Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2019 week three

“It serves to remind us that love, free thought, individuality, novelty and a complete range of emotional experiences are all essential for lives fully lived.”

 – Jonathan and Stephen on The Giver by Lois Lowry, adapted by P. Craig Russell

The Giver h/c (£20-99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Lois Lowry & P. Craig Russell with Galen Showman, Scott Hampton…

“I certainly liked the memory, though. I can see why it’s your favourite. I couldn’t quite get the word for the feeling that was so strong in the room.”
“Love.”

“Love.”

As to why absolutely no one in the Community has any idea what the emotion love is except The Giver, and now Jonas, the new twelve-year-old Receiver, well, that’s where our sad, dystopian tale of woe, but also ultimately hope, begins.

At first black and white glance, especially through the eyes of the young children being inculcated into the system of beliefs and morals that prevail, you might conclude that this is a utopian paradise. In fact, everyone living there (except The Giver who must keep his own counsel), is wholly convinced that it is.

From the moment they were born – then taken away from their anonymous birth mothers and placed by committee with carefully selected parents, who themselves have had their partners and jobs specifically chosen for them to match their mindsets and abilities – free will and choice is effectively entirely absent from their lives.

 

 

Obedience is everything, and nothing so troubling as novelty or diversity is allowed to intrude on their bliss. Through a combination of conditioning and emotion-suppressing drugs, the population of the Community has, so it seems, quite literally nothing to worry about.

Even after a full life spent contributing to the Community, people go to live in the House Of The Old, cared for tenderly and attentively by the young people, until their joyful Release is granted.

This blessed Release is practised by the Community as a way to bring a long and valuable life to a peaceful and celebrated conclusion, their life achievements being read out in a ceremony before they wave a cheery goodbye then walk through a door.

People are also Released under other instances. For example, if babies don’t settle sufficiently at night to be placed with a family after being professionally nurtured, then they too are Released, so as not to bring distress into any household.  If someone gives birth to identical twins then the child with the lowest birth weight is also Released, for the Committee fears the heinous confusion that two identical-looking beings would cause in their meticulously ordered idyll. And above all, to maintain the tranquillity, if someone fails to adhere to Community standards of behaviour or questions authority on more than two occasions, then they are most definitely Released…

 

… into another community. Apparently.

People just don’t seem willing, or able, to think too deeply about what is actually going on. Except Jonas… which is how he ends up being selected for the once in a generation job of Receiver. He’s been selected by committee for the role because he is brave and because he is different.

But maybe picking someone capable of independent thought to be entrusted with the entire memories of all mankind’s history: the good, the bad and the very, very ugly, isn’t the Committee’s best idea…?

For that is the role of the Receiver: to be the repository of everything that the rest of the Community, including the Committee, is shielded from, handed down from the previous generation’s Receiver who as he becomes the Giver is finally freed from his painful burden. But it seems quite clear even to young Jonas that, as the old Biblical adage goes, surely tis better to give than to receive…?

I’ve really only touched upon the barest premise of this tremendously affecting work. I can see why the prose original has sold millions of copies since its release in 1993 and won myriad awards including the prestigious Newbury Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” for its author Lois Lowry in 1994. It’s definitely an all-ages work this, though. I personally found it both deeply disturbing and immensely uplifting as everything Jonas has ever known is fundamentally challenged and his inherited beliefs shaken to their very foundations.

P. Craig Russell has taken on the immense challenge of adapting and illustrating this modern classic, and he has done so with all of the careful deliberation and lateral thinking which he brought to bear on THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, as he makes abundantly clear when interviewed in the back of the book.

Initially, as I alluded to above, the story is only told in black and white, with some additional blue pencil for texture and emphasis. This is because the Community’s emotional natures are so suppressed and lives been so deliberately homogenised that they can now only see in black and white. Jonas, however, begins to have small spontaneous flashes of colour vision appear to him, such as an occasional object like an apple, or a friend’s hair. This is perceived as him having the ability to ‘see beyond’ and is further taken by the Committee as a sign of the veracity of their wise choice in making Jonas the new Receiver.

 

 

As more and more of the memories of humanity, painful and pleasurable alike, are passed to him by the Giver, and he ceases to take his medication prescribed to quell early romantic and sexual stirrings, Jonas’ perceptions and emotions begin to rapidly open up and he starts to experience reality increasingly more vividly. There’ll be substantially more colour by the time the book ends, but I don’t really want to spoil anything as to explaining precisely why. Suffice to say as the book reaches its dramatic climax there’s a delightful ambiguity to the ending which left me pondering deeply.

I can certainly see this is a book which would provoke a considerable amount of debate and discussion amongst young readers, particularly if it were put on a school syllabus, not least on the subject of empathy. Which is a subject more than a few adults could do with a refresher on, frankly.

P. Craig Russell’s art, exceptional as always, should help to ensure this reaches a whole new audience and will hopefully serve to remind us that love, free thought, individuality, novelty and a complete range of emotional experiences are all essential for lives fully lived.

