Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week four

Featuring American Gods #1, cannibalism, crackpot Arthurian fantasy, new John Allison & Max Sarin, Oliver East, autobiography by Dominique Goblet, Paula Knight, plus Io Black & Cryoclaire and more!

The Facts Of Life (£16-99, Myriad) by Paula Knight…

“We tried to carry on as normal but my negative chatter started up again.
“I’d never be one of those mums who could bake cakes for a school fare…
“… or one of those mums who could rustle up costumes for the school play.”

It is, perhaps, one of the facts of life that you are inevitably not going to get everything you want. But somehow, to not be able to conceive or carry a child to term for whatever reason, when you fervently desire for one, seems one of the cruellest tricks that life can play. Yes, there are those who are adamant they do not want children of their own, women and men, but the majority of people do wish to procreate and bring their own progeny into this world and seem to do so without any problems whatsoever, by and large.

To be denied that chance is to undoubtedly experience a sense of loss akin to losing someone who has been born and lived a life, however long or brief. Though it is also a very different loss, perhaps absence might be a more appropriate term, because you will never quite be sure what it is, who it is, that is missing from your life. You can imagine, you can dream, you can wonder, but you can never truly know.

Consequently, like BILLY, ME & YOU (about the loss of a child) by Nicola Streeten and HOLE IN THE HEART (having a child with Down’s Syndrome) by Henny Beaumont, both also published by Myriad, this is one of those works that leaves you feeling rather raw emotionally. Which is clearly how Paula felt upon finally accepting that her dream of having a child was gone, which in her case as she explains, was at least in no small part due to her ongoing battle with ME. I don’t doubt there are elements of that pain which are still with her today, and probably always will be. How can that not be the case? But Paula has at least been able to come to terms with it, begrudgingly perhaps, to some degree, and find a measure of peace.

This is her story, of how a little girl growing up in the north east together with her best friend, ended up travelling a divergent path entirely due to the vagaries of fate. Upon reaching adulthood her friend quickly settled down and became a mother with seemingly effortless ease, having a beautiful daughter and embracing being a parent in all its innumerate, relentless ups and downs. Whereas for Paula, who would have welcomed the maelstrom of madness that motherhood brings with open arms, well, matters were sadly much more complicated and rather less fulfilling.

I will have to hold my hand up at this point and say this is a book which it is probably impossible to digest with an entirely objective perspective. Whether you just don’t want kids, or desperately do but just haven’t met the right person yet and time is ticking, are currently trying but are struggling to conceive or carry a child, currently have a child or children, were sadly unable to, or indeed are currently pregnant, you have a subjective world view on this issue. It is inevitable. But given this is a work about trying to allow people to see a traumatic situation from another’s perspective, I don’t think it remotely matters. In that sense this is a very interesting work in that it will engender entirely different feelings in the people that read it.

I would imagine those who wanted children and were unable to do so will have the closest sense of what Paula has been through rekindled rather painfully. Those, like my wife and I, who ended up going down the route of IVF to get our daughter, will be reminded once more just how fortunate we personally were to overcome our fertility issues and know just what Paula has missed out on. People struggling with fertility currently will definitely empathise with the agonising uncertainty and not-knowing Paula and her chap went through, combined with wondering just how it will ultimately turn out for them. People who just popped kids out without any problems may well feel sorry, but really can’t hope to grasp what they have endured, despite what they might think. And there may well be some, not wanting children themselves, who probably think they’ve simply swerved a bullet.

The point is, this is her, their, story and Paula does an incredible job of allowing us to understand just what they went through, indeed, what they are going through. And actually, on that last point, as someone who does suffer with ME, Paula does ponder deeply upon whether having children would have been a real uphill struggle for her. I gained a slight sense, rightly or wrongly, of looking for crumbs of consolation where truly there were none for her, but it’s just part of the indefatigable honesty Paula pours into this work, when bone-sapping fatigue was in fact at times her mortal enemy on several levels.

What this work also does, in addition, is allow Paula to look at society’s perceptions of women, particularly in relation to children, and how they have and haven’t changed since her childhood. In that respect, like Una’s BECOMING UNBECOMING about her childhood during the Yorkshire Ripper years and sexual violence towards women, there is a dual narrative going on which neatly broadens out the conversation.

Artistically, I was extremely impressed. I’ve only seen a few mini-comics and short strips that Paula has done before, but this is very accomplished work. The linework combines real fluidity and motion with a gentle neatness that enhances the detail. Neither under-inked nor over-inked, just a perfect weight, it gives a robust purpose to the art that is also very easy on the eye. A real talent and this was a very deeply moving read as I am sure it will be for most people.

