Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2015 week three

Adrian Tomine! Matt Madden! Terry Moore! Jeremy Bastien! Mardou! Luke Pearson! Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Chris Wildgoose! Doug TenNapel! Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey. Mark Millar, Wilfredo Torres, Davide Gianfelice. So ever so slightly packed, yes!

Drawn Onward (£3-99, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Matt Madden.

Well, isn’t this a great little piece of comicbook genius?

I’m not wafting that accolade in front of you arbitrarily, either.

For me it would have been enough had it been but a very clever exercise in storytelling structure – though I can think of few others who would have conceived of it in the first place – but in Matt Madden’s hands it has blossomed into an extremely poignant life-lesson in not fucking around with other people’s feelings lest they fuck around with yours in revenge.

The thrill of the chase is a courtship conceit so many worry about: that the person pursuing you is after one thing and one thing only so once you put out they’ll be gone – right out that door! It doesn’t have to be full-blown sex, it can be a kiss or the mere acknowledgement that you fancy them too. Conquest achieved! Next!

But this delves even deeper than that and you’ll want to read it forwards, backwards then forwards again. Maybe then approach it from the middle and read outwards, comparing the pages like I did, and from each end heading inwards as well.

It revolves around a pivotal moment right where the staples scream “symmetry”! Before and after those central staples lie mirror images with ever such clever departures. I’ve studied it for hours and will be using it in every future comics class that I teach.

I never doubted it for five seconds: Matt Madden’s 99 WAYS TO TELL A STORY is one of the most witty explorations of comicbook storytelling and along with Jessica Abel (LA PERDIDA and LIFE SUCKS), Madden produced two of the best books on creating comics, DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES then MASTERING COMICS.

But to break beyond mere exercise into something which will affect you profoundly – to use that very structural innovation to comment so astutely and so poignantly on the way we may treat each other so carelessly or callously – is when you comprehend that you have a comicbook creator in front of you who is a thinker akin to Eddie Campbell or Scott McCloud.

Even the endpapers will have you grinning.

No clues in the images here!


Buy Drawn Onward and read the Page 45 review here

Optic Nerve: Killing And Dying (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.

Includes free, fold-out poster while initial stocks last!

From one of comics’ most astute observers of human behaviour – quite often rifts in relationships – this reprints OPTIC NERVE #12, 13, 14 (OPTIC NERVE #14 still in stock) and a substantially revised version of Tomine’s contribution to KRAMER’S ERGOT #7. Other OPTIC NERVE books in stock.

Let the foibles begin!

Optic Nerve #12

“What is it?”
“This is just a proto-type. But it’s a sculpture that I made, with a live plant growing through it.
“In this case, sweet Myrtle, it’s a synthesis of nature and craft, a marriage of the wild and the man-made; a living breathing objet d’art.
“It’s my life’s calling.”

What it really is, I’m afraid, is a rather bad idea which Harold the gardener has chanced upon whilst reading about Japanese horticulture in the bath. It’s an idea so bad in conception that everyone else except poor Harold can see it straight away. But with the type of deluded confidence in his invention you regularly see in the comedy round-up sequence of ridiculous ideas on Dragons’ Den, he presses ahead into fiscal oblivion. The story is told primarily as continuous, four-panel black and white shorts, two per page, with the occasional full-page colour short story, which works well given that it’s spread over a number of years in an episodic manner. The art is as wonderful as you’d expect from Adrian, though it looks far more like Sammy Harkham’s style in this particular tale.

The second story is called ‘Amber Sweet’ and here the full-colour art is more typically Tomine, though the colour palette and odd side-profile facial expression can also make you think momentarily of Chris Ware. Our nameless female lead bares a rather uncanny resemblance to adult entertainment actress Amber Sweet, and it’s making her college experience rather unpleasant to say the least, as everyone seems pretty convinced they’re one and the same person and Amber Sweet is merely her stage name.

This is a great little short story, which if the theory that everyone really does have a doppelgänger out there is true and that encountering them will only bring you misfortune, then having them be a porn actress certainly isn’t going to help matters! In the end, our Jane Doe feels the only way she can ever get closure is to take a road trip and confront Ms. Sweet.


Optic Nerve #13

“Opportunity is… what? Something we create, not something that happens. Right? And there’s always going to be hurdles, but what do we do when He hands us a challenge?”
Utilize, don’t analyze!”
“That’s right.”

