“Whatever your childhood, it seems the norm whilst you’re living it. Obviously that’s not always a good thing.”
- Stephen on P. Craig Russell’s adapation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
Pictures That Tick: Short Narrative Book Two – Exhibition (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.
True, true and true. I cannot be doing with artistic onanism.
Thankfully Dave McKean has plenty to say and multiple skill sets with which to say it.
I cannot think of anyone else in comics with such high command of so many different media from sculpture to pen line and brush, through painting and photography and a great deal of computerised jiggery-pokery, often in the very same story. You could spend hours staring at the cover alone trying to decipher its many means of composition, but the comics themselves demand you move on which is exactly as it should be.
“I had wanted to create a narrative exhibition for a while. I was essentially dissatisfied with the gallery experience – a large white room of random bits and bobs, allegedly thematically linked. I remain completely committed to story as a way of engaging an audience,” he writes in his introduction to ‘The Coast Road’.
McKean’s been equally determined to wrench the medium out of the comic-shop ghetto (which I concede that it can be in America and Britain – although we’re doing our damnedest to rectify that) and into the wider world of a gallery-going public who might not encounter comics otherwise. Hence the title, for many tales told within were originally installations for the likes of the Rye Art Gallery and there are some seriously striking photographs recording these wittily choreographed experiences incorporated into this album-sized book. For his third narrative exhibition, ‘Blue Tree’, Dave snuck out at 5am and “crept around Rye planting blue branches with little baubles containing wise words”.
Can you imagine the magic for Rye residents waking up to discover their town had been blessed with such beautiful and brilliant art terrorism? And, having seen the result complete with blue-branch tendrils snaking across a pristine white ceiling, I am kicking myself for not visiting in person.
This is a whopping tome with so much to discover within: musical whimsy, creation myths, autobiographical musings, real-life reportage on political corruption and a series of magnificent, wild Scottish landscapes captured on camera and married to the immediate impressions inspired by them. There lie mountains as big as your mind (much bigger than mine), mist-shrouded and crowned with exquisite rock formations. Lakes and rivers and waterfalls too.
So many of these pieces are journeys.
The longest one is ‘The Coast Road’ whose opening salvo is utterly arresting, all the more so for it having been immediately preceded by ‘40 Years’ in which Dave reflects during a landmark birthday, asking questions and demanding answers while on the jury for a short-film festival he won in 2003; like why there are so many “men going potty films” and this:
“I have friends who, after ten, fifteen years of shared life and children and laughs, suddenly realise that they don’t want to be with each other any more, that they are somebody else actually. I mean, what’s that?”
In ‘The Coast Road’ a woman called Susan writes a series of letters she cannot possibly send to her husband Peter after returning home to find one from him.
“I read it three times, and realised I had actually never been really confused before. Or angry.
“And there was quiet and the mass ticking of clocks.
“And there were telephone calls, to Simon, and my mother, and to Grant at the bookshop.
“And to the police.”
She’s actually writing to herself, two years on, trying to make some semblance of sense of what to her is incomprehensible. In one letter she does so by boiling down her journeys to and from the bookshop to hard statistics, like the percentage probability of seeing a cat and how likely it is she’ll see two. There are a lot of cats in Dave McKean comics.
“Today, for the third time since records began, I decided that if someone smiled at me as I walked to the bookshop then, and only then, would I not kill myself.
“Yours, with all my love,
So what did Peter’s own note contain? Susan’s second letter starts thus:
“My Dear Peter,
“Did you buy the masking tape?
“I have spent a lot of time recently wondering about that question. I mean, to mention in a letter that you will not be home, and that I should please forget you, my husband of eleven years, and that, by the way, you also need some masking tape, well, it’s an unusual combination of thoughts in a letter.”
Evidently Peter has had some sort of mid-life crisis if not a full-on mental breakdown, and one cannot shake the feeling that it’s catalysed one in Susan too, for when she is given a postcard of a painting – ‘The King of Birds’ by Evan Somerset – she is convinced the model was Peter and sets off in pursuit, attempting to track him down via supposed sightings in various visual art projects! I mean, what are the chances?
The kicker comes when she receives a letter from author Iain Sinclair:
“My name is Iain Sinclair. I am a writer.
“Ness Esterhazy told me about your journey along the coast, and about your husband’s disappearance.
“He may have walked through the novel I am working on…”
So many of McKean’s talents are deployed along this snaking journey that there’s always a surprise around the corner. There’s also a moment of absolute joy when the prologue set in the Rye Art Gallery is reprised and its meaning finally revealed.