And I should add, despite the upsetting subject matter, there are happier times shown too, which do underpin the whole story, told by a clearly very strong woman, despite her recurring physical frailties due to ME. I have only had the pleasure of meeting Paula once, but she made me smile by reminding me in occasional depictions of her here, of an impish mischievousness I definitely detected in person!

A veritable triumph of autobiographical comics, which will only help to further much needed conversation on a very difficult, harrowing subject for many people, whom we should all have boundless empathy for, whether we truly understand their suffering or not.

JR

Buy The Facts Of Life and read the Page 45 review here

Pretending Is Lying h/c (£22-99, New York Review Comics) by Dominique Goblet.

In which Belgian cartoonist Dominique Goblet turns autobiographical comics into an extreme sport.

Dominique’s daughter Nikita wants to draw with coloured crayons while the grown-ups talk.

It’s all a little alien to her because she’s never met her moustachioed grandfather before. You remember what it was like when you’re in a strange new room with odd old people and they’re all immediately arguing about semantics as you do when you haven’t seen each other in four years.

Proudly, Nikita shows off her picture to her grandfather’s strange new missus:

“Here, see her hair… that’s my friend!!!”
“Ah, does your friend have long hair?”
“Well no, why?”
“You just said that it’s your friend and that she has long hair!!”
“Ha, hope, it’s just a character!”

Kids, eh? Don’t we love to indulge their whimsical ways? Mum’s certainly smiling.

“Hey, Nikita, Blandine is right, you said that it was –“
“Yeah well sure, but that was just for pretend!”

Pretend, see? Nikita dances gleefully around the room in her pretty floral dress, ever so pleased with herself. And you’d have thought that would have been the end the matter, all adults charmed by innocent jest.

But elderly, ghoul-faced Blandine sees things a little differently, towering over Nikita and gesticulating wildly like a demonic puppet on maniacally lurching strings, her shrieks of rage blotting out almost everything behind them:

“Well, then you are a LIAR!”
“PRETENDING IS LYING
“IT’S LYING!
“PRETENDING IS LYING!”

So that’s one way to handle a family reunion.

You’re on page 22. If fractious is your idea of fun then you’ve come to the right place: a graphic memoir of quarrels with several such expressionistic flourishes, Dominique’s blustering, boastful buffalo of Dad depicted during one of his many moments of deluded self-martyrdom as a boss-eyed, beatific saint complete with Byzantine halo, his hand raised in blessing on a page of illuminated manuscript.

“I gave you everything I did everything for you!
“I worked like a slave!! Day and night… did everything!! All… All for the two of you!”

He pours himself another glass of wine. (He doesn’t drink anymore. No, not a drop! I can’t think why his wife left him.)

“Well, true, or false?”

False…?

He’s full of these proclamations, these ultimatums to respond, and belittling nick-names for a daughter who remains astonishingly devoted, responding to his bullying tirades with surprising equanimity. I almost expected him to declare his daughter “FAKE NEWS”.

By contrast the book is introduced with an enchanting four-page prologue told in smudged puce biro. In it young Nikske (Dominique) is skipping down the road, heedless of her mother’s cautionary words. The child trips over and bursts into tears not on account of her grazed knees but the holes in her stockings. Her mother smiles, reassuringly.

“It’s not the end of the world, look, I’m going to fix them!”

She scrunches the stockings into a ball then rolls them around in her hand before dressing Dominique back in them. Lo and behold, the holes have gone, and the child looks up, wide-eyed into her mum’s smiling face! Her thoughts float from her head, all wobbly with wonder:

“She… she can do magic…”

It had me totally taken in too: over the page on the final panel, we see that her mum had merely popped the stockings on back-to-front.

There’s a more sobering side to her mother recalled later on which also involves laundry but a lot less love. All I will say is that the irritable tension in the claustrophobic confines of the sitting room is exceptionally well built by noise: the rain tapping incessantly on the window, the click-clack of scissors, the tak-tak of tiny, restless feet under the table top and the roar of racing cars growling from the television set as Dominique’s Dad lies prostrate on the sofa, drinking and smoking and taking fuck-all notice of the escalating domestic crisis right in front of him.

He’s not the only liar in Dominique’s life. Wait until you meet her boyfriend!

Unlike Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO carefully considered exploration of her parents’ past in order to understand them, this is like an exorcism of ghosts which certainly deserve a good banishing (one hovers all around her boyfriend in soft spectral white on the dense, graphite pages), and although it’s expressionistic style isn’t going to appeal to everyone, I couldn’t imagine it so successfully done in any other way.