Our protagonist walks out at that point, and I can’t say I blame her. It’s not actually a prayer meeting, though: it’s Alcoholics Anonymous. She’s a young-ish woman, more than a little worn by what life has thrown at her. At the moment it’s housing problems.

The woman is pursued by another attendee who looks older than he says he is. He has a certain self-confidence – some would say the gift of the gab – though I would have punched him two pages in. But he offers to buy her coffee, and then puts her up at his gaffe. He probably shouldn’t have snapped at her in bed, but he apologises. He’s very contrite and as good as his word.

“Your key, Madame.”
“I told you… this is just until I get everything squared away.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just… go ahead!”

She opens the front door and there’s a vase of fresh flowers on the coffee table, and a banner saying “Welcome Home”. She stands, stunned, in the doorway.

“Sorry, I’m… trying not to cry.”

The OPTIC NERVE graphic novels are amongst Page 45’s biggest sellers. It was fascinating watching Adrian’s style develop so swiftly during his teens in 32 STORIES (such a beautiful package, at the moment: facsimile editions of all the original mini-comics with extras) then, as he refined his line, he settled in for a recognisable Tomine style, similar to mid-Dan Clowes. OPTIC NERVE #12, however, proved to be a marked departure, and so is the lead story here wherein we witness colour-coded snapshots of a relationship as it develops from consolation and practical assistance into something else entirely. What is the word so often used about addiction? Oh, yes, “dependency”.

I promise you this: a degree of hilarity, a great many lies and one massive surprise. It will also keep you on the edge of your seat.

The brief snapshot effect works beautifully, throwing you through their story, and Tomine’s famous observational skills are once more in full evidence. For all that chapter’s shenanigans, I found it no less true to life (I am afraid) than Adrian’s previous, gentler work.

I can see some Beto in the woman’s expressions and some Chris Ware in our other, paunchy protagonist, softened by a less regimented line – particularly when the man high-tails it across the park.

The second story is in full, flat colour as a woman narrates her return to California from Japan to her child. She leaves her parents who do not approve of her decision to fly to San Francisco. She is met at the airport by her estranged husband who has secured them a tiny apartment. It is quiet, measured, profoundly moving and ends on an enigmatic ellipsis.


Optic Nerve #14

‘Killing And Dying’ covers the budding but excruciating comedy career of Jesse, a rather introverted young lady with a debilitating stutter. Her parents – having seen many a new obsession come and go with perturbingly repetitive frequency – fall into their habitual roles and cycle of enthusiasm / pessimism / argument, before letting nature run its ever-turbulent course where their daughter is concerned.

What follows is another shot of Tomine’s classic blend of wince-worthy humour. I was practically peeking through my fingers when I got to Jesse’s first stand-up gig as her parents sit in the audience waiting in a state of hyper-tension for the inevitable car crash to occur. It doesn’t, for reasons I won’t elaborate on for fear of a spoil a great joke, but, rest assured, it’s a merely the metaphorical mother of all multiple-car pile-ups deferred…

The second story, told in a somewhat looser art style with lots of black shading and a single, secondary, light olive tone, tells the story of a divorced military veteran, living out of cheap motels, who unexpectedly bumps into a girl who house-sat an apartment he and his wife were renting when they were on vacation. Having recently cleaned out her car, she finds a set of keys she’d forgotten to give back to them. Pulled perhaps in equal part by memories past, the curiosity of who had replaced them as tenants, and the thrill of doing something illicit, he stakes out the apartment, making note of the comings and goings of the occupant, and when he finally feels safe he lets himself in.

It might be breaking and entering more on a scale of adult hedge-hopping, no maliciousness intended, but obviously it’s not going to end well. That’s the thrill with Tomine: bracing yourself for the moments the characters well and truly splash down in the fire, often before even realising they’ve been daft enough to leap from the comparative safety of the proverbial frying pan. As always, one comes away from an issue of OPTIC NERVE feeling a strange mixture of sadness and relief, the latter being purely for not having such a sad life as a Tomine character!


Buy Optic Nerve: Killing And Dying and read the Page 45 review here

Rachel Rising vol 6: Secrets Kept (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

How black do you like your humour?

Aunt Johnny is the resident mortician in the town of Manson. She’s just pulled up at the scene of a traffic accident to be greeted by two cops in the rain.

“Some girl lost her head and drove into a truck.”
“Other way round.”
“What’s that?”
“Other way round, I’d say.”

Ouch. As it transpires, they’re both right.

RACHEL RISING is the only horror comic currently on the stands to surpass THE WALKING DEAD. Let’s see if I can persuade you of that.

