Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week five

Posy Simmonds expanded re-release plus new Joe Decie, John Allison, Taiyo Matsumoto, Andy Poyiadgi, Joe Latham, Luke Hyde, more!

Dogs Disco (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

Each copy comes signed and sketched-in, with unique song lyrics.

Come, rifle through, pick those that amuse you greatly!

It’s the return of that cheeky Joe Decie, the pint-sized prankster for whom truth is of paramount importance.

Part of the art of Joe Decie is perfectly exemplified on the cover itself: a portrait of the promenade seen from sea, either of Brighton or his home town of Hove. If you open it up, you’ll discover it’s a wraparound landscape cover. “Observations from home and around town,” it promises, and it does not disappoint. Within you’ll find single-page four-panel comics in black, white and delicate grey washes, about Joe, his family and his surroundings, all astutely observed, endearingly individualistic and effortlessly funny.

But the clue lies in what flies to the left of that promise, which I am not about to show you.

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Joe is ever so adept at finding common ground: for example, the escalation of special school days demanding a ready supply of costumes and kits, and the knack of being an experienced seamstress with the ability to work to a tight deadline at the drop of an historical hat.

“Mummy, Victorian Week starts tomorrow.”
“I’m on it.”
“Dada! We’re late for school! Today’s Nocturnal Animal Day. Knit me a fox onesie?”

How do you spend your nights?

“At about 4am I like to wake up and have a worry.”

What follows is true, each and every word, ticking so many of my recognition boxes, but I love the deft twist: the wry / rueful lie that we “like” to wake up as if it were a matter of choice and indeed personal preference.

“I’ll worry about a leak in the roof or the price of print cartridges.
“And maybe about something embarrassing I said at a party seven years ago.
“Then I’ll worry that I worry too much. Or that I’ll be awake all night.
“Then, minutes before my alarm is due to go off, I’ll drift into a lovely deep sleep…”

Yes, minutes before, I achieve peaceful bliss.

“Daddy! We’re late for school!”

I don’t think the Decies are the best time-keepers in Morningshire.

Here’s another incontrovertible truth, that “There’s nothing more British than fish and chips on the beach”. Except that there’s one, as Decie concedes, and it’s one of my own family’s favourite shared memories. It’d be ever so surprised if it’s not one of yours.

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There’s a heart-warming sense of pride in Joe’s family observations, most of it misplaced, and a delightful whimsy to what he records as emerging local trends, like the increasing lengths people now go to when smuggling alcohol into festivals, and the specialist shop Just Dice, “my ‘go to’ dice shop, really amazing selection. Not to be confused with ‘Just Ice’, the ice shop next door (which isn’t that great).” Then there’s the ultimate irony for a new tattoo trend which he confidently predicts will be in the style of children’s temporary transfers.

What should not be overlooked while soaking in Joe’s unassailable wisdom and admiring his strict adherence to verisimilitude, is his draftsmanship and some of the most attractive lettering in the business. I’ve met the man many times, and every self-portrait is spot-on: he nails the manner in which his glasses perpetually hang halfway down his nose. The way in which he draws arms is particularly satisfying, every subtle curve just-so in single, fluid lines leaving the washes to do all the depth-work. Same goes for his cracked, broken plant-pots, to be honest.

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From the creator of the similarly autobiographical POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, THE LISTENING AGENCY, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and I BLAME GRANDMA, then, I give you the prospect of the perfect stocking filler in this small book of big wonders and maximum mirth. 

The biggest wonder of all, however, is that Joe can keep a straight face.

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SLH

Buy Dogs Disco and read the Page 45 review here

Veripathy (£4-00) by Andy Poyiadgi.

Current copies come signed, with a spiffy free badge!

Every copy comes with the sub-title / back-cover caution: “Your feelings are no longer yours.”

The desire to understand others on a deeper level – and projections as to how that may be achieved with future technology – have been themes bubbling away for a while now, most recently in Winston Rowntree’s WATCHING and Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward’s ANCESTOR, both of which have proved very strong lures. This shares elements of both.

In ‘Veripathy Today’ we learn of the process called veripathic imaging, in which a person’s unique veripathic signature is captured and may be preserved in an archive so that visitors to the data bank can “be with loved ones no longer present”. Essentially it captures what could be considered your “self”: your thoughts and your feelings, raw, complete and undiluted by the various editorial processes we use to restrict access to them – the simplest one being by staying shtum.

