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Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week five

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Posy Simmonds expanded re-release plus new Joe Decie, John Allison, Taiyo Matsumoto, Andy Poyiadgi, Joe Latham, Luke Hyde, more!

Dogs Disco (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

Each copy comes signed and sketched-in, with unique song lyrics.

Come, rifle through, pick those that amuse you greatly!

It’s the return of that cheeky Joe Decie, the pint-sized prankster for whom truth is of paramount importance.

Part of the art of Joe Decie is perfectly exemplified on the cover itself: a portrait of the promenade seen from sea, either of Brighton or his home town of Hove. If you open it up, you’ll discover it’s a wraparound landscape cover. “Observations from home and around town,” it promises, and it does not disappoint. Within you’ll find single-page four-panel comics in black, white and delicate grey washes, about Joe, his family and his surroundings, all astutely observed, endearingly individualistic and effortlessly funny.

But the clue lies in what flies to the left of that promise, which I am not about to show you.

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Joe is ever so adept at finding common ground: for example, the escalation of special school days demanding a ready supply of costumes and kits, and the knack of being an experienced seamstress with the ability to work to a tight deadline at the drop of an historical hat.

“Mummy, Victorian Week starts tomorrow.”
“I’m on it.”
“Dada! We’re late for school! Today’s Nocturnal Animal Day. Knit me a fox onesie?”

How do you spend your nights?

“At about 4am I like to wake up and have a worry.”

What follows is true, each and every word, ticking so many of my recognition boxes, but I love the deft twist: the wry / rueful lie that we “like” to wake up as if it were a matter of choice and indeed personal preference.

“I’ll worry about a leak in the roof or the price of print cartridges.
“And maybe about something embarrassing I said at a party seven years ago.
“Then I’ll worry that I worry too much. Or that I’ll be awake all night.
“Then, minutes before my alarm is due to go off, I’ll drift into a lovely deep sleep…”

Yes, minutes before, I achieve peaceful bliss.

“Daddy! We’re late for school!”

I don’t think the Decies are the best time-keepers in Morningshire.

Here’s another incontrovertible truth, that “There’s nothing more British than fish and chips on the beach”. Except that there’s one, as Decie concedes, and it’s one of my own family’s favourite shared memories. It’d be ever so surprised if it’s not one of yours.

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There’s a heart-warming sense of pride in Joe’s family observations, most of it misplaced, and a delightful whimsy to what he records as emerging local trends, like the increasing lengths people now go to when smuggling alcohol into festivals, and the specialist shop Just Dice, “my ‘go to’ dice shop, really amazing selection. Not to be confused with ‘Just Ice’, the ice shop next door (which isn’t that great).” Then there’s the ultimate irony for a new tattoo trend which he confidently predicts will be in the style of children’s temporary transfers.

What should not be overlooked while soaking in Joe’s unassailable wisdom and admiring his strict adherence to verisimilitude, is his draftsmanship and some of the most attractive lettering in the business. I’ve met the man many times, and every self-portrait is spot-on: he nails the manner in which his glasses perpetually hang halfway down his nose. The way in which he draws arms is particularly satisfying, every subtle curve just-so in single, fluid lines leaving the washes to do all the depth-work. Same goes for his cracked, broken plant-pots, to be honest.

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From the creator of the similarly autobiographical POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, THE LISTENING AGENCY, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and I BLAME GRANDMA, then, I give you the prospect of the perfect stocking filler in this small book of big wonders and maximum mirth. 

The biggest wonder of all, however, is that Joe can keep a straight face.

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SLH

Buy Dogs Disco and read the Page 45 review here

Veripathy (£4-00) by Andy Poyiadgi.

Current copies come signed, with a spiffy free badge!

Every copy comes with the sub-title / back-cover caution: “Your feelings are no longer yours.”

The desire to understand others on a deeper level – and projections as to how that may be achieved with future technology – have been themes bubbling away for a while now, most recently in Winston Rowntree’s WATCHING and Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward’s ANCESTOR, both of which have proved very strong lures. This shares elements of both.

In ‘Veripathy Today’ we learn of the process called veripathic imaging, in which a person’s unique veripathic signature is captured and may be preserved in an archive so that visitors to the data bank can “be with loved ones no longer present”. Essentially it captures what could be considered your “self”: your thoughts and your feelings, raw, complete and undiluted by the various editorial processes we use to restrict access to them – the simplest one being by staying shtum.

Judicious discretion is a positive quality which saves hurting others’ feelings, but restricted emotional or expressive mobility can also lead to a sense of isolation. Imagine no longer having to find the right words to adequately express the complexities and nuances of what you’re feeling on any given matter or connected issues.