‘Black Holes’ is a shorter exhibition story written by a Chinese journalist about the silence surrounding the siphoning off of funds supposed to treat villagers who’ve contracted AIDS, the overwhelming majority after donating blood as encouraged by their very own government. Satirically adorned or destroyed syringes are mounted uselessly underneath each square panel. It will have you seething with anger and vicarious frustration.
‘Blue Tree’ comes with the line “When the tree was invited for breakfast, it didn’t know where to start” which made me smile and will give you much food for thought.
“We understand everything by metaphor,” it posits at one point, which brings me beautifully to ‘The Weight Of Words’ in which bad news is offloaded from one friend to another and its visual interpretation spoke volumes about something I’ve always firmly believed in: the importance of sharing said weight around.
I leave you, then, with the first creation myth involving a giant turtle seen from below in a sea of beautiful blue, told to a cat we first spy staring down on the world from a pillar of sky. It ends with the sort of playfulness you’ll find typical throughout.
“The more holes you pick in a story, the more likely you are to fall into one of them.”
“It certainly could be.”
Graveyard Book Graphic Novel vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris, Stephen B. Scott, Galen Showman.
The thing about childhood is this: only an adult will look back on it thinking, “That’s odd!”
“My parents stayed together yet all of my friends’ were divorced. Apparently not everyone has beetroot for breakfast. Growing up in an igloo’s unusual…?!” Whatever your childhood, it seems the norm whilst you’re living it. Obviously that’s not always a good thing.
Nobody grew up in a graveyard. He really did. And it seemed perfectly normal to him.
Nobody Owens was his adoptive name but everyone called him Bod. His birth parents were murdered one night by a very bad man with a very sharp knife and a mission. Bod was no more than a toddler with a precocious and somewhat worrisome propensity for straying but that night it saved his young life. He’d heard a crash downstairs, woke up and wandered through his home’s open front door, up the hill under moonlight to the simple, padlocked, wrought iron gates of the graveyard and squeezed through.
The bad man with a knife whose business was not yet complete followed the infant’s milky scent and clambered over the thick, stone walls in pursuit. But there he was met by a tall, gaunt man with the palest of skin, jet-black hair and an equally obsidian cloak. He looked vaguely aristocratic and his manner was utterly compelling. No child could or would be found here: more likely in the town down below.
So it was that Bod was taken in by the graveyard folk – the ghosts of those long since passed – and raised as one of their own. With centuries of knowledge between them Bod’s education is eclectic if somewhat arcane, but it will stand him good stead for what his fiercely inquisitive nature will lead him to encounter both inside the graveyard and when he strays oh so dangerously out. Fortunately he has a quiet yet determined guardian in Silas, the very tall man with the very pale skin and the very dark hair. Silas is no ghost as you have probably gathered; nor is he still amongst the living.
If I didn’t know better I would swear this was autobiographical: you can imagine Neil Gaiman growing up in a graveyard, can’t you? He knows almost too much about Mist-Folk, Ghoul-Gates and Night-Gaunts: which to avoid and how to cry out for help in their languages.
This is the first half of P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of Gaiman’s prose novel and he draws the second chapter himself. He’s brought along some friends for each of the others: MAGIC TRIXIE and SCARY GODMOTHER’s Jill Thompson, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris, Stephen B. Scott and Galen Showman whom you could not tell apart from P. Craig Russell himself, such are the crisply cut leaves, their shadows and the stones. Some have adapted their styles more than others; it’s a perfectly congruous whole.
Each chapter moves on a couple of years with elements reprised, Bod’s nightgown seemingly growing with him as the young man learns his lessons through making mistakes: breaking rules, testing boundaries and learning to care for others no matter what other people think. As always with Gaiman there are a couple of moments of such pure kindness that you cannot help but emit a little choke. He understands childhood as readers of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE will know, and Silas’ role as guardian is particularly poignant. I worry for him.
“But you’ll always be here, Silas, won’t you? And I won’t even have to leave, if I don’t want to?”
“Everything in its season.”
Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight: Bee Vixens From Mars / Prison Ship Antares (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & Simon Fraser, Chris Peterson.
“Midsummer. The Red Planet hangs in the thick night air like a drop of blood in oil.
“Everything is bursting.
“Everything is whispering.
“Now. Now. Now.”