Judicious discretion is a positive quality which saves hurting others’ feelings, but restricted emotional or expressive mobility can also lead to a sense of isolation. Imagine no longer having to find the right words to adequately express the complexities and nuances of what you’re feeling on any given matter or connected issues.

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The veripathic helmet allows a free exchange of these potentially conflicting thoughts in their entirety. Take a couple who have been trying to synchronise using these devices for months. Suddenly there is success and they learn new things about each other.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.”

Can you imagine the liberation? Similarly, when linking to one or multiple individuals sharing the same veripathic space, the comfort of knowing you’re not alone in your self-doubts or even deeper neuroses must be phenomenal. It’s enormously encouraging to exchange candid verbal confessions with friends or to hear David Sylvian’s ‘Orpheus’ and read graphic novels like Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES which suggest that we do, so many of us, harbour the same deep-felt anxieties… but to actually know that this is true through such direct, technologically telepathic access would be something else entirely.

Of course we might all then implode in one gigantic mental malaise, but even on a small scale Poyiadgi has given the less beneficial implications much thought. I’m not a big one for parties (he says, understatedly), but after an ebullient meal with six or seven friends, although most often I’m high as a kite for days, I’m sometimes left with a come-down once it’s over and my friends have dispersed. Now imagine spending too much time in this prospective, unfiltered emotional mind-space, and then being left alone with your own thoughts and feelings.

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So yes, there’s the recreational use of veripathy, but then there’s the medical applications in which a new breed of mental health doctors – those with the skills to enter your mind-space and manipulate or massage it – could soothe your worries or cure more pronounced problems. What a boon that would be! And how dangerous that could be! Not just for the patient, either.

“How are you able to take so much? I mean, doesn’t it affect you?”
“Good-bye, Mr Cooke.”

VERIPATHY is a neat little comic which thoughtfully poses ever so many questions in a level-headed fashion matched in its visual delivery. The colours are, on the whole, warm and soft, and there are two pages of one-on-one comfort and compassion whose forms are warm and soft too. There’s a domestic living room sequence which is ever so cosy, but there are also two pages where the potential emptiness is explored that are positively wintery. I particularly liked the balance in the doctor’s surgery sequence whereby the patients are colourful but orderly in a very long line and backgrounds clinical, the practitioner unknowable.

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Interspersed between these are the two ‘Veripathy Today’ infomercials I mentioned earlier, scripted with according factual newspeak free from pro-or-con commentary and illustrated with treated photographs, for there would be other professional applications too, when you think about it.

I rather reckon that this comic will be leaving you thinking about it for a long time.

Poyiadgi’s LOST PROPERTY is still on sale and awaiting your discovery.

SLH

Buy Veripathy and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (£17-99, Oni) by John Allison.

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In which our six sleuths from school have almost got their next mystery licked by the time the book opens.

“I can’t believe we have to stay here and hold the ladder.”
“Safety is important, Linton. The instructions are printed on the side of it, look.”

Sure enough there is a safety message sticker from the British Ladder Council printed in black on bright yellow with an incautious ascendant plummeting to his doom:

“WARNING: DON’T TIT ABOUT ON LADDERS.”

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From the creator of BOBBINS, GIANT DAYS etc comes more of the best of British which we’ve reviewed extensively – and in the case of BOBBINS in great depth as to its mechanics – so I’ll restrict myself to a brief introduction, then a look at two specific elements of its art and craft I’ve not yet covered.

It’s summertime, and Jack, Linton and Charlotte have been left behind in Tackleford while Mildred, Sonny and Shauna swan off abroad.

“Maybe this will be your summer of love,” suggests Shauna.
“I am sorry to report that my skull has just filled up with sick.”

Lottie is having none of it. Her eyes blaze into the distance with a ferocious passion and earnestness:

Mystery is my boyfriend.”

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Lottie’s greatest mystery at the moment is what her Mum sees in her new “special companion” Colin who is as dull as three-day-old dishwater but who has been invited to live with them, leading to incredibly violent toilet visits and incredibly dull conversation.

Linton’s greatest mystery is how his newly promoted police Dad is going to cope with the Gravel Pit estate crime rate whose graph is soaring so stratospherically high that, as Linton says, “I wouldn’t want to ride my bike up that.”

