Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2018 week four

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies comes with a free signed bookplate exclusive to Page 45.

Sean Phillips and Jake Phillips will be signing and sketching and colouring in My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival from 10-30am to 12-noon on Sunday 14th October.

Published Wednesday 10th October, here’s your full review, a fortnight early.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies h/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Jake Phillips.

“I was much further out than you thought
“And not waving but drowning.”

 – Stevie Smith, ‘Not Waving But Drowning’,1957

“Hey, I never said I had a drug problem.
“That’s everyone else’s opinion.”

–  Ellie on the cover, to eighteen-year-old handsome lad Skip, inside.

Inside a palatial, five-grand-a-week rehab clinic, to be precise, with colonnades and balustrades, encircling protective wings, poplars and locked gates.

To herself: “And I sure as hell am not planning on getting sober.”

That’s a lot of money to throw away without any intention of detoxifying. So what’s Ellie really up to, and why did she scope out every other patient’s private files the night that she was admitted?

 

 

A few years ago, Sean Phillips – Ed Brubaker’s creative partner on the emphatically noir CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED – asked Ed to write him a romance comic. Sean: “And this is as close as he could get.”

Previous efforts haven’t been promising for the protagonists involved. Romance in comics rarely ends well in any event, but FATALE proved particularly problematic for the men caught blinking in Josephine’s headlights, while the whole crux of CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT was one man’s attempt to reverse his wrong romantic turning at the crossroads of life by running over his wife… metaphorically speaking.

 

 

But this is indeed, on the surface at least, a strikingly different beast, so Sean Phillips has shifted gears accordingly, and startlingly, away from the twilight world of long shadows and motive-masking, half-lit faces to spot-blacks for some clothing, but otherwise crisp lines and clear forms. These are left open for Jake to dapple and daub with sprays of light blue, silky cream, pinks and admittedly bruised purple. I love that the walls have almost been sponged.

Is it just an affectation of innocence? Surprisingly, predominantly, no – it’s the evocation of a youthful innocence retained against all odds.

The first surface we encounter is the cover. I could be wrong but it bears a striking resemblance to Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Blue Marilyn, 1964’, only less lurid. That was rendered after her death, and innocent the image is not. Here all the knowing guile is gone, replaced by wide-open eyes, the face-on portrait bathed under watery waves of light – although it is still quite the poker-face, no?

Young Ellie’s not lost, but she is perhaps rudderless, without an anchor, parental, guardian or otherwise.

 

 

Inside the combined effect of clean line and colour, as well as Ellie’s hair, smacks to me of 1970s fashion advertising and romance comics, as evoked / referenced so often by Posy Simmonds (LITERARY LIFE, TAMARA DREWE, GEMMA BOVERY and especially the relevant, pastiche passages of the MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS). Innocence, once more.

All this in unexpected and clever contrast to the central theme of drug dependency: that’s what they’re all holed up in rehab for after her all, and Ellie’s heroes have indeed always been junkies, including Van Gogh. As they drive off into a sunset (of course they do – at least, halfway through) there’s a page dedicated to the artist’s perceptions as enhanced by absinthe and digitalis, and Jake Phillips earns every penny that I hope you’ll throw their way in the most arresting, full-colour, Vincent Van flourish.

 

 

So yes, you may perhaps have spied a few preview pages before now and believe you’ve caught Ellie and Skip, thrown together and on the run from a society which simply doesn’t understand their mutual intoxication and drug-addled ways, then taken Ed and Sean at their word that this is a traditional romance / crime combo. And there is romance in being outside the law – all the romance in the world in setting yourself contra mundum.

However, however, this is Ed Brubaker.

While Ellie may be romancing 18-year-old Skip in the clinic, she’s more than a little perturbed to find herself falling for him. Also, as I’ve suggested, she’s more interested in romanticising her own past and all the soulful singer-songwriters whom her dead junkie mum once worshipped. It’s her rebellious inheritance, if you like. Ellie’s not above singing their praises, either, in group therapy, extolling the virtues of that which everyone else is in there to quit.

“It’s like Keith Richards said… The worst thing you can say about heroin will still make somebody want to try it… I mean, talking about dope just makes you want to do it… It’s like a worm in your brain. And it seems like being sober is just constantly talking about all the times you got high. So how stupid is that?”

 

 

Group leader Mitch is getting ruffled, but Ellie is just getting started. She’s on a roll.

“And why do we automatically assume that getting clean is this great thing?
“What if drugs help you find the thing that makes you special?”

I do love the way in which young, be-quiffed Skip is enjoying these iconoclastic moments, with quiet, corner-mouthed smiles to himself. Hey, he’s a teenager, a virtual synonym for rebellion, and Ellie knows precisely what she is doing, twitching that particular, fly-adorned, hook-hidden line.

