Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week two

Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c (£67-99, IDW & Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim, Gerhard.

If the 300-issue, cerebus-cover-art-treasury-cover6,000-page magnum opus that is CEREBUS remains one of the most inventive comics this medium has ever produced, with narrative innovations cascading from its pages at such an astonishing rate as to make Niagara Falls look like a domestic, dripping tap – and it does – then its covers were no less ingenious, iconic and iconoclastic, all at the same time.

What makes this luxurious, full-colour treasury even more of a thirstily devoured “Yes, please!” is that so many of these illustrations don’t just set the tone but actively inform the story within, which most modern readers have had access to only in the form of those whopping, black and white CEREBUS phonebook collections. They never reprinted the colour covers to keep their costs down, but some seen in sequence form comicbook narratives in their own right (#153 & #154) and they are bursting with clues.

The diversity of their approaches and angles – geometric or otherwise – was jaw-dropping, especially when one considers the relative, relentless homogeneity of the corporations’ covers competing for space on retailers’ shelves back then, and even more so to this day.

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You never knew what you’d be startled by next: stark silhouettes, spot-lit close-ups, balletic action shots, quiet reveries, dream-sequence deliria, architecture only, lunar photography, William Morris wallpaper either hung with framed portraits or used to frame pithy, telling snap-shots; typography only (ever so brave and oh so effective), images rotated sideways to reflect what lay within, woodland landscapes, a funereal flower arrangement, glistening bottles of booze placed in the foreground of drunken misdemeanours, film-poster parodies, cosmic chess matches….

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…, or Dave / David Sim drawing the divine Mick / Michael Jagger in precisely the same pose as Michelangelo once sculpted David.

No, I wasn’t perceptive enough to spot that little joke – and, trust me, I studied these long and hard as I acquired each treasured gem.

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The good news is that, thanks to the conversational back-and-forth between Dave Sim and Gerhard’s annotations on almost every page, you’ll be privy to even more process notes and private self-indulgences. Take the cover to #77. Here’s Gerhard:

“Dream covers are always fun. When I was drawing the water pouring from the statue, I thought it might be fun to have the water fill the letters M and T… as in ‘MT is full’. Say it fast, and you’ll get the joke… or not.”

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Dave was joined by landscape artist Gerhard in CEREBUS #65, though not on its cover which was the typography-only effort bearing the truism (which has stuck with me ever since), that “Anything done for the first time unleashes a demon”. There were some very, very fine titles: some portentous, some ripping the piss – out of themselves, readers’ expectations or Marvel’s melodrama – some simply playful yet salient, like “Sane As It Ever Was”.

From #65 onwards Dave continued to write and draw all the characters while Gerhard would render the backgrounds in meticulous detail, providing both textures and colour. The cover to #66 is a ripped-open version of #65, exposing Gerhard’s first cover and colour contribution.

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“It was interesting watching Gerhard tearing art paper carefully so it LOOKED like torn art paper.”

That’s what I mean by meticulous.

“It took me years to figure out that Gerhard LIKED doing precise measurements / vanishing point stuff: that it was his favourite part,” observes Dave of the phenomenal window on #68.

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Of #162’s extraordinary spectacle: “Vanishing point and applied geometry. It was there in front of me the whole time.” And once again of #164’s delicious, crystal-clear, blue-sky winter panorama with its single shattered skylight because we’d been there before.

Neither of the artists is here merely to pat themselves or each on the back, though. They’re both commendably candid about their mistakes, shortcomings and where things didn’t work out the way they had planned. But it was a monthly comic which only once fell behind schedule (towards the end of CHURCH & STATE) so at the end of the day, a) they had to go to print and simply strive to do better next time b) you simply don’t know what it will look like until the printed article appears right in front of you.

Sometimes I found myself shaking my head, bewildered by what one or the other considers a failure. The library cover to #151 with its tumbling book and exceptional sense of space has always struck me as one of the ten best covers ever to grace a comic, but Gerhard was so frustated by its colours that when he hung it on its clip on completion, he did so facing the wall.