SLH

Buy Pretending Is Lying h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rolling Stock #1 (£4-50) by Oliver East.

“But I’ve only got eyes for what’s straddling our strada.”

Our Oliver’s out for a bit of bimble.

That’s what he does: he’s comics’ wandering, ever-observant explorer, setting himself a goal, packing pens and paper, then seeing what comes of it.

Always on foot but far from pedestrian, Oliver set off in TRAINS ARE… MINT then PROPER WELL GO HIGH to follow railway tracks as faithfully as was practicable, charming us with whatever unexpected details caught his keen rover’s eye. Since then he’s widened his expeditions to include the likes of a 200-mile trek south from Waverly Street Station in TAKE ME BACK TO MANCHESTER.

Here Oliver’s headed east and become something of a troubadour, ditching his first love, the railway, for a Romanian River called the Someșul Mic and committing to paper his impressions of this sun-filled stroll in the form of poetry. And they are very much impressions.

The language is full of words like “bimble” and “strada” that should be taken out for their own stroll more often, and illustrated by the pared-down shades of strutting, noisy cockerels and packs of kennelled or stray dogs announcing “some slight or other” and giving “unsolicited counsel” while casting shadows on gravel and asphalt. That’s what dogs do.

It’s exquisitely enhanced by the complementary colours of sand and blue sky on a bright white paper reflecting the blinding erosion of form. There’s a huge sense of space and a spirit of place as the locals go about their dusty, daily business, unaware that the Homesick Truant is roaming amongst them, casting his speculative eyes left and right, jotting it all down in a series of visual and literary sketches.

SLH

Buy Rolling Stock # 1 and read the Page 45 review here

American Gods #1 (£3-25, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaimain. P.Craig Russell & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton.

“Shadow had done three years in prison.
“He was big enough and looked Don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.
“So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.”

It’s so long since I read Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS prose novel that much of this came as a pleasant surprise: it was like being reacquainted with an old friend who was as charming and witty as ever yet – thanks to P. Craig Russell on crystal clear layouts and Scott Hampton on highly polished art – had grown even more handsome in the interim.

It also triggered recollections of further down this long and winding road which reminded me that – as any SANDMAN reader knows – Neil Gaiman is a master of foreshadowing.

Craig Russell, whose exceptional adaptations to comics include Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNG and THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE and who has here distilled Neil’s prose to its vital essence, is no slouch on the foreshadowing front, either. See Shadow’s calendar.

Shadow is a level-headed, pragmatic man and in this lies much wisdom.

“He did not awake in prison with a feeling of dread; he was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring because yesterday had brought it.”

Instead he kept himself much to himself and marked the days off until he would see his wife once again. During these three years of calm incarceration Shadow’s cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, introduced him to Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ (circa 425 B.C.) and the self-professed reluctant reader became hooked. What happened to Lyesmith? Transferred without warning, apparently: vanished into thin air.

“Shadow did not believe in anything he could not see.
“Still, he could feel disaster hovering in those final weeks, just as he had felt it in the days before the robbery.
“He was more paranoid than usual, and in prison, usual is very, and is a survival skill.”

With five days to go before his release, after a collect-call to his beaming wife who enthuses about the last leaves of autumn, Shadow is warned of an approaching storm: something cataclysmic waiting outside. There’s no audible thunder in the figurative air but then lightning strikes: Shadow is told that although he was due to be released on Friday… he will in fact be released a couple of days early. His wife has been killed in a car accident.

In an instant everything Shadow had mapped out for himself after his three years in prison is gone. He still has a future but it is empty, unfurnished, unforeseeable and so unimaginable. Numb, he boards the bus to the airport, then his plane home, but home is not what he thought it would be. Shadow falls asleep in the storm.

“Where am I?”
“In the earth and under the earth. You are where the forgotten wait. If you are to survive, you must believe.”
“Believe what? What should I believe?”
“Everything.”

When he dozed once again he was back in prison.

“Someone has put out a contract on your life.”

Then when he wakes up, Shadow’s nightmare begins.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly lost, late and disorientated in my dreams. But that is now Shadow’s reality. He’s at the wrong airport: the plane was redirected because of the storm. He misses its replacement; the next one is cancelled; but if he’s quick there is one he can catch.

“Shadow felt like a pea being flicked between three cups.”

Once on board he discovers he’s been given a duplicate ticket, but “This is your lucky day” for there’s a single spare seat in First Class.

