Reviews August 2013 week two

For the body of the book Teddy Kristiansen’s drawings and washes are almost ghostly: pale things enhanced by representational touches like Hope’s green “mask”, like a mud-pack, when feeling ill. But this serves to make the eight-page flourish during the climactic epiphany – with its magical colours and sweeping textures which explode across the eye – all the more dazzling.

 – Stephen on Genius by Seagle & Kristiansen

Goddamn This War! (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…


“There we were, under the scorching sun: France’s little soldiers, trampling through fields of wheat, fields of glory in our minds, with a knot of fear in our guts and a load of shit in our pants.
“We were utterly cocksure, though. The moment we left Paris, we’d already taken Berlin in our minds. This was our shot at getting even for 1870, now that those pain-in-the-ass Huns were at it again.
“But this time we were ready. We were gonna stuff their boiled leather helmets down their throats, spikes and all.”


“They carved up old Colin good. They fixed him as best they could, but his hands and legs were gone. So much for fishing.
“They pinned a medal on him, right there is that putrid recovery room.
“And later still, they explained to him about gangrene and bandages packed with larvae that feed on dead tissue. He owed them his life. From one amputation and operation to the next – thirty-eight in all – the docs finally got him ‘back up on his feet’. But by then, the war was long over.”

Phew. Not an easy read, but what a powerful one. As far as anti-war comics material goes, this is pretty much as hard-hitting as it gets, painting a very graphic picture of the horrors of World War I, a particular personal bête noire of Tardi’s. Perhaps bête noire isn’t exactly the correct term to use, given his obsessive interest of WWI, but you can certainly see his hatred of the damage war causes to the common man, so maybe it is. Substantially different in narrative construction and artistic composition than the Eisner-winning IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, and indeed superior in both respects, this material is arranged chronological year by year from 1914 to 1919 (dealing with the aftermath of coming home post-1918 and the end of the war).

The book begins in the beautiful countryside of France, in vivid watercolours, during the heady early days of the conflict when most of the participants, on both sides, assumed the war would last a matter of weeks, maybe months at the most. No one was predicting at that point that advances in technology of war machinery and armaments – made ever more rapidly possible by the profiteering fatcats of industry –coupled with unbelievably poor strategic decision-making from incompetent leaders would ensure a bloody stalemate would ensue for years to come.

There is so much to admire in this work. Rather than taking the nationalistic route and deigning to hate the Germans and their Triple Alliance comrades-in arms for their part in ‘beginning’ the conflict, Tardi instead simply focuses on the outrage of war itself. That the common man should be forced to take up arms against someone no different from himself, separated only by a handful of kilometres geographically, murder them or be murdered, at the whims of the great and good, playing their geopolitical game of brag and bluster purely to satisfy their own egos under the auspices of national security and advancement.

Looking at things after the fact for a moment, it is no wonder that the Russian Revolution took place immediately after this brutal conflict, as increasingly the frontline forces on all sides realised their status was little more than that of pawns, to be used as utterly dispensable cannon fodder, sometimes sacrificed on a whim. In retrospect, it’s perhaps more of a surprise that other governments were not overthrown in the turmoil following the war. Certainly, it’s now not particularly well known that even countries such as Portugal and Belgium were subject to failed attempts at Bolshevik revolution.

The entire work is told from the perspective of an unnamed French infantryman, whom as the conflict progresses goes through such a personal realisation regarding the conflict, but with the ever-present military police ready to execute anyone attempting to flee, or indeed just fail to obey a suicidal command to go over the top, he realises there is little choice but to fulfil his ‘duty’ to his country. As the war progresses, much like the skull device he employed in IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, Tardi gradually tones down the colour content until we are left in a virtually monochrome sea of mud. Afterwards the colour gradually begins to return and I was particularly moved by a sequence at a flag-waving victory parade where a bitter, blinded veteran holding a begging cup is oblivious to the spectacle around him.

