Archive for November, 2017

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2017 week three

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Featuring Melanie Gillman, Jesse Jacobs, Chris Gooch, Pierre Paquet & Jesύs Alonso, John Allison, Jiro Taniguchi, Sara Varon and more!

As The Crow Flies (£26-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Melanie Gillman.

Do you want something to make your hearts soar and your souls sing?

Melanie Gillman presents you with two hundred and seventy pages of warm, rich, full-colour beauty successfully celebrating the awe-inspiring majesty of nature and the equally impressive ability of young individuals to reach out to one another while keeping you worried that they won’t.

And they don’t, some of them – not to begin with. No one is perfect: we can’t ask for that. People are complex, behaviour can be mean and words very careless indeed.

History and religion are complicated too, and it behoves us all to dig a little deeper. But if you think I’ve already given too much away, oh no: there are many mysteries for you to discover for yourselves, some of which I won’t even allude to here.

 

 

“I always thought that was cute – girls with boys’ names.”

Charlie Lamonte has only just arrived, and is already worried that this was all a massive mistake: electing to spend an entire week at a remote Christian youth backpacking camp where, it transpires, all the other twelve-to-fourteen-year-old girls are white.

Charlie, you see, is black. She’s also self-aware, as painfully self-conscious as any teenager, queer and beginning to question her formerly firm belief in God.

 

 

Not only that, but the other girls have already arrived and seem far more confident than Charlie. A couple of them are quiet and dubious, but others have made friends and are playing cheerfully, energetically, even raucously. What greets Charlie is daunting, to say the least. She’s hoping not to get noticed. She’s hoping not to stand out. She’s hoping to find the reason that she believes she was led here today.

“Please talk to me again.
“Don’t go silent.
“Please.
“Please.
“…
“Don’t leave me here all alone.”

There are admittedly worse things in life, but being alone in a crowd is excruciating, particularly when you are young.

 

 

The early signs are not good. Sydney, 13, is combative, swiftly attracting the contempt of the older, slightly sanctimonious Adelaide and Therese for her age, flat shoes and skirt.

“Who wears a skirt on a backpacking trip??”

Therese and Adelaide pair up fast over supper, establishing a pecking order and bonding over the romance of weddings – so that’s another awkward subject for Charlie (“I’ve never really been the, uhh… marrying type)  – and Adelaide even manages to drop in the word “gay” as a lazy, disdainful pejorative.

 

 

The good news is that this week-long camp is thoroughly feminist and so empowering in nature, which is a refreshing change for such a patriarchal organised religion. Counsellors of Charlie’s six-strong Cherokee group – Bee and her 18-year-old daughter, Penny – are at pains to point out that the backpacking hike that they are all about to undertake together follows in the footsteps of the women of the former gold-mining colony who did all the farming on top of domestic duties and raising as many as seven kids, so found themselves with less time and fewer opportunities than the men to form bonding ties on hunting trips or down the local saloon. Led by a woman called Beatrice, they broke ranks with their husbands to proceed undaunted on an expedition of their own up, up and into the chartered wild, creating their own space right at the range’s apex where they celebrated in a ceremony which the girls at Camp Three Peaks will be re-enacting when they too reach the summit. But both Bee and Penny are determined to keep the nature of that ceremony secret from their young charges, and that gives Charlie some concern, to say nothing of the loaded language used to describe it.

Here’s another mystery: if the wives all defiantly struck out in secret and at night leaving their husbands back at base, who looked after their newly-born babies still needing to suckle?

 

 

The trek is arduous.

Over and again Gillman give us silent panels of huge endeavour emphasising both the scale of what these young women are undertaking, but also the difficulties that they casually encounter along the way. One panel gave me extreme vicarious vertigo.

But the views are epic, they are heavenly, and hues are sublime. Gillman’s softly textured coloured pencils really come into their own as the white-hot disc of the sun sweeps across the sky, casting the farthest, hazy ranges into an otherworldly Martian red while the nearer verdant peaks, denser in rugged detail show off both coniferous green and purple concave shadow.

 

 

It’s easier for some than for others, but Charlie is finding it particularly problematic: she’s just come into her period a week earlier than expected so hasn’t brought any sanity-towel protection. Already de-hydrating, this loss of blood is both embarrassing to Charlie but also dangerously debilitating, on top of which she’s plagued by the most excruciating cramps. And she is trying to make friends! And not stand out! The last thing she needs is to feel a burden.

She discovers she’s bleeding while assigned to collect and purify mountain water for the group with 13-year-old Sydney who provides her with tissue paper from her backpack as a stop-gap.

“You okay in there?”
“Fine! Just met some too-friendly foliage.”
“Tell it to keep its grubby tree-mitts to itself!”
“Heh.”
“If I’da known, I could’ve gotten you the mace from my bag, too!”
“Mace?”

They don’t collect much water, but at least they’re beginning to bond and Sydney is kind and inclusive.

“I think we’re destined to be terrible water-bearers, you and I.”

 

 

But Charlie’s curiosity won’t go away.

“Okay, I gotta ask – did you actually pack mace?”
“Would it weird you out if I did?”
“I guess I’d just want to know why.”
“… Not everybody’s equally safe in places like this.”

Sydney looks away, cautiously.
Charlie starts to smart.

“What the hell does this girl know about feeling unsafe?” Charlie thinks.

And Sydney looks back.

 

 

 

Yay for Young Adult diversity and friendships! This will sit beautifully on our shelves next to Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS, Maggie Thrash’s HONOR GIRL and the recent, more urban BREAKS by Malin Ryden and Emma Vieceli, for example.

The art could not be more welcoming, the borderless panels radiating with natural beauty of green, gold and brown between clean white gutters. I make no pretence of knowing Gillman’s visual inspiration, I only observe that some of Charlie’s expressions while she and Sydney are (not!) collecting water put me surprisingly in mind of Richard Sala’s. Eyes / nose, everyone?

 

 

What I loved above all about this on top of Sydney and Charlie’s burgeoning trust and innocent collusion is the absence of unquestioned, theological perfection (why does organised religion insist that such an omnipotent being as God even has a limiting gender? – rhetorical) as well as the complete absence of two-dimensional stereotypes set up purely for the purposes of antagonism. People have the ability to disappoint (and I include myself there), but also to surprise and delight you.

Here’s Adelaide, freely admitting that she really needs to work on being mean (which she can be, even to friends):

“Sometimes I think we’re trained to do just that – make friends like we’re jockeying for position.
“By the time you realize it, it’s already become engrained.
“It doesn’t feel very Christian.”

Amen.

SLH

Buy As The Crow Flies and read the Page 45 review here

Crawl Space h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by Jesse Jacobs…

“It’s hard to explain. It’s full of all these messed up shapes and colours.”
“Jeanne-Claude, you talk like a liar.”
“It’s true! There’s like this weird undiscovered ecosystem under the house.”
“???”
“And it can only be accessed through the laundry machines.”
“PFFFFF.”

“Oh, hey Daisy! This is Daisy, she just moved here from the States.”
“Hey.”
“They don’t believe me about your basement. We have to prove it!”
“New kids are always so full of shit.”
“Come on! Everyone wants to go!”
“Ok, but it won’t work unless you’re pure of mind and purpose.”

 

 

And on the very previous page, Daisy had quite clearly asked Jeanne-Claude not to tell anyone… After all, if you’d discovered a psychedelic portal to an immaterial realm in your basement and you were the new kid in town, you’d probably want to keep it quiet too! Consequently it’s not long before everyone at school is desperate to take a mind-bending trip through Daisy’s mysterious washing machine. Well, and her dryer too because both, with a bit of concentration, allow access to the said world of messed-up shapes and colours. In fact, whilst there, even your own body turns into a strange swirly rainbow affair.

 

 

Jesse Jacobs returns to mess with our noggins in his follow up to the equally bizarre SAFARI HONEYMOON, which told the farcical tale of the traditional post-nuptial holiday gone very badly awry. He clearly likes his transmogrification, does our Jesse… The difference here is that he’s splashed out on some ink and really given it the full-spectrum spread. So much so, I have a sneaking suspicion that were I able to see up into the ultra-violet and down into the infra-red, there would be probably be a whole lot of additional madness happening on the page at those wavelengths too. If not, that’s an idea for his next work!

 

 

However, this is a story of spiritual growth, of taking a profound journey towards realising an enlightened state of being. Or just getting completely off your proverbial trolley, depending on how you look at it… And that perspective, that difference in approach, well, that will make a very significant alteration to what you experience within this peculiar state of existence, plus what psychic imprint you leave behind on it, and its inhabitants… For yes, curious metaphysical beings do dwell there… I shall say no more on the plot front, because some things are best experienced without any foreknowledge or pre-conceptions… Suffice to say, I doubt one leaves this work exactly the same as before one first opened the cover…

 

 

Art-wise, Jesse is like the perfect hybrid of Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS Brown, Marc DRAWN & QUARTERLY: 25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY CARTOONING Bell and Jim FRAN Woodring and yet has a damn good go at transcending them all with a style that is a sensuous, endless flow of precise parallel lines, perfectly smooth curves, interspersed with intense contorted shapes and bejewelled with mandala-like creations that combine to beguile and delight. And occasionally terrify!

 

 

I think it is perhaps, therefore, quite apparent, even from this review, what the not-so-hidden allegorical element(s) to this work might be! I’ve deliberately put that s in parenthesis because depending on how (deeply) you look at it, I think there’s more than one. I loved how the dual potential aspects of the journeys through the realm were presented. Attitude, it seems, really is everything. As a comics creator, Jesse Jacobs certainly has it by the pocket-psychic-universe-full.

JR

Buy Crawl Space h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bottled (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Chris Gooch…

“BLUURRGH!
“…Jane?
“Jane? I want to tell you something…”
“Just focus on not throwing up, okay? We’re nearly there.”
“No, no… I have to tell you, I feel so guilty…
“Do you remember my going-away party? Like before I went to Tokyo?”

Perhaps you have one of those friends, who have done fantastically well for themselves, but seemingly have become rather insufferable with it? Jane does. Her old schoolfriend Natalie, whom she used to be inseparable from at school, is now gracing the Japanese catwalks as a fashion model. Natalie’s coming back home to Australia to do some publicity for her latest campaign and has deigned to suggest Jane and her have a catch-up night out… at a glamorous fashion-world party filled with beautiful people from the in-crowd.