Beautifully played opening on ‘Bee Vixens From Mars’ both by writer Alex De Campi (ASHES / SMOKE), artist Chris Peterson and indeed colour artist Nolan Woodard. The page is ripe, dripping with honey and sexual juices as cats copulate and a woman pleasures herself in what might be the back of a car. Bees buzz round red rose flowers and an empty beer can strewn on the ground.
‘Prison Shop Antares’ boasts a great deal of sex of the sort that only a woman could get away with. Male writers would have been condemned especially on the web as “salacious” at best, “misogynistic” at worst with “exploitative” nuzzled inbetween. Yet Alex De Campi dives deep and fearlessly into the long tradition of exploitation and brings it spluttering to the surface, resuscitated as empowerment instead.
For my money it works for the women win out, and there are some cripplingly funny shower-scene exchanges. Also, hurrah for inclusivity aboard a spaceship full of female prisoners. Love Simon Fraser’s Sharyce whose world-weary, wised-up eyes have no need of an arched eyebrow to proclaim their attitude:
“Ended up in solitary ‘cuz I was born with a dick. It was a mistake. I fixed it. The dick, not the solitary.”
“They gave you life for being trans? Shiiiit.”
“Nah. Got life for shankin’ a guard in the jugular after he called me “sir” one too many times.”
She raises her firsts: four fingers on each hand tattooed just below the knuckles with the letters “It’s” and “maam”.
Back to ‘Bee Vixens From Mars’ and there is something very wrong on Cemetery Hill. There are too many bees, and some are so big that when one bursts on a windscreen the splatter drives the sheriff off the road. Those bees are producing an awful lot of honey and it is being harvested. It may be an aphrodisiac. A man is discovered on Cemetery Hill in a car, lipstick smeared on his collar and jeans. There are bits of him missing. Like his head and, umm… “bits”. A thick flood of blood leads into a thicket of roses, their thorns as big as their heads are red. Don’t go into the thicket, sheriff. Don’t go home, either. You really don’t want to go home…
Bees are beautiful, but not so much here. There is one particular stand-out Chris Petersen page whose layout is immaculately composed for maximum suffocation, partly involving a letter box. As to the punchline, it is perfect: not the solution I ever saw coming but, yes, that is one way to successfully scupper a bee, no matter how big it is. And this one is big.
Raygun Roads (£4-99, Changeling Studios) by Owen Johnson & Indio.
Reading this double-sided single is like standing at the front of a stage with your ears to the speakers. A punk rock rage against cultural mediocrity fronted by Raygun Roads, “Saviour of the Hopeless! Pin-Up of the Jobless!”, it screams to be heard. Her band includes Asteroid Anne-Phetamine, the commentator’s Dan Lazyleech and…
“To explain how fucked we are with dull graphs, here’s Exclamation Mark!”
Someone’s read a toxic, viral dose of THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY and actually understood it. How’s the gig going?
“Twenty seconds into that acapella apocalypse saw the hospitalization of two Hell’s Angels at the hands of a topless nun, a city-wide blackout and an immaculate conception. Beneath the merchandise stand.”
It’s got a good beat: that afterthought’s important. It’s also exhausting – I will concede that – and if the individual colours aren’t legitimately day-glo then the combination is.
A round of applause if not a standing ovation for the relative lack of genitals. I’ve seen this sort of thing done so, so badly and gigantic erections are its staple stand-in for actual content. When one willy finally does appear here, it is at least flaccid.
I started on the opposite side to the cover above and recommend that you do too, for you’re eased in gently with language like this:
“It is there that wonder cruises depart not on the hour, but once fascination threshold is optimal. Tickets to Alpha Centauri cost a flourish of optimism.”
Black Widow vol 1: Finely Woven Thread s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto.
The light here is fabulous. Phil Noto is on full art duties from pencils to inks where present and colours which come with lovely tonal and fade effects. His forms are suitably lithe and action fans will see Natasha – the titular former Russian spy, now Avenger and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – perform some serious gymnastics and not just on the parallel bars. Freefalling from a helicopter into crocodile-infested waters isn’t an internationally recognised Olympic sport as yet, but Ms Romanov was never one for convention or rules.
The Black Widow has her own set of rules and here strives to follow them. Between S.H.I.E.L.D. assignments, and to atone for her past, she’s hired a lawyer to find her private contracts to fund certain trusts, but she’s very choosy about whom she’s prepared to help or hinder (euphemism). If she discovers halfway through a gig that the person she’s protecting is guilty of more than she knew she’s likely to drop them halfway through, even that means forgoing her fee.
