Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2015 week two

Comicbook crime, science fiction, dinosaurs, foreign exchange students, isolation and the illusion of autobiography! Plus two great big anthologies including this and 24 BY 7 starring Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c (£37-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Everyone! Ever!


This may be the first comic’s spine that is actually a comic!

Here are 750 pages of comics, comics criticism and comicbook creators providing keen insight into each other’s work whilst singing the praises of one of the greatest comicbook publishers in history, and I’ve been enthralled for days.

It’s true that some of the comics are readily accessible reprints but the overwhelming majority are either completely new (Tom Gauld) or so rare that you’ll never have seen them unless you are actually on the receiving end of Chester Brown’s Christmas cards.

Normally I would skip all the prose in favour of the comics themselves – at least to begin with – but Sean Rogers’ 45-page account of Drawn & Quarterly’s 25-year history with captain Chris Oliveros at its helm is so exceptionally eloquent that I barely even glanced at the photos. With additional research by Jeet Heer and interspersed with first-hand accounts by the likes of Oliveros’ cohorts Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, it was exhilarating, infectious and refreshing, articulating everything I adore about Drawn & Quarterly’s honourable ethos, aesthetics and priorities which can be distilled succinctly thus: the comics and their creators come first.


While the publisher Fantagraphics is described as more “transgressive”, and RAW magazine under Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as “formally inventive” and “avant-garde”, I would wholeheartedly agree that what distinguishes D&Q’s comics and graphic novels is that they are distinctly, overwhelmingly “literary”, as well as beautiful art objects. Speaking of beautiful art objects, BUILDING STORIES’s Chris Ware has this to say about its former flagship anthology:

“Conspicuously Canadian for its gentle editorial tone, the magazine seemed to point toward a new disposition from which to cartoon, offering a kind and congenial challenge to the sometimes sneery adolescence of American alternative comics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chester Brown, Maurice Vellecoop, and Seth (and yes, even you, Joe Matt) all seemed to be getting at something generous, uncertain and awkwardly human in their work…”

Hilariously human is how Lisa Hanawalt depicts life at the D&Q offices in a sprightly coloured double-page spread which sees them all out in a park, high-kicking in clogs while answering the telephone, languishing on a chaise longue or typing away in a hot tub while “Panels the pig selects promising submissions” from his really quite tidy pig pen. Their shipping and delivery service is handled by wolves, naturally.

As to the future, as well as the spine, Tom Gauld supplies the cover and endpapers wherein a cross-section of an asteroid shows beautiful books piled high – and low – everywhere! They’re racked on shelves, stacked on cupboards and some are even secreted under the floor boards while one has been left lying after being flicked through in its spacecraft hangar.

The message is emphatic and clear: IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE BOOKS!

You really wouldn’t want to read this digitally, would you?

There is no way on God’s good Earth than I can cover all the comics here from David Mazzucchelli, Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Michael DeForge, Tom Gauld, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, James Sturm, Jillian Tamaki, Joe Matt, John Porcellino, Louis Trondheim, Gabrielle Bell, Brian Ralph, Ron Rege Jr, Marc Bell, Pascal Girard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shigeru Mizuki, Guy Delisle, Lynda Barry, Mimi Pond, Julie Doucet, Art Spiegelman, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and so very many more, nor the enlightening essays by Margaret Atwood (yes, Margaret Atwood!), Lemony Snicket, Sheila Heti, Jonathan Lethem, Deb Olin Unferth, Heather O’Neill, Fiona Duncan and many more still!

However, I loved how Margaret Atwood described HARK, A VAGRANT!’s Kate Beaton’s approach in her appreciation of Beaton and the broader tradition of bubble bursting:

“There’s a burping in church aspect to Beaton’s approach. It doesn’t demolish the church, but it does add another dimension.”

While discussing Anders Nilsen, Fiona Duncan writes…

“To separate fiction from non-fiction is a false divide, I’ve come to believe. All communication is storytelling.”

And she does have a point. Even autobiography is subjective and there’s an awful lot of illusion involved, regardless of whether the wool-pulling’s intentional. Kevin Huizenga issues just such a slight of hand in ‘My Career In Comics’ – to begin with anyway. You start to suspect that he’s having a laugh when he details his distraction, nay, obsession with drawing and redrawing and Photoshopping hair.

Funnier still, BIG QUESTIONS’ Anders Nilsen can’t help himself when analysing The Past (Cosmic, Not To Scale) and The Present (More Or Less) before foraging in The Future during ‘Me And The Universe’ originally published in the New York Times on September 24th 2014 – and that’s what I mean about most of these comics being rare. Of the time period 0 to 38,000 years after the Big Bang he writes: “Clouds of particles too hot / agitated to connect in any meaningful way. (Similar to 3 year period in your late adolescence.)” You might spot the USS Enterprise among the planets.

From Chris Ware’s personal sketchbook comes ‘My New Pal Tramadol’ and a more recreational drug strip which ends in a queasy blur-burst of colour. It’s followed by a fully formed two-page ‘Joanne Cole’ comic I believe is brand-new and informed by an earlier sketch and the autobiography / far-flung life cycle of a copper coin which has only ever appeared in an abridged form in the New York Times Magazine on April 10th 2014.