She’s going to cite Lou Reed and David Bowie in a moment, isn’t she? I remember an interview with Bowie some 35 years ago in which he refused to apologise for the promise that he would never again put take such elephantine quantities of horse simply to create another ‘Scary Monsters’ album. And I can’t say I blame him – it wouldn’t have been us who’d have to suffer the subsequent withdrawals – but a world without ‘Hunky Dory’ or ‘Scary Monsters’ doesn’t really bear dreaming about.

 

 

Anyway, in stark contrast to the feathered, sky-bright colours of blue and yellow and pinks which radiate Ellie’s seemingly unclouded optimism, her recollections are framed in funereal black and shaded in a grey which we associate with the past. There she laments the fate of the recording artists featured on a mix-tape her mum made for her dad who was languishing in prison. They were every one of them drug addicts. One of her mum’s favourite albums was recorded by Billie Holiday who was arrested in a hospital bed for possessing narcotics, and died handcuffed, under police guard, after they’d forced the doctors to stop giving her methadone. Holiday’s own dad had fared little better, having been refused treatment at a ‘Whites Only’ hospital. The link between them was the song ‘Strange Fruit’, and mum would listen to Billie Holiday while staring out of at the rain, when Ellie was four-years-old.

“That was the year I learned what a junkie was.”

 

 

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that both you and Ellie were finally going to be forced wide awake by a brutal memory to puncture Ellie’s almost determined dreamlike reverie, but instead you are treated to yet another rose-tinted spectacle of almost supernatural beauty.

So what did Sean Phillips mean, by “this was as close as he could get”?

Where is the come-down, the crash, the fatal flaw which almost always propels the protagonists in noir to fuck things up for themselves, good and proper?

It’s all there if you read carefully enough, early on, only to resurface a little later.

 

 

“It’s a dream, living like this… But I start to think, why do dreams have to end?
“I hear Judie Garland in my head, singing about a faraway land, where troubles melt like lemon drops… and bluebirds fly.
“Judy was caught in the pull between downers and amphetamines as she sang that, of course. Maybe that’s why it sounds so true.
“But anyway, my troubles aren’t the kind that melt away.
“They’re the kind that follow you.
“Even over the rainbow.”

SLH

Buy My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Please note: Published Wednesday 10th October, you can pre-order this exclusive edition now and select Worldwide Shipping, Collect In Store or Collect In Kendal, postage free. We’ll simply bring your bookplate edition along with us for you to read and get sketched in by Sean and Jake at the Lakes Festival. Hooray!

Agrippina Arithmetic (£2-99) by Andi Watson ~

“You have a mother and a father, three brothers, two sisters, two husbands, a cousin, an uncle, a son and five canines.”

No, this is not the beginning of one of those convoluted math problems that plagued our childhood classrooms, though you would certainly be forgiven for thinking so. This is the title story ‘Agrippina Arithmetic’; a tale of a domineering young woman, her somewhat unconventional family, and power. You are the empress Agrippina, a woman of great beauty and an extra canine in her upper jaw (apparently held as a symbol of good fortune, but that would certainly depend on your perspective of things.) A catalogue of chaos, this is the story of the demise of one of ancient Rome’s most prominent families and the empress in the shadows of a tyrannical son. And you’ll be glad of that math-problem-style opening. Recurring throughout, it poetically punctuates the timeline, centralising the many characters packing the pages of this ominous tale.

 

 

Another delightful display of diversity, Andi has once again presented us with a wonderfully eclectic mix of mini-comics. After Ancient Rome we’re jettisoned into a haunting short of speculative fiction in ‘The Future’s So Bright’, followed by a melancholic, mid-century number ‘The Picture’ with aesthetics very reminiscent of ASTERIOS POLYP.

 

 

Finally, we are grounded back in present day with ‘Speak Your Weight’; a humorous perspective of that all too relatable moment in our lives of taking those tentative steps onto the bathroom scales. I certainly know which one speaks to me, and it is the succinct statement of “hummus”.

JP

Buy Agrippina Arithmetic and read the Page 45 review here

Vern And Lettuce (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Sarah McIntyre.

I’ve only just spotted it, but stairs!

Those tiny bunnies are forever finding stairs to bounce down!

You may by now be more familiar with Vern and with Lettuce from Sarah McIntyre’s 2018 picture-book pleasure THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wrapped its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers and comes (at the time of typing) with free signed bookplates designed exclusively for Page 45 by La McIntyre herself.

This, then, is a reprint of those characters’ earliest appearances in fully fledged comics, a long lost treasure rescued from legal-rights limbo by Bog Eyed Books publisher Gary Northfield, creator of the equally exuberant DEREK THE SHEEP and so much more that you can find reviewed in Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Collection Section.

I’ve found the graphic novel’s original review by our Tom who left to become a chef, so I’m going to adapt a few of his choice cuts to bounce off myself.

“Vern is a park keeper, trimming its grass, a job that doubles as an all-you-can-eat buffet when you’re a sheep. All he normally has to worry about are biker moles wrecking his immaculate green.”

 

 

Yup, you can really plough a furrow on a Harley-Davidson. I love the way that they’re treated throughout like Hells Angels – the underground movement of the animal kingdom!

