Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2018 week three

Featuring Liz Prince, Jerry Kramsky, Lorenzo Mattotti, Alex De Campi, Victor Santos, Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters, Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike Stanton, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara, Jeff Lemire, Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland, Robert Hunter, C.S. Pascat, Johanna The Mad, Paul Pope

Bad Girls h/c (£18-99, Groundwood Books) by Alex De Campi & Victor Santos…

“You decent, Miss Chandler?”
“Sure.”

She really isn’t. In any sense whatsoever! One of the three titular misbehavin’ ladies, Miss Carole Chandler is a gangster’s moll, trapped in her life of luxury as the decorative arm candy of the mob casino manager Mr. Rothman in glamorous Havana, Cuba. The other two soon-to-be dishonest dames being single mum mambo queen Ana and revolutionary jazz singer Taffy. Revolutionary in the Che Guevara sense, rather than some scat vocal malarkey, I should add. All of our trio are about to decide that a permanent vacation from the Pearl of the Antilles would be a very good idea indeed for considerably differing reasons.

But then it’s amazing what six million dollars in ‘missing’ mob money – plus the untimely death of a visiting New York capo – can do to make up your mind that a last-minute getaway is in order. It’s just that getting their very important hand luggage out of the country is going to prove even harder than negotiating an online booking with Ryan Air without shelling out more than a heap of cash in hidden extras. They’re all about keeping their cash. Well, it’s not their cash yet, but, you know, working on it.

 

 

So… it’s New Years Eve 1958, the El Eden casino joint is jumping and Havana is awash with US dollars being splashed around by well-heeled tourists and movie stars lording it over the impoverished locals. The American high-rollers were welcomed with open arms under the US-backed President Batista, but with rebels lurking around practically every corner, the times they are a-changing… Well, just about to…

Indeed, the glorious revolutionaries finally tasted ultimate victory in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1959 as Batista panicked and decided it was time to take his own ill-gotten megabucks and run. (Just for the record, Batista made it out to the Dominican Republic before eventually settling into political exile in Portugal.) And so Cubans welcomed in 1959 with a certain Fidel Castro about to take charge.

 

 

But will our ensemble of ladies make it out amidst the fireworks of New Year’s Eve and the bullets of the Brigadas, or will the mounting chaos prove an impossible barrier to their own great escape?

This is a hot and humid, sweaty and sexy slick heist thriller penned by Alex MAYDAY De Campi with glorious, glamorous period art that has more than a dash of Darwyn Cooke about it from Victor VIOLENT LOVE Santos. If you like your crime with a touch of class and more than a splash of nerve-wracking suspense, I think this will prove a hit.

 

 

The first few copies come with a signed sticker from Alex herself guaranteed to provide free passage out of any revolutionary hot zone…*

* This may be a slight fib.

JR

Buy Bad Girls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Garlandia h/c (£34-99, Fantagraphics) by Jerry Kramsky & Lorenzo Mattotti.

“The Gars were gathered in the cool air, all dreaming the same dream.
“The dream flew in the wind.”

Soft seeds blow too, like those of a dandelion clock.

Perhaps they are that dream.

Some kiss the brows of the Gars fast asleep on the rolling meadows, naked and at peace in their Eden-like idyll.

Then they’re swept away “past the peaks of the Fishbone Mountains, over the slumbering swamp” and across the path of a perched Legendary Bird who is about to bid a final farewell. It surveys all it has ever flown over, quietly, acutely, before a tear wells up in its eye.

I’m sure it’s only the wind.

It’s certainly just the beginning.

 

 

What follows is the first of so many strange transformations that make this journey – embarked on by many in diverse directions – like a Jim Woodring fable, albeit with an altogether different visual vocabulary.

It begins thus:

“Beyond the sighs of the clouds, between the horizons of twilight, lies the land of Garlandia. Its vast plains and soft slopes seem to preserve light; its climate is mild. Since time immemorial, it has been home to the Gars, a species of peaceful creatures who delight in contemplating the magic of the place with childlike wonder.”

