist or tangle could be lurking in practically every panel. Which it frequently is… No wonder poor old Eric doesn’t know what to make of it all… I guess he’s going to have to put that comeback on hold. The breakdown… not so much.

JR

Buy Eric and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Bronze vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Image) by Eric Shanower.

Now in full colour.

“I saw a ship sailing far out on the water – too far to turn back. It carries a man – a boy, really – who burns with a flame that will consume all he touches. A woman rides with him. She is proud and beautiful… but where she treads, death follows.”

First of seven award-winning volumes interpreting the story of Troy most famously propagated by Greek poet Homer. They are bursting with passion, epic in scope and astonishingly rich in detail.

Visual detail comes in the form of beautifully delineated bodies clothed in meticulously researched period clothing and gently nuanced expressions, all of which I’d compare to P. Craig Russell (SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS, FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE etc.) as inked by Art Adams. i.e. Thin, crisp lines but with a far softer touch. There is, however, no clutter at all, the panels composed in a joyous variety of forms all of which are thoroughly accessible to newcomers. There is nothing too tricksy and, in spite of the scope, nothing extraneous nor laborious. It is what they call “a real-page turner”.

 

 

 

It opens in the pastoral calm of the verdant cow-grazing pastures not far from the city of Troy. There young Paris awakes from a dream, about which we will learn only later, to find messengers demanding the family’s highly prized bull for King Priam of Troy’s next Festival Games. Determined to be the one to sacrifice the bull to the gods, Paris persuades his father to take him to the Games but discovers, after victory in a race, that his real father is King Priam himself. Priam embraces his long-lost son and Paris’ new brothers, formally hostile during the competition, all rally round.

 

 

 

Alas, aging King Priam is still smarting from Herakles’ sacking of Troy when he was but a child. It was then that his older sister Hesione was taken and given to the King of Salamis. Now that Troy has been rebuilt, Priam sends envoys demanding her return and although Hesione claims to be perfectly happy where she is, Priam suspects against all evidence to the contrary that she may have said so under duress. His sons suggest war, but they are too young to know war’s terrible cost and wisely King Priam rebuffs them. But when Paris suggests a stealthy raid instead, Priam likes the idea and dispatches Paris along with Aeneas to call on King Menelaus of Sparta first, in order to gain his support and so test recent treaties.

And this is where. It goes horribly. Wrong.

 

 

Although brother Hektor attempts to impress upon the inexperienced Paris (but four months at court) the complexity of the current geographical and so commercial context of this already dodgy endeavour, Paris’ eyes already blaze with a much greater ambition than the task he’s been given. So it is that when Paris lands and spies King Menelaus’ wife Helen of Sparta, he determines to make her his Helen of Troy.

The seduction sequence is breath-taking. Told in retrospect, Shanower repeats a single panel of Menelaus’ warning “Do you know what he’s here for?” over and over again, even though, ironically, Menelaus hasn’t the first fucking clue.

Dramatic irony abounds throughout, even for a modern reader. For although today we may not take oracles or horoscopes seriously, we know well enough to trust their eventual unfolding in Greek literature. As to the ancient Greeks – both the cast and the story’s original readership – they believed fervently. They believed so fervently that Menelaus’ older brother Agamemnon, leading the multinational retaliation for Helen’s abduction, risks his army’s starvation in order to wait for Achilles to show his girl-disguised face because only with Achilles on board, it is foretold, will Troy be left burning in ruins. Shame no one listens to the women, then, (same as it ever was) in this case both Kassandra and Helenus. They’re pretty prescient and very, very specific.

As to the prophecies surrounding Achilles, they open up a whole new can of calamari…

 

 

Every library should have one. Or two. Or three. School libraries should be a little cautious when it comes to younger readers because this isn’t some simplistic white-wash and there are scenes both of a sexual nature and of child-birth.

It’s one of the very best treatments of Homer I’ve read (although please do see Gareth Hinds’ THE ODYSSEY – especially schools, you’re on safer ground there) and far more than a mere adaptation but an integration of so many different sources – often conflicting – as Shanower details in the extensive resources in the back. It is, in short, the version Shanower wants to tell, in considerable depth and with exceptionally keen judgement.

It’s also a lot more fun than my old classics lessons aged 12 when I was forced to translate and study the original. The original is fab, but translating passages aged 12 before reading them outloud in front of your class and a very “volatile” headmaster was far from fun.

Still, I did learn the origin of words like “euphemism”.

SLH

Buy Age Of Bronze vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise XXV vol 1: The Chase s/c (£14-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

There’s a sign on the New York subway accentuated, emphasised and made urgent by piercing eyes. It says:

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

In a pressed white shirt, suit and tie, a smart man on his smart phone is standing. He is sombrely checking for texts or the latest, breaking News Headlines. He would do well to do that. Satisfied, he slips the phone into his overcoat, scowling at the crowd as the carriage doors open. Commuters get on, commuters get off and, once on the open platform, he checks his coat pocket as per habit, pat-pat. It is not well weighted.

“HEY! STOP!
“STOP THAT BOY!
“STOP HIM!”

 

 

 

The boy and the man are dashing up the escalator, the small boy diving between pedestrians while the smart man is impeded and – shit – there’s another kid who’s tossed the cell phone sideways in passing! It’s nimbly caught in a pre-planned relay race, the brat in the hoodie heading up the stairs at speed, swerving right towards the foyer’s crossover before throwing this exceptionally mobile phone clean over the gleaming glass balustrade!

It’s gone.

 

 

Down below a good-looking woman in her thirties, well dressed for winter in a jacket and loose woollen scarf, calmly and casually removes the SIM card from its casement. As she discards the rest, the detritus unnecessary to her purpose, she glares up at the smart man who’s not now feeling very smart at all, looks her victim straight in the eye and she gives him a grimace which he will never forget.

Oh my God! It’s — !

Welcome to Terry Moore’s STRANGERS IN PARADISE – or indeed, welcome back! – on this, its 25th Anniversary, recently celebrated with a whopping SiP GALLERY EDITION which will not fit through your letter box. You can read our prior reviews if you fancy, but you need know nothing in order to settle straight in to one of the series we have been most phenomenally fond of in all of our years working in comics, for this is a very fresh start.

After surviving all that the world and Katchoo’s pitch-black past could throw at them, Katchoo and Francine are now happily – nay, blissfully – married, living out in the dessert with their two delightful daughters in a luxury villa financed by Katchoo’s highly successful career in fine art… but probably her previous one too.

Katchoo was a Parker Girl. She “belonged” to Darcy Parker. Darcy Parker was a vicious woman who used other women to infiltrate the government at its highest levels. The Parker Girls were essentially the highest paid prostitutes imaginable, and they never got to leave.

Katchoo left, though I will not say how, and now sits with one of Darcy’s former enforcers, the formidable, ever-brooding, stone-faced Tambi, as they watch Francine play, splashing away during the heat of the day, in the extensive garden’s swimming pool with one of their beloved daughters.

There is so much laughter!

Katchoo is smiling maternally, lovingly, with all the adoration she has always held in her heart for her now-wife Francine, right from the very first moment we met them. Reciprocation did not come easily and it did not come quickly. STRANGERS IN PARADISE was a very long series: 2,400 pages long! But here they are, and they have arrived!

You’ll notice Tambi and Katchoo share a certain look. Darcy Parker liked blondes very much. Tambi is not smiling lovingly and her arms are criss-crossed with scars.

 

 

“You know,” begins Katchoo, a twinkle in her eye, “I used to think you only had two looks, mean and meaner. Then I saw you hold my babies.”
“You fought hard for what you have, Katchoo. Wife, kids, a new life… Nothing came easy for you.”

That’s very true.

“I don’t want to see you lose everything you worked for.”
“Why would I lose everything? Tambi?”

I loved the reversal on the first few pages where we came in. Initially I fretted for the smart man with the smart phone (his name’s Scott) for we all fear pickpockets and fewer ever say something even if they see something, and fewer still do anything about it. And Terry keeps you going breathlessly for three pages before you discover the phone’s final recipient.

 

 

Scott’s married to a woman called Laura, by the way.

She’s called Laura, but that’s not her name. Her real name is Stephanie, and she has that certain look too.

“Tambi?”

Oh no.

 

 

For more Terry Moore, please see RACHEL RISING, ECHO and MOTOR GIRL (reviewed rather than narrated!).

Nice reference to the original collection’s cover on the subway sign. Believe it or not, within a few chapters you will be visiting the Isle of Skye. Breathtaking landscapes both in real life and on the printed page.

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise XXV vol 1: The Chase s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dry County s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rich Tommaso.

“I could hear the yells and curses coming from the roof, but couldn’t stop myself hurling into the hydrangea.”

Hilarious! It wouldn’t have been half so funny had it not been a hydrangea.

Set in the Sunshine State’s boat-floating playground that glows neon at night, this is the most colourful noir that you’ll ever know. By day – as Lou Rossi cycles home from the Miami Herald where he works part-time as a comic strip artist – the city bridge gleams a lemon yellow while the bright white clouds blow below a fresh blue sky and leafy green trees stand out against pale pink hotels.

There is so much light and so much space, with lines as clean as the waterfronts themselves.

And yes, by night, there will be that oh-so familiar neon on the balconied apartment buildings in contrasting pink and mint green.

But what possible crimes could a comic artist bear witness to? Apart from blaring House Music, I mean?

 

 

Ah, well, it’s all in embracing ‘Everyman Crime Series’ to which DRY COUNTY belongs: quotidian crimes you stumble upon occasionally in conversation with someone you may have just met, like abusive boyfriends, perchance. Although there is the possibility that a potential drive-by alluded to briefly by Lou’s raucous mate Robert might tie in somewhere. And where might you meet someone new…? In an apartment block’s communal laundry room!

It’s there, after despairing at the lack of potential pulls at a nightclub which he cannot abide (“seething pit of vipers”), that Lou Rossi finds Janet reading alone while waiting for her spin cycle to end. Alas, she is not a new tenant. She’s only staying over at a friend’s flat for the night… or for the weekend… “I’m not sure yet”, but she does at least work in town, gives him her business card and proffers the possibility of having lunch one afternoon.

 

 

From there it only gets better: her employers turn out to be brothers, the rental firm like a family, and at lunch they make plans for dinner later that very same week. Finally, after six solitary months in Miami, things are looking up for Lou, and there’s more fresh air and open skies and passenger planes flying overhead as he strolls home, a spring in his step, allowing himself to feel jaunty.

Oh dear.

I’m going to stop there while noting only that what I loved most about what is revealed is that so often we escape from one thing by a route which only turns out to be the very same thing. Is that vague enough for you? That’s what Tommaso’s come up with, giving the blow so much more of a punch.

 

 

Whereas most noir slinks about in an environment alien to most of us, in circumstances most of us would never encounter, Tommaso sticks to his promise of filling Rossi’s account with the familiar routines of walks round town, showers, settling down to basic meal from whatever we find in our fridge, perhaps a few beers and so TV. Then there’s the not wanting to look like you’re trying too hard by dressing to impress and making that first phone call too early.

“Man, I couldn’t wait… But then later, once I got home, I decided I should wait, possibly a week…
“This was based on advice that my old friends in high school gave me:

“Don’t ever call a girl up right away, you gotta wait like, a week or so, or else she’ll think you’re a desperate loser!” …So, I decided to wait at least a week…”

Beat.

“Two days later, I called…”

 

 

Brilliant!

What makes the pages even more visually brilliant is that the first-person narration is hand-written on blue-lined, yellow legal pad paper like a story you might stumble upon rather than one being told directly to you. It’s not that big a drama. He’s not a professional P.I. typing up his notes to keep on file, either.

As to the title, nowhere I know of in Florida is a Dry County – certainly not Miami, and Lou doesn’t half neck beers throughout, hence the well deserved fate of those hideous hydrangeas – nor is El Paso, whence Janet hails and where all her troubles first began. My off-the-cuff guess, therefore, is it’s somewhere we’re headed or a direction from which trouble’s coming.

SLH

Buy Dry County s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Oblivion Song vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Lorenzo De Felici…

“It’s okay, it’s okay… I know it’s disorientating, but you’re safe now. You hear me? You’re safe.”
“Him! What did you do to him?!”
“He’s asleep. He’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Just calm d…”

SKRAKK!

“Sedative! Hurry! Bridget! I can’t hold her much longer!”
“I can’t believe she scratched you.”
“She was over there almost a decade. She’s scared… how could she not be?”
“Still… I need to look at those scratches… there’s no telling what’s under those fingernails.”

I don’t know what Bridget is worried about. It’s not like the lady they’ve just rescued is a zombie…

I should probably clarify that she really isn’t a zombie. Or indeed possessed. Sorry, I was always going to try and get at least one WALKING DEAD gag in there. And then I had to go and over-egg matters even further with an OUTCAST rejoinder… I really can’t be arsed to try and shoehorn an INVINCIBLE gag in, though…

Moving on… yes, Robert Kirkman returns to terrify us once more, this time with a science-fiction / horror hybrid that owes as much to Quantum Leap as it does to Alien. Well, technically it’s more like Sliders rather than Quantum Leap, but let’s be honest, you’d probably forgotten all about that particular show until I mentioned it.

 

 

What it actually reminded me of most in comics terms would be Jeff Smith’s RASL with its dimensional hopping, but with lots of added monsters and intrigue. Also because of Lorenzo de Felici’s exceptional art which definitely has a touch of Mr. Smith about it too.

Fabulous colouring from Annalisa Leoni also, who manages to combine an astonishing variety of shades and hues in a remarkably understated, subtle way. Quite the masterclass in the use of contrasting and complimentary colours to spot highlight and draw attention to detail and so take the illustrations to another level altogether. Very clever.

 

 

Very unusual for me to get this far into a review without rambling on about the plot, so I’d better get on with it, I guess! A decade ago there was an… incident. The city centre of Philadelphia was wiped out in an instant, replaced in the blink of an eye with 30 square miles of a huge vegetative ecosystem and its incumbent voracious predators. Almost 20,000 people were seemingly wiped out of existence in a moment.

Eventually, once the ‘invasion’ was brought under control after a not inconsiderable number of additional casualties and the area quarantined, a scientist named Nathan Cole worked out what had happened. The 30 square miles of Philadelphia which vanished, had in fact, merely swapped places with the new terrain. Suddenly hope was raised that somewhere on an alien world, that promptly became named Oblivion, there were possibly thousands of presumably terrified survivors.

 

 

Technology was quickly developed to allow incursions to Oblivion and search and rescue missions launched to retrieve many of the missing Philadelphians cowering in the ruins of their city, which itself was rapidly being assailed and assimilated by the native fauna and flora. After ten years, however, the last few of which proved completely fruitless in finding any remaining survivors, government funding inevitably dried up and public interest waned. A monument to the remaining lost souls was built, inscribed with each of their names, and a museum built in their honour.

 

 

Nathan Cole, however, remains convinced further humans remain on Oblivion, including his brother. In fact, he believes that there is a whole community hidden away somewhere, possibly even thriving. And so, he continues to make unauthorised, dangerous solo excursions with his own technology. When he manages to find a husband and wife and successfully retrieves them, to much understandable public fanfare, he consequently expects to be given a new remit and improved budget to conduct further missions.

To his surprise and anger, he finds all the government really wants is to move on and draw a line under the whole Transference as it ultimately became known. Lest the public continue to fret the mysterious, spontaneous occurrence could suddenly happen again. Nathan, of course, has got other ideas… including for one very shocking reason which is revealed at the climax of this first volume…

JR

Buy Oblivion Song vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman And The Legion Of Superheroes s/c (£13-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Franks.

Superman’s best when you just dip in.