If you look closely during the fairground escapade you might spot an un-signposted background joke as the everyday anarchists engage in a gleeful game of whack-a-mole.

“His neighbour, Lettuce, in the flat below, is the oldest daughter in a huge family of bunny rabbits, who is constantly lumbered with looking after her many excitable, poopin’ brothers and sisters.”

They call Vern their uncle, in the way that you do some family friends, and oh the dedicated sacrifices that Vern often makes! “Unca Vern, can we plait your hair?” “Uh, ok.” It’s quite the comical make-over. I don’t suppose many of you whippersnappers have caught your mother or even grandmother – let alone your granddads – in curlers, but that’s kind of what happens to Vern, with the additional indignity of finding one of the little bunnies still lurking within.

“I seem to have an ingrown hare.”

Ooof!

 

 

“The early one-page comics here are brisk set-ups for puns, but quickly evolve into clever explorations of stereotypes and prejudices when a family of Polar Bears move into their block after their ice floe melted. It’s snow joke.”

Oh Tom! You’re fired!

It should be noted that Polar Bears aren’t vegetarians, their go-to diet naturally including all sorts of inhabitants native to the land they’ve been displaced from. The popsicles they keep in their fridge-freezer may contain Inuit, innit.

 

 

That’s not the end of the naughtiness, either. One early page presaged by bunnies bouncing and bonking downstairs all higgledy-piggledy (as they do in THE NEW NEIGHBOURS) involves put-upon Unca Vern agreeing to their cake-baking ‘cooperation’.

“We’re here to help!”
“Uh huh.”

Oh dear. There’s quite a left-over mess on the floor of flour and sugar and….

“I didn’t buy any raisins.”
“Sorry, Vern.” “They’re not raisins.”

 

 

The colours are highly unusual, lots of nature-derived blue and green, all suffused with the softest of cream.

Even back then the cartooning was exquisite, Vern’s wool portrayed like some thread-embossed, spiral-patterned duvet. Later there’s a page in which both Vern and Lettuce dress up as extravagantly as Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve do for their kiss-thrilling public appearances!

 

 

My favourite combines composition and colours in the most magical way during a moon-and-star extemporised slumber session that put me in mind of some sort of dimly recalled, mythological Eastern midnight: Vern the sheep stuck most awkwardly up a tree, yet Lettuce reclined, equanimous to it all, her normally never-letting-up brothers and sisters adapting with ease, going native, getting into the swing and hanging upside down from its branches like bats.

“Look, one foot!” one boasts, as if doing a wheelie or something.

 

 

And the gentle social satire never falters, either, with cellophane-packaged super-health foods parodied well ahead of their time in place of what would be far more nutritious, natural and accessible fruit and veg.

For far, far more from Sarah McIntyre, I commend to you all these beautiful books reviewed in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section I’ll just leave you with this insignificant little observation which I believe is no more than the most magical of typically fortuitous serendipities: the very last panel of VERN AND LETTUCE could be interpreted as leading you straight into the first page of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS, right there on the rooftop!

SLH

Buy Vern And Lettuce and read the Page 45 review here

Follow Me In (£18-99, Avery Hill) by Katriona Chapman…

Well, I think I will, my dear. In fact I did, and was utterly enraptured for the entire 248 pages of Mexican majesty I found within. Long-term Katrionaddicts may recall seeing a sneak peek preview of ten pages in her KATZINE: THE GUATEMALA ISSUE in its pure pencil state without colours. It was a thing of beauty already, but now enriched with lush, soft colours that actually look like they have been done with coloured pencils, it is elevated to a level higher than Popocatépetl itself.

Now, Katriona and her long ago ex-boyfriend Richard Popocatépetl didn’t attempt to scale Popocatépetl, it’s just an active volcanic mountain in Mexico I’ve long held in fond regard for no other reason than my favourite bar in Prague was named after it. A suitable name for a place that could erupt into riotous life at any moment. I once saw a woman dance off the top off a table in there in response to an impromptu nonsensical song my friends and I were regaling the patrons with to accompany a gypsy quartet playing various stringed instruments I’d never seen before nor since… I digress… but I should probably just add the lady in question leapt right back up and carried on dancing. A real trouper…

Before we get back to Mexico proper, Katriona starts us off with what is actually a mini-epilogue in considerably colder climes, a conversation with at that point her most definitely ex, regarding her intentions to produce this graphic novel of their trip together. Over a decade has passed since they went adventuring together, but Katriona feels it necessary to advise Richard, and therefore also the reader, that the book will be quite personal, an allusion to the fact that his excessive drinking was responsible for the deterioration of their relationship. In fact, Richard is completely fine with it, encouraging Katriona to include it. I too, mention this in advance of talking about their trip, because it is a significant sub-plot. Another very fascinating sub-plot is that this trip inspired her to start drawing again. Thank goodness for that!

