Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2015 week three

Comedy legend Kate Beaton rides again with STEP ASIDE, POPS! Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples return with SAGA VOL 5 . Plus: Alan Moore, Becky Cloonan, Maggie Thrash, Mark Millar, Sean Murphy, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Gabriel Ba, Vasilis Lolos, Fabio Moon, Ryan Heshka and a cracking adaptation of an Anthony Trollope novel.

Step Aside, Pops – A Hark! A Vagrant Collection (£12-99, Jonathan Cape) by Kate Beaton.

Inspired, iconoclastic and infused with a lot of lateral thinking, I rate Kate Beaton right up there with Tom Gauld (YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK) for culturally informed comedy.

Her first collection, HARK! A VAGRANT, had the funniest Jane Austen jokes ever whereas here it’s Bronte time with Cathy and Heathcliffe brooding up the rooms at Blithering Heights so badly that they desperately need to open the windows. There’s a panel where they’re pawing each other’s faces obsessively and another strip in which they’re discovered at night and caught in lamplight, wide-eyed Heathcliffe looking both livid and feral:

“It’s a lovely young lady…. And a large, angry squirrel.”

Beaton manages to distil the much-loved novel to her own ridiculous core, reducing it to a comedic soup of unrestrained melodrama rendered in wilder, more ragged lines than usual.

The titles are often as funny as the strips themselves, as are the annotations. She takes highly regarded, even venerated figures from history and High Culture then pops any associated pomposity with a pin by making them behave not necessarily out of character (for there’s often a key element of truth) but certainly… badly. You don’t even need to know anything about the individuals beforehand. Kate sets up her own rules or references and takes it from there.

The opening rivalry between Chopin and Liszt is a perfect example, Beaton quickly establishing the difference in their music then translates it into their characters while uniting them in unbridled egomania.

Liszt’s intensity and hair has him coming off like a cross between Michaels Heseltine and Foot. In ‘The Later Years’ Liszt mourns Chopin’s passing and decides to pay tribute to his dearly beloved friend with a biography whose title ‘Life of Chopin’ is dwarfed by his own credit on the cover. And in ‘For King And Country’ after they initially concede each other’s musical territory / sovereignty, Liszt simply can’t help himself from adding a final jibe of sexual one-upmanship, bending down behind Chopin’s piano and cupping his hand to one side of his mouth to mutter with naughty, knowing eyes, “I have also slept with a lot of Polish women though, just throwing that in there”.

That’s another element which characterises Beaton’s comedy: the incongruous, the anachronistic, putting modern idioms like “Unrelated” and “Asking for a friend” in the mouths of historical figures like Julius Caesar or an English, sixteen-year-old soldier fighting the Hundred Years War:

“Those French guys were like, WHOAAAA. And my army was like EAT IT. Ka chow!!”

Zeus will appear later on putting his legendary, master-of-disguise, mad dating skillz into practice, there’s an extended Janet Jackson ‘Nasty’ video joke, Spider-Man doesn’t just exhibit the proportional powers of a spider but also its innate proclivities (“Ooh – a crevice!”) while Louis Lane’s traditional, fawning and far from feminist role is turned on its oh so wrong head. Instead of being portrayed as obsessed with a Superman she’s too dim-witted to identify behind the spectacles of the reporter she works with every week day, she’s infuriated by the egomaniacal lunatic’s stalking which threatens to ruin her career.

I should have found you one of those strips, but instead here’s a femme fatale who refuses to be pigeon-holed. See right if you’re reading this in the product page, below if in our weekly reviews blog.

SLH

Buy Step Aside, Pops – A Hark! A Vagrant Collection and read the Page 45 review here

Dispossession: A Novel Of Few Words (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Simon Grennan…

“See that woman in a straw hat?”
“I have seen her every day. I have been watching her for half an hour.”
“She is very attentive to her sewing.”
“She is watching now. You have spoken to her?”
“A word or two yesterday. She is going out to earn her bread; but when I asked how, she wouldn’t tell me.”
“Her name is Mrs. Smith. I hear she went on the stage, married an actor who treated her cruelly and then died of drink.”
“She told me that we three ought not to be here. We ought to be gentlemen and she a lady.”
“She struck me as talking better than her gown.”
“We are gentlemen. Mrs. Smith is a mystery. I shall go to work to unravel her.”