Meanwhile at the Tackleford Cormorant offices, Paula’s unyielding reign of inertia at the local gazette continues to confine its fields of interest – and so interest in it – to the unbridled anarchy that is dog mess. Sales have sunk so low that staff reporters have to buy their own tea bags. Except now Paula has taken an unprecedented leave of absence due to “nervous exhaustion, stress and St Vitus’ Dance”, leaving Mike in charge… to do Erin’s bidding. Erin is… ambitious.

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So when “retired” children’s TV puppeteer Don ‘Gravy’ Wilkins is discovered in a ditch at night, catatonic with a rictus grin on his face, then two yoofs are found similarly afflicted and flung up in a tree, Erin smells headline news, Linton’s Dad sees the writing on the wall, and Jack, Lottie and Linton set about solving the mystery of the Night Stalker / Night Hero with some sense of urgency before Linton’s dear Dad is fired.

Unfortunately they are only thirteen with pre-determined bed times.

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It is the age of cast in BAD MACHINERY which Allison nails over and over again, wringing a seemingly ceaseless stream of liquid comedy gold from their restricted circumstances, behaviour, body language and speech patterns. It will be recognised by adults, young adults, even younger adults alike (for, unlike GIANT DAYS with its recreational drug references, BAD MACHINERY is highly recommended to families and essential to school libraries), and I love that that Jack and co are still just young enough to do some of their most serious thinking on slides.

There is the passion – often inversely proportioned to whatever merits it – the petulance, the pouts and the way everything is taken so personally. Not just serious disagreements but mere differences of opinion on, for example, whether their unwelcome nocturnal visitor is indeed a hero or a villain. Conversely, there’s the love. Jack looks not just worried but potentially heart-broken at his friend Linton’s concern for his Dad:

“Come on, Linton! Punch me in the arm! A free punch! Don’t cry!”

Awww….

“I’m not crying! ALL RIGHT? I’ve just got HOT EYES!”
“Do you know who else has hot eyes? Erin Winters.”
“You sicken me.”

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Again, the passion – the disproportionate outrage – in Linton’s eyes when he states that is too funny for words (it’s a reprise, and grows funnier each time), while Jack is clasping his hands in adulation. Erin Winters, it should be pointed out, has a chequered past with our sleuths and Linton in particular. It might involve the selling of his soul or something. But Jack’s reached that age when he has begun to have certain “thoughts” and certain “feelings”.

This brings us neatly to an episode in which Jack and Linton meet Lottie in a lingerie department because she’s been grounded.

“I only got out of the house by saying I was rude because I was worried about bras. So, me and mum are having a bonding trip. BRAS FOR ALL. We’d better be quick, they’re measurin’ her up and strappin’ her in right now.”

There’s a perfect beat which isn’t even a pause but a reversal of camera angles from Lottie’s physical gesticulation across her chest in both directions to Jack, embarrassedly bursting with barely self-contained steam, whom Linton and Lottie both pat-pat on the shoulders with beautifully expressed, unstated understanding:

“Jack, maybe you should go and sit down in kitchenware for a bit.”

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What you should understand is that – although these printed editions are embellished with extra pages and substantial tweaks – Allison publishes most of his stories initially online, page by page on a daily basis, which means each must tell a little story of its own complete with a comedic punchline which is sometimes verbal, sometimes visual and so often both. I cannot conjure in my admittedly addled mind a single other creator with such a high hit rate in that department except Charles Schultz. And although Schultz often mined a vein of an extended storyline, he wasn’t creating such long-form works as these with beginnings, middles and ends.

The upshot of this is that every solo John Allison work is almost incomparably rich and dense in entertainment while this hard-learned discipline has informed his offline collaborative projects too, regardless of whether each page must obey the same “rules”.

So here’s the other element I was just going to “touch on” before leaving you to read or re-read other John Allison Page 45 reviews (best to read BOBBINS as originally published in our blog so that the meticulously chosen illustrations are in synch: http://www.page45.com/world/2016/11/page-45-comic-graphic-novel-reviews-november-week-one/), and that’s Lottie’s language.

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Her pronouncements are so intense, elaborate and embroidered with emphasis as to be hyperbolic. I’m struggling to analyse Allison’s skill and its effect precisely, but it’s as if they are definitive statements. Example the first:

“Whoa, is Erin Winters prayin’?
“Maybe her heart is not pure evil, Jack.
“Maybe she does not have a TAIL as I have LONG SUSPECTED.”