There’s a new, blue Mimi Pond memoir about being invisible, man-spoken to and meeting Tom Waits.

And unless you read RAW you won’t have stumbled upon ‘Sneaking Out’ by WHAT IT IS’ Lynda Barry and you’ll never have seen her hand-painted script for ‘Cruddy’. It’s awful to think that Barry’s career was once almost over and resurrected only thanks to D&Q, which gives you some indication of why the publisher is indispensible.

But then it’s equally sobering to be reminded that D&Q was once so close to foundering that Oliveros “in all good consciousness” attempted to actively dissuade marketing genius Peggy Burns from coming to work with him. Of the Drawn & Quarterly retail outlet she writes – I forget where – that every publisher should spend time working in a book shop and every retailer should publish at least one book.

I’m definitely down with the first but staring at this D&Q doorstop the second enterprise petrifies me!


Buy Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels h/c and read the Page 45 review here

24 by 7 h/c (£14-99, Fanfare Presents) by Dan Berry, Sarah McIntyre, Joe Decie, Fumio Obata, Kristyna Baczynski, Jack Teagle, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

“Seven comics as diverse as they are witty as they are beautiful to behold, each created within the same 24 hours. An extraordinary accomplishment.”

– Stephen L. Holland, Page 45

Whoever the hell he is.

What a stellar line-up! What fertile imaginations! What a variety of styles!

What a bunch of cheats.

Or at least that’s what contributor, editor and all-round director Dan Berry would have you believe in his introduction. He’s so funny! All seven comics were indeed created within the same 24 hours then printed within another to go straight on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. Magnificent! Ridiculous! Miraculous!

So they had a little prep time! I made notes for this review.

I don’t do favourites so it’s mere coincidence (*snorts*) that I commence with Sarah McIntyre’s ‘Scribble’ in which only the scribble is scribbled and even that scribble is accomplished. It really is! It’s a dab hand at mimicry, posing as a grass stain on one day, a smashed fly on another, a bogey, a spider, then What Will Happen To My Sister If She Doesn’t Give Back My Book. That particular scribble is awfully succinct. I’m not sure which day it attempted to represent Chaos as a two-dimensional piece of graphite gurning but that was pretty existential. Almost certainly a Saturday, don’t you think?

Anyway, Jamie (the scribble’s name is Jamie) began life on a young girl’s napkin, got thrown in the bin then escaped and let out a roar: instant teeth. It began to cry – for which you need eyes. Then Jamie ran around, ever-so-excited and found itself with legs. Legs! Suddenly it’s darting about like a mad-eyed monster from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. Next stop: social media frenzy and huge artistic acclaim!

The cartooning is so exquisite that I will forgive its two pages of mid-70s’ wallpaper because that’s what inevitably happens when you begin to wield orange. Sarah McIntyre has all the best scribbles and if you think Jamie’s a dude then wait until you bump into his best boyf, Bob. Bob is besotted and has flap-flap wings and a wide-eyed innocence and adoration which are beyond adorable.

Here be wit, here be glee. It’s not easy trying to represent philosophy, France or a full English breakfast in scribbles.

Fumio Obata’s ‘Anywhere Road’ couldn’t be more different in style, in tone, in genre, in subject matter. Fumio created the graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS in gentle watercolours. Here he brings his familiarly soft and gentle line to a tale of truancy as a woman walking her dog on the beach discovers a young boy in a sleeping bag.

She takes him to a seaside cafe to buy him breakfast but the lad is reluctant to open up or own up to having run away from home. At first he tries to run away from his good Samaritan as well but there’s something about the woman that intrigues him and it’s not just her kindness or persistence. Obata had me holding my breath for the entire duration.

Jack Teagle’s terracotta ‘Witch Cat’ finds a crowd-shy country cat forced to fly into town after running out of ingredients for a potion. Her worst fears are realised when she runs afoul of some particularly bad apples. No really, they’re very bad apples – one has a worm wriggling its way out of his head! Fortunately our anxious feline is befriended by Bananasaurus, a fruit magician and – yeah, crazy indeed and one to read with your young ‘uns at bed time!

You may already be familiar with Dan Berry’s NICHOLAS & EDITH and Joe Decie’s I BLAME GRANDMA which we have on sale separately.

I love everything about Joe: his mischief, his timing, his otherwise mundane household objects… even his handwriting. Yes, his handwriting! It’s one of the most attractive in comics: capital letters, far from rigid, that dance up and down while remaining as crystal clear as the layout here.

He tells how his gran invented the paper clip, fashioning it from fuse wire while working as a clerk in Sir Gerald Patten’s War Office around 1940. So that’s several household objects on the very first page. Our Joe draws a perfect pair of pliers, you know.

Joe’s grandma felt the need to file faster and keep what she filed better organised. The paperclip quickly catches on and before you know it she’s given her own office in the reappropriated Malvern Road Tube Station. She even had access to the station down below where she said she used to eat her sandwiches in the dark.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are repercussions for Decie himself. Well, you have to think of the patent and all that implies. You couldn’t make this up.

I will just add that his gran was given a St Hubbins Cross medal and – typically – kept it in an empty tin of boot polish. Joe draws a mean tin of boot polish too.