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“In these situations,” writes Dave, “you take the hint and just hope it’s still on its hook, face to the wall, when you come in tomorrow. It’s HIS cover.”

Hilariously, however, Dave confesses that during much earlier days – the beginning to HIGH SOCIETY – he tried his hand at watercolours for the covers without comprehending that you were supposed to dilute them. You know, add water. So he used them as you would oil and acrylics, virtually smearing them onto the board. Such is the way of the self-taught artist. I actually liked those covers, but you can’t un-see something once you’ve been shown.

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Successful experimentations are equally well documented, like Gerhard’s discovery that using a toothbrush to flick white or red ink onto the boards was far more effective for snow, stars and blood than an airbrush. There are lots and lots of different space and star effects in evidence. Also, in one instance, a book bearing bloody finger prints. They’re Gerhard’s, if that ever proves forensically relevant.

You may have noticed by now that the covers are presented in different ways. The majority are shot from the originals before some or all of the lettering and extra effects have been added which, with attendant notes, gives extra insight into the process behind them. I find it fascinating to peer behind the curtains to see bits pasted on here and there, and what was entrusted to the printers instead.

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Others are reproductions of the covers as we encountered them complete with the ever-evolving CEREBUS logo and other typography. I learned a new word: “majuscule”. Sim has long been hailed as one of the medium’s all-time greatest letterers, sliding sentences up and down, giving them an extra lilt or cadence (when Thatcher is speaking, for example), and deploying the visual equivalent of onomatopoeia in places. At least one is the result of Sim and Gerhard revisiting a cover, recreating it for a commission.

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They’re reproductions or recreations because some of the originals have been sold, and so many more have been stolen. I’ll leave the introduction to fill you in on that aspect.

So yes, there are practical and commercial considerations as well as artistic ones assessed. From time to time, Dave’s Inner Business Manager retrospectively smacks himself upside the head to much comedic effect when either carelessly or wilfully making design decisions which ran the risk of thwarting his own sales.

When getting it right on #52 he writes: “Cerebus breaking a chair over the head of a barbarian. Yes, Dave, BRANDING. What is it you’re not ‘getting’ about what you’re trying to sell here?” In addition both Cerebus and the logo are found at the top, so easily seen even in shops with semi-tiered shelves which obscure some comics’ bottom halves. Everything is a learning curve including copyright infringement, though Dave did get away with it on satirical grounds.

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“The three ‘Wolveroach’ covers which I really just did to show Frank Miller and Joe Rubenstein how the WOLVERINE mini-series covers SHOULD have been done – more like Neal Adams. Thus overshooting the ‘Branding’ runway and smashing through Marvel’s intellectual property fence and leaving this mixed metaphor jackknifed into their swimming pool with its tail in the air.”

Of the second in the series, #55: “Now that you mention it, it DID look sort of familiar”.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we finish where Dave Sim and Gerhard concluded, with the final ten issues sub-titled CEREBUS: THE LAST DAY. For this Gerhard supplied a detailed 360-degree view of the room divided into nine covers which conjoin seamlessly with each other and at each end.

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This in itself constitutes sequential art when considering that time passes ever so slowly inside, but the pan is paused with #298 for a halting juxtaposition.

That’s what I meant when I wrote at the start that the exterior art informs what lies within and – at times – creates a narrative all of its own.

This is a gallery we never thought we’d see because of those aforementioned colour costs which would have jeopardised the self-publisher’s finances, so bravo to IDW for enabling this miracle.

I’d only add that to close this book immediately after the final cover is to feel almost as bereft as Mark and I did after reading the very last panel on the final page of CEREBUS itself twelve years ago.

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Although: lo and behold, here comes the brand-new CEREBUS IN HELL? #0, on Page 45’s shelves this very week!

SLH

Buy Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cormorance (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes.

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“This summer I went swimming,
“This summer I might have drowned,
“But I held my breath, and I kicked my feet,
“And I moved my arms around,
“I moved my arms around.”

– ‘Swimming Song’ by Loudon Wainwright III

It’s Nick Hayes himself who chose that epigraph to this otherwise wordless graphic novel, and it could not be more appropriate. It speaks to the heart of the struggle inside the story, both figuratively and otherwise.