The additional dropping ‘g’s, the phonetic and the slang compounds the comedy with its contrast to the precociously eloquent. Here’s adult Erin followed by Charlotte, carefully chosen so as not to give the game away.

“His face was flickering on and off with the Creeper’s, like a pirate radio station cutting in and out.”
“Worr you can tell she’s a writer. Well evockertive.”

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I will leave you to discover Jack’s pride in being “BEST AT COMPUTERS” and his more hubristic declaration, with attendant celebratory dance, to be “Best at Google. Best at Google. Best at Google” as well as subtle details like him bearing multiple cups of coffee while pushing door open with his foot (recognition button pushed!) and instead finish on his department-store horror at Linton’s suggestion.

“Let’s try CAMI-KNICKERS.”
“Erk, let’s NOT!”

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor and read the Page 45 review here

The Fox, The Wolf, The Woodsman (£7-00 each) by Joe Latham…

     

A fox, a wolf and a woodsman walk into a comic… You know what, I’m really not going to even try and go with the naff joke metaphor because something as wonderful as these three silent mini-masterpieces deserve so much better. Let me tone it down and start again…

A triple treasure trove of gorgeous artwork and interwoven narrative starring, funnily enough, a fox, a wolf and a woodsman, whose lives overlap in these simultaneously told tales including one extremely significant and particularly dramatic event.

the-fox-1I think if we were to construct a Venn diagram explaining the intersection it would be where cute, deadly and demented collide. Each work takes the viewpoint of its titular character, and is most definitely a complete story in its own right, and could most certainly be enjoy by enjoyed as such. It’s just that each of the three provides a unique insight into the other two, particularly with an understanding at precisely how we arrived at the crushing conclusion…

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So, aside from being extremely cleverly constructed, what else have these comics got going for them? Did I mention they were gorgeous? Absolutely, breath-takingly swooningly so! Joe’s art style and choice of colour palette minds me of Jeff SWEET TOOTH Lemire’s, except Joe’s penmanship and brushwork is a touch deliberately tidier and smoother stylistically. Simply beautiful. There were so many times I unconsciously stopped reading and just naturally paused to admire his handiwork, which is a real rarity for me.

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If Joe continues with this level of skill and craft I suspect he will go on to big things, not that these aren’t a trio of tasty treats in their own right. Also, were that not enough to satisfy even the most ardent comics appetite, he’s thrown in a cow pie, a proper dagnabbit cow pie with horns and everything, that just had me chuckling away merrily! I haven’t seen one of those since back in my diddy Desperate Dan Dandy days!  Try saying that with a mouthful of cow pie!

JR

Buy The Fox and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Wolf and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Woodsman and read the Page 45 review here

Losing Sleep (£9-99) by Joe Latham & Luke Hyde…

“You know I can hear them right…?”
“What are you talking about cretin?”
“The ants scream every single time you kill one of them, I can hear it.”
“Shut your face Ashton! Or I’ll shut it for you.”

Definitely one for fans of recent retro telly hit Stranger Things, ohhhh yes. Sensitive younger sibling Ashton regularly gets a beat-down from his obnoxious older brother Cregg, who in Ashton’s own words… “is a real jerk sometimes”. Pretty much all the time, to my mind.

Except… during Cregg’s latest physical assault on their way to school, waterboarding Ashton by holding his head in a massive pile of snow (so perhaps snowboarding rather than waterboarding then!), Ashton appears to partially enter an entirely different reality. Well, at least his head does, anyway.

He’s so excited about what he’s seen, and withheld from Cregg, obviously, that he can’t wait for school to finish, tea to be consumed, so he can get back to ‘the place’ to see whether what he experienced was real, or just some oxygen-deprived, sinus-snow-filled hallucination.

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It was real, very real. A strange, oddly coloured mirror-world, distorted and disturbed by maltreatment from the human realm. Oh, and where a huge, very scary looking creature lurks… Ashton, being Ashton, assumes the creature will be friendly, and promptly offers his assistance to help return the mirror-realm back to normal… I think you can probably surmise where this is going now, right…? Yep, it’s going to be time for Ashton to level up, find his inner hero and save everyone, even Cregg.

Excellent, small but perfectly formed fantasy yarn penned by Joe Latham and then brought to vividly diverse blue and white versus black and red drenched life by Luke Hyde. The contrasting colour schemes for the two worlds are particularly impactful at the moments of transition providing a real juddering schism between Ashton’s reality and the other-world.