John Caldigate is many things: a foolish son and heir, a caddish womaniser, an incompetent gambler who may well be a gentleman by birth, but certainly not by his actions or comportment. No, a blithering idiot who has managed to waste the good fortune of being born into the landed gentry to the extent he finds himself disinherited by his despairing father would be a better description. Now, seemingly convinced that all he has to do to become a successful gold prospector is merely set foot in Australia, where he is currently voyaging to with his loyal and steadfast best friend Ned on their latest hare-brained scheme, he’s caught the eye of a lady of scandalous background and potentially rather dubious virtue. Had the term ‘carriage crash’ been coined in Edwardian times to indicate a catastrophic penchant for devising ever more elaborate ways to get yourself into socially scandalous trouble, it would almost certainly have been used in describing John Caldigate.

This is a wonderful adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel, John Caldigate. I’ve no idea why renowned academic, and talented artist, Dr. Simon Grennan chose to amend the name of the work, but his choice of title has a very appropriate and I’m sure quite deliberate polysemy to it.

In a historical sense dispossession refers to depriving people of the possession or occupancy of land and property, something which the British did rather expertly to the aborigines in Australia laying claim to the territory using the blatantly inappropriate concept of terra nullius, meaning quite literally “nobody’s land”, which shows you precisely what the good gentlemen of the Empire thought of the locals. It also quite adroitly sums up John Caldigate’s perpetually recurring life experience, always at his own hands, even though he doesn’t ever quite see the root cause of all his difficulties.

Even when, seemingly against all the odds, he makes his fortune in Australia and returns home triumphant to marry the sweet and trusting Hester Bolton, who has waited patiently for him, it’s his previous dalliances with the distracting Mrs. Smith that are going to cause him no end of trouble, as he finds himself accused of bigamy.

This is a great example of how a true classic can be kept alive and find a whole new audience. I can’t imagine Trollope is high on many people’s reading lists these days, and yet his works, underpinned with witty commentary and satire, particularly on the greed and corruption found within the upper echelons of the class structure, have never been more relevant than they are today.

This work was commissioned for Trollope’s bicentennial by a Belgian university (there being a familial connection between Trollope and Belgium), and Dr. Grennan has done a sterling job in producing a graphic novel that neatly captures the farcical elements of the main character, which is the essential core of the prose novel. His chosen faux-woodcut style of  illustration, albeit coloured, really does remind me of the delightfully ludicrous WONDERMARK series, the deliberate choice not to have any close ups, with every panel capturing a scene, only adds weight to the conceit.

I do hope this spurs a few more quirky, clever adaptations of classics like this. I think the great thing about comic readers as a whole is that we are open minded enough to give something different like this a try, purely based on how intriguing it looks, curiosity perhaps being piqued further by a glimpse inside, even if we would probably never pick up the original. And thus discovering something wonderful we might never have otherwise found. I’ve certainly chanced across some brilliant graphic novels like that.

JR

Buy Dispossession: A Novel Of Few Words and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 1: Tin Stars (£7-50, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

Perfectly paced, action-spliced science fiction in the vein not of the Moebius-inspired PROPHET but of SAGA or OCEAN or TREES.

There’s such beautiful, bright light and a vast sense of space that I’m immediately reminded of Jon J. Muth’s MOONSHADOW. The watercolours here are equally lush and loose, and in half a dozen paragraphs it will become clear that Dustin Nguyen’s command of scale is vital.

The opening shot looking out and over one of the nine Embassy Cities of the planet Niyrata with its fume-free traffic criss-crossing on multiple tiers is an almost electrical thrill, while the cars themselves are the sleekest and juiciest that Matchbox never made.

This is the cultural and technological hub of the nine Core Planets where resides its United Galactic Council.

It all seems pretty idyllic and I can quite clearly see how culture could thrive even if not everyone is relaxed.  There’s one director or delegate striding through a crowd bellowing about her right to exploit resources in spite of the Gnishes’ complaints. Her baby’s begun crying in spite of its android-nanny’s best efforts but big business comes first, does it not?

And then there’s young, lean and clean Dr. Quon’s oh-so chic bedroom with glass floors, glass doors, glass open-air balcony and big glass tanks full of bright little flecks that are fish! Love the cherry blossom floating in from outside.

Dr. Quon is held in very high esteem. After all, the prodigy practically invented modern robotics. He single-handedly created the little Tim line, indistinguishable from ordinary boys and programmed to be family companions.