Sublime.

Yet instinctively, all I could ponder was: how far will they fall?

You’ll have nearly four hundred pages to find out.

 

 

They seem to lead a passive, communally serene and united existence, but to my mind their community already has flaws: it’s built on a hierarchy which defers to the shaman, the supposedly wise man who interprets omens for them, and they question not.

Easily led, and so submissive, they have been conditioned not to think for themselves. This will be part of their undoing.

Then there’s that very reliance upon signs and on portents. The cows lie down in the field: will it rain?

 

 

Early on, their territorial instincts too are established, heightened by a sense of superiority, when a “Wrinkle-Face” with a decidedly Chinese, mythological aspect tries to warn them of change and is dismissed as “insolent” and shooed away as unworthy with stones. So, they aren’t adverse to violence, either.

Now watch what happens when something new and genuinely ugly slinks into their midst, and takes advantage of precisely those flaws…

GARLANDIA is so well constructed, so immaculately set up with soft subtlety that whatever the innocents do, they will come a cropper of what they’ve previously been happy to inculcate or to perpetuate, and so have to go it alone. Vilified and ostracised, they will travel so far from their safe and familiar comfort zone into territories new, strange and potentially hostile.

And those who go it alone are protecting their newborn child.

Visually, it is a tour de force, the writer wisely trusting on the legendary Mattotti to carry its predominantly silent weight for nearly four hundred pages.

Trails of blood are mirrored by ripples in the water.

There are jungle-framed watery landscapes which screamed India at me, and I basked in every single one.

No page should be rushed over, for Mattotti hasn’t.

 

 

I don’t have this specific image for you, but page 81 is the most perfectly composed landscape, lush and rich in delicate detail, over which the artist has bravely thrust thicker, darker slices of air-borne or even magic-based movement / susurration to give you an impression of the cosily cocooned under threat from unsuspected, outside forces.

There is so much space given over to the extraordinary transmogrifications and visionary fireworks that I’m thinking of Katsuhiro Otomo’s dozens-of-pages detonation during AKIRA.

 

 

The creators have dedicated this to the worlds of Tove Jansson’s MOOMIN and Moebius, but I also saw Dr. Seuss in the creatures and their cavorting.

I have three A4 pages of dense, impassioned notes I’m drawing on (which even I can barely read), but amongst them I can decipher an emphasis on all the brilliant beasts you’ll encounter from majestic Air Whales and giant, swimming snails to the Wrinkle-Faces, Rain-Monkeys and the Bird Of Fate itself. Plus the opportunistic, parasitic, mind-poisoning crustacean is worthy of Gerald Scarfe. I’m thinking the vile, looming magistrate during Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.

I’m sure this will mean many different things to many different people, but for me it’s a warning against unthinking; against blindly giving credence to any authority which should be questioned and challenged instead. It’s also a wise warning against the intoxication of alcohol and all other anger-exacerbating drugs, when consumed communally, en masse, in a war party waiting to happen.

Oh, how far they have indeed fallen!

Two brief amusements to pick out before I pop off, otherwise I’ll be here all day:

Firstly, there’s the outside Elder who is told by a Gar of Garlandia’s existence but declares “Well, there’s nothing in my books!” which to him means that Garlandia can only be a figment of everyone’s imagination. It’s pre-Vespucci Columbus colliding with a new continent, determined that it must be already known; that hilarious, curiosity-free complacency and self-satisfied ignorance that kept humankind back before the Scientific Revolution.

Lastly, I loved how when the Lord of the Lagoon issues instruction to pregnant Cochineal to help her build and feather her nest, and says, “Let us see if you will succeed in following them,” those instructions are issued from his mouth not as words, but as stream of butterflies which she must physically rather than figuratively follow in order to find what she needs.

SLH

Buy Garlandia h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Look Back & Laugh: Journal Comics (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Liz Prince…

 

 

“Hello, and welcome to this collection of my 2016 journal comics.
“This project started as a way to break out of a crippling writer’s block while also completing a lifetime goal of drawing an autobiographical comic every dang day…
“As of this publication in 2018, I am still keeping up the daily comic practice!
“Thanks for reading! Enjoy.”