I say “wordless” but it’s far from silent. It is bursting with the guttural calls of the cormorants, and on one of its many spectacular double-page spreads the late-night “toowheet” of an owl observing all gives way to the “chip chip” “peep peep” of an early dawn chorus. Framed by foliage, to the left a crescent moon shines over the city and its suburbs, soothing what was a heart-rending, glass-shattering day, while to the right the sun rises over the still of a disused reservoir in the process of being reclaimed by nature, one’s eyes drawn there following the flight path of ever-present cormorants.

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It is a book of staggering beauty told in aquatic shades of blue and green adorned here at there with spots of warm orange, all printed on rich, creamy paper. Maximum use is made of form and textures of wood-grain and water, wings and feathers, or the skeletal shapes of tree trunks and branches beneath so many different leaves. The old-fashioned diving arch of the indoor and outdoor municipal swimming pools looms large in the second section, before the third act wherein the first two conjoin lets loose an orgy of free-flowing nature at its most energetic.

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That whirlwind and flood of movement is heralded by a thrilling format surprise which opens up an oasis within the industrial and a moment of calm in the turbulence – with nature buzzing, nature calling – immediately followed by a plunge whose depth is delivered in a burst of air bubbles and concentric ripples. Then the cormorant dives too.

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Nick Hayes’ THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER was an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and a ridiculous clever reprise of Coleridge’s ancient original to mourn man’s mismanagement of nature. Here nature’s healing power both over one’s heart and itself is celebrated instead, as long as we take the trouble to connect with it.

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I can’t say much more even of its structure for fear of spoiling your own experience, but it begins with a boy then it begins with a girl. Commemorative photographs taken of the family on each of his birthdays are dear to the boy; soon he will be eight. Badges awarded to the girl on achieving new swimming lengths are lovingly sewn onto her swimsuit by her mother; she’s aiming for 100 metres next. The boy’s mum sends him to school with fresh packed lunches with a heart and kisses drawn on slips of paper each day which he keeps inside his school desk. The girl’s mum teaches her swimming which they both adore; but the boy’s not terribly good at it.

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Each will have reason to break into the disused reservoir surrounded by wooden fencing and wire mesh fencing, and their journeys are not that dissimilar.

SLH

Buy Cormorance and read the Page 45 review here

Saving Grace (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grace Wilson…

You’re here? You better have come to fix the house or you can leave.”
“My girls! You are all so feisty! I love it! RAAARR!
“Well, my darlings… Grace, exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine, you’re right, the house is in disrepair, and something needs to be done.
“SO I’M RENOVATING THE ENTIRE HOUSE!
“And then, I shall sell it.
“But, I’m an organised man, so you have four weeks’ notice.
“But hey, if you come across £1,000,000 then call me.
“I’ll see myself out…”

Well, Mr Zanetti, the landlord of Grace and her chums is just the most delightful chap, isn’t he? He drops his little bombshell just after telling Grace the best cure for her spots, which apparently even Anthea Roddick of Body Shop fame swears by, is male semen… Grace is mid-swig of her cuppa and ends up exhaling tea through her nose halfway across the table. Which is when exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine arrive to save the day and here we are…

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House hunting seems a rather tedious prospect for our ladies, so when a deluge of rain floods the basement and forces them out of Mr Zanetti’s slimy clutches even sooner than anticipated, a £99 package holiday to sunnier climes seems the most elegant and entertaining solution to their immediate accommodation anxieties.

What it actually does is end up exacerbating tensions between our quartet and pretty soon Grace finds herself hunting for a room in a shared house by herself… It’s even more of a humbling experience than looking for a job… She’s currently working on a zero-hours contract in an art supplies shop, dealing with customers who think asking for a 12” hog hair is a prime opportunity for some unwelcome innuendo…

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Ah, good old London town. Not that I personally think there is anything remotely good about it, and this highly entertaining graphic novel only serves to reinforce my prejudices against the Big Smoke. I just can’t understand how young people can possibly manage to survive, never mind thrive, in such a ludicrously expensive environment, whilst earning so relatively little. It’s like student life forever with a fraction of the fun to me. Simultaneously, meanwhile, there are artisan bakeries and other hipster joints springing up everywhere charging ever higher prices for what are, in essence, the basic essentials revamped and all tarted up. No, give me the marginally lower priced pleasures of the provincial life every time. Well, Nottingham anyway!