Now, after the death of his wife, his early release, the redirected plane, the plane that he missed, the one that was cancelled and the seat which taken, Shadow is finally where he needs to be. Well, he’s where Mr. Wednesday needs him to be: right across the aisle.

“You’re late.”
“Sorry?”
“I said… you’re late.”

Normally I wouldn’t take you this far through a comic, but there are 36 more chapters to go, so I think you can consider this fair game! I’ve tried to remain allusive.

One of the key elements already reawakened in this instalment is something Neil had touched on in SANDMAN: that of faith, and the dwindling of gods’ power if followers fall by the wayside. If ancient gods are no longer believed in or worshipped, but lie forgotten, what power have they left?

As to structure, slight-of-hand stepping stones are one of Neil Gaiman’s fortes. We have spoken of this twice before in HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE wherein Neil’s stories begin grounded firmly in our shared reality but then his protagonists pass over a subtle, metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another. It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

Back in prison Shadow took comfort in the inevitability of his release but – Gaiman being a master of foreshadowing – he thought of it in very specific terms:

“One day the magic door would open and he would walk through it.”

And now he has.

Top tip: avoid reading his on public transport. I’d forgotten how priapic this initial episode grows towards the end. My adjoining seat wasn’t empty.

SLH

Buy American Gods #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c (£17-99, Candlewick Press) by M.T. Anderson & Andrea Offermann.

“I shall speak of love… and of hate. It is truly a marvel, but I tell you, hatred and love may live cramped together, crouching in the same heart.”

True. Cramped and crouching: it can grow awfully crowded in there. Are we talking jealousies? The teenage me was a nightmare.

“There are many secret chambers in our hearts where love can hide and many battlements where hate can stand, watching for enemies.”

We might still be talking jealousies: obsessively searching for and rooting out rivals. But we’re not.

“There was once an age when love was honourable.
“Or so I’ve heard.”

Was that a disclaimer?

Based on the 12th Century tales by Chrétien De Troyes, much of this may come as a bit a surprise. I’ve read a lot of complex courtly love, but this is not it. You may have read many Arthurian legends springing out from Sir Thomas Malory’s much later Le Morte D’Arthur where it’s all very valiant but this ain’t that, neither. To be honest, the court consists of a right bunch of frivolous idiots.

 

We begin with a beautifully drawn bit of falconry, the first sentence’s love and hate bisected by a panel border through the same image; once the hood is removed, the bird takes flight, soaring above the sorry figure of a knight who’s had the stuffing knocked out of him, dripping blood as he and his horse retreat through a cave towards Camelot.

There he’s greeted during the feast of Pentecost and immediately probed for gossip. They loved a good story, that lot. And they’ll hear it by hook, crook or emotional blackmail.

Our wilted warrior is Sir Calogrenant who’d set out in search of adventure and found it at a fountain where he poured a little too much water over a magical stone, at which point the weather went bat-shit crazy. This is cleverly told on a sequential-art tapestry behind them as Hurricane Harold strikes, deer scatter, the trees are lashed by gales, rain and lightning, and the local landowner charges out on his steed with a great big lance which he introduces quite intrusively to Sir Calogrenant’s stomach, then stabs at him a sword.

“Let me enter my complaint! Here!” Ouch. “And here!”

To be fair, even though his crops received a right battering, the lord does let the loser leave.

Vengeance is immediately called for at which point King Arthur wanders in or wakes up:

“What’s this? An adventure?”
“For the whole court.”
“Sounds jolly. Is it full of honour and so forth?”

Define honour. Alternatively: no, not so much.

Determined that the honour should be all his, Sir C’s cousin, Sir Yvain, takes the reins of a more sturdy steed, receives directions from a cave-dwelling troll, finds the spring and – do you know? – he’s not that frugal with the water, either. Even weatherman Michael Fish could have predicted what happens next. Understandably irate at what must now look like meteorological harassment…

“Who does my dukedom this discourtesy?”

… the lord lets loose once again but this time comes quite a cropper – as does Sir Yvain’s horse when it’s a little late on the final furlong in pursuit of the lord through a descending portcullis.

The lord is dead and Sir Yvain is trapped in his castle. Fortunately he is recognised by Lunette, maid to now-widowed Lady Laudine, as someone who once did her kindness and she fixes him up with an invisibility spell. Unfortunately that allows him to witness to Lady Laudine’s heartfelt, inconsolable grief… and her radiant beauty. He only goes and falls in love, doesn’t he?

We haven’t even begun. Okay, we have begun. But we’ve barely begun.