She should try reviewing comics every week without fail for over twenty years as our Stephen has been doing! Including a fair few Liz Prince classics like TOMBOY. That’s a proper test of endurance!

 

 

But if you want to know what a comics creator gets up to a daily basis – aside from creating comics that is – well, now you can. Every single detail of it!

 

 

Not just the emotional highs and lows like getting engaged and friends passing away, or the immense stresses of moving cities never mind house, but all the regular day-to-day stuff like trips to the cinema to see crap films, the myriad ways cats can do your head in and cost you money (I love the fact that her cats are called Wolfman and Dracula) to discovering new places to eat with friends.

 

 

Just Liz generally hanging out and having fun with her boyf Kyle and their mates. In that sense, the title sums it up nicely, for there are many laughs to be had here, at the general absurdities that life throws at you, plus the ones we frequently manage to make for ourselves. Plus various cat-astrophes to add to the financial woes and fun. Light-hearted autobio-comics that show you can be both prolific and consistently amusing and engaging at the same time. Well, Liz can anyway.

 

 

JR

Buy Look Back & Laugh: Journal Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Universe One-Shot (£4-25, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters & Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike Stanton, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara…

“You know the feeling… right? Sure you do.
“Happens every morning, right after you wake.
“The moment you forget your dreams.”

Dream has vanished. Left the Dreaming and gone… well… no one seems sure quite where. All that remains within the disintegrating imaginary edifice at the centre of the Dreaming are a collection of familiar assistants and acolytes such as Lucien the librarian, Matthew the raven, the demi-deranged double act Cain and Abel and the… well, just plain old argumentative arsehole in the case of Marvin, the cigar-smoking pumpkinhead. It’s good to have them all back!

It’d be lovely to have Morpheus as well, or Daniel at least, as the reincarnate youthful Lord of Dreams was named. But he’s vanished with nary a trace and now seems unable or perhaps unwilling to answer the call of his sigil in the Gallery of the Endless located within his castle.

 

 

Fortunately, Lucien, if he can remember it – for this mysterious decay is beginning to affect the inhabitants too – has a plan… As a former raven himself – something Matthew, as well as myself had forgotten – he is aware of the psychic tether between the Lord Of Dreams and his atramentous avians. And so Lucien sends Matthew soaring off to roam the realms looking for their master before all of his creation crumbles away completely.

It’s a stratagem that twangs, sorry hangs, by the proverbial rubber band of a tenuous thread, to say the least, but it certainly forms an excellent conceit for allowing Matthew to pass mostly unawares by the characters who will form the cast of the four cornerstones of this new DC Vertigo Sandman Universe.

 

 

Said sound foundations being formed of…

The Dreaming #1 (£3-25) by Si Spurrier & Bliquis Evely out 5th September
The House Of Whispers #1 (£3-25) by Nalo Hopkinson & Dominike Domo Stanton out 12th September
Lucifer #1 (£3-25) by Dan Waters & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara out 17th October
The Books Of Magic #1 (£3-25) by Kat Howard & Tom Fowler out 24th October

So, yes, we will see several old favourites return, albeit many filled with the same egotistic notions of grandeur and / or crippling neuroses as before, for example in the form of the likes of the ever <ahem> trustworthy Lucifer Morningstar, still getting worked up about his absent daddy issues, and Timothy Hunter, still grappling with school life whilst wondering which end of his wand is which.

 

 

We’ll also see new characters aplenty, particularly in The House Of Whispers, which looks to open a hitherto unknown corner of the Vertigo mythos by taking us to a bayou where the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda floats. Erzulie, I think, seems to be a voodoo goddess who attracts the souls of her followers looking for agony aunt-esque advice on both supernatural and worldly issues.

 

 

Erzulie seems like she could be a bit of a party girl herself, on the not-so-quiet, with an interesting back story, so I’m particularly looking forward to reading more about her.