In lovely, loose, full-colour washes project director Dan Berry delivers a haunting tale of love, longing and lament.

In a small village by a vast lake Nicholas and Edith are in love. Their parents disapprove of their relationship for no better reason than a petty family feud. To be together they must therefore find sanctuary away from the spying eyes and tattling tongues of the idle-minded villagers. And there is an island, you see, an island on the lake.

It is an object of local superstition involving some so-called spectre of doom but you know what close-knit communities are like. You know how local legends endure. You know how parents keep their children in check: with a little elaboration and fear. But when you’re in love you can see right through these things, so one evening when the waters are calm Nicholas rows Edith to the island.

They find a clearing in the trees overshone by the serene, silver light of the moon.

“I love you.
“I want you.
“I need you.”

I will say little more except think Becky Cloonan – THE MIRE in particular. When you’ve read this through once you will want to start again from the beginning immediately. Entreaties are reprised word-for-word like echoes. Reproachful echoes, you could argue.

Visually, interesting things are done with Edith’s hair. Oh, how how I wish I could say what they were!

We’re all at sea with Warwick Johnson Cadwell’s ‘Tom Hand’ too. Like any good sailor’s yarn it’s set in a tavern where all the tallest of tales are told. There three sea dogs take it turns to show off their tattoos, each dedicated to the old Tom Hand and his watery demise. Each differs in what finally did him in, but the barmaid’s tale trumps them all. She has a tattoo too, you see, but it’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find it.

The forms are big, bold and as burly as the barflies’, the monsters are terrifying and the deep blues are rendered as energetically as the stormy seas themselves. You’ll almost certainly end up soaking wet.

Finally, VANTAGE’s Kristyna Baczynski tells a wordless, anthropomorphic, semi-cyclical tale spanning millions of years which made me smile with enormous satisfaction throughout. Her leaf and timber textures – as well as the bone and stone – are perfectly balanced, never once bogging the page down or cluttering it up but letting the light shine through, while the brightest of sage greens prove to be perfectly placed tones.

‘Hand Me Down’ begins slightly upsettingly when a three-eyed prehistoric lovely hatches from an egg, grows up, falls for a female, curls up in cave with his beloved then before you know it Junior is hatched. All very idyllic but before you know it (once again), he ages, is exhausted and dies.

Eons pass before the creature’s bones are discovered, his horn is detached and that’s when the repurposing begins as the horn is handed down through history as one ornament then another, whittled away each time through wear and tear and outright vandalism. Where and when it ends up I will not say but there’s a Tom Gauld moment towards the end that had me roaring with laughter.

If you stop to consider for a moment that these 170-odd pages of comicbook magic were all created in the same room within the same 24 hours, I defy you not to shake your head slightly and smile.

This creativity was captured in a collection of colour photographs published at the back of the book which give you a very real sense of the energy involved and the exhaustion staved off by espresso coffees and galvanising visits by Jeff Smith, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and the original instigator of the 24 Hour Comic challenge, THE SCULPTOR’s Scott McCloud himself.

There the creators all stand round their printed pamphlets on sale in the Kendal Clock Tower’s Georgian Room on October 19th 2014, beaming with pride and accomplishment and quite right too. Bravo!


Buy 24 x 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Owen D Pomery…

“The billboards changed every month.
“Ebner wondered what he advertised on the outside.
“But pretended not to care.
“However far he leaned out…
“… it was impossible to see the complete picture.”

I knew of Owen only from his hilariously ribald THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB so I was intrigued to see how he was going to tackle a rather less (mis-)anthropological story. Although, although, you could very well argue this is very much anthropology, being a study of one man’s personal disaffection with the rest of society, viewed from his peculiar remove. For James Ebner does indeed live between two huge billboards, atop a high-rise building, in a single room, albeit quite plushly equipped and decorated.

Ebner descends down to the mean streets upon occasion, primarily for provisions including his essentials of gin and cigarettes, paramount to maintaining his solitary existence. However, the interactions with proprietors of shops and bars are onerous at best, often prickly affairs that only serve to reinforce Ebner’s ennui, despite their repetitive nature meaning these people have acquired a status of Ebner’s acquaintance, rather than simply being complete strangers. There is the occasional episode of socialising, prompted by much chivvying from his best, and now only friend, Israel, but these excursions become fewer and fewer as Ebner becomes ever more hermit-like.

We learn a little of his life before he withdrew from society and began living between the billboards, and we gain some sense that he is preparing for something. But what? As Israel remarks,

“You’ve taken so many steps back for your run up… that you’ve forgotten why you are jumping.”

Ebner disagrees, of course, but what we can see which he cannot, even from his lofty perch without a view atop the city is that he has sequestered himself away by design, entirely of his own volition. Perhaps he never intended to become so cut-off, but now it has happened he’s trapped in a mental prison of his own making. Could he escape now even if he wanted to?