But I think you might perceive that if – and I’m only saying “if” – Sir Yvain is going to win the hand or even the heart of Lady Laudine, Lunette is going have to think fast and Sir Yvain is going to have to be on his best behaviour from now on in.

But honestly…? He’s not the brightest flame in the fireplace, his time-keeping sucks and the waylaying lads back at Camp Camelot really could do with growing up.

So far – unless I read this very wrong indeed – both Anderson and Offermann have played this mostly  with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, but there are hearts involved, monsters to be fought, slaves to be liberated and other injustices whose their intricate legal and intellectual merits must be adjudicated upon by bludgeoning, skull-splitting fights.

Even if Anderson dots the script with anachronistic colloquialisms (Sir Yvain Oblivion: “It was just stupidity that kept me away from you that long year. I recognise my mistake – honest!”) Offerman maintains the period feel throughout with a variety of castles, rows of tents and descents into briar-like woodland madness.

 

If you’re in it for the fantastical you won’t be disappointed, either: there is one hell of a lion / dragon death-match with a belter of a double-page spread as Sir Yvain first claps eyes on the ferocious, clawing beasts, followed by a flurry of dense, chaotic panels suggesting she might be aware of Gareth Hinds’ BEOWULF.

I don’t know if it’s straight-faced enough for some fantasists, but we’re constantly being asked this sort of fare, so here you go.

SLH

Buy Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 4 (£13-99, Boom! Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin.

Three young women discover the freedoms and financial constraints of leaving home for university.

How’s that for a mass-appeal high concept pitch?

John Allison wrings every millilitre of mirth imaginable from the proceedings and evidently drank a lot less at university than I did, for he remembers all its home-leaving, life-altering novelties with pin-point accuracy.

Previously in GIANT DAYS Susan, Esther and Daisy have discovered:

Halls of Residence, their loud landing congregations and the bedsits’ wafer-thin walls.
Halls of Residence’s communal kitchens with foodstuffs protectively labelled.
Those labels routinely ignored!
Choosing degree courses for which you are singularly ill-suited.
Bluffing your way through them anyway!
Learning to dance and your first night clubbing!
Friends from home on weekend-long binges, crashing and burning in your bedsit, then finding a job to fund those binges!
Finding more binges to burn out on.

But oh, above all, I recall the exhausted delirium of staying up two nights on the trot, feverishly writing an entire last-minute dissertation which you had a whole month to hand in on time.

Now, in year two, it’s time to be weaned off the comparative safety of campus and take a step even further towards self-governance if not more mature self-guidance: it’s time find to sign a house-sharing tenancy agreement!

First, of course, you have to find a house to share and people to share it with.

With so many students competing for a finite number of digs, things move fast and it can seem like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt. Except not all of the houses are treasures. There’s the live-in landlady from hell who won’t abide free love or even self-love; the semi-detached whose definition extends to both its gutters and indoor plumbing; the one with no heating; several in a suburb far too posh, twee or net-curtain-twitching to feel remotely comfortable crawling back and forth from drunken and /or drug-addled late-night assignations.

[Top tip: unlike John’s BAD MACHINERY which is emphatically all-ages, the responsible side of me – and I do have one! – would caution you that this may be for teens but not tweens.]

Susan, Daisy and Esther are already their own ideal unit but sometimes all that’s on offer are four-bedroom houses. This means that you may have to poach popular people from other prospective households to live with you, but there is a much bleaker alternative:

“So what you’re saying is, let’s go fishing in the pool of isolated loners, whose friendlessness is the mark of how good they’d be to live with.”
“Yes. Let’s invite a nightmare into our lives.”

All of this and more is explored by Allison then delivered direct to that part of your brain that craves ebullience by the magnificent Max Sarin. She will make the most of every opportunity to represent fanciful, figurative notions as actual occurrences, like the winged flight of available houses from a mobile phone’s app.

“Come back, houses, come back!” screams Esther, clawing the air.
“The motherload has been compromised! We have to find Susan fast before they’re all gone!”

Yes, there is a certain degree of melodrama both in the declarations and gesticulations, but that’s what we relish in cartoon comedy: mountains for molehills, dug up with due diligence then thrown in our face with a precision that makes us smile with its smart. The great Will Eisner firmly believed in body language augmented for maximum empathy and communication, and he rarely worked in this burlesque genre for which it is most appropriate. Max Sarin is one of its masters.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #1 & #2 (£4-99 each, Dead Channel Comics) by Io Black & Cryoclaire…

     

“Ugh. So much for getting in early. Aaaand of course there’s a queue for the shower. Fantastic.”
“What’s the hold-up? Did someone hang themselves in the bathroom again?”
“This is exactly why we banned auto-erotic asphyxiation in the common spaces. You think I made these signs just for the hell of it?”