Matthew does eventually manage to locate Daniel, if not find him, just in case you are wondering. So we catch at least a glimpse of the albino teenage sulkpot at large in the big city and get half an answer to the question.

 

 

It seems he is there of his own volition, rather than caged against his will, which is where, if you recall, SANDMAN itself began all those years ago, in SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES.

Now, whilst Neil himself is involved with the writing of this one-shot, being credited with the story idea, he is not, I believe, involved directly with the writing of the four ongoing titles. Instead he’s hand-picked the writers, including three fantasy prose writers alongside comics veteran Si Spurrier who with the likes of GODSHAPER and THE SPIRE has certainly proven he can craft an atypical tale or two. If we can’t have Neil himself scribing away, I guess that this is the next best thing. Certainly, on the basis of where they’ve all taken his initial premise here, I’m more than sufficiently intrigued to want to read all the titles.

 

 

Artistically, this has all tickled my fancy too, especially the Fiumara brothers on the Lucifer title. My interest in that particular title is greatly reawakened after this lead-in. But all the titles look like they are going to have distinctive art styles to compliment the writing, precisely like Vertigo always had back in the day, and in fact always continued to do so with its better titles.

So far, so very good. And if we keep everything crossed, you never know, we might get a Vertigo HELLBLAZER reprise…

JR

Buy Sandman Universe One-Shot and read the Page 45 review here

Roughneck s/c (£17-99, Simon & Schuster) by Jeff Lemire…

“I was never really a hockey player… I was just a thug. At least now I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.”

The doyen of downbeat is back with a frosty contemporary fiction feast of self-destruction and misery. Straight out in graphic novel form, unlike his equally excellent new ongoing mildly mysterious monthly series ROYAL CITY, this is Jeff firmly smack bang against-the-boards back in ESSEX COUNTY territory. Even to the extent of having a former professional ice skating central protagonist, hence the body check…

I’m starting to think Jeff is a frustrated plumber. By which I actually mean an ice hockey player who likes to go get the puck out of trouble, working in the dirty areas of the rink. Because that’s exactly how he writes. He drops his characters in a whole world of pain, leaving them slipping, sliding and scrapping on the metaphorical thin ice for their lives, the Zamboni bearing down on them for good measure… then writes a way out for them, even if they don’t exactly all make it out intact. But then, getting run over by a Zamboni will do that to you.*

 

 

Here, in the frostbitten, half-forgotten arse end of Canada that is the small (ice-)burg of Pimitamon, known locally as The Pit, we find Derek Ouelette, temporarily assuaging his ever present despair with an equally ever handy bottle of beer and / or shot of the hard stuff. Plagued by headaches from his days as an enforcer out on the rink in the NHL, before the red mist took his career in a spectacularly brutal, gruesome loss of temper, he’s now barely making ends meet as a short order cook back in his home town, whilst sleeping on a cot in the janitor’s office at the local ice rink.

 

 

He’s still willing to fight all-comers, though, being one stubborn Cement Head who’s clearly not learnt his lesson yet, but this time his opponents seem entirely to be those idiotic enough to taunt someone whose former profession was repeatedly battering people in the face for fun. They might think they have a chance against someone who’s slightly the worse for wear and seemingly over the hill, but given Derek used to give people a good beatdown whilst dancing around on ice skates, I hardly think a few beers is going to prove too much of an impediment to his balance or indeed fisticuffs technique. It doesn’t.

 

 

So, it seems like Derek is on an endless cycle of drink, beat, repeat which is only going to end up with him getting sent to prison, killing someone or possibly even both. So what will make him change his ways? Not even repeated ‘final’ warnings from his old school friend, and police officer, Ray, can make him hang up his metaphorical gloves. Enter stage left Beth, his long lost sister, who ran away from home as a teenager, down to the bright lights of the proverbial big city Toronto, ending up drug-addled and sleeping rough for a few years, before allegedly getting clean and her shit together. So if that’s the case, how come she’s turned up back in The Pit, penniless, with a black eye?