JR with SLH

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

Pip And The Bamboo Path h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Jesse Hodgson ~

High in the Himalayan mountains you’ll find the mischievous red panda cub, Pip, and her mother, playing in the trees and nibbling delicately on the bamboo shoots. They have a glorious home, a place abundant with life and bursting with every colour imaginable, a true image of paradise! But danger is just around the corner for our blissful pair, as their utopia is on the brink of disastrous change…

Pages drenched in crayon create a tactile and tangible world. You feel as though you could almost stroke the luscious fur coats of Pip and her mother, run your fingers through the velvet grass, or feel the hard rocks, cold to the touch in the high altitude snows. And this truly is a story that tells itself through colour, as subtle as it may be to young eyes.

 

 

We begin in a verdant forest, filled with greenery and flowers while stoic mountains in rich teals watch over the pair, the sun casting its glorious, embracing orange glow as it sets for the evening.

 

 

But that warm glow quickly gets turned into fire-red danger, when a turn of the page reveals that the habitat that Pip and her mother love is being ravaged by monstrous claws as they dredge up the earth and tear the trees to the ground. In black silhouette, Pip and her mum scurry away to safety as quickly as they can. We’re then thrust into a long dark night of cobalt blues as our two refugees travel through scary places unknown in search for the mystical bamboo path, and a new place to call home.

 

Hodgson has crafted a beautiful book encouraging bravery, understanding and the strength and importance of togetherness. Importantly, it’s a whimsical telling of a very real plight of the critically endangered red panda. Hopefully, it will encourage young nature lovers to understand the impact of humans on the environments, and the plight that animals have to go through in order to adapt and survive in places they’re never expected to.

A charming story, elegantly told with an abundance of cute. I couldn’t get enough of Pip’s little expressions, especially in moments of play with pink-padded paws splayed and tail thrashing in the air. I implore you to name a creature cuter than a baby red panda!

SLH

Buy Pip And The Bamboo Path h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Back On Our System

Eightball: Pussey! (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes.

A reprint of material from the early 1990s which Clowes, in his introduction, puts down to frustration and jealousy he felt while trying to carve a viable career of his own as a comicbook creator in a country where the medium and industry were dominated to their detriment by superheroes.

I don’t think he should be so hard on himself: this is a surprisingly accurate skewering of the industry not only as it was then, but had been for years, with some side-swipes at the easily bought – sorry, SPONSORED – Comics Buyers Guide; Stan Lee (the way in which he ran Marvel Comics back in the 1960s and the way in which those veterans continued to be treated at conventions until recently); the original Image Comics crew… and even Fantagraphics’ co-publisher Gary Groth makes a brief but verbose appearance as Mr. Anger.

Mr. Anger!

 

 

But it’s more complex than that. Just like Feb 2019’s CRIMINAL #2 (which too takes place in the comics world) with few exceptions you can’t really say, “This is him, this is her” etc. They’re more embodiments of common attitudes and behaviour in the industry and without: the lessons here about pride, fall, fame being both fickle and fleeting, treating people on the way up then being treated on the way down… They’re timeless. I may be missing something, but I certainly can’t pin buck-toothed Dan Pussey down as any artist in particular. And I wonder if Chris Ware was thinking of the narrative structure here when he began to offer up pieces of ‘Rusty Brown’, because it does dot backwards and forwards in time, gradually revealing what made Dan Pussey into the repressed man-child and hackneyed superhero artist who eventually becomes comicbook king… for a year.

If you’ve ever heard of superheroes being referred to as male power fantasies and didn’t quite know what was meant by that, this is the definitive explanation with ‘The Origin Of Dan Pussey’ providing an uncomfortable portrait of a weak and unsociable child with daydreams of revenge as one of the superheroes he draws badly: “I’ll crush you all like ants!”

 

 

Like Evan Dorkin in THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB, another classic stab at the less salubrious aspects of a superhero-dominated US/UK industry – Clowes is more even-handed than you might expect, because the pretensions of the Fine Art Gallery crowd come under fire as well, and my favourite scenes were those set in the world of the wilful obscurists, a collective published by Emperor’s New Clothes Magazine (“Look how much it costs — they must pay higher page rates!”) whose editor is as rapacious and slimy as the superhero hustler who cons his crew to work for nothing. In fact the entire book is about money and using people.

“Welcome, my boy, to the editorial offices of Emperor’s New Clothes Magazine: The moderne, avant-garde, neoexpressodeconstructivist Compendium of Comics (or, as I like to call them, Kommix). I am Gummo Bubbleman: Editor, Emperor, Enfant Terrible. Did you bring any samples of your work, or are you just here to waste my time!?”
“No… I – I figured you’d have seen it… I’m Dan Pussey!” 
“Pussey? …Pussey? …No, can’t say that I have. Tell me, Pussey… why do you want to work for me?”
“Eh… well… I … I… eh…”
“So! You’re a snivelling little cowardExcellent! That’s a quality I admire in an artist!”

 

 

The next day, Dan brings in some samples of his superhero work…

“Pussey, this is really first rate work! You’ve captured the primitive essence, the crude vitality of derivative, mindless slop! It’s really quite an achievement! You’ve got keen sensibilities to be able to recognise and deconstruct the various trite and mundane clichés inherent in the common comicbook… and to lay them bare in such an artless and… and venomous way!”