There are myriad such powerful and uncomfortable scenes throughout, both of the war itself, and its human consequences. I defy anyone to read this and not be forced to seriously think about how insane war is. With that said, in some ways, despite the counter-intuitive idea that more powerful weapons are a good idea, you have to question whether or not the concept of mutually assured destruction in the nuclear age is what finally persuaded more developed nations that talking through conflict might be a more sensible way of going about things. You’ve only got to look at any number of civil conflicts globally and also regional wars in Africa currently, to realise that as long as a military stalemate can be maintained, irrespective of whether anyone believes a decisive military victory can actually be achieved,  neither side’s leadership is going to move an inch ideologically or politically. Particularly if they’re not stood in the front line…

It’s possibly a tad surprising, therefore, to say this work is not without humour. Indeed there is a far amount of the gallows variety, which I’m sure perfectly captures the mood of the enlisted man at the time. They know they’re probably doomed, but there is literally nothing they can do about it. If they fight, they probably die; if they don’t fight, then they’re certain to die, either at the hands of their foes or the military police. There is a song which was sung by Frenchmen at the time, author unknown, that perfectly sums the situation up, and their disgust at the powers in charge. The Generals became so concerned about its mutinous potential, that even to sing it was made an act of sedition, punishable of course, by execution. But despite a then truly eye-watering award of one million francs plus an immediate honourable discharge from the army being offered to anyone revealing its author, the men stood firm and never gave up its creator. It’s called the The Song Of Craonne, and is reproduced in full at the end of the book, followed by an excellent essay on the chronology of WWI, again year by year, extending into 1919 once more, by Jean-Pierre Verney (a renowned French historian), peppered liberally with some astonishing and horrific photographs of the time from his personal collection.

For anyone interested in WWI, or just in trying to understand what it must have been like to be to be on those battlefields and go what those gallant men went through, this is essential reading. It is very simple to understand why people who went through conflicts such as WWI were – indeed are – reluctant to talk about it afterwards, but it is extremely important that we remember their sacrifice so hopefully, one day, war can be consigned to the history books forever.


Buy Goddamn This War! and read the Page 45 review here

Optic Nerve #13 (£4-25, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine.

“Opportunity is… what? Something we create, not something that happens. Right? And there’s always going to be hurdles, but what do we do when He hands us a challenge?”
Utilize, don’t analyze!”
“That’s right.”

That’s right, for God works in mysterious ways.

She walks out at that point, and I don’t blame her. It’s not actually a prayer meeting, though, it’s Alcoholics Anonymous. She’s a young-ish woman, more than a little worn by what life has thrown at her. At the moment it’s Housing Court.

The woman is pursued by another attendee who looks older than he says he is. He has a certain self-confidence, some would say the gift of the gab, though I would have punched him two pages in. But he offers to buy her coffee, and then put her up. He probably shouldn’t have snapped at her in bed, but he apologises. He’s very contrite and as good as his word.

“Your key, Madame.”
“I told you… this is just until I get everything squared away.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just… go ahead!”

She opens the front door and there’s a vase of fresh flowers on the coffee table, and a banner saying “Welcome Home”. She stands, stunned, in the doorway.

“Sorry, I’m… trying not to cry.”

Adrian Tomine is one of the most astute observers of human foibles in comics, the OPTIC NERVE graphic novels amongst Page 45’s biggest sellers. It was fascinating watching his style develop so swiftly during his teens in 32 STORIES (such a beautiful package, at the moment: facsimile editions of all the original mini-comics with extras), then, while did Adrian refine his line, he settled in for a recognisable Tomine style, similar to mid-Dan Clowes.

OPTIC NERVE #12, however, proved to be a marked departure, and so is the lead story here wherein we witness colour-coded snapshots of a relationship (okay, it doesn’t sound too different so far) as it develops from consolation and practical assistance into something else entirely. What is the word so often used about addiction? Oh, yes, “dependency”.

I promise you this: a degree of hilarity, a great many lies and one massive surprise. It will also keep you on the edge of your seat.

The brief snapshot effect works beautifully, throwing you through their story, and Tomine’s famous observational skills are once more in full evidence. For all that chapter’s shenanigans, I found it no less true to life than (I am afraid) than Adrian’s previous, gentler work.

I can see some Beto in the woman’s expressions and some Chris Ware in our other, paunchy protagonist, softened by a less regimented line – particularly when the man hightails it across the park.

The second story is in full, flat colour as a woman narrates her return to California from Japan to her child. She leaves her parents who do not approve of her decision to fly to (I infer from the skyline – I could be wrong) San Francisco. She is met at their airport by her estranged husband who has secured them a tiny apartment. It is quiet, measured, profoundly moving and ends on an enigmatic ellipsis.