Actually, I’d go further: all superheroes are best dipped into. Their artificially long-term life leads to so much silliness, padding, inconsistency, strains of credulity above and beyond their basic premise, and after 80 years (condensed into 10 or so in DC Land) it’s more than a little odd to find Clark Kent still being barked at by would-be father figure Perry after all that they’ve gone through together. Let’s not even get into Jimmy Olsen in any way, shape or form. But if you ignore almost everything that has gone before in this space-chap’s history (and I have as much as possible over my years of reading comics), it then doesn’t matter. Okay, Perry is barking at Clark – that’s what he does. Fine.

 

 

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, this is meatier than most Superman stories (outside of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and KINGDOM COME), both because it boasts slick visuals by DOOMSDAY CLOCK’s Gary Frank (the man who has made an art out of depicting well-weighted levitation), and through having something to say.

Several things, actually.

Imagine a childhood in which you’re unable to interact with your peers properly, for fear of breaking them. Also because you’re lying to them every single day, hiding the fact that you’re an alien.

Childhood is a very physical experience full of rough and tumble, be it sports, climbing trees or wrestling your best friend to the ground because he said something stupid, then hitting him over the head with a metal-topped cricket stump. For young Clark Kent that would come with its risks. But then into his life came The Legion Of Superheroes: kids from the future built of much sturdier stock who don’t break so easily, and don’t care if you’re an alien because they’re from numerous different planets themselves. Suddenly you can play because they open up a temporary temporal doorway to fantastical adventures in which Clark can be all that he is without destroying all that he loves. Under such circumstances, you’re going to bond…

 

 

Since then life on Earth has changed. I don’t mean now, I mean in the future where The Legion Of Superheroes reside.

For a start, they’re on the run, specifically because they’re aliens. Earth is no longer so welcome to aliens as it used to be, as the baby boy of a dying alien race finds out, catapulted into space (as the last son of Krypton was) in the hope that he could be received and fostered as warmly as his predecessor.

Nope. Earth has united in its xenophobia (it’s nice to know we can unite over something, however paradoxical), dispelled the myth through archaeological evidence that Superman was anything other than a super-human born in Smallville, and used this to twist everything that Kal-El ever stood for, which is embracing diversity and helping all others around you, regardless of whether they’re your own kind. Instead it’s now detention camps for “foreigners” – a bit like those we don’t like to talk about in England and America right now – and justice is upheld by a group of strictly Earth-born superheroes who… hmmm… did they fail their auditions for the Legion Of Superheroes? There’s nothing quite as human as a chip on your shoulder.

 

 

What’s Superman going to make of this perversion? Well, he’s going to be awfully polite, obviously. I wish for once he’d just lose his temper.

But why exactly do the Legion, his friends since childhood, not want him there? It may have something to do with that old shepherds’ proverb:

Red sky at night…? Shepherd’s delight!

Red sun in the morning then all day long? That’s fairly deleterious for your average Kryptonian, son.

 

 

SLH

Buy Superman And The Legion Of Superheroes s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Javier Rodriguez, various.

The second of two halves, this reprints the fourth, fifth and sixth softcover, and for some reason I happen to have copy for the fourth instalment which I reviewed thus:

The premise for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN was relatively simple but its execution proved surprisingly thorough: in SPIDER-MAN: DYING WISH one of Spider-Man’s oldest, ugliest foes – mop-topped minger Otto Octavius PhD – finally won the day by switching his consciousness with Peter Parker’s just before his own body expired.

Dr. Octopus has made maximum use of this fitter new body and inflicted maximum abuse on both Spider-Man’s villains and Peter’s own family and friends. He’s been very resourceful, and so it proves here as Peter’s employer, Horizon Labs, comes under temporal assault when they attempt to shake off a corporate take-over by Peter’s old friend Liz Allan (once married to Norman Osborn’s son and now with one of her own) and Tiberius Stone, Horizon Labs’ ex-employee and past saboteur. Cue Spider-Man 2099 comin’ atcha and possibly here to stay.

 

 

It’s complicated to describe here, but perfectly clear if you read the book itself, revel in its fireball, nail-biting, game-changing climax so well illustrated in all its time-bubble, eye-popping glory by Ryan Stegman, and then move on to part two involving one of Dr. Octopus’ old flames, newly rekindled, who believes he was killed by Spider-Man. Oh.

 

 

This is proceeding at a cracking pace and I can finally confirm that this series will be six volumes long before Peter finally wrestles his way back through Marvels’ revolving death’s-door, as was corporately inevitable. Make no mistake, though: for once this has been no mere gimmick and the journey has proved thoroughly entertaining, rammed to the rafters with dramatic irony and “Why didn’t Peter do that?” Plus I wonder what Peter will finally come back to? He can’t explain these months away to everyone: not everyone knows he is Spider-Man!

Two people do: Forensics Officer Carlie Cooper whom Peter once attempted to date with all the suave sophistication of a highly conflicted and emergency-afflicted Alice-In-Wonderland White Rabbit (it went tits-up, yeah) and Police Officer Yuri Someone-Or-Other AKA The Wraith. Suspicious of this supposedly superior Spider-Man with his bottomless resources and knowing that Peter was broke, they are following the money trail. Unfortunately Carlie is being followed by somebody else.

And, all this while, the Green Goblin lies in wait, biding his time and building…

 

 

SLH

Buy The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Firstly, all these beautiful comics and glorious graphic novels are fresh in from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distribution in America. Not distributed by Diamond, we’ve given them their very own section for now. Good luck finding them elsewhere in the UK!

https://www.page45.com/store/New-in-from-Spit-And-A-Half-Septemeber-2018.html

Also… New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Agrippina Arithmetic (£2-99) by Andi Watson

Rose (£2-99) by Andi Watson

As The Crow Flies (£26-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Melanie Gillman

Beowulf s/c (£17-99, Image) by Santiago García & David Rubin

Berlin vol 3: City Of Smoke (£22-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jason Lutes

Coda vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Boom!) by Simon Spurrier & Matias Bergara

Descender vol 6: War Machine s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

Flocks s/c (£19-99, Other A-Z) by L. Nichols

Follow Me In (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Katriona Chapman

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Shortcuts vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by various

Marilyn’s Monsters (£22-99, Humanoids) by Tommy Redolfi

Nocturne h/c (£13-99, Umber) by Tara Booth

Skyward vol 1: My Low-G Life s/c (£8-99, Image) by Joe Henderson & Lee Garbett

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 6: Zod’s Will s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Rafa Sandoval

Justice League: No Justice s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder,James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Francis Manapul, Jorge Jimenez, Riley Rossmo, Marcus To

Amazing Spider-Man: Red Goblin h/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Stuart Immonen, Mike Hawthorne, various

Infinity Countdown s/c (UK Edition) (£16-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Deodato. Jr, Aaron Kuder, Mike Hawkthorne, Mike Allred

Marvel Knights: Fantastic Four 1234 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee, Manuel Gutierrez

Mighty Thor vol 4: The War Thor s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Valerio Schiti

Venom By Daniel Way Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Francisco Herrera, various

Venom vol 4: Nativity s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mike Costa, David Michelinie & Javi Garron, Mark Bagley, Ryan Stegman

Wonder Woman vol 5: Heart Of The Amazon s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, Marvel) by Shea Fontone, various & various

Legend Of Zelda vol 14: Twilight Princess vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekara

That Blue Sky Feeling vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Okura & Coma Hashii

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2018 week two

September 12th, 2018

Featuring Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre, Francesca Sanna, Carles Porta, Terry Moore, Jean-Claude Forest, Jacques Tardi, Gilbert Hernandez, Hiroya Oku, Federico Rossi Edrighi, Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy, more.

The Legend Of Kevin h/c (£8-99, Oxford University Press) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre.

 

 

First 100 copies come with a Free Limited Edition Bookplate Exclusive to Page 45, drawn by Sarah then signed by them both!

At the time of typing 27 /100 copies remain!

Welcome to Stephen’s New All-Ages Taste Test in which I declare that if you can imagine a book being read aloud by Alan Bennett, with his dry yet full-mouthed, fruit-jam-flavoured, deadpan delivery, then you are onto a winner!

So it is here, with the most perfect preamble that I can recall, setting you in very good stead for all that will follow.

 

 

“Kevin lives in the wild, wet hills of the Outermost West, where he has built a large, untidy nest for himself in the branches of an old oak tree.”

Kevin – if you hadn’t gathered from the so-spangly cover – is a Roly-Poly Flying Pony. As David Attenborough once noted, their nests can be famously dishevelled.

Kevin comes from the “wild, wet hills of the Outermost West”. Not Plymouth, nor Basingstoke, nor even the Dartmoor plains; but somewhere wilder, wetter and even more westerly. This is Important, as you shall see.

“His favourite things to eat are:

“1. Grass
“2. Apples
“3. Biscuits

“… only not in that order.”

Why, Philip, why?

 

 

“Grass is quite easy to come by, because it grows all over the wild, wet hills of the Outermost West. Apples are grown on the trees in the orchards, and Kevin often flies down to eat them. (You can imagine how delighted the farmers are when they see him coming.) Biscuits are a bit harder to get hold of, but sometimes Kevin makes friends with a hiker, and if he’s lucky they share their biscuits with him. So if you ever visit the wild, wet hills of the Outermost West, be sure to take plenty of biscuits. Kevin’s favourites are:

“1. Pink wafers
“2. Bourbons
“3. Custard creams

“… only not in that order.”

Reeve is a master of playful repetition and the cumulatively funny joke, and that won’t be the last of his winking, tongue-in-cheek, parenthetical asides, either.

 

 

You are now fully prepped for the latest deliciously mischievous all-ages, illustrated and fully integrated prose from the award-winning creators of PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE, JINKS AND O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR and the creation inspiration that is the PUG-A-DOODLE-DOO BUMPER BOOK OF FUN. Never have I read a funnier kids’ activity book in my astonishingly long life.

It was there that I first acquired the sneaking suspicion that Philip and Sarah were building a subtly shared universe in which – at any unexpected moment! – you might meet much beloved, long-lost friends from previous adventures as guest stars in brand-new ones. Oh, my lovelies, that moment is now! Perhaps Kevin is not alone in living around the nebulous “wild, wet hills of the Outermost West” with its Outermost Coast and Outermost Sea. Who do you think you might become reacquainted with here?!

Clue: please bring shampoo! They’re all stinky and eww!

 

 

The blustery, rain-soaked action begins immediately as a preternaturally turbulent storm blows in from the Outermost Sea, scooping poor corpulent Kevin up out of his messy nest, and sweeping him far, far away to the towns and cities where ordinary people live until he bumps into the side of a very tall building. “Doof”! It’s a good job there’s a balcony.

Inside that building, in its topmost flat, live Max, his dad, his mum and his older sister Daisy who would prefer you call her Elivira, please, because she’s going through her gothic period (don’t we all).

Now, Max had always wanted a pet – a dog or a cat, or a bird-eating spider (guess who suggested that one) – but the flat was always deemed too cramped and tiny, without so much as a garden for even a small dog to do its ‘doings’ in. It’s the perfect size of a roly-poly flying pony, though, right?!

Of course, to begin with Max doesn’t know that it’s a roly-poly flying pony that’s landed like a hefty haggis outside his bedroom window. For a moment he’s fearful that it might be a fearsome polar bear.

“Don’t be silly, he told himself, how could a fearsome polar bear have got all the way up here?”

Or a pony, to be fair.

 

 

McIntyre’s startled, bright white, limp-winged, shivering and sopping-wet Kevin – eyes wide and clueless while caught in the flashlight – is a dripping masterpiece of lost and lonely forlorn fauna and I defy any of you with your melted hearts not to invite the poor creature indoors immediately, towel him down then wrap him in your duvet.

You might want to find him some biscuits.

“Quiet as a mouse, he opened the cupboard, opened the biscuit tin, and took out a custard cream. Then he took another one, because he thought a flying pony as far as Kevin might be able to manage two biscuits. Then he took a third, because he thought maybe he should have one himself to keep Kevin company. (Max was very thoughtful like that.)”

Of course Max’s torch battery is “going” – as in, dying – that’s what torch batteries do. Reeve nails this sort of everyday family life, like the biscuit tin (I’d forgotten we had one of those), Max’s “Swimming Things bag”, and that fact that parents have been saying “Yes dear” while paying no attention whatsoever to what you’ve been saying ever since Gerald Durrell’s mum. I love the animism in Reeve’s weather as well: the way the wind “leaned” against a window, or, later the sunlight coming down in “silvery fingers through the wave tops and tickled the shop signs” (italics, mine).

Ah, yes, the wave tops. I did mention, didn’t I, that this was a preternaturally turbulent storm

 

 

Well, it was, for it blew in from the wild, wet Outermost Ocean flooding the city from its sewers to its shops, its bike lanes and its bus stops, almost to the rooftops, and sweeping in all sorts of strange sea creatures.

From very first page McIntyre effortlessly integrates her illustrations with the type-set prose so that it is not just a balanced, harmonious whole but a narrative fusion, seamlessly incorporating both into a single fluid stream. Here, however, she instinctively and strategically leaves areas of space in her illuminations, so that the words artfully framed by the sides of the skyscraper, forming what actually looks like substructure to the building!

 

 

Elsewhere she uses colour to consolidate an image so that it has no need for a line-drawn frame, but melds the individual components into a single, unified coherent whole, as if the Sea Monkeys were caught in a mousse mould then plonked out on the page, set in a gelatinous or at least aqueous blue mass.

 

 

Haha yes! The bickering Sea Monkeys are back! Those chittering, chattering, smelly little mentalists from OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS have returned to pull faces, blow underwater raspberries and throw whiteboard rubbers at Mr. Mould, Max’s headmaster, now stranded on the school roof. Personally I’d leave him to it, but Max isn’t that sort of a lad, so it’s action stations, rescue elevations once the winged wonder’s got his old strength back. Because, honestly, if Mr. Mould thought that the little human monkeys he was used to teaching were loud and ill-disciplined, then this lot are totally bananas.

“The monkeys threw a few pencil sharpeners and things after him, just to make themselves feel better. Then they went back underwater and started writing rude words on the school walls, and they didn’t even spell them properly or bother to use capital letters and full stops; it was an absolute disgrace.”

 

 

Quite a lot of this takes place underwater as Max attempts to rescue some resuscitating custard creams from the supermarket biscuit aisle, encountering a granny down there in an aqualung, I kid you not. It’s underwater that I first spied our old mate Colin the Crab, who is renowned for getting around, admiring himself in a circular compact’s mirror. Page 67 – perhaps you can spot him earlier?

This is a carnival of cooped up, flood-fleeing neighbours, a romp and a riot, and a minor misadventure for Beyoncé and Neville, two guinea pigs caught in a tide of their own. It’s also a book about newly found friendship – about looking after each other and pulling together whatever the weather, for that’s what Max and Kevin do!

And it’s a little bit about belonging too.

 

 

Kevin, you see, comes from “wild, wet hills of the Outermost West”. Not Plymouth, nor Basingstoke, nor even the Dartmoor plains.

But somewhere wilder, wetter and even more westerly. Somewhere that’s way, way beyond.

He doesn’t belong in a city. Not really.

It’s here that Reeve and McIntyre’s early decision to set limits on Kevin’s anthropomorphic qualities pays true dividends. To begin with, it’s comical hearing Kevin do little more than repeat “Biscuits!” or “Custard Creams!” oh so covetously. Oh what a funny fella! But that’s just about the extent of his ability to communicate verbally, and I’m afraid that when you first find the poor pony pining near the flat-roof railing – staring out at the sunset, tail still, ears drooping, without the first clue as to where he actually came from, a full fifteen pages from the end – you’ll know instinctively where his silent animal instincts are taking him, and you might remember that Reeve and McIntyre did this to you once before, in PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH.

The teary, heart-break stuff, I mean.

