Reviews June 2012 week two

“Words are proclamation; images are evidence.”

– Stephen on Sally Jane Thompson’s Now And Then

 

The Year Of The Beasts h/c (£12-99, Roaring Brook Press) by Cecil Castellucci & Nate Powell.

Brilliant. But, before we begin, I must emphasise that everything written below excludes the last twenty-five pages. Each one is as magnificent as those which precede them but I never saw them coming, nor should you.

From the writer of Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month PLAIN JANES and its sequel JANES IN LOVE and drawn in part by the creator of SWALOW ME WHOLE, this is an exemplary Young Adult prose and graphic novel which teens will empathise with all too well and older readers will recognise with groans of hindsight. Falling in love in your early teens is one great big ball of hormonal confusion. Some of us don’t even realise we’ve done it.

“Tessa couldn’t understand the way things worked or why she felt so conflicted. She had a boyfriend. She felt that she should be happy, too.”

Tessa is Lulu’s older sister. A year ahead of her, Tessa was always the one Lulu looked up to in matters like boys, while Tessa found her limpet-like company just a little irksome. But now it’s Tessa looking up to Lulu in height, receiving hand-me-down clothes and shoes. The biggest blow on the bruise, however, is that Lulu now knows more about boys – and one boy in particular, the sports hunk Charlie, whom Tessa’s had her sights on for ages. Through a freak accident in a tent of carnival curiosities, Lulu and Charlie were thrust together and came out a couple. Tessa went in with the rarely glimpsed Jasper, the local weirdo who wears t-shirts she doesn’t understand, and Tessa came out… confused. Unable to shake off not exactly her attraction to Charlie but what she perceives as her prior claim, she cannot help but feel jealous whenever Charlie and Lulu are together – and they are together, kissing forever in front of her. Then, as is traditional, it’s time for him to come round for tea.

“Even though Charlie wasn’t her boyfriend, Tessa was just as nervous as Lulu before he came over. How would her parents look to him? Would he think that her dad’s long hair and piercings or her mother’s sleeve tattoos were weird? Would her father, not a sports person at all, try to engage Charlie in conversation about things he didn’t know about and look dumb? Would her mother go on and on about her rock tours with her riot grrrl band, bring out her guitar, play a few of the old songs? Would she put on an mp3 of her one college radio hit and hope that he recognised it?”

They don’t. Nothing about this book is predictable. The parents are neither ridiculous nor oppressive. The sporty crowd doesn’t bully Jasper. Lulu doesn’t gloat and Tessa doesn’t sulk. She is jealous, and the occasional unkind remark slips out uncontrollably before being instantly regretted, but this isn’t your typical teen angst. There are no bad guys. Instead Tessa removes herself from time to time, slipping into the woods to explore a clandestine closeness she’s kindled with Jasper, a naturally bright and instinctively tender young lad who’s long been ostracised but who’s not one for company anyway. Normally their time together is bright and full of imaginative whimsy, but here Tessa’s distraught not about all the attention lavished on Lulu, but all the new clothes she’s been bought now that she’s bigger than Tessa while Tessa gets nothing but cast-offs at an age when she so desperately desires to look more attractive. And Jasper, bless him, does his best to console offering well reasoned solutions followed by…

““Well, the shoes you’re wearing now look really good. I like them.”
Tessa was exasperated. She wondered why he couldn’t understand. She cried harder. Jasper pulled her in close and kissed her all over, even her tears.
“Your tears taste sweet even though they are salty,” Jasper said.
But Tessa didn’t smile. So he made some goofy voices. First a robot. Then a dinosaur. Then a pirate. Then he bellowed like a wild beast.
And then Tessa couldn’t help but smile. And smiling led to laughter. And laughing led to feeling better.”

Sometimes reason simply doesn’t cut the mustard; distractions work better by far.

All of which is dealt with in prose, beautifully, poignantly, delicately. At which point we come to my one slight reservation about the book which, surprisingly, is about the comic sequences interspersed between each chapter. These tell a far more surreal story. They’re nightmare sequences in which Tessa’s hair is a hissing mass of sentient snakes she tries to suppress with Lulu’s headscarves. This is, quite obviously, a manifestation of Tessa’s low self-esteem when it comes to her looks, and in particular her constantly curling hair, which she often compares unfavourably to Lulu’s.

“But you’re beautiful! Everyone loves you! I see the way they touch you. Take your shells! Comb your hair! No one can even stand to look at me.”
“I can. But I won’t be able to if you keep running away.”