JR

Buy Losing Sleep and read the Page 45 review here

Literary Life: Revisited h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.

Dear, literary-life-coverdear Posy Simmonds! Such a classy lady and such a class act: literate, erudite, eloquent, posh and not above putting the word ‘penis’ on the cover.

Thanks!

From the creator of the long-form graphic novels TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY plus the MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS of exceptionally well observed 1980s, socially satirical one-page comic-strip wonders, comes a new edition of the 2003 publication with 40 new cartoons and comic strips.

Clipped from the Guardian Review section, these are also one-page comics or cartoons both celebrating and satirising the world of book publishing: writers, readers, book shops and publishers all come under her all-seeing eye as she arches her eyebrow ever so playfully at authors’ egos and their dustjacket photographs, launch parties, creative challenges, publishing peccadilloes, inane and sometimes insane questions during festival panels, and the good-old, in-store author appearances to sign or read extracts.

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There arise matters of expectations, promotional activities and attendances. I’ve a cracking collection of recollections called ‘Mortification’, dripping with tears wept by those invited to make such public appearances only to find themselves humiliated by the lack of turn-out, often on account of zero publicity on the part of the store managers or festival organisers. I personally know of a couple owning a comic shop twenty-five years ago who invited a comicbook creator whose regular readership there numbered precisely three. Nor were they expecting to increase that audience: the couple simply wanted to meet him.

The interior art I’ve found for you isn’t of the highest quality, I’m afraid, and lacks the soft, pale indigo tones of this edition, nor does it adequately reflect Simmonds’ fine, flowing lines. She does ‘chic’ oh so well. I’ve always marvelled at her ability to present so much on the page whilst maintaining a harmonious composition full of space.

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One of my favourite pieces is called ‘Rustic Block’ in which an author sits at her laptop in a warm, cosy, countryside kitchen complete with AGA stove, hanging straw baskets and bunches of dried flowers. Through her rain-lashed window we can see sheep.

“9.05am  Chapter one: It was raining. The sheep were
“9.20am  It was raining. The sheep were in the field.
“10.15am  It was pouring. The sheep languished in the field. The gutters dripped. The clock ticked.”

Already weary when she started, our author is approaching exhausted. Her ashtray is beginning to overflow.

“10.50am  Hannah yawned, “Wish I’d never moved to the country. You feel positively catatonic. You can’t think of any
“11.45am  “Christ,” snarled Hannah. “Wish I’d never moved to effing, sodding Suffolk. Had a brain once. In Kentish Town I used to
“12.30am  Suddenly one of the Jacob ewes ran amok, stabbing, slashing and gouging a bloody path as it”

The trace of a smile appears on her lips.

‘Ask Doctor Derek’ is a fabulous conceit of great lateral thinking: a series starring a man and his stethoscope imparting words of reassuring wisdom to troubled writers who visit his surgery as they might a priest in a confessional.

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Visually there are elements of ‘60s romance comics, especially the dark, feathery, female eyelashes, long blonde hair and utter innocence. Naturally matters of maternity and paternity arise:

“Doctor, is it too soon to try for another?”
“Well, let’s see… You had your first last April… and it sold all right.”

Then there are those “pre-delivery jitters”:

“See, I’m three months overdue! I got my dates wrong! … My editor’s going spare!!”

As to authorial maladies like writers’ block, Doctor Derek diagnoses them with intestinal logic:

“You see, I was so regular, doctor! Eight thousand words a day… every day! But now I sit in that little room for hours and hours… and nothing comes out!”
“You’re on the second of a two-book contract… and you’ve taken a very, very bulky advance, yes? Well, this can weigh heavily on the system…. cause it to seize up!”

Suspecting complications, Doctor Derek digs deeper, suggesting that a second opinion on her synopsis might reveal additional causes behind the blockage. Her plots prove so twisted that the script has become knotted, compacted.

“And it took just another ten minutes to work it out with a pencil!”

Look, I did warn you. Posy is a dame, but the word ‘penis’ is on the cover.

SLH

Buy Literary Life: Revisited h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 6 h/c (£19-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

This is the finalsunny-vol-6-cover volume of Taiyo Matsumoto’s unsensationalist SUNNY, set in and around a Japanese orphanage, which has at times had me typing through tears.

The first key is this: few of these kids are without parents, but they’ve been orphaned anyway. They’ve been left in the custodial care of incredibly kind, dedicated individuals by mothers and / or fathers who can’t cope for medical reasons, won’t cope for selfish reasons or don’t cope because they are irresponsible fuckwits without the first clue as to how lucky they are or the first thought as to the seismic impact on their offspring.