 

 

Well, she hasn’t got her shit together, obviously, she isn’t clean either, but she is pregnant…  and the fruitcake future father with the free-flying fists is in hot pursuit… Guess it’s at times like this that having an equally psychopathic brother to turn to could come in handy. Except… remember what I said about Derek being on the probable path to killing somebody and winding up in jail…? Still, it’s difficult to imagine him suddenly turning into the type of guy who he’d once of described in hockey parlance as having ‘eggs in their pockets’…

As much as I love Jeff’s writing, no matter who is illustrating, it is always wonderful to see Jeff wield the pencils and paints himself too. He’s gone for a typically subdued palette here, just black lines and shading with light watercolour blues, reflecting the chilly northern landscape and stunted, alcohol and oxycontin-anaesthetised emotional vibe, similar to ESSEX COUNTY and THE UNDERWATER WELDER. Where we have full colour panels here, as with his TRILLIUM and SWEET TOOTH, it is always either in flashback to scenes of the kids’ (in-)tense family life growing up with an abusive Cannuck knucklehead father and their put-upon Native mother, or Derek’s glory days out on the ice. And hallucinations…

 

 

It’s a device that well serves to further impress upon us the oppressive situation and circumstances of Derek and Beth’s lives. Then, there is an exquisite use of a single additional colour on two other pages which, well, I have perhaps said enough already, so I shall leave you to discover those masterstrokes for yourselves. In summary, another contemporary classic from Jeff.

* No Zambonis were hurt in the writing of this graphic novel; however several Hosers do get a good thwacking from the Cement Head.

JR

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

Map Of Days h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Robert Hunter…

“After a time, inside an expanding space, the depths called nine siblings into existence. As they calmly drifted, they began to create order in the dusty cosmos.
“The siblings had the ability to draw in and mould pieces of the surrounding clutter into new forms. They used their gifts to bring together the disparate fragments and create shelter for themselves.
“As each unique exterior grew, the thick could of dust that obscured the depths began to disperse. As this heavy blanket lifted, a hidden light was revealed, never to be seen by the now cocooned siblings.
“One sibling continued to be prolific with his gift and focused his artistry on a natural fibre within his shell to weave a network reaching out to the surface.”

That sibling being the creator of the Earth. His contact with the surface of the planet through his creations and thus by extension the rays of the life-giving sun would have profound implications for his own existence…

 

 

And that’s just the beginning of the prologue of this exquisitely beautiful 48-page wonder! Once the sibling meets the sun… well… it doesn’t quite go how you might expect…

 

 

Which then leads us into the main story proper where young Richard goes to spend the summer at his grandfather Frank’s coastal house with no other plan than to go swimming every day. The simple joys of summer holidays as a child! The best laid plans, though… and soon Richard finds himself with rather more to think about than he could possibly have ever imagined. Here is a sunny deposition from the publisher to tell you more about Richard’s Plan B…

 

 

“Richard can’t stop thinking about the clock. He lies in bed each night listening to its tick-tocking, to the pendulum’s heavy swing. Why does his grandfather open its old doors in secret and walk into the darkness beyond?

“One night, too inquisitive to sleep, Richard tiptoes from his bed, opens the cherry wood door of the grandfather clock, and steps inside. There, in a strange twilight, he sees the Face the Earth, locked forever in a simulated world, where green things seem to grow in the semblance of trees and plants from unreal soil…

 

 

“In this quasi-world they sit together for many nights, the face and the boy, talking quietly of creation and the beginning of all things. Moved by the face’s ancient tale of mysterious, magnetic love, Richard longs to release him. So one night he secretly winds back the hands of the grandfather clock, and changes time forever…”

 

 

It’s going to be quite some holiday! For this is a splendidly curious fable that will lead you to a place most unexpected indeed. And whilst it is a beautifully written, tender, tantalising story, it is the wondrous art that will utterly captivate. A glorious rapture of colour and design portraying both the natural world and the heavenly sphere inside the grandfather clock. It’s a visual feast par excellence , very possibly the most beautiful work I’ve read this year. I found myself unexpectedly moved by the sentiment carefully woven through this work.