 

 

 

For many more reviews, pleases see Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section, especially THE NEW NEIGHBOURS hardcover and THE NEW NEIGHBOURS softcover for which we still have a few signed editions of a completely different bookplate also drawn by Sarah.

SLH

Buy The Legend Of Kevin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Me And My Fear (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.

“I have always had a secret.
“A tiny friend called Fear.”

From the creator of THE JOURNEY, one of my go-to Young Readers books for empathy and understanding, specifically about those seeking sanctuary.

As you’d expect, its successor is no less astutely observed or eloquent – and at times hard-hitting – in its communication.

Let’s begin again, while the grown-ups are nattering away in the shade by the seafront, sipping wine while our narrator explores contentedly, inquisitively a little farther afield.

“I have always had a secret.
“A tiny friend called Fear.”

 

 

And Fear is, at this point, ever so tiny, decidedly manageable and really quite cute. It looks like the squidgy Adipose squealers from Doctor Who. And certainly it’s still a friend, enabling the young girl to venture a ways from her mum while protecting her from the likes of heights.

A little fear is healthy.

 

 

“But since we came to this new country,
“Fear isn’t so little anymore.”

At which point I would sincerely and unequivocally like to apologise for the current state of my country, Little England. And, really, the rest of Europe TBH: we all need to be a lot more welcoming to those already disconcerted by the upheaval of travel and separation, not less.

Fear is still tender and loving on that page, but growing all too rapidly and already effectively smothering as something being clung to too tightly. By the next page it is scowling at the autumnal rain (apologies once more, but not a lot we can do about that bit!!!) and has then grown so massive that it blocks off the exits completely.

 

 

Ah, and then there’s school. Can there be anything more terrifying than a new school?

You can probably see where this is going: too much fear can prove overwhelming, paralysing, and a self-sustaining barrier which doesn’t just protect but pushes away others – perhaps equally under siege – who might like to help.

 

 

Our young lady is surrounded by potential friends – girls and boys in every sort of colourful winter-wear – enjoying themselves outside of Fear’s seemingly soft but intransigent grip. Others are puzzled, concerned, as she struggles….

The secret is that everyone has a little fear; and the solution is to share.

Someone has to make the first move; my hugest hugs to those who do.

Lots of orange and blue, which is brave.

For more heart and humanity for Young Readers, please see THE NEW NEIGHBOURS hardcover or THE NEW NEIGHBOURS softcover; for adults, see THREADS and ESCAPING WARS AND WAVES or – for something far more poetic, and for all – please see YOU BELONG HERE.

SLH

Buy Me And My Fear and read the Page 45 review here

Tales From The Hidden Valley vol 1: The Artists (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Carles Porta…

“The leaves were turning different colours and saying goodbye to the trees. The wind was tumbling and leaping, like a wild horse that could not be tamed.

“After the lazy days of summer, it was time for a change.
“As the wind played with her hair, Sara had a curious idea.
“What if all the leaves are flying to the same place?”

Portas doesn’t mean into my porch, which is where all the leaves usually seem to end up… No, because these particular detached, dancing decoratives, vibrant with the signalling beacon colours of the harvest season, are being pirouetted around and gyrated into a most unusual place. Here are the evocative entreaties of the fine folk of Flying Eye Books to take us into their confidence…

 

 

“Hidden in a remote place surrounded by high mountains, there lies a secret valley. There is an entrance, but you could pass by it a hundred times and still not see it… It’s autumn in the hidden valley and there’s a sense of change in the air.

 

 

“Ticky is about to fly away to warmer places, and Yula is painting him a farewell gift. But when Yula draws, she loses all sense of the world around her… Welcome to Carles Porta’s beautifully imagined world, where tiny onion-headed ballerinas dance among multicoloured autumn leaves, and new friends are found in the strangest ways.”

Indeed they are! In fact, that concluding line could send me off on innumerable implausible tangents regarding how new chums can come unexpectedly cavorting into one’s life, but let’s not go there today, because, if we do, it’ll be winter next year by the time I conclude my review of this wonderfully heart-warming and exquisitely beautiful all-ages work, which has a charming, captivating enchantment all of its own.

 

 

Through gorgeous expressive artwork and poetic prose Carles crafts a stylish swirling story with the message of friendship fixed firmly at its core. Both of honouring old friendships and forging new ones. I could wax lyrical about Porta’s amazing art with its riotous chaos of carefully orchestrated colours for several paragraphs but his carefully chosen words are just as powerfully moving.

 

 

I see that there are already three further volumes slated for publication before the end of next year, which I gain the impression from their titles and publisher blurb are meant to mirror the seasons, so I’m avidly looking forward to being transported back to Ticky and Yula’s hidden valley already!

JR

Buy Tales From The Hidden Valley vol 1: The Artists and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise Gallery Edition h/c (£110-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

 

 

It’s a love story: a phenomenally funny love story to melt your cold, black hearts.

Frustrated by complications and shot through with tragedy, though, it was never likely to end well.

Spoilers: it did… but only for some.

If you’ve no idea what all the fuss is about, STRANGERS IN PARADISE is possibly the single series that I’m fondest of. Try the OMNIBUS there to read the best overview, or the first couple of softcovers. Oh, and the recent relaunch of STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1 is still in stock and comes with a brand-new review.

And if 12” x 17” really does mean nothing to you in terms of scale, then amongst the many photos that I have for you is one of the cover, taken with a regular US-sized comicbook (above).

 

 

 

Whereas most comics are printed far smaller than the original art, these Gallery Editions reproduce original art at high resolution and at its original size all the fascinating blemishes and corrections in paste-over and white-out.

 

 

“Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of SIP with this presentation of Moore’s art spanning the entire Eisner Award-winning series. The evolution of Terry together with Francine, Katchoo, David and all of the other characters that inhabit the SIP world is captured in this 248-page, large-format, hardcover edition. The artwork contained in this Smythe-sewn deluxe edition is framed by the original 20-page version of the very first SIP story and SIP #90, the series’ 2007 finale.”

I will have notes for you on what that means in a second.

 

 

“Included between these “bookends” is a representational page from each of the 105 issues published between issues #1 and #90. Also included is an extensive Gallery section containing covers and miscellaneous SIP art from the last 25 years. Sourced from high-resolution scans from the original art and reproduced at the actual size, this 12″ x 17″ deluxe volume is printed at 200 line-screen on heavy paper stock to approximate the look and feel of the original art itself.”

Firstly, then, the very first issue reprinted here is not the one that you’ve read!

 

 

Nope, the original version of #1 which was hastily redrawn and rewritten in part for publication and this edition has never been seen before. David, for one, sure looks different!!!

All this and more, Terry will talk about in the introduction, including the very first sketch Terry ever drew which cemented the SiP series in his head. The sketch itself is also reprinted but not in this very review because hahahahahahaha! Here’s Mr Moore:

“Francine was sipping on a milkshake on the couch. I began thinking about her weight problem and why she eats. I drew Freddie [her fiancé] next to her, probably saying something snarky, and I realized that’s why she eats. Then I began wondering how Katchoo reacts when she sees this pressure put on the woman she secretly loves and… BAM!!!! Suddenly I wasn’t drawing “characters” anymore, I was drawing human beings with complex personalities and lives that intertwine and turn on a dime according to the decisions they make – and how they handle the decisions of others forced upon them.”

I’ll shut up now, and just show you photos.

 

 

 

 

 

I love that you can even see how much ink is being laid down on the close-ups of Katchoo and Francine.

 

 

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise Gallery Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

You Are There (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Claude Forest & Jacques Tardi.

A grand farce from the French master which hasn’t aged one jot since it first appeared thirty years ago.

It puts me in mind of Evelyn Waugh’s more outrageous works like Black Mischief, with naïfs being caught helplessly in a pincer movement of regal egos and state machinations, here in the form of a French President staring electoral disaster in the face and forging an insane plan for self-preservation that will ultimately prove more successful than anyone dared to hope.

Far from the grotesqueries of government, meanwhile, we find young Arthur There who’s been driven up the wall by the loss of his family’s ancestral land, his last remaining refuge being said walls that divide his old properties and their inhabitants.

 

 

Throughout the days of wind, rain and snow, he’s summoned across this interconnected raised maze by bells to extract meagre tolls for opening the gates whilst dancing over obstacles like fallen trees and avoiding the dogs below. It’s these coins that he pours into the bottomless dustbins of his lawyer, who has the art of procrastination and prevarication down to perfection whilst holding out just enough hope of Arthur’s obsession: the legal reclamation of his land. But Arthur’s been alone too long. Riddled with persecution complexes, he overthinks everything. And where exactly is his Mummy to whom he telephones daily reports of his progress?

 

 

It’s all quite absurd, from Arthur’s diminutive domicile (an elegant stone hut perched precariously on the wall that can’t measure more than 3 feet by 6 and its exterior stove for frying morning eggs) to his loquacious exchanges over the edge of the lake with the visiting grocer-sailor, and the truly bizarre Julie Maillard, daughter of one of the denizens whose legs are splayed in a sexual association of rain and urination, and who offers herself up to Arthur in a manner he finds mind-frazzling. Never less than innocent, she’s still managed to get around, which brings us back to Paris…

Thanks to more than a little madness the proceedings are presented on the page with a flourish of surrealism matched by the actions of the protagonists.

 

 

The acrobatics (visual and verbal) are a joy while the weather is magnificent, though I do concede that, for some, it may go on a bit! Here’s a typical pronouncement from the floating grocer which kicks off with four words that are irrefutable:

“Customers are sacred creatures, and fragile too…. One little misstep, and the days of eating and drinking are over! And then the grocer takes it on the chin! You see, everything is connected, Mister There, everything is connected. And because everything is connected, one should avoid ever touching anything… And to avoid touching anything one should avoid ever saying anything: Speech is harmful!

“Now, I know I just said “speech is harmful,” but on the other hand, silence isn’t much better. That way lie boredom, suspicion, gangrene. Eventually it eats away at you, from the ground up.”

That’s not going to do Arthur’s paranoia any good.

SLH

Buy You Are There and read the Page 45 review here

Love And Rockets (Palomar & Luba vol 7): Three Sisters (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

Reprints material which originally appeared in LUBA’S COMICS & STORIES #3-4, 6-8, LOVE AND ROCKETS VOL II #3-9, 11-18, 20, LUBA: THREE DAUGHTERS, that enormous LUBA OMNIBUS from yonks ago and HIGH SOFT LISP.

HIGH SOFT LISP is a mischievous journey through the intertwined fortunes of successful motivational speaker Mark Herrera and “Fritz” Martinez, former marriage guidance counsellor turned straight-to-DVD movie star and half-sister to Luba, He is her first husband, she is his fourth wife.

He has had six, and is broke.

“She wept when I asked her to marry me. I wept when she asked for a pre-nuptial agreement!”

 

 

Fritz is a voluptuous, gullible romantic with an appetite for sex which is so often taken advantage of. She also has a penchant for sci-fi conventions, dressing up, and guns.

“Most people prefer a cigarette or a sandwich after lovemaking, Fritz.”

She prefers target practice.

It’s very much a series of snapshots with Hernandez weaving in other lives in the background, like Petra’s memories of Joel whom we see first in person when they’re all very young, then later in a High School Yearbook, then later still in an obituary notice. A subtle scene closes that particular story in which Petra’s daughter finds what she assumes to be Petra’s High School jacket gathering dust in the closet. It isn’t, but Gilbert doesn’t rub it in.

 

 

Enrique too, so close to becoming Fritz’s third husband, has been simmering over the years with a rather unhealthy obsession, and I don’t think I even want to write about self-centred slob and husband number two, Scott “The Hog”, whom the punk rocker in Fritz adored. Meanwhile all bar one of Mark’s wives leave only to return in one role or another, often when he needs a favour, and it’s funny how so many of them end up writing children’s stories! You’ll also meet Pipo who becomes Fritz’s girlfriend and produces her films (see LOVE FROM THE SHADOWS, TROUBLEMAKERS and CHANCE IN HELL).

As ever with Gilbert there are elements of the surreal and supernatural and a lot of this is delivered as if to camera. Hernandez refuses to conform to any narrative rules except his own, liberating him to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it, and I admire that unequivocally – so, so refreshing.

 

 

There’s also a great deal of sex that would once have set him at odds with British Customs & Excise, though thankfully not any longer.

It’s kind of what adults do, or there’d never be any children for us to get so worried about.

SLH

Buy Love And Rockets (Palomar & Luba vol 7): Three Sisters and read the Page 45 review here

Gantz Omnibus vol 1 (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku…

“Tokyo teens Kei and Masaru are killed by a subway train but awaken in a room with an ominous black orb that gives them weapons, suits . . . and orders. Fighting bizarre alien monstrosities in a deadly game, will they win their freedom or die for the final time?”

That, my comics friends, is a publisher warbling that can’t possibly even begin to come close to encapsulating the excitement of one of the most celebrated and gloriously confusing hot messes of a science fiction manga series that there has ever been.

Well, actually, it does begin to describe it, I  suppose, because it does indeed all start with school acquaintances Kei and Masaru taking a fatal header under a train, before being resurrected atom by atom in a strange room, surrounded by equally perplexed strangers and staring at the titular Gantz.

 

 

Taking a massive thirteen years, and 37 single volumes, for Hiroya Oku to complete, this is one of the most intense series I have ever read. It’s ultra-violent, well, ultra-everything, frankly. Sure it takes some bizarre inexplicable plot diversions at times, cul-de-sacs really, including one that never gets explained, but always upping the danger ante ever further for the characters. Those that survive, that is, or those get killed and promptly resurrected. But it all ultimately concludes in the most spectacularly satisfying and ultra-surreal manner. I don’t mind mentioning I shed a tear or two during the concluding chapters.

 

 

Is it perfect? Artistically, for a relentless sugar buzz sci-fi manga, certainly. No doubt. Oku is a master mangaka. The action scenes, which probably comprise three-quarters plus of the series are mind-blowingly brilliant. Plot-wise… I realise I keep coming back to this… it isn’t perfect, though not far off, but I don’t think it actually matters. By his own admission Oku never expected GANTZ to be so successful (including spawning the inevitable anime, but also two live-action films, a video game and a prose novel series) and felt under extreme pressure to keep the series going. I suspect at times he was plucking new plot devices from the increasingly thinning air.

 

 

Which almost certainly explains the detours… Also, without getting into spoilers, well, one super-huge spoiler in particular, there is one central aspect of the whole Gantz set-up that never made sense to me at all. But… without it… no GANTZ… However, I’m being churlish now, because frankly I didn’t care one iota. I devoured each volume of GANTZ as it came out, frantically flicking the action-packed pages over like an adrenaline junkie, consuming each volume in a matter of minutes, before having to wait months for the next one…

And… I’m hopeful the, well… what do you call a subsequent series that is set at the same time as the original? Not a sequel, a parallelaquel perhaps? Anyway, I am hoping GANTZ G: (just one volume out so far!) might just answer at least that one particular burning question for me and millions of other Gantz devotees.

For people intending to commence hostilities with these reprints, I can see three major advantages. Firstly, it looks like they are on a four-monthly publication schedule, so presuming they wrap the 37 volumes into 12 omnibi, you only have to wait for roughly four years to get the lot. Plus they work out at about two-thirds of the price. Also, you will be able to read GANTZ G: simultaneously for double the insanity and perhaps twice the comprehensibility!

JR

Buy Gantz Omnibus vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Scarecrow Princess (£13-99, Roar) by Federico Rossi Edrighi…

“When the fields thrive, the sky becomes peat and the earth turns into gold. At the time of the richest harvests, he cometh.
“The deceiver, the thief, the drinker of eyes. The all-devouring black cloud.
“The King Of Crows.
“The earth is stripped bare by the insatiable shadow of his wings. And only the awakening of The Scarecrow Prince shall contain his hunger.”

