Archive for October, 2018

Page 45 Breaks Its All-Time Sales Record at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2018 – for the 5th consecutive year!

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

It’s time for our annual photo-filled blog!

Kendal is kindness personified, and you’ll find every single comicbook creator in Page 45’s Georgian Room, captured below, beaming with unbridled delight! Look, here’s Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura guerilla-signing LICAF’s brand-new TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR graphic novel.

 

 

Page 45 Breaks Its Sales Record at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival for the 5th Consecutive Year!

In 2014 we broke our all-time weekend sales record at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival by taking £5,500, then kept exceeding previous records until we hit £10,000 for two years running.

But in 2018 we’ve just smashed it again by taking £11,006.91 with just 1% of the range of our stock!

£1,784.48 of which – taken on LICAF comics, books, prints and postcards – goes directly to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, its Creators’ Development Fund and the OCD Action charity etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may have something to do with all the gorgeous graphic novels we bring, the glamorous Georgian Room which we are given to curate by ourselves,  the creators who give up their time so generously, and the fact that the Kendal Clock Tower is FREE ENTRY!

That means that those entirely unaccustomed to comics come in out of curiosity, flow through the room, and browse through our books to their hearts’ content.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll bring you more books in a bit. You can pop any of the titles you see – or their creators – into Page 45’s search engine for our reviews. We Ship Worldwide!

Meanwhile, the rest of the Kendal Clock Tower is pretty spiffy too! Here’s the room opposite ours, for example, (there are many) both empty as we’re setting up (it takes us six hours, so we have to start early – you’ll see!), then bustling just 10 minutes after the doors open.

 

 

 

“Who did you have signing and sketching, Stephen?”

Officially we had the beaming ray of sunshine that is Eleanor Crewes all weekend, sketching portraits of her readers in THE TIMES I KNEW I WAS GAY.

Plus the effervescent Una survived a train journey in which a guard carried an axe through her carriage in order to chop down a tree that had fallen across the tracks (I kid you not), to sign and squiggle on Saturday in BECOMING UNBECOMING, ON SANITY and her new book CREE which we’ll have on our system hopefully by the time you are reading this!

 

 

 

 

She’s kindly sketched in all our shop copies for us!

We had Guy Delisle drawing in PYONGYANG (North Korea), SHENZHEN (South China), BURMA CHRONICLES, JERUSALEM and his most recent book HOSTAGE, and if you look in Page 45’s Signed / Bookplate Graphic Novels Section you’ll find, for a limited time, that we still have signed copies of those exceptional observations of the absurd. There’s a lot that’s absurd in North Korea – not short of material, there.

 

 

Then on Sunday, after their triumphant nocturnal steampunk parade / performance with students whom they’d been tutoring on interactive storytelling, we were graced by long-term LICAF exhibitors turned special guests Corey Brotherson and Yomi Ayeni of CLOCKWORK WATCH fame.

True fact: Yomi was one of the very first people I ever met at LICAF five years ago, after I heard him coming two corridors away. Nobody laughs like Yomi Ayeni!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh look, there’s volunteer Dave, out of his Red Shirt and dappered up to the nines! (New verb: to dapper)

He’s standing outside The New Union Kendal (run by the adorable Phil who hosted Page 45’s 20th Birthday Party in 2014, at which Lizz Lunney ate all the cake) where the parade ended and the performances truly began!

Also on Sunday, because it’s now a tradition, we snatched up Emma Vieceli, co-creator of Young Adults LGBT BREAKS and so much more (some clues in the photo, but again, activate search engine, please!) for a special hour of pencil biting. She’s very, very good at it.

 

 

But before that came Phillips & Phillips, that famous legal firm, to launch their brand-new original graphic novel written by Brubaker, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES. At the time of typing we still have a limited number of Page 45’s Exclusive Bookplate signed by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and indeed Jake Phillips, thanks to Sean’s exceptional generosity, and indeed Ed’s, because we can’t seem to get either of them to bill us for the printing and transatlantic postage. Don’t you just love comics people? (A refrain I heard over and over again, throughout the weekend.) This is it:

 

 

Please pop Sean Phillips into our search engine, because I have personally reviewed every piece of paper he’s ever been printed on.

Here he is being photographed with a super-fan who’d traveled all the way from Greece specifically to see him at LICAF.

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Phillips drew while Jake Phillips industriously coloured, until Sean Phillips stopped drawing and just jabbered away. What an outrageous slacker!

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the weekend we were proud to sell LICAF’s official comics, prints, postcards, more copies of THE SPIRIT NEWSPAPER which Sean Phillips curated and personally paid for out of his own pocket (reviewed at that link and now on sale exclusively via Page 45 – and yes, We Ship Worldwide!) co-created by Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragonés, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho….

… and LICAF’s brand-new graphic novel TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR (again, now available worldwide via Page 45’s website) by Marguerite Abouet, Charlie Adlard, Simon Armitage, Edmond Baudoin, Juan Díaz Canales, Aurélien Ducoudray, Efa, Ergün Gündüz, Régis Hautière, O. Hiroyuki, Joe Kelly, Kris, Denis Lapière, Virtuel L’Atelier, Victoria Lomasko, Maël, Dave McKean, Mikiko, Robbie Morrison, J.D. Morvan, Ken Niimura, Sean Phillips, Ian Rankin, Riff Reb’s, A. Samama, Scie-Tronc. Orijit Sen, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Thomas Von Kummant.

 

 

 

 

The night before I’d waylaid THE WALKING DEAD‘s Charlie Adlard in a new super-secret speakeasy sequestered down a side-street (again, not joking – I only heard about it because Emma Vieceli, Pud and Steven Appleby snatched me away from The Brewery and led me there, blindfolded), and as promised he kindly popped by unannounced to sign in TRACES OF THE GREAT WAR, along with I KILL GIANTS‘ Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura. All of them, absolutely lovelies!

 

 

 

 

All proceeds of our LICAF sales over the weekend went to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (£1,784.48!) – we took not a penny, as is good and proper – and so many more creators kindly popped by to ruin mint copies with their Sharpies including Bryan and Mary Talbot (search engine, please!) who even sketched and coloured in them. (Mary is most excellent at spot-blacks and colours.)

Here’s Edmond Baudoin similarly sketching for us. What a star!

 

 

 

Jonathan and I are so very grateful for these impromptu offers of extra love, especially to Bryan Talbot who sat down to sketch in some special GRANDVILLE bookplates for us completely out of the blue.

For far, far more of our 5-year involvement with LICAF (we are proud Patrons!), please see Page 45’s dedicated Lakes International Comic Art Festival hub with links to LICAF, previous years’ blogs, even more photos and everything!

I type that now (I may reprise it later) because I’m going to go a little off topic with a) How A Room Is Built then b) What We Got Up To In Cumbria. Because if you’re coming to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival – rain or shine – you’re going to want to gawp at the countryside!

How We Cluttered Up Our Georgian Room With Comics

 

 

That is Page 45 Central. It doesn’t normally look like this, honest. We try to make it  as easy as possible for you to hand over cash at the counter.

Every year Jonathan and I ponder previous years’ graphic novel sales at LICAF, figure out what is still working but mostly which brand-new beauties to bring. Bearing in mind that we can only take what Jonathan can fit, Tetris-like, into our van (this is a special skill), it takes some strict discipline and fierce negotiation.

Then we ignore all that and order loads more of the last month’s arrivals to boot.

That’s Jonathan’s job and as I am always adamant in emphasising that none of this would be possible without Jonathan. Dee and Jodie then meticulously catalogue numbers as the books get packed, after which we trundle of to Kendal.

 

 

 

That van was rammed!

Thankfully not by a ten-tonne truck.

This is our room rather naked, soon to be filled with boxes of books courtesy of Mr. Lift and Mr. Minion.

 

 

 

It’s actually Craig Dawson, Page 45’s highest-ever spender at something like £1,600 in a single spree, who is one of loveliest blokes you could meet, generous enough to help us unload every single year. Saves us a good couple of ours with his unpacking too.

Don’t worry Craig, it’s only a listed building.

 

 

 

I think you’ll agree that’s rather a lot of books.

