Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week three

Including Thi Bui’s graphic memoir of her parents’ lives in – and flight from – Vietnam and another on the Japanese nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Also: Y.A. James Bond Silverfin is back with a brand-new review and more!

The Best We Could Do hc (£22-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui.

So often the best route to true understanding lies in the lives of others.

And no one lives solely in their present.

Every individual is coloured by their experiences which have informed their decisions which have in turn brought them to where they are today. It is in these histories that lies the context, and context is everything.

It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture if you cannot comprehend it, and the best key to comprehension is through the eyes of those individuals who are living it or have lived through it or have died during it.

So it is with those of us looking in from outside; and so it is within families themselves.

“Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family, trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult.
“I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I recognise what it is not, and now I understand…
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”

This is a story of parenthood, of childhood, of a generation gap which seemed like a chasm, and if you thought Belle Yang’s search for understanding in FORGET SORROW doubled as a fascinating account of one life in early 20th Century, this is an even more involving and personable account of two separate lives in mid 20th Century Vietnam which eventually and improbably converge. Through this Thi Bui begins to know her parents for who they are in greater depth, and so come to terms with her own strange childhood after the family’s terrifying escape in 1978 from Vietnam via Malaysia to America, then feel far more at ease with her own place within it all.

It is rich in detail and extraordinarily articulate, partly because it is so well structured.

It begins with the excruciatingly difficult birth of her own son which her mother flew all the way from New York to attend but then kept her agonised distance. The following hours in hospital aren’t easy, either, the practicalities of motherhood not coming naturally to Bui. She bonds with her mother over the pain of childbirth, then…

“Ma leaves me, but I’m not alone and a terrifying thought creeps into my head.
“Family is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.
“The responsibility is immense.
“A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Bui will return to her own motherhood only towards the end because this is not about that, but all which led up to it.

“My father always said he had no parents. In my twenties, I learned that my grandfather was alive in Vietnam and wanted to meet us.”

Her father refuses to join them. He is adamant. He does not want to see his own father again, but he won’t explain why.

“Soon after that trip back to Vietnam (our first since we escaped in 1978) I began to record our family history, thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present I could fill the void between my parents and me. And that if I could see Vietnam as a real place and not a symbol of something lost, I would see my parents as real people and learn to love them better.”

We will all see her parents as very real people and understand precisely why her father or “Bo” will not return and will have nothing to do with his own father. It is extraordinary, I promise you. You cannot begin to imagine.

Before we delve fully into the structure, I want to talk about the art which is soft and tender, and full of lyrical flourishes like a boat on the sea behind a quiet conversation, lush landscapes and so much more swirling water at one point doubling as a birth. The page just quoted also depicts the tumultuous oceanic crossing, while beneath it a young Thi stands naked, with her back to us, a map of Vietnam carved out of her body where her heart should be, bleeding out of her, up towards the sea or perhaps bleeding down into her to fill that void with fresh understanding.

“How did we get to such a lonely place?
“We live so close to each other and yet feel so far apart.
“I keep looking toward the past…
“Tracing out journey in reverse… over the ocean… through the war, seeking an origin story that will set everything right.”

The first part of this story – her mother’s six baby births – is indeed told in reverse. None of them are easy. The most recent was in the coastal Malaysian refugee camp, another during war; her mother’s firstborn wasn’t stillborn but she didn’t last long, the first parental shadow falling over the proceedings in the form of her own aloof mother’s advice not to breastfeed. Is that where it all began?

“How does one recover from the loss of a child?” she asks as we stroll down a leafy lane. “How do the others compare to the memory of the lost one?”

This triggers memories of Thi’s early childhood in a dark apartment in California, left with her younger brother in the care of her father while her sisters go to school and her mother takes the only job they can get because their degrees aren’t recognised – assembly-line work on minimum wage – which her father refuses.

“That sounds terrible.”

Instead he just sits there smoking, occasionally erupting, while forbidding them to answer the door. Her brother cowers in the closet when anyone comes knocking.

But what happened to her father when he was their age? There will be cowering there too. Cowering on an almost unimaginably dark scale; also our first history lesson, post-WWII – of France’s return to Vietnam to take back what they saw as colonially theirs (perhaps out of pride after being occupied by Germany) – after Ho Chi Minh had declared independence on behalf of the Viet Minh. So begins the geographical divide and the first atrocities…

It is there that we leave him for now, aged seven, with few or no prospects.