Owen works as an architectural illustrator which I can clearly see informs much of his page and panel design. There are some great single pages, the larger picture composed of nine, three by three grid panels, taken from very specific viewpoints: face-on, plan and isometric. My favourite being a view of the underside of Ebner’s dwelling, the access ladder rising up to the entry trapdoor in the floor, other taller, surrounding buildings rising away higher all around to a unseen vanishing point miles above his abode. It’s a most striking page and I found myself returning to it a few times admiring the composition. Then, other sequences are very much about the passage of time within the exact same space, often viewed from Ebner’s personal viewpoint with narration as we attempt to understand the life our protagonist has chosen, is continuing to choose, from without and within.

They’re not precise comparisons, but partly due to Owen’s architectural background and partly the story of a man losing his place in the world, his very sense of identity, I was strongly minded of ASTERIOS POLYP, and also Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS. This is clearly not anywhere near as complex a work as either, but there is a sense of… orderly deconstruction… occurring here which is present in both of those works. Clearly David Mazzucchelli who drew both is a very different sort of artist to Owen, but there are strong elements of design underpinning and eloquently informing the narrative of all three. Additionally I was minded of a personal favourite of mine, again, no doubt because of the architectural connection, in CITIZENS OF NO PLACE, which is composed of a number of short stories revolving around design conceits.

In addition, after the main ‘Between The Billboards’ story, there are eight shorts which form ‘The Authoring Of Architecture’ part of this book, including a brief essay by Owen explaining his approach to comics. Additionally each short is prefaced by a paragraph of explanation from Owen revealing his thoughts about the work.

They’re a great selection of vignettes actually, comprising of some auto-bio bits, some entirely design-led conceits with visual punchlines, plus a particularly powerful one-page comic about an illegal card game which I thought was brilliant. It’s composed of one large panel which your eyes naturally, immediately take in first, which in fact turns out to be the conclusion, the disturbing story itself being told by a series of much smaller overlaid panels around the edge, explaining the chain of actions and consequences which leads us to this final panel.

I think Owen is definitely one to watch, there’s clearly far more to him than I suspected in terms of his story-telling abilities, both in word and image, than just the jester that wrought the ridiculous THE MEGATHERIUM CLUB, which I thought was comedy gold and I can’t wait for more of. I will make the one proviso which I made there once again though; his art style will not be for everyone. I love its sparseness and draughtsman-like approach, but it will challenge some sensibilities. Let yourself be challenged I say, because this is worth it. Also, whilst they last, Owen very kindly provided us with signed bookplates!


Buy Between The Billboards & The Authoring Of Architecture and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Fifth self-contained nightmare of noir, but for those keeping track Tracy Lawless is back.

From the creators of FATALE and THE FADE OUT:

A year has passed since CRIMINAL VOL 2: LAWLESS and Lawless is still on the run for going A.W.O.L. from the U.S. military. He’s agreed to pay off his dead brother’s debts to Mr. Hyde by working out who’s been capping some major players who have little in common except that they should be ‘untouchable’. They don’t even work for Hyde – it just worries Hyde that it’s happening in his back yard.

Tracy diligently follows every legitimate lead and it’s almost comical watching him watch everyone except those he should be watching out for. You can’t blame him: his logic is impeccable. You can’t really blame the Triads either, for the same reason. Either way, it’s all very bad news for Lawless. As is Hyde’s daughter. And wife.

There’s no avoiding it: Sean Phillips is the most accomplished crime artist that international comics has ever witnessed. His faces are craggy and lived in, with minds racing behind every one of them. Introspection, intimidation, desperation and disdain; of course he can convey startled horror too – fear which will have you sweating vicariously – but it’s the more subtle nuances in a half-closed eye or a barely stifled snarl which make the man peerless.

Luckily for us he appears to relish working with the best crime writer since STRAY BULLETS’ David Lapham. It’s quite the library they’ve built together now. See also the two volumes each of SLEEPER and INCOGNITO for metahuman misdemeanours.


Buy Criminal vol 5: The Sinners s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood.

“I do not understand. Her real phone?”
“So handsome. So naive.”
“He’s like a puppy. I just want to squish him.”
“Every girl has two phones. One of them, you let your parents find so they think they’re reading your secret diary. Your actual secret diary is on a whole other phone you bought yourself.”

That’s teenage girls for you: infinitely smarter than adulterous male rats who honestly believe their wives won’t think to look at their mobile phones. I personally have known two errant husbands get caught like that once suspicions were raised.

Welcome back to the second instalment of cracking crime-precinct-procedure, homicide division. The big difference is that this particular precinct lies within an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma.

In THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT young, highly promising German homicide detective Ralph Dietrich arrived on the space station to find himself partnered up with fractious, silver-haired veteran Klem Ristovych. If you’ve read volume one you’ll know that it ended with one hell of an ellipsis involving our Ralph and his own extra-curricular investigation. Here Johnston delivers a second last-minute whammy without warning and I like that. Detectives aren’t stupid, you know.

On the other hand this particular homicide won’t be solved without a great deal of legwork, a lot of dead ends, much ducking and diving, followed by split-second ninety degree turns. The thing is, you don’t know that you’ve reached a dead-end until you’ve navigated all the main roads and back alleys which lead there and, even then, you may well have missed a previously hidden passage or two.