I would remind you that our room looks like this…

 

 

… until it doesn’t after five hours of me tearing my hair out!

(So now you know where it’s gone.)

That’s my job. I try to re-arrange the room each year for increased accessibility, aesthetic beauty and to showcase these glorious graphic novels in the most attractive fashion that they so richly deserve.

 

 

 

Also, you don’t want to bugger up a room as beautiful as that.

We don’t have any round tables at Page 45 so I can’t practise, but the very first year we discovered that the long tables were less conducive to a smooth, organic, undulating thoroughfare accessible to wheelchairs and therefore maximum perusal. Live and learn, eh?

Anyway, here are the books. Reminder: you can pop any of the titles or their creators into our search engine for reviews and Worldwide Shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re using our search engine, right?

Excellent!

 

 

 

 

 

Did I do an okay job?

Dear lord, I hope so! I had to race in on Saturday morning an hour before anyone else was officially let in, so that I could make all the final adjustments.

THANK YOU, SUB-WARDEN PHIL!

 

 

 

 

I liked that shot, so you’ve got it again.

What We Got Up To In Cumbria

or

It’s More Pretty Than A City!

Rain or shine, Cumbria is so bloody romantic.

Which is fortunate, because this year this rain was torrential, and the gales of such strength that the LICAF banner had to be taken down the day after I took this shot on Thursday night.

 

 

 

That’s the view from our Riverside Hotel bar’s balcony above the, err, river.

Fortunately half of it’s undercover, from which we spied this poor, desolate umbrella, snatched out of its owner’s hand. You can see it in situ in the photograph below this if you look hard enough at the bridge’s triangular cutwaters.

 

 

 

That umbrella almost demands narrative, doesn’t it? What is its story, and that of its owner?

As Jonathan observed, it’s like a graphic novel by Chabouté (THE PARK BENCH or ALONE, both pictured above, the first of which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month).

I found it a day later outside the Kendal Clock Tower.

 

 

That seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Anyway, on our way up on Thursday afternoon we called into Kirkby Lonsdale where I taught comics on behalf of LICAF at the Queen Elizabeth School. I’m heading back there again next year, thanks to its ace school librarian Gemma. Below you’ll find photos of Ruskin’s View.

We loved the church’s well wonky clock tower (seriously, just look at that clock’s positioning) and its graveyard’s Mr. Tickle Tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then back in Kendal we spotted this most alluring of alleys, and I love what they’ve done with the down-lit lighting, making maximum use of the textured stone walls.

 

 

 

 

And that’s where we’ll leave it, I think.

I was going to show you Ullswater where the inland lake was as choppy as a stormy sea, but you can discover it all for yourselves next year, eh, when you all come along to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019. Good on you! I would. We will!

Oh wait, the speakeasy hahaha!

It’s now open all year round down a side-alley on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was told not to tweet about it while I was up, so I didn’t. I’m not normally that well behaved. But I did take a shot away from it on Friday night, if you can discern from this where it might lurk.

 

 

On Saturday night I could tell that Jonathan was curious even though he did his best to hide it, so I led our ensemble down the street in search of it… a full 50 yards further on until I told them they’d missed it. Truly, it is that covert!

I’m not about to spoil things now, but it is well worth the hunt, for within lies such exceptional character acting and cocktails composed individually to your specific tastes. Jonathan asked for something smelling of bonfires (!) and I swear to god that I have never sniffed anything so reminiscent of an autumnal bonfire than the glass which this magnificent madman concocted out of his incomparably arcane and erudite knowledge of alcohol.

 

 

Oh, go on, then, you can glean clues of your own from following him @blind_bus on Twitter!

I’m @PageFortyFive

There’s More Of A Story Than Anywhere Else You Will Visit

Even the torrential rain gave me so many romantic shivers. It really is more pretty than a city which you might visit for a comicbook convention, and it’s overwhelmingly free-entry

Plus we broke our all-time sales records, regardless of the gales!

Of course it all cleared up on the Sunday afternoon! Of course it did!

 

 

And, in case it needs saying, all these photos are my own from this very year. Feel free to use them in order to promote LICAF.

Huge love for all that they do to Julie Tait, Carole Tait, the incomparable Aileen, Chris, Chris, Dave, so many Phils and everyone whom I’ve so rubbishly failed to mention!

LICAF Volunteers are the best in the world. I am in awe and, ever since year one, I’ve been forever in their debt. As a visitor, please do ask and they will provide!

For far, far more of Page 45’s 5-year involvement with LICAF (we are proud Patrons!), please see Page 45’s dedicated Lakes International Comic Art Festival hub with links to LICAF, previous years’ blogs, even more photos and everything!

I’ll see you in 2019, then?

Marvelous!

 – Stephen xxx

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2018 week two

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Featuring Tillie Walden, I.N.J Culbard, Luke Jones, Anna Mill, Greg Rucka, Justin Greenwood.

On A Sunbeam h/c Exclusive Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition (£24-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden…

“Gracie. Time to go.”
“Not yet. Mia is coming to say good-bye.”

Arrrrgghhhhh. 271 pages in to this 534-page tome, just past the halfway point, and I could feel a little tickle in the tear ducts beginning… I’ll give no spoilers – which is actually going to be impossible, thinking about it so forget that – but suffice to say, some goodbyes will haunt you… Even if it’s only one you’re reading about rather than experiencing first hand… I then spent the remaining 263 pages desperately hoping that Mia would… could… somehow… sniff… where’s my hanky…?

Speaking of moist moments, I have to say, as a complete digression, I almost had another one reading the afterword. It is one of the sweetest, most complimentary ones I think I might ever have read. It is certainly one that only Tillie could have written. Bless her, just when you thought you couldn’t love her any more than you already did!

Right, what to expect from this epic interstellar romance set in two time periods a mere five yet interminably long years apart…?

 

 

Well, we will see the budding romance between moderately tough-nut fourteen-year-old Mia and the mysterious new girl at school Gracie. They are quite literally worlds, if not galaxies apart, and yet… there’s a mutual attraction which neither can deny. Mia doesn’t particularly want to. Gracie it seems might, but then all that’s to do with the whopper of a secret she’s hiding…

“You’re an IDIOT.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said you’re an IDIOT. You don’t get it, do you?”
“Um, I…”
“I like ALL of you, Grace. Even the parts I don’t get yet. I’m not dating the 12% of you that I understand, I’m dating 100% of you. Including all your secrets that I don’t know. So don’t EVER say I’d hate you because that’s stupid and not true.”
“Oh, Mia. I’ll tell you everything someday…”

 

 

And that sad day will come dear reader… But fast-forward five years and Mia is cast adrift, emotionally at least, on the spaceship Aktis. Well, I say spaceship, imagine a beautiful tropical fish with a huge caudal fin and vast wing-like pelvic fins, all dazzling of colour, twizzling friskily through the vacuum like a salmon desperate to get upstream for some fun and games and you should get the picture. I seriously think Tillie Walden should design spaceships. Perhaps someone can have a word with Elon Musk? She’s also very good at naming them too…

This time(-period) around it’s Mia’s turn to be the newbie, joining a rag-tag crew assigned to renovating weird old buildings like abandoned churches that just happen to be merrily floating in space. They’re an extremely tight bunch, yet over time, as she proves herself to be just as much of an oddball as the rest of them, Jules, Charlotte, Elliott and Alma welcome Mia into their little family of sorts. Indeed when she reveals her secret to them, she finds to her complete surprise they are more than amenable to help her with an epic quest of the heart… not least because of a couple of guilty secrets of their own…

 

 

Ahhh… so many secrets! I wish Tillie would let us into the one of how she keeps getting better and better! For this is, for me, her finest work yet. Not just in the storytelling, which will both melt and break your heart over and over, but also artistically. The trademark gentle, almost too delicate, linework, is still very much in evidence, but she’s given her imagination full rein in terms of design and expression. This work brings together and incorporates all the different aspects of her pencilling we’ve seen so far, from the architectural grandiosity evident in THE END OF SUMMER to the quiet intimacy between characters that proved so moving in I LOVE THIS PART to the sudden flights of the fantastical that made A CITY INSIDE so compelling a read.