Haha, the very rude punchline on the sign in question only adds to the ribald feel of this exceptional chunk of comedy sci-fi.

I’ve said it before, but speculative fiction that makes you splutter with tea-spitting mirth is verrry tricky. What a highly polished piece of self-published material this is, both in terms of writing and artistically. Artist Cryoclaire popped into the shop recently and asked if we would take a look at their work. Now, we get a fair few requests of this nature, so I asked if she could leave us a copy to look at when I got chance, which she kindly did of #1 and #2. You never really know what to expect with such submissions, but I was absolutely blown away with what I read.

To sum it up in a nutshell, I’d have to say this is the chimeric offspring of William Gibson and John Allison. Our main character deadbeat Dan, the poor chap above who can’t have a wash because someone’s up to self-abuse in the water closet, is described as a… ‘pissy misanthrope and recovering VR junkie, now condemned to a dead-end job delivering sketchy packages in a post-Soviet urban hellhole.’‘

Dan made his cyber-notoriety by getting massively off his tits on various pharmacopeia and recording his ‘out there’ psychonautical experiences, usually having a bad one, for other people to vicariously experience through the safe remove of virtual reality. He stoically, and rather self-delusionally, saw himself as a pioneering trailblazer of consciousness exploration, whereas everyone else just saw him as someone to have a good laugh at. Then a new computer virus partially fried his implanted cybernetic operating system and thus his brain causing him to be forced offline and marooned in the drudgery of everyday life. He’s still got his drugs, of course: he needs those more than ever these days, bereft of his online life. He does still get the odd troubling hallucination that he can’t explain mind you.

Most worryingly though, the virus seems to be gradually accounting for a not insubstantial slice of this particular tech-addled / drug-abusing fringe of society. Dan is actually one of the lucky ones as all the others to date were rather more permanently synaptically fried. The fact that he barely escaped with even a few neural pathways semi-intact is down to his friend Lin, a black market cybernetics installer who isn’t averse to cutting a few corners whilst slicing through tissue! Both Dan and Lin are determined to find out who is behind the killer virus wiping out their… well, acquaintances is probably a better word than friends, frankly.

I should have guessed the creators were big William Gibson fans even before opening the first issue up, given their publishing imprint is called Dead Channel Comix, undoubtedly referencing the first line of Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer…

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Now that’s a opening line, and if someone is going to try and emulate the master of cyberpunk (though I seriously wish Gibson would get his finger out and write the last two issues of his comic debut ARCHANGEL – getting a bit tedious waiting now, William), you better be ready to take me on a technological rollercoaster of a ride. Writer Io Black most definitely is; the sci-fi elements of this work, the operating system implants, the cybernetic hacks, the underground techie community, they all feel perfectly credible as a possible mildly dystopian flavoured future. What then flips it all on its head like the blue screen of PC death is the bawdy, knockabout pithy John Allison-esque humour that punctuates the pitter-patter dialogue like phaser fire…

“Ever perform implant surgery when your blood sugar’s crashing? Last time I started operating on an empty stomach, I whacked off the wrong limb…”
“Well, that’s…”
“… three times.”
“Oh.”
“But hey, mistakes happen. And I finally unloaded those prosthetics we found on that dumpster-dive last month so that’s a win-win right there. Anyway, what’s been new with you? Implant still holding up okay? Any cool new hallucinations I should know about?”
“… Just the usual….”

Art-wise, Cryoclaire keeps the Allison vibe alive as I suspect she might well be a big Max GIANT DAYS Sarin fan, which only adds to the frivolity. The other resemblance I could see, which I actually mentioned to her and to my surprise she was utterly unaware of (so clearly not an influence, then!) was Natsume NOT SIMPLE, RISTORANTE PARADISO Ono. It’s in the faces.

#2 also hit the mark, moving the mystery elements of the story along and further developing the characters nicely. I’m keen to see where the story goes next and just how much further down past the U-bend Dan’s life can possibly get! At least he’s still got his drugs, they’ve not got flushed away yet, though Lin does keep confiscating them in an effort to keep his remaining grey matter from turning to mush! What a friend…

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Drugs & Wires #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Cannibal vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Steve Buccellato, Jennifer Young & Matias Bergara.