To know that you have been rejected, yet still yearn to be taken back and dream of it. To be surrounded in town by other parents and children still together yet at loggerheads over nothing. To have nothing yourself but hand-me-downs like a pencil case inscribed with the name of its previous and owner, and to want so little except love. To feel embarrassed, ashamed and judged for being an orphan.

To see no spark of maternal instinct in your mother when you meet her again, except a token effort and lame excuses.

It’s all here in this as in other volumes.

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Art from a previous volume.

The second key is Matsumoto’s refusal to cute-ify the kids. They can be loud and brash while quietly broken inside, or they can be red-cheeked and dripping with snot. Or, in Kenji’s case, they can display and deep-seated sense of responsibility well beyond the reach and comprehension of their drunken dads.

Kenji is given the opportunity to go on a career path field trip to a refinery but he has a paper round and an inferiority complex to maintain:

“A low-class foster kid like me? No way… Gotta deliver the Evening Editions anyways.”
“You’re not “low class!”” counters Mr Adachi with a genuine passion. “Can’t you jus’ get someone to cover your route for a day?”
Workin’ for a livin’ don’t count as a career path?!”

He’s actually still smarting from his skin mags being confiscated.

Kenji’s dad is actually local, perpetually drunk every time Kenji sees him in public. But for once Mr Ito seems to recognise the importance of doing something for his son, offers to fill in on Kenji’s delivery and together they practise the day before. They have a great time rekindling old memories and there’s a brief glimmer of hope – of recognition in Mr Ito of his failings.

“Maybe s’time for me to turn over a new leaf!
“Runnin’ off and abandonin’ you and Asako…
“Sad excuse for a human being.”

While on the field trip, Kenji even buys his dad a nudie pen as a thank-you. But when he returns, well.,. You’ll see when Kenji impresses me no end: dignity and responsibility in one so young and mistreated. It makes your heart swell even as it is broken.

As the book progresses there is the very real sense of a coming conclusion, and possible tragedy, with ever so many poignant song lyrics coming through the radios.

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Art definitely from this volume, the rest being in black and white.

The loudest and brashest and possibly most broken of all is ash-haired Haruo – whom I’ve dealt with extensively throughout this series but most prominently in SUNNY VOLUME 5 – who’s much younger than he looks. It’s subtly conveyed by his reflective aviator shades being far too wide for his face, and a nose which could not belong to anyone far into their teens.

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Art from a previous volume, and in another language.

Normally all front, he’s now chewing quietly on his fingernails in unsure deliberation because he’s considering something momentous.

From the creator of GOGO MONSTER, TEKKON KINKREET and contributor to Humanoids’ anthology THE TIPPING POINT.

[Please note: all black and white art here is from previous volumes.]

SLH

Buy Sunny vol 6 and read the Page 45 review here

Little Tails In The Forest (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci.

A companion to LITTLE TAILS IN THE JUNGLE, this is a thoroughly accessible Young Readers’ educational adventure from the creators of the silent, more adult-orientated, thrillingly choreographed and quite stunningly illustrated LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX, LOVE: THE LION and (in February 2017) LOVE: THE DINOSAUR.

You are, however, on perfectly safe and cuddly ground here as Squizzo the squirrel wakes Chipper the puppy dog up and leads him through the forest to his cousin’s for lunch.

Now when I say forest, I mean American or Canadian forest because although we may have foxes, butterflies, bats, owls, woodpeckers, snakes and deer – and quite possibly stag beetles (I really don’t know: I’ve never seen one) – we’re not so hot any longer on wolves, wild boars or hungry bears in Britain. So I wouldn’t get your kiddywinks’ hopes up on that score.

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As in the other volume, in bright, white and sage-coloured comic strips most often above (but sometimes below) full-colour paintings, the knowledgeable Squizzo leads the initially more tentative Chipper through the forest with unfailing confidence in his sense of direction.

So of course they get lost.

I liked the somewhat circuitous map.

I also liked that Bertolucci has adapted his style from, say, LOVE: THE LION so that the animals’ eyes are of an ilk that you’d expect to see in children’s animation – much more stylised with an added element of the anthropomorphic.