Heavy on action, light on words, I have to concede there is not a lot of spying or infiltration involved at all. You certainly won’t enjoy all the covert qualities of Brubaker and Epting’s VELVET which I recommend with all my well hidden heart.
Also, waaaaay too many allusions to webs and threads. One may look clever, two like lapsed memory, but come three, four and five then the symbol becomes a cymbal bashing your bloody ear in.
Collects BLACK WIDOW (2014) #1-6 and material from ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE #1.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?
The Art of Neil Gaiman h/c (£25-00, Ilex) by Hayley Campbell
The Sakai Project: Artists Celebrate 30 Years Of Usagi Yojimbo h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by a vertitable who’s who of over 250 comic book artists
Black Orchid s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean
Final Incal Deluxe Edition h/c (£75-00, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius, Jose Ladronn
Murder Me Dead s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham
Rat Queens vol 1: Sass & Sorcery (£7-50, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch
The Unwritten vol 9: The Unwritten Fables (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham & Peter Gross, Mark Buckingha0.27m
Walking Dead vol 21: All Out War Part 2 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Superman Action Comics vol 3: At The End Of Days s/c (£12-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Sholly Fisch & Rags Morales, others
Avengers vol 5: Adapt Or Die h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Salvador Larroca
Deadpool vol 5: The Wedding Of Deadpool s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by various
George Romero’s Empire Of Dead Act One s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by George A. Romero & Alex Maleev
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Abnett & Lanning Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Paul Pelletier, Brad Walker, Wes Craig
War Of Kings s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo
Wolverine vol 1: Mortal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Ryan Stegman
Wolverine: Origin II h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert
Battle Angel Alita Last Order Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro
Blue Sheep Reverie vol 5 (£9-99, June) by Makoto Tateno
My Little Monster vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico
My Little Monster vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico
ITEM! Fabulous illustrated blog by Bryony Turner on using Page 45’s ‘Want A Recommendation’ service on our website. Includes mini-reviews of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE and all three Becky Cloonan self-published comics which our Jodie Paterson recommended and sent Bryony by post. Seems they went down very well indeed!
ITEM! Oh dear, what on earth has happened to the Harvey Awards? So much dross in the nominations including multiple Valiant titles. I call shenanigans.
ITEM! A school has produced its own comic and I would kill for a copy of this. Look!
ITEM! Article on Woodrow Phoenix’s SHE LIVES comic artefact at the British Museum. No plans to print it for now.
ITEM! Hurrah! THE PHOENIX weekly comic for kids makes it into The Grauniad with a fabulous splash of Tamsin And The Deep written by Neill Cameron and drawn by who the hell cares, apparently. IT WAS DRAWN BY KATE BROWN, YOU UNPROFESSIONAL MORONS!
In solidarity with Kate, we reprint the following review from yonks ago, now with interior art. Hurrah!
Fish + Chocolate h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) Kate Brown.
A sublime confluence of words and pictures with the palette of Paul Duffield and Josh Middleton; if you love the art on FREAKANGELS or SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES you will adore these three stories, each of which is in its way is about parenthood.
The first two feature single mothers: the first with two boys, the second with a young girl perfectly content to play round their countryside cottage and its gently sloping Garden of new Earthly Delights. There she finds a cherry tree laden with fruit. She picks one. Her mother composes on the piano upstairs.
The boys miss their father whom they haven’t seen in months, and the oldest wants a television in his room. Their mother argues with her editor but meets up with a friend. It’s a perfectly lovely day and they have much to discuss. There’s an odd-looking man with barely any eyebrows sitting on his lawn by the path. He whistles through a split blade of grass. The boys are curious.
The tunes may not come easily especially when distracted and the man is a little unnerving, but everything on the surface seems pretty much serene. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons buried and sudden trauma in store, as the tranquillity of sleepy suburbia and that bucolic beauty are shredded by shrieks of wholly unexpected violence. I’m not even going to touch on the third tale (although sneakily I have) but the cover’s stark warning of “explicit content” is far from alarmist.
Oh, but this artist can write! Nothing here is predictable or simplistic, and it’s a joy to discover a brand new voice unlike any I’ve encountered before, yet the art will sell itself to you all on its own. There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking. Moreover we have another contender for best rain ever in comics as the sky bursts open, the water cascades and the downpour drowns the cherry tree in a curtain of spray.