Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2019 week two

“Great Monarch butterflies migrate right across and up through the page towards us, the depth of perspective increased by the orange light of sunset which falls only on those closest to us.”

 – Stephen on Darwin – An Exceptional Voyage by Fabien Grolleau & Jérémie Royer.

Darwin – An Exceptional Voyage (£16-99, Nobrow) by Fabien Grolleau & Jérémie Royer.

“So God created mankind in his own image…”

Actually, He did nothing of the kind: we created God in ours.

Or at least, the patriarchy did, hence the big beard and not infrequent genocidal strops.

There are several points to this which are all too pertinent to Charles Darwin, his discoveries, his revolutionary, evolutionary extrapolations (the origin of our species etc), and to this gorgeous graphic novel from the creators of AUDUBON which follows the tracks of his treks around the world from 1831 to 1836, focussing on South America and its surrounding seas.

It was, if you like, the original five-year mission to seek out new life and new civilisations (before we set about extinguishing them) whilst digging through ancient geological strata, thence discovering some very old life (which we also extinguished on arrival, albeit 16,000 years earlier when Homo Sapiens first settled in America) while challenging some entrenched Christian presuppositions about time.

 

 

The sermon on Genesis is delivered early on in the graphic novel – almost as soon as The Beagle has set sail – to impress upon us the almost universal doctrine still prevailing 3 centuries into the Scientific Revolution that the world was created in 7 days, just a comparative couple of fortnights ago. What Darwin and others like Lyell (geologist), Wallace (naturalist) and Hershel (astronomer) were on the cusp of pronouncing based on their empirical evidence was not about to go down well within inward-looking ecclesiastical cloisters and the wider society which they continued to dominate with their blissfully ignorant dogma.

It’s not the sermon which drives Darwin to his bunk below deck, shuddering “Agh… Hell on earth!”, but his first experience of seasickness which will rarely pass. Still, the juxtaposition does serve to emphasise that the 22-year-old graduate of Cambridge who’d studied to become an Anglican Parson is going to start preaching something else altogether and become blasted with charges of blasphemy. The sense of looming conflict is emphasised visually, first by an illustration of the literary Eden harbouring an array of animals which cleverly conflates continents (African zebras, Indian peacocks), then more forcefully by a striking full page in which Darwin lies, sweatily gritting his teeth with nausea, as a serpent-coiled Eve holds out a rosy-red apple from the Tree of Knowledge while commanding “Respect the word of God, Darwin”.

If you’ve an appetite for irony, there’s about three courses served up there on a single platter.

 

This book is an English translation, honest! – ed.

 

 

Aaaaaanyway, fast-forward to Argentina, September 1832, and Charles Darwin – still in his early 20s, grey beard to follow without even a hint of post-modernist irony – has unearthed some spectacular fossils: gigantic skulls of big beasts that no one has seen since (*checks Christian calendar*) last Tuesday.

Subsequently we are treated to a delicious double-page spread of Darwin meandering with a Gaucho guide through an unspoiled verdant grass and arboreal landscape, conjuring in their minds all manner of South American Megafauna, like giant ground sloths and glyptodonts.

 

 

“All these lives lost in the oblivion of a time much longer than we imagined.”
“You mean longer than The Bible tells us…? You do realise what you’re saying could be deemed blasphemy, Darwin? Yes, you do.”

It’s sure starting to dawn on our Darwin. He’ll be discussing that very subject with Hershel later.

“Those animals were gigantic. How could they have just disappeared one day?”
“Hunger? Thirst? Natural disasters?”

Brilliantly, their final supposition hovers over the spread’s single inserted panel of soldiers standing over the bodies of some poor indigenous individuals they’ve just shot dead. That final supposition:

“Predators?”

 

 

There’s a laudable balance throughout of the euphoria Darwin experiences on discovering, collecting and, errr, dissecting so many new animals and plants and seashells before shipping them home, and his dismay – at one meal boiling over into a rage which kept him in conflict with his Captain far longer than the script suggests here (it should be noted that he was the Captain’s guest, not his employer) – at the way in which his compatriots mistreated the locals like slaves while in service or, out and about, as savage intruders upon the so-called civilisation which they were exporting. A little after-dinner irony for you, there.