Then there’s the regular letter column which, customarily, is filled with human oddities, most of whose social skills and self-awareness are non-existent. I think it was Kieron Gillen (PHONOGRAM etc.) who pointed out that those tweeting a comicbook creator a link to a negative review they had written of said creator’s work was just… weird. Why would you do that? Welcome to the OPTIC NERVE letter column.


Buy Optic Nerve #13 and read the Page 45 review here

Genius s/c (£12-99, First Second) by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy H. Kristiansen.

“It turned out there were two kinds of knowledge: brain knowledge and heart knowledge. I was grossly over-developed in one. Painfully under-developed in the other.
“I worry that I still am in a lot of ways…”

Ted tested genius-level at school. Mentally dwarfing his classmates, the school teachers advanced him a year, then they advanced him a second. Which was fine until all the other boys hit puberty and he – lagging two years behind his peers physically – did not. The showers at school are a very different environment to the class room.

Fast-forward and Ted is married with two kids. His fourteen-year-old boy is way past puberty and approaching Smooch Central. Ted caught him groping a girl in their living room, and tells his wife.

“So he’s not gay? I was really thinking he might be gay.”
“He was this close to not being gay right in front of my eyes, Hope.”

It’s probably time for that talk. Yes, that talk. It doesn’t go the way you’ll expect, for there is delightful candour on both sides. I so desperately want to quote it in order to sell sixty copies in a second, but it will distract us from the issues at hand.

The point is that we have a loving family here – apart from Ted’s father-in-law, who is a grouchy son-of-a-bitch, prone to selective memory. He may suffer from senile dementia or he may simply be playing Ted to make him suffer more. In any case, he doesn’t rate Ted’s manliness any more than his classmates did in the showers. Those exchanges are hilarious too.

What is far from funny is Ted’s current predicament. Hired straight from college by a physicist think-tank on account of his precocious acumen for all things theoretical in physics, he has had no big ideas of his own for years. Others have. But Ted has now lagged behind mentally as well as physically and is close to being shown the door. And something happens within the family to make a personal break-through at work absolutely imperative. Ted is desperate. So desperate that he would even contemplate plagiarism.

And it is at this point that his father-in-law let’s slip that not only was he once Einstein’s bodyguard, but Einstein entrusted him with a secret he had told no one else. A revelation so vast that it could change the world. It could certainly transform a career overnight. But Ted’s father-in-law swore an oath never to impart this knowledge to another human being, and he certainly isn’t about to break that oath for a son-law he regards as a pussy…

For the body of the book Teddy Kristiansen’s drawings and washes are almost ghostly: pale things enhanced by representational touches like Hope’s green “mask”, like a mud-pack, when feeling ill. But this serves to make the eight-page flourish during the climactic epiphany – with its magical colours and sweeping textures which explode across the eye – all the more dazzling. I mean, truly mind-bending.

I was put in mind of the truly great Russell Mills, but even that does not do justice to Teddy’s evocation of the ultimate revelation. It is electric.

From the creators of THE RE[A]D DIARY, a book so fiercely inventive we made it a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and Vertigo’s IT’S A BIRD which anyone even conceiving of an essay on Superman truly needs to absorb, this is yet another deeply thoughtful gem grounded in a family environment which will have you smiling throughout.

“You got a hand job at fourteen?”
“Thirteen. It was in March. A-ma-zing.”
“Oh, God.”
“High five!”


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

Psychiatric Tales (Expanded Edition) (£10-99, Blank Slate) by Darryl Cunningham.

In some parts of this country Talking Therapy can take up to a year’s wait. And if only you knew the hoops that a friend of mine has to jump through – hours and hours of phone calls being tossed from one department to another and then weeks of waiting for an appointment – when she is suicidal! Aaargh!

A book like this, then, is absolutely vital. We made the original volume Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month back in October 2010. This new, expanded edition features two brand-new chapters on different dementias and psychosis.

