Then the colours will morph out of all recognition and you will know the glow of an evening on fire.
- Stephen on Hilda And The Bird Parade h/c
Mrs Weber’s Omnibus (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.
From Posy Simmonds MBE, the creator of TAMARA DREWE, GEMMA BOVERY and LITERARY LIFE, 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…”
“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…”
Please note: you can blow the interior art up on the shopping page linked to below, and read the pages properluy.
This Is Not My Hat h/c (£11-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen.
Another succinct gem from the creator of I WANT MY HAT BACK. Do you get the impression that Jon Klassen had a traumatic, hat-related incident in childhood? Stealing hats is wrong, he seems to be saying. He really is quite specific about that. Also: there will be repercussions.
What makes this beauty so uproarious is the simplicity of the sentences, the confidence or at least optimism with which they are uttered, and the way in which, from the fourth sentence on, every hope is beautifully undercut by what is actually shown.
“This hat is not mine. I stole it.
I stole it from a big fish. He was asleep when I did it.
And he probably won’t wake up for a long time.
And even if he does wake up, he probably won’t notice that it’s gone.
And even if he does notice that it’s gone, he probably won’t know it was me who took it.”
Cue Jaws theme.
Dockwood h/c (£13-95, Nobrow Press) by Jon McNaught…
It’s a crisp Autumnal day in Dockwood where, as the sun slowly rises, turning the few stray clouds in the sky a vivid red, and the birds commence their dawn chorus, the early risers of this quiet town’s residents have already begun their day. Enter our first lead character, Mark, a kitchen assistant at the local nursing home who’s got the day’s meals to prepare. As he begins to peel the spuds listening to Bon Jovi on Daydream FM, the chef’s already hard at work preparing the sausage casserole. Then it’s on with his rounds, seeing which of the elderly residents fancies a cuppa. Mr Dunn in room 9 would like one whilst he watches a choir singing a resounding chorus of Jerusalem on some breakfast TV show. Perhaps if those pesky starlings outside his window would shut up for a moment he could actually relax and enjoy it.
Then it’s on to Jake, just out of school for the day, and keen to get his paper round done so he can get home and play the latest shoot ‘em up that his mate has lent him. He wanders round the streets popping the Dockwood evening news through various letterboxes whilst the waning of the day takes its inevitable course. The sky becomes blood red again, before it darkens completely and the stars begin to come out, twinkling brightly in the now crystal clear sky. There’s the odd animal, wild and domesticated alike, foraging for food here and there, scampering off to hide or making their presences known, as per their attendant common sense or bravado. It’s a relaxing stroll round a typical neighbourhood, really, and Jake even finds time to have a quick leaf through the paper himself, whilst munching a chocolate bar a kindly pensioner has given him as a tip.
But when he gets home and boots up his Playstation 3 we’re fully immersed in an alien world as the gun-toting good guy is teleported out to the deserts of Hyperion to locate the Captain up on Sunset Ridge. Once the legions of bug-faced aliens have been dispensed with headshots galore there’s only the final objective to be achieved, to follow the Captain to his ship and blast off for the next level of all-out destruction. It’s a strange moment therefore for Jake / our gun-toting hero to take a pause and drink in the alien sunset, with what seems to be a flock of starlings swooping and swooshing high up in the sky. In fact as they come closely we realise they’re a flock of vicious-looking pterodactyl-like creatures, resulting in a quick scurry to the safety of the shuttle, before the Captain initiates the launch sequence.
All of which does precisely nothing to explain what an astonishingly and uniquely beautiful book this is. If you’re familiar with any of Jon’s previous work, PEBBLE ISLAND, BIRCHFIELD CLOSE or indeed his contribution to NELSON, you will immediately understand exactly what I mean. If you are so far unaware of Jon, or haven’t yet seen any of his work, have a look at the accompanying interior art (see shopping page, linked to below), and you will instantly see precisely what I mean.
This is a work about transitions, clearly, but also about the small moments that whilst individually might not seem significant, come together to make up each and every day. It’s just that in Jon’s hands, every single moment is artistic heaven, yet it is the combined totality, the flow of images, that serve to produce a story which is just so visually compelling. There’s genuine punctuation provided by the art too, usually when one of the characters actually has the time to pause and take in the beauty around them, or often when they are utterly oblivious to it, being immersed or distracted by the task at hand. I remember well when I first saw Jon’s first published work by Nobrow, PEBBLE ISLAND, that moment of thinking, no, I really haven’t seen it all, here is someone who has managed to do something completely different, distinct and wonderfully individual, and do it so triumphantly. It’s not often you get that feeling, but it’s wonderful when it does happen.
On that note, it’s probably worth me finishing by sharing a quote from Chris Ware I came across whilst looking for interior art, which I hope serves to underscore precisely why Jon is going to become a very big name in the comics world in time…
“There are few younger comics artists with whom I feel a genuine aesthetic kinship, but the radiant and glowing DOCKWOOD is Jon McNaught’s loveliest argument yet for the beauty of just being alive. It’s a gem.”