Also admirable is the portrayal of Darwin’s inconsistency, for although he was a humanist who believed all the other humans he encountered as essential equal, he was also repelled at times by their dirtiness and diseases and, yes, “savagery”. This ambivalence (but also evidence of equality) is brought into especially sharp focus by a substantial, unexpected narrative thread about which I’d previously known nothing: the three individuals which Captain Fitzroy had abducted in chains on a prior visit to Tierra Del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

“He secretly planned to save them from their savagery and convert them to the true faith… He turned those savages into real English gentlefolk, good Protestants. Fuega is now an educated young woman and an incredibly gifted linguist.” She’ll also prove a very quick learner invaluable to some of Darwin’s studies. “Good old Jemmy is a plump little gent: perfumed, coiffed and always impeccably turned out. He never misses one of Reverend Matthews’ services. Only York Minster still has his dark Indian stare. Might he have been too old at the time of his capture?”

All three are onboard as the Beagle sets sail, the plan being to return them to Tierra Del Fuego with Reverend Matthews and use them in a missionary capacity. Wait until you see how that turns out.

 

 

It’s at this point that I’d refer you to the back of the book, as I did with AUDUBON, in which it’s indicated where the graphic novel departs from known historical fact: no one, for example, has a clue about the final fate of these three, but I enjoyed the conjecture, it seemed entirely right not to dismiss their story without one, and it’s used to provide much food for imperialist thought.

I relished the entire endeavour from start to finish, apart from – I own – the some of the stilted, cliché ridden posh-speak and gruff-speak (“For goodness’ sake! This filthy brute broke the poor boy’s nose!” “You’re in for it!”), but that’s by the by. What a work like this must do above all if it’s to be a roaring success is to evoke the intoxicated awe that must have been felt by Darwin at the beauty, majesty and sheer variety of everything his eyes encountered for the very first time, and then replicate that beauty and epic majesty. Well, as with AUDUBON, A+++ on all fronts.

 

 

Great Monarch butterflies migrate right across and up through the page towards us, the depth of perspective increased by the orange light of sunset which falls only on those closest to us.

You’ll be treated to truly terrifying stormy seas – “KRAAK”ed overhead with black thunder and spiked, white lightning against Vandyke-brown skies – the body of the tempestuous ocean rendered in the richest and deepest slate-grey while multiple cusps, like iced mountain peaks, are granted their power with the striking, counter-intuitive application of a dry-brush effect!

 

 

The mountains and glaciers themselves will not disappoint, either, towering over the HMS Beagle, way up into the sky with all the mythical power of Mount Olympus. Through crisp contours and sharply contrasting colours, there’s the most remarkable sense of layered distance achieved between the nearest rocky crags, the glaciers behind them, then the final summits beyond, like insanely sized stage slats. The Beagle, on the other hand, is nestled firmly in the same sea that the first crags rear from, entirely at one with its environment.

And when Darwin sleeps out in the open air for the first time in Argentina, lying back on looking up at the infinite sky, the constellation of stars cannot help but stir your imagination as it did the explorer’s, the naturalist’s, the great pioneer of natural selection and human evolution.

 

 

SLH

Buy Darwin – An Exceptional Voyage and read the Page 45 review here

Lone Sloane: Salammbo h/c (£35-99, Titan) by Philippe Druillet, Gustave Flaubert…

“The wild beast hurls himself forth, and is swallowed by this new world, new to him and yet so oddly familiar. A feeling of deja vu. Time’s serpent is forever unspooling its coils…”

Yep, that’s pretty much how I feel every single week when I start reviewing a new batch of comics…

But enough of me… here is the publisher to try and make some sense of this artistic slice of Euro-madness.

“A heady perfume of blood and rage across the stars featuring Philippe Druillet’s legendary Lone Sloane. In the third century BC, mercenaries employed by Carthage during the first Punic War rose against their employers, who repeatedly postponed their pay. Two barbarian clan chiefs, Matho and Narr’Havas, fell in love with the beautiful and ethereal Salammbo, daughter of Hamilcar of Carthage. A bloody conflict arose.

 

 

Based on the 19th century novel by Flaubert, Salammbo was reappropriated and recontextualised by Druillet in this masterwork. Transposing the ancient Punic Wars into his space fantasy universe, and splicing the identity of the novel’s Mathô with his favorite character, Lone Sloane, Druillet works his intoxicatingly psychedelic magic on a literary classic, reinvigorating it from the inside out with his own transcendent storytelling.”

 

 

It’s quite something, that’s for sure. The word psychedelic is frequently over-used, devaluing its proverbial psychoactive coinage, but it certainly applies here, let me tell you. Be in no doubt of that whatsoever.

In fact, I’m rendered slightly speechless by the sheer kaleidoscopic insanity of what I’ve just… absorbed.

 

 

If in artistic terms you like Bryan Talbot’s (frustratingly still out of print) NEMESIS THE WARLOCK, Brandon Graham and chums’ PROPHET, Kevin O’Neill’s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, Mike JUDGE DREDD McMahon, then I think this is going to hit all those notes for you in a cacophonous, riotous rhapsody… with additional ultra-vibrancy included of the sort that only an entire extra-large set of felt-tips can produce. It’s bright… like Brendan McCarthy bright.

 

 

Storytelling-wise it is also as out there as GARDENS OF GLASS by Lando, PICNOLEPTIC INERTIA by Tsemberlidis, and Moebius’ more philosophical stuff such as THE WORLD OF EDENA. Yet… this also has its own strangely urgent, precise tension that is almost certainly due to the accompanying staccato narration that frequently appears in intense, rather substantial chunks.

Consequently I felt like I could either just look at the pretty mind-bending pictures or simply read the prose story. The two definitely feel like a parallel attack. They work together certainly; it just felt like a perversely, deliberately incongruent approach. Like, “I’ve just drawn this brilliant artwork, so, I suppose I better come up with some suitably mesmeric words to go with them.” As I say, it works, it absolutely works, it is just not what one is typically exposed to. Which for this material is entirely apt.

JR

Buy Lone Sloane: Salammbo h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wrath Of Fantomas h/c (£26-99, Titan) by Oliver Bouquet & Julie Rocheleau…

“The irony is that Fantomas is indeed readying his revenge. That’s why the city is so quiet tonight.
“Paris is holding its breath, Fandor… Paris is holding its breath.”

Maybe Paris just has hiccups?

Here is the excited exhalation from this particular breathless behemoth of periodicals…

“Freely adapted from the work of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, with a plot worthy of the best black novels, Rocheleau plunges the reader into the Paris of the 1910s and provokes terror and fascination by resuscitating Fantomas, the evil character with a hundred faces … Fantomas is the first superhero in history. All masked men and women who grace the pages of American comics and movie screens are his illegitimate children.”

I think they mean supervillain, surely, but I get the rapier-sharp point. It’s a bold statement, though, that those beloved American icons Batman and Spider-Man are the bastard offspring of a psychopathic French dandy…?

So extrapolating wildly… basically, what they’re saying is it is the French who are responsible for a genre-drowning sub-niche that threatens to subsume the quality artistic output so beloved at Page 45 which is striving valiantly just for its fair share of the wider market. Why would you want to claim that?

Zut alors! It’s like saying you voted for Brexit…

I’m pulling the proverbial frog’s leg, by the way, not least because to my mind this is pure crackpot crime that needs no tightening up by passing references to the newly found and hopefully soon forgotten Gallic genealogy of capes… There’s just a pure 24-karat pulpy period preposterousness to the story which sees Fantomas trying to steal all the gold in Paris, including the gilding on the roof of Les Invalides and stripping the statues on the Alexandre III bridge.

 

 

Not to mention those Napoleon coins in the Bank Of France and The Mint which are propping up the entire French economy and thus the country… That’s a lot of bling. It wouldn’t be good for those in power if it were to disappear overnight, now, would it?

 

 

The surprisingly competent if understandably frustrated police are well aware of Fantomas’ scheme but the master of disguise seems mysteriously able to stay one step ahead of the long, rather well-tailored arm of the law… I wonder how that might be…? Okay, so maybe they’re not that competent.

 

 

If you like your crime with a dash of daft and a grind of gruesome, this will be well seasoned to your tastes. Writer Oliver Bouquet was only familiar to me for stepping in on the scripting for the concluding third part of SNOWPIERCER with artist Jean-Marc Rochette, which he finished off very well, I must say.

Art-wise, it’s not your typical ligne claire Euro-fare, not at all. Julie Rocheleau, who excelled on ABOUT BETTY’S BOOB, penned by Vero Cazot, returns with her enticing blend of subtle, soft yet striking pencils and swathes of strong colours. Here the combination of glossy paper and bolder colours only serves to add to the drama and the tension.

 

 

A passing point of reference that sprang to mind, which I’ll throw into your path to catch you unawares like a well-placed caltrop, would be Kyle Baker in full-on colourful YOU ARE HERE mode, for the occasionally slightly exaggerated facial features.

 

 

Once again, I can only applaud Titan for expanding their horizons to take us on a trip to the continent as they have before under their Statix Press imprint with the likes of THE BEAUTIFUL DEATH and KONUNGAR, plus of course also the SNOWPIERCER trilogy and UNIVERSAL WAR ONE. At least we won’t need a visa to read bandes dessinées after Brexit. If it actually happens… maybe Fantomas can come back to steal all Jacob Rees-Mogg’s gold… I’d pay good money to see that.

JR

Buy The Wrath Of Fantomas h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Reel Love – The Complete Collection h/c (£14-99, Unbound) by Owen Michael Johnson…

“This is your first memory of dreams in the dark.
“This is your first memory of me.
“Your father brought you to me.
“A little gift.
“Year later, when you learned of my origin, you would recall your own.
“I was but a child myself in 1896, as the Brother Lumiere released a vision at the Salon Indien Du Cafe Grande.
“Myth and memory fused to provide a greater story than truth.
“It was too much.
“Beginnings are always difficult.
“You emerged from me, kicking and screaming into a world of light.
“You did not yet know how to love me.
“But you would…”

I originally read the opening chapter of this work in self-published form several years ago and really loved (no pun intended) it, so I’m delighted to see the completed tale finally in the can and gracing the screens – I mean the shelves – in a comic shop near you in plush hardback form.

 

 

It’s the story of one man’s life-long, obsessive love of cinema, told in three acts of course, entitled entirely appropriately: ‘Projections’, ‘Concessions’ and ‘Admissions’.

 

 

Starting with the young boy somewhat overwhelmed by his first visit to a cinema (as you may have gathered from the pull quote above)…

 

 

…we see him grow into an aspiring film student with high hopes of one day making it to the bright lights of Hollywood, through to… well, we don’t want to give any spoilers out now do we…?

Our unnamed protagonist finds others who share his interest along the way, albeit perhaps to not quite the same degree. So consequently his all-consuming compulsion towards the cinematic is as likely to cost him relationships as it is to make them. Still, presumably that drive is going to get him to the big time, his films up onto the silver screen in front of the adoring eyes of millions…? For we all know ‘the business’ isn’t a fickle one, right?

Very well-written, I found all the characters entirely credible and the story extremely compelling. Artistically, here’s another pull quote to set the scene before I commence my comics buffery in that particular direction.

“But that black and white shit? Who likes stuff in black and white?”
“I do. They’re atmospheric… elegant.”
“He can stay.”

 

 

 

I like black and white comics. Frequently they are indeed atmospheric and also elegant. I think applying the term elegant might be stretching it slightly when talking about Owen’s art style, which isn’t as strong as his writing, but it is certainly not remotely lacking in atmosphere. It’s extremely consistent with respect to itself and conveys the story more than adequately, but very, very occasionally I found myself noticing some slight over-emphasis of the characters, or other minor inconsistency and subconsciously slightly critiquing it, which momentarily took me out of the narrative.  But let’s be honest, nobody likes a critic!

I should at this point add that he is a lot, lot better artist than myself and I am sure he will only get tighter artistically. In fact I was at times minded of very early Nate MARCH Powell and Jeff ROUGHNECK Lemire stylistically. I merely mention this regarding the art because it might preclude the odd person, upon first perusal, from persisting and purchasing this. But they shouldn’t because it is well worth the price of entry.

Overall I simply admire Owen’s sheer tenacity in getting what is an extremely entertaining, accomplished and very nicely produced debut graphic novel out there and hopefully into your hands. Without his grit and drive to get this work completed, like many other comics creators out there who toil away for years to relatively little reward, our industry would be much poorer.

Not everyone gets to follow their artistic dreams, let alone achieve them, or indeed ‘make it big’ so kudos to Owen for writing, directing and producing this arthouse gem. I am sure it was a labour of real love for him. Pun most definitely intended.

JR

Buy Reel Love – The Complete Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Back On Our System:

My Cardboard Life (Signed & Sketched In) (£10-00, self-published) by Philippa Rice.

Paper, scissors, stoned!

Who could fail to fall for a book as riddled with mischief as this? It’s a gloriously simple set up which plays with its raw materials with childlike glee, yet a lot of lateral thinking.

Basic ingredients: corrugated cardboard, paper, cloth, wool and the occasional piece of string; chocolate coins, real coins, tin foil and a sticking plaster. Nothing tricksier than that. Pen at the ready; Tippex on standby.

Recipe: take your basic materials, turn them into two-dimensional characters, then photograph the poor things as you put them through the wringer. Also through a hole puncher, and more emotional trauma than you can imagine. Poor Cardboard Colin gets his heart ripped out – quite literally at one point just so Pauline can make sweet music. Clever, clever, clever.

 

 

 

One of my favourite gags began, “Colin, I’m gonna punch your lights out.” Can you guess the next panel?

Bonus material includes a family tree (it’s where they all came from – ba-dum!), original layout sketches, and three-dimensional tableaux including a miniature comicbook convention alley and comics which will be very familiar to those shopping here!

 

 

Review Update: Cardboard Colin went on to star in the all-ages collage comic, ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON and the fully photographed WE’RE OUT set in Nottingham city centre (Page 45 appears on page 45!), and highly reminiscent of the stop-animation of Oliver Postgate (‘Bagpuss’ etc).

Meanwhile Philippa Rice herself went on to star in SOPPY and OUR SOPPY LOVE STORY alongside Luke Pearson, the creator of HILDA.

 

 

SLH

Buy My Cardboard Life (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Giver h/c (£20-99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Lois Lowry, P. Craig Russell

Over The Garden Wall vol 3 (£13-99, Kaboom!) by various

The Problem Of Susan And Other Stories h/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton, Paul Chadwick

Rumble vol 5: Things Remote s/c (£14-99, Image) by John Arcudi & David Rubin

Black Hammer: Doctor Star And The Kingdoms Of Tomorrow s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Max Fiumara

Mister Miracle s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom King & Mitch Gerads

Immortal Hulk vol 2: Green Door s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Joe Bennett, Lee Garbett, Martin Simmonds

Infinity Wars s/c (UK Edition) (£18-99, Marvel) by Gerry Deodato Jr., Andy MacDonald, Mark Bagley, Andrew Henessy, Cory Smith

Spider-Geddon s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage, others & Jorge Molina, Carlo Barberi, Todd Nauck, Stefano Caselli, Joey Vasquez

Giant Days vol 9 (£10-99, Other A-Z) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Edens Zero vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Barefoot Gen vol 2 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen vol 5 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen vol 6 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

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