 

 

It’s Jane’s worst nightmare, being very much a girl with her feet firmly on the ground, even though she’s stuck living at home with her mother and her mother’s odious and obviously unfaithful boyfriend Steve. Jane’s desperate to move out with her own devoted long-term boyfriend Ben, but all they can possibly afford is a tiny room in a dreary house-share with some rather odd characters, and even then they’re woeful short of the required deposit. Which is why, when Natalie drunkenly blurts out a previous betrayal in a pissed-up, post-party state, leaving Jane in a state of extreme dudgeon, she starts to concoct an elaborate scheme to get her revenge… and the deposit.

 

 

Chris Gooch perfectly captures Jane’s draining existence and the covert thrills she begins to experience whilst stealthily executing her plot. His chosen colour palette of black, white and dull red, the shading entirely provided by a letratone effect, captures the grim reality of both her suffocating, stilted life and her dark intentions towards her former friend.

 

 

It’s a gritty story with a rather bleak climax, which upon reflection is less simplistic than it first appeared to me. I initially struggled with the openness that Jane acts in the final scenes, but in fact, sometimes, someone just needs to realise that other wronged person really is hammering the nails firmly down on the coffin lid of their dead friendship.

JR

Buy Bottled and read the Page 45 review here

POS – Piece Of Sh*t h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Pierre Paquet & Jesύs Alonso.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: a week after I review MANN’S BEST FRIEND I’m handed another dog-centric story, and this time it’s an autobiography.

It’s breathtakingly beautiful: an expressive, visual treat from Jesύs Alonso thrown together with constant, vivacious, bounding movement, coloured in the countryside with such refreshing, bright-skied joy, but blue as you like at night.

That’s Pierre at the top of the cover looking a bit blank, harrowed, lost, lonely and ashamed, surrounded by the ghosts / empty shells of the lovers he never loved even when he was adored. You’ll meet a fair few of them inside. One was perfect; Pierre was not.

And look! That’s Sonny at the bottom, sitting obediently, patiently and trustingly, looking up adoringly into Pierre’s eyes, waiting for a signal, any sign that it’s time to play! Whatever Pierre has endured over all these years as a lover, publisher and private individual – with careless friends and the occasional outrageous duplicity – Sonny has been his one loyal constant, his confidant, all fluffy and energetic and bursting with unconditional, wholehearted love.

 

 

But Pierre is charging through the city

“Where are you going?”

Interjected between these 250 album-sized pages of green and golden light there is a staccato series of midnight pages – say, a dozen in total – in the centre of each of which lies a single, landscape, cityscape panel as Pierre tears across town at top speed. His loose, French-striped sweatshirt rides up at his back, bearing his sharply defined, taut spine.

“You look like you’re in a hurry…”

He’s carrying a black bin liner which we first spy resting silently by his bathroom door in Pierre’s otherwise empty flat before Pierre enters, strips, looks in the mirror and bursts into tears.

 

 

 

“Wait for me!”

It swings lightly in one hand as he races desperately down the middle of the main road, the only traffic parked and unattended at the curb…

Pierre Paquet is a publisher.

He specialises in comicbook creators whom he believes in: those who aren’t receiving, for example, the Casterman treatment which almost guarantees sales and recognition. At Page 45 we empathise unreservedly. For Pierre it has often proved a thankless task of long hours, hard work and few rewards, as you will see. Perhaps you’d like to travel with him to the French festival at Angoulême and see how that goes?

 

 

“I’m faster than you!”

He’s not immune to being led astray or over-reaching himself, but the one thing he’s never lacked is ambition, zeal, optimism and the sort of bravado that results in eagerly and courageously sticking his neck out. As in publishing, so it has been in dating.

Wow, but this guy knows how to travel! I’m not quite sure how all this was afforded. Evidently we live in very different worlds. Still, it makes for a very rich and surprising tapestry.

 

 

 

“Stop! Talk to me!”

 He wasn’t always so great with dogs when younger.

Earlier on he tries to adopt Lucy against his mother’s better judgement. There’s an exquisitely drawn scene in which Lucy, who is straight out of kennels and bursting with gratitude plus an eagerness to please, cocks her head to one side then another as she listens to their dispute with varying degrees of bafflement, startled alarm, uncertainty yet hope, then an ear-twitching ouch as her elder years are argued as but a short-term and so practical engagement.

But at last there are the cuddles of commitment. Awwww…!

 

 

It doesn’t end well.

“I have a new game we can play!”

Sonny is a different proposition altogether. Now older, wiser, far more capable and flexible, Paquet adopts puppy Sonny born of a Great Pyrenees mum who loved him but an Afghan hound that rejected him in the same shared, restricted space which resulted in their original owners shutting Sonny up alone in a closet for months until neighbours thankfully reported the execrable excuses for human beings..

On the pages that follow Alonso once again rises to the challenge of depicting a too-timid Sonny who understandably takes over a year of reassuring love before he finally stops cowering in public at even the most tentative overture of kindness. When you’ve been rejected for so long, trust cannot not come easily.

 

 

You’ll notice that I’m concentrating on the dog here. There’s so much more, I promise you, from childhood friends grown larger and more dominating, to lawsuits and lovers and an exceptionally curious visit to the “studio” of a very well known artist within the comicbook community that I still cannot quite believe was the real deal. Oh yeah, Paquet’s life is not uneventful.

“But… what’s going on?”

I once lost my dog Leela for half an hour while she chased after her own tail up Peckforton Hills, a mere fifteen minutes from where I used to live in Cheshire. She was way too stupid to hunt, track or trail anything real, which is one of the many reasons that I loved her so much. In that one half an hour, during which I could not recall her (however loudly) into my sight, my heart took up residence in my mouth, paid sixteen months rent and threatened to sign a legally binding lease. At one point Paquet loses Sonny in the middle of nowhere he knew for a full night and day. I cannot even imagine…

However, did I mention that Alonso consistently conveys every nuance of emotion within to note-perfect perfection throughout? My own tautologies aside, you will be able to imagine exactly what Pierre was going through.

 

 

Alonso does lip-biting, eye-watering, toe-curling (literal, orgasmic toe-curling during sex), dazed, doting, head-over-heels, blistering fury, blessed relief and gastric fever like no one’s business.

“I’m… hey, are you crying…?”

Lastly, if you’re still wondering where my only quotes are coming from, they’re reproductions of those big black, midnight pages I mentioned earlier in which Paquet is careening single-mindedly down whichever central avenue it is, hand clenched over the throat of that plastic bin-liner which his eyes so studiously avoided and for so long back at the flat.

Sonny is chasing after him, lolloping as lovingly as he ever did with boundless, infinite enthusiasm, but completely unable to comprehend why Pierre won’t listen or cannot even hear him any longer.

Figure it out for yourself: I can’t even see this screen for tears.

SLH

Buy POS – Piece Of Sh*t h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 3: The Case Of The Simple Soul s/c Pocket Edition (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison.

“Rain rain rain rain flipping RAIN, Mildred.
“What’s for dinner tonight?
“Wait no, don’t tell me, is it RAIN?”

Britain, eh? We have, like, two hundred words for rain. Outside the singularly British town of Tackleford it is torrential, and the page is lit to perfection in that strange, almost eerie off-greeny-grey that often accompanies an impenetrably stormy sky.

“We can get out of it in the barn, Lottie.”
“It smells like a bonfire.”
“Be careful not to sit on a rusty nail. That’s basically deadly.”

It smells like a bonfire because it was one. Someone’s been lighting up local wooden barns – accidentally or otherwise – and there’s so little left of this one that I’d probably keep that hood up, Lottie. This, of course, is exactly the sort of mystery that our two competitive teams of pre-teen detectives would be investigating but both are currently a proverbial man down. Linton and Sonny have lost Jack while Charlotte and Mildred are missing Shauna on account of Shauna and Jack are in lurve.

“Jack, Wouldn’t it be romantic is we were run over by a combine harvester together?”

Hmmm. Unfortunately Jack isn’t very good at romance: he can’t read the signs. I love his dopey lips and wide eyes as Shauna presses his hands to her heart. She is excited! She’s excited because although they have avoided death-by-threshing, they’ve just spotted a huge, hunched man with no shoes or socks, but a big, bare, hairy back. And I think it’s spotted them too. It’s hiding under the bridge like a troll.

Jack forbids Shauna to tell Lottie and Mildred but “Sisters before Misters”, right?

 

 

Meanwhile at school Linton and Sonny have acquired a substitute for Jack in the form of Irish lad Colm who’s more than a wee bit wayward when it comes to “shopping”. So that could get them in trouble: there are such things as security cameras, you know. On the other hand, he’s refreshingly direct and seems to know stuff.

“Now then, lads. That’s your missin’ friend isn’t it, over there with blondie? Don’t worry, you’ve got to let ’em go so they’ll come back. That’s what my da’ says. Of course, he’s talkin’ about pigeons.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“I believe pigeons are in some way… magnetic?”

Oh, Sonny! Sitting on the grass, all dopey, with a daisy-chain draped over his head!

“Sonny, take that off. Someone will thump the dinner out of you.”

Effortlessly Allison has set up all the elements that will come into play later on as the temperature rises on the burning barns, Tackleford’s fire department blazes into rash action and Lottie’s new obsession with romance leads her to try teaching the troll they’ve been tracking The Art Of Romance. He’s about as good at that as Jack.

 

 

You don’t see John doing this because every page is such a glorious distraction both in its body-language beauty (see BOBBINS), its cartoon flourishes like Colm’s world cracking when Charlotte snubs his advances, and all the circuitous shenanigans set at school and while kicking around town afterwards.

It also boasts the recognition factor for it’s all so astutely observed: sitting down to supper first the first time with a family and encountering alien table manners; the jumbled mess of less technically minded adults’ computers; Lottie and sister Sarah’s push-and-pull, tactile relationship and the sort of cheeky, kind-hearted teasing that can only come from love and trust; teachers and their elbow patches; teachers down the boozer of a Friday night.

 

 

Also, I’ve been meaning to mention the petticoat. I don’t think I’ve typed the word “petticoat” before and so seldom see one worn anymore. Credit-hogging, local journalist Erin Jane Winters is wearing one and, as drawn by Allison, its pendulous pleats are ever so pretty.

There are thirty new pages here since it was originally published online including a glossary this time written by Lottie herself and that early school-grounds landscape is a spacious and spatial joy. Speaking of Lottie, I loved her book of local beasts.

“Jerry the Cyclops
“Fearsome looking but his lack of depth perception and physical fitness mean he is NON-THRETTENING.
“Giant bee
“Does it make giant honey?
“NOT SURE
“Local cyborg
“Not billionaire playboy as suspected, just an idiot with a soldering iron and too much spare time.”