Grace, like most young Londoners going nowhere rapidly, doesn’t consider leaving the city an option, and so instead we are able to enjoy her mis-adventures at a mildly smug (on my part at least) remove. Well, unless you are someone in exactly her position I suppose! In which case you will no doubt be nodding sagely and wincing in sympathy in equal measure. Presumably this work draws upon the creator’s own experiences, and for a first graphic novel it is excellent. The slightly untidy art style might not be to everyone’s taste, but it neatly captures the down at heel lifestyle Grace and her friends are living!

JR

Buy Saving Grace and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl #1 (£2-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?motor-girl-1-cover
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? You may even have seen Terry Moore’s new avatar on Twitter – of a diminutive, comedy, green alien, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm. No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving. Which is deadly as well as ever so slightly illegal.

But is that all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO (and HOW TO DRAW)? Oh ye of little faith!

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All it takes is a single, un-signposted panel (if you’re alert enough to spot it) to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for – either as well or instead.

So yes, new shorter-form series before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

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Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, superb use of grey tones at night, and – oh dear, Libby, I’d really get off that cell phone if you want to outlast this series.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you this time.

Hey, after the RACHEL RISING OMNIBUS s/c (just £49-99, half the price of its component parts!), I think I’m allowed a succinct Mr. Moore review!

SLH

Buy Motor Girl #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Muhammad Ali h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Sybille Titeux & Amazing Ameziane…

“And then muhammad-ali-coveryou meet Malcom X…
“All of Harlem is ready to follow him, but you are the one he chooses.
“You like him as much as he likes you, and he knows how to put your thoughts into words. You never leave his side, you are like soulmates finding each other in a sentimental movie.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this biography. If you’ve read a few comic biographies you’ll know that much like prose ones, often they can feel rather dry and not really present a fully-formed picture of the individual in question. Perhaps that is even more true with comic biographies actually, given the much more concise amount of time and space the creators have to present their take on an individual.

I’m happy to report to I did really enjoy this work.  It wisely picks some interesting scenes and episodes from Ali’s life that it wants to focus on and then presents those in very detailed fashion, often with quotes from a fixed cast of talking heads. Again, the cast is chosen carefully, a narrow selection of his opponents, (including Henry Cooper who so very nearly beat Ali, then Cassius Clay at Wembley Stadium in June 1968), his inner circle of boxing coaches and people like Malcom X and Elijah Muhammad.

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A relatively small portion is given over to his boxing bouts, just the most famous ones like the bout with Cooper, his two match-ups with Sonny Liston, the Rumble In The Jungle with George Forman and the Thriller In Manila with Joe Frazier, which I think is probably the right choice. And even these are seen mainly from the perspective of his opponents or coaches looking back, which provides an informed, relatively objective viewpoint, rather than Ali’s bombast.

The majority of the book actually focuses on his socio-political awakening and subsequent cultural influence. For some of my generation and younger, especially an ocean away, who only ever knew Ali the hero, it’ll perhaps be surprising to learn how reviled and feared he was by the white American populace at large at the time once he converted to Islam, Malcom X by his side as he rejected Cassius Clay as his slave name, and joined the Nation Of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. He was already regarded as an obnoxious braggadocio by a lot of people, perhaps not unreasonably so given some of the more unpleasant trash-talking antics he submitted his opponents too.

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But once he embraced Islam it was open season on him, which ultimately culminated with his imprisonment at his refusal to fight in Vietnam. His impassioned speech on that topic, encompassing the inequalities still faced by blacks at the time, was an immensely powerful oration, and it is portrayed superbly across a double-page spread. It also earned him a prison sentence of 5 years, a fine of $10,000 and a ban from boxing of 3 years. He managed to avoid prison whilst the case was appealed, but his boxing licence wasn’t returned for nearly 4 years.