Well put sir, well put.
Hilda And The Bird Parade h/c (£11-99, Nobrow Press) by Luke Pearson.
Young school girl Hilda lives with her mother, a professional artist, out in the wilds of the most majestic countryside with mountains that rise into the crystal-blue skies, their snow-capped peaks enticing you ever upwards to explore! They’re populated with fantastical creatures which Hilda loves to dash out to document and draw! Armed with a rucksack full of pens, pencils, paper and nature books, Hilda could spend an entire day…
… sitting bored indoors, looking mournfully out of her bedroom window onto the deadly-dull streets of a city suburb she is forbidden to set foot in. Oh dear. They’ve moved.
To her mother’s mind these city streets are infinitely more dangerous than the troll-troubled hills they once frequented. With no discernible vantage points you could get so easily lost in the maze of seemingly homogenous house fronts, and then there are the people. People ain’t no good. Anything could happen to a young girl out on her own…
Bravely Luke Pearson has set his series on a brand-new course and brilliantly he’s played to his loyal readers’ fears. The school children who entice Hilda out know all the cool places, but they are very far from cool. They ring on doorbells and then run away, goading their potentially impressionable new friend to do the same. She doesn’t, for Hilda knows her own mind (thank you very much indeed) and so stops to chat to the old lady she’s just called upon and takes time to compliment her window box of flowers. And then, just when you think Hilda’s winning, and beginning to bring them round in their search for the best and shiniest of rocks, there is a moment of awful brutality that had my jaw on the floor. Also: she does get lost.
But oh, Luke Pearson, how well you know your craft! One of Pearson’s finest skills is the ability to surprise – to make you gasp – and everything you have read so far is designed to do precisely that. Who am I to spoil that pleasure?
There will be wonder aplenty, discoveries made from true discernment, and a heart-racing climax to get to the annual Bird Parade on time! Then the colours will morph out of all recognition and you will know the glow of an evening on fire. So lambent, and so eye-poppingly awesome, with exotic forms that fill every inch of each page.
I love Hilda’s mouth when she goes “Oooh!” I’m making that face as I type: a projection to a small, rounded mouth to one side that lets out a well-rounded, well, “Oooh!” It’s infectious – the sort of art that encourages you to enact what’s happening and so makes for the best bed-time reading.
Oh, who am I kidding? This entire series would and will be lapped up by kids; but it’s adults who are getting the current kicks, right? Right. Just as it should be. Sales through the roof, just like the best of Neil Gaiman.
Kiddo h/c (£12-00, Records Records Records Book) by Antoine Cosse ~
A man is alone in a field, fantasising of gallant deeds to save a woman while his fire burns out of control, scorching the surrounding crop. In the thick of smoke he battles a giant beast who only sought to rescue him. The beast, a large, blind dog he names Kiddo, journeys with him as they attempt to reach the source of a black cloud on the horizon, battling un-dead hordes and grotesque witches on their way.
I’m finding it hard not to compare Antoine’s bizarre pictorial psychic letting here to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early mind-bending films of blasphemy and redemption, El Topo and Holy Mountain. Not that anyone could ever top Jodorowsky’s kaleidoscope of dementia, but the narrative’s attempt to steer through the quixotic dreamscape to a finite conclusion is worthy of the glorification. This is the strongest avant-garde comic I’ve seen from a UK publisher (Antoine himself is French), and certainly the most enjoyable since Anders Nilsen’s DOGS AND WATER. Although maybe I’m just biased towards dogs.
Ralph Azham vol 1: Why Would You Lie To Someone You Love? h/c (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Lewis Trondheim…
“Yikes… you headed to the lowlands to sell all your furniture, Mr. Filbert?”
“We’re moving, Ralph…”
“Really? With that second rugrat on the way, you had room to grow here…”
“A second child? We’re having a second child? Is that why you were so insistent that we leave? “Fine… we’ll talk about it later… You bring nothing but bad luck, Ralph…”
“YO! FILBERT! BAG-O-DIRT! It’s not like I told you to poke your shrimp into her salad. Have a great life among the lowland retards! You’ll fit right in!!”
Probably my absolute favourite Trondheim work to date, having all the perspicacious story telling (BOURBON ISLAND) we’ve come to expect from the French mirth-master (DUNGEON, TINY TYRANT). Well, aside from when he’s not denigrating himself in his down-beat autobiographical material, that is, though that too is gently amusing in its own way. This, however, very much reminded me of the hilarious Fabian Vehlman & Jason collaboration ISLE OF 100,000 GRAVES (which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month) as the titular Ralph, who once seemed destined to become the Chosen One and so big things, now firmly resides in the position of village scapegoat for all the various communal problems that arise, real and imagined, and thus frequently forced to reside in the pigsty for his troubles.
