Leaf (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Daishu Ma.
A magical wordless narrative in soft pencil lit with bursts of blue and yellow, this will draw parallels with Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL for its form, its style, its fantastical nature and its social metaphor.
Daishu Ma is a Chinese creator, and the smog-inducing industrialisation which China has undergone so swiftly over the last few decades informs everything here from the message itself to the depiction of workers boxed into endless rows of cubicles crammed with unknowable levers, lights, buttons and gauges, all dwarfed below giant power-grid screens. This is the futurism not of now but of the early-to-mid 20th Century – of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis et al.
But it begins in the rolling countryside overlooking the city with the last leaves falling from the trees and a bird taking flight from its otherwise empty nest. Those out strolling brush through carpets of leaves as crisp and clean as if they had been freeze-dried then strewn by species into specific plots. A young man with a thick woollen scarf wrapped round his neck spies something glowing beneath the grey debris and pulls out a single perfect leaf glowing blue with bright white spots.
Slowly he walks back into town, its concrete suburb walls cluttered with steam pipes and valves and funnels and gauges and clocks. He passes through residential areas then those selling goods from small stalls or warming their hands over an open fire. But everything – even the fire – is tinged with the coldest of blues. Once home he opens the shutters to let in the light – the electric blue light of a bulb-lined leafless tree – then nods off beneath the window. Briefly, ever so briefly, he has a vision of the bulbs replaced by leaves back on the branches radiating a warm, golden glow.
This isn’t as obvious or as black and white as I supposed on my first read through. Initially I thought those were the last leaves of winter – that the senescence was seasonal. I’m not so sure now. Also, that leaf isn’t necessarily glowing blue. Colour here seems to denote temperature, yes, but also mood and – for want of a better word – health or lack thereof. Furthermore there is a glorious double-page spread of an enormous tree in the city’s circular square, strewn with big, bright, domestic-sized bulbs which has the admirers gathered round it enraptured. There are many forms of beauty which we do delight in – even if there’s a price to be paid.
That price is made abundantly clear a dozen or so pages on, after our young man has shown his new prized possession to an elderly man in glasses and been introduced to the first of the city’s secrets which he will pursue later on. It’s a full-page depiction of that same barren tree at the bottom, the circle of houses surrounding it reflected towards the top in a stark silhouette of the vast factory complex sitting on the skyline, its chimneys belching smoke like a volcano fed from below… or like a similarly circular verruca whose roots suck the life out whatever its grown on.
Context – and a decidedly thrilling contrast – to all this is provided when our protagonist stumbles upon his first waking glimpse of a golden glow, emanating from a house above whose door hangs a leaf in semi-relief, carved into wood. The context comes in the form of multi-year memory of the home’s occupant, of her father first building a simple wooded shack from which he used to sell fertile potted plants, then its gradual evolution, Will Eisner-style, into its modern bricks-and-mortar incarnation. The final panels’ flurry of falling leaves come as little surprise, but they aren’t the first to go. Take a close look when browsing because what happens in panel six is very telling.
As to the contrast, it’s the burst of organic warmth inside the home where a woman sits studiously at a candle-lit table surrounded by shelves thick, bound books and far more exotic leaves that we’ve encountered previously – and which presumably no longer grow – pressed onto paper or displayed in glass cases, bottles and jars. Suspended from the ceiling are even more elaborate specimens reduced to their skeletal, dried-out midribs and veins.
Where his curiosity will take the young man – and what will catalyse his final decision – I’ll leave you to learn. Unlike THE ARRIVAL the reason this is wordless has nothing to do with any language barrier. It’s more about encouraging readers’ interpretation and a shared journey in uncovering the graphic novel’s mysteries.
There are several stand-out sequences for me like the nine-panel grid of ever-ascending steps and ladders in a monumental factory, arranged so that the stairs match up from left to right, drawing your eye diagonally upwards and emphasising the illusion of climbing even though the topmost ledge is at the bottommost panel! That’s clever enough, but the composite effect is that the walls look like a circuit board.
The storytelling is as gently paced as any perambulation, which is what this essentially is. In fact it’s only when the chap speeds up that he runs into trouble.
I think you’ll love lingering anyway because, oh, the colours!
The Divine (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Boaz Lavie & Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka…
“All right, ladies. I’m only going to brief you once.
“We will descend approximately fifty feet into the lava tube.