 

 

Here she seamlessly visually blends profound emotional drama and high concept fantasy with such ease that at differing times you could very easily forget this is both science fiction and romance. Because at one moment you’ll be quietly observing star-crossed lovers looking intently into each other’s eyes and the next simply marvelling at an intricately constructed landscape. So very cleverly done.

Colours-wise, I think this is also the most I have ever seen her use in a single work and the shifts back and forth between the few subtly different palettes is used to great effect, not least when Mia’s quest takes her to the strange region of space known as The Staircase where there’s a wondrously alien yet comfortingly animistic feel to the world we encounter. The textures and depths she manages to achieve with complimentary pale colours such as lilac, pastel blue, cornflower yellow and burnt ochre are spectacular.

 

 

I genuinely wonder how on earth, or indeed space, she can possibly top this work. I will wait with bated breath to find out. The brilliant thing about the prolific Miss Walden, though, is that I will probably only have to wait a few months! Which is a very good thing, because I don’t believe I could hold my breath much longer than that…

 

 

Were the above exhortation of excellence not enough to entice you to purchase this work Tillie has also produced an exclusive Page 45 signed and numbered bookplate for us, available whilst stock last. Oh, and don’t forget to read that afterword. It will truly make your heart melt one last time.

For more Tillie Walden, please see her autobiographical SPINNING which sheds new light on I LOVE THIS PART, and her recent contribution to I FEEL MACHINE.

THIS IS THE SIGNED BOOKPLATE:

 

 

JR

Buy On A Sunbeam h/c Exclusive Page 45 Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Square Eyes h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Luke Jones & Anna Mill ~

“Picture it in your mind… think about its shape, its texture.
“… Not too hard…
“Don’t injure yourself…
“It just starts to take shape on its own… reading the impression you mentally project.
“See how it starts to emerge kind of hazy at first but your mind starts to populate it…
“… Now it’s sharpening.
“Can you see it?”

Fin is the creator of a cutting-edge computer programme that blurs the boundaries between the real world and the digital by creating an interface between the visualisation space and the brain. Called ‘Corvis’, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of technology that allows its users a collective, visual experience, which just a few days ago Fin was demonstrating live-on-air to a completely captivated studio audience.

 

 

But now Fin has woken up disoriented and disconnected. There is a strange woman living in her apartment – at least she thinks that’s her apartment – and her memories are vague and unrecognisable, if indeed they even are her memories at all…?

 

 

SQUARE EYES is a cyberdelic mind-melt of a mystery, set in an entirely plausible, indeed rapidly approaching, near-future of augmented reality and constant connectivity; where technology is a part of your very being, and every piece of information you would ever need is literally at your finger tips. But when the most talented programmer out there finds herself cut off from the world and her code stolen, it becomes a race to find out who has it, before such incredible power falls into the wrong hands.

 

 

Visually stunning, you’ll certainly be fully immersed in this overwhelming, holographic world, no headset required! Overlapping imagery and choice colours of reds, blues and purples create a gently kaleidoscopic aesthetic, which might leave you thinking that perhaps you were missing a set of cardboard 3D specs. I’m actually intrigued to see what difference they would make!

 

 

You will also be treated to an elegant interface of carefully constructed chaos, looking as though it has been hacked directly from the dreamy depths of Chris Ware’s sleeping mind, and the most intelligent use of negative space as a storytelling device I have ever seen in comics. Square Eyes truly is an outstanding achievement of design.

Runner Up in the 2010 Observer / Cape Graphic Short Story prize to a certain Stephen THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL Collins, it is absolutely fascinating how this story has evolved, both artistically and in plot terms, beyond practically all recognition from that comparatively sparse initial concept. You can see for yourselves from this article. It’s certainly makes a compelling case for believing in your artistic vision and persevering with a good idea.

JP

Buy Square Eyes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

HP Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories h/c SIGNED & SKETCHED IN (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by I.N.J. Culbard…

I.N.J. Culbard gives terrifying form to four classic tales by H.P. Lovecraft: ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’, ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,’ ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ and ‘The Shadow Out of Time’ in a gorgeous hardcover collection priced lower than two of its constituent softcovers!

Here are all my original reviews in the order the softcovers appeared.

At The Mountains Of Madness

“Do you have a name for them yet?”
“Yes I do. Remember the book that Professor Armitage kept under lock and key in the university library? The Necronomicon?”
“I… I do.”
“Then you’ll understand when I speak of Elder Things.”
“Bill?”
“I’m here.”
“I think… err… think we should tone down reports to the outside world for now… until at least until we’ve substantiated these findings.”

 

 

On the face of it Ian Culbard’s well rounded style of art so ably demonstrated on the four recent SHERLOCK HOLMES adaptations is not perhaps the most obvious for adapting a classic horror story, probably one of the two finest works within Lovecraft’s Cthulhu canon along with (in my opinion) The Silver Key. Except in fact in this case, it is absolutely perfect, because MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is nothing to do with gore and everything to do with a very unsettling story that moves the reader inch by imperceptible inch nearer to an uneasy psychological state. This is classic horror, in that fear of the unknown, “What exactly is it lurking in the hidden depths?” type of horror. Or in this case, within the Mountains Of Madness, a virtually impenetrable mountain range right in the heart of the frozen Antarctic wastes.

I can certainly understand why they’ve picked this particular work for adaptation as it is in some ways the most straightforward and comprehensible of Lovecraft’s books, simply because whatever else it is, it’s also a great Boy’s Own adventure tale. To set the scene it’s September 1930 and an expedition from Miskatonic University is in the Antarctic taking deep geological samples when they make some rather puzzling and shocking finds. These inexplicable discoveries quickly change the planned intent and indeed course of the expedition, taking the learned explorers into hitherto unexplored and inaccessible territories. Discoveries and geography which start to seem disturbingly familiar to some of the explorers who have read the fabled Necronomicon, kept safely under lock and key by a colleague back at the university.

Indeed the marked similarities of what they find, compared to the widely considered fictional rantings of a madman suggest the world may have a rather longer, darker and most disturbing pre-history than current academic wisdom would opine. As things take a sinister and even more suspenseful turn with the disappearance of part of the exploration party, those that remain at base camp feel compelled, against all good sense and reason, ever nearer the soaring jagged mountain range ahead.

If you like intelligent horror, do take a look at this. It’s been very cleverly adapted by Culbard who works in the more fantastical elements in a manner than never seems completely outlandish or utterly unbelievable. Indeed his warm art style and vibrant colours perfectly counterpoint the bleak locale of the situation, where it’s all too easy to believe, in a time where the world still had some unexplored and remote regions, that such a place could just possibly exist.

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward

What a wonderfully evocative opening two pages, as we pan in from the depths of frigid outer space very gradually down to the surface of Earth at night, reminding us, lest we forget, how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, before finally reaching an empty cell in a sanatorium. The perfect beginning for a Cthulu story, though at the risk of mixing my authors for a moment I could almost hear Richard Burton intoning “slowly and surely they drew their plans against us” from H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds whilst Jeff Wayne begins to play in the background. Anyway, it sets the atmosphere straight to spooky levels instantaneously, which is my point!

What follows is the finest H.P. Lovecraft adaptation in comics to date bar none, as a most curious case of nocturnal nefariousness and ghoulish experimentation is uncovered by the family physician to the Ward family, Dr. Willett. Asked to investigate by Charles’ father, growing increasingly concerned about his son Charles’ mental state and obsession with an ancestor named Joseph Curwen (who apparently practiced alchemy of a most unwholesome kind some two hundred years previously), what Dr. Willard begins to uncover scarcely seems believable, with suggestions of reincarnation or reanimation of ancient cadavers by a cabal of individuals of greatly extended lifespans seeking arcane knowledge of mysterious rituals. Yet, the further Dr. Willett progresses in his search for answers, the more likely it seems that such a cabal is still active today, and that Charles is slowly being drawn into their midst, for reasons yet unknown.