Unfortunately everyone’s in for an almost immediate and very rude awakening when Dr Quon is summoned by General Nagoki into orbit for something’s appeared in the heavens above them and everything changes forever.

Unimaginably vast, it appears to be a celestial machine, humanoid in shape and roughly the same size as the planet itself. One has materialised beside each of the eight other planets and when their blank eyes flare red it looks as though they are about to communicate. They are not.

10 years later and young Tim-21 wakes up on the mining moon colony of Dirishu-6. Everyone is dead.

Bodies litter both the sealed lunar walkway and the gangways below that. He can’t find the family he was assigned to – Andy and Andy’s Mum – but he does find the Communications Hub and manages to access its database. It looks like a lot has happened in the last ten long years, none of it good.

The gigantic Harvesters (as they came to be called) didn’t communicate anything other than their wrath. They opened fire on all the nine planets, obliterating life forms and their precarious harmony, sparing only the androids. Then they disappeared. Subsequent suspicions catalysed a robot cull verging on genocide, the militant, tusked Gnishes at its forefront. They’re still on the warpath and – now that Tim-21’s woken up and logged into the multi-worldwide-web – a Scrapper Elite Squad is heading his way.

Also heading Tim’s way is an expedition led by Captain Telsa, daughter of General Nagoki. She’s drafted a down-and-out Dr. Quon who’s no longer so highly regarded nor half as handsome but unshaven, paunchy and consigned to a lowly bunk bed at home. His reputation was shot during the robotic backlash and now it’s in tatters because it has just been discovered that the impossibly advanced Harvesters had precisely the same, complex codex as his Tim-21’s. Whom Dr. Quon created.

Two things: the science is a convincing as it is penetrable. You can understand it. Think of the robotic codex as our DNA with its nucleotide sequences. Prior to the Harvesters, the most complex robotic codex invented had an eight-pronged digital lattice. Now we’re looking at fifty-six.

Secondly, you wouldn’t even care were Tim’s past not so tenderly evoked both by Lemire and Nguyen in a series of flashbacks which make clear that young Andy and his mother doted on the boy and how much he too loved his new family. There’s also a lovely moment in the present when Tim first finds his robot dog whose bark has gone wonky and backwards. He’s been active all this time.

“You must have been so lonely. It’s okay… I’m here now.”

In the back there’s a brief breakdown of each of the nine planets so you can learn what each species has been up to over the last game-changing decade and what they may be planning now. Jeff’s left you plenty to puzzle on, and if his name rings a bell then think SWEET TOOTH, ESSEX COUNTY and TRILLIUM etc.

What still hasn’t been explained is what happened to Tim when a Scrapper blasted a circular hole in his chest, causing him to – well – die. As far as the eye could see the Harvested stretched before him in greeting – all the robots who had been discarded and destroyed. They asked him to join them, then, just as Doctor Quon repaired and rebooted Tim and effectively withdrew him from that dream, they begged him to find them.

“But you know robots can’t dream. Tim-21. That’s impossible.”
“But if it wasn’t a dream – then – where was I?”

Where indeed? Also, what exactly is the Hardwire movement? I infer we’ll find out very swiftly in volume two.

The final chapter’s a flashback to a few years before the opening sequence when Jin Quon is only on the verge of obtaining his doctorate. He and his tutor make a discovery. This – and what Jin Quon does with it – will change everything you thought you knew.

You now have around seven months to join the dots for yourselves and discover if you’ve drawn an accurate picture.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 1: Tin Stars and read the Page 45 review here

Crossed + 100 vol 1 (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Gabriel Andrade.

Whatever your preconceptions of CROSSED, this is, I promise you, as clever as you’d expect from Alan Moore. I unequivocally understand if the subject matter is too repugnant for many of you to risk opening the cover but Moore has not only thought these hundred years through, he’s laced this six issues with cunning clues to an increasingly worrying mystery which only reveals its true horror right at the end. Also, you need not have read a single sentence of this series to launch straight in now.

One hundred years have passed since The Surprise.

And it was quite a surprise, let me tell you. You’d be quite surprised if you found yourself in Nottingham city centre and it was suddenly writhing in howling, bellowing, jabbering hoards of half-clad cretins, urinating in doorways and leering lasciviously at anyone who passed by.

Outside of a Saturday night, anyway.