Given the FBI’s then covert COINTELPRO program to engage in covert surveillance against black leaders and groups, with the justification that they were infiltrated by communists, to “increase factionalism, cause disruption” that definitely contributed (at the very least…) to the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. it is perhaps surprising that Ali himself wasn’t the subject of an assassination attempt.

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The work also shows the one act he truly regretted for the rest of his life, turning his back, figuratively and literally on Malcom X. Malcom had already split from the Nation Of Islam, perceiving Elijah Muhummad as someone who wasn’t a true Muslim in heart or practice, and choosing to whole-heartedly embrace traditional Islam, including a pilgrimage to Mecca. Ali, meanwhile, was touring various African countries at the behest of the Nation Of Islam when a chance meeting outside a hotel occurred in Ghana (not Nigeria, as the creators incorrectly suggest here). Malcom called out to Ali, delighted to see him, and Ali simply turned and walked away for the entire world to see. Within a year, Malcom X was dead, and Ali always deeply regretted both the snub itself, and then not ever making amends with his friend.

Ali’s early life and latter post-boxing days bookend the meat of the story, told in sped-up fashion so as to encapsulate his whole life. I thought overall this was a very well presented work. I did struggle slightly with some of the narration at times, purely because much of it is worded in the second person as though it is spoken to Ali himself. It’s a distracting conceit I personally didn’t particularly care for though after a while you do stop noticing it. The art is excellent, with lots of interesting page and panel composition devices, and some nice period touches. In summary, it might not be the greatest biography but it is a very good biography of The Greatest.

JR

Buy Muhammad Ali h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Aleister & Adolf h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Avon Oeming…

“Your pathetic sex aleister-adolf-coverrituals don’t stand a chance against the power of the swastika.”
“The symbol isn’t yours, Rudolf.”
“The blood of thousands will make the swastika a Nazi sigil forever. The Jews, they will power it with their lives.”
“Their deaths, you mean. God will forsake you! I will bring such horrors down upon you!”
“We are creating horrors you cannot even imagine. Filling our sigil with the deaths of millions. Death is more powerful than sex.”

So that would be Aleister Crowley interrogating Rudolph Hess with the aid of massive amounts of mind-bending chemicals whilst being observed by (Bond creator) Ian Fleming! This is a fantastically nonsensical, sex-filled, drug-addled black and white romp where we are requested to believe that her Majesty’s government have enlisted the Beast (as Crowley liked to be known) to defeat Adolf Hitler through the power of Magick.

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This is one of those classic take a pinch of truth (Hitler’s obsession with the occult and astrology) and spin a yarn only fractionally more unbelievable than some of the strange secret missions that did actually take place during WW2. Our story is told through the eyes of a young agent called Roberts, entrusted to keep an eye on proceedings and report in to his superiors. He quickly falls under Crowley’s influence, however, becoming an acolyte of the Beast, though he likes to try and convince himself he is merely operating undercover.

We actually first meet Roberts in 1995, dying of cancer in New York City, when a young web designer, utterly baffled by the fact that he can’t prevent the logos on a new webpage for his corporate client from moving around, is sent to speak with him for some arcane reason. I was actually enjoying the ‘40s period part of the story so much I had forgotten about the modern opening by the conclusion! Rest assured, though, the story does come very neatly full chalk drawn magical circle.

Excellent art as ever from Oeming, perfectly capturing the noir tone of Rushkoff’s writing. Nice to read something that is as disturbing as it is amusing. Though I think what perturbed me most is how Aleister Crowley looks more than a little like Brian Michael Bendis!! It only occurred to me due to Oeming’s long collaboration with Bendis but once I had thought the thought, the similarity could not be unseen!

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I do also in fact wonder whether it might not be a little conceit on Oeming’s part, much like Moebius making Jodorowsky the likeness of Professor Alan Mangel in MADWOMEN OF THE SACRED HEART. Not least because there is also a very specific sexy synchronicity between those two works involving three-way action. I would love to believe so, but actually, I think Bendis just does happen to have a remarkable resemblance to the Beast! Still, some would say Bendis is quite the magician in his own right… Marvel certainly would!

