Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2015 week four

Including art by Fiona Staples prior to SAGA;  MARCH by Congressman John Lewis; a new graphic novel by Michael DeForge; and Hope Larson’s new comic SOLO which is signed, sketched-in and exclusive to Page 45 in the UK!

March Book 2 s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell.

“I’ll end up where I need to be.”

Autobiography from indomitable Civil Rights campaigner – now United States Congressman – John Lewis.

Every event chronicled here in painful, painstaking detail happened to John Lewis and those around him between 1961 and 1963 during The Freedom Rides and Operation Open City.

And there is so much blood.

There is so much blood, so much ferocious anger, so many heads smashed against floors and so many skulls caved in by police batons. Never mind the water cannons then rabid, salivating dogs unleashed against school children by Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor in Alabama. These were not college students but school children aged 7 upwards and nearly a thousand were arrested on May 2nd 1963 during their peaceful protest.

All this very real horror – this leering and jeering and sneering and snarling and spitting and mob attacks by white civilians and policemen and militia upon defenceless black pacifists – is depicted unflinchingly by Nate Powell (SWALLOW ME WHOLE, ANY EMPIRE, THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS, SOUNDS OF YOUR NAME). It is at times claustrophobic when The Freedom Riders are trapped on buses which were firebombed… or penned in a waiting room in the dark surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan and affiliated officials and laymen… or thrown into prison for refusing to endorse segregation by paying their fines, so left at the mercy of vicious prison officers given free rein by their equally malicious governor, Fred Jones, away from any possibility of being caught on camera.

In one savage onslaught a woman holding a baby screams at the quiet and respectful pacifists simply standing their ground by standing in line, “GET THE NIGGERS! GET THE NIGGERS!” and it is all one can do not to weep.

This self-contained volume of the trilogy – which began in MARCH BOOK 1 with John Lewis’ childhood then early sit-ins at whites-only cafeterias which were later, here, met with a lock-in and fumigation – is yet again intercut with the Inauguration of America’s first black President, Barrack Obama, in Washington DC on January 20th 2009.

There is an arresting double-page spread of Aretha Franklin, right arm flung wide, singing her heart and soul out at the ceremony in an electric rendition of ‘My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee’, its lyrics splashed across the paper from border to border:

“LONG MAY OUR LAND BE BRIGHT,
WITH FREEDOM’S HOLY LIGHT,
PROTECT US BY THY MIGHT,
OH LET FREEDOM RING!”

All of which is juxtaposed against a montage of memories – the price which the fight for that freedom cost while those selfsame words were being sung so patriotically but emptily by others – of a policeman casually, dispassionately lighting a cigarette and of the bandaged, bloodied bodies the police were (either directly or through their culpable, collaborative refusal to protect) responsible for.

It’s a testament to Nate Powell that not once do the hundreds of individuals depicted here seem generic: the first black and white Freedom Riders defying transportation segregation by sitting together, each of them identified; the young girl who will not be moved even as a speeding truck screeches to a halt in front of her then revs threateningly, angrily as its driver contemplates running her right over; another schoolgirl on May 2nd 1963 asking for no more than the basic right to freedom as dozens of her fellow protestors are bundled into a police van.

As well as identifying each individual member of the SNCC and the specific, heroic roles they played at each juncture, John Lewis names and shames those who engaged in overt racism on a local, State or national level even as a seemingly powerless government failed to enforce integration, Attorney General Robert Kennedy being completely ignored.

Mendacity was rife.

You may have wondered about the back cover, as I surely did: the stained glass window, the face of Christ smashed in, letting a white light shine through. It was actually night-time on May 21st 1961, to be precise.

“After hearing of the violence at the bus station, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. flew to Montgomery. A mass meeting was called at Ralph Abernathy’s church. Governor Patterson, despite promising to protect us, has warrants sworn out for our arrest.”

Yet another angry mob swelled outside, that brick breached the stained glass window but the troops supposedly sent to protect the church’s vulnerable occupants did nothing of the sort.

“General Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard, a real estate agent in his civilian life, refused to allow anyone to leave.”

Worst of all was that Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor, determined to deport any Freedom Riders who finally made it to Birmingham, Alabama, without their bus being firebombed after letting the mob have its way. Asked on television why there were no police officers at the bus station, he replied:

“Mother’s Day. We try and let off as many of our policemen as possible, so they can spend Mother’s Day at home with their families.”