Lesser writers set far more linear courses leaving the reader little to do but wait and watch from the proverbial passenger seat, but Johnston’s multidirectional approach means you’re constantly evaluating the detectives’ own evaluations and rating the red-herring level of each new clue. It is entirely possible that you’ll get there first if you keep your eyes open and listen carefully.

Better still, although Johnston knows his forensic science suspiciously well he also understands psychology and therein lie more leads if you look hard enough. It’s not just a question of how, when and with what, but why.

Reviewing THE FUSE VOL 1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT I also emphasised how much I appreciated Johnston and Greenwood’s resistance towards science-fiction-ication when far from necessary. Just because you’re in space or the future it doesn’t mean that everything’s changed beyond recognition. E-cigarettes still exist for a start because morons like me will still take up smoking but more impressively even in space we might want to recreate what we’re most familiar with like high streets with shops and pavements, and even gauche, nouveau-riche mini-mansions with driveways and grass lawns even though you’re living inside a big bucket of metal with a roof rather than the sky up above.

There’s also something about Greenwood’s loose, fluid line that drives the reader ever onwards and, lest colour artist Shari Chankhamma feels left out, can I just flag up the yellow, green and blue sheens on the space suit visors during the first chapter as well as the genuinely eerie atmosphere captured beneath The Fuse’s exterior solar panels. It’s a vast, open space beneath the cylindrical Fuse’s external shell which is still zero-gravity with a hot, red and yellow ceiling (the underside of the solar panels from which the energy generated is being siphoned) juxtaposed against a cool green emptiness with no floor in sight.

It’s hereabouts that this volume’s crime is committed or at least first discovered, on the external solar array. The latest Gridlock race is being broadcast on FUSE-Tube to very high viewing figures even though the sport is illegal. That’s another great extrapolation: I’m not kidding when I tell you that Nottingham’s Broadmarsh bus-station island was at one point the hub for equally illegal, informal racing around amongst all the regular traffic. Here that traffic is non-existent: no one except for technicians should be outside The Fuse. Yet Gridlock is the most popular sport in space: souped-up scooters magnetically bonded to the glass-smooth hull hurtling at full throttle across it.

Its lead League Spokesperson is Cathy Kuang, the young, glamorous daughter of one of The Fuse’s oldest, richest families. In a pre-filmed sound-bite introducing the show Cathy Kuang denies that the broadcast rights are about to be sold to for a great deal of money at FBN and instead deflects attention to today’s main event. It’s the League’s premier racers going one-on-one: Starlight versus Lockdown! No one knows who these fierce competitors actually are until the substitute race is abandoned almost before it’s begun.

It’s a substitute race because Starlight cannot be found. It’s abandoned because Starlight is discovered right in its path, one boot magnetically sealed to the solar array, ankle broken – E VA suit torn open by a recent meteoroid burst – frozen solid and quite, quite dead.

It transpires that Starlight is Cathy Kuang. Tethered to her wrist is a vacseal box containing a great big brick of distribution-ready drugs. But Cathy Kuang is straight edge: she cannot abide drugs, legal or otherwise. Also, as a seasoned Gridlock superstar, Cathy would know far better than to venture outside during a meteoroid burst forecast so far in advance.

Drugs, politics, corporate financing, underground sports, revolutionary ideology and family affairs. Not much to go on? They have too much to go on.

This is my autopsy. Proceed.


Buy The Fuse vol 2: Gridlock s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Airboy #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by James Robinson & Greg Hinkle.

Writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle are groggily stumbling round a strange woman’s apartment, naked, after waking up in after an orgy of alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and extra-marital sex.

“Relax,” says James Robinson. “People have done a lot worse.”
“Who. Hunter S. Thompson?”

At a single stroke – in a single comic after years of critical acclaim – James Robinson has effectively ruined his squeaky-clean reputation… whilst elevating it to “legendary”.

So how do you think that happened?

As the series opens James is sitting on his toilet – yes, bare-bottomed once more – on the phone to Image publisher Eric Stephenson, bemoaning his faltering career, and so self-confidence, at DC comics where he’s been type-cast as the go-to guy for Golden Age revivals: resurrecting old superheroes from a more innocent age. He’s doing that because Eric Stephenson is type-casting him too, offering him the opportunity to take on AIRBOY, now in the public domain, the ultimate in wide-eyed innocence from a bygone age.

At which point – having invited his hand-picked artist over to San Francisco in the hope of kick-starting ideas – Robinson by deliberate contrast show us precisely how bygone that age is. For what is actually catalysed is an evening of all-out, alcohol-fuelled and drug-induced depravity.

It is no coincidence that the pale green and tan colouring on the delightfully restful and spacious panels is immediately invaded and supplanted by the red-alert warning signs of wound-hued rusty-red and poisonous purple on increasingly cramped and claustrophobic panels lurching on the page before a moment of unedifying and potentially marriage-wrecking climax. Yes, both the creators are or were married.

I warn you right now that James Robinson figuratively and quite literally bares all, while artist Greg Hinkle “only” bears his enormous anaconda which is most assuredly a euphemism, yes. He tried to show his soul but Robinson is such a self-confessed egomaniac that he keeps interrupting Hinkle before he gets started.

At which point I should emphasise the illusion of autobiography!