JR

Buy Map Of Days h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fence vol 1 (£8-99, Boom! Box) by C.S. Pascat & Johanna The Mad…

“Why’d you even like fencing that much?”
“My father was a fencer.”
“I thought you didn’t know your father. Just some anonymous guy who ditched your Mom, right?”
“… Right.”

Nicolas Cox wants to be a fencer to emulate his father, the Olympic Champion Robert Coste. Now, Robert Coste’s legitimate son, Jesse Coste, is ranked number one in the country for individual épée, the style of fencing most closely resembling duelling. So presumably Jesse will eventually end up as Nicolas’ arch-nemesis, but in the meanwhile, he has the supremely talented and immensely obnoxious Seiji Katayama to contend with. Both as a rival and very reluctant roommate at the Kings Row Boys School, to where Nicolas has won a scholarship, on the tricky proviso that he can win a place on the fencing team. With a roster of only three in the team and several boys competing for a spot, as well as each other’s affections, it’s going to be a testing time for Nicolas.

 

 

Yes, there’s many a Yaoi gag I could make about boys waving their swords around, but it really does seem here that at least half the potential team are more concerned about the action going on off the court than going off on it. If you follow me…

 

 

It’s all hilarious hi-jinks until someone gets poked with someone else’s sword… and loses a fencing contest… Then the sulking and self-flagellation begins. Hopefully without a sword in their hand…

Yes, despite being the wrong target audience for this, it amused me greatly. Very titter-worthy, I have to say. It’s extremely well-written unpretentious good fun about a group of pretentious stuck-up idiots that wouldn’t know good fun if it came and prodded them in the face with its sword. Well… actually… they might, I suppose…

 

 

I should add, at this sword point, if you are looking for actual hot boy-on-boy action on the page, this isn’t the title for you. However, if you’re into being tantalised and teased by the mere prospect of said activities, you’re definitely in the right arena. Trades descriptions and all that. Alternatively, if you’re just into highly amusing homoerotic sports comics regardless of your personal predilections I think you’ll get a rise out of it as well…

 

 

Back to the action… the actual sword-fighting variety… The only two who seem able to completely concentrate on the swords in their hands are Nicolas and Seiji, both of whom are equally totally obsessed with being the best. It’s a shame therefore for Nicolas that he’s lagging a long way behind Seiji in technique, but he’s able to compensate for that to some degree with natural raw talent, which is the only thing he inherited from his dad. Clean, crisp and mildly saucy colourful art from the wonderful named Johanna the Mad neatly adds to the fun.

JR

Buy Fence vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Spill Zone vol 1 s/c (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

“A hunt? What a charming idea. Did you know that the first nature photographers were safari hunters?”
“Um, no.”
“Preservation can take many forms.”

As tightly constructed as it is eloquently expressed, SPILL ZONE is charged with a fierce imagination and narrative drive which Puvilland has pulled off with panache. I have some stunning interior art for you following, but for the moment let us stick with preservation.

In Grolleau and Royer’s AUDUBON – which captured the pioneering, ornithological artist’s awe of the natural world and the plumed beauties which populated it – we learned that he didn’t half love to preserve his birds, after shooting them clean out of the sky.

Addison Merritt is preserving her home town too, in photographs taken at extreme risk to her life during illegal excursions undertaken alone and at night on her dirt bike. What she captures in the most radiant colours is both terrible and beautiful to behold.

 

 

As is her home town which was caught one night in The Spill, transforming the once mundane urban environment into an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of what might be considered ideas, experimentation, self-expression, but also killing almost everyone in its boundaries.

 

 

Since then the town has been quarantined lest other lives are lost, which makes it nigh-impossible for anyone to analyse what happened to it.