For those who are not regular readers I would impress upon you that we do not do spoilers and that misdirection is amongst my middle names. Double-bluff is another of them.

“Let him go.
“A man’s got to follow his own path. Even if it’s headed in the wrong direction.”

We seem to love our gruff, small-town communities in comics at the moment. You know the sort I mean: where outsiders are spurned, grudges are grown, the law might turn a blind eye to due process when browbeaten into it and real power lies in those with the loudest, surliest and often drunkest mouths.

Somewhere in swampland Florida there’s a bar called Hog’s River where almost everyone congregates of an evening. It belongs to the Hansens and Pa Hansen is amongst the surliest son-of-bitches of them all. They’re practical, capable folk. His two sons, Cash and Grady, tend the bar and of course they all have beards.

They’ve a family friend in Danny who’s clean-shaven but not local and renowned for his disappearing acts, even on his son, estranged wife and sister-in-law. He’s just wandered back into town, but seems mighty skittish, often retreating to the shadows. His son Boone and Boone’s Aunty Louise are currently on the road, driving up to find him and they won’t bring good news.

Cash too is doing a disappearing act, but that’s to go courting Jolene. They have an unusual courtship routine. But Cash is so stoked he’s bought her a ring and is practising how to propose.

Thing is, right now, you don’t want to be doing any disappearing acts. People have gone missing and Sheriff Mays and Deputy Sheriff Mays (his son – it’s that sort of town) are mighty suspicious. It could have something to do with the virus that’s turning folks into cannibals. Oh, they get rabid for human flesh, so the worst thing you can do in a fight is bite someone; or get accused of biting someone. Grudges, due process: we’ve covered that one.

It’s making a closed community like this with easily frayed tempers even more antsy than usual.

And that’s when Jolene goes missing.

Lots of long shadows are in evidence on the art front, and on the writing front too. That’s why this works so well. It’s far from an epidemic, but that this cannibalism virus exists on the periphery at all is enough for eyes to narrow and for everyone to jump to conclusions. No one can let their guard down or take any chances.

So somebody obviously will.

And obviously other acts of violence which have nothing to do with this virus may slip through the cracks and so get overlooked.

One last thing… Here’s Sheriff Mays:

“No one with the virus can last more than a few days without getting overtaken by the fever.”

So that’s kind of good news / bad news. It’s bad that the urge is uncontrollable; it’s good that if you lock someone up for seventy-two hours and they don’t start salivating that you know they’re free from infection.

But it’s very, very bad that between brunches anyone, for a couple of days, could pass for fine, dandy and normal.

SLH

Buy Cannibal vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Demonic s/c (£13-99, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Niko Walter…

“She’s got you on a short leash, partner.”
“I need my leash yanked every now and then. It’s good for me.”
“Wow. Remember when we used to say she was like a tick you couldn’t…”
“Long time ago, Fischer.”
“Lighten up, Graves. I’m allowed to use your past against you, Mr. Sensitive. It’s in the partner’s manual.”
“Uh huh. Let’s roll. Faster we knock this out, tell the roomies to stop fighting over the milk, faster we can catch something worth our time.”
“Famous last words. 5-to-1 we walk into a complete clusterfuck.”
“Your lips to God’s ear, Fischer.”
THWAMM…

…as the eviscerated body hits the sidewalk just in front of them.

I guess the title is some clue as to what to expect, so it’s no surprise to find our erstwhile partners in crime-fighting walking straight into what appears to be a full-on demonic possession and indeed total clusterfuck of the highest supernatural order. It’s a situation that sends chills straight up Detective Grave’s spine, given his very strange upbringing as part of a commune, and more besides…

That’s a piece of his, as yet to us, shadowy past that Graves and his wife have agreed to never, ever talk about ever again. Unfortunately for Detective Graves, though, it seems his past isn’t done with him yet as he is offered a very dark deal indeed to preserve the lives of those closest to him. He takes the deal, of course, but did he actually need to…?

I enjoyed this dark tale from the writer of HIGH CRIMES with its intriguing plot and snappy dialogue. It’s basically a blend of KILL OR BE KILLED and OUTCAST with a police procedural backdrop. Sketchy artwork, which really does seem to be de rigueur at the mo, from a name new to me, Niko Walter, which very much adds to the creepy feel. Detective Graves and family are in for a very rough and extremely bloody time. Whether that will extend to more issues than this, I know not. This volume was not numbered which makes me think not, yet certain matters are left, shall we say, dangling tantalisingly…

JR

Buy Demonic s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions, Old Reviews

Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition (£8-99, Oni) by John Allison…

“Well now, you have a good day at school.”
“Aw Mum, don’t cry.”
“Snif, I can’t help it, sorry love.”
“Bye then.”
“Aren’t you going to give your mummy a kiss?”
“But…”
“Do those boys not have mothers too? Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, my little baby boy!”

