As for the carnival in ‘Spring’ it is a riot of colour with a real sense of sound, such as I’ve rarely seen outside Paul Peart-Smith’s contribution to NELSON.
– Stephen on The River.
The River h/c (£15-99, Enchanted Lion Books) by Alessandro Sanna.
Its very nature and purpose is a journey.
A coalescence of rain fallen from the sky which absorbs still more as it goes, it is its own transport to the sea.
Even its height and its girth ebb and flow. In the sunnier seasons its source may dry up or it may yield itself prematurely to the skies, but that is where the water was heading, inexorably, even via fauna and flora.
This theme of continual migration runs right through the book, a silent sequence of watercolour landscapes structured as a cycle of seasons; I was mildly surprised to see even evaporation alluded to in its quiet, closing moments. But it couldn’t kick off with more of a bang.
That this will be a journey is suggested immediately by the movement on the very first page. As a wild sky erupts and its bruised-berry clouds burst, the last leaves of summer scatter in the squall and birds take flight – as does a dog and its master. Could there be a greater sense of urgency?
The horizon disappears behind a curtain of rain while the river’s thin skin is lashed and slashed by the cascade. As we close in on its shattered surface there is a very real sense that the river is swelling. Sure enough the cyclist encounters a long line of locals – a very long line of locals – who seem to be watching and waiting. A second dog chases the first, and the cyclist overtakes cattle on the move, racing past tall, skeletal, Lombardy poplars to find another long line of locals, their silhouettes reflected in the ripples of the ever-rising river. They start shoring up the bank as the cyclist sets off on his last stretch home. Tomorrow it will look very different.
I love a wet brush and I love this cover anchored at the bottom by the same rich, rusty browns which draw your eye higher – along with the title and credit – to the sunken horizon, its partially submerged home, and the lone dog left peering anxiously in from the bow of a boat. Alessandro writes in the back:
“Here the rule of thirds is fundamental if you want to see things as they really are: one-third earth and two-thirds sky. When the river rises, the proportions are reversed.”
These proportions are maintained throughout the graphic novel bar each chapter’s opening full-page flourish, dominated by the endless, open heavens.
The colours are phenomenal. Throughout the opening season (‘Autumn’) I couldn’t get ice-cream associations out of my mind, the vanilla breaking through blackcurrant then blueberry frozen crush. I promise you many more palettes but have restricted the interior art to this one so that others remain a surprise.
They’re not obvious, either: ‘Winter’ is uncommonly clement. Sanna reserves the traditional crisp blue for ‘Spring’ with snow-white blossoms budding and puffing on the stark, bare branches. Instead the emphasis is on warmth emanating from within, whether it’s the children crowding at the windows of a school house, smoke rising from chimneys, breath drifting from open mouths or the calf emerging, seemingly white-hot from inside the womb. The overall effect of that stable sequence is like viewing it through a thermal scanner.
As for the carnival in ‘Spring’ it is a riot of colour with a real sense of sound, such as I’ve rarely seen outside Paul Peart-Smith’s contribution to NELSON.
Apparently Alessandro’s own river is The Po in north-eastern Italy but ‘Summer’ here is even more exotic than that – unless African elephants have migrated much further than I thought. The opening flash of colour there is so bright you’ll be reaching for your shades.
It’s an absolute masterpiece – and I rarely write that more than once in five years. It’s fluid and instinctive yet carefully controlled.
And here’s another thing I rarely do: suggest a soundtrack. But after you’ve floated through this a fair few times in silence, I’d heartily recommend David Sylvian’s ‘Gone To Earth’ – the entire album kicking off with ‘Taking The Veil’ whose musical ripples match those painted here perfectly.
Courtney Crumrin vol 6: The Final Spell h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.
If that doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, then it should.
I’m afraid it’s the end of the road for COURTNEY CRUMRIN – and Courtney Crumrin herself. I had no idea this would be so severe.
Its origins stretch through the whole of the series, reprising elements and plot points I thought long left-behind, but no. Obviously the last volume’s sheer, severe cliff-hanger must inevitably be played out, but what about the set-up in COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 2, eh? And I do mean set-up.
A faction within The Coven Of Mystics has grown weary with the restraints placed on them by Ravanna’s Law, forbidding their witches and warlocks to interfere or mingle with regular folk. Its Council still holds with the law but a council is rarely at rest; there is always a struggle for power.
Meanwhile, time is running out for Great Uncle Aloysius: he’s dying. Sustained only by an elixir withheld by the Council until he returns his niece for what it promises will be a fair trial, he must surely imagine that Courtney will come quietly. She won’t.