“And in the dark apartment in San Diego, I grew up with the terrified boy who became my father.”

This is what I mean by structure: each particular element informs a specific other.

So it is with her mother’s story, which could not be more different and which is brought to bear on Bui’s low self-esteem in comparison to her mother’s beauty. Hers was a much more exotic upbringing, as the youngest daughter of an affluent family and a daddy who doted on her, educated and thriving in French schools. She made friends with an older servant girl who took her to live with her family during the school holidays, sleeping under the moon in the countryside.

But when the servant is married off and so leaves the household, marriage as a trap begins to form in her mind while education represented freedom instead. She aspired to be a doctor. Evidently that didn’t happen, but why? How did she end up married to Thi’s father? Through education, ironically. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent…

Again, the structure is so well judged, Thi Bui seeking to understand her parents thoroughly and independently, before they even met let alone got married and had children. You will see all those births again, this time in the order they occurred, fleshed out as so many dots are joined and – oh! – there was a brief moment before those children when, against all odds, it all seemed so idyllic: teachers with two incomes in a beautiful small town in the deep southern part of the Mekong Delta.

They’d survived the First Indochina War, the Land Reforms – both with catastrophic casualties – but then came the Americans in 1965, destroying Vietnam’s agriculture with their defoliants and its economy with their imports, the descent of cities into police states, and thirteen more years, fully fleshed out for us all to comprehend just how unlikely they were ever to have escaped, and the toll that mere survival took on both of them. You can even spot almost the exact moment of Bui’s father’s collapse from provider to withdrawn brooder while her mother desperately, indefatigably soldiers on, for what other choice is there for a mother?

That’s not the end of the story, obviously, even after the refugee camp and the flight to America.

Once more there’s the question of provision, assimilation, finding your own place in a strange country and foreign climate, re-education after those degrees aren’t recognised, and the painstaking accumulation of fresh documentation both for the family and each of their children separately. It is so very impressive, yet it is humbly titled THE BEST WE COULD DO.

Along with Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, Sean Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS, this is another book with which to bang on the head of anyone tempted to think for even one second that seeking asylum is easy or believe the hate-mongering lies of the right-wing press and politicians that refugees are idle, disrespectful, sponging drains on our resources. In rebuttal Thi Bui could offer you the nightmare of random raids in a police state and the fear of being disbelieved, the horror of a sea crossing when you could be caught at any second, the generosity of Malaysian villagers with so little to give, the values instilled into their children by Thi Bui’s parents and the sheer hard graft of the mother in order to build something from nothing and set her children up to be educated at length, thrive in peace, and so that one of them could be in a position to write and draw this extraordinary graphic memoir over many years – while teaching in a high school for immigrants in Oakland which she helped create – in order to pass it all on to us for a greater understanding of others.

But, of course, this isn’t a rebuttal. This isn’t a polemic.

This is one woman seeking to gain understanding of herself and her relationship with her parents, in order to relax into parenthood herself.

We’re just lucky enough to be privy to this personal story, and so benefit from it ourselves.


Buy The Best We Could Do h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Grass Kings #1 (£3-25, Boom Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins.

“Ain’t no law says I can’t be here.”
“There’s written laws, and then there’s the other kind.”

The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you will see. He’s taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the matt paper this is printed on.

I’m generally quite sceptical about publishers’ comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them. (For an eloquently expressed graphic-novel history please see INDEH.) You will, however, have to wait for our review of the collected edition for me to explain myself, for I’ve already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.

It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.

“The lake holds the whole history of the place.
“Entire generations…
“The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.
“It cost me a niece… and a sister-in law.”

Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?

“The land… the water…? It sets the toll and takes what it will.”


What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi’s flap and staking his claim.

“This land has been fought for.
“This patch on earth has been earned.
“And lost… over and over again.”

We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow  until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms  and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..

“And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
“They ain’t about to give it up.”

Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman’s uniform. Apparently the boy isn’t welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn’t legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that – according to the Sheriff in Cargill – they’re all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.

Which is where, I believe, we came in.

“Shelly! How goes it?”
“S’all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself.”

We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let’s first talk about Tyler Jenkins.

There’s such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner’s DROPSIE AVENUE which you’ll also find within Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner’s town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.

The Grass Kingdom is evidently far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.

All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It’s akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you’ll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.

It’s phenomenally well structured too: there’s a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green – trees to the north, the lake to the south – while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend’s experience.

Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce’s older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king – one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It’s made very clear to the youth that he’s lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.

Then he sees something else.

I mentioned attention to detail, didn’t I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly on the final page, at which point you may want to rethink.


Buy Grass Kings #1 and read the Page 45 review here

ICHI-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir Of The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (£21-00, Kodansha) by Kazuto Tatsuta…

“I’d like to work at Fukushima Daiichi.”
‘When the explosion happened, I was living in the Tokyo area and looking for work.’
“Are you… serious?”
“Yes. Very much so.”
‘I was swayed by high pay, curiosity, and just a bit of altruism for those affected. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the radiation exposure, but my own research on this case showed me that it wasn’t as bad as the media and certain citizen groups claimed. In fact I told myself, if there really was a ‘hidden truth of Fukushima’ like they said, I’d go there and see what it was for myself.’

Back in March 2011 Japan was struck by the largest earthquake ever to hit the islands. Even more devastating was the consequent tsunami that instantaneously wiped entire towns off the map, and also resulted in three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Purely in financial terms, it is regarded as the costliest natural disaster in human history. This though, is not that story.

No, this is the story of the everyday recovery work undertaken in the following months, indeed years, which will stretch on and on into the foreseeable future for decades, by the brave or foolhardy legions of workers, most of whom are locals with a connection to the area. Their pay is not remotely lucrative due to how the work is structured through tiers of subcontractors, and up to 7,000 are working at the plant on any given day. This story is told by an amateur artist, using the pen name Kazuto Tatsuta to avoid the possibility of him being barred from working at the plant in the future, and it is effectively all those workers’ stories.

I should stop and tell you right now, that if you are expecting a huge undercover journalistic expose of horrendous conditions or unsafe practices you will be disappointed. Yes, there are some sharp corporate goings-on, but the deeply conservative Japanese are not renowned for playing fast and loose when it comes to public safety. In fact, given the sense of embarrassment felt that the meltdowns happened at all, despite the unparalleled and perhaps indefensible ferocity of nature’s assault on the plant, there is a real sense of purpose to rectify the situation, in the correct manner, as efficiently as possible.

Think of this, then, as a daily diary from the proverbial radioactive coalface, of one such worker, a tiny cog, engaged in the highly organised, almost endlessly vast programme of works relentlessly taking place around the clock at the plant. Thus we get a relatively objective viewpoint of those required to don the vast amounts of protective clothing and still end up absorbing sufficient radiation that six months work at a time could push you up to the safe annual limits and disqualify you from entering the site. At least until you’ve decayed a bit… and the radiation you’ve absorbed too… and then it’s back to work.

This work manages to achieve the slightly bizarre feat of being simultaneously quite a dry read of endless rounds of donning Tyvek coveralls, 3M facemasks, overshoe covers, undergoing decontamination procedures and in contrast an extremely engaging story of the day-to-day lives of people who are putting their hearts and souls into their work, in exchange for not more much more than a pittance. I think the latter wouldn’t have anywhere near as much impact without the weight of the former, but I did at times feel something mildly akin to the impatience the workers no doubt feel at having to endure another round of dress up and decon.

A truly fascinating work, very ably illustrated for someone who claims to merely be an ‘amateur artist’, his clean straightforward backgrounds wouldn’t look out of place in a Taniguchi work, which will provide an enduring valuable historical testament to one of the most significant and hair-raising / depilatory chapters of the story of nuclear power generation.


Buy ICHI-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir Of The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and read the Page 45 review here

USCA – Independent Manga For The Next Generation (£10-99, Diorama Books) by various…

15 of Japan’s up and coming manga creators tout their unique and non-conformist wares in this eclectic anthology curated by the USCA manga magazine. USCA contacted us directly to ask if we wanted to take this English translation aimed at blowing away our occidental preconceptions about manga, and perhaps our minds apart as well.

Each story is wisely a one-shot and if you enjoyed the likes of the AX COLLECTION OF ALTERNATIVE MANGA which we had on the shelves for a wee while, this will hit the mark. From what I’ve gathered reading around a little bit, the creators in the USCA magazine are regarded as being even more cutting edge than AX, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The people whom I am hoping will pick this up are those of you who are already deeply interested in English language self-published creators and fancy trying something a little bit different. You know who you are…

Many, many moons ago, our dear beloved Mark persuaded me to pick up a very strange Japanese anthology that contained one of the funniest comics I have ever read, still true to this day. I can well recall wiping tears of mirth away barely able to get my breath. Propriety prevents me from regaling you with the salient details here, but suffice to say, it singled-handedly convinced me that ‘underground’ Japanese comics creators could be just as out there as their Western counterparts. I have had a couple of conversations with customers of a certain age about said strip who had the same recommendation from Mark, and it had a similar effect on them too… Just plain wrong!