This is all so immersive, so skilfully done that in spite of your better judgement you may well lapse repeatedly into believing that some if not all of this actually happened.

Whether or not this singularly sobering tale drives you to join the ranks of the Straight Edge brigade, this charade is performed for one reason and one reason only: to maximise the punch in the punchline, thereby setting the scene for all that will follow.

I love, love, love the cover to next issue’s inevitably culture clash as bygone-era Airboy is introduced to woebegone-era dissolution.


Buy Airboy #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 of 4 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.


Just when you thought it was safe to creep back into the Cretaceous shallows that lurk down the bottom of your cul de sac if only you had the courage to leap over your neighbour’s fence and jump into their garden pond… *


That impeccably choreographed omnibus of do-or-die dinosaur survivalism is a best-seller here. Who on earth doesn’t love dinosaurs?

These are all silent series for the dinosaurs are resolutely not anthropomorphised as they are in many recent family-friendly animations, but are ferocious and vicious and if not malicious then at least more than capable of defending their territory whether they be predators or not.

Size matters. Size splatters. And there is much to be said for safety in numbers.

All of which you will witness in this new mini-series starring a land-roaming but equally subaquatic Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus. Imagine a crocodile but with longer legs and, consequently, greater agility and a much more considered, time-biding approach to getting what it wants most – food – while avoiding what it wants least: a crippling injury followed by death.

Our snaggle-toothed protagonist bears many scars suggesting that these are lessons learned through painful experience, but learned they most assuredly are.

Much of this first instalment is conveyed in slow and stealthy horizontal panels which are given a quick flick of movement in triangular fashion, whilst most of the epic this time comes in the form of the mighty weight of the vast herbivores rising up in numbers to bear down on our lone-roaming ronin.


Yes. Far from a pack hunter, this is a sole survivor.

Please see Delgado’s impassioned essay at the back in which he talks enlighteningly not about archaeology but about controversially coloured Westerns and the far from black and white films of Akira Kurosawa which inspired them.

* Your neighbour’s pond is indeed a trans-temporal gateway. You may claim that your neighbour has no pond – and so may they – but they do!


Buy Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar Publishing) by Shaun Tan.

Another joy that dropped off our system a few cycles ago. It’s back!

You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I’m fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise.

“Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren’t the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, “I’m not really sure,” or, “That’s just how it is.” I didn’t feel helpful at all.”

The guest amasses a seemingly odd collection of things – mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him are cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn’t simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises…

All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics; because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry, perhaps, if you stripped away the images it is a very different read indeed.

Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers (“small things he discovered on the ground”) becomes a lot less strange for they’re all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual.

Lastly, it’s only just occurred to me that Eric’s singular method of “leaving” might well be a visual pun.

Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story taken from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA.


Buy Eric h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Midnighter #1 (£2-25, DC) by Steve Orlando & Aco.

“Currently: single
Looking for: dates, friends, sparring
Interests: violence (inventive)
Chronically new in town.
Computer in brain.
Superhumanly flexible.
Looking for other uses.
Have headbutted an alien.
Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is likely yes.
But with punching.”

It’s an unusual online dating profile, filed only under “M” but the masked mug shot might give it away.

Wait wait. Midnighter? It doesn’t stand for, like, Mitch? All this stuff here is, in fact, not a joke?”

It’s a bit late now: you’re having dinner.

I’d type “from the pages of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY…” except, of course, this isn’t precisely that same psychopath for although Apollo appears to have escaped The Midnighter, The Midnighter hasn’t escaped the relaunch rewrite which was DC’s New 52. I’ve no idea what’s happened since but The Midnighter is now single, on his first date with Jason who seems to be taking it all in his stride. But let’s see what happens when the high-tech terrorists teleport into town and put paid to their pudding.

It’s very attractively drawn with multiple, miniature inset panels revealing concurrent action – moves and counter-moves – or, when The Midnighter gets into his pugilistic stride, precisely what the local Accident & Emergency will be dealing with in the form of x-ray snapshots of breaking bones. Aco’s art also comes with a fine line which makes The Midnighter look positively dapper in his waistcoat and tie. Oh yes, he’s in civvies. You never used to see that much, did you? You’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. And him.

So if the sight of a man unbuttoning another man’s jeans is the sort of thing that will make you feel so uncomfortable that you’ll need to walk into a public bar and order a double bourbon in order to feel fully masculine again, I probably wouldn’t buy this comic – because hard liquor is bad for you.

Much was made of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE #1 (still on sale) and its unapologetic post-coital cigarette but this is even less flinching with hands all over the place. Hurrah!

You could argue (and, oh, so many will have online!) that there’s nothing to distinguish this from any other DC superhero title (whereas you know what you’re in for with Millar) and your delicate nine-year-olds shouldn’t be subjected to sexuality. And I would agree so long as you would agree that a woman unbuttoning a man’s flies or vice-versa was equally below the belt. On the other hand it has long been established that superheroes have ceased to be the province of nine-year-olds but of college students instead and the fifty-year-olds who used to read superhero series as nine-year-olds and simply never stopped.

Plus, look at that cover! If you’re perfectly content to buy your children a comic with that level of overt violence, then you have already abandoned your parental role as a right-minded moral guardian and have no right to complain about a little consensual fumbling, same-sex or otherwise.