“Linton, you really ought to catch the kisses your mum is blowing. They’re for you, it’s only right.”

Yes! John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious widescreen technicolour!

If I had to name one person in comics whose art style is the very definition of illustration, I personally would immediately say John. To see his work laid out like this really is like watching an exquisitely produced animation, his linework is so consistent and the colours so eye-strainingly vibrant.

It’s also clear John really does have a love for sleuthery, mysteries and general all around weirdness, as seen in his SCARY GO ROUND material, and his shorts featuring the slightly ditzy children’s author and part-time detective Shelley Winters, THAT! and MURDER SHE WRITES. Fans of that last work will be delighted to learn, if they didn’t know already, that Charlotte the tween sleuth is one of the six young stars of the show here, as the boys and girls of Tackleford form their very own Blyton-esque numerical investigative unit to find out who or what is behind the apparent curse on the mega-rich owner of local football club Tackleford FC. Results haven’t been going well recently and the one boy who is actually bothered about football is concerned that their benevolent oligarch will up sticks and leave. I needn’t add that all is not as it seems, I’m sure! It did amuse me greatly too that I didn’t guess who the ultimate culprit was! I also suspect Surreal may well be John’s middle name, as along with his brilliant art, this type of off-the-wall humorous fiction really has become his trademark.

John writes his stories with such apparent carefree glee and obviously understands the inner workings of the juvenile mind because, over and above the chortling, fruitloopy storylines, it’s the interaction between all the kids that make this such a total hoot. It really does take me back to the more inane aspects of schoolyard humour, and the dashes of ribald cruelty too, which I had mostly forgotten about. For me John’s star has been steadily rising, and I do hope, and think, this could be the work that really breaks him through to a considerably wider audience.

[Editor’s note: Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 of 2 went on to become our biggest-selling comic of 2015; his BOBBINS our biggest-selling comic of 2016. And it only came out that October!]

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, supposedly, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

I am happy to report this hardcover collects all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

Buy Providence vol 1 h/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.

Arclight s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland

The Cartoon Utopia (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.

DMZ Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli

The Flintstones vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Mark Russell & Steve Pugh

Forbidden Brides… h/c (£14-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley

Katzine: The Factory Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman

Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c (£10-00, Shiny Sword) by Sarah Graley

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 3 (£14-99, Titan) by Tom Fowler, Pamela Ribbon & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Steven Universe: Too Cool For School (£10-99, Titan) by various

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

A Thousand Coloured Castles (£17-99, Myriad) by Gareth Brookes

Triangle h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Batgirl vol 1: Beyond Burnside s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Rafael Albuquerque

Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & various

Civil War II: Fallout s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing, Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, Nick Spencerv & Karl Kesel, Ramon Bachs, Mark Bagley, Rod Reis

Uncanny Avengers: Unity vol 3 – Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ryan Stegman, Pepe Larraz

Blame! Vol 3 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei

Erased vol 1 h/c (£21-99, Yen) by Kei Sanbe

Legend Of Zelda vol 11: Twilight Princess vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

News

ITEM! Black Queer Romance Comics!

Hooray for BINGO LOVE from Inclusive Press whose romance lasts a full lifetime!

There are very few romance comics of any ilk that end well! What is it with us in comics that we are all such terrible doom-merchants?

And why will we not deal with old age?

Of course I will give you exceptions for we love to stay positive at Page 45:

Jade Sarson’s thrillingly free-from-guilt, all-inclusive and thoroughly feminist FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE on the romance front!

Roz Chast’s CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? on the old-age front!

Then there’s Paco Roca’s WRINKLES.

But BINGO LOVE looks to be all-embracing on every front and, God, it looks gorgeous!

ITEM! Animation test for the HILDA cartoon!

And it is perfect!

Oh, well it was perfect, but they’ve taken it down. Hope you caught it when I retweeted on Twitter!

Luke Pearson’s five HILDA graphic novels to date, each one reviewed!

ITEM! Philip Reeve addresses the completely counterproductive term MG (Middle Grade) to describe children’s books.

Stop it. Stop it now.

Everyone will think you mean “mediocre”.

There’s nothing mediocre about Reeve & McIntyre’s OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH and JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR or indeed Reeve’s own Railhead, Black Light Express etc.

– Stephen

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