Oooh, that sounds insightful and intense, while utilising unique aspects of this medium to —

“I-It was s’posed to be kinda like Batman crossed with Star Trek…”

Oh dear.

This, of course, was long before Clowes turned his hands to mainstream, mass-appeal contemporary fiction like GHOST WORLD whose quieter, more natural and nuanced visual sensibilities matched the friendship study portrayed. Here instead we are firmly in the realm of highly accomplished and ugly caricature with aforementioned buck teeth, rictus grins of self-satisfaction and deceit, the odd penis-shaped nose, greasy hair falling across undoubtedly acne-pocked foreheads, fashion senses in middle age indicating that those who sport them are stuck in era even earlier, and an astonishing array of spectacles, not a single pair of which suits the one wearing it.

 

 

I’ve just typed “Not a single pair of which suits the one wearing it” and realised for the first time ever that we refer to a singular set of glasses as a pair, as in plural, and it has confused the linguistic / syntactical hell out of me. I guess it’s because there are two lenses…?

SLH

Buy Eightball: Pussey! and read the Page 45 review here

The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“I know that time is ticking toward twelve. But perhaps our day will dawn again. Maybe this graphic novel thing has some legs.”

There are some works which demonstrate their grand majesty, their epic qualities, immediately on their first page; you just know you’ve struck gold as soon as you begin reading. And then there are those works which go quietly about their business, building their story, drawing you in little by little, encompassing your imagination further and further, until almost without realising it, you’re completely immersed in a marvellous and splendid world, on a journey that you never want to come to an end, and when you finish the final page and close the book, you’re already a little wistful for what you’ve just left behind.

This latest work from Seth is a classic example of the latter, though it actually almost never saw the light of day at all, as in its original incarnation in his sketchbooks, it started off as more of an essay on early Canadian cartoonists, and frustratingly for the author, wasn’t really progressing in the way he’d hoped. So instead he concentrated on the hilarious story of the world’s greatest comic collector, WIMBLEDON GREEN, and was apparently only convinced to return to this work after friends who’d seen the roughs convinced him there was a classic of a story waiting to told, and so he set to work. The first thing he did was completely revise his vision, and in fact ended up redrawing most of it, incorporating many fictional elements, to produce this finished work. So what exactly is the Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists?

Ostensibly it’s a story told on two levels, an actual tour of the headquarters of the said  club of luminaries by Seth himself, wandering round the various lounges, halls, corridors and studios, (several of which provide an art deco statement la Société des Artistes Décorateurs would have been proud of) whilst he narrates the great history of the club and regales us with examples of many of its famous members’ most outstanding and noted works, thus providing an elaborate illustrated history of the 20th Century’s most celebrated Canadian cartoonists.

 

 

Except, of course, most of these people never existed and these stories were never told! For sure there are some nods to real-life greats like Doug Wright worked in there, clearly someone Seth has a lot of affection for, but on the whole it’s fictional stories about Eskimo astronauts, generational period dramas and flying ghostly canoes that capture the imagination. There are many, many tantalising tidbits of such stories shown to us, which I’d dearly love Seth to go back and expand on at some point, as they contain such wonderful ideas it seems a shame not to explore them further.

 

 

Even though Seth shows us a myriad of these creators throughout this book, the art style remains his own throughout, with only the most minor stylistic modifications employed to illustrate the many creators’ works. It’s a conceit that works extremely well actually, because otherwise it undoubtedly would lose the coherency that pins this work together, the sense of seamless progression through the ages as we wander deeper and deeper into the club itself, finally culminating in an appropriately wistful little rumination from Seth himself, quoted above, as he enjoys a quiet cigarette on the roof overlooking the city skyline. And if people can keep producing graphic novels as outstanding as this work, I don’t think we or Seth need worry about our beloved medium for a long, long time to come.

JR

Buy The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists 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’

 

 

Bloom (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau

Hicotea: Nightlights Book 2 h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Lorena Alvarez

Days Of Hate vol 2 s/c (£15-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Danijel Zezelj

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal h/c (£10-99, Crown) by Jeffrey Brown

The Electric State h/c (£18-99, Simon & Schuster) by Simon Stalenhag

The Handmaid’s Tale – The Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Margaret Atwood & Renee Nault

Transmetropolitan Book 1 s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos

The New Teen Titans vol 1 s/c (£16-99, DC Comics) by Marv Wolfman & George Perez

Amazing Spider-Man vol 2: Friends And Foes s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Humberto Ramos, others

Captain America vol 1: Winter In America s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu

Deadpool: Secret Agent Deadpool s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Salva Espin

Ghost Rider: The War For Heaven Book 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, others & various

Old Man Hawkeye vol 2: The Whole World Blind s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ethan Sacks & Marco Checchetto

Punisher vol 1: World War Frank s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Szymon Kudranski

Runaways vol 1: Find Your Way Home s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka

Runaways vol 2: Best Friends Forever s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka

Inside Mari vol 2 (£11-99, Den Pa) by Shuzo Oshimi

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime vol 3 (£11-99, Kodansha) by Fuse & Taiki Kawakami

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