As I said: mendacity.

“We found out later that he’d promised the Ku Klux Klan fifteen minutes with the bus before he’d make any arrests.”

May 18th 1961 seemed most terrifying to me. After Lewis et al had been banged up in police cells yet again, towards midnight Chief Connor made a personal visit.

“I’m putting you people under protective custody, and sending you all the way back to Nashville where you belong. And just to make sure you get there… I’m gonna ride along.”

All the way back to Nashville…? No. As soon as they reached the Tennessee line, the men and women were summarily ejected from the car in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere without transportation… right in the heart of Klan country.

What this gripping graphic novel makes abundantly clear over and over again is that it is a miracle John Lewis survived to end up where he needed to be: in Washington for the march on August 28th 1963 as chairman of the SNCC. It wasn’t a day without conflict – this time from within – but it did prove a milestone in American history.

However, it isn’t where the book ends, I’m afraid. Someone always has to get the last word in.

It ends on September 15th 1963, outside the Baptist Church of Sixteenth Street, Birmingham, Alabama.

Youth Sunday.

SLH

Buy March Book 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Solo: Book One (Sketched In) (£9-99, self-published) by Hope Larson.

“Your dirty look it left a mark
no one can see it in the dark
and if you meant for this to sting
sweetheart
I don’t feel a thing”

Well, will you look at that cover!

With its gold block-printing ink haphazardly rolled on with a brayer, each front cover is unique. With the opening pages signed and sketched in for Page 45, each interior of this pocket book is also unique! Oh, and Page 45 is unique in being the only retailer in the UK to stock this beauty at the time of typing.

It’s in a “shitty little town” in the middle of nowhere, before the final song on the last leg of a tour, that Andy announces to a devastated crowd his split with wife and fellow musician, Leah.

The above was recorded by Leah drunk on Peppermint Schnapps during the first evening of separation, and I know that revenge is a dish best served creatively but the split was at the least ostensibly mutual. On the other hand, when you have your eyes set on a new future, it’s difficult not to blurt out things which may seem a little insensitive, competitive, especially when you are creatively inclined.

So. Leah is hoping to record at Tommy’s studio in Montana, but first she has to get there. When her carburettor claps out not far from the gig and the local mechanic needs $300 which Leah simply does not have, Leah has little option but to pawn her guitar and wedding ring. Imagine you were a massive fan of the band, had been to that gig the night before… and it was you behind that counter.

This is the first half of a whole which I’ve read in its entirety and, boy, you are in for a treat! Have you never day-dreamed about what it would be like to meet one of your idols on neutral, mutual territory? Now imagine it from your idol’s point of view when they’re out of luck.

From the creator of CHIGGERS and MERCURY, the artist on Madeleine L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME graphic novel, the writer of WHO IS AC? and, of course, the co-creator of Page 45’s exclusive Hope Larson & Bryan Lee O’Malley 2012 signing print, this is a more stripped-down and direct affair, Leah’s eyes gazing out of the page, into the crowd and towards an uncertain future.

It leaves her a little vulnerable, sends her a bit off-kilter and makes her more than a tad defensive, all of which is reflected in the spot-black, grey-toned art as Leah’s mood shifts at a moment’s notice.

96 silky pages with a cardstock cover. And I repeat: grey tone, not green as depicted here.

SLH

Buy Solo: Book One and read the Page 45 review here

Guide To The Round Things Of The Solar System (£10-00) by Richard Swan…

“If we were a double planet system then one side of the Earth would face the moon the whole time too and we would be dancing like Rose and Jack on the Titanic. Although romantic and exciting, this would mean that half the planet wouldn’t be able to see the moon and that would affect property prices.”

Wouldn’t it just? Not sure this is technically comics* though Richard does move sequentially from the centre of our solar system, starting with the sun, past the Kuiper Belt into the Scattered Disc region.  He himself describes it as ‘a delicious pocket guide / coffee table booklette of painted solar system objects with heartwarming descriptions”. Which pretty much sums it up, actually; it has that slightly insane feel of the narrator in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which perfectly complements the surprisingly detailed, dainty paintings.