“It’s gonna be very dark in there.
“So we are gonna have to trust each other.
“Two men will monitor the entrance. Four will follow me inside.
“When it’s all done we just need to make sure the receiver is fully exposed.
“So when the helicopter comes, they can remote detonate.
“And the place blows sky high.
“If anything goes wrong, at this point in the mission… my buddy here is an ex-con with four murder convictions. He’ll make you regret the day you were born.”
“What the hell, Jason?”
“Better to be feared than loved.”
Well, there certainly isn’t anyone who is going to love Jason, not now, not ever. He’s somehow managed to bully and cajole his friend Mark into accompanying him on a CIA black ops mission to the Southeast Asian country of Quanlom, a country America officially has no diplomatic relations with. They both work for the CIA, but whilst Mark is a sensitive family man with a child well on the way, who just also happens to be a consulting civilian explosives expert, his old army ‘buddy’ Jason is a jacked-up jarhead who lives for the mission, preferably jungle-based ones which are as hazardous as possible.
On the face of it, this is a simple military mining contract, blowing up a mountain, but there is far more going on in Quanlom besides a civil war between the army and the guerrillas. As Jason and Mark’s mission begins to unravel, they start to discover the legends of Leh, a spirit inhabiting and protecting the uplands, might not be quite so mythical after all.
Hot on the heels of THE REALIST, Asaf Hanuka and his brother Tomer (with whom he collaborated a long time ago on the short lived BIPOLAR series) combine to create a visually stunning collision of mythology and military might. Penned by Boaz Lavie, this story is very loosely inspired by Johnny and Luther Htoo, two twelve-year-old twins who led a splinter guerrilla group in Myanmar in the late 1990s, and who according to their foes where reputed to have magical powers. The children running the guerrilla group in this story, nine-year-old twins, are known locally as The Divine, one of whom really does have some magical and perhaps even telekinetic abilities. In any event they are most certainly a formidable fighting force.
As Mark becomes increasingly uneasy over the mission objectives, and Jason’s gung ho behaviour, he finds himself in a moral quandary. He makes his decision, but by then the decisive conflict between the world of the physical and that of the supernatural is utterly unavoidable. The climactic battle is an artistic delight, as huge colourful spirit demons assault the military camp, defended by desperate defenders armed with RPGs and machine guns.
There were elements of this work that minded me a little of AKIRA from an artistic perspective. I am thinking particularly of a sequence where the powered twin is levitating and almost in a warped berserker state.
There will certainly be people who pick this up purely for the art, but it’s also an excellent clash of cultures, and morals, story. I can see why this garnered much critical acclaim when released in France earlier this year. My only minor complaint is I would have liked it to be two or three times as long!
Katzine Issue One (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman.
Not only does the cover come in that thick, grained watercolour paper stock with glowing, organic-fruit hues, but the interior pages are equally classy allowing Chapman’s rich graphite shading to shine in all its soft, polished beauty. The art is so warm that it’s like being nuzzled up to by a faun’s felt-covered antlers. Katriona doesn’t just invite you into her life, she makes you feel as comfortable in it as if you were sitting beside her on the sofa, sharing a glass of wine.
This is unmistakeably about Katriona but it’s not for one second egomaniacal. She’s not declaring; she’s sharing. I believe you two will get along smashingly.
In the opening two-page salvo winningly entitled ‘Hello’, Chapman presents quiet, brief bursts of some of the elements which form her profound passions while dictating her daily routine – a routine which we will see disrupted with surprisingly stoical equanimity in KATZINE ISSUE TWO. (Clue: London Transport at night. No thanks!)
They’re not necessarily the passions you’d normally associate with a 36-year-old woman, which she owns almost immediately and increasingly endearingly. Family-run hardware shops for a start! Katriona tells of a childhood trip to B&Q when she became transfixed by racks and racks of wooden, decorative moulding. The illustration accompanying that recollection – its harmonious arrangement of cross sectional shapes and three-dimensional shading with an almost Escher-like, hypnotic harm – will convert you to her point of view, I promise.
Chapman is that winning combination of accessible and exotic and above all eclectic in taste. She has the confidence to create, print and distribute a high-end ‘zine of comics and lavishly illustrated prose yet suffers from social anxiety. I think you’ll be enamoured with her regular, admirably balanced feature of ‘Fear’ and ‘Love’ on opposite pages. The ‘Love’ in this instance springs from her job as an usher at a theatre during moments when she takes advantage of her introversion. You’ll see – such positive thinking!