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 3: The Case Of The Simple Soul s/c Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

A Zoo In Winter h/c (£18-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi…

Ahh, Mr. Taniguchi you’ve done it again with this deeply thoughtful fictional work suffused throughout with gently beating veins of autobiography. Just how much of this work is purely fictional and how much is directly autobiographical I honestly have no idea, but I certainly read it with the strong sense that the portrayal of the main character, Hamaguchi, is perhaps very closely based on Taniguchi himself. Also, certain specific events that take place within the book are direct representations of actual events, I suspect.

Regardless of the emotional connection to Taniguchi’s own past, though, this is a really moving work, and certainly one that alongside A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD, GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS and VENICE etc. I will be recommending in perpetuity to people who inquire about more sophisticated manga.

The story opens with a young man at the beginning of a fairly typical salaryman’s career working for a textile manufacturer in Kyoto circa 1966, who then almost by chance falls into a new career as a mangaka’s (manga master’s) assistant in Tokyo. From then on the story focuses heavily on the trials and tribulations that a budding manga artist faces both in terms coping with the hectic working schedule and hitting the relentless weekly deadlines, but also adjusting to the social life of the more bohemian set. Along the way there’s just enough time for some romance too, both firsthand with a particularly frail young lady and also at a remove as a chaperone to the textile boss’s daughter.

 

 

As ever, Taniguchi’s art is impressively crisp and precise, with typically lavish attention paid to minute background details, without them ever becoming a distraction. I always feel that reading something illustrated by Taniguchi is a genuinely immersive experience, precisely because of such detailing. It draws you in deeply to the world he’s created as much as any well produced television programme or film does, and thus creates a seamless experience for the reader.

Much of the subtle poignancy of this work does come from wondering precisely which are Taniguchi’s own experiences, particularly when it comes to the romantic element, not least the slightly mysterious ending that’s not really an ending. I would love to know whether the frail young lady was a real person in Taniguchi’s life and, if so, precisely what did become of her. I have my suspicions, but no amount of googling has yet revealed any definitive answers! Maybe that’s for the best, as no answer is necessary really to receive the warm emotional message which Taniguchi would like you to take away from this work.

JR

Buy A Zoo In Winter h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Summit Of The Gods vol 1 (14-99, Fanfare/Ponent Mon) by Yumemakura Baku & Jiro Taniguchi…

”So you really did the Demon Slab huh?”
“Ahaha! I guess so! Looking back on it, it’s like I did the climb all by myself.”

June 8th, 1924 at 12.50pm, was the last time that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were seen alive. Observed very briefly during a break in the clouds from one of the lower camps by Noel Odell they were far, far up above up on the final summit ridge near the peak of Mount Everest. Then the clouds closed in once more and they were never seen again. To this day, despite the discovery of Mallory’s frozen body on Everest’s North Face in recent years, there is still no clear evidence as to whether they failed in their brave attempt to be the first to conquer Everest, or whether they reached the summit and were in fact on a triumphant descent when the weather closed in and disaster struck. The only hope of solving this mystery lies in finding Mallory’s camera, which sadly was not on his body when it was finally discovered in 1999.

 

 

SUMMIT OF THE GODS is set in 1993 with Mallory’s body still undiscovered on the mountain, and a Japanese photographer Makoto Fukamachi, seconded to a failed Everest expedition organised by wealthy Japanese executives, stumbles across a 1920s Kodak camera in a Kathmandu junk shop which he quickly realises is very probably Mallory’s. Before he can do anything with the film, however, the camera is stolen from him, and we are introduced to the character whose life story, told in flashback, occupies the rest of this first volume. Enter Jouji Habi, one of the greatest and possibly the most single-minded Japanese mountain climbers ever. Not to mention the most social awkward and indeed certainly most obnoxious one. A true lone wolf who preferred to climb alone, he had simply disappeared from public view after a failed Everest expedition in 1985. So what, wonders Fukamachi, is Habi doing in Kathmandu, and what is his personal interest in Mallory’s camera?

Baku’s writing has me totally engrossed: it’s packed with characterisation and plot detail to rival any prose work. The story of Habi’s early years as an upcoming mountaineer in Japan just grips you like a crampon and never lets go. I really wanted to read on at the end of volume one, but I already have no doubts that the next four volumes will be just as wonderful. To be honest, I’m just desperate to see where the story goes next! Taniguchi’s detailed and realistic art, especially on the climbing sequences, really transports you and puts you right in the perilous position of those engaged in this most dangerous and foolhardy of pursuits. He captures the epic grandeur of the mountain range and really gets right into the devilish detail of precarious hand – well fingertip – holds.

 

 

SUMMIT OF THE GODS has won a few prestigious prizes too, which I just mention to underscore the point that this is a series which is going to be regarded as a classic for years to come, so why not take a look? Winner “Best Art” Award at Angouleme Festival 2005, Winner “Excellence Prize Manga Division” at Japanese Ministry of Culture’s Media Arts Festival 2001, and the original novel was the winner of the prestigious 11th Shibata Renzaburo Award in 1998.

JR

Buy Summit Of The Gods vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Northlanders Book vol 3: The European Saga s/c (£31-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchelli, Leandro Fernandez, Simon Gane, Vasilis Lolos, Matthew Woodson…

Third and final substantial repackaging of NORTHLANDERS whose scope far outstretched expectations, being as much about multiple cultural perspectives as much as anything else.

This collects ‘The Plague Widow’, ‘The Siege Of Paris’ and ‘Metal’, about which the latter I wrote…

Young lovers go on the run murdering all and sundry who disagree with their particular worldview under the pretence that they’d just like everyone to leave them alone. That’s ‘Metal’ in a hammer-obliterated priest’s nutshell for you. Consequently I wasn’t exactly getting the happy-ending vibes as I began.

Young Erik who, looks-wise and possibly in the brains department too, seems to be a mix of Thor and err… Obelisk… isn’t feeling too well disposed towards the Christian priests who seem to be doing a remarkably good job of just breezing into village after village deep in the Norse heartlands, taking over with no more than the barely veiled threat of heavy cavalry lurking just over the horizon, should the locals fail to build them a church or two and generally put down the hammers and pick up the crosses. Well, after they’ve built the churches obviously…

 

 

 

Still, getting Erik’s village elders to divert the nearby river so it runs immediately next to the newly built Church – just so the priests can wash themselves without having to be watched by heathens – is probably taking the piss just a touch too much.

So Erik decides to do what any typical rebellious teen would do in the same position: take a shitload of drugs. Except, whilst Erik’s high on mushrooms, the Norse version of Mother Nature appears to tell him to turn up his internal satanic death-metal soundtrack to eleven, and remove the Christians from her sacred lands. That he’s taken a shine to an albino nun who has clearly been forced to convert against her wishes probably tips the balance, and so he decides to tune up his axe and go on a rampage, liberating Ingrid in the process and throwing in a few head-banging solos along the way with his hammer for good measure.

 

 

In some ways this was the most overtly violent NORTHLANDERS story that Bryan wrote, which is saying something in and of itself, but as ever it also delivered on the emotional content. For above all, that’s what this series has always had at its cold and frosty core in aplenty: fiery passion manifesting itself in deep loves and equally deep hatreds.

Also recommended by the same writer – and set in the same era – BLACK ROAD (two volumes so far).

JR

Buy Northlanders Book vol 3: The European Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bake Sale (£15-99, First Second) by Sara Varon.

Eggplant is an aubergine, Cupcake is a cupcake, and this is another tale of friendship from the creator of ODD DUCK and ROBOT DREAMS.

But whereas ROBOT DREAMS was built on an early twist so unexpectedly harsh that ninety-five percent of its sales here have gone to adults (I think we’ve each of us at some point in our lives has felt left on the proverbial beach), this one is aimed squarely at younger, wide-eyed readers with a love of soft sponge and sugar frosting.

Cupcake runs a small bakery by day, then practises drumming in his band by night. Life’s pretty good and looks even better when Eggplant invites him to visit Aunt Aubergine, a world-renowned cook in Turkey. But how to afford the air fare? Reluctantly Cupcake gives up his role in the band so he can take his tasty produce on the road and diligently develops new fondant fancies, each themed according to the festival he attends.

 

 

He’s slightly dismayed to discover himself so quickly replaced on drums by a potato (“A potato?! Everyone knows potatoes have no rhythm!”) but soldiers on like a trooper until Eggplant breaks the disastrous news that he’s out of work and can’t afford the ticket himself. Having sacrificed so much for the opportunity to benefit from Aunt Aubergine’s inspiration, what is Cupcake to do? Like any good friend, instead of flying to Turkey himself he buys Eggplant’s ticket for him.

 

 

Gamely he waves Eggplant off, but his motivation has waned and things start to unravel when he finds himself late for work then settling for second-best with two-day old coffee, stale cakes and brownies. As for the blackboard behind the counter, instead of a long list of freshly baked Specialities Of The Day, it simply reads, “Nothing is special today”. When he goes to watch his old band parade through the streets and clapped on without him, it’s a physical disaster. Whatever will be left of Cupcake and his customers upon Eggplant’s return?

 

 

 

I knew it couldn’t be all sweetness and light with Sara Varon at the helm, but eventually things start to look up again and there’s a life lesson worth learning very early on: there’s no substitute for giving less than 100%. You know it when you do it, and it’ll just make you unhappy.

Don’t fret about being unable to read the full recipes over Cupcake’s shoulders as he embarks on a new mouth-watering experiment: they’re all printed in full at the back!

SLH

Buy Bake Sale and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Ab Irato vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Thierry Labrosse

Cast No Shadow (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Tapalansky & Anissa Espinosa

Cucumber Quest vol 1: The Doughnut Kingdom s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gigi Dee

Deconstructing The Incal (£18-99, Humanoids) by Jean Annestay, Christophe Quillien

James Bond vol 1: Vargr s/c (£15-99, Dynamite) by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

Regression vol 1: Way Down Deep s/c (£8-99, Image) by Cullen Bunn & Danny Luckert

Spectrum 24 s/c (£31-99, Flesk) by various

They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Simone Lia

World Reader vol 1: Dead Stars s/c (£15-99, Aftershock) by Jeff Loveness & Juan Doe

Batman / Aliens s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse / DC) by Warren Ellis, Ian Edginton, Mark Scultz, Ron Marz & Bernie Wrightson, Chris Sprouse, Ariel Olivetti, others

Batwoman vol 1: The Many Arms Of Death s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV & Steve Epting, others

Flash vol 4: Running Scared s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Howard Porter, various

The Legend Of Wonder Woman – Origins s/c (£17-99, DC) by Renae De Liz & Ray Dillon

Wonder Woman vol 4: Godwatch s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Bilquis Evely, various

X-Men Gold vol 2: Evil Empires s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Ken Lashley

Anno Dracula – 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Kim Newman & Paul McCaffrey

Bleach vol 71 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 3 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

My Hero Academia vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 84 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Steven Universe And The Crysal Gems (£11-99, Titan) by Josceline Fenton & Chrystin Garland

Steven Universe vol 1 (£10-99, Titan) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Steven Universe vol 2 (£10-99, Titan) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2017 week two

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Featuring Nidhi Chanani, Matteo Farinella, Sophie Rickard, Scarlett Rickard, Tim Bird, Lae Schäfer, Ted Naifeh, Rebecca Morgan, Sara Corbett, Tobias Schalken, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, J.C. Menu, Noah Van Sciver, Tommi Parrish, Kaela Graham, Daria Tessler, Conxita Hererro, Malachi Ward, Matt Shean, Antoine Cosse, Sammy Harkham, Nick Thorburn

Pashmina (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Nidhi Chanani.