Courtney is on the run with her former teacher Calpurnia Crisp, the Council’s marshals mere metres behind. They’re racing round mountain roads, the ocean waves breaking beneath them and they cannot afford to be caught. Calpurnia knows there will be no fair trial and the fate that awaits them is much worse than death: they will be banished, all knowledge of magic and their memories of wielding it erased. They will become hollow shells, ghosts of their former selves, destined only to wonder what on earth could be missing, dimly in the back of their minds. As to Aloysius, Calpurnia knows something few others do, and that changes everything.
Oh my god, girls! Oh my god, guys! When I first realised what [redacted, redacted] was actually showing, my jaw hit the floor. Suffice to say that there is not a second’s preamble; it kicks straight into gear. Rarely have I read a series’ conclusion that wraps everything up not just neatly but nastily with a final confrontation foreshadowed by the words of the hermit Cerridean Olds and the early actions of another who wields far more magic than anyone suspected. If you are as ancient as I am, the words ‘Dark Phoenix’ will mean something. Really mean something, and Naifeh has out-burned John Byrne: if that blistering image swirling in purple above Aloysius isn’t a direct homage then I would be so, so surprised.
Ted’s design work has always been delicious. It manifests itself not just in this new full-colour, hardcover incarnation with its silver inks, but in the enemies themselves: the Rawhead And Bloody-Bones of COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 2 with which I am always at pains to frighten young readers along with their parents during shop-floor show-and-tells, and here the various skeletal Golems animated by Cerridean.
I love that there are electricity pylons straddling the cliff tops of the introductory breakneck car chase.
But I wondered why the colours were so studiously muted in purples and blues, pale lemon-yellow and deep olive-green. Well, let’s just say that the bright light of day would be a boon to some if deprived for so long of its beauty, yet to others it could be the worst thing in the world.
“Have you ever awoken out of a deep sleep and found yourself in a place you don’t recognise, forgetting for a moment how you got there? Sometimes, when you remember at last, it’s a relief.
“And sometimes it’s not.”
I am so, so sorry.
Still to come: COURTNEY CRUMRIN TALES.
Maddy Kettle vol 1: The Adventure Of The Thimblewitch (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Eric Orchard…
Poor old Maddy Kettle, the nasty old Thimblewitch has turned her mummy and daddy into rats! And if that wasn’t enough, now they’ve been kidnapped by some creepy creatures! Looks like it’s up to her to save the day, which is going to involve a very scary and spooky adventure fending off vampire bats and Spider Goblins, with peril and danger lurking at seemingly every turn. It’s a good job she’s not the type of girl who scares easily! She’s going to have some help along the way, though, from Harry the bear and Silvio the racoon, who are cloud cartographers, and handily enough for a rescue expedition, have a hot air balloon powered by moon gas, the most floatable substance known to man, or indeed bear or racoon.
Aww, this is great fun, and it really is spooky. My three-year-old told me she found it scary after I read it to her, and I think it was the Spider Goblins that did it, because much like Maddy she’s not easily spooked!
I am fairly certain I have come across Eric Orchard’s artwork somewhere before, I know he has illustrated children’s books though this is his first graphic novel. The artwork, and tone, also reminded me a little bit of Coraline the film (rather than CORALINE the graphic novel) due to Maddy’s disproportionately large head and eyes, which is also a fright-fest for young kids. This isn’t quite so pulse-raising as everyone ends up friends by the conclusion, even the Spider Goblins, but there might be some peeking out from behind little fingers along the way!
The Storyteller: Witches #1 (£2-99, Archaia) by S. M. Vidaurri.
Fear not, I will show you inside!
Strictly speaking, this is STORYTELLER #1 of 4, but each tale is self-contained, by different and hopefully equally deft storytellers.
This tells of a time long ago when a wild, wooded land was so remote that its king had so far failed to claim it. Its virgin, snow-topped mountain overlooked a village so small that it was self-sustaining and at one with its local habitat. It was in harmony with nature.
“The years fell as quickly and as gracefully as the autumn. And what was once a small town became a city, and a king laid his claim on the forest.”
Specifically he laid claim on the forest’s tallest tree: so tall that its topmost branches were said to catch stars which imbued them with magical properties. The king chopped the tree down to fashion a crown for the day of his son’s coronation. But the tree was much loved by Lord Of The Forest, a tall armoured rabbit who took umbrage.