 

 

Ian Culbard has done a truly sterling job adapting this work, essentially a detective story, which is in complete contrast to the innate Boy’s Own adventure flavour of his previous Lovecraft adaption AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (which I also loved), and again, his unique art style is perfect for a creeping tale of eldritch horror. It’s entirely credible art, yet sufficiently dissembled from a realist approach that we are little by little unnervingly tugged towards the inevitably unpleasant conclusion (good old H.P. just did NOT do happy endings) as the emotional intensity of the story is gradually ratcheted up to, then well beyond, breaking point.

The whole point about Lovecraft’s monsters (and indeed his approach to horror) was that they were amorphous, indescribably alien, completely incomprehensible to the human eye and mind, so when they do finally make an appearance how on earth do you actually draw them?! Well, no spoilers but suffice to say, were you ever to see in real life what Ian has drawn, I think your sanity would go in an instant. I know mine would! And once you have finished reading and are left to make your own conclusions about the… resolution… of Charles Dexter Ward’s curious case, Ian then pulls the masterstroke of reversing his initial opening page, panning back out to show the Earth as a tiny, helpless marble in the vast stygian depths of dark, very dark, space, in case we’d momentarily forgotten the Elder ones are still out there watching us, just biding their time…

The Shadow Out of Time

“Oh dear God, no!”
PLINK
“NO, NO, NO! Remember, for God’s sake, remember.”

Yes, yes, yes! Another gloriously sanity-shaking adaptation from Mr. Culbard to tip us even further into a state of irreparable discombobulation. I really do marvel at his ability to produce such cogent works from such… steeped… source material. The original novella is probably one of my favourite Lovecraft works, simply because so much is revealed of the various Elder races and the prehistory of Earth before humanity became the dominant lifeform. It isn’t that straightforward a read, though, and I think Ian has done an exceptional job portraying what is revealed to the main protagonist, Professor Nathaniel Peaslee of Miskatonic University, as his mind is snatched from his body and replaced by that of another.

 

 

There is some speculation amongst Lovecraft biographers that certain elements of this character are auto-biographical or perhaps inspired by Lovecraft’s father, or that the idea for this story came from repeatedly watching a 1933 science fiction film called Berkley Square. In any case, what he wrote is one of the most chilling pieces of speculative horror fiction I have ever read. One of Lovecraft’s great talents lay in his unparalleled ability to make the reader feel truly insignificant, a veritable speck in a total alien and unfathomable universe, which in turn induces a genuine sense of trepidation in the reader. It’s horrific because of its very subtlety to infiltrate your mind, engendering a sense of unease.

Ian has captured that perfectly here as poor old Peaslee is well and truly put through the wringer both physically and mentally. The PLINK sound effect above, for example, is the sound of a torch going out leaving the poor chap very old in the dark, in somewhere he really, really doesn’t want to linger. Then, the sequences during which we learn precisely where Peaslee’s mind was during the period his body was occupied by… the other… are truly stygian in their alienness. It’s a quite literally mind-blowing reveal and you really get the grandiose sense of scale involved from the artwork, which is a real feat. I keep thinking Ian can’t raise the bar even further with Lovecraft material, but he keeps on managing it.

I am therefore delighted to report Ian has already agreed to do at least one more Lovecraft adapation for Self Made Hero, though I was unable to prise from him precisely which work it will be. I am planning on bodysnatching him, though, with a mind-swap device I keep in my laboratory on the fourth floor of the shop, so rest assured, dear readers, I will let you know more soon enough <fiendish cackles repeated with mild reverb tapering off in a most disturbing fashion>…

The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath

One of my favourite Lovecraft yarns, this, featuring heavily as it does Nyarlathotep, he of a thousand forms and indeed mangled pronunciations.

Ian did try and instruct me in the correct pronunciation when he popped in to sketch in all our copies but unfortunately my dulcet northern tones were not able to effect the correct enunciation, which is probably just as well as I have insufficient sanity points to begin with and can scarce afford to lose any more through an injudicious summoning of the emissary of the Outer Gods…

 

 

I do like how each of these four Lovecraft adaptations demonstrate a very different aspect of the Cthulu mythos and H.P.’s writing. I have commented upon it before but AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is a real Boys’ Own Adventure, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD a puzzling whodunit, THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME a piece of pure science fiction and a real Rosetta Stone to understanding the mythos, and this a veritable hallucinogenic Alice in Wonderland nightmare of a trip to the darkest recesses of the human mind, to the dimensional spaces beyond those we can normally access in our waking lives.

I think this tremendous variety in the scope of his writing is partly the reason why Lovecraft has endured. That and we all love being scared senseless. In many ways, though he is not beyond some outright in-your-face horror when required, Lovecraft frequently taps into humanity’s deepest and most complex subconscious fears, that of losing the sense of self, one’s sense of identity, our very coherence of reason itself, by the mere suggestion that there is far more to this world, this unimaginably vast, cold universe, than meets the eye. That in those spaces which we can sense but cannot see, there are beings that lurk, so alien, to encounter them directly would be enough to destroy the delicate balance of one’s mind forever. At least one such victim does shop at Page 45, I think, and he once engaged me in a conversation regarding Lovecraftian characters in such a manner I was left thinking he quite believed they were absolutely real… I kid you not.

[Editor: he told me he began reading Lovecraft aged 4. It showed.]

That very variety and complexity also means Lovecraft is very hard to adapt, of course. In every case I think Ian has done an incredible job deconstructing the work, really allowing the core story to stand out in a manner which makes it sufficiently rich and rewarding enough for the aficionados but also completely accessible for the neophytes. I would be astonished were there not readers out there who have been occasioned to commence reading Lovecraft prose on the basis of encountering these adaptations.

So… Randolph Carter begins to search for the hidden city of Kadath because he has dreamt three times of its glorious spires but awoken each time abruptly just before he can reach it. Repeated prayers to the gods of dream go unanswered, even for the next issue of SANDMAN: OVERTURE to finally arrive, but Carter resolves to find Kadath, no matter what the cost.

What follows is a strange, shifting journey, that on the face of it makes no sense at all, but viewed within the confines of the sleeping world seems not so fanciful at all. Along the way he will encounter strange entities and apparitions, some rather less friendly to travellers than others, and also the sinister Nyarlathotep in more than one of his many guises. Carter, desperate to tread the streets of the hidden city at last, is rather more trusting than he really ought to be. Obsessed, he starts to believe that there could be no possible fate worse than not reaching Kadath. He ought not to be so sure about that…

I can imagine this may well have been the most fun of the adaptations for Ian to undertake, from the perspective of the illustration, because there are the elaborate soaring sequences of pure fantasy which must have been a true delight to envisage. In fact, the book is arguably simply one long fantasy sequence. It’s certainly not as dense or intricate a story as many of his others, a fact which Lovecraft acknowledged during his lifetime, but it is an immensely vibrant, fevered construction, which engenders a sense of both wonderment and unease in the reader, and Ian captures this beautifully with his stygian, soporific cast and wild dreamscapes and netherworlds.

The wonderment comes because we are willing Carter along on his extraordinary journey, but also significant unease because we can see his most fervent desire is blinding him to both obvious dangers at virtually every turn, but also the malevolent, manipulative wiles of others, not least Nyarathotep. Will Carter finally reach Kadath? Well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil it for you would you? Suffice to say nothing is quite as it seems, with an ending that is in some ways as puzzling as it is enlightening, which I think is very appropriate indeed for the resolution to this most unusual of quests.

A true triumph once again, this adaptation, and I personally think Ian deserves great praise indeed for his own unique addition to the Cthulu mythos, which I believe all true Lovecraft fans will rightly hold in the highest regard.

JR

Buy HP Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories h/c SIGNED & SKETCHED IN and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 3 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood…

“That was a total flop. You saw the way she was holding me?”
“Oh, I saw it… Now I’m wondering when you’ll finally get over yourself and ask her out?”
“Fuck you.”
“Hot sweaty bodies colliding roughly… if it’s not love, it’s lust, admit it.”
“She’s from Seattle. I do not date Flounders. The way you let her score on you, you’re one to talk.”
“That sounds like jealousy to me.”

P.I. Dex Parios returns, and in a football-related story to boot! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, I’ll give myself a stern talking to, and a yellow card…

Ah, I really wish Rucka would make this an ongoing monthly series, his characterisation and dialogue are superb. He’s also got an artist to match his talents in Justin Greenwood, who also illustrated Antony Johnston’s THE FUSE.