 

 

Right, Mexico! It’s a country I’ve never visited, despite a deep desire to see the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in the ancient city of Teotihuacan one day. But after reading this work, I want to see far, far more of Mexico and its people! Katriona, in addition to superbly presenting her own travelogue and the beautiful locations she took in also does a brilliant job of highlighting the very diverse and distinct pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures that still exist in Mexico, albeit in localised, often very rural and isolated pockets. It’s a country rich in traditions and steeped in ancient beliefs that a casual visitor would miss. I can honestly see many a reader being inspired to consider a trip there after reading this. I certainly am!

 

 

A perfect example of how to do a travelogue, capturing not only the intensely personal aspects of such a journey – because it is impossible to undertake such a trip and not be changed by the experience – but also the heady combination of cultural diversity and geographical gloriousness of the destinations themselves.

 

 

Note: our initial copies from Avery Hill themselves have been very kindly sketched in by Katriona. Don’t miss out!

JR

Buy Follow Me In and read the Page 45 review here

Marilyn’s Monsters (£22-99, Humanoids) by Tommy Redolfi…

“Holy Wood. The sacred forest.
“The only place that can make a face shine for millions to admire on giant, silver screens.
“Because in the movies, people become larger than life.
“Big enough to be seen and never forgotten.
“It’s a tried-and-true formula.
“Perfect nobodies have often become true symbols of success and happiness.”

A completely different take on perhaps the most famous nobody made good of them all. Here’s the trailer from the Humanoids studio to tell you how this particular type of movie star gets made…

 

 

“The famous Holy Wood Hills. A strange spooky forest filled with freaks and old trailers. This is where movie stars are born in this alternate world. Determined to become one, shy Norma Jean Baker a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe comes to this ghost-town with hopes and dreams. She’ll have to face all kinds of monsters to reach her ultimate goal.”

That she will. But don’t expect ghouls and goblins. There’s the odd classic 1920s-esque cinema freak, for sure, and there is a touch or two of dark magic deployed to spooky effect, but the true LA monsters, as in real life, are of course the movie execs and producers. You will see Norma Jean reborn as the titular blonde bombshell only to die as Marilyn all over again, but just experiencing a very different and primarily first person take on it in doing so.

 

 

Always nice to see someone try to do something a touch unconventional with an established story, especially when the art is as delicate but as dangerous as Marilyn herself. I guess this fantastical fable is intended to come off as a Brothers Grimm-esque fairytale, all dark and brooding with a tragic death awaiting the protagonist. It certainly succeeds in that respect. It’s painful to relieve Norma Jean’s inevitable demise with the ‘monsters’ playing their inevitable parts in any format. But I guess it is good to see that just for once there is no fudged-up Hollywood happy ending!

JR

Buy Marilyn’s Monsters and read the Page 45 review here

Estranged s/c (£11-99, Harper) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

“Oh, oh man. This is just too adorable.”

Alexis is being embraced by both her young brothers, out of their depth, but determined to triumph. It is not a development which will be easily won, not least because, until earlier today, she only knew she had one. And he’s been a bit of a brat.

“Don’t take your pubescent moods swings out on me.”

Now there’s an ace line for any older sisters or brothers to strike back with.

And Edmund isn’t even her real brother. Unfortunately she didn’t know that. Perhaps the publisher can explain?

“Edmund and the Childe were swapped at birth. Now Edmund lives in secret as a changeling in the World Above, his fae powers hidden from his unsuspecting parents and his older sister, Alexis. The Childe lives among the fae in the World Below, where being a human makes him a curiosity at the royal palace. But when the cruel sorceress Hawthorne seizes the throne, the Childe and Edmund must unite on a dangerous quest to save both worlds, even if they’re not sure which world they belong to.”

 

 

We begin down below in the Fae court, a decadent society of preening self-aggrandizement, stifling in its haughty, dismissive sneering mockery which extends from the royal mother to her son.

“Where is it anyway? Fetch the Childe! … There it is, everyone! I present our Childe, a proud knight of the realm!”
*courtly applause*
“You needed me, mother?”
“Did you hear that? It called her “mother”! How precious!”

They are all too aware that the Childe is human, is other, and treat him like a monkey that’s learned to talk. It’s a spectacular realm whose courtyard ceilings are lit with crystal and glass, but there is no sky.

Above ground, however, the first page of chapter two comes as a breath of fresh air, the lines and colour crisply contrasting with what was really rather fetid down there. And the chapter breaks themselves are exquisitely designed, tree roots crawling round grey metal drain pipes.

 

 

The family above have no idea that Edmund isn’t theirs – that he isn’t even human – something which Edmund is desperate to keep a secret, for he treasures all that he has and is terrified of losing it. But he’s experiencing growth spurts and mood swings and, with them, the emergence of pyrokinetic powers he finds impossible to control. So when Childe emerges from down below after his adoptive parents’ throne has been challenged, taken and usurped, desperate to find his “twin” and persuade the Changeling to join them in defying the sorceress, Edmund, to say the least is conflicted.