That king already had a daughter much older than his son but, of course – oh, of course! – she was but second in-line to the throne. The princess loved her family but cared not for the court and its mannered pageantry, pomp and dull dealings. She preferred to wander through the forest and was particularly drawn to the sturdy, hollow stump of the tree her father had plundered. It was while loitering, daydreaming there that the princess overheard a curse cast upon the crown and what happened thereafter would change the kingdom forever.
I love a good twist – see Becky Cloonan’s THE MIRE – and have chosen my words very carefully.
There is a lovely lilt to how Vidaurri’s words tumble and often chime, her hand-drawn lettering as much an intimate part of the art as it is in Dame Darcy’s MEATCAKE or Emily Carroll’s THROUGH THE WOODS.
She uses the space around each boldly inset panel – often no more than a single panel per page – to further her narration while decorating it with a vaulted ceiling, maybe mountains or mice, oak acorns or red-berried leaves.
The panel borders themselves might be composed as a cloak-clothed woman whose image is mirrored like a knave or queen playing card, or soared over by a majestic white swan.
It’s the sort of playfulness I relish in self-published works but which is then often jettisoned when a “proper” publisher makes claim. Not so here, and for that I applaud both Vidaurri and Archaia itself.
From the creator of IRON, OR THE WAR AFTER.
Spellbound. Enchanted. Enthralled.
Ikigami The Ultimate Limit vol 10 (£8-99, Viz) by Motoro Mase…
The final volume! As Fujimoto becomes ever more dissatisfied with the National Welfare scheme of randomly selecting one young citizen between the age of 18 and 24 every day and informing them they have a mere 24 hours to live, ostensibly to keep the rest of the population in line, he finally finds the courage to join the shadowy group fighting undercover against this fascist policy. Given it’s Fujimoto’s duty to deliver this news, known as an ikigami or death notice, to the individuals in question, it’s not surprising it’s starting to affect him emotionally. Precisely who dies is decided by a small capsule inserted into every child whilst they were at junior school. One in a thousand capsules will prove fatal but there is no way of knowing in advance who has been given a death sentence.
In choosing to finally listen to his conscience and disseminate secret information he hopes will turn the weight of public opinion against National Welfare, Fujimoto risks everything, for if he is found out, he will be immediately arrested, labelled a thought criminal and disowned by friends and family alike, before being forced to undergo the rather grim thought-reform brainwashing procedure. But realistically, what chance do this tiny group of underground freedom fighters have to smash the system? Seemingly none, until war with a neighbouring state breaks out, changing everything overnight as the authorities reveal what they have always denied, that it is indeed possible to deactivate the capsules.
So for those who chose to be conscripted into the army, the choice is simple: are the odds of surviving on the battlefield better than the one-in-a-thousand lottery of staying at home? Or, if someone is already past the critical cut-off age of 24 they can chose to have a younger family member’s capsule deactivated instead, testing the bonds of family love and loyalty, by seeing who is prepared to risk their lives for their children or younger siblings. This revelation, coupled with the stark fact they are engaged in a war they might well lose, shakes society to its very core. But will Fujimoto even be able to have any further influence on what happens next, as unbeknownst to him the thought police are closing in on finding the leak…
I have really enjoyed this series. Most of the previous volumes have followed a set pattern of having Fujimoto deliver two ikigamis and then following the protagonists whilst they live out their final hours, knowing they are going to die, but also that if they commit any crime, their families will subsequently be ostracised by everyone they know, and indeed penalised by not receiving the generous stipend paid to the relatives of those making the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ for their country. Ikigami recipients are expected to die with honour, dignity and decorum of course.
Obviously, given the state of mental turmoil most recipients find themselves in, it doesn’t always work out like that, to say the least. Underpinning those dramas has been the ongoing story of Fujimoto, initially an idealistic believer in the benefits of National Welfare, but gradually having his blindly patriotic certainty eroded as he repeatedly witnesses the traumas and heartbreak caused by the policy. This final volume, after delivering his last ikigami squarely focuses on the nail-bitingly tense conclusion to his story. If you would like to read a series that has some thought-provoking points to make about the world we live in and is also packed with action, this may well appeal.
All IKIGAMI books in stock now!
Time Killers (£9-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato.
Nor are they wrinkly old God-bothers with round-rimmed spectaclays or fully-fledged men of the cloth. They tend to be sartorially sharp, dashing young dudes with the most enormous weapons for maximum demon-damage or (potentially) shafting their competition.
So it is with the most recent short story in this collection spanning the first ten years of Kazue Kato’s career, spawned from her early notes for what would become BLUE EXORCIST, one of the most resilient titles in the faltering fad that was that sugar-buzz manga. It was a generational thing, and that generation has moved on. Just the sugar-buzz bandits, mind you. I don’t see sales of SUNNY etc declining.