So here’s a suggestion: how about you stop buying your susceptible ones corporate superhero soap operas stuffed full of advertising and designed to addict them to their brand for life? Why not treat them to Page 45’s Young Adult and Young Reader graphic novels catering to every conceivable early teens and pre-teen tastes instead!

Meanwhile, someone has stolen The Midnighter’s secret origin from some old biddy called The Gardner and they’re going to get their lights punched out.


Buy Midnighter #1 and read the Page 45 review here

STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS is almost depleted – 76 copies sold here @ £75-00 each! – so we’re reintroducing more of its component parts:

Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

There are very few comics on this planet with the power to move me like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. I could choose to quote from so many of these 350 pages. So much happens, so much is said. So much of it should never happen to anyone and so much of it should never have been said. That’s life.

“Hello… Katina? I hope this is still your number. This is Marie Peters. I know it’s been a long time… but remember you gave me your number when you moved to Hawaii and then Santa Fe, and asked me to call you if anything ever happened to Francine…? Well… I guess I’m making that call. I’m in Houston, I’m calling from Francine and Brad’s house…”
“Luisa! Book me on a flight back to Houston!”
“But you just came from…”
“NOW, please.”
“Things aren’t right here, Katina. I’ve never seen Francine this way and I’m worried about her. She’s so sad all the time, she drinks and cries herself to sleep every night. She won’t talk to me about it, but tonight she said she wants to go home. I think she means you, Katina. Listen, I know it’s none of my business but I just can’t sit by and watch my daughter die like this. Please come back, Katina. Whatever happened between you two, let it go. Whatever I said about you and your relationship with Francine, I’m sorry. Please… come back.”

I remember my shock when Francine wakes from the dream at the beginning of this book and we see that she has aged a decade. Or is that the wear and tear of being a mother, married to a man who avoids her? After lunch at a restaurant for which Brad never shows up, she ventures onto the terrace with its garden gazebo and stares into the distance, the autumn wind tugging at her thick, dark hair. And she has a vision of a woman with long blonde hair, sitting with her back to her.

Sandwiched between those opening pages and the answer machine message above are events in the past far worse than the first volume, for Darcy Parker is back and this time she means business. She has every intention of getting one of her Parker girls into the White House and she will use Katchoo to do so. Also, something so monumental, so very final, happens which I had forgotten occurring so early.

But half the joy of this series is that Terry juxtaposes the tragic with the comedic and Francine’s stint as a model at a photoshoot is glorious.

“I want you to look into the camera and don’t say a word, don’t move a muscle… Just give me the look!”
“The look?”
“The look.”
“Give the camera a look.”
“Not a look… the look! You know, the one you women have that says, “I’m sexy but selective, demanding but worth it, aggressive… yet feminine! Seductive in my Anne Klein suit, irresistible in my Camry. Provocative as I make my own bread while closing a big contract on my mobilnet cell phone between reps on my Thigh-Master!”
“Oh yeah, that look. We have so many.”

But there was one particular new element that took some of Moore’s readers completely by surprise, as David makes another of his many attempts to connect with Katchoo only to have it backfire on him. Again.

“You can’t hide for the rest of your life, Katchoo.”
“I’m not hiding! I just… don’t know what else to do.”
“I know the feeling. You live like there’s no tomorrow, and one day you’re right… And it scares the hell out of you. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
“So… what did you do? How’d you get through it?”
“Jesus Christ.”


Katchoo reacts with fury. Not because David is a Christian but because he kept it from her.

Yet a great many STRANGERS IN PARADISE fans reacted with fury exactly because David had come out as Christian swiftly followed by Terry himself. “How dare a man writing with love about same-sex relationships be Christian?” they appeared to demand. With confused animosity.

And I don’t know about you, but that just makes no sense to me at all. Here was someone who, unlike so many in the history of organised religion, actually followed Christ’s teachings to spread love and understanding wherever he went and was brave enough to do so in print when it occasionally put him at odds with friends and family. And he was being chastised for that.

Now, I cannot recall whether Terry had come all the way over from America to sign at Page 45 just before or just after that but when he asked me to write the introduction to STRANGERS IN PARADISE: LOVE ME TENDER, the original fourth book in the series that contained this very material, after faltering once I knew exactly what I wanted to write and I chose my words carefully as a subtle rebuttal.

This is what Terry printed. Err, minus the typo and a couple of grammatical errors on my part!

Strangers No More

Dear Terry,

Thank you so much for producing such a beautiful book. In addition to a personal bi-monthly joy Strangers In Paradise, like so much of the material emerging these days, makes our jobs as retailers so much easier. Without creators like yourself, brave and talented enough to produce a book which appeals to so many different people, we’d never be able to begin marketing comics to the general public. Believe me, there are retailers out there who leap with joy every time a new, quality title emerges which we can not only enjoy ourselves, but promote and sell to the rest of the world who’ve yet to find a comic they might enjoy…

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45, March 7th 1995.

So began a very lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership and a wonderful friendship now almost three years old between ourselves at Page 45 (Mark, Dominique and myself), and Terry and Robyn Moore, which I could characterise, succinctly, as a transatlantic, telephonic tennis rally, consisting from both sides almost exclusively of the phrase “thank you”.

Well, that’s not strictly true.

The lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership began the day we received our first issue of Terry’s life-breathing comic, and it was cemented but moments later when we sold the first of what have since turned into thousands of copies, to an audience at least 50% female and almost wholly new to comics.

Once we knew what we had in our hands it was relatively easy for us. We didn’t have to create the fiction, we just bought it in, promoted it, took the money, said “thank you very much”, and watched the broad, broad smiles of those returning for the very next issue, the next collection, or a further suggestion to add to their comicbook reading list.

It will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that this fine work of fiction, about two highly individual girls from Houston, has, for some time now, been our biggest single selling title. Particularly in this format, the collections.

Early in 1997 Page 45 had the pleasure of playing host to Terry and Robyn for a Strangers In Paradise signing and Terry, four hours in (jet-lag no doubt playing havoc with his brain), had a hand so cramped from continuous sketching that… that he just continued to sign and sketch for another full hour. No moans, no protestations, just pure glee and excitement that he was here, with those who cared about his stories as much as he did. Robyn and I caught him shaking that wrist beneath the counter to liven it up, and on he went.

The very last couple in line were a mother and daughter whose names, I regret, elude me during this, a very tight deadline. Neither had read a copy of Strangers previously, but had heard about Terry’s presence and the book, and were intrigued. The mother bought a copy of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful, watercolour re-interpretation of Dracula; the daughter, well under 16 and armed with some of her own spectacularly promising sketches, bought the first episode of the book you hold in your hands.

Do you know what they said, the very next week, was their favourite segment? The piece about the transsexual marriage. Oh, Terry Moore, the love you spread…

In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I don’t remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.

So, here we go again, Terry: “Thank you”.

Thank you for Francine, for David and Katchoo. Thank you for Darcy Parker, Louis and Phoebe, Freddie, Chuck, Rachel, Tambi and all the others. Thank you for such beautiful brush strokes, such moving poetry, and all the joie de vivre you pack into your work.

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45
Nottingham, England, 1997


Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“We’re not going to make it to Nashville, David. Even if we did, we couldn’t land it.”
“What are you talking about? How do you know?”
“Planes can’t fly without a rudder, David.”

The third volume of six begins once again in the present with Francine trapped in a debilitatingly unhappy marriage, and it becomes gradually clear that not everyone has survived the intervening years. For if you thought that the venomous presence of Darcy Parker in the lives of Francine, Katchoo and David was gone, think again. She’s left a legacy behind and a vacuum in her wake with there’s a power struggle which is about to ignite and suck the poor girls in again.

“144 people died because they got on a plane with you. Are you at peace with that? …If you really do care about the girl and her family, you need to get them away from you – as soon as possible. Before they’re taken away. Permanently.”

And that’s the most horrific sequence in an already turbulent relationship where harsh words are said: after the plane crash when one of the cast jettisons the other in the most hurtful way imaginable in order to try to save her life. The dramatic irony is excruciatingly. Francine isn’t just pushed into the arms of her future husband who will cause her such pain, she is positively, literally punched there.

Unfortunately it’s not enough. Do you remember Darcy’s cousin, Veronica? Because Veronica certainly remembers Francine, and you’re in for a very brutal encounter.

It is this, of course, which makes the funny bits all the funnier back when they were safe and happy, and as well as snow and gales he evokes so well with our loved ones staring into the distance, Terry draws a glorious summer countryside where David and Francine once shared some lazy afternoons at Francine’s mother’s.

“You’re not sitting on a bughouse or anything, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Bugs? You down there?”
“No answer. Must be safe.”
“That’s what they want you to think. That’s how they trick you!”
“Francine… I think it’s safe.”
“I’m all about a bug-free bottom.”
“It’s a wonderful thing.”

Three hundred and fifty more pages in which we see Katchoo’s first break in the art world, its unexpected effect on Francine, David’s secret finally revealed, and Francine struggling with her feelings for Katchoo as their trajectories diverge and all that is left are the lonesome lights flashing in the evening sky.

“See that star… the one shining brighter than all the others? I know the girl who hung it there.”


Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 3 Pocket Edition 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.

Bodies s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay

The Wake s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Strangers In Paradise vol 4 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Uber vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete, Canaan White, Daniel Gete, Gabriel Andrade

Alien Vs. Predator: Fire & Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Christopher Sebela & Ariel Olivetti

East Of West vol 4: Who Wants War (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

ODY-C vol 1: Off To Far Ithicca s/c (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Batgirl vol 1: The Batgirl Of Burnside h/c (£18-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher & Babs Tarr

Batman: Cataclysm s/c (£22-50, DC) by various

Ant-Man: Scott Lang s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 – Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Ms. Marvel vol 3: Crushed s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson, Mark Waid & Takeshi Miyagawa, Humberto Ramos

Silver Surfer vol 2: Worlds Apart s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Fairy Tail vol 48 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima


… is I’m knackered! More next week!

– Stephen

Page 45 reviews written by Page 45’s Stephen and Jonathan then edited by a manatee on malmsey.

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