JR

Buy Aleister & Adolf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c (£26-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Davide Gianfelice, Becky Cloonan, Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, various, Massimo Carnevale.

“Nothing comes free or easy. northlanders-book-2The good life always requires a turn through the shit from time to time.”

Ain’t that the truth? Some turns are shittier than other, and the good life is not guaranteed.

Each one of these self-contained Viking sagas is as exceptional as it is varied: you never know what you’ll find dug up from its history and hammered into narrative next. Here Brian Wood conjures ten generations of Icelandic family feuding beginning in 871 A.D. when its earliest settlers – a family of three – heaved their scant possessions salvaged from Norway onto its far from fecund soil. Life was hard but at least they were free. Within a year, however, they were followed by others driven out by the land-grabs back home, fleeing the rule of hated King Harald. These were larger families bringing strength in numbers backed up by the weight of their swords.

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So it is that Ulf Hauksson’s merchant father takes it upon himself to toughen his son up in the most brutal of fashions, thereby creating a monster.

“Neither of them could look at me for weeks.
“This was valuable time for me. It allowed me the chance to detail and catalogue my hatred, to fully articulate, in my mind, who deserved what and why.
“That morning my parents had a son. By that evening, as a result of my father’s efforts to teach me cruelty and violence, they had something very different on their hands.”

What follows is that afternoon’s legacy: two centuries of ever-escalating struggles for power as the population expands and sustainable self-governance crumbles under the weight of numbers, the influence of those still in thrall to Norway and corruption in the form of Christianity and its Holy Men with their insidious schemes to divide, conquer and then reap the spoils in the form of hegemony and wealth.

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Marriage plays no small part in this. Indeed it’s all about family and two fathers are going to find out precisely how sharp the serpent’s tooth is before their lives are done.

Structurally, ‘The Icelandic Trilogy’ is stunning. Three chapters each devoted to three separate snapshots spanning two hundred years. The first barely boasts a population to speak of, but by 999 A.D. a port has been established and the Haukssons have built a heavily fortified compound.

It isn’t, however, impervious. Here is a daughter:

“I was taught to keep books when I was six years old. I am literate where Mar is not. The Hauksson men fight, the women administrate.
“And together we dominate. The society of Iceland is balanced on our stacks of silver and gold, our sword at its throat.
“Which makes the attempt on my life unthinkable.”

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The family’s gained ground through guile and good judgement, but it’s not immune to being goaded – and it’s about to meet its match. As for 1260 A.D., it is to despair but then so it goes, eh?

NORTHLANDERS has played host to a magnificently strong set of artists and Azaceta is on glorious form in his tale of innocence bludgeoned to death, while Zezelj’s jagged plains of ice and snow and treacherous, shadow-strewn ravines are freezing. You wouldn’t cross them without a thick pair of boots.

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His hair and beards are as matted as you can imagine and probably crawling with lice. There’s one page which starts out with a lamb so startlingly lovely you wonder what it’s doing there – it’s quite the contrast to what’s gone before. By the time you reach you bottom, though, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, well, that makes sense!”

This volume also includes ‘The Girl In The Ice’ illustrated by Becky Cloonan, Brian Wood’s cohort on DEMO, ‘The Sea Road’ and ‘Sven The Immortal’. There are more of these thicker “books” repackaging the slimmer “volumes” to come, but in the meantime Brian (personal favourite graphic novel being LOCAL with Ryan Kelly) has returned to this era on very fine form with BLACK ROAD illustrated by Garry Brown, whose first collection is out now and reviewed by our Jonathan.

SLH

Buy Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Intercorstal 683 (£4-00, self-published) by Gareth A Hopkins.

I don’t know, is the answer. I don’t know what’s going on except that it’s quite the experience.

Anything this abstract is open to interpretation, and I have no crib sheet to copy from. I never do and never will and I truly wouldn’t want one.

I love experiencing new art for myself. That’s something I touched upon sarcastically in my review of ANCESTOR wherein technology has evolved to render everyone all-informed. That too will give you much pause for thought.