“Then what?”
“Then nothing! There’s barely a page on the subject here! Perhaps we could have chosen a better-documented myth, mum.”
“Well, it’s a great opportunity to get our creative juices flowing! For the illustrations, I’m already thinking of a synthetic and dirty stroke, without any pointless virtuosities.”
“And make readers hate?”
“It’s not the job of an author to give the readers what they want… it is the job of author to give the reader what they need.”
“And today’s readers need superficial illustrations, right?”
“It was just an idea. When did you become so negative?”

 

 

Federico Rossi Edrighi is either a total wag or blissfully unaware of the irony he’s just perpetuated. For your first impression of the art here may very well be that it is comprised “of a synthetic and dirty stroke, without any pointless virtuosities”.

We’ll just get this one out of the way right now. The art style won’t spoil anything at all for you. In fact, by the end of this work, particularly whenthe King Of Crows finally arrives in full effect, all distressingly angular and midnight black of raiment, I found myself rather appreciating it. It is, however, going to prove a stumbling block for some, I suspect. Which is a real shame because this is a very gripping, bum-squeakingly suspenseful all-ages story full of spite and mystery…

 

 

Here’s the altogether natural and rather virtuous publisher pith to put you in the peculiarly drawn picture…

“Morrigan Moore has always been moody, but her new home is the worst. Her novelist mother has dragged her to the countryside, drawn by the lost myth of the King of Crows, a dark figure of theft and deceit, and the Scarecrow Prince, the only one who can stand against him. When Morrigan finds herself swept up in the legend, she’ll have no choice but to take on the Scarecrow Prince’s mantel, and to stand and fight. For her town, her family, and her own future. This… will pull you into its sinister secrets and not let go till the final page. For fans of Coraline…”

 

 

Yes, I definitely get the CORALINE reference. It certainly has that menacing, brooding feel to it. And that’s just to start with. Then the tension and peril really begins to ratchet up with increasing rapidity as Morrigan gradually starts to realise just how much trouble she’s really in. But, that’s what you get for being moody!! If Morrigan manages to survive, and somehow save her dysfunctional family and the unappreciative townsfolk in the process, maybe she’ll lighten up a bit! Recommended.

JR

Buy The Scarecrow Princess and read the Page 45 review here

Corpse Talk Queens & Kings And Other Royal Rotters (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy.

Haha! Even the title’s an additional pun! Brilliant!

And this humour-lit history lesson is indeed brilliant, like all former CORPSE TALKs you’ll find reviewed at so much length in Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Collection Section that I have honestly now run out of words.

Off you trot that away, please! And make sure you take a good gander at my review of Adam and Lisa’s LOST TALES too: it won a Blue Peter Award and they’re not dished out lightly.

“The third amazing thematic Corpse Talk book – all about the most astonishing rulers from history ever! Adam Murphy interviews the high-and-mighty men and women who changed the world – getting their stories straight from the corpses’ mouths! Reading Corpse Talk: Queens and Kings is like having history turned upside-down! It guarantees laughs, surprises, and a whole host of facts told to you by the rulers from all over the world, themselves. From Cleopatra to Queen Vic to Moctezuma, these are some royals with stunning tales to tell…”

It is all 100% historically accurate. The comedy lies in the telling, not messing around with recorded facts.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Queens & Kings And Other Royal Rotters and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Dark Knight Master Race s/c (£22-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & Andy Kubert.

Now out in softcover.

“Hey, good-looking!”
“What?”
“You make a pretty convincing Batman.”
“You think so?”
“You got mad game. Did he train you?”
“Who?”
“Bruce Wayne. What’s your name?”
“Bruce Wayne.”
“Bruce Wayne?”
“Bruce Wayne is dead! BRUCE WAYNE IS DEAD! BRUCE…WAYNE… IS…”

“Dead. That’s what you said. How?”

Sequels. Whether it be film or comics, it’s very rare that a sequel matches or even surpasses the original. You might actually wonder why they bother, but I’m not going to pop open that particular can of shark repellent… I mean worms…

 

 

BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, from way back in 1986, I hope we can all agree, is a classic of the modern superhero sub-genre. Along with Miller’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN also from 1986, (soon to be completely bastardised no doubt for the third season of Marvel’s Netflix Daredevil… sigh…), and that other book with the blue person with the funny tattooed forehead in, from yes you guessed it, 1986 (wasn’t that a rather pivotal year in superhero comics?), who will be popping up again in DOOMSDAY CLOCK, they helped shatter the paradigm of what people expected from superhero comics. And thus instantly redefined what people wanted. Shame we’ve had so relatively little of that level of quality since in this niche comics sub-genre.

 

 

Its loose sequel, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, from 2001, I would argue, falls into the mis-understood classic category. People wanted more of the same, and Frank dared to give them something different. Thus many people didn’t get it initially, like myself I will very freely admit, but then upon a second read I loved it, because it had something very distinct of its own to say.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Threequel that wasn’t, when we had HOLY TERROR, originally intended to be Holy Terror, Batman! Frank had something to get off his chest post-9/11, it was just that DC wasn’t comfortable with it being a Dark Knight Bat-book, so Batman became The Fixer, taking out Al Qaeda wholesale in New York City. I found it a bit one-dimensional, frankly, veering dangerously towards crypto-fascism and possibly even a teeny-weeny bit racist (just a personal opinion…) and I think the safest thing I can say about it… is that probably absolutely no one regards it as a classic… Given Frank’s well-documented wider health struggles over recent years, I genuinely wonder how he himself regards it now.

 

 

So, rolling forward to 2017… What has Frank got to say this time? Well… interestingly he was paired up with Brian Azzarello for the storytelling. I have absolutely no idea who has done exactly what but I’m guessing Frank came up with the plot outline and Brian helped whip the script into shape. Probably like Ben Hur riding a chariot. Before we go any further on that score, I will say Andy Kubert on pencils, Klaus Janson on inks and indeed Brad Anderson on colours are all superb, hitting the heights you want on a book as much anticipated as this. Right, back to the writing…

I read this initially as it was coming out in issues and my thoughts at the time were it got off to an exceptionally strong start in the first couple of issues, neatly reprising certain conceits from BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS like the talk show hosts providing their own one-eyed politicised commentaries, plus updating neat little devices like the television-framed footage to mobile hand-held devices so indicative of our modern social-media sharing society. It then seemed to sag somewhat in the middle, but that was in part definitely due to the delays in release, before seeming to finish strongly enough. It definitely benefitted hugely from being re-read in one go.

 

 

In terms of the story, Superman and Wonder Woman now have two children, the teenage Lara and the infant Jonathan, neatly paying a sweet nomenclaturical tribute to both Clark’s Kryptonian and human roots. Though old Big Blue himself has skulked off the Fortress of Solitude to wallow in self-pity, partly due to the events of BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, entirely encasing himself in ice, leaving Diana to take on the parenting duties alone! Consequently she’s struggling with rebellious teen Lara, who definitely sees herself as old-school Kryptonian and not remotely compassionate towards humanity. Carrie Kelly, meanwhile, Robin from the previous two Dark Knight works you may recall, seems to have replaced the late Bruce Wayne, finally killed in action three years previously, as Batman. He’s not dead, obviously.

“This mean you’re not dead anymore, Boss?”

‘This’ being the thousand Kandorians, let loose entirely due to the good intentions of Dr. Ray Palmer aka The Atom and rather less so of Lara, who led by the murderous Quar have decided to take over the Earth and if mankind doesn’t start worshipping them and doing exactly what Quar wants, be wiped off the face of the globe. If only Bruce Wayne wasn’t dead, if only someone could persuade Clark out of his self-imposed isolation, if only Diana wasn’t too busy looking after the baby to help… The rest of the Justice League might be useful too, I reckon… If only someone could do some additional tie-in mini-comics about them…

 

 

This is definitely a more straightforward work than either of its two predecessors. It does however have some distinct on-point things to say about the current state of the world we live in. And the current orange President makes a typically excruciating appearance. For the most part, it says them very eloquently, often rather amusingly and with some considerable degree of wit, and rather even-handedly. There are only two things I wish had been done differently. I wish Quar had had a less Arabic sounding name. And that his ‘wives’ weren’t wearing garb akin to that you would see a Saudi prince dressed in. Those two points just made me slightly uncomfortable.

Miller obviously wishes to very overtly draw the analogy with ISIS and their insane desire for hegemony at all costs. He clearly does, and actually, I suppose that is fine, but it just felt slightly unnecessary for those two strident embellishments to make it so obvious. If it weren’t for HOLY TERROR, and also some of his previous statements, they might not have bothered me at all, but because of that, I was probably subconsciously looking for something of that ilk, which I consequently found. I am aware he still feels very strongly about the events of 9/11 and he clearly still wants to express that in his comics, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising.

 

 

Where any such imbalance, real or not, is entirely redressed, at least in comics terms, is in that which was entirely lacking in HOLY TERROR, for this work has humanity and heart by the bucket load. There are some big emotional swings and personal journeys for various characters in this work, not least one stinging betrayal and dramatic redemption in particular, but this book also feels like Frank Miller’s redemption, partial or whole depending on your viewpoint, to me, again, in comics terms. He can still clearly write good comics, even with the unquantifiable assistance of Brian Azarello, which for all I know was something DC insisted upon for editorial control reasons. Anyway, as a team they certainly worked very well together.

This delightfully chunky softocover collects all nine issues of the main Master Race series, plus the additional very enjoyable mini-comics that came stapled into the middle of the issues, featuring all the various major old school Justice League members in a full set of cameos, with art from Eduardo Risso and John Romita Jr. How’s that for two fill-in artists?! There are also a few sketch pages and pin ups chucked in for good measure. Shame they didn’t include the 57-page DARK KNIGHT RETURNS prequel one-shot THE LAST CRUSADE, also co-written with Azarello, with its delightfully twisted, exquisitely painful ending, that came out in the middle of this run of issues. Still, at £22-99 for all that material, which Marvel would no doubt have been trying to charge at least another fifteen quid for, it’s very good value indeed.

Will this go down as a classic? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly an extremely good sequel well worth the price of admission.

JR

Buy Batman: Dark Knight Master Race s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Berlin (Complete) h/c (£35-00, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jason Lutes

Woman World (£17-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Aminder Dhaliwal

Roly Poly: Phanta’s Story h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Semanas

A City Inside h/c (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Tillie Walden

A New Jerusalem (£12-99, New Internationalist) by Benjamin Dickson

Age Of Bronze vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Image) by Eric Shanower

Dry County s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rich Tommaso

Eric (£24-99, Robots & Monkey Publishing) by Tom Manning

Hilda And The Hidden People h/c (Prose) (£9-99, Flying Eye Books) by Stephen Davis, Luke Pearson

I Feel Machine (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Krent Able, Box Brown, Julian Hanshaw, Erik Svetoft, Shaun Tan, Tillie Walden

Kick-Ass: The New Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Oblivion Song vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Lorenzo De Felici

Penguins (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Nick Thorburn

Slam! vol 2: The Next Jam (£13-99, Image) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish

Strangers In Paradise XXV vol 1: The Chase s/c (£14-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 3: Burning Seas s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Star Wars: Thrawn s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jody Houser & Luke Ross

All-Star Batman vol 3: The First Ally s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, Rafae Scavone & Rafael Albuquerque, Sebastian Fiumara

Justice League vol 7: Justice Lost s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Christopher Priest & Pete Woods, Ian Churchill, Philippe Briones

Nightwing vol 6: The Untouchable s/c (£16-99, DC) by Sam Humphries, various & Bernard Chang, various

Superman And The Legion Of Superheroes s/c (£13-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Franks

Wonder Woman vol 6: Children Of The Gods s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson & Carlo Pagulayan, various

Fragments Of Horror h/c (£10-99, Viz) by Junji Ito

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2018 week one

September 5th, 2018

I’ve been out of the country for a week and am still (allegedly) on holiday, so all reviews this week are by Jonathan.

Featuring Fiona Smyth, Michael DeForge, Jessica Campbell, Kristen Gudsnuk, Tom King, Mike Mignola, Inio Asano, Noah Van Sciver and more…

Somnambulance (£21-99, Koyama Press) by Fiona Smyth…

I must confess, Fiona Smyth was not a name I was familiar with. But she’s been cranking out the comics for nigh on thirty five years now. Based out of Toronto this kaleidoscope black and white collection of shorts, oddities and err… short oddities… certainly made sure I knew what she was all about by the time I completed it.

Here’s the publisher’s sweet sleep-inducing murmurings to initiate a waking dream and enter the sequential art supra-consciousness…

“Collecting a career in comics from 1983-2017 by a joyous, feminist contemporary of Julie Doucet, Seth, and Chester Brown… by Canadian cartoonist, painter, and illustrator Fiona Smyth. Over thirty years of comics that feature Fiona’s world of sexy ladies, precocious girls, and vindictive goddesses is revealed in all its feminist glory. This is recommended reading for sleepwalkers on a female planet.”

 

 

I certainly get the Julie MY MOST SECRET DESIRE Doucet comparison, though the big difference is that Julie’s comics are much more straightforward and grounded in reality than this material which is much more visual and far less narrative driven. It feels like comics by someone who is also a painter and illustrator rather than comics being their primary / solo medium of communication.

I don’t mean that as a slight, far from it, as the storytelling is most certainly there, but the visuals feel like Fiona’s chosen primary tool of engaging the reader. The key sentence in the blurb is most definitely “Fiona’s world of sexy ladies, precocious girls, and vindictive goddesses is revealed in all its feminist glory”. This is no salacious tome of titivation, not at all, yet there is a fair degree of artistic adult content with the ladies firmly on equal terms, if not on top. Figuratively speaking, I should add.

 

 

I might personally have chucked in a comparison to Lynda WHAT IT IS Barry, Donna DESERT PEACH Barr, Roberta NAUGHTY BITS Gregory and also Peter KAFKAESQUE Kuper too for various stylistic and story-telling reasons. Plus the material has at times a sense of the romantic bawdiness Jess CHESTER 5000 XYZ Fink has in abundance.

 

 

I’m also intrigued how Fiona feels about being name-checked alongside Chester PAYING FOR IT Brown given her feminist credentials… I’d like to ask her as based on this selection of zany / insane material, she certainly seems as though she’d be extremely interesting to have a conversation with. I don’t get the Seth comparison either, aside from the Canadian connection.

Anyway, it’s always great to see a chunky retrospective collection of a hard-working talented comics creator hit the shelves. I’m sure much like Chris THE NEW WORLD – COMICS FROM MAURETANIA Reynolds this will introduce Fiona to a new generation, indeed generations, of devotees.

JR

Buy Somnambulance and read the Page 45 review here

A Western World (£16-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge…

Collects fifteen, count ‘em, fifteen short stories most of which (possibly all, I’m really not sure) have previously appeared, according to the blurb in the back, in Michael’s ad-hoc LOSE series of comics for Koyama Press, ON TOPICS comics for Breakdown Press, KRAMERS ERGOT #9 (volume 10 coming in February 2019 by the way eclectic comics fans) and ISLAND #10*.

The man is certainly prolific… and perhaps a little unhinged. He seems to have an obsession with transmogrification, for sure, amongst other oddities. He is also a huge favourite of mine!

Happily for me, and also therefore I suspect all but the most ardent and on-point DeForge fans, especially given the spotty availability and small print runs of much of his periodical output, there were probably about half the tales in this collection which I hadn’t read before. So, even if you have some of this material already, the collection is still very much worth picking up.

* This is actually wrong, weirdly. The story, Mostly Saturn, which I’m about to reprise my mini-review of below, didn’t appear in ISLAND #10, but in fact ISLAND #8. He was also slated to have something in ISLAND #10, which probably was this particular story, but it must have then got pulled forward into #8 for some reason. I remember it well, because I was a) surprised to find he had something in #8, then disappointed when he didn’t have something else in #10! (Note: whilst they are not on our website, at time of typing, we still have ISLAND #4,#5,#7,#8,#9,#10,#13,#15 on the shelves).