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The emphasis is on adventure and excitement to entertain your young ones and introduce them to the majesty and colourful diversity of the forest, moving ever swiftly on to keep wide eyes shining bright and their own fur free from predators.

In the back of the book, however, time is taken to revisit some of the animals encountered earlier and learn a lot more. I had never thought, for example, about the dual dissuasion of a skunk’s defensive weapon: not only is a squirt of its nauseating perfume going to make any brave or stupid enough to attack feel sick to the stomach, but it will then stain them for days with its malodorous scent, so making their approach conspicuous to other critters they might fancy a bite of.

SLH

Buy Little Tails In The Forest and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, others.

Thanos fans, this is a classic companion to Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK (extensively reviewed) wherein your favourite, purple, craggy-chinned Death-doter casts his first considerable shadows. These two books are where the story of Thanos starts and I commend this to you almost as unequivocally as I do Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK which is tragic in its truest, time-twisting sense.

But let us begin at what is most emphatically an end, with The Death Of Captain Marvel.

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of all the people I’ve met in my lifetime. I’ve made quite a few friends along the way. I also keep remembering Adam Warlock. I was with him when he died. His was a hard and sad life, filled with pain and confusion.
“When death came for him he welcomed it as a friend. I’ll not do so.
“I’ve enjoyed this life. It’s had its bad moments, but it’s had far more good moments. I’m going to miss it.”

Surprisingly haunting, even to this day, this was a landmark publication from Marvel in 1982 for so many reasons: it was its first original graphic novel; it was Jim Starlin’s return to a character we all thought he’d long had his final say on; and it featured the death of one of Marvel’s flagship superhumans not in self-sacrificial battle but quietly, in bed, from the all-too human disease of cancer.

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Like Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s more recent, magnificent SUPERIOR, it remains the antithesis of everything that all too often irks me when real-life issues like incapacity or bullying enter the arena of superhero comics. All of Marvel’s preternaturally bright scientists turn up when they finally learn of the good Captain’s fight, and they try and they try, but they still can’t save him. Nor should they have. Back in 1982 it would have been a magic-wand insult to all those with incurable strains of the disease which was far less treatable than it is now.

Fighting the disease or lying down and accepting your fate…? Now that is explored here in great depth from all sides of the argument and poor Rick Jones – whose teenage transgression originally compelled Bruce Banner to leap into the detonation zone of his own Gamma Bomb and so become the Incredible Hulk, and who was once bonded to Mar-Vell by those place-switching Negabands – takes it harder than most.

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Seven years ago a supervillain called Nitro (oh, it’s always Nitro – see CIVIL WAR) succeeded in stealing a canister of nerve gas from the United States Army. During his explosive battle with Captain Marvel the canister fractured and its lethal nerve agent began to leak out, threatening to kill thousands of local residents. And Mar-Vell – with his alien physiology providing immunity to so much physical harm – stopped up the proverbial damn with his thumb. And promptly passed out. “Is this the End of Captain Marvel?!” screamed the Next Issue caption with customary alarm. Well, no. The thing about superheroes is that they get knocked down, then they get up again: you’re never going keep them down. And so the Kree soldier soldiered on for many further adventures.

In publication terms, it wasn’t even a sub-plot.

Seven years later, and the Captain is recording his memoirs for posterity. His one unique ability is his Cosmic Awareness, giving him an empathic knowledge of shifts in so much around him. But that power turns itself inwards and, long before he is diagnosed, he already knows he is dying. The photonic nature of his Negabands staved off the carcinogenic effect of the nerve gas for seven whole years, but the period of remission is over and now, gradually, one by one, his friends and family find out.

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I adored Starlin’s art. In so many ways he took after the photo-realists like Neal Adams with some extraordinarily impressive neo-classical figure work. But then he’d give it a more expressionistic edge, making the jaws more jutting and gesticulations more angular. The Death Of Captain Marvel graphic novel boasted plenty of both, along with some striking colour art from Steve Oliff. He forsook the rich, warm colours of the preceding series for something altogether more pallid and nuanced, especially during the deathbed sequence.

Coming back to Starlin, there’s a particularly brave panel which stood out a mile after Mentor asks Mar-Vell if his lover, Elysius, knows of his terminal condition. After a moment’s silence he looks up from a panel over which Starlin has scrawled – literally scrawled – not photo-realistic shadow but thick lines of creeping darkness right emanating from his face whose eye sockets and teeth are emphasised so as to suggest a skull, and says,

“No…
“Not yet”.