Ralph takes all the abuse with surprising magnanimity and grace, though he does love to dispense the odd vocal barb or two in retaliation, usually landing him right back in the excrement of the swine variety. The reason he’s regarded as such a failure is when his particular mystic power manifested, there having been several Chosen Ones over the years, no one was particularly impressed when it turned out to be knowing exactly how many children someone would have, rather than something exciting and potentially useful like pyrokinesis.
Ralph’s past isn’t quite what it seems, though, and perhaps destiny might just have been delayed rather than having passed him by completely. As word arrives that the ravaging horde are in the neighbourhood for one of their occasional tours of rape and pillage, and the villagefolk are dithering about what to do, it might just be the moment for Ralph to finally become a hero and save the day. Alternatively, he might decide his neighbours deserve absolutely everything that’s about to happen to them and make a run for it, but that would be telling! Delighted this is only volume one, I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Ralph already, I must say.
Comic Sketchbooks (£24-95, Thames & Hudson) by various…
Insanely eclectic mix of over 700 sketchbook pages and thoughts from a myriad of people (80!), some of whom you’ll almost certainly have heard of such as Charles Burns, Posy Simmonds and Seth, but many you won’t have yet, like the intriguingly named Colonel Moutarde and Cyril Guru, both French. Heller pulls it all together nicely providing mini-bios on each contributor. As interesting and often beautiful as the artwork itself is, I found myself fascinated by the commentary provided by the artists, sometimes on the specific pages included but also on the concept of having a sketchbook itself, and how they use it. I’ll certainly be looking into what comics are available from some of the people I was less familiar with, that’s for sure. The only negative comment is the utterly bizarre choice of cover which looks like some of an explosion of red and green light from a 3D projector and does absolutely nothing to indicate the fantastic quality of material contained within. I just don’t understand that at all, especially given Heller’s obsession with beautiful design and artwork.
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.
Heads Or Tails (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Lille Carre
Pope Hats #3 (£4-99, Adhouse Books) by Ethan Rilly
August Moon (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Diana Thung
The Walking Dead Novel vol 2 The Road To Woodbury hardcover (£18-99, Thomas Dunne Books) by Robert Kirkman, Jay Bosinga
Came The Dawn hardcover (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Wallace Wood
Mice Templar vol 3: A Midwinter Night’s Dream h/c (£22-50, Image) by Bryan J.L. Glass & Michael Avon Oeming
The Cartoon Utopia h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.
Blue s/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Pat Grant
Rogue Trooper: Tales Of Nu-Earth vol 3 (£17-99, Rebellion) by Gerry Finley-Day, Simon Geller, Steve McManus & Steve Dillon, Jose Ortiz, Chris Weston, Brett Ewins
Star Wars Omnibus: Clone Wars vol 2 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various
Sweet Tooth vol 5: Unnatural Habits (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire
Assassin’s Creed vol 1: Desmond h/c (£8-99, Titan) by Corbeyran & Djillali Defali
Assassin’s Creed vol 2: Aquilus h/c (£8-99, Titan) by Corbeyran & Djillali Defali
Assassin’s Creed vol 3: Accipiter h/c (£8-99, Titan) by Corbeyran & Djillali Defali
Tank Girl: Carioca h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Mick McMahon
Dark Tower vol 6: The Journey Begins s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Sean Phillips, Richard Isanove
Superman: Earth One vol 2 h/c (£16-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis
Batman: Eye Of The Beholder s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel
All Star Western s/c (£12-99, DC) by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Phil Winslade, Jordi Bernet
Absolute Final Crisis (£75-00, DC) by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke, more
Wolverine And The X-Men vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo plus others
Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force & The Deep s/c (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams, Simone Bianchi & Cullen Bunn, Lee Garbett
Secret Avengers vol 4: Run The Mission, Don’t Seen, Save The World s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jamie McKelvie, David Aja, Michael Lark, Kev Walker, Alex Maleev, Stuart Immonen
Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Dalilbor Talajic
Uncanny X-Force vol 6: Final Execution Book 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Mike McKone, Julian Totino Tedesco, Phil Noto
Hulk: Mayan Rule s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Dale Eaglesham
Sailor Moon vol 8 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi
Sakura Hime vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura
Bleach vol 48 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Bleach vol 49 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
The Flowers Of Evil vol 3 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi
Durarara!! vol 4 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akiyo Satorigi
Bakuman vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Bakuman vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Jiu Jiu vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Touya Tobina
Oh, to be back in St. Malo! There’s this ‘mazing Sean Phillips exhibition with great big, wall-sized installations
Also, you’ve seen the blog about the Page 45 December 2012 signing with Hope Larson & Bryan Lee O’Malley, right? Right. Squeal at will.
Lastly, as part of Birmingham Zinefest 2012 Dan Berry hosted a couple of round-table panels, and here they are to listen to. The top podcast with comicbook creators Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson and Marc Ellerby being quizzed by Dan Berry was the most sublime, softly spoken and oh so funny chat I have ever overheard. Highly recommended!