Right… on with the review…

“This probably seems like a big decision.
“I’m certainly thankful it’s not my decision to make.
“But if it’s helpful, try thinking of it this way instead.
“It’s not a big decision.
“It’s just one decision.
“In a lifetime of others.”

This is the US Vice President, who has kindly been given an impossible conundrum to crack by Michael DeForge. For in this extended self-contained yarn, whenever an American citizen dies they are reincarnated as an alien in a Utopian colony on Saturn. Why? No one knows.

Just like no one has any idea why these new arrivals reincorporate at the exact age they were at the time of their death before they gradually begin de-ageing, Benjamin Button-fashion, to nothingness.

 

 

What happens to them then? You’ve guessed it, no one knows. It’s not surprising therefore that more than a few Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands and head off for this brave new world, the President included, leaving the VP up to his neck in it.

 

 

Where will it all end? Fortunately for us, Michael DeForge does know and if you read this, you will too!

* But not if read you ISLAND #10… No, then you will just be left wondering forever before you… well, whatever you believe happens when you pop off the planet. Unless you buy this collection, of course…

JR

Buy A Western World and read the Page 45 review here

XTC69 (£8-99, Koyama Press) by Jessica Campbell…

“Oh yeah, I’m Jessica Campbell”
“GASP! GASP!”
“Commander…”
“QUIET! Who gave you this name?”
“Uh… my parents…
“But, uh… maybe you’re thinking of the actress from “Election?”
“Or, uh, the contemporary Christian music singer?
“Or the college circuit comedienne?”
“Commander! We must kill her!”
“NO! Let me introduce myself… I am Commander Jessica Campbell.”

Gasp indeed! But how can a woman who has been in stasis for seven hundred years, the sole remaining inhabitant of that world, have the same name as the doughty leader of a desperate space expedition to find males for a planet full of females to mate with to save their race?

It’s a fair question…

 

 

And you will eventually get all the answers in this ribald and ridiculous space burlesque. Just don’t expect any hard sci-fi along the way. Lots of laughs and poking fun at Incels for sure, though, which is never a bad thing. In its delightfully daft tone and saucy it minds me a little bit of Jess Fink’s time travel travail WE CAN FIX IT!

 

 

Art-wise – and on the farce front too – I can see strong elements of James MECHABOYS Kochalka. So if you’re a fan of his particular brand of insouciantly preposterous, this is definitely for you.

JR

Buy XTC69 and read the Page 45 review here

Making Friends (£11-99, Scholastic) by Kristen Gudsnuk…

“How can you be cool when trying to be cool makes you not cool?”
“Because people can smell your desperation. Just, like, exist. Exist whilst not caring what other people think.”

The irony being that Madison, the arbiter of cool, only exists at all because Danielle created her. Madison isn’t aware of that. Yet…

Back in my day, we only had the Fonz to advise on these matters… Anyway, here’s a surprisingly detailed synopsis provided by Scholastic the publisher about how Danny got herself into this particular pickle of popularity craving. Pay attention you at the back there!

“Danielle needs a perfect friend, but sometimes making (or creating) one is a lot easier than keeping one! Sixth grade was so much easier for Danny. All her friends were in the same room and she knew exactly what to expect out of life. Now that she’s in seventh grade, she’s in a new middle school, her friends are in different classes and forming new cliques, and she is totally, completely lost.

“What Danny really needs is a new best friend! So when she inherits a magic sketchbook from her eccentric great-aunt in which anything she sketches in it comes to life, she draws Madison, the most amazing, perfect, and awesome best friend ever. The thing is, even when you create a best friend, there’s no guarantee they’ll always be your best friend. Especially when they discover they’ve been created with magic!”

Yes… for Madison does indeed discover that she isn’t the transfer student with the out-of-town parents that she thought she was and well, it goes pretty much how you might imagine in terms of Madison and Danielle’s budding friendship. Fortunately for Danielle she also has the disembodied floating head of the evil, though rather dishy, Prince Neptune from her favourite anime, who was her first accidental creation, to keep her company. His advice tends to be more of the blunt just-don’t-give-a-whatsit variety, rather than how to win friends and influence people, plus despite being without a torso he’s not entirely given up on global domination…

 

 

This crackpot blend of magic and moral message works extremely well. Whilst it might not get into as anywhere near as thorough an examination of friendship as Shannon Hale’s REAL FRIENDS which should be recommended reading for all young people, particularly girls, it has sufficient punch to make it distinct from just another fun, frivolous adventure.

The art style will remind you of many, many different creators, not least Bryan Lee SCOTT PILGRIM O’Malley, though less polished. It has more than a look of the STEVEN UNIVERSE TV show (and comic spin-offs!) too. In other words, ideal for such a delightfully off-beat story. The ending, when it comes, is suitably epically chaotic and entirely appropriate given Danielle’s avid love of anime! The real moral of the story? If you do have access to a magic sketchbook, don’t draw a nasty noggin with a penchant for tyrannical terror…

JR

Buy Making Friends and read the Page 45 review here

The Omega Men: The End Is Here s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom King & Barnaby Bagenda…

Actually the end was here on August 30th 2016 when this excellent kidnapped and having a crisis of faith Kyle Rayner-starring mini-series trade paperback came out. At that point Tom King was really only on my radar for his superb VISION mini-series for Marvel and his intense Iraq-based THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON that may or may not have been informed by his time in the CIA.

I wasn’t that blown away by the start of his current Batman run, being completely frank, but from volume 4 onwards it’s been really rather good, including the exceptional BATMAN VOL 5: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT which Stephen reviewed.

I think also possibly, I was still a bit burnt out on all things lantern post-Geoff Johns and I haven’t really enjoyed the various Lantern-based Rebirth titles so I guess just slipped under my radar.

Anyway, this is a very enjoyable self-contained work about Kyle Rayner getting himself abducted on the far side of the Universe by a group of freedom fighters / terrorists trying to free an entire galaxy, developing Stockholm Syndrome as they try to turn him to their cause but possibly engendering a wee bit of the lesser-known Lima Syndrome in his captors too.

It perhaps doesn’t take too much to see Tom King might be leaning on his previous career a little bit here!

 

 

The result is an extremely well-written story which touches on the falsehoods of public politics and organised religion and the myriad foibles of their representatives, but also deals very cleverly with the dichotomy of perception regarding the hero or villain status of those taking up armed insurrection. Plus just delivers a devilishly tight capes n’ tights caper. Which I submit to you is a tongue twister even Eel O’Brian might have some difficultly with…

Wonderful art from Barnaby Bagenda who sounds like someone who ought have a sideline in writing tongue twisters, but happily he clearly doesn’t need to give up the day job based on the evidence of this work. I must confess I hadn’t heard of him before but he’s a real talent.

 

 

It all just goes to prove superhero yarns can be thought provoking if someone has the talent, the inclination and gets given the freedom from the corporate overlords to write a decent story.

JR

Buy The Omega Men: The End Is Here s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bram Stoker’s Dracula h/c (£26-99, IDW) by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Mike Mignola, John Nyberg…

Right, apparently you’ve all been clamouring for this. Well, according to the publisher blurb you have…

“Mike Mignola is one of the most popular comic book artists of the past 30 years, known for such important works as Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Cosmic Odyssey, and, of course, Hellboy. Considered to be among Mignola’s greatest works, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was his last project before Hellboy launched and was originally released as a full-colour four issue adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie released by Columbia Pictures (Sony). Unavailable for nearly 25 years, and collected here for the first time ever in gorgeous black and white, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a book fans have long been clamouring for… and the wait is finally over.”

 

 

So it’s actually Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula then? Or, given he did the movie script, Roy Thomas’ Dracula. I really rather enjoyed the much-maligned film in question which cast Gary Oldman as the tragic figure of Prince Vlad Dracula of Szeklys, who renounced his Christian God and cursed himself forever upon learning of the suicide of his beloved wife, who believed Vlad had fallen in battle against the Turkish hordes invading his homeland. I thought it was a rather different take on the character and intriguing twist on the classic story, making it a doomed romance between Dracula and Mina.

 

 

I’ve no idea why this collection is in black and white as opposed to colour, which the original issues were, but it’s still that instantly recognisable Mignola style and is incredibly atmospheric with extensive use of heavy shadow. It sounds like the only source for the artwork might have been Mignola’s original pencilled pages, a few of which are reproduced without John Nyberg’s inks at the back. So presumably the decision was made not to redo it in colour purely for artistic reasons.

JR

Buy Bram Stoker’s Dracula h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano…

“What… are we… doing here?”

Errr… reading reviews?

So, volume 2 of Inio GOODNIGHT PUNPUN / SOLANIN / GIRL ON THE SHORE Asano’s latest round of lunacy sees the most rubbish alien invasion ever take another surreal turn as one of the extraterrestrial interlopers dons a human disguise to walk amongst us. Meanwhile Kadode Koyama and her school chums just blithely continue on worrying about exams without a care in the world about the huge mothership hovering over Tokyo. I really have no idea whatsoever where the story is going.

As before, Asano takes great delight in sending up various ridiculous manga tropes, which is another wonderful element to this work that elevates the mischief factor even further. For example, a mere nine pages in and we get the gratuitous up-skirt panty shot. Except these panties have KILL stencilled on them in massive capital letters. The look on the face of the passing boy with headphones on, who inadvertently catches a glimpse as Kadode’s best chum Ouran performs an acrobatic free-running leap over his head is priceless. Sadly I could only find one of the preceding pages online…

 

 

For much more on the crackpot characters and bizarre goings-on please read the extensive review of DEAD DEAD DEMON’S DEDEDEDE DESTRUCTION VOL 1.

JR

Buy Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

More Copies Found!

Disquiet (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver…

“Why’d you run away, Dad?”
“Huh?”
“From Mom and me. How could you do that? How could you be so selfish? We needed you.”
“Hold on a minute.”
“Not having you around really fucked me up. Mum had to work at an art store. We were poor. Where were you?”
“Is this what you found me for? To confront me?”
“I’m trying to understand you.”
“If I could go back in time there’s a lot of things I would do differently.”
“You wouldn’t have run out on us? You would’ve stayed with mom?”
“I wouldn’t have married your mom.”
“And where does that leave me? In the same spot?”
“You’re a grown man now, Nathan. I’m sorry for any problems you have, but part of being an adult is to stop blaming your parents for whatever shortcomings you have. That’s pretty basic.”

The Archduke of downbeat returns with a collection of 14 shorts that range from the darkly comedic to just plain dark.

 

 

This selection of early and more current material showcases both Noah’s prodigious writing talent and evolving artistic capabilities, covering tales such as the black and white ‘Dive Into The Black River’ and also ‘Down In A Hole’ that have that bittersweet impending car crash feel, and look, of his longer form SAINT COLE.

 

 

Then there are the more overtly humorous pieces such as the colour ‘Untitled’ that minded me of the brutally farcical FANTE BUKOWSKI. The second volume of FANTE has now been published since we first ran this review, and I did chuckle to see the not-so-great man of literature himself sat on a bench, note pad in hand, bottle at his feet, as a bonus extra between two stories. Plus Noah also revisits his love of the period yarn a couple of times (as in the sadly out of print THE HYPO: THE MELANCHOLIC YOUNG LINCOLN) with particular period linguistic vigour in ‘The Death Of Elijah Lovejoy’ about a Presbyterian newspaper editor who had dared to take a stand against the lynching of an escaped slave.

 

 

I only see Noah on an upward trajectory, I have a feeling there’s much, much more to come from him. He seems such an unassuming chap as well, even down his recent assertion that he only has the 4th best moustache in comics! It’s a real bushy belter of an ’80s Tom Selleck Magnum PI number which I suspect and sincerely hope has been grown for entirely comedic effect. I am also intrigued as to who he ranks as 1, 2 and 3! He seems like a real sweetie, he must be because he’s even managed to get his ex-girlfriend to write a very endearing and only mildly revealing foreword for him. Why am I not surprised he’s a Belle and Sebastian fan?

JR

Buy Disquiet and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

ALL THESE LINKS WORK; I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE STRIKE-THROUGHS ARE ALL ABOUT!

Hellboy Omnibus vol 4 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola

Sullivans Sluggers (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Andrew Smith & James Stokoe

Me And My Fear (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna

Monstress vol 3: Haven s/c (£14-99, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

Prism Stalker vol 1 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sloane Leong

The Fix vol 3: Deal Of Fortune s/c (£14-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Twisted Romance s/c (£14-99, Image) by Alex De Campi, various & Katie Skelly, various

Walking Dead vol 30: New World Order (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Scarecrow Princess (£13-99, Roar) by Federico Rossi Edrighi

Beatles Yellow Submarine h/c (£26-99, Titan) by Bill Morrison

Batman / Catwoman: The Wedding Album Deluxe Edition h/c (Rebirth) (£15-99, DC) by Tom King & David Finch

Batman: Dark Knight Master Race s/c (£22-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & Andy Kubert

Batman: Detective Comics vol 7: Batman Eternal s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & various

Batman: Preludes To The Wedding s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King, Tim Seeley & various

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 8: To Kill For s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Talajic Dalibor, Ibraim Roberson

X-Men Red vol 1: Hate Machine s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Mahmud A. Asrar

Gantz Omnibus vol 1 (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2018 week five

August 29th, 2018

Featuring Chabouté., Anders Nilsen, Andi Watson, Brenna Thummler, Cullen Bunn, Mark Torres, Jeff Smith, Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera, Davide Furno, Francesco Francavilla, Joanthan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham, more!

Alone (£15-99, Faber & Faber) by Chabouté.

“IMAGINATION n. The ability to form a mental image of fictional or perceived objects or concepts not actually present to the senses. The ability to invent, create, or concoct.”

With that definition, this book begins.

If it were Chabouté blowing his own trumpet, I would not begrudge him, but it isn’t. Both its form and its content constitute a very clever conceit at the heart of this work, which only someone as sharp as Chabouté could possibly have invented, created or concocted and then controlled by the astute observation that that which has never been observed may be subject to an even wilder imagination.

It’s first signalled by an initially baffling “BOOM!” resounding from the top of an otherwise silent lighthouse.

 

 

From the creator of THE PARK BENCH which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, this UK edition of an earlier work is almost as wordless, this time because it stars a lifetime loner living a solitary existence in a lighthouse surrounded by sea, and two men on a boat whose taciturn skipper does not encourage conversation.

Regardless, there is absolutely no substitute for slowly turning a sequence of Chabouté’s elegant and eloquently orchestrated pages, like the first sixteen here showing a choppy ocean swept over by a seagull before finally alighting on a corroded iron railing, only to be battered off by a crashing wave. It flies higher above the sea-bashed rocks, circling and circling the single, beacon-topped tower until it reaches railings far safer, around the giant lantern itself.

 

 

Then “BOOM!” Something is happening inside.

The sun sets. Time passes. You’ve just passed page sixteen and if you adore sequential art, you will already be in love with this book. However, we have only just begun…

 

 

 

A small trawler approaches the lighthouse rock from afar. It moors up against the concrete quay. A couple of crates are unloaded. The skipper shouts at his new employee to hurry it up. What could possibly be the rush? The boat casts off again, the skipper barking more complaints. It’s no wonder the other guy keeps his own council. Until days later, upon a return visit, he can no longer contain his curiosity about the boxes, suspecting his skipper of smuggling, drugs-running or money laundering.

“They’re supplies. Food!
“That’s right!
“I leave boxes there every week. Been doing it for years.”

They stare up at the lantern.