In and of themselves, they work brilliantly as self-conscious, anxiety dream sequences with the constant threat of exposure, fearing ridicule or rejection. My only problem is this: they’re entirely at odds with the level of neurosis portrayed in the prose. The exchange above would have been brilliant in any other book, but at no point is there any danger of this happening, nor does either sibling perceive such a threat. Not to that extent anyway.

There is the constant threat of physical danger, I felt, alone in the woods or in the darkness of the carnival, but each time my fears were ill-founded. Such a relief. But we’re really not going to be talking about the final few pages, exceptional as they are. We’ll talk about those when you’re done.

SLH

Buy The Year Of The Beasts h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Citizens Of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel (£12-99,Princeton) by Jimenez Lai…

“Plans are superior. It is impossible to evaluate anything without objectivity. You can strategize… conspire holism, map the future, intelligently assess your contexts! We can learn even more about space by isolating conditions in plan.”
“But plans rely on an unattainable gods-eye-view that humans can never experience. From human perspective, these complex plans are mere extrusions. In other words, your thick 2-D becomes just a bunch of boxes. Frankly, if I may, it is quite unspectacular.”

Wow. It’s a relative rarity that something even gets added to avant garde section on thePage 45 website but this definitely qualifies as I have never read or indeed seen anything quite like it before. However, being produced by someone who is a qualified professor of architecture and the founder and leader of the Bureau Spectacular, one shouldn’t perhaps expect anything of the ordinary. I would attempt to succinctly explain what the Bureau is, but the Wikipedia entry nails it perfectly and probably gives you an ideal starting point for imagining what you will find inside this work. And so I quote…

‘Bureau Spectacular is an operation of architectural affairs founded and led by Jimenez Lai since 2008. It is based in Chicago and closely affiliated to the Midwest Mafia of Architecture Schools. The office imagines other worlds and engages the design of architecture through telling stories. Beautiful stories about character development, relationships, curiosities and attitudes; absurd stories about fake realities that invite enticing possibilities. The stories conflate design, representation, theory, criticism, history and taste into cartoon pages. These cartoon narratives swerve into the physical world through architectural installations, models and small buildings.’

Each short in this work, therefore, is preceded by a quotation or statement about the single concept at the heart of the particular story, which is then explored in a manner that is part-narrative, part-draughtsmanship, part-symbolic, part-design, but always sequential art. Whether it is the ergonomics of individual living modules on a wafer-thin Ark spaceship travelling through the galaxy, or the challenges of living in the stratosphere twelve kilometres high, in an oxygen-deprived penthouse on top of the tallest building in the world, by the time you’ve reached the end of the story, you’ll find you’ve been nudged to think about the situation in a manner which is as engrossing as it is astounding. Lai clearly has more than a few social and political points to make here, but they are typically the subtext – although occasionally the outright punchline – rather than the main strata of the work. So in my eyes it seems that not only can design lead stories, but stories can also definitely lead design.

Finally, I really wasn’t going to go down the route of lazy metaphors referencing other creators or books on this work, as it deserves better, but just in case you’re not getting it from my review so far… in other words, short stories with scripts that seem like they have been assembled from mere shards of ideas by a hyper-focussed Grant Morrison, then interpreted by an autistic Jonathan Hickman on art, with occasional dashes of TEKKON KINKREET / THE INCAL stylistic oddities melded in, to just add a layer of genial softness to all the stark finesse and precision. All then design-distilled byScott McCloud into something of rare beauty that certainly is comics, but also something more than comics. That’s what I got from it anyway, but just read it and marvels because Jimenez Lai is clearly a very clever and talented man.

JR

Buy Citizens Of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel and read the Page 45 review here

Ed The Happy Clown h/c (£18-99, D&Q) byChester Brown…

I dearly love all of Chester’s autobiographical work, but this is absolutely nothing like that, except in art style. It’s like master obscurist Hans FOLLY Rickheit has bodysnatched the normally demure Chester and wreaked merry havoc! Or not so merry in the case of Ed himself, who doesn’t particularly seem to enjoy a happy time of it, though come to think of it, neither does any of the other characters! So, first off, if you think this is going to be similar to much of Chester’s other work, be warned, it simply isn’t. If, however, you like surreal and utterly unpredictable, slightly macabre in places, downright oddness (the unpredictability in part coming from the fact this material originally started as unrelated shorts) then this could be just your cup of tea. I would, though, just check that no one has put something in your tea as you could easily believe you’re hallucinating wildly as you read this. It’s nigh on impossible to summarise the plot with a penis featuring the talking head of Ronald Regan being just one of the many inexplicable things you’ll encounter within the pages. I would say just enjoy, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the right word to use! It is, however, definitely a seminal work…

JR

Buy Ed The Happy Clown h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Now And Then (£3-99, self-published) by Sally Jane Thompson.