“How come you never talk about your sister?”
Your Meena Mausi?”
“Yeah, were you close?”
“Why this sudden interest in your Meena Mausi?”
“Mom! Just answer!”
“We were close. It’s harder to be a girl in India than you think.”

Teenage Priyanka Das (she prefers “Pri”) has been brought up in America by her doting, level-headed, kind and practical mother, Nimisha. Oh, they don’t have material riches and Pri is spitefully nick-named “Thrift Store” by her wealthier, dismissive classmates. But they have a loving extended family in the form of Auntie Deepa and Uncle Jatin. Uncle Jatin in particular is so solicitous that he’s prepared to help Pri learn to drive, and she loves him dearly for that and much more besides.

Uncle Jatin, you see, is the nearest that Priyanka has to a father figure because her own biological dad is a mystery – as is her mother’s entire past prior to her arrival in America from India around the age of eighteen. Every time that Pri tries to broach either subject with understandable curiosity about her mother and her mother’s home country, it is shut down either casually with an evasive verbal manoeuvre or overtly and firmly with “No!”

And this is creating a rift.

 

 

 

 

Pri has been brought up to believe in the wisdom and empowering beneficence of the Hindu goddess Shakti, a source of great strength, creativity and fertility, and an agent of change. Pri’s not so sure, but she does remember the inspiring stories of Shakti and, albeit reluctantly, is prepared to follow the rituals of gratitude which her mother insists on before evening meals. Then Auntie Deepa becomes pregnant, quite late in her life, and Pri is so worried that children of their own might lessen her links to both Auntie and Uncle that, alone at night, she lights the customary incense stick and prays:

“Shakti, I don’t ask for much. Please…
“Please don’t take Uncle Jatin away from me.
“He doesn’t NEED a baby.”

Oh! Yes, I know…! And so does Priyanka…

In the very next panel through one halting visual at the bottom of the page, Chanani makes Pri’s private guilt and immediate contrition crystal clear. It is an exceptional piece of succinct and communicative cartooning.

 

 

I won’t tell you what happens immediately after, but I will reveal that a suitcase is soon discovered with old, loving letters from Auntie Meena (who still lives in India) to which Pri’s mother has never replied. Also in that suitcase is the most exquisite pashmina that you or I have ever beheld, embroidered with exceptional, female craftsmanship using a glowing, golden thread. And its effect is transporting!

I love the elements of magic realism incorporated into this story of contemporary life both in America and India. The glowing, patterned, pashmina swirls which introduce each colour vision (in contrast with the purplish black, white and greys of the everyday) are delightful. But – here’s thing – the visions don’t serve only as fantastical entertainment, but a vital part of the evasion, suspense and ultimate revelation involving the Das’ family history that goes a little further back than you might imagine while bringing us back up to date in the present day.

 

 

No, there is not one single cop-out within this exceptional Young Adult graphic novel. For, above all, what has been left to Pri’s uninformed imagination must be – and most certainly is – contrasted with reality when she is finally allowed to visit and experience India for herself, through her loving Meena Mausi, and discovers how different life is for women and children, for women who would have children, and for women who would be wives.

It’s gently done, it’s deftly done, but without any thought to softening the truth about prevailing power of a patriarchal society and the hypocrisy and superficiality of those who believe that appearance is all.

 

 

Auntie Meena has much to show and tell Pri when they visit a school where Meena teaches and Pri’s overcome with sadness. Poverty pervades and there are rats.

“Do not look at the dirt. Look at the people.”

Appearance is not everything: it is context that’s all.

“They are learning and that will change their lives, Priyanka.”

Priyanka will return to America with a much greater sense of practicality and perspective, far prouder of her Indian heritage (including her name) and much more understanding of her mother who, whilst only trying to shield Pri from her past, does allude to it early on:

“Sometimes we have to do the hard things.”

I really don’t want to give too much away, but this:

It’s harder to be a girl in India than you might think.

SLH

Buy Pashmina and read the Page 45 review here

Mann’s Best Friend (£14-99, Gluepot Books) by Sophie Rickard & Scarlett Rickard.

A very British graphic novel full of very British squabbles, this had me hooked from its opening double-page spread of a northern, rural British town nestled between rolling green hills populated by black-faced, white-wooled sheep, giant gleaming-white wind turbines and the sort of exposed moorland trees which have been buffeted and so sculpted by horizontal gales.

What clinched it for me was the 24% gradient sign on top of the one-track road wending its way down to Oldroyd, a good old-fashioned 1 in 4!

All of this is lit as an early winter’s evening sets in, closing on 5pm. I think there’s a storm brewing.

As above so below: the modern inhabiting the traditional. Yellow light begins to glow from the tall plate windows of the old stone building complete with corner quoining, as the half a dozen inhabitants of the stark, open-plan office to Berkeleys Corporate Banking start shutting up shop and casting on coats while laughing delightedly. It’s all a bit Beryl Cook!

 

 

 

 

Bespectacled programmer Terry Mann isn’t laughing. He’s still hunched over his computer terminal, crossly typing in code. He’s going to grow increasingly crosser over the next 48 hours, and then Terry Mann will do something truly terrible.

“Animals give you true love when people just let you down.”

That’s far from an absolute truth, obviously, but the same people who’ll let you down are as likely to let their animals down, when dogs in particular seldom given less than 100% of their unwavering, unconditional love.

It’s been exactly 60 years since we launched little LAIKA into space, the first animal to orbit the Earth until it promptly died, presumably terrified, five hours after lift-off. Nick Abadzis’ graphic novel of the same name will set your fires burning long before re-entry.

 

 

Terry owns a big, beautiful, thick-furred, greyish-white dog called Eric, so massive that he overflows a two-seater sofa. Something like a Scottish Deerhound, I’d have thought. He doesn’t like the expensive, vitamin-enriched diet he’s on, so in Terry’s absence, Eric raids the kitchen bin instead and throws up all over the living room carpet.

They live together largely in silence, Eric eyeing his taciturn master through the French windows from outside in the cold, dark garden, or getting in the way of the FIFA results on the television set.

He only wants to be spoken to. Terry switches the lights off and goes to bed instead.

 

 

Terry Mann also owns a credit card with a £6,500 credit limit which he’s just maxed out. In addition, he’s assiduously collected some Reminders and a Final Demand.

Terry’s sister Debbie is ebullient! She’s engaged to be married to handsome and suave Vikram Singh, recently promoted to management at Berkeleys Bank. They’re all going to celebrate tomorrow at some hideous, staid golf club – a meal which Terry can ill-afford.

Terry’s parents are overjoyed at the engagement, in the sort of cloying, superficial, success-orientated way that might make any reasonable observer vomit. Vikram’s family too are ecstatic, proud of their son, but in the same boastful manner as the Manns while dismissing their daughter Mia as a failure. Right in front of her face.

Here’s our preening Debbie, not so much disdainful as utterly incredulous:

“So Mia, you’re an actual gardener? Like… outside, digging? Not a florist?”
“Mmm.”

Mia keeps her own counsel.

 

 

Terry tends to be a quiet one too. He’s called into Meeting Room D at Berkeleys Bank to find his own immediate manager, Celine from HR and Mr Frank Grace who’s visiting from Internal Audit. Client money is missing – a lot of it.

“Right. I want to get to the bottom of this before I involve the police and the financial services regulators.
“I’m looking for a cunning, highly skilled technician with access to Corporate Banking back-end systems and Secure-Code areas. I’m looking for an indebted, desperate person who made one mistake…. Just once the hacker accessed the system from outside the Bank.
“The IP address of that hack traces back to your home, Mr Mann.”

Summarily suspended, Terry is escorted off the premises in front of his co-workers, drives back to the home he cannot afford, picks up a new batch of bills he cannot pay, then treads in more dog vomit.

Eric looks innocently up. You will not believe what Terry does next…

 

 

So much of this made me smile with recognition. I loved the contrast between Terry’s expensive but clinically appointed flat and Mia’s more homely house with its low, exposed timber beams, shower that won’t work, window seats, cosy blanket thrown over the old tatty settee, thick curtain to keep the cold out from the wooden front door under which I bet that the wind whistles through, and the patchwork of gradually acquired rugs arranged across the front room so as to create a corridor along which bare feet might travel, perhaps, to collect the morning milk or mail.

 

 

The formal, golf-club luncheon sequence is delightfully staged like the top table of a wedding feast or the Last Supper, with the smug couple beaming from its centre, approving parents on either side, then Terry and Mia – the outsiders – sat opposite each other at either end. Both mothers are a treat in body language and expression, while Mia’s hair, flopped easily over one eye, is ever so endearing. I like that she doesn’t do handshakes.

Scarlett’s colours are perfect, particularly at night, out in the countryside or in the rug-orientated confines of Mia’s sitting room. She plays deliciously with the 1 in 4 gradient during certain scenes with 45-degree panels!

 

 

I’ve only given you one side to one part of the story, of course, and even then I’ve resorted to allusion. You might wonder why Terry has such an expensive house in the first place and why he owns such a big hound which he doesn’t even like. Sophie has thought it all through, but delivers the goods only at the appropriate hour.

A lot of travelling will be involved before we are done, and there’ll be a fair few car conversations.

After enormous satisfaction I turned the final four pages slowly, quietly absorbing their contents, closed the cover with the palm of my hand and thought, “Raymond Briggs would be ever so proud”.

SLH

Buy Mann’s Best Friend and read the Page 45 review here

The Senses h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Matteo Farinella…

“Sometimes we tend to treat our body as simply a shell, a temporary house for our mind…
“… but the truth is that our body is much more than that: it shapes the way we think.”