 

 

There’s a huge heart and tenderness here (the tears are well done), along with some breathtaking art and very fine finery and so much that minded me of Mark Oakley (THIEVES AND KINGS, 3 volumes of STARDROP). In a graphic novel filled with wonders, Aldridge is clever in keeping the greatest spectacles for later. For example, however intriguing the land of the Fae seems to begin with, it is only upon their return that the artist really lets rip with full-page spectacle.

 

 

It’s then that the conflict – already begun up above, endangering Edmund’s family – really begins.

For there be dragons.

 

 

Some of the later more confrontational dialogue / posturing struck me as a touch forced, but there are plenty of ideas I haven’t seen elsewhere, like a city arranged as a set of shelves and the Chylde’s guardian Whick, a wax-candle Golem who’s rendered inert whenever his flame is snuffed out. His hair cascades down in clotted, molten-wax dreads. Superb use of androgyny too.

Young Adults and Adults alike will be staring at the detail for hours.

SLH

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

Flocks s/c (£19-99, Other A-Z) by L. Nichols…

An extremely affecting auto-biographical work that covers one person’s arduous journey of self-realisation of their trans status set against a relentless backdrop of all too predictable prejudice. With that said, it is chock full of pure spirit-lifting, soul-lightening joy too. Here is a psalm of calm from the publisher’s pulpit to bless you further…

“L. Nichols, a trans man, artist, engineer and father of two, was born in rural Louisiana, assigned female and raised by conservative Christians. Flocks is his memoir of that childhood, and of his family, friends and community, the flocks of Flocks, that shaped and re-shaped him. L.’s irresistibly charming drawings demonstrate what makes Flocks so special: L.’s boundless empathy.”

That is what shines through this work, actually, L.’s empathy and it is indeed boundless. For his parents, his schoolmates, his college friends and even his backwater church congregation and their pastor. It’ll not surprise you the ecclesiastical crew are by far the worst of the bunch when it comes to being, well, ignorant.

Consequently I found chapter three (the book moves forward in chronological order through L.’s life with some very cute photos of him as a child as chapter breaks) particularly affecting where L is determined to reconcile his belief in God, which is very much of the blissful wondrous ‘all-encompassing awe of nature and one’s place in it’ kind, with the word of man, here the local preacher repeatedly railing against the ‘sins of homosexuality’.

 

 

The whole chapter is effectively an extended essay on the subject of L.’s faith versus the prejudice of the preacher, a constant valid point and pointless counter-point which I found extremely powerful indeed. L is certainly a forgiving person who has very clearly realised that prejudice stems from learned and inculcated ignorance, which unfortunately the preacher is doing his very best to pass on to everyone else in the congregation. Still, turning the other cheek and love your enemy and all that is easier said than done, so I am impressed with L.’s clarity of mind and wisdom and above all, compassion.

Maybe one day the proverbial scales will fall from the community’s eyes. If that is eventually going to happen, works like this will certainly have played their part.

The rest of the work details L.’s slightly fraught relationship with his warring parents, who are utterly oblivious of his youthful growing belief that he had to be a lesbian, coupled with his own gradually ever-expanding understanding that the wider world and people outside of rural Louisiana were at least a little more socially enlightened, some of them anyway.

 

 

By the time he got to college, to study engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts, his worldview was beginning to be ever-more rapidly transformed, helping to create an environment for his sense of identity to be also. A triumph of positivity, and indeed, empathy.

JR

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

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

Long-sought-for-restocks! Hooray!

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

Beowulf s/c (£17-99, Image) by Santiago García & David Rubin.

“To idly live is to wait for death.”

It won’t be long coming.

I give it three pages.

Even the first eerie offering foreshadows the doom. Lit like Charles Burns, an underground river cascades through a bleak, black cavern below jagged stalactites and knotted, invasive roots. Lurking in the darkness, a pair of glowing, inhuman eyes incarnadine the gristly, reptilian, obsidian flesh surrounding them.

Something has already had its fill.

Up above on the snow-swept, pink-dawn plains something hasn’t so much raised a dog’s hackles as left them buffeted weakly by the wind. A deafening murder of blood-stained carrion crows has formed and is feasting, fighting each other for the most prized pickings: the eyes. There appears to be a lot of carrion.

 

 

 

 

Behind them still stand the fractured remains of the Danes’ banqueting hall of Heorot, if only barely. Its broad timbers have been shattered like wooden toothpicks and smeared with blood.

“Fortune favours the Danes!
“I, Hrothgar, son of Beow, son of Scyld, arrived on these shores in but a humble driftboat…
“Now I lead the Danes’ most glorious era!”

It’s very well done: Hrothgar’s boastful pride is presented through flashback panels embedded above the very same pages on which he discovers its painfully brutal rebuttal in the form of the corpse-ridden obliteration of the very hall which he hailed at the Danes’ greatest glory. It is a perfect piece of juxtaposition, his face falling between past and present as he comprehends his own hubris.

“Who dared massacre our own?” he demands, post-pyre, while we’re shown a sequence of panels inlaid once more above, showing that self-same, limb-rending massacre with mere glimpses of the intruder: a gigantic arm, eyes and teeth which will prove many and set fast in a crocodilian jaw.