Better still is the composition of the page in which he does break the news to Elysius, out in the sunshine of an idyllic cityside park on Titan, each silent panel interspersed by a narrow window as Mentor watches protectively over them, then withdraws respectfully leaving the couple alone and the window empty and black.

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“Meanwhile, on the far side of the royal palace, down a long and quiet corridor and behind oak-panelled doors… a woman sits with her man. The long hard vigil that all lovers fear begins.”

It’s a dignified and respectful book, guest-starring so many of your favourite Marvel characters shown to be unusually uncomfortable: awkward in their impotence and unable to express how they feel. Isn’t that so often the way with cards of condolence? I like this. I still like it a lot. And Starlin wrote a very difficult final few pages very, very well.

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Before then, however, you’re in for 250 pages not just guest-starring but fully featuring the Avengers, Rick Jones and The Thing as they first learn of Thanos. The hard way.

Seriously, if you’ve loved Marvel’s most excellent modern two-parter INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 with their shared Page 45 review, and you are intrigued enough to learn how Thanos’ legacy began, it is with the life and strange death of Adam WARLOCK and then here.

Reprints CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #25-34, IRON MAN (1968) #55, MARVEL FEATURE (1971) #12, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1 and material from DAREDEVIL (1964) #105 and LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL #1-5. Those aren’t the dates they were published in, but the dates those series began in order to distinguish them from Marvel’s more recent titles of the same names.

SLH

Buy Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews

Summerland (£7-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Paloma Dawkins

The Theory Of The Grain Of Sand s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten

Diary Comics (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin

Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c (£20-00, Floating World Comics) by Ryan Humphrey, various

The Disciples s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 5: The One (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Warren Pleece

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 5: Arena Of Fear (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande, various

Normal (£11-99, Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Warren Ellis

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 2 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Samurai vol 1 (of 2): Isle With No Name s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio & Frederic Genet

Batman: Detective Comics vol 8: Blood Of Heroes s/c (£15-99, DC) by Francis Manapul, Ray Fawkes, others & Fernando Blanco, Marcio Takara, Francis Manapul, Steve Pugh

Captain Marvel – Earth’s Mightiest Hero vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by various

Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood

Vision vol 2: Little Better Than A Beast s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom King & Kevin Walsh, Gabriel Hernandez Walta

X-23 Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Marjorie M. Liu, Daniel Way & Phil Noto, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman, others

Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Michael Gaydos

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

Black Butler vol 23 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

News

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ITEM! Adventures in Moominland at the South Bank Centre 16 December to 23 April.

More of a family experience than an exhibition, you can clamber through forests, huddle in caves and set sail on the high seas while learning of Tove Jansson. Yes please!

Page 45’s MOOMIN graphic novel collection. Click on any cover for reviews!

Art below is from MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD illustrated prose novel. Spooky!

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ITEM! Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For returns in scathing post-Trump form!

Follow the link for more – this is just the top tier.

Bechdel’s FUN HOME, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? and DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR reviewed!

dykes-to-watch-out-for

ITEM! Haunting animation of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL. Some seriously good scoring too.

We’ve reviewed every Shaun Tan, so please pop in our search engine. THE ARRIVAL, reviewed.

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ITEM! MARCH Book 3 wins America’s National Book Award!

All three books in MARCH trilogy in stock, reviewed!

March book 2 little girl

ITEM! You may remember the awful news from Page 45’s Reviews December week four about Nottingham City Library selling Nottingham Central Library’s building with no site confirmed as a replacement. I signed the petition and have received the following:

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

Hi Stephen,

Our library petition has gathered over 1,500 signatures in a week as news filters through that the City Council have sold the Central Library building. And it’s not just us. Both Derby and Sheffield Councils have announced the sale of their library buildings. Libraries are the heart of our cities and they’re being ripped out as cash-strapped councils look for funds.

On Saturday 10th December we will hold a ‘read-in’ at Nottingham Central Library, and we need a big turn out to show the Council how strongly we feel about this. A read-in is a mostly silent event to show support without disturbing library users. We’ll invite the press and have informed the staff via their union. We’ll be there for one hour, and we’ll also be encouraging people to join the library on the day and borrow a few books!

Share the event on Facebook

Please invite friends, family, workmates and neighbours along to this important event. A big turnout sends a powerful message to the council and the government that libraries shouldn’t close to pay for the bailout of the banks.

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

nottingham-central-library

 – Stephen

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