The co-creator of NEUROCOMIC returns, this time with an assault on our senses. Or is that the other way around… as we learn all about our five primary senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision from the inside out. Yes, once again Dr. Farinella goes all Fantastic Voyage on us, shrinking down our protagonist, a mildly mad scientist, to miniature size through a virtual reality experiment gone awry.

As before we get both a science and a history lesson as various renowned scientists of yesteryear spontaneously pop up to explain all about their discoveries and just how clever they are. As tour guides go, they certainly know their stuff! But as with the brain in his previous work, Dr. Farinella also takes the opportunity to point out there is an enormous amount we still don’t really know about how we make… errr… sense of the huge amount of sensory input we are continuously receiving. In fact, the sensory data we process has an enormous influence on how we actually think, which is very neatly presented here.

 

 

In terms of explaining relatively complex concepts to us laypeople, I find Matteo Farinella’s entertaining artistic approach as wonderfully clear and concise as Darryl Cunningham’s GRAPHIC SCIENCE. It’s exactly the sort of approach that will leave you wanting to know much more about precisely how our noggins deal with our unique human perception of reality. We just need the scientists to get on with their research!

 

 

Yet again, comics like this, plus Darryl’s excellent works and also the Cannon Brothers’ EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH and THE STUFF OF LIFE: A GRAPHIC GUIDE TO GENETICS AND DNA plus Adam and Lisa Murphy’s CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS make you realise there really could be a much better way to educate and inform kids about what could otherwise be such very, very dry material to young minds.

 

 

 

A final mention for the cover, which with Nobrow’s typically glorious production values, all shiny gold and silver printing on beautiful red cloth, has got to be a contender for the most dazzling cover of the year. It’s a visual delight and highly satisfying to the touch, which I guess, is entirely appropriate for this work. Gently rubbing it against the ear also produced a mildly satisfying buzzing sound and I have always loved the smell of printed paper. I can’t say it tasted particularly nice, though.

JR

Buy The Senses h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rock & Pop (£4-00) by Tim Bird…

“On Saturdays my dad would listen to Radio Sheffield on the way home from the football.
“They played pop music in between people phoning in to talk about the match.”

<”Sheffield Wednesday were awful today, we can’t keep playing like that…”>
<“Thanks for the call… we’ll get back to the football debate after some music… this is the new single from Belinda Carlisle…”>

“Heaven Is A Place On Earth is the first song that really stuck with me.
“I remember listening to the radio hoping to hear the song again, but they never seemed to play it after that.”

24 pages of pop perfection, and indeed imperfection – really, Tim… Boyzone! I would ask what on earth you were thinking but as you’ve freely admitted here, you’ve honestly no idea – from the man whose own talent for wordsmithery I rank amongst the finest in comics today.

 

 

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for someone so adroit in their use of the English language to be into such diverse musical offerings as the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Radiohead, Nirvana, Saint Etienne and Neil Young, plus more than a few groups I must confess to being entirely unfamiliar with.

 

 

In this brief chronology of Tim’s life to date he’ll take us on his very own magical musical mystery tour set against the backdrop of some mildly insignificant moments, plus some very significant ones. One scene detailed per page, each with its own particular musical selection. Sometimes the music is the lead, at other times merely the accompaniment.

Thus without giving anything away, the page featuring Tim and his girlfriend April going to see the Magnetic Fields in concert, well, I can completely understand why the track The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side is now forever burnt into his consciousness!

 

 

Many of the earlier pages are more about Tim discovering and getting into various artistes, reminding me wistfully of an age when we had all the time in the world to discover new aural pleasures, whereas it’s the latter pages where the music begins to take a more supporting role of soundtrack to life events.

It’s all combined with the typical Bird visual panache, even when baring his (musical) soul for our amusement, that’s seen him produce such moving and heart-warming delights as GREY AREA – OUR TOWN. He’s such a talented creator I bet he could even do a comic about snooker and make it a fascinating read… wait a minute, he has! Check out THE ROCKET.

 

 

Speaking of soundtracks, I’ll let Tim and April play you out to the sound of The Bulldozers with their Another Girl, Another Planet…

“You know how we’ll have been together ten years this year?”
“Hmmm.”
“Why don’t we get married?”
“Hmmm.”
“I’ve started putting some wedding ideas together…”
“Hmmm… I’ll sort out the music.”
“Hmmm.”

JR

Buy Rock & Pop and read the Page 45 review here

Now #1 (£8-99, Fantagraphics) by Rebecca Morgan, Sara Corbett, Tobias Schalken, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, J.C. Menu, Noah Van Sciver, Tommi Parrish, Kaela Graham, Daria Tessler, Conxita Hererro, Malachi Ward, Matt Shean, Antoine Cosse, Sammy Harkham, Nick Thorburn…

“Hi! You must be Noah! The famous cartoonist! Jonah talks about you all the time!”
“Hello.”
“Jonah says you’re a real biblio-phobe! I am, too! I’m always reading!”
““Biblo-phobe?””

Haha, I’m sure Jonah Van Sciver cannot possibly be the completely sex-crazed younger brother Noah FANTE BUKOWSKI TWO makes him out to be in this delightfully excruciating thirteen-page farce entitled ‘Wall Of Shame’. Noah’s making a trip home to Denver for an exhibition including his work at the Denver Art Museum and is catching up with his family at the same time, including crashing on his mum’s couch. Suffice to say he’s not been chez mom too long before he gets a flash of inspiration for a comic which he promptly jots down in his journal…

“Story idea: Held captive by family member(s).”

 

 

This is probably my favourite of the fourteen strips contained within this bumper 128-page first issue of the new Fantagraphics anthology, curated by Eric Reynolds who has now spent well over twenty years at the publishing house since he joined them fresh out of college. They range in length between cheeky one-pagers – of which there are four, the pick of those probably being “I, Marlon” by Sammy CRICKETS Harkham about Marlon Brando’s <ahem> introspective time on Tahiti, though actually, I did love Gabrielle TRUTH IS FRAGMENTARY Bell’s “Dear Naked Guy…” – up to Eleanor YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD Davis’s 26-page end-of-the-world reflection on a very odd and perhaps unhealthy proto-romantic relationship entitled “Hurt Or Fuck?”

 

 

The vast majority, though, very sensibly range between 4 to 12 pages and cover all manner of shenanigans in a profusion of art styles. There was only one that didn’t quite find the mark for me, which out of fourteen strips is a damn splendid hit rate, and I won’t name it because I suspect it’s probably entirely down my own personal artistic tastes, and surely the point of such a diverse an anthology as this is to broaden readers horizons a bit.

My other absolute pick of the bunch, which much like Noah’s cringefest I could have quite happily read ten times as much of, was Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean’s alternative history of the space race entitled “Widening Horizons.” Which as I type I realise means I really ought to go back and change the last sentence of the previous paragraph… Fans of their ANCESTOR speculative fiction runaway insanity jive will already be aware of just how far out there these two can take something.

 

 

It’s a very clever piece, actually, combining genuine historical facts and figures liberally sprinkled with fictional content as we gradually deviate further and further from our own timeline. It actually begins in the very first panel, with something casually dropped in regarding H.G. Wells that I was pretty sure was wrong and I was rather puzzled by, before I realised what was going on!

A resoundingly strong start for this exciting new anthology and hopefully the quality of content will be maintained. Flicking ahead to the solicitation for NOW #2 and seeing some of the creators involved like personal favourites Dash COSPLAYERS Shaw, Tommi THE BOOK OF HOPE Musturi and Joshua SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST Cotter, plus a pretty bonkers cover, I’m extremely confident that will be the case.

JR

Buy Now #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Secrets (£2-00, self-published) by Lae Schäfer.

“My dad has never told me he loves me.”

Snuggled between more exuberant pages extolling the virtues of friendship and sex, the above is all the more poignant for it lying under the stapled-shut cover of a comic called SECRETS, implying that it was difficult to share.

Also moving, somehow: that the words are coming from a small, fragile seahorse.

There are fourteen finger-sized pages for you to thumb through once you’ve cut across the dotted line to gain entry. And you can: you won’t lose a thing, unless you’re as accident-prone as our Dee – in which case you should probably live in a hospital.

They’re single-panel cartoons, coherently connected almost enough to consider this a comic, delivered to camera by animals ranging from an ant to an armadillo or pangolin. *checks armour-plated animals online* Yup, it’s a pangolin.

 

 

And I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect their construction is something akin to Nick Park’s dear ‘Creature Comforts’ in that Schäfer was told all these secrets first, then assigned them to an apposite orator. I think it’s the honesty and the fact that they’re far from obvious. The sex I’ll leave you discover for yourselves (always the best option), but here’s another entry which, again, I found affecting rather than sad, simply bitter or even pitiful…

“A friend of mine moved abroad some years ago and still calls us best friends.
“It’s annoying.
“Clearly we’re not.”

I’m not sure what that critter is – something racoon-like and feisty.

It’s at this point I should note that the packets are a limited edition of 150, we have only 12, and that Lae is Dutch so we won’t have further access. She dropped them off in person this Sunday after attending a zine fair and I was so immediately taken that I snapped them up. Their format reminded me of Jeremy Dennis’s glorious packages of mini-comics which often exploded with glitter. Oh my days, but I adored them!

 

 

Even after snipping the zine open, the balance of art and oratory could not be better judged. The images I have for you here were photographed by me after the “crusts” had been cut off. Such mad skillz – I wish I’d bought more.

“The only thing I really regret is getting ‘A’s in high school.
“Could’ve used that time spent studying and energy for more important things.”

In the spirit of this endeavour I too share a secret: in order to gain employment I had to remove my degree from my CV. Every manager felt threatened – one overtly said so – when all I ever wanted was to work behind a till of a record or book store.

Or a comic shop.

Hello!

SLH

Till monkey with a typewriter.

Buy Secrets and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Substantially Expanded Review

Courtney Crumrin vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

First in the complete, seven-volume, full-colour series of COURTNEY CRUMRIN collections, now available in affordo-vision; I recommend this highly to adult and Young Adult Harry Potter fans, and those desperate for the last two Kazu Kibuishi AMULET books, but be warned in advance that this grows both dark in art and harsh with injustice – especially the second volume – so please don’t presume on happy endings for all.

Moving into someone else’s house is never easy. When the original occupant turns out to be a warlock, there are additional complications.