 

 

Welcome to a big book of blood, guts and the shredding of sinews. Sinews will feature prominently, as will cleverly inset panels.

The first known manuscript of Beowulf – following many centuries of being passed down through the oral tradition – is dated roughly around 1000 AD. Even once written it preserved the importance of the oral tradition for sung stories featured prominently. These were how names were remembered, how histories were celebrated and how eternal glory became a goal far more treasured than mere trinkets.

“You’ve no debt to my kingdom. Why would you come to die so far from all you know?”
“Eternal glory, M’lord. After all… gold’s spent, life ends. Only glory remains eternal.”

So speaks Beowulf, more than a decade after Hrothgar commanded his finest warriors to seek out the murderous demon Grendel and exact retribution for the massacre.

“May the fury of Danes rain upon the earth.”

It didn’t. They failed. They have since retreated to a fortified town high up an isle like Mont St Michel, only land-bound. Now Beowulf has learned of this Grendel, has come to slay the beast with his bare hands, and as the stranger leads his men up the steep, icy path through its outskirts more inset panels show their own furtive glances and the reception by bird, beast and man alike.

 

 

The very finest deployment of these “windows”, however, lies within a double-page spread of the Danes’ new banqueting hall, glowing red late at night after the warriors have eaten and drunk their fill and lie sleeping on its think-planked, bear wooden floor. It is so tight with tension that I stared at its details for a good half an hour. And there’s a lot of subtle detail.

At the far right, furthest from the entrance lies Beowulf, naked on fur. The others are clothed but oblivious to the creature who, having ambushed the sentry with its prehensile tail then bitten him in two, has gained entrance. Now, seen from above, Grendel slithers stealthily and unimpeded across the hall in four movements, its freedom to roam emphasised by the absence of vertical panel borders. Instead, multiple square panels hung in mid-air like free-floating portraits depict close-ups of the demon’s potential victims as its gaze darts left and right, assessing them, sniffing them, its steaming jaws mere inches from their faces. But Garcia and Rubin aren’t done, for there is an additional clutch of panels tangential to each of those already inset, all in bright red and revealing the ribbed, skin-peeled muscles underlying their arms, chests and heads. The beast can see through to their actual prowess: let’s call it Grendel-vision.

 

 

That’s about as far through the story as I’m prepared to take you, except to say that the next few pages come with a slight surprise which has sent this book straight to one of our top shelves. Consider that a Parental Warning for I have known Gareth Hinds’ interpretation of BEOWULF (back in stock and on our site in a fortnight – I’ve found an American edition now that Walker Books have sold out) be bought for the whole family. This gladdens my heart but, if you want to avoid some awkward dinner-table chit-chat, I would probably not be sharing this with your young sons and daughters.

I will also add that the title of this book is BEOWULF, not Grendel, and it is much wider in scope that you might initially imagine.

Comparison points for the art come in form of Becky Cloonan, Paul Pope and Rafael Grampa. It’s not as faithful in its literary nuances as Gareth Hinds’ version but it is absolutely riveting in its own right. There’s no real point in replicating others’ interpretations, and what I can promise you in lieu of the strictest tradition is visual innovation and jaw-dropping, jaw-splitting spectacle.

 

 

This is an over-sized book bursting with page after page of visceral, slice-and-dice conflict and gore as the stakes increase exponentially in line with each successive, monstrous adversary so that the pages, however large, can no longer contain the leviathans that lie within. At this point we reference Jack Kirby, Geof Darrow, Michael Oeming et al. None of those are random.

But it’s not just about the battles. The primal, raw sensuality is maintained by feasts depicting mouths dripping with rare-cooked meat and red-berry juices. And, oh lord, the colouring! I don’t think you could make this much more luminous or lambent if you’d lit it on fire: subterranean, glowing greens poisoned by reds and a dragon’s breath which appears to fill the air not just with cinders but it’s as if every single molecule were a curled piece of combusted paper, blinding and burning your eyes.

 

 

If that weren’t enough, the coup de grace comes in the form of an epilogue so unexpected but also so exceptionally apposite for a tale that’s been passed down through so many generations and translated into so many different languages.

SLH

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

Marvel Knights: Fantastic Four 1234 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee with Manuel Gutierrez.

Astute psychological thriller, lit to a thunderous, midnight perfection, this will in no way appeal to fans of superhero series outside of the likes of Paul Jenkins’ & Jae Lee’s THE SENTRY and INHUMANS.

I found it both extremely tense and exceptionally funny.

The following is a mash-up of one-liners I loved.

“Sue. It shouldn’t sound like that. It’s not raining outside…”
“That’s not thunder, is it…? It’s under the ground….”
“Johnny, I love what you do to me, but these are third degree burns…!”
“Shut up. Stop trying to hurt us, you stupid, lonely, ignorant man!”