“It’s so easy to think of past generations as some other species, inhabiting period dramas, not as breathing people who lived and felt just like we do, despite the different context.”

So wrote Sally Jane Thompson in the back after discovering a website full of photographs of “Victorians smiling – hanging out with friends, goofing off”. She’s absolutely right.

Under a classy cardstock cover in fawn, foul and a rich, chocolatey brown, a young American woman takes a break from London to visit the Derbyshire countryside, staying at a Bed & Breakfast and exploring the ancient environment, both the bucolic landscapes and the old stone towns like Matlock. She picks up bobbins and shuttles and sits quietly absorbing the local mining industry over a steaming mug of coffee. And then, at night, she dreams…

Almost the opposite of an elegy, this a celebration and reawakening of life as it was then, reconnecting it to how it is now. Not so very different, considering. It’s beautifully expressed, mostly in pictures which join the dots as well as any words, perhaps better. Words are proclamation; images are evidence. And these images owe so much in places to one of our favourite creators, Hope Larson of CHIGGERS, GRAY HORSES, MERCURY and SALAMANDER DREAM, particularly the magical elements.

Sally’s been producing some beautiful work for a while, and here all the promise has come to a perfectly poised fruition, a complete comprehension of what to put it, what to leave out – when to leave a reader in peace to absorb for themselves.

At the time of typing, all our copies are signed and sketched in for free.

SLH

Buy Now And Then and read the Page 45 review here

The Summit Of The Gods vol 3 (£14-99, Portent Mon) by Yumemakura Baku & Jiro Taniguchi…

It’s in at last!!! Volume three (of five) of my current favourite (and indeed possibly absolute favourite ever) manga is in! Yes, it is coming out slowly, dare I even say it, at a glacial pace ho ho, but yet again the wait was well worth it as Taniguchi’s exceptional adaptation of Baka’s award winning prose tale of mountains, obsession and skulduggery continues. Fukamachi the photographer decides to return toKathmanduto continue his search for George Malory’s camera, which potentially promises to finally reveal whether Malory made it to the summit of Everest, some thirty years before Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing finally claimed the greatest mountaineering prize of all. But why is Bikna Sanp, known inJapanas the bloody-minded and frankly somewhat obnoxious Jouji Habu, apparently secretly preparing for an expedition to Everest? Is there something so unfeasible, so utterly foolhardy, which no one else has even dared to contemplate, that he believes can at last confirm him as the mountaineering legend he deserves to be?

JR

Buy Summit Of The Gods vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Idyll (£14-99, D&Q) by Amber Albrecht.

Can an art book be quiet, or is it just my hushed awe?

This is gorgeous little book. The shapes and the colours are so clean and delicate, precise yet organic, with leaves in abundance and trees taking root everywhere. That jellyfish was almost inevitable. Much as I’m reluctant to lure you anywhere outside our own website, the only way to do this justice is thus: http://drawnandquarterly.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/say-hello-to-amber-albrecht.html

Here’s the publisher’s original pitch to us all. I don’t think I’d make a very good art critic. You may have noticed.

“Much of Amber Albrecht’s work is inspired by the dreaminess of childhood, whether expressing her cloudy recollections of the storybooks she read as a child or the forested West Coast landscapes that surrounded her. On the pages of IDYLL, a series of interconnected myths emerges fully formed, each myth articulating a sense of wistfulness for a past that never was. IDYLL employs female iconography in myriad way – many of these works feature female figures, the lushness of the natural environment, and female-associated textures. Albrecht’s IDYLL communicates questions about loneliness, passivity, and loss through investigations of femininity and nostalgia for an imagined past.”

SLH

Buy Idyll and read the Page 45 review here

Baltimore: The Curse Bells h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck…

“Surrender to the shadows if you wish, Mr. Hodge. But I have come this far… gotten this close… and I will not despair now. This is closest I have been to Haigus since the night he murdered my bride. Doors and walls and the hordes of hell may be between us, but this close, nothing will stop me from killing him at last. We are both prisoners now. And perhaps we shall both die here, Haigus and I… but his death will be at my hands.”
“Well, well. Still the chase goes on. Round the maelstrom and even round perdition’s flames. This should be interesting.”