Going to a new school in a new area is never easy, either. Starting at school late, when everyone else your age has already paired off or made friends with each other, is next-to-impossible as Faith Erin Hicks makes clear in her phenomenal FRIENDS WITH BOYS and, now that I think of it, THE STONE HEART.

 

 

 

Let’s meet Courtney herself, here giving a damn good dressing-down to a doppelganger / impostor who’s taken her place and impressed her parents.

Which is shocking: they’re neither impressive parents nor easily impressed.

“My Mom would kiss a diseased mollusc if it could get her into a cocktail party. They’re both selfish morons.”
“You have no friends. I made friends…. Cathy Keller says I’m cool.”
“Congrats! You can kiss ass. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Just the fact that your lame performance actually fooled these people should tell you what nitwits they are.”
“What do you mean, lame?”
“If you wanted to become Courtney Crumrin, you should have done a little homework. I’m rude, bad-tempered and basically, I don’t like people.”

 

 

That’s because of the people poor Courtney finds herself surrounded by. Her new classmates are snobbish and superficial bullies, her parents are clueless and indifferent… only the initially austere Great Uncle Aloysius breaks the spell of utter isolation Miss Crumrin feels, now that they’ve moved into his creepy old mansion.

Gradually, though, young Courtney discovers that she rather likes creepy, and although she has a knack for biting off more than she can chew, she has a few key qualities on her side: resilience, pluck, and a practical approach to problem solving.

 

 

Over the course of four self-contained stories Courtney negotiates her new territory with its goblins, changelings, faeries and night things, and learns the lesson of the The Beguiling Glamour. The lesson being, don’t cast it!  Becoming too popular brings a whole new set of problems: much better to be yourself!

 

 

The pen lines and character designs are bold and beautiful, the lessons sometimes hard (at one point it looked like Crumrin was going to give John Constantine a run for his money with the body count), and if as many people read comics as books, Ted Naifeh might grow almost as rich as the ever-generous, golden-hearted champion of what is right, J. K. Rowling.

He certainly deserves to be.

SLH

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

 

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (£13-99, Black Mask) by Matthew Rosenberg & Tyler Boss

As The Crow Flies (£26-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Melanie Gillman

Bad Machinery vol 3: The Case Of The Simple Soul s/c Pocket Edition (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison

Broken Frontier 2017 Small Press Year Book – New Horizons (£7-99, Broken Frontier) by Jey Levang, Grace Wilson, Emily Rose Lambert, Tim Bird, Rebecca Bagley, Danny Noble, Rachael Smith, Brigid Deacon, EdieOP, Steven Tillotson, Emma Raby, Ellice Weaver, Rozi Hathaway, John Riordan, Kim Clements

Crawl Space h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by Jesse Jacobs

Elenora Mandragora: Daughter Of Merlin h/c (£13-99, IDW) by Severine Gauthier & Thomas Labourot

Mann’s Best Friend (£14-99, Gluepot Books) by Sophie Rickard & Scarlett Rickard

Northlanders Book vol 3: The European Saga s/c (£31-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchelli, Leandro Fernandez, Simon Gane, Vasilis Lolos, Matthew Woodson

POS – Piece Of Sh*t h/c (£22-99, Lion Forge) by Pierre Paquet & Jesus Alonso

Real Life People’s Secrets vol 3 (£2-00, ) by Lae Schafer

Rose vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Meredith Finch & Ig Guara

Star Wars Darth Maul – Son Of Dathomir s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeremy Barlow & Juan Frigeri

Batgirl vol 2: Son Of Penguin s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Chris Wildgoose

Justice League Of America vol 2: Kingbutcher s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Felipe Watanabe, others

Edge Of Venomverse s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg, Simon Spurrier, various & James Stokoe, various

Secret Empire (UK Edition) s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & various including Steve McNiven, Leinil Francis Yu, Daniel Acuna

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 3 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Szymon Kudranksi, Juston Ponsor, Oscar Bazaldua

A Zoo In Winter re-issue by Jiro Taniguchi

Bake Sale restock by Sara Varon

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2017 week one

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Featuring Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, Coralie Bickford-Smith, Lizz Lunney, Kevin Czap, Geof Darrow, Seth Fishman, Isabel Greenberg, Jonathan Hennessey, Jack McGowan, Ray Fawkes, Tim Pilcher, Dave Gibbons, Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, more!

Futchi Perf (£14-50, Uncivilised Books) by Kevin Czap.

“Now you can run for days on a single good memory.”

Down with dystopia; up with utopia, as close as it needs credibly get!

This beautiful book full of thought, thoughtfulness, optimism and kindness is something for which I am grateful.

I find it profoundly moving that a powerful imagination could so sincerely project such a positive future, especially in this day and age. But this is the way we create one.

In the face of hostility, hatred, division and derision, all spread with contempt from on high, this is defiantly loving, embracing and inclusive of all, putting hierarchy it in its place where I hope it will sit all alone, bereft, unattended.

The same goes for heavy industry, pollution and environmental degradation, replaced by a balanced and sustainable harmony through human ingenuity which reaps rather than rapes our rich natural resources in order to provide for all. I will repeat:

“Now you can run for days on a single good memory.
“And you can give this happiness to others.
“Seventh Energy.”

 

 

The script is succinct. Each word, phrase, neologism, reclamation or association like “Seventh Energy” has been so carefully chosen.

Instead this is as much driven by the smooth, strong drawings of individuality, diversity and naked affection, at one and so at peace, sharing and so finally satisfied. The colours are of the cold reignited or pushed back by warmth either through individual interactions or communal gatherings and community spirit. The predominant, winning pink is that of the heart which is blood-pumping and thumping with life; mind-muscles being stretched to summon elation in each other’s presence, then pass it on unencumbered by any sense whatsoever of being beholden.

 

 

It begins thus:

“It’s Election Day so you’re reviewing the candidates and issues one last time to be sure you’re making the right choices for your city.”

Can you imagine such diligence where it is due? Can you imagine this too?

“Thankfully everyone has easy access to such straightforward information and as a result, Cleveland is one of the best governed cities in the country.”

Kevin Czap has imagined it, then put it on paper to give us all something to aspire to, and actively pursue with renewed vigour.

 

 

A world in which we are well served by helpful, informative facts rather than factional, emotive, propagandist fiction, opinion and lies from the vain and vested interests, the powerful and power-hungry, the corporation-controlled broadcasters and politicians alike. I would emphasise “as a result” and, as a result:

“All the right things are winning!
“A continuation of this legacy of progressive and humanist policies… Nowhere else is the arts infrastructure so solid.”

We’ve been shown not only the way but also its rewards. Now it is time for us to pay Czap back by putting it all into action.

“Your best friend is moving to Cleveland – to your street!
“This neighbourhood is swarming with all your closest friends!
“Oh my god! They’re throwing you a surprise birthday party!!”

This is no pipe dream; it is entirely within our collective power to turn things around through our individual actions, which together can make all the difference, and fashion a future which we’d all love to live in.

“You’ve never been so happy!!!”

 

 

It’s time to dance.

SLH

Buy Futchi Perf and read the Page 45 review here

The Worm And The Bird (£14-99, Particular Books) by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

“There’s not much room where I live
“And all the earth around me is filled with life.”

Ah, life!

If you stop to look around, so much of it both thrives and abounds; as above, so below.

The subterranean pages teem with tiny beetles and gleam against the black with a shining ink which highlights the passage of the worm though buried, senescent, autumnal leaves as ants also scurry forth. There’s even a slug and a safety pin.

In this immaculately structured graphic novel – so much of whose story is image-delivered – Bickford-Smith, creator of THE FOX AND THE STAR, presents us with much to make us think, much to make us grin, and no inconsiderable drive of dramatic tension as the Worm goes about its determined business oblivious to the patience of its early Bird up above.

 

 

“I am too busy to rest,
“I can rest later,” says The Worm.

But The Bird isn’t busy. It’s resting on the handle of a garden spade, even as the wind blows, night falls and then the rain pours down from the heavens. Its subtle, comedic expressions are as priceless as those of Sage the fat, feathery Owl from The Herb Garden!

 

 

“I am too busy to look,
“I can look another day,” thinks The Worm.

But The Bird is looking. The Bird is looking right down at the ground.

“I am too busy to listen.
“I can listen when I am finished,” believes The Worm.

Possibly… Or you could start listening now.

There’s so surprisingly much to take away from such a brief book, which is far more mischievous than its equally eloquent predecessor. If you’re not too busy to look, you will find hidden treasures, feet firmly planted, leaves, leaves, leaves, leaves and an evasive-action manoeuvre reminiscent of the hours you spent playing Snake on your Nokia 3310.

 

 

There’s a certain degree of black humour in its irony – dramatic then otherwise – as two different perspectives mirror each other, before a third is presented by implication. For, if you really do stop to look around and perhaps far further afield, so much quiet life both thrives and abounds; as below, so above.

SLH

Buy The Worm And The Bird and read the Page 45 review here

The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen…

““I may have been swallowed,” said the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.””

Comedic collaborators Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen return following on from their previous farcical frolics (SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE, EXTRA YARN & TRIANGLE) to entertain us with a most unusual story of symbiosis.

Our titular timid rodent, having been gobbled up in the forest by the roving wolf and fearing his story will thus come to a rather abrupt end is completely astonished to find himself greeted by a dashing duck and promptly introduced to a world of fine dining. It’s all inside the wolf’s seemingly TARDIS-like stomach, complete with a fully equipped kitchen and resplendent dining room…

 

 

 

 

Now, I will grant you, this does seem like a most unlikely locale for cooking up a storm and enjoying your high-end nosh, but the duck and the mouse are soon having their time of their lives, knocking back the wine like Keith Floyd and enjoying candle-lit, music filled soirées. Their hedonistic rich-living and incessant demands for more top quality ingredients, however, under the crafty auspices that it will cure the wolf’s increasingly sore stomach, soon start to make the unlucky lupine realise that these two particular menu items are going to prove impossible to digest.

But then the poor wolf finds himself firmly in the sights of a passing huntsman, and with the gravy train in mortal danger of hitting the proverbial buffers and the claret catastrophically spilling every which way, it’s up to our dynamic dining duo to prove this isn’t just a parasitic relationship and save the dinner, I mean, day!

 

 

As ever, whilst Mac Barnett crafts an entertaining nonsensical story, Jon Klassen delivers on the art front with his trademark deadpan expressions and deliriously daft scenes. I won’t spoil for you precisely how the mouse and duck combine to run the huntsman off, but suffice to say it involves a fair amount of clanging culinary equipment… and a hockey stick!

JR

Buy The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse and read the Page 45 review here

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars h/c (£15-99, Greenwillow) by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg.