Anyway… here, as with any anthology I found there was the odd miss story-wise and stylistically, as well as some resounding brain-wobbling right hooks to the head.  But that’s to be expected with as experimental an approach to comics as some of these creators are utilising. If you genuinely believe all manga is doe-eyed schoolgirls with a bad case of visible panty line falling in love with inappropriately aged vampires, you’re in for a big surprise, trust me.

Even when the heart on her sleeve VPL schoolgirl trope is deployed, it is purely to hilariously poke fun at it, in one of my favourite yarns in this collection, about a deceased teen offered the chance to go back and finally declare her undying love for the unsuspecting object of her affections. One slight catch, she has to throw a dart Bullseye-style to determine precisely what she can come back to life as for an hour to achieve her task. Oh dear, it just landed in ‘mosquito’…


Buy USCA – Independent Manga For The Next Generation and read the Page 45 review here

Silverfin – The Graphic Novel (£9-99, Penguin) by Charlie Higson & Kev Walker…

The terror of a teenage James Bond:

“I must warn you…
“I haven’t had many driving lessons.
“This could be a bumpy ride.”

Oh, James! They’re always going to be bumpy.

There will be terror, but it won’t be Bond’s: as a thirteen-year-old he’s yet to become so hardened, detached or indeed accomplished. Don’t expect a precocious marksman or a preternaturally fit athlete, although he will start training at school and prove a fairly strong swimmer after being thrown in at the deep end of a freezing Thames in order to compete in Lord Hellebore’s Cup, a triathlon challenge involving shooting, swimming and running because that’s what his son George is best at.

James does evidence a smattering of sexism – though no more than any other 1930s boy – but don’t worry, he’ll be charmingly disarmed of that.

Back to the terror, and this teen-orientated tale kicks off near Keithly in Scotland on the banks of Loch Silverfin, framed by mountains and now surrounded on all sides by a chain link and razor wire fence so that the landed gentry inhabiting its island castle can keep out the riff-raff.


Lovely decorative dead dog heads…

One enterprising young poach takes bugger all notice and quite right too! Bloody aristos – it’s not natural, is it? – I bet you they’re English. This Loch always had the best fishing, though you do have to wade in quite deep for the choicest catch. Unfortunately the water starts churning, and so will your stomach…

This is a gorgeous graphic novel, a period piece between the two wars, set largely in the wilds of Scotland, and Walker provides all the eye candy you could hope for: plenty of panoramas and very rich colouring heavy on grass-green, earths and purple. He makes much use of mist for a hazy sense of distance or smoke at the smog-clogged train station.

Walker’s silhouetted castle is most Mike Mignola, as are his monstrosities, while his cast come over like Paul Grist characters – look at the eyes and teeth! – inked by P. Craig Russell (there’s a perfect James Bond quizzical arched eyebrow raised early on). Oh yes, there will be monstrosities, along with the obligatory Ian Fleming strapped-to-the-rack torture scene, although nothing so heavy as having a buzzing saw or lasers roving  too close to one’s crown jewels. Once more this is beautifully lit in a much more toxic shade of green, and toxins may well be involved.

It’s also a book about friendship and family, for although Bond had famously lost his parents by this point, his Aunt Charmian and her brother, Uncle Max, are determined to look after him as best and for as long as they can and even give him an unorthodox early driving lesson. Alas, Uncle Max – a former spy during WWI determined that James should not follow suit – doesn’t have long, for he’s fading away with cancer. There are two very tender scenes when his uncle lights up and teenage James is so sad. Not disappointed, not upset, but ever so sad. Yeah, I know the 1930s are a little too early for a young lad to link them, but it’s never a bad message to reinforce so delicately, is it?

But of course there are bad families too, passing down their line the fine art of bullying and, after that eel-ridden prologue, we begin with Bond bound for boarding school, specifically Eton.