There’s a storm brewing over Manhattan, and Marvel’s most dysfunctional family, wandering through the echoing chambers of their soulless, high-tech skyscraper, are coming apart at the seams. Someone’s playing a game of chess with their lives. It’s rigged, of course, with a scattering of rogue pawns lying in wait across the board. One by one husband and wife, brother and friend are being isolated and taken down by their own hopes, fears and inadequacies.

 

 

Reed Richards isn’t just brooding, he’s hooked up to his machines like some reclusive techno-junky, leaving his wife to feed fake fish, his careless, callous brother-in-law to preen and party, and Ben Grimm, the most insecure of the lot, in temptation’s way.

 

 

Morrison and Lee strip away all comfortable elements of this superhero family team title, with its preposterous dialogue and garish colours, leaving some vulnerable, emotional individuals to crash and burn by their own hands. Once again, it’s time to ignore the publisher and trust the creators, for, like the INHUMANS, this is far more Vertiginous in style and content, and you’re going to kick yourself if you let the title dissuade you from grabbing another slice of prime Grant Morrison.

Jae Lee has once more risen to the challenge of adapting his art to the task at hand. The backgrounds are relentlessly slate or green-grey, with a mass of sharp, angular blacks, crumbling sympathetically with its occupants. It’s a miserable, neo-Gothic environment for miserable, 21st Century people. 

 

 

“Richards. In one short evening, I’ve taken everything. The boy is blinded, crippled and enslaved. The monster is shattered, lost, his lover now the Mole Man’s bride in his kingdom of filth. Your wife is drowning in the deep fathoms of her adulterous frenzy. And all that remains… is Doom. While you’ve been locked away, I’ve been busy destroying the life and loves of your family forever, Richards. Tell me… what have you been doing?”
“Well, Victor…  I’ve been thinking.”

It’s cold out there. Get ready to shiver.

SLH

Buy Marvel Knights: Fantastic Four 1234 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 1 h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

“Mooooooomin….”

They call to me at the night, and through the early hours of the morning.

We’ve built quite the collection of MOOMIN at Page 45, including the very first illustrated prose book, THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, so do please take a gander.

Childhood favourites, this restless, resourceful, hyper-inquisitive and highly inventive family of white, bulbous beauties – like bipedal, bleached cartoon hippos – may have reached their audiences first as comics, animation, or illustrated children’s books. Most were charmed at first night, although I have heard a significant number of complaints (from young men only) that they were scarred for life by some creepiness they discerned. I blame the Japanese anime.

Anyway, later editions I attended to more thoroughly, but books one and two never got their full due so do so now.

Contains ‘Moomin And The Brigands’, Moomin and Family Life’, ‘Moomin on the Riviera’ and ‘Moomin’s Desert Island’.

 

 

Moomin On The Riviera

“What a wonderful feeling to be poor… and listen to the rain on my little hut.”

There speaks a very rich man!

“Of course it is romantic to play poor, but I don’t like it when the roof leaks… and it is rather chilly sleeping under a boat at dawn.”

Hmmm. That’s the Marquis Mongaga in love with the idea of being bohemian and slumming it with the Moomins after they’ve had enough of high society and posh hotels, neither of which they understood. Nor could they comprehend why almost everywhere was marked “PRIVATE”.

“I think picking flowers would soothe our nerves. It usually helps.”
“This is a private wild meadow. Get off this property!”
“But who owns everything here, then?”
“People with money, of course!”

Yup.

I think you’ll find that 99% of the biggest Bajan houses are owned by 1% of Barbados’ population and 99% of them will be white and only part-time residents.

 

 

Still, Snorkmaiden and Moominpappa did want to see The South (it really was that vague) and so they set sail to foreign climes with alien customs. They found it surprisingly easy to get a room at the snazziest hotel but they were under the impression it was a house and they were its private guests. Do you suppose that it all went horribly wrong?

Over and over again Tove Jansson in the form of right-minded Moominmamma extols the virtues of a modest life in MOOMIN. She finds the hotel room way too big for comfort so they retire to the bed instead and set up shop under its canopy.

I love the way she answers everyone about everything with “Yes, dear”, reassuring all and sundry whilst sort of ignoring them.

 

 

Moomin’s Desert Island

“Help!”
“Pirates!”
“Are they after us?”
“I hope so!”

Everyone loves to be chased.

Thirty-five pages of in which our flailing family of unceasing optimists finds itself marooned on a desert island. They don’t mind: in MOOMIN VOL 7 they actively set out to shipwreck themselves, and found it surprisingly difficult!

Moomin Mamma’s immediate priority is to go foraging for food, carrying her handbag (as you do) and hunting a wild boar with her compact. I’m not even kidding you. She blows make-up powder up its nose and into its eyes, seasons it with salt (it’s a well equipped handbag) then sets fire to the poor brute, shaggy coat and all.

 

 

However, Moomin Mamma isn’t the only Moominmummy on the island. Plus Moomintroll discovers a message from The Mymble bobbing in a bottle on the sea.

“Help! I am the beautiful prisoner of the pirates on board the Black Shark!”