“He was born there.
“His mother gave birth in the lighthouse…
“He lived with his parents. His father was the keeper.
“His mother died first.
“And then, fifteen years ago, when his father died…
“The kid preferred to stay in there. Well… kid… he was thirty-five then. He must be fifty or so now…
“The guy’s never set foot on land.”

No one’s ever seen him, either. He only fishes with a line once the coast is clear.

 

 

“BOOM!” We see leafy boughs.
“BOOM!” a stallion is startled, and stampedes.
“BOOM!” a centaur in gladiator gear rears up and glares out from under the shadow of his helmet menacingly.

What on earth are those sequences doing there?! I’m not going to tell you.

It’s worth studying the window ledge though, when you find out, for the few found objects of flotsam and jetsam that have washed up on the quay or perhaps been hooked on the fishing line. Then, when there are wonkier sequences still…

Oh, it’s so clever!

 

 

There’s plenty of tension from time to time, but also a great deal of humour. For example, those wonky sequences, but also this: the recluse’s only companion is a goldfish in a goldfish bowl. Yes, he is surrounded by fish and surrounded by water, yet he keeps a goldfish in water. On the poignant side, it too is living a solitary existence, isolated from the rest of the world, imprisoned, but it isn’t aware of its situation, so doesn’t know what it’s missing.

Infer what you will for what follows.

 

 

There’s a superb use of silhouette and contour, and an echoing spiral staircase, a very high tide which serves to emphasise the confinement, and a kindness which may prove anything but.

SLH

Buy Alone and read the Page 45 review here

Tongues #1 (£13-99, self-published) by Anders Nilsen.

“What do you think, Eagle? Interpret my dream for me. Should I have left her to die?”
“Knowing what you know now?”
“Sure.”
“Yes,” says the eagle. “Clearly.”

If you think the eagle’s being harsh, then look at what we’ve done to this planet. Because the girl they’re referring to was quite possibly the very first human, sculpted by Prometheus from clay.

Also, the eagle and Prometheus are on surprisingly good terms: it addresses the Titan as “my Lord”, pays due deference and doesn’t even rip out his liver until given explicit permission.

“We can pick up tomorrow, as ever.” He’s not exactly going anyway, chained to the mountain, and that liver regenerates daily.

 

 

Once the eagle’s departed, mountain goats or deer lap at Prometheus’ open-wound entrails, signalling the unnatural state of affairs.

The crisp lines and rich colours are gorgeous throughout, and I loved the textures in this sequence, particularly the lush, lichen-like mossy stuff he’s sitting on. It looks pretty springy, rising from the hard rock formations in techno-organic patterns which we know that Nilsen is fond of. It matches Prometheus’ mottled, horny-backed form.

I’m kind of hoping Hercules doesn’t kill the raptor in this version. I like him.

 

 

The second chapter here is actually called ‘Hercules’ – which is intriguing given who startlingly pops back up in it. Long-term Nilsen fans may find him familiar. On the very first page, with the eagle soaring majestically above the desert at dawn, the barren but beautiful land scarred by exploded shell craters and up-ended military jeeps, I thought, “Ooooh, this is a bit DOGS & WATER!” I honestly had no idea.

 

 

The up-ended jeep will be revisited later on. To begin with it attracts the attention of the eagle on account of something rattling around inside it. It’s a monkey. The side-window is shattered resourcefully with a rock, stray glass plucked away by a beak. Then something surprising happens which I found so funny. Terrific cartooning. You haven’t seen the last of that chittering monkey, either.

 

 

From the creator of BIG QUESTIONS, POETRY IS USELESS  DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW, and THE END (GOD AND THE DEVIL back in stock soon), we have the first instalment of a long-form work which poses so many questions, mostly about war both present and in the mythological past, with something slightly futuristic slipped in for good measure. I wonder why so many weapons are being represented as cubes these days? I also wonder it there’s some connection between the squiggly stuff seeping out of the cube is connection in some way to what Prometheus reclines on.

 

 

My final conjecture for the moment is whether the young, Swahili-speaking girl who emerges from the jeep’s boot and pulls herself out from under her two dead friends in ‘The Murderer’ might be a version of Pandora whose story is not unconnected with Prometheus’ (she ends up marrying his brother, Epimetheus in spite of Prometheus’ warnings – hilariously the latter means forethought while the former means afterthought or hindsight!) because she’s the one with that box and that box looks pretty lethal.

It’s reflected in the square of paper, rotated 45 degrees and inserted between the comic’s staples, because Anders simply cannot stop himself when it comes to design. And this is a lavish production, slightly larger than A4 with a thick, cardstock cover and French flaps. Each page of Prometheus’ dream or possibly part-memory is framed in a dissection with yet more entrails and organs.

Anders will be sending us the second instalment shortly.

SLH

Buy Tongues #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The City Never Sleeps (£2-99, self-published) by Andi Watson.

My favourite single, self-contained comic of the year so far, if there were any justice in this industry, it would sweep up on the Eisners.

(There isn’t; it won’t.)

All our copies have been signed.

“It isn’t true to say the city never sleeps.
“The city is an insomniac.”

They’re too very different propositions, aren’t they? The first suggests abundant, eternal energy, the second a debilitating mental malaise. I’ve been in both camps.

“Awake at night, it re-runs the day’s worries on a treadmill of anxiety.
“Preparing contingency plans for traffic flow, dirty bombs, concrete corrosion and flood.
“Forgetting them all in the fog of morning.”

Someone appears to have spent a great deal of time inside what I thought was my private head.

 

 

To begin with we soar above the city at night, composed of so many individual and individualistic sky-scraping entities, clustered together and perhaps communing. But they’re also cramped in a confining night-sky that appears to be rubbed something raw: so many voices, batting and battling about in your head.

The fog of morning lifts them clear from each other in a calm, cool grey and cream sunshine. It is a blessed relief!

But the cycle never stops, does it?

 

 

We’ll return to this first of four short stories in a second, but what I am promising you here are twelve succinct pages of meticulously composed, wit-ridden sequential art inside an exquisitely designed cardstock cover. It’s the first of twelve such mini-comics with a chic, matching trade dress which we’re calling The Andi Watson Collection. They really are that classy, and each will make you grin from ear to ear.  Previously available solely to Andi’s patreon subscribers (https://www.patreon.com/andiwatson), the section will expand as Andi releases each one in turn to Page 45, and we could not be more honoured.

Known to so many families as the creator of GLISTER, GUM GIRL and PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA, Watson’s more adult-orientated material like BREAKFAST AFTER NOON has sadly languished out of print for a shamefully long period now. We made his LITTLE STAR about being a Dad – and it doesn’t get much more mass-appeal mainstream than that – our first-ever Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. So it is a joy to once again promote his prime contemporary fiction, for Andi Watson is one of the finest British creators that this medium has ever known.

 

 

‘Garden Party’ in green will bear strange but all too familiar fruit, and ‘The Eaters’ will make you choke in recognition.

But ‘The Killer Inside Me’ you will never see coming.

And once you have read it, please remember I wrote that.

I was initially perplexed yet intrigued by its page construction in black, pink and purple, but do please trust me when I type that if I continued to describe or analyse its very specific panel layouts in any detail at all, then we would all be spilling into the sad realm of spoilers.

 

 

Instead let’s return to where we came in with the next line of our somnolent city.

“The city never sleeps but it does begin to feel drowsy around mid-afternoon.”

That’s not the punchline by any stretch of the imagination, though that would do fine for me.

No, Andi’s imagination stretches much further than that. As, I hope, you shall see.

SLH

Buy The City Never Sleeps and read the Page 45 review here

Sheets (£11-99, Cubhouse) by Brenna Thummler.

Thirteen-year-old Marjorie has more to contend with than most.

And it shows. Her poor, heavy eyes are so sad.

Her Mom died last spring, “and then Dad sort of did, too.”

He’s become a ghost of a man, floating silently round the house, barely lifting a finger, leaving Marjorie to tend to her brother and run the family business single-handedly, all outside school hours. Unsurprisingly, in spite of all her hard work, the business is starting to crumble.

Some of the customers are far from supportive. Mrs. Waffleton, with eyes like Eastenders’ Angie Watts, cuts her no slack for being even a minute late, while her spoiled daughter Tessi stares, self-absorbed, into the distance.

“Tessi Waffleton always looks like a spring holiday basket.
“But, like, one that you give for revenge or a prank or something that is sort of pretty but is filled with saw blades and worms.”

It’s a perfect description of the overly-made up, pouting girl in pearls. Tessi demands to be the centre of everyone’s attention at school, keeping her entourage in check by denigrating their personal quirky speech patterns. It’s very effective.

These aren’t the worst customers, however.

 

 

Mr Saubertuck immediately grates but seems harmless enough to begin with: eccentric, with lips constantly pursed under a bushy moustache, hair affectedly sculpted with brilliantine and glasses shaped high so as to add to his primly supercilious air. He’s fastidious too, and from this florid suit (everything he wears is patterned) he plucks what I suppose must be a handkerchief but looks more like a pair of pink-patterned panties, and proceeds to wipe down the windows, loudly, squeakily, critically, until he’s drawn attention to himself.

“Oh, don’t mind me.
“I thought this place could use a little TLC.”

He buys a potted plant and plonks it on the counter.

But later he’ll be bringing other things into the laundromat, he’ll find a way of letting himself in, and his self-regard, meddling and presumption will grow increasingly sinister. He has an agenda. I don’t think I’ve disliked a character in comics more since the loathsome Rusty Brown in Chris Ware’s big red ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY h/c. And that’s quite the accolade.

Yes, I found this very affecting in places – very angry-making too.

Wendell, meanwhile, is a ghost. A ghost of the kids-popping-a-bed-sheet-over-their-head-for-Halloween variety. This will prove important.

 

 

 

We first meet Wendell in a ghost town of small suburban shacks and the pinks and mauves and violets give way to an eerie, ethereal, green-tinctured grey. He’s not adjusting well to being dead – he died very young. He’ll tell you how eventually, but for the moment he’s attending group therapy and telling epic fibs about how extravagantly he kicked the bucket.

“See, it all started when I was taken captive by a crew of mutant pirates.”

His tale grows even taller but, in spite of abusing the therapeutic process, his fellow ghosts invite him to the bathhouse.

“Err… bathhouse?”
“Yes, the house with all the baths.”

It’s not just the colours which prove a pale version of reality – even the smells do:

“They just got a new scent of Ghosturizer: Vaguley Vanilla. I hear it’s better than Barely Bubblegum.”

Isn’t this well written?

 

 

Wendell opts instead to go home alone, to stare mournfully out of the caravan window all night. Then from the ghost town he hops on a forbidden ghost train to take him back to the human world, and wakes up in a wicker basket to a glorious sunrise. Tentatively, he tries to make friends with other sheets, flapping in the breeze on a washing line, but they don’t respond to his pokes. Instead he hears the sound of a piano being played, floats up to the open window and sees Marjorie sat at her Mom’s favourite place, the piano. Then… then he ventures downstairs and…!!!

When Wendell discovers the laundromat it’s like the ultimate spa for ghosts! So many luxurious treatments! A sauna of steam, an iron to work out those knots in this sheet’s shoulders, but the centrifugal force of the spin-dryer may give him a bit of a shock!

 

 

 

The profound irony of all this I will leave you to discover for yourselves, but if you think this is where it becomes all comical an’ cute, and Marjorie and Wendell become best friends, then think again. This is, instead, where the nightmares really begin and I honestly believe I’ve told you quite enough already. As in, I’ve laid out all the specific elements which will come into far from clean play.

 

 

Marjorie spends a great deal of time huddled, constantly under threat from all corners. Alternatively, she’s left to stroll on her own down streets which can feel as lonely and as desolate as the ghost town’s, even when strewn with such beautiful, bright autumn leaves.

 

 

 

And the colours are exquisite, absolutely exquisite, the neon pinks of the senescent leaves striking a contrast with the yellow-green lawn they’ve fallen upon.

As I say, very affecting, and fine for all ages.

SLH

Buy Sheets and read the Page 45 review here

Cold Spots #1 (£3-25, Image) by Cullen Bunn & Mark Torres.

An SUV drives through the wrought iron gates of an estate substantial enough to have a sizeable spread of trees, yet close enough to a major city that its light pollution taints the sky purple at night.

It pulls up at the imposing entrance to an even more imposing mansion.

“Mr. Warren values punctuality.
“You’re late.”

It’s always a good idea to establish the hierarchy of employment early on, isn’t it?

A man much younger than the snow-haired butler steps out of the vehicle.

“Is that right?
“Because your boss once told me that he never wanted to see me again.
“By my watch, that makes me early.”

It’s a good line in itself, but also a careful clue artfully slipped in early on, which is why I haven’t quoted you the publisher’s own blurb which is one big blunder-headed spoiler. Instead, I’ll leave you to join your own dots because, quite rightly, they aren’t in the comic itself.

 

 

 

Mr. Warren has reluctantly summoned this Mr. Kerr back after 8 years of absence, for he values his ability to find those who’ve gone missing. And Mr. Warren’s daughter Alyssa went missing, a month ago. There’s a photograph of her in an envelope laden with cash.

“Seems like there was an envelope full of money on the desk the last time I was here.”
“And tell me… how long did those funds last?”

It’s the second photograph which first ruffles Mr. Kerr’s cool, of a girl nearly 8 years old.

“Her name is Grace. She vanished along with her mother. She’s a special child, Mr Kerr, and the courts have seen fit to make me her legal guardian.
“Alyssa was never one to make good decisions.
“I’m concerned for my grand-daughter… for Grace… and I want her brought back to me, where I can protect her. If Alyssa doesn’t want to return… well… It wouldn’t be the first time she’s used poor judgement.”

It’s a scene well played by Mark Torres, for at that last implied sleight, Mr Kerr’s eyes shoot daggers.

Have you figured it out yet? One final clue: Mr Kerr calls Mr Warren “Arthur”.

It’s pretty cold where Mr. Kerr’s headed, to the coast which is close to an offshore island whose inhabitants have recently chosen to dispense with a ferry altogether.

 

 

 

It was preternaturally cold when we first and last saw that island, during the first four pages. Even inside with the thermostat turned up, the breath of the bearded man hangs in the air. His shoulders hang heavy too. He sits alone and pallid in the bungalow’s colourless lounge, overly empty save for some family portraits. also hanging, on the wall.

His wife in the kitchen’s stopped washing the dishes. Instead she’s staring out of the window.

 

 

“Louise? What are you doing?”
“Hmm? I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. I was just watching the boys play.”
“The.. the boys? What are you talking about? You can’t watch them play. The boys are –“

The boys are in the garden, one standing on a swing, the other racing towards a football.

 

 

But you can see right through them. And then there are those faces and eyes

Beautifully judged by Torres for maximum eeriness, there will be more temperamental temperature during the second half of this first issue which I’ve not even touched on.

From the writer of HARROW COUNTY (first two volumes reviewed).

SLH

Buy Cold Spots #1 and read the Page 45 review here

RASL Colour Edition vol 1 (of 3) Drift s/c (£8-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith.

Under Jeff Smith’s direction these colours provided by Steve Hamaker with Tom Gaadt are like little else in the business, with a completely different aesthetic to BONE‘s glossy gleam. For a start the paper stock is a lovely, thick matt while the colours themselves are soft and warm at night, yet clean and bright with wide, azure skies during the day out in the dessert.

There is an extended sequence towards the end of volume 3 when our battered and blood-caked RASL, weighted and weary, lets himself surf slowly down the scree-slopes of the arid, clay-coloured outcrop exposed to a desiccating sun under the indifferent watch of a midday moon. There the blues and the sandy stones complement each other beautifully: heat and light and so much fresh air, even if it’s too hot to handle.