 

 

This case opens with Dex playing in goal against the lovely ladies of Seattle Muddy Balls. Still, her team is called Reál Pain, which isn’t much better frankly, but considerably more classy than FC Vagisil, which was the name of my friend’s Sunday league team for a number of years… But, as Dex has to point out to her teammate Hoffman, it’s just a game. Hoffman, in the vein of Shankly, disagrees vehemently, and if you know the rest of Bill’s famous quote you might have half an idea where things are going…

After her kickabout, Dex is off to take her younger brother Ansell to the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Flounders local derby. It’s a fiery affair to be sure, as much off the pitch as on it, I hadn’t realised Americans soccer crowds had become so skilled in the art of verbally abusing the opposition supporters as their transatlantic cousins. It quite took me back to my own salad days of terrace serenading. The first issue of this volume concludes with Dex’s friend Mike being found near the stadium, having taking a serious beating. On the face of it, it’s a simple case of hooliganism, but of course there’s much more to it than that.

I really feel like Rucka is back on track with the emotional components of this series again after STUMPTOWN VOLUME TWO where I can’t say I really warmed to anyone, and Dex herself felt somewhat peripheral to the main action. Dex and her brother are key elements of what makes this title so interesting so I’m pleased the focus, for this first issue at least, is squarely on them.

I am also extremely happy Justin Greenwood is on board for this arc. It’s exactly what this title required art-wise to bring it back to the forefront of crime comics. Clearly they’ve decided to go for a less gritty and more colourful approach, but Justin’s style still adds a hard-nosed edge to proceedings.

All that remains now is to leave you with that classic parting shot by Bexsy (Gary Oldman) from what remains to this day, hands down my favourite football hooligan film, The Firm. The original from 1989, not the wishy-washy remake from a few years ago. As a young lad skirting around the periphery of football related violence back in the late 80s, early 90s, well, trying to avoid it at all costs frankly, his terrifying performance was seared into my mind’s eye creating a football hooligan bogeyman potentially lurking around every corner at away games, tooled up with hammer and Stanley knife, ready to smash me up then cut me to ribbons…

“I come in peace. I leave you in pieces…”

JR

Buy Stumptown vol 3 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’.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo

Iron Maiden: Legacy Of The Beast s/c (£8-99, Heavy Metal) by Lexi Leon, Ian Edginton & Kevin West

Konungar: War Of The Crowns s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Sylvain Runberg &  Juzhen

Retrogade Orbit (£11-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Kristyna Baczykski

Royal City vol 3: We All Float On s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Doctor Strange vol 1: God Of Magic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Terrifics vol 1: Meet The Terrifics s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, others

Aposimz vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Escape Journey vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ogeretsu Tanaka

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2018 week one

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Featuring Jon McNaught. Juan Díaz Canales, Jose-Luis Munuera, Andi Watson, Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, José Villarrubia, Kago, and Posy Simmonds with news of her next graphic novel!

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

This is sublime.

And it is going to resonate profoundly with almost every single one of you, for it’s the most astutely observed and skilful evocation on paper – through light, colour, carefully regulated pacing and that which is said and sometimes left sullenly unsaid – of sights, sounds, sensations and behavioural moments during a key time common to us all.

These are the four chapters: ‘To the Sea’, ‘Landmarks’, ‘Passing Time’, ‘The Waves’.

So how were your family holidays, as a child aged perhaps seven, ten or thirteen, and what lasting memories of them do you retain?

They’re about to come flooding back in the most minutely discerned detail!

‘To the Sea’

They set off in silence – the mum, son and daughter – though you can almost hear the drone of the traffic on the morning motorway.

 

 

McNaught nails the temperature and time of day through the angle of the shadows cast by the sun, the cars almost hovering over asphalt which is as pitted in the sunshine as it is pock-marked in the shade. And cars do glide now, don’t they, such is their suspension? We hear so much less of our own vehicle’s engine while inside, and although we are looking down from without on that page, it is the senses of the drivers and passengers which are paramount in successfully communicating this experience.

And, oh, the colours!

They may not actually set out in silence, but it’s that lull-time part of the journey which we come in on. Gazing out of the car window as a child on such a long journey, we see exactly what we did or would now of Britain’s countryside from a motorway: glimpses of grazing sheep between monumental overpasses or gigantic pylons overhead, their arms outstretched, perhaps a brief glimpse of oh no it’s gone! When you’re young (so reasonably unseasonably travelled) that which is mundane to adults all seems so much stranger, more exotic and even exciting.

You know, for the first few furlongs, at least.

Then there’ll be rain. Of course there’ll be rain! It’s British Summertime and you’re off on your holibobs! There’ll be lashings more of that later, I’m sure! So there’s the odd horse suffering in water-drenched silence and you look into the back seat of the family saloon and it’s already cluttered with empty Haribo packets and a bottle of juice just lolling about, back and forth on the floor. The windscreen wipers reveal what they can rhythmically, then eventually there’s drowsiness, sleep. Mum checks her rear-view mirror….

 

 

“Four more hours!?” the son bleated earlier. “Why’re we going somewhere so far away?”
“Well, it’s a great place! You guys will love it! … It was my favourite place in the world when I was your age.”

Ah, but so much more has changed in the two or three decades than it had when I were a lad. A mobile phone signal wasn’t exactly a priority back then.

Their destination is a coastal caravan park. And, oh, the colours (reprise)!

 

 

How do you think they’ll get on?

As the sun sets on their first night and the lights go on one by one, through like intimate orange heat sensors below the vast purple heavens, that too is rendered magnificently, with a majesty or melancholy, you take your pick.

 

 

The next morning Mum takes Suzie on An Expedition (capitals courtesy of ‘Winnie The Pooh’) because Andy’s “being awkward”. The boy’s now just a little too old to be interested in a family holiday and wants to be left to his own devices.

“If we keep heading this way, we’ll get to the Mermaid’s Cave! That’s what your Grandpa used to call it! He used to tell us about the mermaids who lived there… guarding the treasure. He said you could hear them singing at night. If you listened carefully.”

Suzie’s spotted a crab.

“Eugh.”
“What?”
“This one’s had its legs bitten off.”

Way to ruin the romance! But the Mermaid’s Cave, when they reach it, will surprise you and twice. It’s priceless, really.

It’s all very pertinent, poignant, bitter-sweet and of course some aspects of magic are, one prays, immutable and universal, like the sparkles of sun on wavering water when the sun lies so low in front of you.

 

 

Just the other day I sat staring at a long stretch of river, then lapping lakes, in precisely those dazzling conditions, absorbed by the sun falling full on my face while the cool blowing breeze set my spine off all tingling. McNaught’s diamond-shaped spangles of light capture that very specific, sensual beauty to nothing short of a thrilling perfection. There are even whole sheets of white light when the brilliance of sun upon water becomes almost too much for the unshielded eye to bear, and we love it!

It is oh so familiar, all of this – an almost impossible task, you would have thought, given the different configurations of diverse family dynamics and destinations, but McNaught has improbably succeeded through an extraordinarily keen eye, judicious selection and an uncanny ability to render with exquisite precision what to most of us would be fleeting and ephemeral or at least not quite communicable – and I am desperately looking forward to comparing notes with as many of you as possible, page by page and perhaps over a glass of wine, to see which instances you recognise most as well.

This, for example:

Visiting an elderly Great Auntie whom you’ve never met, with their drab rooms and fuddy-duddy old ornaments; your Mum and her Aunt chatting away about people you’ve no clue nor a care about. You’re left to look around the room, idly. Ah, but a tin of biscuits will be opened to go with the tea!

“There we go… There might be some chocolate ones in there… if you dig down deep enough.”

 

 

Over and over again, McNaught nails it. These are my memories. Only with more moths and spiders, and I don’t I ever saw the ramshackle roof of an ancient local museum glass cabinet, with its stray wires etc.

That it’s a single mum makes for a particular dynamic which is really quite sad, for there’s no sharing of the onus to keep the kids constantly entertained, but nevertheless it all rings so very true.

“Suzie, don’t waste your fries.”
“I’m not.”