But Addison’s illicit images have become an obsession with elderly art collector Tan’ea Vandersloot, who has bought every shot and hung them in her private gallery in gentrified Harlem. Like most individuals with an eye for the arts Vandersloot is insatiably curious. Unsurprisingly, then, Ms Vandersloot has been conducting her own extensive research into The Spill, and with wealth comes contacts, the ability to acquire information under the counter and, if necessary, trade for it. Her reach is extensive; it is international; and not every country is as safety-conscious as America.

 

 

We do not know what caused The Spill, nor the nature of it. It is only via Addison’s observations that we can even begin to guess.

“An alien visitation? Something spilling from another world?
“Most of the people who escaped don’t say much of what happened that night.
“My little sister, Lexa, hasn’t uttered a sound since then.”

Lexa is seen clutching ragdoll, Vespertine, who also hasn’t uttered a sound since then.

Except to Lexa.

“I’d snuck off to New Paltz that night for a little underage drinking. Lucky me.
“Instead of watching it live, I got to see it on TV.
“My parents weren’t so lucky. They were at work that night at the hospital.
“Now there’s just the two of us.”

This first instalment comes with terrific stage-setting, our entire focus on Addison’s P.O.V., hitching along on her ride, but don’t imagine she necessarily notices everything which you will.

 

 

Our first glimpse of the town is seen at a very late hour from above, black bird-shapes flocking in synchronised flight like a murmuration of starlings, while below the buildings throb in a rainbow of radioactive colours, especially effective as the outer suburb rooftops emerge from the surrounding trees.

Once inside one would be forgiven for forgetting it is night for everything is so Day-Glo bright.

Even looking through the toy-shop windows where some of the former inhabitants hang as “meat puppets”, suspended in mid-air as if on hooks, the light is unnatural. Their eyes are empty, a vile yellow mist emanating irregularly from their open mouths.

“Whatever’s watching though their eyes isn’t them anymore.
“I hope.”

 

 

Out of respect, Addison won’t photograph the dead, but her other rules are born more out of self-preservation.

“Rule Six: never, ever get off the bike. Even in here in the playground where nothing has ever messed with me.

Is the playground empty? Puvilland puts tremendous weight on the springed things, and the swings, they are swinging like crazy.

“Because in the Spill Zone, there’s a first time for everything.”

 

 

Cue 0 to 60 and a full-throttle chase at some excellent angles past Flatsville, a stretch of road where the cars look accommodatingly level with the tarmac so leaving the route unimpeded, but make the mistake of riding over one and you’ll join the silently screaming cyclist, also squashed into two dimensions.

 

 

Are you beginning to see what I mean by “charged with a fierce imagination” yet? Also the “narrative drive” for the wolf-shadow’s pursuit propels Addison where she least wants to go: to the hospital where her parents worked as nurse and paramedic. Far from modern, it is instead a vast, foreboding, neo-gothic affair and if the intense level of dust-devil, geometric activity is anything to go by – both at ground level and spiralling above in the sky – it appears to be the very centre of this unearthly disturbance.

“Almost forgot I was scared of this place even before the Spill.
“And it’s not like a generous sprinkling of Hell has improved it much.”

As to the tight construction, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you discover that this – for all its unnerving beauty and cleverly conceived, steadily built rules which are never to be broken and some of which I have intentionally left unspoken – is all just a taste and a teaser, a foreshadowing for the first climax upon which Puvilland will provide a walloping vertical spread at exactly the right moment after which my jaw required emergency medical treatment before I could articulate anything again.

 

 

Including my jaw.

But that’s just one climax, not the cliffhanger, so I would refer you all backwards to infer what you will.

The colouring throughout is phenomenal, not least during one of the creepiest scenes which was so well observed in terms of young behaviour. In it young Lexa has been left alone overnight. Well, left alone with Vespertine, her rag-doll who, I’d remind you, also survived The Spill.

 

 

There is something of the ceremony in child’s play.

I would assemble all of my Matchbox cars onto a starting line and play out my version of The Wacky Races, an animated cartoon starring Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop et al, few of whom were afraid to get their hands dirty in order to win (in terms of our stock, please see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I’d move all the cars about incrementally, a bit like shooting for stop-animation, and make my own narrative up in my head.