Beautiful? Uh-oh. Well, it wouldn’t be MOOMIN if Moomintroll’s missus, Snork Maiden, didn’t sulk. It’s so like Tove Jansson to be that random: Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll and… Snork Maiden. Maybe Moomin’s the name of the family, not the species – that’s only just dawned on me!

The laugh-out-loud sequences involve the Professor who boarded the helicopter against his better judgement having forecasted a storm. A death-obsessed doom merchant, his umbrella was up before the first drop of rain and remains firmly aloft on each and every page until the, err, accident. It’s an exquisite piece of timing when, after a dozen or so gloomy projections, the imminent disaster is left hanging in the air on the last panel of a page, just like the agent of destruction above the poor Professor’s head. I don’t think that umbrella will help much.

SLH

Buy Moomin: Comic Strips vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

For an introduction which sets the scene for all that will follow, please see MOOMIN VOL 1.

Here, however, begin the adverse weather conditions and enter the first of many irritating, overly presumptuous house guests.

Being restless, resourceful, hyper-inquisitive and highly inventive made for great drama, but above all the Moomin family were ever-welcoming and felt duty-bound to find room in their house for even the strangest of strangers, so built up quite the circle of equally curious friends whose definitions of ‘friendship’ varied considerably, often straying into “How do we take maximum advantage of this limitless hospitality?”  The Moomins’ naivety in this regard often made them victims of their own innocence, so there’s more drama to be gleaned there.

 

 

If not, the weather will oblige and one can’t help but consider Jansson well ahead of her time environmentally, for winter is one thing but the floods could be biblical in proportion.

This edition includes ‘Moomin Mamma’s Maid’ and ‘Moomin Begins A New Life’ plus…

 

 

Moomin’s Winter Follies

“I do think the behaviour of the human male very strange.”
“Yes. But they are wonderful.”

Hmm…

The family Moomin break their tradition of winter hibernation to discover the joys of a snowswept Moominvalley, only to be roped into winter sports by the officious Mr. Brisk of the Great Outdoors Association.

 

 

Ever so swiftly it grows way too competitive and people’s feelings get hurt. Especially Mymble’s: she’s only gone and fallen in love… again!

Includes what is possibly the only snowball fight ever to be thrown (arf!).

 

 

Moomin Buillds A House

“Pappa? There is some villain outside!”
“How exciting!”

That’s no villain, that’s Mymble’s mother and her seventeen new brothers and sisters! Oh wait, it is a villain because she’s invited herself to stay with no warning at all and no plans to leave until Midsummer. Also, she’s oblivious to the wretched little monsters’ chaos and destruction.

“Don’t they fight each other?”
“Of course. But I don’t like to keep scolding them. I just… pour some water over them… or lemonade.”

 

 

Little My is the worst, rousing the rabble into abducting Mrs. Fillyjonk’s offspring and tying them to totem poles. She’s relentless and remorseless in terrorising the Moomin household, while her mother takes a positive pride in what she sees as skills. Poor Moomins: always the victims of their own goodwill and hospitality! In the end, they can only persuade her to behave by abiding by My’s harsh ultimatum: she wants Moomintroll’s bedroom all to herself.

And that’s why he has to build a house for himself and Snorkmaiden. He’s… not very good at it.

 

 

The ultimate in poor parenting and the dangers of D.I.Y..

Which is why I don’t do any.

D.I.Y. or parenting – you take your pick. See also: dusting, vacuuming, washing up… We could be here all day.

SLH

Buy Moomin: Comic Strips vol 2 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’.

Kingdom h/c (£16-99, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught

Amulet vol 8: Supernova (£11-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi

Art Matters h/c (£9-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell

Be Everything At Once: Tales Of A Cartoonist Lady Person (£10-99, Chronicle Books) by Dami Lee

Check Please Hockey vol 1 (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Ngozi Ukazu

Dementia 21 (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Kago

F*ck Off Squad (£13-99, Silver Sprocket) by Dave Baker & Nicole Goux

Fraternity h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Juan Díaz Canales & Jose-Luis Munuera

Infidel (£14-99, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell

Kabul Disco vol 2: How I Managed To Get Addicted To Opium In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild

Klaus: New Adventures Of Santa Claus h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Grant Morrison & Dan Mora

Mrs Weber’s Omnibus h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Posey Simmonds

Open Earth (£17-99, Limerence) by Sarah Mirk & Eva Cabrera

Saga vol 9 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 3 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson

The Ideal Copy (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Ben Sears

DC Super Hero Girls vol 7: Search For Atlantis s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Flash vol 7: Perfect Storm s/c (£14-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico

Hulk: World War Hulk II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Carlo Barberi, Marco Lorenzana

Iron Man: Armor Wars s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by David Micheline, Bob Layton & Mark D. Bright, Barry Windsor-Smith

You Are Deadpool s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Salva Espin, Paco Diaz

Laid Back Camp vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Afro

RWBY 2: Mirror, Mirror (£11-99, Viz) by various

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