Would you like to know what one sextillion looks like?

Of course you would! Here we go:

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Goodness! I wouldn’t mind seeing that on our end-of-day checkout! Would one of you like to win the lottery, please?

For someone who considers the decimal point on a till highly overrated, I found this riveting.

Sub-titled “Can you imagine so many…of anything?”, that is precisely what this book will facilitate both in adults and Young Readers alike, along with how to name ridiculously big numbers in ascending order from hundreds and thousands to millions and billions and trillions and quadrillions and quintillions and sextillions!

 

 

 

 

Illustrated by Isabel Greenberg, creator of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH and her subsequent THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO (both of which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month without batting an eyelid), it comes with a colossal sense of scale and an endearing diversity which embraces all, from each of us as individual human beings to the plethora of life on this planet.

Fishman infuses the book with infectious enthusiasm for what our world holds and into which mind-boggling numbers they have grown: from people and trees and ants underground, to the weight of the world on one girl’s young shoulders. She balances it with commendable agility and grace, one foot firmly planted on a set of bathroom scales.

 

 

“On the other side of the planet, where the sun isn’t shining, you can see bright lights like little stars on its surface.
“Those are the lights that come from 2,500,000 cities and towns and villages filled with people…
“Some even reading books.”

Rabbits, raindrops and a slightly random fact about shark’s teeth, this is one big insight which will generate much household conversation along with a giggle or two.

“Now take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds.
“Just do that another 6,307,200 times and you’ll be a year older!
“Or don’t.
“You’ll be a year older in 31,536,000 seconds anyway.”

I counted each and every one of those at school.

 

 

Truly, this awe-inspiring album puts everything into perspective, its concluding perspective being that there may only be one of you amongst all these masses – ever so tiny and dwarfed by the universe – but also this: that there is only one of you, and that you are just as important, wonderful and unique!

SLH

Buy A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Relatable Content (£10-00, self-published) by Lizz Lunney.

At the laptop:

“I can relate!
“I can so relate!
“Ha ha oh boy I relate!”

Outside:

“I just don’t relate to anyone.”

There’s a word for this, isn’t there? Otaku, I think.

Some of us are sliding into self-sequestration, living our lives only online – or at least presenting a vague approximation of them. Or lying through our teeth. Don’t think that eludes Lizz Lunney, either: the veneer, I mean. I’ve seen some pretty gleeful holiday postcards written teeth-clenched in anger. I guess I’m not easy to get along with.

 

 

I wish more people could empathise online: there’d be far fewer angry and ill-informed knee-jerks, and a lot less click-bait. That’s what comes from staring at a screen all day. You couldn’t get so furiously steamed if you were out strolling in the Cotwolds, could you? We were probably socially doomed from the day we stopped hunting and gathering.

The creator of AT THE THEME PARK, STREET DAWGZ: BOX LIFE, TAKE AWAY etc is back, back, back with big batch of full-colour, one-page comics you all can relate to. So long as you’re a socially awkward, cripplingly self-conscious, over-thinking, agoraphobic, responsibility-shirking, neurotic wreck.

 

 

Like the sun. Why do you think it keeps going in?

Some physical conditions are more easily treated by the doctor. Well, more easily prescribed.

“I’ll prescribe these painkillers for your back. The side effects are nausea, dizziness, financial difficulties, stress and death.”
“But will my back be pain free?”
“No guarantees.”

 

 

Lizz Lunney laughter is pain relief of the most efficacious order. It’s a tonic, laced with gin; a potion of a notion which you can administer like lotion and bring a broad grin to your face.  It’s like physiotherapy for the soul. Although your ears may prove another matter:

“Doctor, I’ve caught Copacabana…” had me cackling with laughter until I realised it was a pretty serious condition whose cure quite literally sounds worse.

 

 

I don’t know if Lizz has realised she stopped drawing cats years ago. They look more like blanched devils or demons. Oh, cats, then.

“I can leave the house in this weather without covering myself in Factor 50.”
“Why does it smell so sweet? That’s… that’s sun cream not ice cream!”
“Oh! Did I say Factor 50? I meant pistachio.”

Of course you did.

It’s the gleefully absurd delivered deadpan.

SLH

Buy Relatable Content and read the Page 45 review here

The Comic Book Story Of Video Games (£16-99, Ten Speed Press) by Jonathan Hennessey & Jack McGowan…

“Holy…! That’s the largest blip I’ve ever seen on an oscilloscope!”
“Don’t worry about it.”

That was Pearl Harbour.

And I don’t mean the Attack On Pearl Harbour flight simulator game which was pretty decent, though I was more of a Capcom’s 1942 man myself. Give me a vertical scrolling shoot-‘em-up over a flight simulator every single time. Anyway, that quote from was the real Pearl Harbour. And Naval HQ deciding that the huge blip which the radar operator had seen on his new-fangled oscilloscope couldn’t possibly be real. Ah…

Now what, you might be asking, has that possibly got to do with the history of video games? Well, apparently, to fully understand the development of video games we need to go right back to 1857 when German scientist Heinrich Geissler discovered that electric voltage passed through gas-filled tubes caused them to glow different colours. It then took another forty years before Karl Ferdinand Braun invented the Cathode Ray Tube. Plus, not mentioned in this work (oddly given the first sixty odd pages are almost entirely given over to how the science of visual telecommunication developed), John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of television in 1925.

 

 

We do eventually get around to a history of video games proper, and it is quite informative, telling us about the various machines, the games and the larger-than-life characters involved, though the end does come a bit abruptly. I just can’t help but think those first sixty pages could have been far better utilised, as interesting scientifically as they are.

I can completely see the intellectual journey Jonathan Hennessey is trying to take the reader on, I just would have rather he concentrated on the video gaming element more. It’s like he spent hours researching, forgot his brief, got carried away with including the science stuff in the first sixty pages and then had to cram as much as he could in at the end before he ran out of memory – sorry, space.

 

 

Plus, UK gamers of a certain age will feel somewhat short-changed by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of a ZX Spectrum 48K and Commodore 64 sharing one solitary panel without even saying what they are. So consequently pivotal, keystone games like Elite don’t even get a mention. But then hopefully one day someone will do a graphic novel about the UK home computing explosion of the 1980s featuring the likes of Sir Clive Sinclair and Jeff Minter. I could very well imagine Darryl Cunningham tackling that!

 

 

Granted as the gaming industry has blossomed and burgeoned to the monster it is today (the revenues of the gaming industry now far exceed the movie industry in the USA), it would be utterly impossible to detail everything of significance in a single volume, but overall this just feels like it misses the mark. It’s a very engaging read, it just probably doesn’t deliver what the reader would be expecting, or indeed want. I do wonder whether, on the back of the hugely successful THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF BEER, Jonathan Hennessey fully realised the enormity of what he decided to tackle as a follow up.

Personally I think the author would have been far better advised to tackle this in three or four volumes split into, say, the early decades of proto-gaming, the seventies boom in arcade machines, the eighties and early nineties rise of home computing and the explosion in consoles, then the expansion of PC gaming and second wave of consoles, plus of course the evolution of modern massive, multi-online gaming, like errr… a certain game called Elite, plus the likes of World Of Warcraft, obviously. I am pretty certain there would have been a voracious appetite for it.

 

 

Ed Piskor took four volumes to lavishly detail a mere decade with his HIP HOP FAMILY TREE series, for example, so in retrospect, there was no way anyone could ever do justice to the history of video gaming in a mere 181 pages. Ah well, it’s a decent enough, if protracted, potted history, I suppose. And ardent gamers will certain enjoy spotting the myriad character cameos popping up left, right and centre in the most unlikely times and places throughout. That was a very cheeky conceit which I did enjoy very much.

JR

Buy The Comic Book Story Of Video Games and read the Page 45 review here

Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow.

“Then I learned killing techniques using everything from sharp-edged weapons to social media.”

It’s amazing what a little meditation can achieve.

There’s never time for any such calm, self-centring shenanigans here: you get exactly what you see on the cover from start to finish: the most awesome, relentless, smack-down video game you’ve never played. The resolution is sharper than a surgical scalpel, its effects very similar too. Darrow is famous for his detail: like the band aids patching up not our protagonist but his shirt, belt and pistol-butt.

Nevertheless, if you’ve any sense whatsoever the character you select to play as will be the Shaolin Cowboy: never bet against him even if the odds are insane. Think Jackie Chan replaced by a chubby but equally acrobatic Beat Takeshi. Button mashing is not an option.

 

 

 

 

You don’t have to have read anything previously, but FYI this picks up almost immediately after SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET during which Darrow nimbly and fluidly fashioned variation after variation of meat-cleaving mutilation in what I can only describe as the ultimate chainsaw massacre before the juice runs dry and our Cowboy quick-foots it across the top his quarry instead (not a quarry or the quarry but his quarry), deftly dispatching the beetle-bearing shamblers on the stepping-stone hoof.

It was utterly relentless and all the funnier for it.

This instalment has a bigger bite to it, with satire splattered all over the background details including car number plates, car stickers, graffiti, advertising slogans, other assorted excrement (one dog to another: “Man… what have you been eating?”), cigarette-smoking spiders, street-walking komodo dragons, assorted other unhealthy animals and a piles and piles of discarded tins cans. It’s not a nice neighbourhood, is what I’m trying to say.

 

 

The radio shows are no better.

“You got Dick Jeezuz on all Christian, all American, all white, alright Radio K.R.O.S.S. – what’s your question, brother?”
“Dick Jeezus… big believer. Listen to you every day. What kinda gun do you think Jesus carries?”
“Well, bless you, son. To answer your question, the Son of God don’t carry no gun. He is a gun. Next caller!”

I think it’s fair to say that Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow is not a big fan of organised religion incorporated. Nor of so many modern priorities and propensities such as driving while using a mobile phone which, I would remind you, is quite rightly illegal in this country.

 

 

His books are full of such careless cretins and this is no exception: an endless convoy of cars and commercial lorries hogging the desert highway, either oblivious to our battered and blood-soaked hero or throwing cigarette butts at him as they speed noisily by, ejecting a seemingly limitless stream of beer cans and fast-food trash, as well as expletives at their children.

Following the all-eviscerating events in SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET our Shaolin Cowboy is much the worse for wear, but is doggedly pursued by vultures…

 

 

 

… a glowing green warden from Hell, knife-legged dogs, a gigantic porcine powerhouse with weaponized nipple piercings, plus all and sundry in service to cranky crustacean King Crab using their I’m-Hung cell phones to track him via drones and satellite.