I’ll say! Poor Lord Henry Baltimore, so near and yet so far… from getting his hands on the vampire who killed his entire family. Since then he’s been in relentless pursuit acrossEuropeas Haigus flees back towards the old world ofEastern Europein a vain attempt to shake Baltimore’s attentions. But Haigus is far from the only horror abroad as myriad inhuman evils seem to be rising, perhaps awoken by the horrific carnage and bloodletting of World War One.

Meanwhile, a very much human evil has managed what Baltimore could not, to trap the vampire Haigus, and use the vampire’s blood to resurrect a powerful witch and command her to give him an army, by cursing a church’s bells to enslave the entire population of the town below upon their peeling. So… canBaltimorestop the evil magus, defeat the undead witch, a legion of vampire Nuns and an army of enslaved townsfolk, never mind despatching Haigus? Oh, and just for good measure there’s a psychopath from the Inquisition hot on Baltimore’s heels who’d like to introduce him to his case of ‘cleansing’ tools! Well, something’s got to give, not least because I don’t want this brilliant series to end any time soon! Neither I suspect, does Mignola…

“You’re too late, I’m afraid.”
“Where is Haigus?”
“You’ve missed him again.”
“HAIGUS!! You can’t run forever!”
“He doesn’t have to run forever. You don’t have forever. Eventually you’ll die. Until then, you are his plaything.”

JR

Buy Baltimore: The Curse Bells h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman vol 1: Blood h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins.

“This storm, Hippolyta… Its fury – “
“ – Is of a woman scorned.”

Yes, serial philanderer Zeus has been at it again, and this time he’s no longer around to sort out the fall-out. Instead he’s left a power vacuum and a very angry wife.

Although I’ve yet to read BATMAN VOL 1: COURT OF THE OWLS which Jonathan is so enamoured with (Snyder’s BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR was chilling), I hereby declare this by far the best of the DC New 52 relaunch that I have read. Completely accessible to those who’ve never read nor wanted to read a single Wonder Woman story in their lives, it plays instead on Greek mythology so, so well. Hera, Hermes, Hades, Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo – they’re all here, amongst others.

Being the Tom Waits of comics, Brian Azzarello is the last creator you’d expect to take on Wonder Woman but he’s thrown himself into it with gusto, and the word-play above and the finishing-off of each others’ sentences you may already recognise from his gritty crime masterpiece 100 BULLETS. It’s almost Shakespearian in its punnery.

“Why, if Zeus were here, he would break your bones.”
“He’s not, though, is he?”
“No, he isn’t. Gone into the ether, it seems. Heaven has left his throne wanting an ass to warm it. And though both of you certainly qualify in that regard, neither of you measure up to mine.”

Yes, there be bawdiness to boot. I told you it was Shakespearian.

“There is a price to laying down with my husband.”
“Which no one knows better than you, hmm? Where are they now?”
“That cockless coop, improperly named…Paradise Island.”

Paradise Island is the home of Hippolyta and her daughter Diana (AKA Wonder Woman), and all of the rest of the Amazons. Legend and DC lore has it that Diana was created from clay, willed into being by her mother Hippolyta. Everyone knows that, for there are no men allowed onParadiseIsland, hence the “cockless coop”. But now a shameful secret is revealed that will turn everything on its head and allies against each other. With a mortal woman also visited by Zeus trapped in the middle, it’s all-out war. Yet stand-offs threatening even more violence occasionally disperse into moments of unexpected tenderness as the women console each other in their shared sense of violation and betrayal by men. One man in particular, for the titular “blood” is not one of gore but of lineage.

Neither Chiang nor Akins are artists of the testosterone-fuelled variety and thank gods for that. The photo-realists and sugar-buzz spectaculars have their place, but here they’d get in the way of what is essentially a humane tale of improvised camaraderie and a battle of wits. Instead this boasts some highly imaginative design work like Lord Hades, his head lit up as a massive candle, its wax dripping down to obscure his face and, perhaps, his intentions.

Jaw-dropping climax.

To be continued. Oh very yes: to be continued indeed!

SLH

Buy Wonder Woman (New 52) vol 1: Blood h/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Phoenix – Endgame / Warsong (£22-50, Marvel) byGregPak & GregLand, Tyler Kirkham.

[Sprurious review with in-joke apologies: this was originally written during the 2006 season of Big Brother and Morrison’s run on New X-Men when Magneto infiltrated the X-Men as new teacher Xorn. I can’t even recall who that Richard was anymore. Sorry! – ed.]

First time if was ENDSONG, now it’s WARSONG. Next time out, I’m fully expecting it to be LAPSONG SOUCHANG. It might go something like this, with Cyclops and Wolverine strolling down the hall and Professor Jean Luc Picard calling from afar…

[Off camera] “To me, my X-Men!”
“Did you hear something…?”
“Eh, you know how these corridors echo.”
“Well, I’m just going to take a look. It’s been months since the funeral, and not a word from Jean.”
“Dude, it was Jean’s funeral.”
“Exactly.”
[Off camera] “To me, my X-MEN!!!”
“There we go; he’s on the crazy paving again.”
“Professor!  Are the grounds breached?”
“Has your blanket slipped?”
“Are we under attack?”
“Do you need changing?”
“Scott, I’d dropped my saucer! My tea was getting cold.”
“You can’t drink tea from your cup?”
“Yes, but you see, Scott, I like to pour it — into my sauce-er.”
“From your cup…?”
“Before drinking it, yes.”
“But, Professor, that’s what makes it cold…”
“And listen, Chuck, can’t you just ask nicely? All this, “To me, my X-Men!” It’s a little –”
“Shakespearian…? Melodramatic…? Morrison-esque…?”
“Rude!”
“Yes, yes, Logan, I see, I see… How about “I’ve dropped my saucer, my X-Men, do come and see that it’s righted!””
“Haven’t we forgotten a little something…?”
“’… Do come and see that it’s righted right now!’”
“…”
“’… Do come and see that’s it’s righted, my dears…?’”
[Strolling away]
“By the way, who’s that guy in the purple cape and helmet, with his gloved mitts in the mansion’s Milk Tray?”
“One of the new teachers, I think.”
[The Diary Room]
“Hello, Eric, this is Big Brother. How are you feeling today?”
“Vain, supercilious and monomaniacal.”
“Oh I’m sorry, Richard, I thought you were somebody else.”

SLH

Buy X-Men: Phoenix – Endgame / Warsong and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

The Moomin Adventure Book h/c (£12-99, SelfMadehero) by Cally Law & Tove Jansson

Siegfried h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Alex Alice

Dark Tower vol 9: The Gunslinger – The Way Station h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robin Furth, Peter David, Richard Isanove & Laurence Campbell

Justice s/c (£22-50, DC) by Alex Ross, Jim Kreuger & Doug Braithwaite

Batwoman vol 1: Hydrology h/c (£16-99, DC) by J.H. Williams III & J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman

Seven Soldiers Of Victory vol 2 (New Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving, Pasqual Ferry, Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, Yanick Paquette, Serge Lapointe, Doug Mahnke, Billy Dallas Patton, Freddie Williams II, J.H. Williams III

Spider-Man: Perceptions h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Todd McFarlane

Carnage U.S.A. h/c (£18-99, Marval) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain

Daredevil vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera, Emma Rios, Khoi Pham

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Micha%l Bendis & Chris Samnee, David Marquez, Sara Pichelli

Essential Spider-Man vol 11 (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Avenging Spider-Man vol 1: My Friends Can Beat Up Your Friends h/c (£18-99, Iarvel) by Zeb Wells & Joe Madureira, Greg Land, Leinil Yu

Thor: Kieron Gillen Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Billy Tan, Rich Elson, Doug Braithwaite, Jamie McKelvie, Niko Henrichon

Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man And The Avengers (£7-50, Marvel) by various

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 20 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 11 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi

Three Wolves Mountain (£8-99, Sublime) by Bohra Naono

Honey Darling (£8-99, Sublime) by Norikazu Akira

Same Difference (£9-99, June) by Nozomu Hiiragi

Puella Magi Madoka Magica vol 1 (£8-99, Yen) by Magica Quartet & Hanokage

 On Tuesday customer Daniel Mulligan called out on Twitter for the first example of a speech balloon – a balloon, mind, not just writing.

Gosh! in the form of Hayley Campbell immediately enlisted the aid of ASTRO CITY’s Kurt Busiek who came up with this example of speech balloons from 1775, but also – and this works for me, being writing clearly contained with a tail to boot – this detail of a speech scroll from 1506. But then, Kurt added, “Banderoles (speech scrolls) in European art date at least to 975 AD (he said, trusting Wikipedia)”..

Kurt Busiek: he knows stuff.

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