 

 

Jeff Smith even spent two weeks sweating bare-chested in the desert surrounded by cacti – something that’s imprinted itself on the art here. There’s a real physicality to the protagonist with slightly simian looks, his big mop of hair, his compacted, body-builder physique and the fountain of sweat that sprays off his face. Even the way he pulls up his slacks is sexually charged. You imagine he might have a growl like Tom Waits, and he sure likes his liquor bars and strip joints.

 

 

 

So.

Does the name Nikola Tesla mean anything to you? He experimented with electricity and (some would say in hushed whispers) with much, much more. Credit went to his former friend turned ruthless and vengeful enemy, Thomas Edison, while Tesla’s monumental achievements in alternating current were followed by an obsession and deception which proved his downfall, sending him down a different road altogether.*

 

 

This is a brutally noir piece of extrapolated science set over several fictional worlds in which our art-thief hero stole the technology he’s been using to hop between dimensions because it could have been used as an electromagnetic weapon. It involves parallel universes, conspiracy theory, Native American symbolism / spirituality and knowing your Bob Dylan. Well, it does for “RASL” Robert, which is why he knows he made the wrong turning at the trans-dimensional traffic lights.

 

 

Unfortunately someone or something is hot on his tail, has murdered his girlfriend and is on verge of murdering her counterpart if Robert can’t take the fight back to them…

The science, he stole came from a research facility he once helped run. Now the dimensions appear to be cracking. There are echoes, traces, visual footprints if you like, and seemingly random bursts of electricity strong enough to kill hundreds of birds in the sky. Then there’s the strange little girl, mute with a lolling head, who seems to know more than she should. On top of all this Robert has been complicating things beautifully by seeing two different women with multiple counterparts and… oh, you really do have to read this for yourself!

 

 

It’s eerie, unnerving, but utterly compelling, particularly the science itself. It is also, as you’d imagine, very, very beautiful with some extraordinary effects as the rooms start to ripple and morph.

* For more on Tesla, please see CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS and GRAPHIC SCIENCE.

Please note: this review was originally written for the complete RASL h/c and our accompanying images may come from any of the three softcovers.

SLH

Buy RASL Colour Edition vol 1 (of 3) Drift s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scalped Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera, Davide Furno, Francesco Francavilla.

Because I rate this so highly, I’ve written extensive brand-new reviews for this series of five double-editions, but this time I’m merely going to rework what I’ve already for the original volume 5 and 6.

But first, here’s how I introduced SCALPED BOOK 1 and SCALPED BOOK 2 to set the scene.
“Yet, here we are, still forgotten, still a third world nation in the heart of America.”

Crime and grime on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, South Dakota, “where the great Sioux Nation came to die”.

Gone is the majesty, the beauty, the health, the wealth and the freedom to roam. They’ve been replaced by grinding poverty enforced by unyielding societal shackles, dilapidated housing patched up with corrugated iron, refuse-strewn streets, gutted car wrecks abandoned on pock-marked asphalt and a burned-out people deprived of any opportunity but to drink themselves to death.

That’s all that we – the colonising, genocidal White Eyes – have given back to them, in lieu of their true heritage and of the bounty which was already their own. For more of that history, please see the great graphic novel INDEH by Ewan Hawke and Greg Ruth: it will tear your heart out.

 

 

Scalped vol 5: High Lonesome

The series of secrets is blown wide open here.

Some of them come clean whilst others are seen and you will find out who killed Gina Bad Horse.

You’ll find out Agent Nitz’s true agenda and in another flashback witness Diesel’s harsh transformation from a gullible boy just eager to fit in to a ruthless fear-monger. But it’s all about the structure of storytelling here and once more Aaron does not disappoint, setting it up from the perspective of a travelling trickster arriving at the casino to count cards, whose every utterance is a compulsive lie countered neatly by an inner thought. Then Jason Aaron, I imagine, laughs loudly to himself as he makes you wait until the last two chapters to pick that thread back up and bring it all together in a collision of past and present, and a great big fucking shoot-out.

 

 

Scalped vol 6: The Gnawing

And it’s at this pivotal point, when everything looks like it will fall apart for everyone – when Dashiell Bad Horse will be exposed for the undercover FBI agent he is, when his other employer Chief Red Crow will finally be fingered for murder and his casino invaded by the Asian-American crimelords he’s just insulted, when the other undercover agent Diesel will be released from jail by the FBI despite having murdered a young boy Dashiell had taken under his wing – that Catcher re-enters the fray. He’s barely done more than circle so far, preferring the oblivion of booze and visions of the Thunder Beings (which may or may not be the result of said booze), but now he has some words to say to Dashiell and a sniper rifle with one bullet in it which he’s going to make count.

Everything explodes.

 

 

If you read and review enough graphic novels you can see a lot of them being written and a lot of them being drawn, and you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be able to peer behind that curtain. Here you can’t. It’s just that good.

SLH

Buy Scalped Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Fantastic Four By Hickman Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Sean Chen, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Adi Granov.

Bumper book of brilliance and one of the best runs ever on this sporadically functional family. I’ve hardly had to change a word since my original reviews in 2010, just find you the appropriate pretty pictures.

Even the opening quote sent shivers back up my spine after all this time.

But you’ll also find plenty of fun!

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman vol 1

“So… you’ve been spending a lot of time with yourself.”
“Yes, yes I have.”

Right from the cover with its heads circled around the logo, the whole thing smacks of the George Perez era made glossy with Eaglesham’s finishes feeling half John Cassady, half David Finch – clean and sturdy with hairy forearms and some great stubble on Reed Richards. Thought’s even gone into the flashbacks which find a school-aged Reed receiving sound advice from a father who could never quite follow it himself. There the pages are framed by corners of copper wiring and old transistors. And I loved the Perez era, but this is so much sharper and on a much grander scale.

 

 

 

For a start there are some neat parental interactions, background smiles, and a broad theme of having to try without the fear of failing. There’s also the potential for more marital strife as Reed becomes obsessed not with his successes but with the potential he has squandered to do more. For in the face of a future far from bright and in his search to solve everything, he has discovered The Council – The Council of Infinite Reed Richardses.

 

 

They show him The Farm: hundreds of previously uninhabitable planets terraformed to feed galaxies. They show him The Hole wherein a legion of Dr. Dooms are locked away, collared by a mechanism that destroys their higher functions. Then they show him the infinite possibilities of solar surgery from the Upper Dimension. The problem is, he may have to choose between all that accomplishment… and his family.

 

 

There’s a poignant but also joyful juxtaposition between Reed’s dramatic Extra-Dimensional exploits and the morning breakfast table where dreamboat Johnny Storm is a bed-haired slob in a vest, and almost certainly talking with a mouth full of cereal when he’s peeved to hear that Franklin wants Spider-Man to come to his birthday party:

“What do you want that guy for? If you want a super-cool superhero at your party — someone that says, “Franklin Richards: Livin’ The Dream!” — then you’re gonna want the Human Torch, kid. I’m sure I can squeeze it in.”
“Mom, I’d really rather have Spider-Man.”
“Listen, I’m going to tell you this because no one else will, Franklin. Spider-Man sucks.”
“You suck, Suckface!”
“Franklin! Apologise.”
“Okay, Mom. Fine. Sorry, Uncle Suckface.”

 

 

Johnny’s not just vapid here, he’s hilariously childish, only a few mental grades up from Franklin. There are neat visual nods in The Council to previous incarnations of the FANTASTIC FOUR, some interesting variations on former foes, and a return to a Nu-World gone wrong. But Hickman’s opening salvo culminates ominously after Franklin’s birthday when, late at night, the family’s home is invaded by an intruder who has grave news for daughter Val. Unfortunately Franklin stumbles on him first and his mother watches helplessly as her young son is ‘neutralised’ in front of her. What Sue says next is born of pure maternal instinct:

“It doesn’t matter if it takes me the rest of my life, I’m going to find you… I’m going to find you and make you wish you had never been born.”

Or is it?

 

 

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman vol 2

A second tremendous book by Hickman, this time with 100% Eaglesham wonder as the Fantastic Four do what they always do best: explore.

It’s more science than supervillains and that’s how it should be, give or take a Latverian despot. In four seemingly self-contained chapters Hickman and Eaglesham take us around, under and high above the Earth as Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben encounter other races. Some species are new, some quite familiar, for Hickman is building a wider picture peace by peace (sic). But one thing’s quite clear: we are surrounded.

Some clever new ideas like the home-pad analysis after each episode (then, tellingly, during one) and I’m still laughing at Johnny Storm striding onto the Antarctic Ice wearing little more than cowboy boots and a pair of black, red- and gold-flamed boxers.  Why would The Human Torch need insulation?

 

 

NB This volume also includes DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR #1-5 which I’ve never read and a slither from DARK REIGN: THE CABAL.

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four By Hickman Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 The Legend of Kevin: A Roly-Poly Flying Pony Adventure h/c with FREE, EXCLUSIVE Page 45 signed bookplate (£8-99, Oxford University Press) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre.

 

 

Yes, it’s arrived a week early!!!

Here are those exclusive Page 45 bookplates all signed!

 

 

They’re limited to 100 copies and – at the time of typing (5-19pm Tuesday August 28) – over 60 copies have already gone. Review to follow once I’ve read it on holiday. In the meantime please see all the extant reviews in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section!

 

 

We’ve far, far more by Sarah McIntrye solo like THE NEW NEIGHBOURS with its own, signed, limited edition bookplate!

 

 

Strangers In Paradise Gallery Edition h/c (£110-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 2: Change of Plans (£17-99, Image) by David Lapham

Life On Earth Book 1: Losing The Girl (£10-99, Graphic Universe) by MariNaomi

Sugar: Life As A Cat (£14-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Serge Baeken

Love And Rockets (Palomar & Luba vol 7): Three Sisters (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Fruit of Knowledge (£14-99, Virago) by Liv Stromquist

Coyote Doggirl (£17-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lisa Hanawalt

Fang vol 1 (£6-99, Fantagraphics) by Marc Palm

Batman A Lot Of Lil Gotham s/c (£22-99, DC) by Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 3 h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Simon Spurrier, Phillip Kennedy Johnson & Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

Final Fantasy Lost Stranger vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Hazuki Minase & Itsuki Kameya

The Legend Of Korra: Turf Wars Part Three (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh

Tales From The Hidden Valey vol 1: The Artists (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Carles Porta

You Are There (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Claude Forest & Jacques Tardi

Captain America By Mark Waid: Promised Land s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Leonardo Romero, various,

Amazing Spiderman Epic Collection Venom s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Ann Nocenti, David Micheline, various & Cynthia Martin, Alex Saviuk, Todd McFarlane, various

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Javier Rodriguez, various

I Hate Fairyland vol 4: Sadly Never After (£14-99, Image) by Skottie Young

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2018 week four

August 22nd, 2018

Kill Or Be Killed vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“Is everything all right, Dylan?”
“No… not really. But it will be.”

Will it?

It’s the KILL OR BE KILLED finale from the creators of THE FADE OUT, FATALE etc, and if the penultimate chapter’s cliffhanger is a narrative bombshell you couldn’t possibly see coming, then the final-page punchline is a visual whose eyes will bore into your own so hard and so deep – meeting your gaze directly, unflinchingly – that I defy you to look away. For a full five minutes I studied those dense, shining shadows, sweeping black lines and broad colour brushstrokes, so bold that anything behind became even more ethereal. Then, almost as soon as I looked away to flick back through the preceding four pages which made so much sense, I had to return almost immediately.

I think that’s the general idea with obsession.

And this all about obsession.

Up until now KILL OR BE KILLED has been the psychological self-examination of an educated young man with a gnawing sense of social justice but a fine line in convivial conversation as he descends into a surprisingly efficient mass murder spree.

 

 

That initial spree at least is all but over, though there’s always room for one more, don’t you think?

“Stairs are actually not that effective for killing people, in case you were wondering.
“Too many variables. You can never know for sure how someone’s going to land…
“Or if they’re going to break their neck.”

You may have to step in and finish the business on foot.

“I get away with this, by the way.”

The narrative is as charming as disarming as ever: even the chapter breaks (originally the ends to each monthly issue) add to the illusion of this being an off-the-cuff account.

“Shit, I completely forgot.
“Sorry.
“We’ll have to talk about that next time.”

In KILL OR BE KILLED VOLUME 3.I wrote about the disconnect between Dylan’s wretched preoccupations and the beauty which surrounds him which he, cruelly, has no mental access to, and it is only accentuated further on the first two pages here.

 

 

It’s something that comics can do ever so well under the right creators: when the words and the pictures ‘disagree’. Jon Klassen has made a career out of this for comedic, Young Readers purposes. This is tragic instead.

Look at the exquisite silver livery on these idyllic snow-swept scenes and the rapture being relished by those able to fully inhabit those landscapes by being in the moment and sharing between them its gift!

 

 

Now read the words of a perceived grinding life and the fall of the world into geopolitical disorder. “Sad” doesn’t begin to cover it. In volume three of KILL OR BE KILLED Dylan consciously castigated himself thus:

“I’d been so stupid… We’re all so stupid all the time.”
“We stop noticing our miracles.”

Yet within that same volume he almost immediately failed to retain that self-knowledge. It wasn’t wilful, it wasn’t negligent. It was because he was trapped, in his own head and his immediate circumstances of needing to act or the love of his life would be dead. Now he is shackled once again, even further removed from this extraordinary, ordinary joy, and the windows through which he is looking are barred.

The cover may give you a clue, but only on reading this will you understand how he got himself sectioned. It has nothing to do with volume three whatsoever. This is an entirely new development, and, to begin with, Dylan is quite content to be locked up, for it means that the outside world should be safe from him.

It isn’t. Nor is he, from what he has left behind him outside.

 

 

Expect Breitweiser blizzards so dense that they will all but obliterate your vision, which will give Dylan ample opportunity to talk about climate change, industry, government, and the war between wealth and accountability. It will also give the unexpected ample opportunity to sneak unseen upon the unwary.

Sorry…? Oh, you’re halfway through this book and just remembered that sentence. You think I’m referring to that snow storm! Haha!

I’m not.

I’ve run out of time, but it’s also worth studying all the different hair treatments throughout the series. Yes, hair!

 

 

Dylan’s mother’s is completely different from the others’ not only in style but in its method of rendition, far closer to Kira’s. Phillips goes to great lengths to draw identifiable, individual strands of hair for both women and men, whereas Dylan’s mum’s is lifted by mousse to look like a meringue or Mr Whippy.

For far longer, more in-depth reviews, please see previous editions of KILL OR BE KILLED.

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed vol 4 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Idle Days (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau & Simon Leclerc.

“It would only be a matter of minutes.
“You’re alone here.
“By the time the flames are seen, there would be nothing to be done.
“And then… oblivion.”

Two hundred and sixty pages lit by fire and heavy with death, few from natural causes.

It’s happening all over Europe on the landing shores and battlefields of World War II, news seeping over the airwaves and out of radio speakers crackling with static and hundreds of thousands of fatalities. Canada promised there would be no conscription, but reneged. So Jerome deserted and now hides in his grandfather’s remote and rickety old house, sequestered in a forest in Quebec. His grandfather is grumpy and the house needs renovating, for it’s been through several degrees of trauma.

It has an unsettling, opaque history which Jerome becomes increasingly obsessed with uncovering. And, in the night, alone in the barn or out in the woods, Jerome’s mind becomes plagued with startling visions of even more death.

 

 

The art is haunting. The cows at night are silent, wide-eyed and eerie.

The thick textures on the cover refuse to let your eyes settle, while inside the lines and black shadows have evidently been superimposed upon boards separately ‘painted’ in oil pastels and gouache which gives them an unconstrained freedom to roam and bleed out behind, to dance around hair and faces like flame. The forest too shimmers with autumnal light or burning sunset colours in rays across purple evening snow.