It began early one morning in a sequestered glade as an austere and impassive young woman waited patiently above a dried-up river bed until a leaf spontaneously combusted and another women, Rachel Beck, clawed herself slowly and painfully from her grave, then stumbled falteringly through the trees to make her way back home.

I can assure you of two things. The first is that Rachel’s no zombie: she’s perfectly sentient; she just can’t remember who killed her. The second is this: she’s most definitely dead.

Along with her best friend Jet, beloved Aunt Johnny and a girl called Zoe whose tender years and delinquent behaviour belie her true age and an enthusiastic tendency towards psychopathic violence, Rachel’s been trying to piece together what happened to her, and it all harks back to a witch hunt in Manson and thence to the first woman in the world called Lilith.

Lilith failed in her first attempt to wreak revenge upon Manson for its genocidal past, but now she’s back and she’s going to attempt a more charming approach for which she will need the help of her sister. Any guesses who that is?

With five prior volumes I believe you’ve some catching up to do.

Given that this is from Terry Moore – the creator of ECHO and the epic STRANGERS IN PARADISE which managed to juxtapose tragedy, romance, comedy and crime so successfully that there are few series our customers are more fond of – I can promise you that you are in for a harrowing but hilarious and humanity-filled treat. Terry’s books always focus on real women full of attitude but also failings and foibles and kindness rather than two-dimensional bravado, and that’s reflected in his art for he draws fulsome curves where they are, rather than where our modern plastic, photo-shop surgeons dictate they should be.

Terry’s is the sort of art where you can feel the soil when it grits beneath your finger nails.

This volume contains what is for me probably the most terrifying single suicide in comics, again in the rain and high above the unforgiving, rock-hard destination below. What makes it terrifying is not just its slippery surface but also its motivation whose agonising details we learn via Rachel. For Rachel – with one foot in the grave and another in some sort of earth-bound afterlife – has a bond both with the quick and the dead. She has the unenviable ability upon touch to divine what’s gone before and then see what will come next. So be careful which questions you ask her.

It also contains one of the most blindingly beautiful moments in comics, right near the end, involving a single pair of eyes previously hidden from us for all five volumes. Not by deceit but by pragmatism, and because no one had ever bothered to look before.

So cleverly withheld from us by a visual device I will not divulge, it is a moment of perfect, spiritual satori and in its single, simple panel it moved me like few other comics this year.

“Why is your touch the other only thing I can feel anymore?”
“Because love is stronger than death.”

You’ll know it when you see it.


Buy Rachel Rising vol 6: Secrets Kept and read the Page 45 review here

Phonogram: Immaterial Girl #3 (£2-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Chris Wildgoose.

If you adore the music and magic of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE I give you music as magic in the form of Gillen and McKelvie’s original break-through project, PHONOGRAM.

And if you grinned yourself senseless at what McKelvie did with the panel gutters during Loki & Wickan’s somewhat innovative and unorthodox escape from limbo in YOUNG AVENGERS, just you wait until you see Emily attempting to escape from music-video hell, jumping up, down, around and through vinyl record covers! Oh, so very clever.

Don’t think her (literal) other half Claire is going to make it easy for her!

But the reason I’m slipping in a highly unusual review of a title’s third issue is to remind you that the back-up stories in each periodical will not be reprinted in the collected edition and in this instance that means you will miss out on PORCELAIN artist Chris Wildgoose’s 5-page tour de force here forever and ever and ever. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?

Handily we have both previous PHONOGRAM books permanently in stock (reviewed) or, I promise, you can launch straight in with PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 (also reviewed) and PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL #2 which we’re keeping on our shelves for as long as we can!

That was a public service announcement on behalf of your cultural – if not financial – wealth.

Interior art shown here by Chris Wildgoose. Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose’s BRIAR VOL 1 (Page 45 Exclusive Signed Bookplate Edition) on sale now.

WICKED + DIVINE Pantheon t-shirts are also on sale, as it happens. While stocks last. We ship worldwide. Etcetera.


Buy Phonogram Immaterial Girl #3 and read the Page 45 review here

Cursed Pirate Girl 2015 Annual #1 (£7-50, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastien.

Were this not set deep below the salty seas but in some land-locked, fresh water reservoir the detail alone would buoy you to the surface. It is ridiculous! I cannot imagine how large the original art must be.

There’s a fantastical, fold-out, triple-page spread of The Sea King’s Palace, as organic as any coral reef, whose intricate textures will have any bleary eyeballs bathed back to health as you soak them for the half hour it will take to absorb it all in.

It may not be printed on deckled paper like the original CURSED PIRATE GIRL h/c instalment (reviewed: reprint soon!) but the thick, cream-coloured stock more than makes up for the absence.

And this is where I must come clean, I’m afraid, for this is very much the next episode, nor is it the finale, but there’s a comprehensive catch-up page which will tell you all you need to know before embarking upon the next leg of our Cursed Pirate Girl’s quest to find her father, a pirate Captain of the mythical Omerta Seas.

If you love long, flowing tresses and Buccaneer fashion, this one’s for you!


Buy Cursed Pirate Girl 2015 Annual #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sky In Stereo (£13-50, Revival House Press) by Mardou…

“I watch little cells like bricks, spire up over the city I live in.
“And cartoon spinning planets draw closer than our moon.
“This is heaven. I know it. This is more than just a drug. It must be.
“I must be good inside. Righteous, even.
“Otherwise this is not the sky I’d see, right?
“My low self-esteem ends tonight.”

Acid. Lysergic acid diethylamide if we’re being formal. To a certain generation, those coming of age in the early nineties, it was the maximum-intensity drug of choice before Ecstasy and the rave culture really took over, I suppose. I dare say there’s a fair few people out there whose perceptions were altered forever by their casual social consumption of this mind-bending chemical, and various others.

If so, you’ll probably find yourself intimately familiar with the situation young Iris finds herself in: using pints down the pub combined with illicit use of readily available recreational drugs like weed and acid to offset an otherwise rather dreary existence, skiving off college and flipping burgers for pocket money in 1990s Manchester. I note Sacha Mardou was born in Macclesfield in 1975, so I’m mildly suspicious there might be some autobiographical notes contained within this work!

I think perhaps this is one of those works which will either resonate with you, for whatever reason, or simply won’t. It certainly did with me. Iris is stuck in that peculiar limbo of late teenagehood: too young to be fully liberated of the irksome shackles of parents and education, but not nearly old enough to have to face the responsibilities of the world for herself. Not, of course, that as teenagers we realise just how onerous and time-consuming all those myriad responsibilities can be!

So, like most of her college friends and work colleagues at the burger joint, like teenagers the world over, Iris moans about her lot whilst wondering just where the hell she fits in. Her friend Glen, however, despite also working at the burger joint, seems glamorous, alluring, and possibly a little bit dangerous. Iris would certainly like to be more than friends with him, but every time she feels like she’s inching closer towards that possibility, the very next moment it then suddenly feels like he’s moving further out of reach.

Glen seems to be the one person who Iris is genuinely inspired by, even if it’s merely in her desire to try new drugs. After her moment of acid-induced satori leaning out of her bedroom window, as the ego barriers between her and the rest of the Universe temporarily dissolve, she feels a lightness of being she’s never known before. Iris knows she needs to tell Glen all about it, now that they’re equals, because he’ll understand completely. So a couple of days later, setting off from her house, she decides to follow the signs that will take her to him, even though she has no idea where he actually lives…

Glen, meanwhile, has been dabbling with the dark side, trying some heroin. Fortunately for him, it’s merely a passing two- or three-time fancy which doesn’t develop into a habit, maybe because of how chronically nauseous it made him feel. Again, that was another point of reference which seemed all too acutely, personally relevant. Growing up in a perfectly normal suburb of Leeds, I was certainly aware of some of my wider circle of friends who – in addition to being exposed to the usual sundry pharmacopeia which it was practically impossible to avoid – had the misfortune to be exposed to heroin.

No different from myself, no less capable or otherwise at such a tender age of weighing up the true pros and cons of such experimentation, but it certainly wrecked a fair few of their lives: two premature deaths, one person still serving a very long sentence for subsequent, large-scale heroin dealing, others still grappling with heroin and methadone addiction nearly three decades later. Obviously there were those who were like Glen too, who tried it and had the good fortune to not have a particularly pleasant experience or two and never did it again, who’ve gone on to be perfectly normal members of society. I’m just glad I never had the chance to try it because I can’t honestly say whether I would or wouldn’t have been daft enough to do it at the time.

I’ll throw in one more personal observation I had forgotten all about which this work brought back. I actually applied for a job as a teenager as a burger-flipper in a certain well known chain but got turned down. The lady interviewing me saw I went to a private school and asked in a tone dripping with ire whether I felt she should be giving a job to someone like me, or to someone who actually deserved it. It took me a few seconds to understand what she actually meant, not actually having had any experience of any sort of discrimination as a white, heterosexual male. “You know, middle class,” she then added, just in case I was some sort of dim-witted demi-toff who was missing the point! In retrospect I wish I’d politely replied that my mother worked on Leeds’ outdoor market and my father was a sales rep, and that they were scrimping and saving extremely hard because they wanted to give me a decent education which they hadn’t had themselves. However, I just stood there mute like some sort of dim-witted, aspirational, lower middle class teenager with loving parents who had yet to learn the skills of cutting down bosses with my as then unhoned rapier wit… I did at least take my extremely infrequent business from that day to this to the other large well known burger chain…

So this was a fascinating trip, if you’ll pardon the pun, down memory lane for me. A perfectly observed time capsule of being a certain age in that particular era. But I think if you had any sort of… wasted… teenage moments yourselves, irrespective of your age, you’ll certainly smile wryly in more than a few places. This is volume one, so I’m intrigued to see precisely where Iris’ story is going to go, and under the influence of what. I suspect, though, given the circles Iris moves in, that Ebeneezer Goode may well indeed be making an appearance before too long… As a great philosopher once wrote… naughty naughty, very naughty…


Buy Sky In Stereo and read the Page 45 review here

Hilda And The Troll s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson.

Album-sized softcover of the comic formerly known as HILDAFOLK, this is the first story in Luke Pearson’s ever-expanding, award-winning HILDA graphic novel series (each one reviewed!) with a map featuring both destinations and denizens, a double-page spread showcasing Hilda’s delightfully cluttered workstation which made me beam with joy and those critical notes on ‘Trolls & Bells’.

Oh, the difference a dash of spot-varnish makes! Adult and tiny eyes alike will shine like marbles when they see the sheen. We love attention to detail.

Here we find young Hilda following in her mother’s artistic footsteps by taking her sketchbook out into the grassy, rock-strewn hillside to draw. She sketches her pet Twig perched on a tiny island in the rippling plunge pool below a cascading waterfall, she spies a lost Sea Spirit that must have drifted down the fjord; and then finally, excitedly, she discovers a true Troll Rock!

She’d been reading up on trolls the previous day, but then the prospect of camping out under rain had distracted her, as did yet another visit by that strange, silent wood man who keeps walking through their front door completely uninvited (thank you very much indeed!) to lie quietly down by the fireside. What is that guy’s problem?

Anyway, Hilda gives Twig a bell to perch on the Troll Rock’s big, long nose to warn them in case it in transforms (as they’re said to at night!) and starts moving. She then sets about sketching it from every conceivable angle: from afar, from behind and from below – even from on top of its schnozzle! Oh, but it’s tiring work, and soon our pioneer and portrait artist starts to fall asleep, only to be woken up during the bright orange sunset in the middle of a blizzard… by the jingle-jangle of bells!!!

Oh so exciting and full of surprises, this will warm the cockles of the coldest of hearts: the cosiness of camping out at night, and the sound of rain on canvas; a giant lost above the tree-tops, confounded by their conformity; the mystery of the wood man, the wonder of the world Luke Pearson has created, at once familiar yet populated by exotic and fantastical new fauna. I’m not quite sure what Twig is! A blue-grey fox-cat with a bright white belly and antlers? In fact as a colourist alone Luke Pearson deserves to win every award going, and his attention to detail is right up there with Chris Ware. The inside front and back covers would make the best Christmas wrapping paper ever! Indeed Nobrow probably have some, and their paper stock is of the highest possible quality.

An awe-inspiring adventure, then, with two important lessons in hospitality and research. Because you remember that bell…?

“One should always read the whole book. They’re not for dipping into.”


Buy Hilda And The Troll s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ghostopolis (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel…

“So, I was in my bedroom, and suddenly this skeleton horse leaps over me… Next thing I know, I’m in the afterlife!”
“Wow, I had to get here the old fashioned way. But if you’re still alive, then you don’t belong here!”
“I was gonna die anyway. I’ve got an incurable disease.”
“Still, your mother must be worried about you. And even if you only have a short time left on Earth, we should get you back to enjoy that short time!”
“Fine. So how do I get back to Earth?”
“There’s a couple’a ways. Ghosts find their way back by sneaking through cracks, breaking rules, an’ cheating the system. But I have a different idea. Do you know how this whole place came to be?”
“It was all built by one man… a mysterious Tuskagee airman named Joe. He made every mountain you see, laying one chunk of sand at a time. He stacked every brick in Ghostopolis so that ghosts would have a place to live.”

He does like his dark setups, our Doug. He’s not afraid of killing off a parent (CARDBOARD), marooning an entire family on a murderous isle (BAD ISLAND), and here he gives the main character, young Garth Hale, an incurable disease. In fact, Garth hasn’t got that long left to live. Now that’s just plain harsh.

Which is why Garth’s attitude when accidentally sucked into the afterlife – during an accident caused by washed up ghostbuster Frank Gallows, who was in fact chasing after the equine apparition in question – is quite understandably a little defeatist. I should probably state right now – just in case you’re considering buying this for your kids, having enjoyed the likes of Doug’s TOMMYSAURUS REX previously – that please be assured there is a happy ending, a very happy ending.

I think you have to admire the incorporation of difficult topics like mortality into what are essentially children’s stories. I remember as a young kid feeling emotionally stretched by the death of Aslan in ‘The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe’ when I first read it. Obviously there’s a happy end, via a resurrection there, but still, I think if concepts of dying and death can be worked into the odd children’s work, in a background or secondary way, it’s no bad thing. For example, when recommending the majestic AMULET series to people, we always caution that volume one does start with the death of a parent, just in case there might be particular reasons why people would not want the intended recipient reading that even brief nugget of woe.

Before the happy ending though, Garth, and Frank who’s decided to mount a rescue expedition to retrieve Garth from the spooky world of Ghostopolis, are going to have a rather hair-raising adventure. Along the way, they’ll enlist the help of Cecil, Garth’s deceased Grandfather, to do battle with Master Vaugner, the evil spirit who has taken control of Ghostopolis and made it a place of misery. As if being dead weren’t sad enough?!

It’s a rollercoaster adventure very much in the mould of AMULET, where ever more perilous danger lurks at seemingly every turn and allies are found in the nick of time in the unlikeliest of places, just when all hope seems lost. Oh, and that mysterious Tuskagee Joe, the long-vanished creator of Ghostopolis, might even make an appearance too before the end…

Lovely, dark, comedic fantasy that’s neither too complex nor too disturbing for relatively young ones. I would say this work, like most of Doug’s, is probably aimed at 7 or 8 years old upwards. The all-action style keeps the pace relentlessly breakneck which ensures the fun factor always outweighs any maudlin moments.


Buy Ghostopolis and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Circle vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres, Davide Gianfelice.

“Don’t worry, Mom. You’ve still got us.
“Dad’ll get what’s coming to him.”

If looks could kill…

The prequel to JUPITER’S LEGACY is a book about relationships set in a time when the superhero genre looked at them barely at all. Certainly no hero left his wife and children for a star-struck teenager then attempted to recommend her as a new superheroine to his teammates.

What Fitz fails to see is that they’re like a family themselves who’ve grown up together.

“We’ve all known Joyce since we were back in college and we’re not going to let you humiliate her like this.”

The thing is Fitz, The Flare, has enough self-awareness to know he’s doing wrong because his old man walked out of them when he was nine years old, and he doesn’t want to inflict that same pain and disillusionment on his own kids. He even says, “That’s the thing when you become a parent. The kids come first.”

So self-knowledge yes; self-guidance no. Do you fear it will go horribly wrong? The first image here is barely the beginning.

His Fitz’s team-mate Richard finds himself with a very different sexual dilemma. Here he is, enjoying a post-coital cigarette, in bed with an ex-marine he’s only just met.

“How do you know Danny?”
“We used to be in the marines together. He’s hooked me up with a few tricks before, but none of them were as handsome as you. Did you know he hooks up all the movie stars at that gas station? I saw Tyrone Stars out there and Walter Pigeon gave me twenty bucks just to give him a hand-job.”
“Oh yeah?”
“So what line of work are you in?”

The look on Richard’s face, wondering what would happen if the public – or even his peers – found out that one of America’s greatest heroes was into men…

This is 1959 and cinema’s greatest heroes were all in the closet – because, umm, public opinion and box office…? But also: illegal. Yes, it was illegal to love if you were a bloke and your loved one happened to shave too.

Imagine the power that gave others over you – employers, employees, complete strangers and, oh, I don’t know, the American secret service? If they found out it could be immediate arrest, trial, public humiliation, ostracism, disgrace then prison or blackmail for life. There are movies about it: 1961’s ‘Victim’ starring Dirk Bogarde for a start.

Speaking of cinema, here’s Kathryn Hepburn giving Richard her take at a very private party:

“I have to say I find the whole thing ridiculous, Richard… Sure, half of Hollywood’s in lavender marriages, but at least we’re handsomely paid to be hypocrites. You’re out there saving lives every day. Why should you have to lie about who you’re snuggling up with every night?”

“It’s like politicians and preachers, Katie. The public just hold us to a higher standard. People want their superheroes to be whiter than white.”

Quite literally, back then.

“Well, I’m just worried what it does to your health, darling. I’ve seen what living a lie can do. We’re a queer town selling the world a heterosexual ideal. Haven’t you ever wondered why we’re all on pills and booze? A double life is a terrible strain and you’re living a triple life. The stress must be unbearable.”

Torres can capture a perfect likeness, which will come in very handy when it comes to FBI director and notorious muck-merchant J. Edgar Hoover. The art is deliciously innocent, clean-lined and evokes this particular sub-genre’s period perfectly. There are a lot of cheesy smiles and big, broad grins until the considerable repercussions kick but I promise you this: so many of the cast will surprise you.

So yes, from the writer of SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN KICK-ASS, CHRONONAUTS, SUPERIOR, NEMESIS, MPH, Marvel’s CIVIL WAR. WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN – all of them highly recommended – comes the prequel to JUPITER’S LEGACY. It is a very different beast, but equally deserves your attention because reading one informs your understanding and so appreciation of the other.

In JUPITER’S LEGACY, following the Wall Street Crash, Sheldon Sampson set about giving America something to believe in, people to give them hope: superheroes. What happens there is disastrous but so far here they’ve done their job admirably and are much respected by the public while being despised  as uncontrollable by the FBI.

Sheldon’s brother Walter thinks they should make the role more official by allying themselves with the FBI who’ve reached out with an offer while making contingency plans if rejected. Sheldon’s dead against it on principal’s sake – they need to remain above politics, autonomous. It’s George Hutchence who elaborates:

“Hoover’s an asshole. Don’t you get it? He’s got dirt on everyone from coast to coast and now he’s trying to get you too. He can’t control us and it’s driving him crazy. He’d bug these headquarters given half a chance.”

As I say, contingency plans.

Bravo for Mark Millar and the post-coital cigarette scene: if you’re going to do this, do it properly with no shying away nor emasculation.


Buy Jupiter’s Circle vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Comic Book History Of Comics (£16-50, IDW) by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey.

“Stan Lee found himself assigned to the army’s training film division, where he served with such luminaries as director Frank Capra and great New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Addams. Lee wrote short films, posters and pamphlets on such topics as army finance and venereal disease.”

Venereal disease! It’s amazing what you can pick up here.

Did you know that Terry Gilliam preceded Robert Crumb as assistant editor of Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP, and that John Cleese modelled for one of its photo comics?

Yes, I’ll tell you right now what I love about this: its breadth and above all sense of context, be it personal, historical, social, economic and even international. Tom Spurgeon wrote the introduction, and he’ll not put his name to any old tripe.

It’s also very, very funny in places. At first it rankled with me that this was comics and not prose, especially since Dunlavey’s style of cartooning isn’t my natural comfort zone. UNDERSTANDING COMICS was perfect because as a graphic novel it was self-demonstrative, and the two CARTOON GUIDE TO ECONOMICS books (yes, there was a second on MACROECONIMICS!) worked well because the images made the abstract comprehensibly concrete. Here I wondered at first why we couldn’t just have photographs of the people and reproductions of the covers – until the jokes kicked in, and I realised that Dunlavey was drawing in short-hand what Van Lente would have had to labour over in prose. A bit like I’m about to here!

“Though through our allegedly more “enlightened” modern eyes, romance comics may be seen as simply reinscribing the more patriarchal aspects of American society (as 99.9% of them were written and drawn by men)…
“Oh, John… I’m so happy you allowed me to drop my career to pop out babies for you until you throw me aside for you secretary in two decades!”
“Me too, sugar plum! Now shut your yap and go fix me a sandwich!”

… they almost always encouraged marrying for love rather than any other consideration, and tried to steer heroines away from the wrong kind of man, the template for whom remains basically the same in our day.

Mr. Right: working-class Joe
Mr. Wrong: Well-heeled sharpie
Mr. Right: Wants 2.5 kids
Mr Wrong: Wants in your pants
Mr. Right: 1-beer-a-day guy
Mr. Wrong: drunk right now.”

Every genre and movement is dealt with in detail as well as they’re unexpected impacts on each other, and never have I seen the whole Wertham / Bill Gaines / Senate hearing / Comics Code Authority debacle dealt with in such great depth yet so swiftly. Actually I’ve never seen anyone trying to salvage Wertham’s reputation before, and Van Lente points out precisely why. You’ll be surprised at what good he did do. The connections between comics and the two big animation studios gave me some nuggets on Disney I had no idea about – like the fact that Bambi was a bust and they were only saved by the Pentagon. And speaking of WWII poor Jack Kirby is as down on his luck as ever!

“So you can draw?”
“Yes sir, of course I can draw.”
“I was thinking, ‘Great, some officer wants me to draw his portrait’,” Kirby remembered.

Instead he was sent ahead into live combat zones as a scout to draw maps and pictures.

I learned that Archie Comics’ Archie Andrews was based on the “mercilessly wholesome screen persona of Mickey Rooney”, 50 US States tried to regulate crime comics and Canada managed to ban them. Why does everyone consider Canada so liberal? You try crossing their border with a suitcase full of yaoi! The whole of EC Comics’ horror line makes far more sense when you learn about Bill Gaines’ unresolved parental issues, and there are statistics here to make you weep:

“Industry studies showed that in 1947, a stunning 95% of American boys and 91% of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 were habitual comics readers… along with 87% of teenaged men and 81% of teen women; and a still-impressive 41% of men aged 18-30 and – before romance comics – 28% of women the same age read comics regularly.”

In case you don’t know, today 1% of both genders combined would be an over-optimistic estimate.


Buy The Comic Book History Of Comics 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.

Wild’s End vol 1: First Light (£14-99, Boom) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Don’t Get Eaten By Anything (£17-99, Conundrum) by Dakota McFadzean

You Are A Kitten! Pick A Plot Book 3 (£14-99, Conundrum) by Sherwin Tija

Tribes Of Kai (£18-99, Flesk) by Lance Haunrogue & Darren Bader

Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison

The Red Shoes And Other Tales (£9-00, Papercut) by Metaphrog

Debbie’s Inferno (£4-50, Retrofit) by Anne Emond

Perfume Of Lilacs (£15-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Samuel Leblanc

Teen Titans: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Terry Dodson

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 5: Through The Looking Glass (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Valerio Schiti

Jessica Jones: Alias vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos, Mark Bagley, Rodney Ramos

Assassination Classroom vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Claymore vol 27 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

Master Keaton vol 4 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Tokyo Ghoul vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida


ITEM! Simone Lia’s short comic on the art of bluffing! Hahaha! Plenty of that going on last weekend!

ITEM! Congratulations to the Holy ‘Tait’ Trinity – Julie, Sharon & Carol – on The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (#LICAF) 2015! What a weekend! So much love! So much kindness!

Last year Page 45 broke its best ever sales weekend – including Christmas! – at LICAF 2014!

This year? We trounced that record by another 10%!!! Jeepz! I’d probably exhibit there, yes!



Thanks to everyone who contributed including the top-tier creator who spend £14-99 on the Friday afternoon before we’d even arranged half the books for sale on Saturday morning. I cannot name him for fear his missus’d kill him.

Thanks to every comic creator who signed in our LICAF Clock Tower Georgian Room and made us laugh all weekend long. Their 24 Hour Comic Marathon was a triumph!

Thanks to every single LICAF Volunteer, including Lou and Chris. For me they are the festival’s greatest asset and treasure.

I’d also like to thank our Jonathan as ever for bolstering my confidence while emphasising to you all that without Jonathan’s logistical, technological and problem-solving skills Page 45 wouldn’t even be at LICAF – I couldn’t do it – whilst Dominique’s immaculate organisational skills made sure the right books actually went with us in exactly the right quantities, safely secured for zero damages.

Jonathan also designed our Page 45 signage which was beautiful to behold.


LICAF 2016: we have even more ideas including a way to make it possible for you to buy any of our 7,000 different graphic novels in Kendal at LICAF 2016! Oh yes!

Oh, and LICAF’s already secured a very, very special international guest for 2016!

Not. Even. Kidding You. Announcement in January when I’ll probably post all our photos.

LICAF 2016: Friday October 14th to Sunday October 16th 2016.

Oh,my kitty-kins, colour-code those dates in your diary right now!

– Stephen

Page 45: Proud Patrons of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

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