The extended feature this issue is ‘All Summer Long’, musing over her family holidays in Canada, the friends she made and – now that she’s on the point of return – wondering whether it will be weird going back as an adult.
However, it was upon reading the two-page illustrated article on the International Space Station – I had no idea one suffered such tissue loss working in zero gravity but it does make sense when you’re not really using your muscles – that I realised how I would most accurately described this gorgeous artefact: it’s like the most artisan school project you’ve ever read!
It’s all so loving put together with attention to detail, like the inside front and back covers which not only glide effortlessly into the endpapers but – were you to remove that cover – form a panoramic star chart of their own.
Katzine Issue Two (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman.
I love how the ripple-free, smooth and flat blue shapes of the river and the lakes its feeds into cut into the ruggedly and vertically textured geological giants. So subtle, but clever!
‘Local Businesses’ returns from KATZINE ISSUE ONE with affectionate amusement at misspelled signage and it’s this interest in language which will form the ‘Love’ half of this outing’s ‘Fear’ and ‘Love’ duo (secret: I share exactly the same fear!).
This issue eleven whole pages are dedicated to Katriona’s travels, this time in the jungles of Costa Rica during 2005 – offset by the context of where she has lived a more sedentary life – and it benefits enormously from the space as well as her exceptional talent for flora and fauna. The monkeys and lizards are lovingly drawn but the horses and horse heads, shown at almost every conceivable angle, are immaculate.
It’s a geographical and spiritual journey deep into the wilderness kicked off with the following thought:
“I think the banana skin was when things started to shift.”
With an intro like that how could you not read the rest?
As you can tell from the cover, Chapman is also adept at embedding her figures firmly within their surroundings. And as you may gather from their regular features, she’s a plant lover too, which stands her in very good stead for a super-dense jungle and its flamboyant leaves lit up in the foreground then left to be swallowed by darkness beyond.
Her pièce de resistance comes at the climax reprising the cover – albeit at a very different locale – which could not be a more striking contrast: a single, middle-tier, double-page panorama panning 360 degrees high atop ancient ruins overlooking the canopy of trees, encompassing four separate shots of Katriona herself rotated at 90 degrees.
You really do need to see this for yourself. And now you can!
Haunter (£10-99, Study Group Comics) by Sam Alden.
A wordless – at times breathless! – comic, this is so colour-driven that I instinctively thought of Dash Shaw circa NEW SCHOOL. It’s far more traditional storytelling on a four-panel grid, with the sharper lines laid down first, but the initial four double-page spreads which you won’t find online only confirmed the association for me.
There the solitary human outline is minimal and far off in the background, leaving the lambent landscapes to dominate, daubed in very wet watercolours without any lines at all. The sun-kissed sides of the heavily knotted trees twisting up the grassy hillside in carmine or snaking in and out of the stream in green are left entirely white. But so artfully is the paint applied that their forms aren’t eroded by the light: you can almost feel how thick and gnarled the bark is.
The colours continue to dominate as the crisp line-work kicks in and a hunter emerges from the forest in search of prey. His pursuit of a narrowly missed boar (I think you can’t guess which expletive the giant red ‘X’ denotes!) takes him into most unexpected early Tombraider territory including anachronistic upgrades found in a statue’s secret stash. Two of the three objects made me laugh. Do you think the hunter will become the hunted? I think he may. Things tend to come alive in Tombraider, which you touch things, don’t they?
Although the application of colour is completely different to that of Lara’s subterranean shenanigans, that is exactly the experience on offer here – presuming that you’re watching someone else play. That’s why the quote on the back baffles, no, infuriates me. It bigs this book up undeservedly at the expense of videogames, raising expectations unrealistically and thereby doing both a disservice. Few of the videogames I play frustrate me aesthetically – I can only imagine that someone needs to broaden their game-playing experience.
Not Funny Ha Ha (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Leah Hayes.
Sub-titled “A Handbook For Something Hard”, creator Leah Hayes is here to hold your hand and rub it gently while explaining what you can expect to experience emotionally, physically and practically if you find yourself pregnant and decide that you need an abortion.
She is at great pains to disentangle the process form other issues like sex and contraception, to be clear, honest and entirely non-prescriptive: whatever you decide is your decision and your decision alone.