This allows Higson an early opportunity to engage us with a “Bond, James Bond” moment because borders called each other – and may still call each other, for all I know – by their surnames. The suave confidence with which our future secret service agent will deliver such lines is undercut brilliantly by the first of many rude awakenings in store for him at Eton, when he’s contradicted with “James Bond – sir”, not by an avuncular and ever-exasperated Quartermaster but by his dreaded Housemaster.

All too quickly Bond falls equally foul of older boy George Hellibore, son of American arms dealer Lord Hellibore, but before that he has to deal with his bedsit being bare with peeling paint and plaster. Oh, yeah, you thought Public School accommodation was plush?! Pffft. There’s a reason we had to use drapes.

Still, the great thing about the school hols was you could always leave the bullies back at boarding school, eh? They’re not going to live anywhere near you.

Oh, James, you’re in for such a bumpy ride!


Buy Silverfin – The Graphic Novel and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 3: Blood In The Aether (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, others.

What that cover lacks in full-on Ditko psychedelia, it more than makes up for in fluorescent, DayGlo glory.

“If the old books of magic don’t apply anymore… it’s time to write some new ones.”

The old books of magic no longer apply: DOCTOR STRANGE VOL 1: THE WAY OF THE WEIRD began their destruction along with the draining of all other arcane knick-knacks. Magic all across this world – along with so many others – has been expended and is only just beginning to flicker back into life.

So it’s out with the Cloak Of Levitation – there simply isn’t the energy to sustain it – and in with the Cape Of Getting All Wrapped Up And Tangled In.

Alternatively whilst thinking on his feet (and halfway up a sky scraper) it’s time for a two-minute Nambian Huntsman Spider Spell, cast on his boots to turn him into a temporary wall crawler.
That much our Master Of The Mystic Arts can just about muster, along with an apple he’d almost eaten to the core which, if you lob it just right, comes with a bite, and quite the tree-trunk bonk to the head.

No, the old books of magic not longer apply because their mystical mumbo-jumbo has been replaced by a Strange but satisfying logic and brilliant, balls-out laughter which is so much more fun. Matt Fraction did the same for HAWKEYE, realising that a comedy of manners in its true, theatrical sense, would be infinitely more appealing to the Real Mainstream than super-powered pugilism.

Artist Chris Bachalo throws himself into the same goal with gusto. Look at the details on the cover to #14!

The menu inside is one long scream. No really:

“The menu is just pictures of people screaming.”

They’ve seen the main dishes. Also the waiters. And the chef.

The chef is Master Pandemonium, a D-grade character who has ten demons for digits whose history I won’t bother to explain for it is utterly irrelevant: you won’t need to have read anything about him prior to this series. Suffice to say that here he’s reduced to two demons, but has trouble enough keeping those incessant squabblers at arm’s length.

I’m counting six key adversaries for six successive chapters of non-stop nonsense, each attempting to write their own proscriptive prescription for the dear Doctor after diagnosing his depletion, all of them ending in death.

The prognosis is poor but the delivery is delirious as our battered and constantly buffeted new buffoon of a Sorcerer Supreme staves off their half-assed attacks and monomaniacal monologues just long enough to…


What went Wong?!


Buy Doctor Strange vol 3: Blood In The Aether (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

How To Create Graphic Novels (£4-99, LICAF) by Rodolphe Töpffer.

Pocketbook resurrection of a long-lost artefact originally published in 1845, translated by the gregarious John McShane whom many may remember from Glasgow’s AKA Books (which I thought was a wittily playful and positive name for a comic shop) who also provides an introduction full of insightful context almost as long as the proposition itself.

Amongst many amusements there, you will learn of the absurd pseudo-science called phrenology once bandied about by highly regarded quacks with a disregard for truth and evidence on a scale approaching Donald Trump’s po-faced proclamations. Rodolphe Töpffer, you’ll be relieved to hear, was not a fan. Of phrenology, I mean; I’d like to have seen him draw Donald Trump.

Here’s an edited version of what The Lakes International Comic Art Festival wrote about their publication:

“It was the first ever book on creating graphic novels, which has been translated, edited, and introduced by John McShane and designed by Festival patron Sean Phillips.

“Born in Geneva in 1799, Töpffer was a schoolmaster, university professor, polemical journalist, art critic, landscape draughtsman and writer of fiction, travel tales, and social criticism. Within two years of the first appearance of the world’s first regularly published comics magazine, ‘The Glasgow Looking Glass’ (11th June 1825), Rodolphe Töpffer single-handedly started creating what became the world’s first graphic novels.