I found this thrilling. In spite of the chaos of the full-colour cover, this black and white orgy of interlocking forms strikes me as highly disciplined. It doesn’t look random at all.

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It’s like a carefully choreographed ballet as performed by crisply delineated yet thoroughly malleable, constantly morphing techno-organic entities whose forms appear to coil round each other, perhaps merge then separate.

None of the images I have for you here are consecutive and, with hindsight, that might have been an error on my part for it’s all about sequence. Nor is each dance brief, so the result is a rightfully indulgent, extended eye-bath and I promise you that seeing is believing: you really do need to pick up a physical copy from our shelves for yourselves and decide what you make of it.

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Are those individuals in space-suit armour crouching in a simian fashion, awaiting orders from the taller one to the left?

I simply don’t know.

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Just over halfway through there appears to be a blinding light eroding these forms during which Hopkins demonstrates a superb sense of negative space before a robed, monocular individual rises and strides, best foot forward into the foreground (possibly).

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After which darkness descends and the formerly stark art is splashed with swathes of sweeping black ink and – to me – a lone survivor emerges to sit on a large cushion tapping into its laptop.

This has no words.

I have no words.

If I was any more egomaniacal than I already am, I would swear blind that this was created purely to make monkeys out of reviewers, Gareth A. Hopkins chortling in private at our flailing public attempts to do justice to what was for me a so-far unique experience. I suspect I have just taken a Rorschach Test.

It’s very beautiful. Let’s leave it at that.

SLH

Buy The Intercorstal 683 and read the Page 45 review here

Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.

Thrilling foreshortening on this best cover yet, for which I am reliably informed Sara built a model from steel wire and live bees.

It’s possible I may have misheard that last bit.

We’ve so far seen little other than rodents in this all-ages, anthropomorphic, transglobal adventure: lizards for transport and beetles for heavy lifting at the Egyptian archaeological dig, and now bees for the Antarctic sledge race to track down the legendary Sceptre Of The Sun before a less benevolent faction gets its purloining paws on it.

It was the startling discovery of an ancient stone in MULP #1 which catalysed this quest. On it were two remarkably similar accounts of an apocalyptic event in both Egyptian and Greek, albeit seen from their respective mythological perspectives. Most intriguing, however, were the Mesoamerican drawings in between the other two records on that self-same tablet, the most prominent of which is an image reminiscent of Viracocha, creator of the sun, the moon, and the stars, holding two sceptres and surrounded by ferocious, fanged beasts. This Incan myth backs up at least one of the other two in implying that the apocalyptic event may have been, furthermore, an extinction-level event for at least one species of giant. And, hey, for the mice to have evolved now to the level of human Victorians, their natural predators must have surely died out too.

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The legend ends with the creation of a second race divided into groups and taught divergent customs, languages and songs. To guide them Viracocha gave his most favoured son, Manco Capac, one of the two golden sceptres, the Tapac-Yauri.

The search for this led our intrepid band of explorers to Peru, all the way up to Manchu Picchu where, sequestered deep beneath the ruins of a solar observatory, they discovered an engraving which seemed to confirm the links between the three civilisations and imply both beneficial and fiercely destructive uses for that sceptre, all centred on the sun. So now things are really heating up, because if our own mouse mates don’t find the fabled sceptre first then the less altruistic expedition – which was already proved itself ruthless – won’t be using it to light candles or nurture crops.

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For now we’re on ice, as our furry friends attempt to weather the freezing conditions they find themselves in. But will it all end in fire?

I love how so many visual clues have been embedded in the various mythical accounts, along with extra allusions to the likes of Prometheus. It all ties together so satisfyingly.

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Some startling, starry skies and other lovely low-light colouring from Dunkerton, even by day, but otherwise for this third instalment I’m going to leave you to expect the unexpected, especially at night, and to hunt down my own hidden clues.

SLH

Buy Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“Oh, can we give you a ride back to town, Mr. Wiener? Only it’s awfully draughty in here… now.”

Now that you’ve shot a hole in his roof, McBoo.

“Umm, after we’ve got our car out of the ditch, that is.
“And some of the ditch out of our car.”

That one wasn’t McBoo’s fault, surprisingly. The ditching was down to fellow detective Kirk Bergman’s malfunctioning map-reading skills in the pouring rain, but whatever the weather this dysfunctional duo are a car crash waiting to happen.

If they’re going to solve any case it’s going to be by accident. Fortunately, at those they are specialists.

Here they are summoned to Weiner Bros Studios by a certain Sam Weiner on account of death threats received by Dunstan Bassett, an aging film star whose career has gone to the dogs. Alas, award-winning Sam Weiner seems otherwise engaged; it’s his brusquer brother Jack who greets them just in time for Dunstan’s stunt double to get blown up on set, leaving nothing behind but his boots.

For rapacious Jack this is far from inconvenient: releasing that footage will be a money-making goldmine. But for Bergman and McBoo it’s a sure sign that the danger in Dunstan’s death threats is all too real so they swiftly set about piecing together clues. It’s only when those pieces fall off that the pieces, the clues, and the clue in the glue start sticking together to make sense.

We have only just begun, for what they should be investigating is staring them right in the face. It’s a shame, then, that McBoo’s attention span is shorter than a squirrel’s.

“McBoo, I don’t know what you’re doing… but I really hope you’ll have stopped by the time I turn around.”

From the writer of two of our very few books of illustrated prose, which are commended to you with all my heart – THIRTEEN CHAIRS and A BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT – I present you with all-ages pun-tastic, slapstick comicbook crime from The Phoenix for which I can find flip-all usable interior art online. Again.

PUBLISHERS, THIS IS A VISUAL MEDIUM.

Please see Pager 45’s Phoenix Comic Book section for more from this stable.

SLH

Buy Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity 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

Good grief, there are normally 30-odd here!

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Sandman Overture s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III

The Return Of The Honey Buzzard (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Aimee De Jongh

Where Do I Belong? (£9-99, www.silentarmy.org) by various, edited by M.P. Fikaris

Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains (£14-99, www.silentarmy.org) by Nicola Gunn & M.P. Fikaris

DC Comics / Dark Horse Comics Crossovers: Justice League vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC / Dark Horse) by various

Deadpool V Gambit: The “V” Is For “Vs.” s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker & Danillo Beyruth

Rocket Raccoon And Groot vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Kocher & Michael Walsh

The Ghost And The Lady Book 1 (£15-99, Kodansha) by Kazuhiro Fujita

Psycho Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Midori Gotou & Natsuo Sai

News

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ITEM! LOST TALES by Adam Murphy wins Young Readers British Comics Award as voted for by Leeds school children. Such a beautiful, witty collection of short stories from around the world – pop it on your Christmas lists!

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ITEM! Matthew Dooley wins this year’s Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize 2016 with this fabulous piece!

Interview with Matthew Dooley here.

At the time of typing Page 45 still has a limited number of copies of Matthew Dooley’s sold-out MEANDERING in stock and reviewed. Oh, whoops, we sold out overnight. Still, you can read the review!

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ITEM! Watch Jamie Smart a spectacular BUNNY VERSUS MONKEY panel right before your eyes!

You’ll find Jamie Smart’s all-ages books in Page 45’s Phoenix Comics Book section.

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ITEM! Dan Berry (SENT / NOT SENT and COELIFER ATLAS etc – pop him in our search engine!) drew me as a bird, from life, right in front of me. He even drew my eyebrow ring. I’m so totally plucked.

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ITEM! First page from the most recent HELLBLAZER #3 (this isn’t a wind-up. It’s like the old scathing, anti-authoritian HELLBLAZER). Too, too funny:

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ITEM! Primary school in Scotland scraps homework in favour of reading books and comics instead.

  1. Yes, they recommended comics!
  2. Both pupils and parents were balloted and they voted in favour
  3. The whole endeavour was reported by the Daily Mirror factually, with a balanced, level head and not one single sound-effect or careless semi-caustic remark.
  4. Progress!

– Stephen

Delilah Dirk Turkish 1b

Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk & The Turkish Lieutenant. You should be able to click on this image to read our review.

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