But it’s always best, isn’t it, to talk to others and have someone with you if you can? If you can’t, here’s Leah.
Although she stresses that you must talk to your G.P. (“This is a book, not a doctor!!”), Hayes addresses everything from the timing of your decision and the timing of your treatment to what that implies for your options: where to have an abortion (at a clinic or at home) and how (surgically or medically). We’re then introduced to expect from each of the procedures, and from ourselves while experiencing them and how long we can expect the processes and their after-effects to last. I always find that hugely reassuring: knowing if something is normal or not. Sadly in America it is normal at a clinic to be searched by a security guard.
Another thing I find difficult except professionally is picking up the phone in the first place. Leah understands that but emphasises that, although you shouldn’t be afraid of the clock, in this case time really is of the essence.
I found this book to be enormously kind, gentle and informative. It looks longer than it is thanks to the big hand-lettering and illustrations, and it isn’t a graphic novel because without the images I would have understood absolutely everything written. But I appreciate the advantage of this being illustrated prose rather than a clinical leaflet. It’s not that the illustrations serve to break the information up into easily digestible pieces – though they do – it’s that they humanise it all. The paper is predominantly a warm yellow, the two women’s cheeks warmer still. They’re sympathetically drawn and easy to relate to.
Here’s Ellen Forney:
“Reading this book is like sitting down with your cool older sister and having her assuringly and frankly explain a really tough situation you’re facing, and then convince you that you’re going to get through it and be okay.”
Yep, that is precisely what this is like.
A Quick Dip Into Deep Thinking: The Growing Of Dreams (£6-50) by Dori Kirchmair.
“Doubt is really a big one for me…
“All the time it keeps me from doing what makes my heart sing…
“But then, not only do I talk myself out of my own dreams. On top of that is what everyone else has to say…
“Not to mention how the world is supposed to work.”
There Kirchmair slumps at her desk, as crushed and crumpled as a discarded drawing, weighed down by the dictates of others. “You must…” ”You should…” etcetera.
I feel there will be a lot of empathy for this succinct little storybook. There’s a neat little one-page comic within called ‘The growing of dreams” in which Kirchmair’s ideas and ambitions grow from a potted sapling into a vast, verdant tree. The biggest panel is reserved for the pinnacle of the process when all seems about to bear a fruition which she finds “fascinating”… only for those wretched doubts to creep in once again, telling her that it’s “all a bit unreal” and she chops the tree down in fright.
You might suppose that this is the work of a young lady embarking on a newfound enthusiasm for creativity. It is not. I’ve met Dori and she’s my age. Our doubts don’t just disappear.
But nor does Dori’s determination. Throughout the watercolours on a delicate black pen line are bright and healthy and in natural tones of grass-green, aquamarine, sky-blue and earthen or tree-trunk brown. She has suffered set-backs but she won’t be bowed into submission for…
“Somewhere deep down I know it’s not right to throw away your dreams.
“It’s not ’environmentally friendly’, either.”
Ha! Unlike the single-page comic which is perfectly poised, I own that the text and illustration of the main body are not ideally integrated – the timing’s a bit dislocated in places – but there is a great deal of white space so a whole lot of light, and for once I didn’t mind the typed script.
What I did object to was its original cover and I told Kirchmair so, thereby becoming yet another of those didactic pests. *slaps own wrists* But it looked like a type-led cover to a particularly bland catalogue for lord knows what and Page 45 deals in a visual medium. No one would have looked past its cover here.
So we come to what I mean by Dori’s determination and her practising what she preaches – because I promise you this has a thoroughly uplifting end and a cracking punchline which harks wittily and unexpectedly back to its title. Although the creator had a finished product to sell me with multiple copies… she printed a fresh batch with a new, image-led cover and a burst of much more organic lettering which broke up the blandness and emphasised that she has something to say which is probably worth reading. In a humble way. Dori was determined to get this booklet onto our shelves even if she had to go to extra expense.
Oh look, she’s succeeded. Respect.
Hawkeye vol 4: Rio Bravo s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Chris Eliopoulos, Francesco Francavilla…
Ha ha, the gags are still coming thick and fast in this final volume of Fraction, Aja et al’s career-redefining highlight. Clint Barton’s, that is! This volume collects #12-13, #15, #17, #19 & #21-22 as the monthly title bobbed backwards and forward from East Coast to West Coast between Clint and Kate’s stories. Her final volume was collected in HAWKEYE VOL 3: L.A. WOMAN, though of course Kate does turn up here in just the nick of time to save Clint’s behind one more time too!