 

Overall it looks like the best GCSE astronomy project ever produced, hand-bound with a metal spiral for added boutique effect. I’d give him an A* for this, I really would. Plus, importantly, you will learn stuff. Armed with the knowledge you will cull from this handy reference you should be more than prepared should an impending Vogon Disruptor Fleet necessitate an immediate planetary evacuation…

* Editor’s note: it really isn’t, but it is very beautiful, educational and very, very funny!

JR

Buy Guide To The Round Things Of The Solar System and read the Page 45 review here

First Year Healthy h/c (£10-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge…

Following an ‘episode’, not elaborated upon, which necessitated a stay in hospital (presumably of the mental variety) our narrator, a young woman possessed of almost Mandlebrotian-style ginger hair has returned to her home town. Whatever this episode was, and however long it lasted, it was of sufficient severity to ensure she is no longer allowed to visit her brothers at their family homes, presumably due to the potential danger she might represent to their spouses and offspring. She doesn’t realise this initially, but the revelation comes as a sudden insight as her life once again begins to fall apart.

This is one of those comics, as all Michael DeForge’s are, which is very difficult to pin down, with an obtuse ending that is left open to interpretation. There’s a representational element throughout involving a huge and monstrous wild cat, replete with fangs and spiky mane, plus a smaller silhouetted cat, at times extending out from the woman’s hair – which suggests much, but clarifies precisely nothing. There’s potentially at least one murder, possibly at least two more, though again, precisely who the perpetrator is, and indeed if any foul play has actually taken place, is not entirely clear. Murder mystery it isn’t, neither horror, more a disturbing tale of woe that is designed to delight and confound.

 

 

 

The confounding elements I’m sure I’ve just explained; the delight, however, comes from Michael DeForge’s unique art style and unusual compositional approach. It looks very simple, minimal even at first glance, but when you start to study each panel, you’ll frequently see a complex, layered construction that is often quite thought-provoking, and again, representational. I would put him up the Chris Ware end of the spectrum, in the sense that there is a preciseness that seems very design led, though there is a surrealist element combined with that content-wise which gives it its own unique bent. Scott McCloud picked one of Michael’s stories for the BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2014 compilation, which gives you some idea of how highly regarding he is within the industry.

JR

Buy First Year Healthy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ex Machina Book 4 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris.

“Dear Lord in heaven, if you let this work, I will owe You for the rest of my life.”

If you believe in God then you already owe Him, but how many times have we each uttered a sentence ending in something like “… then I swear I will stop crank-calling my mother.” Kept many of those, have we? Because I’m still working on that one.

From the writer of SAGA, this is one of my all-time favourite series. Obviously EX MACHINA BOOK 1 of 5 is where to really begin, but I don’t see why you can’t start here and with this review. All you need to know is that Mitchell Hundred, Mayor Of New York City, can talk to mechanisms and make them do what he wants. Unfortunately for him, someone’s worked out that it may be a two-way communication: that a machine might be able to make him do what it wants.

All this just as a dying Pope John Paul II requests a private audience with Mayor Hundred at the Vatican… Why would he do that?

It’s not just the slick wit of the dialogue – although that’s here in abundance – it’s the lateral thinking that Brian brings to the table, the very real world politics (here, for example, ex-President Vladimir Putin’s history of covert overseas assassinations) and his interest in stepping outside of his own political viewpoint and giving eloquent voice to others’. It makes for genuine surprises and Mitchell, a natural sceptic, is in for a real revelation. But then sceptics are different from cynics in that deep down, don’t a lot of them rather hope that beneath their doubts something might be true? Here’s some of that deft verbal juggling:

“I’m Father Chetwas, the Vatican’s chief astronomer.”
“Seriously?”
“Is it so shocking that a Nigerian would be interested in space?”
“I’m not surprised that you’re an astronomer, Father, I’m surprised the Vatican has one on retainer. I have a feeling the guy who said the Earth moves around the sun would be surprised, too.”
“It may have taken The Church three hundred years to apologise for what The Inquisition did to Galileo… but it’s worth noting that your host is the one who made that extraordinary gesture.”

Pope John Paul, by the way, turns out to be the real hero in the book, in two scenes I found profoundly moving and we all know what a sceptic – or even cynic – I am!