It’s by no means a common experience, but there are some books one starts bursting to write about a mere twenty pages in. PSYCHIATRIC TALES is one of those: a book of such instinctive, level-headed compassion, communication and education which nearly never saw completion on account of the creator’s own deteriorating mental health. A childhood riddled with self-loathing only grew worse in adulthood as Cunningham withdrew at the very time he most craved connection. It was his artistic talent that finally gave him a sense of belonging, whilst his desire to understand his own condition and his natural empathy for others, so clearly evidenced here, led him into work as a health care assistant before training as a student to qualify as a mental health nurse.

“And this is when I overreached myself. This is when I broke.”

After reading the book you will easily comprehend why. It’s no easy job for the sturdiest of individuals but for someone as vulnerable and sympathetic as Darryl, well, it was going to get to him eventually.

The book isn’t about Darryl, though: the preceding pages detail his experiences on the ward and what he learned about various debilitating mental conditions as a result. The very opposite of sensationalist, its measured contents will undoubtedly still prove affecting for there can be few of us who haven’t come into contact with mental illness: schizophrenia with its attendant paranoia and hallucinations; bipolar disorder with its peaks and troughs and compulsion to communicate everything at once; violent anti-social personality disorders; the dementia of Alzheimer’s – the disorientation and delusion and reversion to an earlier period in life; self-harming from anger, self-loathing and a desperation to assert any sort of control even if it involves physical pain as a distraction from the mental anguish; suicide.

Each condition is explained through personal observation and with an education that enables Cunningham to detail current treatments, rebalancing the brain’s chemicals whilst providing the most efficacious environment wherever possible. And without meaning to alarm you, Darryl correctly places an emphasis on one particular truth: it can happen to anyone at any time.

At school the brother of my best friend suddenly started pronouncing himself to be the Second Coming and appointed disciples. I’ve met several self-harmers and known them for years. I know at least one bi-polar, my grandmother slid away from us under Alzheimer’s, someone very close to me is suffering with acute depression and, I guess, most disturbingly of all, a young man I thought brilliant and charming abruptly became barely coherent, violent (he tried to kill his mother and girlfriend) and – because he’d already been misdiagnosed as having a mere behavioural disorder – it took his parents a whole year of research and fighting to get the man properly diagnosed with Cannabis Psychosis and therefore properly treated. I recognise everything I read here. It’s spot-on, including the patient’s delusion, post-recovery, that sustained medication is no longer necessary.

As to the artwork, it’s deceptively simple just like Satrapi’s in PERSEPOLIS for maximum empathy, black shadows casting faces into silhouette, a warning of potential bleak, black moods. It’s the perfect balance between word and picture, so as sequential art it reads like a dream. Or a nightmare.

“The effects of suicide ripple outward. Damaging family, friends and strangers alike. A suicide will leave an average of six people immediately affected by the death. A parent, a significant other, a sibling, or a child of the deceased person. The people are referred to as the survivors. These are the ones left to suffer. Never knowing why, always wondering if he could have done more.”



Buy Psychiatric Tales (Expanded Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Infinite Vacation Deluxe h/c (£18-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Christian Ward.

“Not gonna lie… Going to one’s own funeral is a pretty fucked up experience. Especially when you don’t know anyone there.”

It’s that third sentence that clinches it. From the writer of BEDLAM, THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 1, FORGETLESS, EXISTENCE 2.0 / 3.0 and MORNING GLORIES, yet another series rammed to the rafters with ideas. So often I’ve seen an intriguing concept let down by a failure to follow through, to extrapolate from that central conceit, but not here.

Plus it’s all so bright and beautiful. There’s lots and lots of light because there’s lots and lots of white, so showing off the richness of the colours. Some of those are washes (or wash-effects) some are flat, and then there are hilarious brief breaks for photographic marketing pitches. The climax is an orgasm of colours, as if you’d spilled two dozen paints pots at once and they’re swirling down a giant white sink.

Mark lives in a world where you can buy your way into an infinite number of realities by trading with unlimited variations of yourself. You don’t change your body like you can in SURROGATES, you change its existence, its life: your environment, history and so potentially future, and Mark is a bit of an addict. He averages 9.7 life changes per day. He’s restless, thoughtless and indeed feckless, always ending up in the same dead-end job with ruined relationships, feeling the need to press the virtual reset button again and so start afresh.