She is. She’s flinging them at the crows. But don’t you just love the way that kids are so very contrary that they will blatantly lie to your face?

“Stop kicking my chair!”
It’s the back of Suzie’s big brother’s passenger seat.
“I’m not!”

She is.

What do you think Andy’s been up to?

 

 

Few creators pack the page with as many panels as this (Chris Ware, quite often, within the likes of BUILDING STORIES) but then there’s so much to see when you do have the time to stop and look around you, or when times stops to pass so seemingly slowly when you’re very young. Nature is forever getting on with its own thing, whatever you’re doing or not.

There are also some spectacular full-page phenomena which I won’t give away here for fear of ruining your surprise. But you mark my words: you’ll remember it all.

You’ll remember the rain, especially. It’s a staple of every British holiday, holed up in a tent, caravan or rented cottage and – once on the road, decisively – cramped in the confines of car, having beaten a hasty retreat from a harbour or seafront to eat your boiled eggs while staring out of the increasingly steamed-up windows.

And this will be remembered forever, as an all-time British classic.

 

 

Jon McNaught has exceptional award-winning form already, but at the time of typing all his other graphic novels – like Andi Watson’s and Nabiel Kanan’s mainstream British fiction – languish sadly out of print. Here’s hoping that this is the book which will catalyse a mass resurrection so that we can proudly create an entire Jon McNaught counter-corner display!

SLH

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

Rose (£2-99, self-published) by Andi Watson ~

“You rent a new place.
“It is conspicuously cheap.”

Who could resist? Especially in this housing market! I’ll take whatever I can get my hands on, personally, and if that turned out to be a monolithic European-style castle I certainly wouldn’t say no. But first the garden may need tending, just a little, and the rooms will certainly need a thorough dusting. With a new home this vast, exploring is a must; who knows what secrets a building like this could hold?

“She doesn’t know you’re here.
“She had a shiny bead of blood on the tip of her finger.
“No need to tiptoe around.”

At first glance this is seemingly merely a fresh take on ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ fable. We are presented with the familiar story from the perspective of an unsuspecting chap who simply needs a place to rent. Bemused by the sheer amount of dusting, and entirely clueless as to what, or more precisely who, lies hidden within his new home… until he stumbles across her… he nevertheless takes it all in his stride, over time finding himself becoming her valiant caretaker.

 

Look! Free sketches (left) in the entire Andi Watson Collection!

 

But this is a society with the slight quirk of having princes in abundance, all of whom are now attempting to break into our young protagonist’s new digs for their chance to awaken the fair maiden and claim her as their own. At first he simply calls the police and lets the flowers grow back a bit, but soon the princes start pushing their luck…

Deceptively gentle, you’ll be drawn in by wonderfully tender moments such as the perfectly content dormouse nestled in the snoozing beauty’s hair. But don’t be fooled as this is not a love story, for it wouldn’t be an Andi Watson comic if things were as straightforward as that! Consider it more of a cautionary tale of the potent effects of falling in love, of obsession, and of possession. Tread carefully, new renter, or you might not get your deposit back…

For another view-askew of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, please see Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE.

For more of his mini-comics, please see our burgeoning Andi Watson Collection, the first of which we made our last Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

JP

Buy Rose and read the Page 45 review here

Infidel (£14-99, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell with José Villarrubia.

“My mother’s all about obsessing over shadows in a room full of light. We’re not doing that to Leslie.”

There’s so much humanity and individuality in Aisha’s face, there, as she talks to her best friend, Medina. Her mouth lies slightly open and gentle, but her eyes gaze into the distance, the future, determined. On the previous page – in recollection of her mother – Aisha’s shoulders were slumped while leaning forward, with the weight of having been rejected. But she will not give up on her mother-in-law.

One of the many wonders of this is that the evidence remains deeply ambiguous as to whether Aisha is being too trusting and optimistic, or whether her fiancé Tom knows his own mum better than she does.

What could any of this possibly have to do with a horror comic?

 

 

Well, there are so many more horrors other than the occult or the alien. There is uncertainty and vulnerability, not knowing if you can trust someone: the threat of harm, physical or otherwise, can be just as frightening as its actuality. Ask anyone who’s ever worried about being bullied at school the next day, for hours upon end, day after day. Or read JANE, THE FOX & ME.

Aisha is confident that Leslie’s no threat, either to herself or to her step-daughter, Kris, even in the knowledge of what’s gone before, but her university friend also has substantial doubts and we, the audience, are privy to some extra moments which they are not.

Secondly, there’s the very real, current and all too enduring horror of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia: ignorance voiced with pride, spread sheep-like by osmosis or deliberately through disinformation as a virus which currently culminates increasingly not decreasingly in America, England and some parts of wider Europe in extreme intimidation and outright violence: beatings, acid attacks, murder and mass, white-supremacist terrorism.

But equally there is the horror for Aisha of being rejected by her mother simply for becoming engaged to a non-Muslim, Tom, no matter how devout she’s remained.

What’s this series called again?

 

 

Then, of course, there is absolutely the horror of the creeping, the intangible and supernatural against which we have no defence. Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you. If no one else experiences what you do, then you go through it alone. That, I would suggest, is the ultimate horror, and this book racks that up to almost unbearable degrees, on multiple occasions, in from several different viewpoints, as you shall see.

Aisha is experiencing nightmares. They’re growing increasingly vivid and intense. A corpse-white cadaver wraps itself around her, draining her sleep and suffocating what’s left with its cloying stench of rotting meat. Ghastly grey hands creep over her shoulders and thighs, an intimacy of the unknown, invading her like an incubus with cold hands, cold fingers, cold heart.

 

 

Ah yes, that which cannot be fought or reasoned with. With that we come back again to real-life horror: those who are violent that cannot be reasoned with on the street, at work, in your home. It’s chilling.

Aisha, Tom and Kris have relatively recently moved into Tom’s mother’s apartment on the top floor of a tenement building on the Lower East Side which was the target of a bombing attack. I spotted the smoke stains on the very first page past the prologue, rising from the top of the fourth-storey windows.

 

 

It’s there on the metal shutters on the ground floor too. The bomber was verified by law enforcement as a lone wolf, but they had once glanced at an ISIS website, so you know how that goes…  Now the tenement has few tenants left for it is far from repaired, and some of those that remain, well, they don’t like seeing a Muslim of colour and Pakistani origin climbing their rickety stairs. There is still so much anger, and even if hatred is suppressed then it will usually out somewhere, somehow.

I swear to whatever (if any) god you believe in that INFIDEL has been ridiculously well thought through and comes with a sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives, for the final irony is that it is non-Muslim Tom, Aisha’s fiancé, who is so determined to protect Aisha and respect her faith along with its sacred traditions that he is the one fighting her corner against his own mother, Leslie. He was reluctant to move his family in because Leslie used to poison his daughter with sweeping Islamophobic slurs, as if all Muslims obeyed barbaric laws, condoned or actively encouraged terrorism. For example when Kris once played with Aisha’s hijab:

“Women who wear this let people get killed for drawing cartoons. They let men throw rocks at girls like you!”

 

 

But to Aisha that was two years ago, she believes Leslie has learned and that it’s vital that Kris know her grandmother because her biological mother died so early that Kris can’t even remember her.

The first chapter begins in paranormal terror and it climaxes in paranormal terror, before an even more awful real-world ellipsis of a cliff-hanger which could have gone any number of ways, but it is completely eclipsed by the second chapter’s real-world ramifications, which will have you screaming in vicarious terror. Now that is emotional investment.

 

There’s a sequence in the third chapter which perfectly exemplifies the “sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives” I mentioned earlier which especially needs commending without, I hope, giving away that gut-wrenching ending to chapter two.

It involves Haley, one of the tenement’s other occupants whom Aaron Campbell does a masterful job of depicting at her most genuine, natural, open, friendly – in fact bubbly – as she meets and greets Medina, Aisha’s best friend and fellow Muslim, thanking effusively her helping to carry in shopping.  Haley is blonde; Haley is white. The dialogue is so cleverly directed during a single page from the brightest of bright which should lift anyone’s soul when it comes to kindness and inclusivity… to the darkest of dark, at its most abrupt, in the most awful accusation of racism, at its most personal.