Meanwhile Tony Harris’ art manages the improbable trick of filling each page with big, solid forms whilst letting them breathe in plenty of space. His sense of light is impeccable, and he delivers one highly imaginative wrap-around cover.

Finally: Hundred raises his sights from Mayor to a considerably higher office, George W. Bush visits New York City and a young woman inspired by an encounter with the Great Machine conducts a novel protest against Dubya’s presence using a motorbike, the surviving Twin Tower and a parachute.

In this repackaged format there’s just one more book to go with a finale I never saw coming.

SLH

Buy Ex Machina Book 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Burning Fields #1 of 8 (£2-99, Boom! Studios) by Michael Moreci, Tim Daniel & Colin Lorimer…

“What do you want me to say, Kendrick? You have mutilated bodies, random victims, and no leads. Excuse me if I’m not eager to jump on a plane and play Se7en in the desert.”

And yet, jump on the plane she will, our Dana, to Kirkuk, Iraq, to investigate a very brutal murder indeed on an oilfield. After dealing with some goons who break into her apartment to dispense a warning to keep her nose out, that is. Which of course just makes her even more determined that she’s not going to be intimidated, as well as demonstrating to us she can clearly take care of herself.  The oilfield in question is run like a private fiefdom by an American company called Verge.

The Verge boys in charge on the ground, led by chief goon Decker, are unquestionably morally corrupt thugs and Dana, in her investigatorial capacity, has some serious history with them, but whether they are responsible for the horrific crime scene she finds is open to question. By the end of this first issue we’ve no idea who might have any real motive for the killing, though the opening page does provide us with more clues than Dana gets as to the identity of the assailant, but it’s abundantly clear that pretty much everyone has got some dirty secret to hide.

Impressive opener, this, particularly for a title on the Boom! Studios imprint. We’re mainly reviewing it so it gets the attention of those who enjoyed SOUTHERN BASTARDS, SCALPED, 100 BULLETS etc. because it will certainly appeal and may otherwise slip under the radar. It’s gritty stuff, nicely penned so far by Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel, and the art from Colin Lorimer is rather well composed. Worth a look if you’re in the mood for some violent crime / thriller action.

JR

Buy Burning Fields #1 and read the Page 45 review here

North 40 s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Aaron Williams & Fiona Staples.

Early work from SAGA artist Fiona Staples and – let’s be clear – that is precisely why DC are reprinting it now and why we have to decided to stock it.

None of us had heard of Staples back then, except as a stationary item whose deployment was and remains as satisfying as popping bubble-wrap.

And it’s fascinating to see her develop on the page and across the series from the barely recognisable to “Look at that hair!” and splat goes the cat.

For yes, this is horror, as a sleepy, seedy, backwards town in the arse-end of nowhere – full of deeply unpleasant individuals and a waitress – is overtaken by a transmogrifying curse following the ill-advised opening of an ancient tome with an octopoid eye on its cover. Borrowed from the local library.

I say “individuals” but, alas, they’re a bunch of clichés from the abusive dad demanding his son fetch his porn to the mayor’s wick-dipping dickhead of a son lying through his teeth to get his rocks off. Basically this: everyone’s very thick.

Then suddenly everyone has wings, fangs or weight issues and they turn mighty violent. I cannot begin to tell you how trite and turgid this is.

“Wouldst though like the honour of opening it?” asks the geek to the gothstress who astonishingly doesn’t slap him upside the head.

No. No, I would not.

SLH

Buy North 40 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

In Search Of Lost Dragons h/c (£25-99, Dynamite) by Elian Black’mor, Carine-M.

There is a story told in a Riven / Myst sort of a way. It’s like an ancient, album-sized journal full of sketches and suppositions.

But let’s face it, you’re here – just like me – for the sepia sketches and fully painted art which are both drop-dead gorgeous.

I have experience in this area for I myself have roamed the snow-swept realm of Skyrim, hiking up mountains, dashing down dales, skittering ‘cross scree slopes and plunging all pugilistic-like into a cavern of cobwebs behind which lurk gigantic, venomous spiders. But only if you are very, very lucky. There are worse things in the cracks and crevices, you know.

All the while I have been accompanied by my Clopsy.