The only version of him that has ever found happiness is the one who ditched college to start a surf shop in Fiji, and even that was on his roommate’s advice. Mark knows this because he’s now met him on a ‘lifeshare’ – an Infinite Vacation where you don’t take over your counterpart’s life, you visit for a nose around and maybe a confab. Here they are, lying on the beach in front of the most spectacular sunset:

“I know what your problem is, dude.”
“You do?”
“Yeah, all you guys, it’s the same thing. I mean, hell, man, when’s it gonna be enough? You got yourself so hooked on infinity, this bullshit they feed you about how you can ‘have anything – live everything’. Fuck that, man – you’re so obsessed with having everything, you can’t enjoy anything! My advice? Just find one thing, dude. Find that one thing that makes your life worth more than you can put up for sale on your phone, and give that everything you got. You hearin’ me?”
“Ah, fuck it, man. What do I know? Come on, let’s hit a wave.”

Two days later, he’s dead, shot in a robbery gone wrong. You can’t take an Infinite Vacation from death, but one doubts that that version of Mark would have wanted to. At least he died happy. Unfortunately that single Mark is not alone. A lot of Marks seem to be winding up dead. You can keep track of that, you know.

“Google makes this really nice RSS news aggregator that helps you keep track of what happens to you everywhere.”

Of course it does! However fascinating it may be keeping up to date on other people’s lives on Twitter, you’d be riveted keeping track of what’s happening in your counterparts’ lives! Yeah, you would. They’re essentially you. And that’s what I mean about extrapolation. That and the fact that your ideal therapist would be a version of yourself (“No one knows you like you, right?”).

There’s so much going on here. I haven’t even mentioned the Deadenders – that rare 3% of the world’s population who haven’t given in to giving in and jettisoning the lives they’ve worked so hard at for the sake of any easy fix and a brand new existence they played no part in building. I love a work of art that makes me think: that makes me question its society and characters in a way that has implications for my own. And I admire the mind that can make me do that. I’m also a sucker for a ridiculously complex mystery like the film Memento, and when you hit the final page of the first chapter, I think you’ll be hooked as well.


Buy Infinite Vacation Deluxe h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Bronze vol 3.b: Betrayal Pt 2 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Eric Shanower.

The time for oratory is over. Now there can only be war.

Thanks to the recklessness and goading of the inexperienced, headstrong Paris who disobeyed his father, King Priam of Troy, and stole King Menelaus’ wife while one of his guests, the other Achaean kings have united in outrage, assembling a vast armada which has survived countless delays, ill-winds and in-fighting. Now it sets sail for Troy with Achilles determined to be first on the enemy’s shores.

Prophecies on both sides predict loss and suffering but most of those seers have been ignored. Not so Kalchas, who has deserted Troy for the Achaean side leaving his daughter Cressida behind to suffer ignominy for her father’s treachery. But Troilus is true. Another of Priam’s sons, he is so deeply in love with Cressida that he cannot bear to be separated and positively begs Cressida to flee with him far across the sea even though it will mean they can never return.

Well, we all know how that ends.

Shanower’s portrayal of Troilus and Cressida’s plight, their profound love caught in the crosshairs of their respective families actions and then the practicalities of mere survival is heart-rending, and forms the backbone of this arc along with the all out naval assault then javelin charge against the Trojan charioteers. And it is eye-popping: all the chaos of combat delineated in such exquisite detail you could cry. The attention to armour – each individual plate of metal – is as rich as the linen patterns, the leather-strip binding of the chariots’ baskets and each customised helmet. As to the sea I have never seen black look such a deep blue, the sailships’ wakes gleaming under the Aegean skies! The figure work itself is impeccable, as if drawn by George Perez under a microscope using a nib one atom wide, then fleshed out with a brush two horse-hairs thick.

And, oh, the look of love which Troilus casts up at Cressida in the heat of battle, the veil she gave him tied round his helmet in luck! And the smile she radiates from the Trojan battlements above, then wiped off her face as an arrow whistles by too close for comfort, before everyone starts screaming when swords are plunged into mouths and… this is breath-taking!

As to the relevance of the cover, all will become clearer towards the awful end.

For much more elaborate considerations of this masterful amalgamation of the Trojan War sources, please see all three of our previous AGE OF BRONZE reviews, for this is book 3B, i.e. 4. Cheers!


Buy Age Of Bronze vol 3.b: Betrayal Pt 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mo-Bot High vol 1 (£6-99, DFC) by Neill Cameron.