Here young, silent Lexa similarly assembles all her cuddly toys and dresses herself up as the Mistress of Ceremonies for her Royal Dance. She picks her toys’ partners for them and then, in the low-lit shadows, she holds one in each hand around their backs in order to make them dance together.

Around and around they go, Vespertine with her handsome pink beau, a bear…!

Then Lexa lets her hands go.

 

 

Oh.

That’s not the cliffhanger, either.

SLH

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

More Copies Found!

Escapo h/c (£22-99, Z2 Comics) by Paul Pope…

“They conceived me up over that summer, those fresh-faced two…
“That little sperm and that little round egg, they joined and blended and rolled up, and they conceived me.
“And I was born in a sterile room full of steel tools and knives…
“… and they didn’t even ask if I wanted to be there.
“And it was in this way I made it through my very first escape hatch. Escapo, King of the World!”

You’ve either got it, or you haven’t. Me, having bought this newly coloured edition in addition to the black and white 1999 original, well, I guess now I’ve got it twice! Paul Pope just has it in abundance, though. Talent, that is. Seemingly he always has, though in a fascinating afterword, which explains why ESCAPO has been reworked and re-released, it’s clear Paul feels he’s moved on considerably since 1999, not just in artistic ability but also in the understanding of the tools of his trade. Not least that you shouldn’t used markers which will fade or bleed over time if you want to retain the integrity of the original artwork! Hence, his need to revisit, restore and thus (re)produce this new edition of what is, to my mind, an early Pope masterpiece.

 

 

There are comic artists who are truly, singularly unique, seemingly inspired by no one nor indeed inspiring others. Their style stands – in Pope’s case even down to his lettering – for all intents and purposes alone. I can’t imagine what effort of will it must take to produce such a performance. Much like that required to defy death purely for the entertainment of others perhaps, though obviously without the potential for a fatal mishap at any moment. Pope, however, does not perform with the drama-sapping luxury of a safety net, either. Epic in scale and grandeur, his pages and panels here are all spectacular in their concept and construction.

ESCAPO, though, is no showy piece of three-ring hoopla, instead it is a story bristling with passion and sentiment, albeit unfulfilled and misplaced, which at its pounding heart has the cruellest kind of love known to man, the unrequited variety. Poor Vic: the public may marvel at his exploits and gasp at his brushes with disaster as that most daring of escape artistes, but he’d happily trade it all for just a single kiss from the lithesome object of his desires, the capricious Aerobella. Unfortunately for Vic, her vainglorious heart belongs to another, the beautiful Acrobat King. Will Escapo choose to end it all distraught, mid-performance, under the gaze of a rapt but terrified crowd? Or will he choose to live forever more with a broken heart? You want to know? Well then step up, step up, buy your entrance ticket, come into Paul Pope’s tent of wonder and delight, and above all prepare to be amazed…

 

 

This edition also contains a whole host of extras not in the original edition, besides the afterword, including the two-page alternate ending from the original French version and various beautiful Escapo circus posters by Paul and various friends which I absolutely adored. Some things are just worth buying twice.

JR

Buy Escapo h/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’.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins s/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy & Carey Pietsch

Ghost Money: Death In Durban h/c (£19-99, Lion Forge) by Thierry Smolden & Dominique Bertail

Idle Days (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau & Simon Leclerc

Kill Or Be Killed vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Making Friends (£11-99, Scholastic) by Kristen Gudsnuk

Sheets (£11-99, Cubhouse) by Brenna Thummler

Spill Zone vol 2 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories vol 2 (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola with Richard Corben, P. Craig Russell, Joshua Dysart, Dave Stewart, others

Vs vol 1: Front Towards Enemy s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ivan Brandon & Esad Ribic

East Of West vol 8 (£14-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Artist Tribute s/c (£22-99, Archaia) by various

Old Man Hawkeye vol 1: An Eye For Eye s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ethan Sacks & Marco Checchetto

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