A little more love has been lavished on this, with over a dozen full-colour pages and a contents fold-out flap whose other side reproduces the front- and back-cover spread without words.
It kicks off with ‘The Rabbit And Me’ drawn when Kato was nineteen. Nineteen! Extraordinarily accomplished, there are elements of Otomo which she would swiftly ditch, most clearly discerned in the face and clothes of Shuri Todo. This is a young lad who mercy-killed his own dad, a worn-out street thief wanted for murder, with a sizeable pair of scissors whose handles were bunny ears. Now Shuri’s a killer for hire himself, receiving his contracts half-naked in a public bathhouse, before executing them in goggles and a floppy-eared bunny hat.
The second’s a Western in which an overzealous, tomato-craving bodyguard partnered with an anthropomorphic rabbit is hired to defend vast tomato fields belonging to another (rabbit). The tomatoes are not for eating. They are sacred or something! Apparently Kazue just wanted to draw gigantic tomato fields. Oh, and anthropomorphised rabbits.
She also wanted to draw Indians and horses (Wow! Most artists don’t!) and paint lots of red, so she cakes the next story in blood. She’s definitely driven by what she wants to draw and aimed for “something kitschy” in ‘USABoy’. Mission accomplished! Please find, in gaudy acrylic gouache: candy, flowers, a red-and-white chequered, linoleum floor and a five-year-old boy with a button nose, shiny eyes and big rosy cheeks. Also: a giant rabbit. Rabbits!
‘Nirai’ is a subaquatic dream piece about a drowning man and a beluga-like mermaid, ‘Master And I’ comes with a sudden burst of detail and crazy-paving for panels, while ‘A Maiden’s Prayer’ is rendered in pencils. A girl who’s been left all alone in a frozen, isolated village following the death of her parents determines to find somewhere sunnier and does so.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?
Bumperhead h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Gilbert Hernandez
Ex Machina Book 3 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris, John Paul Leon
Fatale vol 5: Curse The Demon (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Revival vol 4: Escape To Wisconsin (£12-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton
Rover Red Charlie (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Michael Dipascale
White Death h/c (£10-99, Image) by Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard
The Witcher vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Joe Querio
Words For Pictures: The Art And Business Of Writing Comics And Graphic Novels (£16-99, Watson Guptill) by Brian Michael Bendis
Harley Quinn: Vengeance Unlimited s/c (£14-99, DC) by A. J. Lieberman & Mike Huddleston, Troy Nixey
Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 2: Angela s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli, Oliver Coipel
Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor vol 5 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Uncanny Avengers vol 4: Avenge The Earth (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Daniel Acuna
Uncanny X-Men vol 4: Vs. Shield h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka
Fairy Tail vol 42 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 6 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima
My Little Monster vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico
ITEM! I consider myself married to Page 45. In lieu of a boyf, I’m in a loving relationship with a semi-sentient shop and its entire customer base! It’s a monogamous relationship, and Page 45 has never been unfaithful nor let me down.
ITEM! Alan Moore announces most unlikely comic yet: CROSSED +100! As in this CROSSED series, yes! Good grief! Well, I guess Alan Moore did write the Lovecraftian NEONOMICON. Brrrrr.
Famously, Alan Moore left comics many years ago. I know this because strangers tell me that with complete authority on a weekly basis. Funny how many new comics and graphic novels Alan has released over the last five or six years.
ITEM! Niche, I know, but if you ever wonder why I cry when trying to complete the monthly PREVIEWS order form, here is Hibbs of Comix Experience and he doesn’t even mention all those wretched variant covers. Thank God we are primarily what Neil Gaiman called a graphic novel shop. For monthly comics, please help us to help you by setting up a Standing Order pull-list at Page 45, reserving the titles you want.
ITEM! New TV series Gotham is imminent. If that takes your fancy Brubaker, Rucka & Lark’s GOTHAM CENTRAL was the finest ever on-going DC superhero series. Whilst it was going on, anyway. Four books in total, all out and in stock – that link in capital letters takes you to our review of book one with interior art.
ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 launches with Scott McCloud’s talk The Magic Of Comics! Here’s an idea of how much of a coup that is: the creator has 350,000 followers on Twitter. If you click on “creators” each is linked to the talks and workshops they’ll be giving, or try the gorgeous Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 programme!
ITEM! Alex Valente reveals Creator Signings Timetable for Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014! Zoom in and click through – all of ours in the Georgian Room are there!
Not long now. Eeeeeeeeep!