 

 

Haley, you see (and this is where I have to be careful not to give the game away), has accused Aisha – to others – of something truly hideous. But the thing is, Haley doesn’t have a racist bone in her body and has only reported precisely that which she’s seen. She just didn’t see what Aisha saw.

At which point I’d remind you of what I wrote earlier, for it applies to Aisha, to Hayley and will soon to Medina, and it forms the whole heart of the horror here:

“Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you.”

 

 

The argument is reprised six pages later on. Huge props to Pichetshote for giving both scenes – and perspectives – so much punch.

HELLBLAZER used to combine occult and socio-political horror to successful, cathartic effect, but it was always a little bit burlesque because its star, John Constantine was a dabbler in diabolism et al. This is a very different beast, being grounded firmly in the street-level, down in the subway or on the park bench: on what we see all around us right now. I would suggest that the exceptionally uncomfortable paranormal aspect is merely a symptom, side-effect or result of the rot, not its cause, but that which it will come to catalyse only fuels it further.

So it doesn’t make it any less pants-wettingly terrifying or grotesque.

 

I’m sure that I read somewhere that artists and co-collaborators on all aspects of the comic, Campbell and Villarrubia, chose to illustrate all the everyday elements in digital while pulling back to the traditional, more physical art process for the psychically parasitic. They rendered that on Bristol board.

It may seem perverse, but I’ve seen so many other offerings where the purportedly real has been rendered in pen and ink and the preternatural given a computer-driven day-glo and gloss. The result has always been a distancing disassociation between the two elements: here is the real world, but the other is freaky, immaterial so won’t matter to you – they’re special effects, so you don’t empathise.

What Campbell and Villarrubia have achieved, by contrast, is an unholy marriage which makes what would otherwise be ethereal all too sensually and so immediately repugnant, overwhelming and nasty.

So, you know, thanks for that.

SLH

Buy Infidel and read the Page 45 review here

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

Whilst the world waits patiently for the concluding volumes six and seven of BLACKSAD (which were meant to be out in French already though there is absolutely no sign of them, so goodness knows how long us Anglophones will have to wait…) at least we have… the forthcoming BLACKSAD UNDER THE SKIN animated movie…

Sorry, got a bit excited there! Doesn’t that trailer look glorious?! Not as remotely fabulous as Juanjo Guarnido’s artwork in the comics, I have to say, but then I don’t believe that would be possible. Anyway, what I meant to say is at least we have this… Here is the rallying call to arms of the publisher to tell us more…

“Fraternity is a haunting horror story written by Juan Diaz Canales the co-creator of the popular BLACKSAD series and illustrated by the talented Jose-Luis Munuera. During the [American] Civil War, the inhabitants of a small frontier town discover a mysterious beast is prowling the forest around them, a beast that may have a connection to a feral child found several years earlier. Fraternity is perfect for fans of the monster genre and people who have a love for the classic universal monster movies as this tale feels like it would have been right at home amount them.”

What that little nugget doesn’t tell you is anything about the small town of New Fraternity, Indiana, where this story takes place. It was founded as a social utopia by a well-meaning idealist where everyone would share in the collective bounty of the community, but the fragile experiment now finds itself on the verge of collapse as food begins to run scarce and those of a more capitalistic mindset start to decide that perhaps a less egalitarian approach is what’s required. To benefit themselves at least… Throw in some hardcore communists, a few American Civil War deserters and of course that mysterious beast and feral child and it’s probably no great surprise when the proverbial powder keg finally ignites.

This is certainly no BLACKSAD, but it is still a well-written western horror mash-up that is far more to do with the malaises afflicting society and the population at large than a lurking monster, who in fact seems to have a far larger heart than pretty much any of the townsfolk.

Art-wise, it’s a nice clean, crisp Euro-ligne combined with a very subdued palette of primarily light brown and pale blue. It’s actually probably more one for those who enjoyed the likes of THE LIGHTS OF THE AMALOU by Christophe Gibelin & Claire Wendling.

JR

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

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

“I… I don’t understand… There must be some kind of mistake!”
“We’ve had a lot of complaints from your former clients. Mixing up medicines, miscounting calories, allergic reactions… These have cancelled out your high scores.”
“There must be some kind of mistake!”
“At this rate we’ll have to cut your pay. And your bonus.”
“Let me care for them again. I’ll clear this up!”
“Sorry, but they say they never want to see you again. I can’t let you go back now.”
“But… but…”
“So I’m sending you to another client. This is your chance to redeem yourself. Don’t let me down.”
“Yes, sir! I’ll pour my heart and soul into this job!”

“Heh heh. Nice work.”
“Are you happy now? Don’t you think this is a bit cruel? Sending her there?”
“I relish the thought. I hope she turns into a basket case.”

As you might now already suspect, there has indeed been “some kind of mistake”… A dastardly rival to the delightful, devoted Yukie Sakai, beloved by her clients and always winning the coveted Employee of the Month title and bonus, has managed to sexually blackmail the area sales manager into fixing the customer feedback. Gasp!!! So now Yukie’s being sent out on the ‘special’ jobs, the ones that have caused the demise of more than a fair few care assistants…

 

 

Fortunately for Yukie, she’s not just got a heart of gold, she’s got nerves of steel to boot. She’s sure going to need them, though, as the various jobs she’s forced to take by the idiotic area sales manager become ever more surreal and testing on her sanity, not to mention increasingly dangerous to life and limb! We very quickly step out of the realm of realistic horror and into Junji Ito-style darkly comedic shenanigans and indeed full-on body horror. If you are an Ito fan impatiently waiting for his FRANKENSTEIN STORY COLLECTION (later this month!) trust me, this will more than fill the contorted, twisted gap in your head, I mean life…

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently Shintaro Kago refers to his genre of storytelling as ‘fashionable paranoia’. Not entirely sure if something has been lost in translation there or he’s just been hitting the ketamine a bit too hard but if you enjoy seeing others being put through the proverbial meat grinder rather than yourself, this will be perfect for you. I also highly recommend the zombie apocalypse with a twist I AM A HERO, including some very twisted zombies, for body horror fans.

JR

Buy Dementia 21 and read the Page 45 review here

Mrs Weber’s Omnibus (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.

 

 

Rejoice, rejoice! All my Christmas quandaries have been answered once again, in one fell swoop, for this is back in print! I do hope no relatives read my reviews.

“No one reads your reviews, Stephen!”

From Posy Simmonds MBE, the creator of LITERARY LIFE, TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY, I commend to you without equivocation one great big brick of a book, collecting Britain’s best-ever series of self-contained newspaper comic pages. I promise you unfaltering brilliance from cover to cover: a body of work which is both timeless and yet a time capsule of cultural mores as seen in Britain during the 1980s. Improbable, yes; impossible, no – not in the right hands.

Let us take a stroll down any street and eavesdrop on ‘Well Known Facts’. From the mouths of babes…

“But why can’t you walk on the cracks?”
“Because my mum says if you tread on the lines, bears will get you.
“And my mum says if you make a face like that & the wind changes, you’ll get stuck like that for ever & ever!
“And my mummy says if you swallow pips like that, an apple tree’ll grow out of your mouth & suffocate you to death!
“And my mum says if you pick a guinea pig up by its tail, its eyes drop out…”
“Liar!”
“And my mum said if I’m good, the tooth fairy will put 50p under my pillow.”
“Liar Liar! Pants on fire! Nose as long as a Telegraph wire!”
“And my mum says if you unscrew your tummy button, your bottom falls off.”

… and adults alike…

“And my mum says if we have another baby, it’ll bring Mike & me together again.”
“And my doctor says if I had a more positive attitude to motherhood I wouldn’t feel so sick!”
“But my mother said if we stay together, it’ll be better for the children…”
“And my architect friend says if we knock down the front & back, it’ll give us more privacy.”
“And my husband says if he gave up smoking he’d only eat and then die of a fatty heart…”
“… and Peter said if we kept it discreet, Eric wouldn’t suspect a thing!”

That, my friends, is the perfect page of Posy Simmonds: searingly well observed, beautifully composed, artfully juxtaposed, and rammed to its riotous rafters with timeless truths, even when they’re lies. Like husbands fobbing off their wives with transparent lies about where they are and why they’re not home from work on time. God help you, morons.