 

 

The grandfather’s drawn with a line and looseness reminiscent of those similarly acting their socks off in Dave McKean’s CAGES. He is turn kind, stern and highly evasive, especially when talk turns to digging the garden. They talk while they renovate and they talk round the bonfires at night.

“You know, your father… that hunting accident…
“When something like that happens… it moves to the centre of your mind… and, whether you realise it or not… it can grown to leave little room for anything else.”

At which point, like the mind, the entire panel is consumed by fire.

 

 

Except for brief visits from his mother or Mathilde whom Jerome’s gently courting, their only constant companion is the grandfather’s dog Jack who finds more to bark at than can be seen. That sense of threat pierces what is otherwise a densely claustrophobic sensation throughout, thick with oranges during both night and day. The radio broadcasts add to that claustrophobia and threat, for there are posters splattered about town encouraging folks to dob-in deserters.

 

 

With so much time for solitary thought, there is, throughout, a brooding intensity.

And a house with a history of fire.

SLH

Buy Idle Days and read the Page 45 review here

Spill Zone vol 2 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland with Hilary Sycamore.

 

 

Hats off to Hilary Sycamore, because the colours are phenomenal.

Even before you break into the Spill Zone, the photographs in the gallery glow against its grey walls.

 

 

It’s those colours on Puvilland’s extraordinary geometrical extravagance that give the Spill Zone its sense of the alien and otherness, so when they’re brought outside, the results are thrilling.

But even on the very first page the skyscraper’s been drawn so that its windows play tricks on your eyes, almost moving alive.

And we’ve only just begun…

 

 

“Why do I feel so strange? What’s happening to me?”
“Short version? You bit off more than you can chew.”

How true.

In SPILL ZONE VOL 1 h/c (much longer review with heaps of outstanding interior art) we learned that Addison once worked in secret, photographing the spectacular living art within the deadly, quarantined Spill Zone which erupted one night, three years ago, to swallow the small city of Poughkeepsie.

 

 

It killed every living soul within reach of its transdimensional touch, transforming them into dangling corpses called meat puppets, including Addison’s parents who worked in its hospital which now seems the epicentre of its spectral activities. Addison only survived because she had abandoned her younger sister Lexa, whom she was supposed to be babysitting, to go on a binge-drink outside the city, so she feels pretty bad about that. Lexa only survived because Vespertina, her doll who’s possessed, led her unharmed from the carnage. But Lexa feels pretty bad too, because she harbours a terrible secret, which is why she went schtum for three years.

But now Addison’s ventured too far into the Spill Zone, risking everything for an art collector (and one million dollars paid for by the North Korean government) to extricate an item from the hospital’s radiology department. What if she bumped into her meat-puppet parents, for example?

 

 

She hasn’t, yet. But she did come away touched by what she found within the hospital’s re-jumbled rooms, and now every faction in action is going to converge on Addison: the US army, Don Jae – the sole survivor of North Korea’s own Spill Zone – the American Secret Service, the North Korean Secret Service and the strange new inhabitants of the Spill Zone itself.

For although North Korea’s Spill Zone went inert almost immediately – and you will learn why – Poughkeepsie’s still simmering, beginning to bubble and boil.

It’s about to spill over and out.

 

 

SPILL ZONE VOL 1 h/c was a visual feast of multicoloured questions and so many secrets which were only beginning to be answered, whereas this second half swiftly delivers its key revelations, punches its way through some astonishingly harsh, bonfire reactions (Addison!!!!), then mercilessly administers the repercussions before unleashing its lupine fury on a woodland in which tree trunks are shattered into translucent, crystalline shards.

I loved how Addison rips off her original, corrupt art dealer in precisely the same way in which he used to screw with her (and I love that it’s not sign-posted; thanks for trusting your readership), and there’s a substantial epilogue set another three years later which reunites some of the survivors so satisfyingly, and in quite unexpected ways.

More extensive epilogues, please, certainly for longer works.

 

 

SPILL ZONE VOL 1 is also now out as a s/c but in all honesty that cover is bland, betraying the beauty within for the sake of looking like an Image trade paperback, and if you can’t wait another six months to read volume 2 then I recommend you buying both matching hardcovers for they make a sweet, stylish and metallically enhanced set which reflects the majesty of what you’ll find inside.

SLH

Buy Spill Zone vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Vs vol 1: Front Towards Enemy s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ivan Brandon & Esad Ribic…

“Is that them?”
“It’s not. WAIT…”
“It IS! Do you see him?”
“Praise the Oversight!”
“FLYNN!”
“FLYNN!”

Ahhh… do you love Rollerball with James Caan? If you do, then this is for you without any doubt whatsoever. Here’s the Corporations’ infomercial to educate you further… Just imagine a little Toccata and Fugue in D minor playing away merrily on a pipe organ in the background whilst you allow yourself to be indoctrinated…

“War has become a spectator sport. Privately funded armies of superstar soldiers march into battle for fame, profit, and the glory of their sponsor nations. When a new generation of soldiers arrive, top gladiator Satta Flynn is about to discover how fleeting the limelight can be. From writer Ivan Brandon (BLACK CLOUD, DRIFTER) and superstar artist Esad Ribic (SECRET WARS, UNCANNY X-FORCE) in his creator-owned Image debut, with painted colour by Nic Klein and designs by Tom Muller, VS delivers spectacular action, darkly humorous satire and explores our hunger for fame and our penchant for self-destruction.”

 

 

And also how our future will be shaped by those in charge of our entertainment…

This is indeed a gloriously brutal glimpse of a world where our apparent innate need for combative sport, and therefore of course visceral violence, is being sated by sponsored lunatics attempting to blast each other to smithereens and saturated with corporate logos and blipverts for all manner of inane must-have products. War ain’t cheap, you know. It’s like Robot Wars made real, except played out on an actual battlefield with human combatants. Though without Craig Charles prattling hyperbolically away on commentary duties. So not all negative, then…

 

 

Behind the scenes there’s a lot more going on, of course, as the powers that be plot the storylines and trajectories of the militias and characters to maximise their ratings and keep the masses so emotionally engaged that it leaves no time for individual thought never mind serious social or political discourse, let alone dissent.

Ivan VIKING Brandon crafts a bleakly dystopian yet vibrantly alive world here which is portrayed beautifully by Esad THOR Ribic and coloured equally perfectly by Nic Klein. I first seriously clocked onto Ribic’s work during on Rick Remender’s brilliant UNCANNY X-FORCE run which felt, and looked, much more like sci-fi than superheroes.

 

 

So… the greatest and most celebrated gladiator of them is all is Satta Flynn, but no one can stay on top forever… particularly when it’s been decided that your demise might make a compelling story arc.  But don’t count Flynn out just yet, particularly when he has the love of his adoring public on his side to sway the producers and controllers. We all love a good comeback story!

 

 

Let me complete the excerpt I started above…

“The people asked you to stand for them. You have to go out there and STAND.”
“Make some noise for HISTORY!
“New sponsors! Top secret gear head to toe! Satta Flynn has had a wartime makeover!
“What’s OLD is NEW again!”

Yeah, but Satta Flynn is finally starting to wise up to the bigger game at play. So it’s a real shame his comeback is intended to be a very short one…

JR

Buy Vs vol 1: Front Towards Enemy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ghost Money: Death In Durbai h/c (£19-99, Lion Forge) by Thierry Smolden & Dominique Bertail…

“These kids reference Rummy and Dick like they taught them how to cheat at poker. So tell me, Google. Do you regret our time in Iraq?”
“What? No way! Shit, Kendricks, I still remember the four of us talking about what we’d do with Al-Qaeda’s fortune if we ever found it… You? How are things since you bought the team?”
“Honestly? Caesar’s Hand has never been better!”
“Yeah? Tell me!”

I tell you what, I’ll let the publisher give you a need-to-know briefing instead. And trust me, you do need to know about this work, because it’s a hugely captivating, very believable espionage escapade set in 2020 replete with hi-tech upgrades and killer Euro-style ligne claire art, all contributing to making it an absolute belter.  It’s full of odious characters, all with their own agendas, plus the odd innocent thrown into the New World Order blender for good measure.

 

 

Here we go, just remember your wallet will self-destruct in five seconds if you don’t head straight to the Page 45 website after reading this…

“Intriguing characters and plotlines intertwine in a near-future political thriller drawing on contemporary world events and actual growing technology contributing to a cyberwar in both reality and virtual reality. When Lindsey, a young student in London, is rescued from a riot by Chamza, a young woman from the Arab world, they begin a relationship based on both fascination and convenience.

 

 

 

“Before she knows it, Lindsey is drawn into a world of vast wealth and intrigue; her new friend seems to have ties to political movements and revolutionaries throughout the Islamic world, but it is not clear what their agenda might be, or where her great wealth comes from. Could it be the fabled legendary lost treasure of Al-Qaeda, supposedly amassed through insider trading prior to 9/11?

 

 

 

“Unbeknownst to either Lindsey or Chamza, a set of US contractors called Caesar’s Hand, all veterans of war in Iraq and the CIA’s rendition program, are focusing their sites on Chamza, believing her wealth is indeed the key to a larger threat to the entire world economy. The series looks at surveillance, clandestine military action, and class warfare in the twilight of the current War on Terror, all within the context of a thriller that ultimately seeks to find out what controls the global economy.”

 

 

If they can manage to find Al-Qaeda’s lost treasure, I’m calling in Caesar’s Hand to sort out Brexit before the British economy self-destructs completely… In meanwhile why not enjoy ten absorbing issues of high-octane excitement bound in a very presentable chunky hardback for the exceedingly reasonable price of £19-99? Go on, I’m watching you…

JR

Buy Ghost Money: Death In Durbai h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Crowded #1 (£3-25, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Ro Stein.

Originally this was going to have been called CROWDFUNDEAD, which amused me greatly.

I’ll tell you why in a while. This is ever so clever and fresh.

As the cover to SOMETHING CITY made comically clear, we really should share our lawnmowers. Given how modest most of our lawns are, there are a ridiculous number of lawnmowers per suburban square mile.

But we are learning to share more: carpools for school have long been common; now some rent out their homes while on holiday themselves. Then there’s the multiple job front whereby students take part-time work while studying and others take on a second and even third job to supplement their primary wages. Plus, there is now an app for everything.

Sebela has combined all three phenomena and pushed them along the trajectory they look like heading, towards their logical conclusions.

 

 

So imagine an imminent future with even more flexibility in which we rent out, while we’re not using them, our houses, our cars (they don’t half sit idle for most of the day, even week!) and even our best clothes which we wear only to weddings. It does make sense, yes? We probably still won’t share that packet of Maltesers: some things are sacred, after all. Then we take out bit-jobs – a bash at babysitting, a dash of dog walking, a few hours ferrying folks about as a taxi service – all bid for and booked via cell-phone apps called Dogstroll, CitySitter, Kloset for clothes and ‘Palrent’ for when you want some idle company.

Charlotte Ellison embarks on all manner of such innocent yet lucrative activities on a daily basis. So why has someone trying to kill her?

 

 

Ah, well, they’re not exactly. Instead they’ve Kickstarted a campaign on Reapr, raising a not inconsiderable $1,257,642, with 2,249 backers committed to kill Charlotte Ellison. Someone’s popular – or unpopular.

And remember, in a world where any of us might try our hands at anything for a couple of hours if the money’s right, who knows what sort of amateur assassins might take the gig at the right bid? You’ll not see them coming.

Fortunately you can hire bodyguards with equal ease and that’s where Vita Slatter comes in. She may have the lowest rating on Dfend, but she too is wondering why someone might want Charlotte dead.

“Did you cut a guy off in traffic? Act rude to cashier? [Please don’t do that.] Borrow something years ago and forget to return it?”

Structured so that the past day’s recollection is split between action, this clapped along at a cracking pace, with an assured sense of off-hand humour and expressive outrage reminiscent of GIANT DAYS. I loved Ro Stein’s cross-section of Vita’s hopefully safe house, using its rooms, stairs and landing as panels, with an ever so clever about-turn to keep the left-to-right reading flow.

 

 

Lastly, there’s a subtle little clue as the TV screen goes blank and plenty of pictures which betray the lies on people’s lips. That’s good comics, that is.

SLH

Buy Crowded #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Pearl #1 (£3-25, Jinxworld) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos…

“I came to work. I thought… I thought that is what you’d want me to do.”
“Mr. Mike didn’t know about this talent of yours. I sure as shit didn’t.”
“Oh no. No. It just happened.”
““It just happened.” You may have started a war of the Yakuza bigger than the Yama-Ichi feud.”

Well, that’s what happens when you shoot dead several gun-toting assassins, including one riding a motorcycle firing an Uzi, with the apparent ease of… errr… a highly skilled assassin…

Except Pearl is in fact a tattoo artist, albeit a very, very good one. So good, that local gang boss Mr. Mike wouldn’t dream of going to anyone else. Now, though, Mr. Mike sees a new career path opening up for his shining Pearl. Indeed, he’s about to make her the traditional offer she can’t refuse. Start to put her hidden talents involving a very steady hand to good use, or… well… Mr. Mike is pretty convinced she’s not going to refuse. Me either, frankly.

 

 

Excellent opener, of apparently six, from a certain well known continuity-hopping writer of superheroes. Who had a pretty reasonable prior track record writing crime too! Plus of course, combining the two a la JESSICA JONES and DAREDEVIL. Along with artistic cohort Michael Gaydos, his fellow co-creator of JESSICA JONES, Bendis is back breaking the law. Well, his characters at least. I’m sure Brian himself is as honest as the day is long; it’s just his imagination that’s more than a bit dodgy, which is fantastic for us.

 

 

Beyond informing you that there’s the usual snappy dialogue we’ve come to expect from Bendis – he does love a good colloquy our Brian – and typically intriguing cast members, plus sublime fine-lined, deeply, dramatically washed effect coloured art from Gaydos – including a superb Yakuza full body tattoo on Mr. Mike – there’s not a great deal more I can tell you.

Well, aside from the fact that Pearl seems to derive her nomenclature from her alabaster white skin. There’s that.

 

 

Oh, and she also has a solitary tattoo herself, of an insanely detailed spider that looks like it’s about a million megapixel definition, by the Michelangelo of body ink himself, the mysterious Iriguci. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion we may return to that particular arachnid…?

JR

Buy Pearl #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

XTC69 (£8-99, Koyama Press) by Jessica Campbell

A Western World (£16-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge

Alone (£14-99, Faber & Faber) by Chaboute

Corpse Talk Queens & Kings And Other Royal Rotters (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

Estranged s/c (£11-99, Harper) by Ethan M. Aldridge

Giant Days (Prose Novel) h/c (£13-99, Amulet) by Non Pratt

Giant Days vol 8 (£13-99, Boom) by John Allison & Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman

Nowhere vol 1 (£16-99, Caliber) by JSB

RASL Colour Edition vol 1 (of 3) Drift s/c (£8-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

Scalped Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera, Davide Furno, Francesco Francavilla

Somnambulance (£21-99, Koyama Press) by Fiona Smyth

Stairway vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Matt Hawkins & Raffaele Ienco

Tongues #1 (£13-99, ) by Anders Nilsen

Vern And Lettuce (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Sarah McIntyre

Bram Stoker’s Dracula h/c (£26-99, IDW) by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Mike Mignola, John Nyberg

Deadly Class vol 7: Love Like Blood s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wes Craig

The Omega Men: The End Is Here s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom King & Barnaby Bagenda

Superman Action Comics vol 5: Booster Shot s/c (Rebirth) (£16-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Brett Booth, Will Conrad, Norm Rapmund

Fantastic Four By Hickman Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Sean Chen, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Adi Granov

Venom: Dark Origin s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Angel Medina

Black Torch vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsuyoshi Takaki

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

My Hero Academia vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 87 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Platinum End vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 6 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

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