Yet that’s what has happened in CROSSED, kicked off by Garth Ennis a dozen or so volumes ago: a worldwide pandemic of sexually insatiable savages in which no one – no matter how old or young or how closely related – was safe. “This is what the worst of humanity looks like uninhibited by law” is what Garth seemed to say; and you look at some geographical regimes and cannot help but agree.

I enjoyed the first book, if “enjoyed” is the right word. I was actually vicariously terrified, peering through my fingers as I tentatively turned the pages – which isn’t easy using only your elbows. I initially promoted the series thus:

“Whatever your most terrifying nightmare, this is infinitely worse.

After that, I’m afraid it lost me. The genuine, stomach-churning tension which made me invest emotionally in each individual or shudder at their complete callousness and disregard for their fellow fugitive was replaced by such grotesquery that it repelled me with its not-necessary nastiness and so from what was occurring. Jonathan assured me that its spin-off series CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE by Si Spurrier was a huge return to form but I hadn’t been sufficiently intrigued until the words “Alan” and “Moore” lured me back, and look: he’s brought a rather fine artist with him.

The textures on this detritus-strewn landscape are as rich as its detail: there’s so much to look at surrounding the more obvious focal points of the plot: the libraries, churches and the rusted stream train carrying this cast of archivists across a thinly populated wilderness where you can almost hear the silence.

There is, surprisingly, even beauty to behold in the form of brightly coloured butterflies and parakeets taking flight above the debris. Buddleias have rampaged across the ruins – a buddleia can take route in even the smallest concrete crevice, I warn you – and a rusted iron steamer has it charms.

The Crossed are so called because of the cross of red blisters which erupts across their faces upon infection like some pustular St George’s flag. The disease which turns its victims into such single-mindedly savage and sexually insatiable beasts that they are barely cognizant any longer is as contagious as the worst we know of that isn’t airborne, the transformation is almost instantaneous. It first broke out on July 27th 2008 when the world’s population had reached 700 thousand million. Within a decade the uninfected human population was down to 2 million with 100 million infected on the loose.

But this trend has since reversed itself, largely because The Crossed eat their own children before they’re old enough to breed.

With far fewer nests it’s become relatively (relatively) safe to venture from the heavily fortified stockades to see what can be gleaned from what’s left of the relics of their past – video recordings, non-fiction, manuals, journals – in order to better understand both what happened and what used to be considered their culture. Although even the most intrepid rarely stray far from their armoured bus and everyone goes armed with a shotgun.

Just as well, because one such expedition of archivists is startled to be set upon by a second nest of nudists in two days, covered in blood and faeces, the men as priapic as ever. Then there’s a third attack inside a Memphis mansion (broken signs will make you smile throughout with a recognition no longer shared by the archivists) and the narrator, Future Taylor, begins to suspect something’s up. But what truly confounds her are the shrines she starts finding with lit candles, one with a framed portrait of a man with a goatee that isn’t quite a photograph but close. On the back are broken bits of sentences, some of which you may well puzzle out long before Future does. But The Crossed have no religion – they’re not organised enough for it – so what’s up?

This is far more culturally orientated than before, Moore extrapolating from the Ennis scenario and musing on what might have happened one hundred years on. For a start, the ozone layer has repaired itself. Well, all our smoke-billowing industries have shut down. So it’s not all bad. It’s still pretty bad and I very much appreciated the safety of my study and my steady supply of Sauvignon Blanc.

In particular Moore is considering what may have happened to language and its slang in a world where there are isolated packs of human beings rather than an instantly accessible global information hub. There are neologisms aplenty, many of which made me smile, but rather too many too soon. Language should enrich a story, not obfuscate it, and I wince typing this for Alan Moore is one thousand times the writer that I will ever be but the number rendered the narrative just a little too opaque until I finally adjusted three chapters in.

I liked that the teenagers had adopted a stylised version of The Crossed’s red disfigurements as a tribal fashion statement like punks’ Mohicans or goths’ heavy eyeliner.

But what I loved above all was the plot itself – the mystery whose clues lie in corners you’ll never suspect at first, hidden as they are in plain sight.

What I must, however, do before closing is remind you that this is top-shelf material with scenes so horrific that FROM HELL looks like fun.

SLH

Buy Crossed + 100 vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Chrononauts (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy…

“How old did you say this was?”
“The temple? It predates Stongehenge by six thousand years. The oldest place of worship anywhere on the planet.
“But that’s not the interesting part. It’s what the megaliths have been built around that’s causing all the excitement.
“You have to remember this predates metal tools, Doctor Quinn. This was before man even had pottery…
“I told you it was worth the trip.”

As prologues go this one packs quite the punchline delivered by Sean Murphy to eye-stopping effect.

For what were those megaliths were built around, perched atop ornate columns inside that temple is a fully armed F-14 Tomcat: a fourth-generation, supersonic, twinjet, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft first introduced in 1974. And, funnily enough, one of those did go missing back in the 1970s.

How did it end up in South-East Turkey six thousand years before Stonehenge was built?

That mystery – along with the fleet of sports cars found under Mayan temples and other strange temporal anomalies – convinces Doctor Corbin that he’s on the right track, that time-travel is possible, which is just as well because his prototype satellite equipped with a television camera is about to be bent through a time-stream tunnel to transmit 1863 AD live to a frankly astonished worldwide audience.

It’s quite the success.

Do you think it would have your attention?

 

Good, because Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly are planning their first manned mission in eighteen months time with their hi-tech – and indeed high-fashion – time suits. No point in travelling through time if you can’t look suave whilst doing it.

That our intrepid duo intend to take man’s bold first steps backwards through time, becoming the world’s first chrononauts in the process, all whilst televised absolutely live to the watching billions, possibly suggests an element of foolhardiness that doesn’t bode well for their smooth passage. Inevitably therefore, like in every good time travel yarn, something immediately goes awry, and with Corbin Quinn seemingly lost in time, there is of course only one man up to the task of trying to retrieve him…

Given that Danny Reilly seems like an egomaniacal jack-ass of the first order, again whilst raising our amusement value considerably, well, it doesn’t suggest his rescue mission is going to be remotely straightforward. Indeed, a spectacular double-page spread leaves us absolutely no doubt as to where Danny immediately finds himself. Deep in the proverbial temporal doo-doo, that’s where! The when is the siege of Kabul in Samarkand, 1504. Right slap bang in the absolute middle of it…

Once the extratemporal extrication of Quinn is achieved, the only question that remains is where, or indeed when, our chronally challenged chums are going to go next. You don’t seriously think these two grandstanding galoots are just going to head straight home in time safely for tea do you?!! No, of course not, and once timeline tweaking temptation gets the better of them, the fun really starts in what is basically a wickedly daft buddy caper.

Superb art from Sean THE WAKE / PUNK ROCK JESUS Murphy as Millar continues his own personal Pokemon quest to collect all the best artists in the comic industry for his Millarworld imprint before he expires. Fair play to him in that respect for it’d be very easy to stick with a winning formula, but I think given every yarn he writes is pretty distinct, they actually benefit from having very different artwork styles. That’s my theory anyway.

JR & SLH

Buy Chrononauts and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 5 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

Hello!

Are you seriously not reading SAGA? Let’s see what I can do about that.

At its heart SAGA is a visually sexy, wickedly inventive, highly irreverent and astutely observed comedy about love, war and human behaviour. Oh, and parenthood, for it’s narrated from adulthood by Alana and Marko’s daughter Hazel, the first of her hybrid kind who’s currently just above knee-height.

“Ask a child’s guardians what it takes to be good at their jobs, and most will answer with a single word… SACRIFICE.
“Parents give up so much: time, sleep, freedom, money, intimacy…
“Pretty much everything except complaining about how much they sacrifice.”

Regular readers will be dismayed but far from surprised to learn that there is even more sacrifice in this book than any of the others.

It stars two lovers from separate species, their daughter (don’t little ones say the darnedest things?), their daughter’s grandmother, an ex-lover, an assassin’s similarly skilled sister, a robot prince with television for a head and a giant, turquoise Lying Cat, which is basically a cat compelled to growl “LYING” whenever you’ve popped out a porky pie. These are some of my favourite panels for Vaughan has managed to wring from the conceit both comedic and quite unexpectedly moving moments too.

I’ve reviewed all four previous books but the SAGA DELUXE EDITION VOL 1 is possibly my best overview even if you end up buying its three constituent softcovers instead. In each Fiona and Brian – who seem such lovely people – manage to startle at least once with something of a sexual nature so laugh-out-loud explicit and wrong that you can’t actually believe they’ve committed it to print. It’s usually then that you remember you’ve just leant a copy to your mother-in-law.

Here it involves a male dragon. You have no idea.

Fiona’s dragons are sleek, salamander-like beasts. Her designs are as thrilling as her storytelling skills, key amongst them being heart-melting expressions, even on a cat. There’s a flashback to Marko’s childhood when he was protecting his dog from a neighbour’s delinquent daughter who was practising fire spells on the poor creature with no care or consideration for the poor pet’s pain. I defy to swear you wouldn’t use violence yourself to protect your pet from such cruelty. Marko lashes out. You’re not shown that scene but you are shown Marko’s father’s reaction. When little Marko realises what’s possibly in store his deer-like ears droop down and doe-eyes look up quizzically, a little pleadingly, and it is the very essence of vulnerability.

Bringing you up to speed will only serve up spoilers and we don’t do that here. As I say, try some of those other reviews. Instead I can reveal that it does involve captivity, being separated from your loved one, protecting your child, an all-consuming desire for revenge, violence and compassion and – oh dear – sacrifice.

SLH

Buy Saga vol 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Honor Girl (£14-99, Candlewick Press) by Maggie Thrash.

“What was I doing before? Was I just… floating along? Maybe I was better off that way. Because what’s ironic is that being in love doesn’t actually make you happy. It makes it impossible to be happy. You’re carrying this desire now. Maybe if you knew where it came from, you could put it back. But you don’t.”

Maggie is only fifteen and she’s just fallen in love for the first time. With a woman. With a summer camp counsellor.

Maggie’s stomach is churning and she hasn’t the first clue what to do about any of it.  She can’t get Erin or her feelings towards her out of her head and she’s stuck there for the summer. What if any of any of her friends find out? What if any of the counsellors find out? What if Erin finds out? What on earth is she supposed to do with all this?

Oh, the space and the light!

I knew this was graphic memoir was going to be a pleasure to read as soon as I opened it and the colours flooded out. But, being set in a remote, American summer camp for girls, I had no idea it would tick so many recognition boxes.

I’d praise Thrash’s memory – her ability to put herself back in her head aged fifteen – but my own memory’s appalling yet I remember every little bit of falling in love for the first time when my nascent self-awareness was too new to comprehend or cope. It’s not something you forget.

Still, there were a lot of surprises and this may not come with the conclusion you expect.

Thrash goes to great pains to emphasise right from the beginning how traditional this particular summer camp was. Unchanged since 1922, “There were mandatory Civil War re-enactments every morning. It was literally the blues screaming “blue” and the greys screaming “grey” for twenty minutes.” Grim. There’s also flag-raising and flag-lowering at morning and night, and singing lots of lovely Christian songs to each other.

Being a good little girl, Maggie had a pillow with all her merit patches sewn on; being a somnambulist, she also had Somnambu-leash she was supposed to attach to her ankle every evening. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to tell you she doesn’t – not every evening – and it’s worth bearing that in mind later on.

There were uniforms for uniformity (“I was used to environments where it was important for everyone to be the same”) and zero diversity bar one blonde Jewish girl so seemed to set each year’s fashion trends. Oh, and then there was the whole Honor Girl system.

“On the first night, we always serenaded the Honor Girl, a 16-year-old camper appointed the previous summer… Everyone would light a candle, and at the end of the song, we’d each touch our flame to hers. It was meant to be symbolic – the Honor Girl imbuing us with her perfect spirit.”

Are you getting a sense that this might be one of the least hospitable environments for anyone suddenly stumbling upon the notion that they might be gay? Add in a mass of insecure teenage peers and being trapped there with them morning, noon and indeed overnight… There were a couple of girls the previous year about whom rumours swirled and they were ostracised all season long.

As I say, I think this is going to surprise you, and it’s got 270 pages in which to do so.

I’ve seen this sort of stripped-down style done so badly, so blandly – most recently in a reasonably high profile Young Adult graphic novel I decided didn’t merit a review – but this is full of nuance and character and great body language. It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple lines as long as they’re placed just-so. The expressions often contradict what’s expressed like tells at a poker game. It falls under the umbrella of minimum fuss for maximum empathy, and the colours ensure it’s certainly no mope-fest.

There are great many giggles to boot. I loved the old camp commandant – sorry, director – popping out on the odd occasion to wave a canoe paddle furiously and bellow prohibitions before collapsing, pooped out on the deck.

The storytelling is crystal clear with plenty of variety – another of the problems I had with that YA graphic novel was it was as so repetitious, so deathly dull, like someone telling you a story with “And then he did this and then she did that and then he did this and we didn’t” – opening up at exactly the right moments with landscapes to let you linger and ponder like Maggie herself.

As the memoir kicks off and concludes she’s had two years to do precisely that.

SLH

Buy Honor Girl and read the Page 45 review here

Pixu – The Mark Of Evil s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Gabriel Ba, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Fabio Moon.

Not a sequel, but a softcover.

“It’s too soon. For now, I wait.”

Clammy, sweaty and thoroughly unnerving, sometimes horror is at its most frightening when it’s most nebulous. If you can confront it – if you can shoot it or stick a stake in its heart or at least run screaming – then there’s hope. I foresaw little hope here.

Six denizens of a house divided into four separate apartments find themselves caught in the cross-fire of each other’s making, the sinister tendrils creeping up the walls but a catalyst for the conflagration to come. For none of them seems stable from the start. There’s a man who sits and waits by the telephone, OCD his only companion. A woman on the edge of her nerves rejects her boyfriend who declares that he will never come back – and really, he shouldn’t. Meanwhile a middle-aged man mourns a woman who left him from reasons unknown. He’s visited in his bedroom by a prepubescent girl whose guardian (grandfather? no, not necessarily) has a strange hold over her and keeps a neat dresser of formaldehyde jars for protection. One of them has been broken.

Ah, that’s my interpretation – or half of it – but you decide for yourself.

 

SLH

Buy Pixu – The Mark Of Evil s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mean Girls Club (£6-50, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka.

Lurid, burlesque, groovy and grotesque!

Pretty gritty in pink, this one’s for Scarlett Daggers of Nottingham’s Dr. Sketchy’s fabulously welcoming, all-inclusive “not up its arse art-class” which Page 45 is very proud to sponsor with free graphic novels as prizes.

Meet the vamps of the Mean Girls Club: Wanda, Wendy, Pinkie, Blackie, Sweets and McQualude! You’ll only do it once.

These sisters are most emphatically doing it for themselves: self-medication, self-examination, auto-operations, on-the-spot diagnoses and even instant “euthanasia” if you define euthanasia as putting someone out of your misery.

This is a pill-popping, binge-drinking, hallucinogenic adrenaline rush with snakes, rats, bats and Venus flytraps everywhere. Innocence is upended, boutiques are broken into and lingerie scattered all over the road. Guns, clubs, hypodermic needles and, err, dress-up paper dolls.

Imagine Bettie Page in a rage and you’re pretty much there.

SLH

Buy Mean Girls Club 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.

The Fade Out vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Fires Over Hyperion (£10-99, NBM) by Patrick Atangan

Heart In A Box (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kelly Thompson & Meredith McClaren

How To Pass As Human: A Guide To Assimilation For Future Androids by Android 0 h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kelman Nic & Pericles Junior, Rick DeLucco

No Mercy vol 1 (with bookplate signed by Alex & Carla!) (£7-50, Image) by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil

The Princess And The Pony (£6-99, Walker Books) by Kate Beaton

Ruins h/c (£19-99, SelfMadeHero) by Peter Kuper

Tommysaurus Rex (£8-50, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel

War Stories vol 2 (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & David Lloyd, Cam Kennedy, Carlos Ezquerra, Gary Erskine

When Anxiety Attacks (£7-99, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) by Terian Koscik

William Shakespeare’s Tragedy Of The Sith’s Revenge h/c (£10-99, Quirk) by Ian Doescher

Batman vol 7: Endgame h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Flash: Season Zero s/c (£14-99, DC) by various

Uncanny Avengers vol 1: Counter-Evolutionary (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender, Gerry Dugan & Daniel Acuna

Astro Boy Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Osamu Tezuka

News!

ITEM! Sublime! See Babouche adding watercolours to the above, ending up with what’s below. It’s a fascinating lesson it wet watercolour technique.

ITEM! See PLUTO’s Urusawa drawing fluidly in pencil.

ITEM! Read why ‘Jealousy Is Creative Poison’. It’s actually poison full stop, but most of us have been guilty of it from time to time.

ITEM! Fab, in-depth article on PHONOGRAM by Elana Brooklyn. It’s so in-depth there are inevitably SPOILERS but if you’re not reading Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s PHONGRAM at all perhaps it will tempt you, or start with the new PHONOGRAM IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 reviewed right here.

ITEM! In time for his new comic, Warren Ellis’ thoughts on James Bond – the novels. Pre-order Warren Ellis’ new James Bond comic here.

– Stephen

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

spacer
spacer
spacer