 

 

There will always be children’s parties to be endured, full of fun, tears and trauma; family holidays with their preparation, packing and inevitable rain-drenched afternoons; the innuendo-obsessed and overenthusiastic soul of the party; editors bleaching authors’ individuality to oblivion in search of commercial conformity; mother-in-laws (and indeed mothers) unsubtly critiquing your house and domestic endeavours; parents judging other people’s parental skills via the behaviour of their children; mothers taking on all the worries of their children, their husbands, their own mothers, their babysitters… even their cats!

But Posy presents all these so wittily, so deftly, so mischievously, and with a lot of lateral thinking!

 

 

Take ‘Lonely Heart’, the heartbreaking ballad of Action Man and his Trudi-Doll – such a sad state of affairs! Once she lay up his manly torso at the top of the toy box, as sexy as a supermodel, then she started wearing his clothes, carrying his gun, and “Finally, last week, she moved into a gyro-powered assault craft, with rotating gun turret”. Truly their fate was in the tiny hands of playful Gods toying with their lives. “I have now moved in with a duck. It is far from ideal.”

There’s also an extended sequence involving Stanhope Wright, advertising executive and serial philanderer (hmm, there’s always one, isn’t there? See TAMARA DREWE), preparing to shoot a soup commercial, and the secretary he ignores in favour of the more flamboyant members of his creative team. Entitled ‘True Love’ (with a softly arched eyebrow), within Janice Brady wistfully daydreams of the boss she believes will one day notice her – the boss who one party did notice her when she nearly caught him snogging at the Christmas works do, and fobbed her off with a jar of stilton. Oh, the jar of stilton – she carries it around with her everywhere! In her dreams she is the irresistible queen of comicbook romance, Posy adroitly shifting styles to nail the hair, the mascara and then, once scorned, the blonde-haired beau who swoops in to make all around jealous, then carry her off into the sunset once tragedy has struck and she lies dying (in her mind) after a triumphant moment of self-sacrifice, trampled to death by a flock of satanic-eyed sheep sent stampeding by a jar of mint sauce.

 

 

Wonderfully ridiculous and yet, if we’re honest, once more absolutely true! I love the predatory Stanhope’s hooked nose and jutting chin, and the addition of red to the black and white pages works wonders.

The real draw and central stars, however, are ex-nurse and aspiring children’s author Wendy Webber and her husband George, a lecturer in Liberal Studies at an unnamed Polytechnic. Here George queues at the student canteen to be served by Marie and prepares a farewell speech in his head. Ah, and the things we dream of saying, but never do and never would!

“As one of the longer-serving lecturers here at the Poly… it is my great pleasure to remind the Staff & students that, after 15 years’ survive, Marie is going to New Zealand… and, therefore, things in the canteen can only get better…
“I think one can say that, during Marie’s despotic reign, never in the field of institutional cooking has so much food been left by so many… I for one will not miss her air of truculence, her fault finding, her inability to give the right change… I won’t miss her rudeness, her racism, her petty economies & above all, her congealing food, cooked & served in PURE BILE!”
“Go on! Take it! What d’you think I am??”

Lethal, I’d have thought.

 

 

Wendy and George are children of the ‘60s with children in the ‘80s, striving to live lives informed by those original ideals while passing them on to their children. Dispelling the taboo of boozums comes back to bite George when on the bus with young Benji, who can’t help but speak his little mind! Wendy despairs at the ignorance, petty parental prejudices and outright racism she sees outside the school gates when the scandal of headlice and nits starts doing the rounds. They are dismayed as city dwellers buy up seaside cottages and visit for just three weeks a year. They cater for neighbourly street parties while teenage Belinda, post-punk as you like, scowls at her parents disdainfully, resentfully, critically. Belinda is full of wrong-headed rebellion – a superficial elitist spouting social reform while practising none of it, snapping at her parents’ community-orientated offerings like their home-made wine and striding off to drink Pimms instead.

 

 

Simmonds’ layouts are impeccable: she always manages to pack in far more information on a page than you’d imagine possible whilst clearing the deck off all clutter – no extraneous self-indulgence here. Her characters are never caricatures – not even the boisterous and bulbous-nosed whisky salesman Edmund Heep – but full of humanity and individuality, and I particularly love Wendy Weber’s eyes drawn as dots on her glasses. The prevailing fashions and fabrics of the day are nailed, as are the day-to-day details of domestic routine on the early diary pages: appointments, phone numbers, rotas and little money sums. “Yes, yes, yes!” I cried when I saw the table keeping track of which of offspring had encountered which childhood diseases (chicken pox, measles, German measles and mumps) and so grown immunity.

 

 

So much here will strike familiar family chords: burst pipes, nativity plays, learning lines for school – the days when banks kept the hours they pleased rather than actually catering for their customers.

On top of that, over-analytical George is a hoot, seeing complex socio-political messages in a simple bourgeois and bucolic fabric pattern. Here an old friend from the sixties is over, hoping to join George on his faculty, and George cannot resist another opportunity for purple pontification:

“Wear a suit by all means, but don’t cut your hair! The Dean & the interviewing panel may draw probalistic inferences from your hair… Seen structurally, the pig tails signifies an identification with the North American Indian – giving you a political dimension. And you’ve got a rubber band round your hair… Rubber is a symbol of the mechano-cultural colonisation, compounded by rape, of the Amazon by Europeans! And your pigtail will link you in the Dean’s mind with his interdisciplinary here: Benjamin Franklin.”
“But, Dad, the student representatives on the panel will look at his hair & think: Boring, Geriatric old Hippy.”

That was indeed Belinda, yes. Her boyfriend Jasper is pretty exasperating too, but also prone to bursts of eloquence which may miss the point but certainly hit the mark. What a way to speak to your in-laws, eh?

“That’s a typical remark of you woolly liberals! Look at you! All your soft, frayed, faded, patched, ethnic, woolly, comfortable, old clothes sum up your attitude to life!
“Whenever controversy comes you way, you swaddle it in woolly deference and smother it in a cushion of irreproachable tolerance!
“You bile never bubbles! Your gorge never rises… your blood never boils! …because you sit on the bloody fence. You’re… TEPID!”

Exit Jasper & Belinda. I leave the last word to Mrs. Weber.

“That Belinda’s metallic pants & Dagger heels… Jasper’s piranha-teethed zips & crushing boots point to a life of unrestrained aggression? People like that meet violent ends!”
“And what happens to woolly liberals?”
“Ah, woolly liberals! An agonising death… We get moth eaten…”

 

 

Posy Simmonds’ CASSANDRA DARKE arrives on November 11th 2018, and it’s brand-new, not previously serialised, as others have been, in The Guardian.

SLH

Buy Mrs Weber’s Omnibus 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’.

Tales From The Inner City h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan

Conspiracy Of Ravens h/c WITH FREE, EXCLUSIVE PAGE 45 SIGNED BOOKPLATE (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Leah Moore, John Reppion & Sally Jane Thompson

The Wicked + The Divine vol 7: Mothering Invention s/c (£15-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Annie Sullivan & The Trials Of Helen Keller s/c (£10-99, Disney) by Joseph Lambert

Bastard (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Max de Radigues

Brat h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Five (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Castle In The Stars vol 2: The Moon-King h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Alex Alice

The Complete Angel Catbird s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Harrow County vol 8: Done Come Back s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

The Nameless City vol 3: Divided Earth (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks

Passing For Human h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Liana Finck

Square Eyes h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Luke Jones & Anna Mill

Stumptown vol 3 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood

Batman: White Knight s/c (£16-99, DC) by Sean Murphy

Teen Titans vol 3: The Return Of Kid Flash s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by various

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Avengers vol 1: The Final Host s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Sara Pichelli

Doctor Strange vol 2: City Of Sin s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Donny Cates & Niko Henrichon, Frazer Irving

Devilman Vs. Hades vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai &  Team Moon

Erased vol 5 h/c (£12-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanbe

Your Lie In April vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa

Your Lie In April vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa

Your Lie In April vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Naoshi Arakawa