My Clopsy is a beautiful, bleating beast with a lead-lined stomach capable of digesting whatever catches its satanic, roving eye. My Clopsy gives me great personal pleasure and on troubled evenings it soothes my furrowed brow. But just the other evening something really got my goat.

Unfortunately it was a dragon.

“On the trail of dragons forgotten,” he quotes, somewhat lazily, “an intrepid illustrator and reporter journeys from Europe through the Middle East and finally to Saigon in search of the dark caverns and mountaintop perches where the elusive winged serpents dwell. With the gift of seeing the invisible, our explorer friend records each encounter in a journal of gorgeous, fully painted artwork, capturing every majestic and fearsome visual detail of the scaly behemoths, and accompanies his findings with snippets of local lore as evidence that these hidden beasts continue to shape the world in ways we may never expect!”

Perched upon your portico, dragons can be intimidating.

It’s for this very reason that Debenhams, opposite Page 45, spikes its window ledges with sharp, metal prongs.

Okay, it’s possibly the pigeons but it’s worked equally effectively against dragons, for I have not once seen a serpent or wyrm up above, waiting to singe me to sleep.

SLH

Buy In Search Of Lost Dragons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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?

Criminal vol 1: Coward s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Love And Rockets (vol 11): Ofelia (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Moomin: The Deluxe Slipcase Edition (£50-00, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson

Outcast vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him s/c (£7-50, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Black Science vol 2: Welcome Nowhere s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, Dean White, Michael Spicer

Plumdog h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Emma Chichester Clark

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi

Saint Cole (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver

Bear Hug Card (£2-75) by Jodie Paterson

Moon And Stars Card (£2-50) by Jodie Paterson

Guide To The Round Objects Of The Solar System (£8-50) by Richard Swan

Adventure Time: Bitter Sweets s/c (£7-99, Titan) by Kate Leth & Zachary Sterling, Chrystin Garland

Baltimore vol 1: The Plague Ships h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck

The Squidder s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith

Flash vol 5: History Lessons h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato, Christos N. Gage, Nicole Dubic & Patrick Zircher, various

Avengers: Time Runs Out (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Deodato, Kev Walker, Paco Medina, others

Cataclysm: The Ultimates Last Stand s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, various

Deadpool: The Ones With Deadpool s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by various

Death Of Wolverine (UK Edition s/c) (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven

Guardians Of The Galaxy / All New X-Men: The Trial Of Jean Grey s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Sara Pichelli

Miracleman Book vol 2: The Red King Syndrome (UK Edition) h/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore & Alan Davis, John Ridgway, Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch

The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 3: Game Over s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Uncanny Avengers: Axis Prelude s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender, Cullen Bunn & Salvador Larocca, Daniel Acuna

Akame Ga Kill vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Takahiro & Tetsuya Tashiro

Black Butler vol 19 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

Fairy Tail vol 46 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

One Piece vol 73 (£7-50, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Sword Art Online Progressive vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura

News!


ITEM! Jonathan Edwards, co-creator of chortle-fest DESTINATION KENDAL is currently painting the most staggering, original, organic, thrillingly-full-of-light landscapes like the one above of Swallow Falls. Obviously it’s copyright Jonathan Edwards so consider the previous sentence a review and this a plug for Jonathan Edwards’ online shop where you can buy so many similarly staggering prints! Just click on that link where the type is fainter!

ITEM! New submarine comics by Kate Beaton. Funny!

ITEM! Finally the Tory ban on books being received by HMP inmates from home is being lifted! Prison is precisely the place where as many books as possible should be available for education and entertainment while you have time on your hands lest the devil find work for them. This Thursday Page 45 helped HMP Nottingham’s new librarian hand-pick £3,000’s worth of graphic novels for its occupants and I would give anything to be there when the readers first get an eyeful of all those beautiful books on the shelves!

ITEM! All the creator and publisher exhibitors at this May’s Toronto Comic Art Festival 2015 (TCAF)!

ITEM! There’s a new GIANT DAYS #1 (of 6) on its way in March from John Allison, the creator of Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month January 2015, BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE SIMPLE SOUL and Lissa Treman. Not to be confused with the original GIANT DAYS (all three in stock still, but only just and they are all out of print) by John Allison solo, here’s a great big preview of the spanking new GIANT DAYS #1 by Allison & Treman.

– Stephen

 

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