Each with their own vengeful reasons, they’re out to enlighten the shit out of his high-flying ass using sass, secret origins and shotguns. Some might un-friend him Facebook.

 

 

How can a two-tonne, elephantine pig raised on Cola and pork crackling possibly be balletic? Geof Darrow, that’s how. Now here comes the sow:

“We ninjas are known as the accountants of the martial arts world, because we always keep our balance! And I’m going to put you in the red!”

What horrors did Hog Kong behold as a piglet to drive it so stir-fry crazy that it’s now craving Shaolin Cowboy cutlets? It’s as funny as it is upsetting. Vegans will weep. Oh, the final three pages!

 

 

I don’t know how more emphatically I can commend it.

This is the only graphic novel that will GPS you all the way to Nirvana.

“Buddha be praised.”

SLH

Buy Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Underwinter vol 1: Symphony s/c (£8-99, Image) by Ray Fawkes.

“I keep having these nightmares and I think I know why.”

‘Symphony’ is all very sensual.

It’s also more than a little sinister, evoking early on the taut tensions of sado-masochism, the sharp string bow playing across soft, bared flesh.

Precisely worded, like any musical movement it builds beautifully.

“It’s my bruised ribs, struck, col legno, hit with the bow and not the hair…
“It’s my welted skin, the jete strokes, where the bow bounces again and again in ricochet.
“And then as the music intensifies, sautille, tremolo, bariolage… then it is also my voice.
“And there’s a pain that is beyond all imagining, beyond sanity
“And I weep…
“Because I don’t want it to end.”

‘Overture’ has two meanings, you know.

 

 

A string quartet is invited to play blindfold at an exclusive party at a secluded mansion. There is a lot of money involved: £10,000 each for this first session. If they are pleasing, and enjoyed, they will be asked back.

The gig is brought in by Kendall, the libertine of the group: well built, well racked and well packed, first seen laid back in the arms of an older man, his lunchbox painted to be prominent.

However harmonious they may be on stage, in private Ms Ortiz at least is fractious, sneering, until she sees the colour of the money.

“Welcome. I am Meister Maranatha.
“You will play the pieces in the order selected for you. Do not improvise. Do not speak during the performance.
“You will wear the clothes we provide. You will not remove your blindfolds.”

 

 

From the creator of the fiercely inventive ONE SOUL and THE PEOPLE INSIDE whose construction, specific to the medium of comics, you will never have seen the like of (no exaggeration), this is a complete change of delivery in watercolour washes reminiscent of David Mack, expressionistic flourishes which reminded me of Bill Sienkiewicz and Francis Bacon, then a raw, roaring, abrasive crescendo during which the blindfold slips and –

You might want to Google ‘Maranatha’.

SLH

Buy Underwinter vol 1: Symphony s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wildstorm: A Celebration Of 25 Years h/c (£26-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Brett Booth, Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, Dan Abnett, Christos Gage, Ed Brubaker & Bryan Hitch, Brett Booth, Jim Lee, Neil Googe, Dustin Nguyen, Sean Phillips.

“I’m not going to be here forever.
“When I go, you’re next up.
“So wake up and think.”

None of us are going to be here forever.

All of us will need our successors, so let us pray that they wake up and think.

Fortunately mine is a clear and indisputable upgrade, for our Jonathan gave you this very website precisely seven years ago upon which we published our first new Reviews Blog in November  2010, Week One.

Mark and I had been writing reviews a whole decade before that, but they were sent out only once, in our Page 45 Monthly Mailshot. If you weren’t signed up or never opened the email, then that was their only airing: they were subsequently lost to the world. Now old and new reside here together and forever I hope at www.page45.com. You can search by genre, title, creator or bits of creator. Please choose your appendages wisely.

Yes, anniversaries are awesome and this is Wildstorm’s 25th. Wildstorm was originally neo-classical superhero artist Jim Lee’s personal imprint of Image Comics, which he sold  to DC Comics where he has since become head-honcho / publisher. It was responsible for Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’s EX MACHINA which most now assume was originally from Vertigo.

 

 

Along with brand-new stories by the likes of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch – reprising their run on THE AUTHORITY for the very first time since 1999 – this hardcover reprints many of Wildstorm’s past stellar moments both at Image and at DC, some of which are so rare that you may not have seen them, such as Brubaker and Phillips’s sequential-art intro / advertisement for SLEEPER SEASON TWO.

 

 

Others are reproduced in ways previously unseen, perhaps in black and white or uncensored, like two episodes of Millar and Quitely’s run on THE AUTHORITY which are in fact reproduced both in black and white and free from prior censorship.

I’ve done a compare-and-contrast and the original excisions are substantial and ridiculous, including turning the Engineer’s up-yours one-fingered salute into a fuck-you V sign whilst expanding “#$%hole” into a fully-fledged “asshole”. The rapist Colonel was re-inked and coloured up to disguise his Captain America mask as a gimp-suit mouth hole, all specific references to East Timor were erased and as for  Princess Diana’s final moments… ah, see for yourselves! 

But let’s take Ellis and Hitch’s THE AUTHORITY reprise, quoted above, for it is perfectly conceived and executed both as an anniversary celebration, as a piece poignant with hindsight, and as a re-visitation of their characters’ clipped, military precision when engaging effectively in a fist-fight. This Ellis invented, along with the mechanics and lateral-thinking logic of such a super-powered, problem-solving enterprise, and I’ve rarely seen that matched outside of Jim Kreuger’s, Dougie Braithwaite’s and Alex Ross’s JUSTICE.

 

 

By which I mean this: you are faced with a situation which can only be solved by specific power A once power B has enabled power C to free A from her (or his) restrictions using D’s specific knowledge and E’s unique, innate skills.

“Jack, we need you in play.”
“I’m dying. I get a day off for that.”
“Jack, name a city that hasn’t got any people in it.”

Why does Jenny Sparks need Jack Hawksmoor in play above all others? He can talk to cities. (You might recognise his surname.) Why do they need a city? They’re being assaulted by a giant Houseplant of Death. Why do they need it vacant? Because of what Sparks has in mind.

“Songliang, China. One of their ghost cities. Built, never populated.”

It’s time to open a door. But the aperture may need adjusting…

 

 

So many superhero series feature bland, repetitive pugilism devoid of dramatic tension (“I hit you, you hit me; I zap you with some nebulous powers”) but Ellis has always been exceptional at such site-specific or science-fiction-based riddles plus his historical knowledge is expansive so I cannot commend to you highly enough both his Cassady-illustrated PLANETARY and  THE AUTHORITY.

There will be material inside this hardcover which cannot match their ingenuity, for sure. I recommend the named creators’ own specific titles instead. But if you want just a little bit more, or are at all interested in the history of Wildstorm which Ellis is currently revisiting and re-inventing in his Euro-science-fiction series WILD STORM, then this is for you.

I loved Britain’s Jenny Sparks. She was far from invulnerable but she was entrusted with the protection of our 20th Century and she gave it her all, right up until her very last, pre-ordained, combative dying breath.

“Make it so the people of the 21st Century can sing a song of you.”

They’ll only do that if you show steel and kindness.

SLH

Buy Wildstorm: A Celebration Of 25 Years h/c and read the Page 45 review here

How Comics Work (£16-99, Rotovision Books) by Dave Gibbons, Tim Pilcher.

“Remember, the key to creativity is always observing the world in different ways.”

An exceptional guide to how comics and indeed the eye works, this can, should you fancy, also kick-start your own creativity and, as important as anything else, catalyse some creative thinking.

For this is no mere “how to draw” but more – like Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS and MAKING COMICS and so many other books in Page 45’s Creating Comics Section – a manual that delves deeply into the mechanics of how this unique medium of sequential-art narrative actually operates. There will be plenty of illustrated advice on lettering, colouring, cover design and all visual elements which can be incorporated into comics, but more than anything else, as Tim Pilcher emphasises, this is about telling stories, and it comes from one of the medium’s most respected storytellers.

 

 

You might have heard of Dave Gibbons: WATCHMEN etc. Yes, he has fair few comics under his belt. Largely, then, he draws on these fifty years of experience and his own body of work to illustrate the variety and complexity of techniques, many of which may never have occurred to you, which he and Tim Pilcher examine together.

However, Gibbons has his own heroes including co-collaborators like Frank Miller, and their contributions are also called upon in interludes. Of GIVE ME LIBERTY, Gibbons recalls:

“I also suggested a character who saw crime as a disease, and [Frank’s] response was, “Yeah, but what would be better is a character who sees disease as a crime”. That was the Surgeon General.”

His medical approach was quite militant.

 

 

It’s a huge book of enormous scope and depth, and I’m a slow reader (and writer) so please forgive me if I leave you largely to absorb the book itself, by yourself, rather than simply regurgitate it on this keyboard. I’d be wasting both your time and mine.

However, I found the pages on ‘Hot Spots’ fascinating, and this is what I meant by “how the eye works”.

“Basic art theory states that within a given area, there are certain points, or ‘hot spots’, that the eye is attracted to, so it makes sense that this is where you should place what it is you really want people to look at.”

 

 

He elaborates and illustrates, obviously. No, this art isn’t one that you’d necessarily identify upon reading a comic. Ideally you should be immersed. I cannot abide a comic whose script I can hear being typed and, as Edward Albee once wrote, “Symbols should never be cymbals”. The analyses do remain riveting, though.

Landscapes, vehicles, character design, grid structure, panel designs, pacing and movement, thumbnails, pencils, inks (manual and digital), the practicalities or printing, lettering, dead space, colouring, covers and even back-cover design are all delved into – along with the spine! – before daily exercises are suggested including ‘mind maps’.

 

 

I can show you how to operate a till if you like, but for this infinitely higher skill set I hand you over to Mssrs Gibbons and Pilcher. Avoid repetition and keep it kinetic even in conversations, folks!

SLH

Buy How Comics Work and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Black vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Black Mask) by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3 & Jamal Igle

The Complete Strange Growths 1991-1997 (£17-99, Spit And A Half) by Jenny Zervakis

Courtney Crumrin vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Elves vol 3 (£12-99, Insight Comics) by Marc Hadrien, Jean-Luc Istin & Ma Yi, Kyko Duarte

Freedom Hospital – A Syrian Story (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hamid Sulaiman

Jackass! (£8-99, Sublime) by Scarlet Beriko

Pashmina (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Nidhi Chanani

The Senses h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Matteo Farinella

Justice League vol 4: Endless s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & various

Superman Action Comics vol 4: The New World s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & various

Assassination Classroom vol 18 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Spirited Away Picture Book h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki