Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2019 week four

Featuring Mariko Tamaki, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Sarah Graley, Julian Voloj, Soren Mosdal, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francois Boucq

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me s/c (£15-99, FirstSecond) by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell.

Exquisitely beautiful and wickedly funny, yet in places so poignant it’s painful!

It’s also my Book of the Year.

I’ve an infamous habit of declaring this as early as February or March. This year, therefore (it being May), I’m feeling reasonably restrained, and never more confident in my life.

That’s partly because I’m not 17-year-old Freddy Riley, writing here to an online columnist called Anna Vice:

“For almost the past year I’ve been in love with a girl named Laura Dean.
“Which is the hardest thing I’ve ever been.”

Now, why would that be?

Is it because Laura’s a young lady and so is Freddy? No, not at all, because Berkeley, California, is as effortlessly enlightened as you like, as is the high school that they’re both attending. Idyllically so! Plus Freddy has plenty of friends to look after her, like Doodle and cool couple Buddy and Eric.

 

 

 

Is it because poor love-struck Freddy can only swoon in the shadows from afar, her love unrequited, unacknowledged? No, it’s not that: the couple are fully fledged girlfriends!

Is it because Laura’s a fractious outcast, then, angry at a world which chooses to shun her? Nope, it’s most definitely not that, for Laura Dean is deliciously chic, deliriously up-tempo, and comports herself confidently with such natural charisma that wherever she wanders a crowd quickly gathers round her of equally exuberant and up-for-it acolytes. Laura has what you’d call presence!

She also has what you’d call absence.

“Because Laura Dean…
“Keeps breaking up with me.”

And it’s the way in which she does it that’s the killer, quite often during holiday celebrations by getting off with another girl, in public, and allowing herself to be seen, so signalling their split that way. Nice! Then she responds to Freddy’s texted heartbreak with such cheerful affection that it’s almost impossible to argue.

“Don’t be mad.
“xoxo”

 

 

And Freddy doesn’t argue, especially when she’s asked back – charmingly, disarmingly – much to the growing dismay of her mates. They’ve seen the damage done to their tearful friend’s mental well being and reputation after she barfs up drunkenly in Doris’ Donuts (and indeed upon Doris’s donuts!) right in front of the cafe’s seen-it-all stoical and surprisingly forgiving waitress, Vi. You’ll like Vi.

But no, Laura will suddenly reappear out of nowhere, radiant, unapologetic, proffering no explanation, reclining on steps leading up to a veranda, perfectly at ease with her phone, herself and her geographical location.

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“At my house.”

You’ve got to admire her chutzpah! And it works, every time.

 

 

We’re treated to nearly 300 pages of dreamy, idle-afternoon highs as well as lightning-bolt shocks that will knock your socks off, because LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME is one of those “There but for the grace of God, go I” graphic novels. I thought I’d gone through the emotional teenage wringer, but I’m not feeling half so badly done to now!

In so many ways this reminds me of Sarah Burgess’s THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR (we really need to see the second and third volumes back in print, someone) and you may already know Mariko Tamaki from the bilberry blue book of huge empathy and understanding towards young girls on holiday in THIS ONE SUMMER, and the equally reflective, meet-yourself LUISA, NOW AND THEN, plus SKIM which is back in stock now! The behavioural observation in each is as astute as it is here, but LAURA DEAN packs more of a tumultuous punch. Almost everyone here is going to experience some degree of heartache and heartbreak, whether it’s the ‘Sense And Sensibility’ conflict between being open and honest – uncompromisingly so – or a little more considerate towards others’ sensitivities, the careless neglect or relegation of a friend (file under ‘learned behaviour’) or the sheer bewilderment of being invited to what you’d supposed was an intimate evening to enhance reconciliation, only to discover it’s a full-blown, Bacchic party with the wild set , and then being given the lose / lose option of staying or leaving, entirely up to you because your girlfriend honestly (no, honestly!) doesn’t care either way.

 

 

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a complete revelation to me. The cover’s a stunner but the insides are every bit as passionate, gentle, delicate and nuanced on page after page after page. The hands held or touching tentatively and tenderly are just-so, and the eye-shut smiles of blissful delight are as perfectly perceived and rendered whether they’re during a shared confidence or basking in the exuberant affection of friends. The fashions too are fab – Berkeley’s no inhibitor of individuality – and I especially adored Vi’s luxurious, bleached-white curls of thick hair, small eyeball earrings, bracelet, mini-skirt and snake-coiled black summer top as she sits down with Freddy for a thankfully barf-free coffee and catch-up. They bond so soon in their friendship through what have already become self-effacing, shared, running jokes. Vi goes first.

“Girlfriend? Partner?”
“Sort… of.”
“Oh right! Shit I forgot. So, uh, things are… still crappy?”
“I can’t even talk about it because everyone’s so sick of hearing about it.”
“Yeah, but you don’t know me, so it’s okay. And we’ve already established I’m overly familiar with new people.”
“Yeah, still. I don’t know. I just worked my way back from Random Puker. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to be Desperate Girlfriend.”

 

 

I love the way Freddy plays with her hair there. Throughout, the body language is exquisite. Have I used the word “exquisite” already? I won’t apologise; it’s one of those books where it’s completely unavoidable. I’d even apply it to the speech balloon placement and the lettering within, especially all the slightly taller ‘k’s.

So let’s talk foliage and shadow. Berkeley appears to be well lush. You’ll find pots of fronds by all the front doors under shady awnings, sprays of large waxy leaves in the cafe courtyards, virile climbers crawling up metal mesh fences, and blooms abounding even within wall-mounted picture frames. Outside almost every window, even at school, tall bushy trees can be seen. Speaking of windows, some of the backlit panels cast a pall over those who aren’t faring so well, whereas the arrival of some characters casts shadows over others, figuratively and otherwise. The mood control is very precise and highly evocative and so effective.

I haven’t delved deeply into the supporting (and desperate-to-be-supportive) cast because I want you to discover them for yourselves. I wish Freddy would. In a world where everyone’s checking their mobile every two seconds in lieu of living in the moment, here’s cell-phone-free Doodle (“modern technology will be the end of us all”) with an anecdote entirely irrelevant to Freddy’s cyclical predicament, honest-to-god.

“So there was this guy? In Ohio? And he thought he was locked in the house? So he axed a hole in his door. The cops came and they said the door was unlocked…”
“Mmm.”
“The whole time.”
“…”
“…”
“The door was unlocked the whole time.”

 

 

Doodle, Buddy and Eric are no mere chorus, but fully realised individuals who will, I promise you, surprise. One revelation in particular threw me so completely because I’d made wholly unwarranted presumptions about an alternative revelation which I thought I’d seen coming, so I can also assure you that this is all far from obvious.

And this is important: if Laura had been constructed as a destructive, manipulative nightmare, consciously messing with Freddy’s heart and mind for the sheer satisfaction of it – to do wanton damage to see if she could get away with it and so boost her own ego (and I’ve known some) – then okay, you might be rooting for Freddy all the same, desperate for her to see what’s not just staring her in the face, but slapping it too, and for Freddy to extricate herself as soon as possible from all that cruel abuse. But this is more complex, for that’s not who Laura is. It’s not that her behaviour is calculated to hurt at all; she’s simply oblivious to any pain that her own genuinely carefree, attach-less attitude causes. And it always works out for her. She’s never been turned down.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I do recall some of my own friends’ advice, very kindly meant, which I too completely ignored because I was smitten.

As my duly declared book of 2019, this is fervently recommended to fans of Tillie Walden (I LOVE THIS PART etc – and I’m talking in terms of the visuals as well as sexuality), all previous Mariko and Jillian Tamaki outings, BLOOM, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, and to any Young Adult – gay or straight – as confused as I was by the complexities of romance that may well be soon be heading your way or already troubling you today.

Killer punchline too, reprising what went before.

You may find yourself punching the air.

SLH

Buy Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Glitch Page 45 Exclusive Bookplate Edition (s/c £13-99, h/c £23-99, Scholastic) by Sarah Graley…

“Whoa, what’s going on?! What’s that?!”
“It’s our friendship gauge!
“We just levelled up. I knew we had the potential!
“As our level gets higher, we’ll become a stronger and better team.
“And now, as your better friend, I can tell that you really want to go… LOOT SOME DUNGEONS!
“We’ll start by destroying the Treehouse Dungeon!”
“Aw, no, that sounds cute!”
“It’s full of evil.”
“Oh, okay then, let’s smash it!”

Haha, are you one of those people like Izzy who dives straight into a new video game skipping straight past all those boooooring tutorials? Well if so, don’t ignore the publisher blurb or you’ll miss some vital knowledge that might just save you from likes of the pop-up exploding hand grenade on page 45…

Okay, you got me… there is no pop-up exploding hand grenade on page 45… BUT… do be careful when you open your copy that your Page 45 exclusive bookplate doesn’t pop out. Limited whilst stocks last…

 

 

On with the blurb, no skipping now!

“From comics rising star Sarah Graley (KIM REAPER / OUR SUPER ADVENTURE / OUR SUPER AMERICAN ADVENTURE / RICK & MORTY: LIL’ POOPY SUPERSTAR), a fresh and funny middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl who must save a virtual world and her own! Izzy can enter the world of her new video game!

She meets Rae, a robot who says Izzy is destined to save Dungeon City from the Big Boss. How is this possible? And how can she fight for this virtual world when she’s got a whole real life to keep up with: her family (though she could do without her mom’s annoying cat), and her best friend, Eric.

Things get even weirder when Izzy loses a life inside the game and worries about what might happen if she gets a Game Over for good. Meanwhile, Eric has been super upset with Izzy since she’s been keeping secrets and bailing on their plans. Can Izzy survive Dungeon City and save their friendship?”

Tsk, tsk, tsk Izzy, you did promise you would wait for Eric before starting playing Dungeon City, didn’t you…? But then… we do know how addictive video games can be, don’t we, folks? They are up there with comics for their time-thievery capabilities…

 

 

 

Sarah has created an extremely enjoyable and often comedic tale for us here. As Izzy gets drawn deeper and deeper into the virtual world and gradually begins to lose touch with the real one, much to the dismay, bafflement and irritation of Eric, her parents and her teachers, it starts to become apparent that perhaps her new friend might not be all he’s been coded up to be…

This is a great exploration of the nature of friendship; how we can take it for granted and just what extraordinary lengths truly great friends will go to in order to help save us from ourselves, running parallel with a cackle-inducing cautionary look at the crack-like levels of digital dependency that video games can induce.

Typing as someone who couldn’t touch a keyboard for several months with repetitive strain injury after spending eight hours a day (and night) playing Soldier Of Fortune 2, I can completely understand how getting sucked into a video game for real would actually be intriguing, exciting and ultimately all-consuming.

Sarah’s depiction of an excitable Izzy getting lured further and further into console calamity by her own desires to forget her real world woes and continue levelling up into a battle-hardened bad ass – with great atavistic hair of course – is entirely credible. Izzy chooses Space Witch as her character class by the way, as presumably PIZZA WITCH wasn’t available!

Equally compelling is Eric’s determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her best chum’s new-found narcolepsy which is driving her teachers mad. Her parents, meanwhile, are wondering if Izzy’s locking herself in her room all the time because she’s being bullied at school again. Any attempts at gently interrogating her of course leading to an immediate all-too-typical teenage explosion!

There’s a lot of fairly complex storytelling going on here for an all-ages work and it is to Sarah’s  great credit that she weaves the various strands together very neatly indeed. Artistically her cute style is perfectly suited to this heart-warming, fun tale and I love her character expressions, particularly the ones that go well beyond realism into the outrageously hilarious. I did also find myself chucking throughout as robot Rae reminded me a little bit of one Bender Bending Rodríguez, which once I had seen I couldn’t un-see of course!

 

 

I think this is Sarah’s best work to date by far. I’ve always appreciated the merits of her art and her characters, but her plotting here in particular is considerably more complex than previous outings and shows a really strong progression in her writing. I can see why Scholastic snapped up the opportunity to put this out.

I note she pays tribute to several people at the publishing house for their “…helping making this into an actual real book that exists in the world. Their guidance has been indispensable.” With their track record in excellent all-ages material Scholastic are clearly obviously keen to work closely with emerging talent and help them advance, which is obviously brilliant to hear about and of course see the fruits of.

Make sure you pick up your levelled-up copy whilst we still have hand numbered and signed (and a little heart too, bless you Sarah!) exclusive Page 45 bookplates featuring a floating “but not fly, let’s not get carried away” Izzy about to wield her magic staff to bash the bonce of the ultimate big bad boss! Or is he…?

 

 

Please see USER graphic novel by Devin Grayson, Sean Phillips and John Bolton for more games-based addiction.

JR

Buy Glitch s/c Page 45 Exclusive Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Glitch h/c Page 45 Exclusive Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

 

Basquiat (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Julian Voloj & Soren Mosdal

“You were born in the era of pop culture.
“Your life was full of drama.
“Your mother was institutionalised when you were still a child.
“You left when you were fifteen.”

As someone who never had a great appreciation of art of any sort (other than the sequential variety of course!) in my younger days – and still struggle with pretty anything one would describe as pre-modern, being completely frank – I can personally say the work of Jean-Michael Basquiat had quite the impact once I finally discovered it.

That was through the 1996 arthouse film also entitled simply enough, ‘Basquiat’. Ironically, I only watched it because I had heard David Bowie was portraying Andy Warhol which I was intrigued to see. Bowie gives a great performance, actually, but a young Jeffrey Wright (who has since graced many a Hollywood film and big TV show) totally engaged me as the doomed young street artist.

 

 

What completely blew me away, though, was seeing Basquiat’s neo-expressionistic art, or ‘ignorant art’ as he himself refers to his early works in the film. I’d never seen anything quite like it, much like New York in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, where he swiftly became lauded as an emerging artistic genius. By August 12th 1998, however, he was dead, aged just 27, of a heroin overdose.

This work, cleverly narrated by a character from one of his most iconic paintings entitled ‘Flexible’, seen here as a kind of extension / reflection of Basquiat, tells us some of the key points from his all too brief life. The starting point being his recuperation from being knocked down by a car aged 7 when a gift of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, a frankly seemingly bizarre choice of gift for a small child from his mother (though as mentioned above she ended up being institutionalised), sent his artistic curiosity into overdrive.

 

 

This work has quite an unsettling feel to it, in part due to the surrealistic, narcissist narrational conceit and also due to the intentionally primitive yet vibrantly alive art style which is all perfectly in keeping with the mercurial nature (and art style) of the man himself.

I think Basquiat’s chaotic, unstable upbringing, which led to many questionable, indulgent, selfish, destructive and certainly immature life choices, clearly had absolutely everything to do with his artistic output. Consider the following quotation, which prefaces this work, then look at his art, and you’ll see immediately what I mean…

“I don’t think about art when I’m working.
“I try to think about life.”

 

 

If I can fault this work in any way, it would be that it doesn’t get into an evaluation of Basquiat’s art. I guess that’s not necessarily the purpose of a biography per se, but to me, the theme of “suggestive dichotomies” that ran through much, if not all of his prodigious output, explains so, so much about the man in its own right.

One is also minded to wonder what he might have gone on to create and just how huge he would have become culturally if he had lived even another ten years. But as fellow acclaimed street artist Keith Haring wrote as part of his eulogy, “He truly created a lifetime of works in ten years. Greedily, we wonder what else he might have created, what masterpieces we have been cheated out of by his death, but the fact is that he has created enough work to intrigue generations to come. Only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution.”

Very true, very true. Hopefully this work will inspire other individuals to investigate Basquiat’s art and make up their own minds and, who knows, perhaps even begin to create some art of their own.

Also available in this SelfMadeHero series and reviewed: GAUGUIN, PABLO (Picasso), VINCENT (Van Gogh), MUNCH.

JR

Buy Basquiat and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Face h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Francois Boucq…

“We must reach the Palace Of Pleasures before the doors close!”
“You two go in! I’ll try and stop the Carnival Of Fools before they’re all massacred.”

Cut off from the world and ruled without any dissent whatsoever by the mad dictator Oscar Lazo, absolute head of a quasi-religious order known as the Kondukators and their madcap Ovarian system (whatever that is), complete with his troublesome, aggravating comedy haemorrhoids, the island Damanuestra is about to undergo a tumultuous time under the surging surf courtesy of the mysterious ‘wave tamer’ Moon Face. The established, and ferociously guarded socio-political order is about to be well and truly dunked and disrupted by the arrival of this catalyst of change who will silently foment revolution with some serious white caps that make the Great Wave off Kanagawa look like end of the pier ripples…

 

 

This work is classic Jodorowsky, setting up a world under the influence of an all-controlling, all-perverse, all-most-definitely-unpleasant-and-odious-power and promptly setting about bringing it all crashing down. Originally released in 3 or 5 volumes in French, depending on how you look at it (trust me, it had a bit of an odd publication history…) we are fortunate to get the whole lunar body in this one translated collection.

Another major plus is the incredible artwork. Reunited with his sidekick from his BOUNCER saga, Francois Boucq, you can feel the immense power of Moon Face’s waves and their equally impactful influence on the regime, and by extension, Lazo’s bumhole raisins! Surreal, satirical, utterly preposterous and equally ridiculous, this is an extremely amusing examination of the desperate lengths people will go to hold onto power even when the proverbial tide is turning against them faster than King Canute. So surely it’s no surprise to see what looks like a young Margaret Thatcher depicted as one of the authoritarian figures! I suspect there may well be a few European politicians of that era and religious figures getting lampooned in there too.

 

 

If I had one criticism to make, it would be the same one I level at what is probably my favourite work of Jodorowsky’s (after THE INCAL which stands alone in its near perfection), which is MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART, in that the concluding part is the weakest in terms of the story-telling. Not by much, but it does feel slightly like Jodorowsky’s managed to get his characters and by extension himself so magnificently metaphysically tangled up that he’s concentrating on writing a clever way out rather than being as seemingly spontaneously entertaining as the opening two-thirds is. Which is clearly written with relish and gradually just lets the chaos build and build in a gloriously discordant manner. I guess it’s always harder to rein it all back in than just let it go. It is a most satisfying conclusion however.

JR

Buy Moon Face h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Thinking Room (£9-99, University Of Nottingham) by Carol Adlam

The Avant-Guards vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by Carly Usdin & Noah Hayes

The Book Of Sarah h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Sarah Lightman

Buffy The Vampire Slayer vol 1: High School Is Hell s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by Jordie Bellaire & Dan Mora

Cover vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack

East Of West vol 9 (£14-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Friendo vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Image) by Alex Paknadel & Martin Simmonds

Highwayman s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Koren Shadmi

The Legend Of Korra: Ruins Of The Empire Part One (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Michelle Wong

Life Is Strange vol 1: Dust s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Emma Vieceli & Claudia Leonardi

Meat And Bone (£22-99, Conundrum Press) by Kat Verhoeven

Middlewest Book vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Skottie Young & Jorge Corona

Midnight Radio s/c (£13-99, Lion Forge) by Iolanda Zanfardino

Red Ultramarine h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Redlands vol 2: Water On The Fire (£14-99, Image) by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey

Fantastic Four vol 2: Mr And Mrs Grimm s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Gail Simone, Fred Hembeck & Aaron Kuder, various

Silver Surfer: Epic Collection – Inner Demons s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by J.M DeMatteis, various & Ron Garney, various

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