Before that there’s time for a family reunion as Barney Barton turns up to continue the Barton Brothers’ trademark love-hate sibling rivalry. In reality though, they’ve always had each other’s backs, and Clint is going to need all the help he can get as the Tracksuit Draculas perform their very own climatic remake of Assault On Precinct 13 on Clint’s apartment building. But who better to take on the not-so-dapper mafia bros than the Barton Bros? It’s an enduring double act with its own special magic that’s all about the timing…
“Surrounded, Bro. Van, Bro.”
“C’mon, c’mon… one trick, one time. You guys might be my last audience ever, right? Come on. Just say the magic word.”
“What you say, Bro?”
“”Barney,” say “Barney.””
“No, no, come on, it’s a magic trick and I got my pants down. You all gotta shout it.”
Enter Barney Barton stage left armed only with a dustbin lid for some Bro head-cracking activity…
Steven Universe vol 1 (£10-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle…
“Hmm… this strange crystal is definitely a test! Maybe a puzzle? To see if I can harness the power of super special gem!! I will discover all your secrets!!”
“Gasp!! Steven, what happened?!”
“Uuuuughm… I couldn’t discover the secrets… I tried everything but I couldn’t figure out the secrets of this special gem, I understand why you can’t take me on missions.”
“Ha ha ha!! Steven, it’s not a gem.”
“It’s a disco ball.”
“This is more amazing than I could ever have imagined.”
Sadly it really isn’t. How disappointing. I love Steven Universe the TV show but this isn’t a patch on it. Surprisingly for a show with such clean animation, they have decided to employ an artist with a far looser style. Actually, it looks a little bit like Jen IN REAL LIFE Wang if I am being overly kind, but that’s by the by. All the characters are recognisable but it just doesn’t feel like the show.
Then, there is the fact that each single issue was a different short, well two actually, a colour one then a very short black and white one, which disrupts the reading process even further. To me, this title was begging for four- or six-issue story arcs, being illustrated exactly like the show. So it would then have been a perfect continuation of it. Instead it just feels like a cheap throwaway cash-in. Others may disagree.
I felt exactly the same about REGULAR SHOW, a programme I adore, but I can’t even bring myself to look at the comics for precisely the same reasons. Incredibly short throwaway stories, little more than gag strips, which look nothing like the show. Having just checked, yep, that’s the same artist as here, Coleman Engle. I feel harsh criticising someone who is clearly a very good artist. But they are just not the right fit for either of these titles. And if I wanted gag strips, I would read PEANUTS. Actually I wouldn’t, I would read HYPERBOLE AND A HALF or CYANIDE AND HAPPINESS but hey ho, you get my point.
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.
Small Tales & Fairy Fails (£9-99) by Paul Duffield
Bright Eyed At Midnight h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Leslie Stein
Corpse Talk Season 2 (£7-99, DFC Books) by Adam Murphy
Everything Is Teeth (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner
Chew vol 10 Blood Puddin’ (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory
Superman vol 6: The Men Of Tomorrow h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita
All New X-Men vol 7: The Utopians (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Del Mundo, Mahmud Asrar, Andrea Sorrentino
Black Butler vol 20 (£9-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso
Naruto vol 71 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
A Silent Voice vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima
I was raised at infant school on Ladybird’s ‘Peter & Jane’ books which starred a sickeningly wholesome family, so revenge on Saturday night on Twitter was s-weet. I can’t reprint it all here (dear lord,no! If you’re curious, I’m @pagefortyfive) but basically this: I realised they were all on temazepam including the children. The father was a serial philanderer, the mother a serial killer. I wrote a little poem:
Jane likes to get squiffy
Peter likes to get rat-arsed
Dad prefers glue if he’s truthful to you
Mother screams at night
ITEM! An online version of Sam Alden’s THE HAUNTER, reviewed above. The lighting as lambent as anything, but it doesn’t include the four double-page spreads I swooned over which are only available in the printed version.
I have an extensive ‘To Don’t’ list. And still do them anyway.
Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by…. Oh, wait – still on my ‘To Do’ list.