“At first he resisted publishing what he called his “little follies”. When he did, they became instantly popular, plagiarised, and imitated throughout Europe and the United States.

“In 1845, he wrote HOW TO CREATE GRAPHIC NOVELS, the world’s first book about this new art of the graphic novel.

“This new edition has been endorsed by Benoît Peeters, the UK’s only Professor of Graphic Fiction and Comic Art (at Lancaster University) and comics artist and illustrator Dan Berry, Programme Leader for the BA/MDes Illustration, Graphic Novels and Children’s Publishing degree courses at the School of Creative Arts, Wrexham Glyndwr University, who will both be guests at this year’s Festival in October.

“”Many people who read Will Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD in 1987, or Art Spiegelman’s MAUS in 1980-9, or Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ WATCHMEN in 1986-87 probably felt that they were witnessing the first examples of a new form of literature,” notes John McShane. “But the truth is that these books were part of a rebirth of the form, a renaissance indeed, which Rodolphe Töpffer created in 1827 – all by himself.”

“So, what is this ‘little book’ which you now hold in your hands all about? It is Töpffer’s demonstration of the advantages of the graphic form over prose novels – and how to go about creating your own,” John explains. “Töpffer’s theories are still influential to this day, and still worth studying.”

What no one seems to consider worth mentioning is that within the work Mr T actually illustrates his prose hypothesis about conveying character as a constant and immediate emotion or thought in several drawn demonstrations utilising different – and differentiating – component parts of the face.

He does the same, passing by, on stature etc.

It’s a starting point which will give you much food for thought.

Let no one tell you, however, that this is where the history of comics began (I’ve edited that extract out). It may be where the first discussion of the medium occurred, but the history of comics began with ancient Egyptian, sequential-art paintings of harvests circa 1300 B.C.*, and flourished as Töpffer himself points out under Britain’s William Hogarth in the 18th Century. Its origins may even lie much earlier in pre-historical cave paintings like those in Lascaux (170th Century BC), depending on your interpretation of those fairly dynamic daubs. I subscribe, certainly.

This is a genuine gem of a find and an important part of our beloved medium’s evolution.

* Not hieroglyphics, obviously, for they were merely pictorial representations of letters.


Buy How To Create Graphic Novels 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.

Siberia 56 h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Christophe Bec & Alexis Sentenac

Drugs & Wires #1 (£4-99, Dead Channel Comix) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

Drugs & Wires #2 (£4-99, Dead Channel Comix) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

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

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

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

Deadly Class vol 5: Carousel s/c (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig

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

Providence vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow
DC Comics: Bombshells vol 3: Uprising s/c (£17-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Sandy Jarrel, Pasquale Qualano

Harley Quinn vol 1: Die Laughing s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, John Timms, Jill Thompson, Joseph Michael Linser


ITEM! Pre-orders, please!

 Once again I am trawling the monthly PREVIEWS order form for gems!

This time it’s March PREVIEWS for comics and graphic novels arriving mainly in May which you can read for free online on the Page 45 website and even pre-order, perchance or phone / email in to add to your regular order. We really wish you would because we have to order two months in advance and pre-orders help us gauge potential interest and guarantee you get a graphic novel or comic which you know you already want. Creators have died under the duress of trying to persuade people to pre-order: it is exhausting, but we mustn’t give up!

There’s a new Guy Delisle – most famous for his hugely entertaining travelogues like PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES and JERUSALEM – but this one isn’t going to be what you expect except excellent. HOSTAGE – I don’t think there’ll be many laffs.

ITEM! In marked contrast in May comes SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

Now, the cover ain’t all that, I grant you, but I’ve read the whole of the first chapter and their imaginations are on overload, with a real wit to back them up. Weirdest city darned city you’ll see.

Not sure how long this site will stay up, but for the moment you too can read dozens and dozens of pages of Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland’s SPILL ZONE for free! Click “first” first of all to take you to the beginning!

Then you could pre-order, please, right?





ITEM! BandLogoJukeBox!

Ever wonder about the origin of some of your favourite band logos? Loads on offer here with comments by their creators, like the Buzzcocks. Click left and right for more, but one of my favourite bands was THE CRAMPS, their logo cribbed by lead singer Lux Interior himself from Al Felstein’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT script.


You wondered if there’d be a comics connection!

Right, I’m done for the night,

 – Stephen

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