“Get ready for Mo-Bots!
“For Digital Robotic Combatsuits in thrilling, titanic battles!
“Get read for excitement on a whole new level!
“But first… get ready for double geography.”

Aaaaargh! New schoolz! What a nightmare!

It’s difficult enough when you leave one at the top and have to start down on the bottom rung again, but at least a whole year of your peers is suffering similarly. It’s infinitely worse if everyone has already settled in, learned the rules, formed alliances, absorbed all the quirky customs and knows where to hide when it’s time for P.E.!

Pity poor Asha, then, dropped in at the deep end by her doting dad, right in the middle of term. Where should she go? Who does she need to sign in with? And what the hell are those glowing, six-storey-high, ridiculously high-tech robots doing bashing each other overhead in the playground?!

They are Digital Robot Combatsuits, Asha, summoned by your mobile phone! Didn’t you have those back in London? Honestly! Thank goodness Shelly is on hand to make friends, steer her by the arm, and drop Asha in deep doo-doo within seconds. She didn’t even call this town a dump – that was Shelly!  But arch-bully Sasha is having none of it and her spotty stooge Gemma, a girl with so many chips on her shoulder she could be a battered piece of cod, challenges her to a Digital Robotic Bash-athon! How do you even pilot these things?!

Cameron has done a bang-up job of evoking all the sob-inducing disorientation of a new environment, and poor Asha is give no time to acclimatise at all. It’s positively frantic. So frantic that you might miss the enigmatic blue-haired girl gliding quietly round the grounds, or the elderly school caretaker who certainly sees more than the teachers do, for they are oblivious to the multi-coloured mecha.

Ah, yes, the multi-coloured mecha! They are the highlights for me. Their stances, readying themselves to weigh in, are charged with weight and power, while the colour design is chic, sharp and gorgeous. Upgrade sufficiently and you can customise your own with floral motifs that seem to shimmer and shift like patterned liquid in a translucent shell. Oooh, I want me one of those, but I can barely operate my mobile as it is. Young readers won’t have the same problem – they’re all more technically savvy than me, anyway.

But what does the cliff-hanger mean? What? What?! I hate you, DFC! More, now, this instant!


Buy Mo-Mot High vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gum Girl: Music, Mischief And Mayhem! (£6-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.

“There’ll be no clashing colours in my Kingdom!”

How does this man even do it? There are no clashing colours anywhere in this graphic novel, and yet there are so many! Firstly, there’s all the white, but also a virtually peerless talent for colour composition. I should probably hire Andi Watson to detoxify my kitchen – visually, I mean, for there’s no hope for its sanitation.

I talk more about this very neat trick more in GUM GIRL: COUNTDOWN TO DESTRUCTION, the third book in Andi’s all-ages comicbook triumph. Here is the fourth and, I fear, final volume but you should pester both Andi Watson and Walker Books for more. We are making a fortune!

(Sorry, I meant: “Because they are gud!”)

And they are oh so good, unlike the despotic villains determined to impose their own so-called standards upon Calamity High, care of Catastrophe, a citadel singularly plagued by gremlins with gripes.

Princess Pigmentia, an old dame with dementia, wants to paint the town red. She’s certainly seeing it, and has scooped up all the colours for miles around, leaving Catastrophe prone to chaos. With traffic lights bleached of their instructional guidance, who is to say whether you should stop, go, or rev your BMW engine in irritatingly impatient exasperation? Do come along, there is tailgating to be done!

Mime Man, on the other hand, cannot bear all the noize issuing not just from Calamity High but from Gum Girl’s own bedroom. Oh yes, it’s the old karaoke, into a brush!

Lastly we have Stick Man, a self-duplicating sheep so self-loathing that he hates individuality and wants to stamp it out, replacing all and sundry with carbon copies of himself. But we all love individuality, right? It is so mega-cool to be different and have your own interests! Otherwise why would you be interesting to others?

All of which, I hope, comes across as one big love letter to Andi Watson, one of my favourite comicbook creators in the whole wide wibbliverse. I want to see all his adult graphic novels back in print right now, please, including LITTLE STAR which we made our first-ever Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

For more on Gum Girl’s serendipitous origin, please see GUM GIRL: CATASTROPHE CALLING, for more on its outrageous punnage, please see GUM GIRL: THE TENTACLES OF DOOM. And for additional, all-ages brilliance and beauty, I commend to you his glorious GLISTER.


Buy Gum Girl: Music, Mischief And Mayhem! and read the Page 45 review here

Serenity Rose vol 1: Working Through The Negativity (£10-99, SLG) by Aaron Alexovich.

We’re doing a roaring trade on Aaron Alexovich’s new ELDRITCH VOL 1, so welcome back SERENITY ROSE, which I originally reviewed thus ten years ago thus:

When previewing this a few months back, I gave ‘aaron a’ (as he likes to refer to himself) an unnecessarily mean-spirited rodgering. And the sweetheart wrote in with more good-hearted humility than I will ever be able to summon in my misbegotten life, to ask where I thought he was going wrong. I offered to post the reply with a weblink, but I probably made things worse because I heard no more about it. The truth is that Aaron (as I prefer to refer to him) isn’t going wrong at all. Not if he wants a dip in that ocean of free-flowing, teeny-goth cash, lapping languidly against the foot of our till.

Young Serenity pushes all the right buttons by remaining defiantly outcast, self-absorbed and cynical about the conformist world around her. There’s even a cat (check), a cast of freakish schoolmates (check) and a visual reduction for Serenity herself to the minimalist, animation-style bundle of fluff which is the toast of the comicbook town these days. Yet where Mr. Alexovich (as he’s legally know) has risen above the prevailing Darke Clouds of Doom is that the maudlin monologues are riddled with wit, and largely well targeted. I can’t say for sure whether this is likely to continue, but I’ll stick my neck out and predict that there may be more to Aaron Alexovich (as his parents first christened him) than many of his contemporaries, based in part on the following extract from one of Ms.Rose’s diaries:

The 10 commandments according to television
(by a potato aged 16)

I. thou shalt not resist booze.
II. thou shalt not disparage money.
III. thou shalt not refuse sexual relations, as sexual relations are the only important thing in the whole wide world ever.
IV. thou shalt never be average in the looks department. (ugly is right out)
V. thou shalt never deny the existence of some sort of god or something.
VI. thou shalt never fail to defend your friends and family (those similar to you) regardless of the facts.
VII. thou shalt never fail to attack your enemies (those dissimilar to you) regardless of the facts.
VIII. thou shalt have a whole mess of spawn (min. 2)
IX. thou shalt never be alone.
X. america rocks!!

So next time I lay into something without due care and attention, please ignore me. If, you know, you pay any attention to me in the first place.


Buy Serenity Rose vol 1: Working Through The Negativity and read the Page 45 review here

Kingdom Hearts vol 1: Final Mix (£9-99, Yen Press) by Shiro Amano

Liberated from Tokyopop and so back in print along with several new KINGDOM HEARTS graphic novels, I never heard a word of complaint from its wide-eyed readership, but in the interests of honesty…

This is a double whammy in that if you’ve never played the game before, this is so badly constructed that you won’t be able to follow a page of it and, if you have, this will prove the biggest disappointment since that love letter which you found left tucked in your coat pocket turned out to be intended for your identically dressed best friend.

The game Kingdom Hearts was a charming blend of Disney and Final Fantasy characters, full of light, colour, secrets, battles, and moments of “aww” as well as “aarggh! (“I’ve gone through the wrong door, the roof’s now a floor and the fireplace is completely inaccessible! Plus I’ve just been smacked to death by a giant, unravelly thing that appears to be made out of yellow and blue baubles!”). It was exciting, it was mysterious and it gave you a considerable degree of freedom in what you chose to explore and when. On a giant TV set.

This… this is a miserable little black and white mess, barely readable through ill-judged layouts, completely without surprises and therefore utterly pointless. So why are we selling so many? Is it the comfort of the familiar? Are we really that unadventurous as a race now?

There were so many pieces of beautiful animation – like the two young lovers holding out their arms to embrace, but floating straight through each other – that are completely buggered, drained of all emotional power.

“The door is opening…” Well, shut it, along with this book.


Buy Kingdom Hearts vol 1: Final Mix 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.


Rachel Rising vol 3 Cemetary Songs s/c (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Fish Head Steve! (£6-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Alan Moore Fashion Beast s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, Antony Johnston & Facundo Percio

I Am Fire (£4-99) by Rachael Smith

Crossed vol 6 s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis, various & Raulo Caceres, Miguel Ruiz, Raulo Caceres

Battlefields vol 7 Green Fields Beyond s/c (£12-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra, Garry Leach

Adventure Time vol 3 s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Ryan North & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Chris Houghton

Over The Wall s/c (£10-99, Uncivilized) by Peter Wartman

Lenore Purple Nurples Color Ed h/c (£13-50,Titan) by Roman Dirge

07 Ghost vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Yuki Amemiya

Rin-ne vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi

Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Gunslinger Girl Omnibus vol 7 s/c (£8-99, St. Martins Press) by Yu Aida

Tezuka Twin Knight vol 1 (£10-50, Random House / Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

Fairy Tale vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Ikigami The Ultimate Limit  vol 9 (£8-99, Viz) by Motoro Mase

Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir (£11-99, Plume) by Graham Roumieu

Witchblade: Rebirth vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Top Cow) by Tim Seely & Diego Bernard

Anansi Boys (£8-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman

Battle Angel Alita Last Order Omnibus vol 2 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Savage Wolverine vol 1 Kill Island Now s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Frank Cho

Daredevil By Mark Waid Prem vol 5 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Venom Toxin With A Vengeance s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Declan Shalvey

Iron Man vol 2 Secret Origin Of Stark Book 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Greg Land, Dale Eaglesham, Tbd

Savage Wolverine vol 1 Kill Island Now h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Cho

Batman Arkham Unhinged vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Derek Fridolfs, Paul Dini, Marly Halpern-Graser & Mike S. Miller, Dave Wilkins, various

Batman Arkham Unhinged vol 2 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Derek Fridolfs & Jorge Jiminez, Mike S Miller, various

Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi vol 2 Prison Of Bogan (£14-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Star Wars: Agent Of The Empire vol 2 Hard Targets s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Davide Fabbri


ITEM! Truly we all bowled over by Jacques Tardi’s GODDAM THE WAR (reviewed above), an extraordinarily powerful piece of writing, illustrated to heart-stopping perfection, which somehow manages flourish after flourish of wry wit amongst all the horror. It is almost impossible to believe that it isn’t actual autobiography. Anyway, you’ll find a substantial preview online at that link. Many thanks to Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds and Paul Baresh for taking the time and trouble to supply us with the interior art for our review.

ITEM! Oh what a clever use of online formatting for this vertical story beloved, unsurprisingly, by Scott McCloud of UNDERSTANDING COMICS. It’s called The Long Journey, and it is a very long journey down, down, down!

ITEM! Sir Barry Windsor-Smythe is one of my favourite comicbook artists and here Tom Scioli does the man full justice while bemoaning recent recolouring without a notion to paper quality or original intent: Whatever happened to Barry Windsor-Smith?

ITEM! Oh. My. Days. I predicted that THE NAO OF BROWN would be very best graphic novel of 2012 six months before its publication. And I was right. For 2013, then, I give you the most extraordinary comic of 2013: THE FIRELIGHT ISLE by FREAKANGELS’ Paul Duffield.


2) THE FIRELIGHT ISLE page one production process, start to finish, accelerated to 12 minutes.

Yes! Yowsa indeed!

ITEM! Yeah, you know what? I am so fucking bored of seeing people refer to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s record (and brilliant) stint on the FANTASTIC FOUR as if it had never been broken since! Dave Sim broke it years ago on CEREBUS. He fucking trashed it! 300-plus issues! Here Dave Sim talks about breaking the Stan Lee & Jack Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR RECORD. And I could not agree more.

ITEM! I am a massive Greek mythology buff and I swoon all over the Italian Baroque as well as its original Greek incarnations. Do you? Then you desperately need to catch Paul Reid’s Edinburgh exhibition August 2013.

ITEM! Receive ye one massive inducement to pre-order HELLBOY MIDNIGHT CIRCUS by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo for here is a formidable preview! I will provide you with added inducements soon, if you order via us. Hahahahahahahahahah! Pre-order here: HELLBOY: MIDNIGHT CIRCUS. News to follow.

No, really.

 – Stephen

One Response to “Reviews August 2013 week two”

  1. Reviews August 2013 week two - Escape Pod Comics says:

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