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The veripathic helmet allows a free exchange of these potentially conflicting thoughts in their entirety. Take a couple who have been trying to synchronise using these devices for months. Suddenly there is success and they learn new things about each other.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.”

Can you imagine the liberation? Similarly, when linking to one or multiple individuals sharing the same veripathic space, the comfort of knowing you’re not alone in your self-doubts or even deeper neuroses must be phenomenal. It’s enormously encouraging to exchange candid verbal confessions with friends or to hear David Sylvian’s ‘Orpheus’ and read graphic novels like Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES which suggest that we do, so many of us, harbour the same deep-felt anxieties… but to actually know that this is true through such direct, technologically telepathic access would be something else entirely.

Of course we might all then implode in one gigantic mental malaise, but even on a small scale Poyiadgi has given the less beneficial implications much thought. I’m not a big one for parties (he says, understatedly), but after an ebullient meal with six or seven friends, although most often I’m high as a kite for days, I’m sometimes left with a come-down once it’s over and my friends have dispersed. Now imagine spending too much time in this prospective, unfiltered emotional mind-space, and then being left alone with your own thoughts and feelings.

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So yes, there’s the recreational use of veripathy, but then there’s the medical applications in which a new breed of mental health doctors – those with the skills to enter your mind-space and manipulate or massage it – could soothe your worries or cure more pronounced problems. What a boon that would be! And how dangerous that could be! Not just for the patient, either.

“How are you able to take so much? I mean, doesn’t it affect you?”
“Good-bye, Mr Cooke.”

VERIPATHY is a neat little comic which thoughtfully poses ever so many questions in a level-headed fashion matched in its visual delivery. The colours are, on the whole, warm and soft, and there are two pages of one-on-one comfort and compassion whose forms are warm and soft too. There’s a domestic living room sequence which is ever so cosy, but there are also two pages where the potential emptiness is explored that are positively wintery. I particularly liked the balance in the doctor’s surgery sequence whereby the patients are colourful but orderly in a very long line and backgrounds clinical, the practitioner unknowable.

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Interspersed between these are the two ‘Veripathy Today’ infomercials I mentioned earlier, scripted with according factual newspeak free from pro-or-con commentary and illustrated with treated photographs, for there would be other professional applications too, when you think about it.

I rather reckon that this comic will be leaving you thinking about it for a long time.

Poyiadgi’s LOST PROPERTY is still on sale and awaiting your discovery.

SLH

Buy Veripathy and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (£17-99, Oni) by John Allison.

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In which our six sleuths from school have almost got their next mystery licked by the time the book opens.

“I can’t believe we have to stay here and hold the ladder.”
“Safety is important, Linton. The instructions are printed on the side of it, look.”

Sure enough there is a safety message sticker from the British Ladder Council printed in black on bright yellow with an incautious ascendant plummeting to his doom:

“WARNING: DON’T TIT ABOUT ON LADDERS.”

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From the creator of BOBBINS, GIANT DAYS etc comes more of the best of British which we’ve reviewed extensively – and in the case of BOBBINS in great depth as to its mechanics – so I’ll restrict myself to a brief introduction, then a look at two specific elements of its art and craft I’ve not yet covered.

It’s summertime, and Jack, Linton and Charlotte have been left behind in Tackleford while Mildred, Sonny and Shauna swan off abroad.

“Maybe this will be your summer of love,” suggests Shauna.
“I am sorry to report that my skull has just filled up with sick.”

Lottie is having none of it. Her eyes blaze into the distance with a ferocious passion and earnestness:

Mystery is my boyfriend.”

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Lottie’s greatest mystery at the moment is what her Mum sees in her new “special companion” Colin who is as dull as three-day-old dishwater but who has been invited to live with them, leading to incredibly violent toilet visits and incredibly dull conversation.

Linton’s greatest mystery is how his newly promoted police Dad is going to cope with the Gravel Pit estate crime rate whose graph is soaring so stratospherically high that, as Linton says, “I wouldn’t want to ride my bike up that.”

Meanwhile at the Tackleford Cormorant offices, Paula’s unyielding reign of inertia at the local gazette continues to confine its fields of interest – and so interest in it – to the unbridled anarchy that is dog mess. Sales have sunk so low that staff reporters have to buy their own tea bags. Except now Paula has taken an unprecedented leave of absence due to “nervous exhaustion, stress and St Vitus’ Dance”, leaving Mike in charge… to do Erin’s bidding. Erin is… ambitious.

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So when “retired” children’s TV puppeteer Don ‘Gravy’ Wilkins is discovered in a ditch at night, catatonic with a rictus grin on his face, then two yoofs are found similarly afflicted and flung up in a tree, Erin smells headline news, Linton’s Dad sees the writing on the wall, and Jack, Lottie and Linton set about solving the mystery of the Night Stalker / Night Hero with some sense of urgency before Linton’s dear Dad is fired.

Unfortunately they are only thirteen with pre-determined bed times.

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It is the age of cast in BAD MACHINERY which Allison nails over and over again, wringing a seemingly ceaseless stream of liquid comedy gold from their restricted circumstances, behaviour, body language and speech patterns. It will be recognised by adults, young adults, even younger adults alike (for, unlike GIANT DAYS with its recreational drug references, BAD MACHINERY is highly recommended to families and essential to school libraries), and I love that that Jack and co are still just young enough to do some of their most serious thinking on slides.

There is the passion – often inversely proportioned to whatever merits it – the petulance, the pouts and the way everything is taken so personally. Not just serious disagreements but mere differences of opinion on, for example, whether their unwelcome nocturnal visitor is indeed a hero or a villain. Conversely, there’s the love. Jack looks not just worried but potentially heart-broken at his friend Linton’s concern for his Dad:

“Come on, Linton! Punch me in the arm! A free punch! Don’t cry!”

Awww….

“I’m not crying! ALL RIGHT? I’ve just got HOT EYES!”
“Do you know who else has hot eyes? Erin Winters.”
“You sicken me.”

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Again, the passion – the disproportionate outrage – in Linton’s eyes when he states that is too funny for words (it’s a reprise, and grows funnier each time), while Jack is clasping his hands in adulation. Erin Winters, it should be pointed out, has a chequered past with our sleuths and Linton in particular. It might involve the selling of his soul or something. But Jack’s reached that age when he has begun to have certain “thoughts” and certain “feelings”.

This brings us neatly to an episode in which Jack and Linton meet Lottie in a lingerie department because she’s been grounded.

“I only got out of the house by saying I was rude because I was worried about bras. So, me and mum are having a bonding trip. BRAS FOR ALL. We’d better be quick, they’re measurin’ her up and strappin’ her in right now.”

There’s a perfect beat which isn’t even a pause but a reversal of camera angles from Lottie’s physical gesticulation across her chest in both directions to Jack, embarrassedly bursting with barely self-contained steam, whom Linton and Lottie both pat-pat on the shoulders with beautifully expressed, unstated understanding:

“Jack, maybe you should go and sit down in kitchenware for a bit.”

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What you should understand is that – although these printed editions are embellished with extra pages and substantial tweaks – Allison publishes most of his stories initially online, page by page on a daily basis, which means each must tell a little story of its own complete with a comedic punchline which is sometimes verbal, sometimes visual and so often both. I cannot conjure in my admittedly addled mind a single other creator with such a high hit rate in that department except Charles Schultz. And although Schultz often mined a vein of an extended storyline, he wasn’t creating such long-form works as these with beginnings, middles and ends.

The upshot of this is that every solo John Allison work is almost incomparably rich and dense in entertainment while this hard-learned discipline has informed his offline collaborative projects too, regardless of whether each page must obey the same “rules”.

So here’s the other element I was just going to “touch on” before leaving you to read or re-read other John Allison Page 45 reviews (best to read BOBBINS as originally published in our blog so that the meticulously chosen illustrations are in synch: http://www.page45.com/world/2016/11/page-45-comic-graphic-novel-reviews-november-week-one/), and that’s Lottie’s language.

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Her pronouncements are so intense, elaborate and embroidered with emphasis as to be hyperbolic. I’m struggling to analyse Allison’s skill and its effect precisely, but it’s as if they are definitive statements. Example the first:

“Whoa, is Erin Winters prayin’?
“Maybe her heart is not pure evil, Jack.
“Maybe she does not have a TAIL as I have LONG SUSPECTED.”

The additional dropping ‘g’s, the phonetic and the slang compounds the comedy with its contrast to the precociously eloquent. Here’s adult Erin followed by Charlotte, carefully chosen so as not to give the game away.

“His face was flickering on and off with the Creeper’s, like a pirate radio station cutting in and out.”
“Worr you can tell she’s a writer. Well evockertive.”

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I will leave you to discover Jack’s pride in being “BEST AT COMPUTERS” and his more hubristic declaration, with attendant celebratory dance, to be “Best at Google. Best at Google. Best at Google” as well as subtle details like him bearing multiple cups of coffee while pushing door open with his foot (recognition button pushed!) and instead finish on his department-store horror at Linton’s suggestion.

“Let’s try CAMI-KNICKERS.”
“Erk, let’s NOT!”

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor and read the Page 45 review here

The Fox, The Wolf, The Woodsman (£7-00 each) by Joe Latham…

     

A fox, a wolf and a woodsman walk into a comic… You know what, I’m really not going to even try and go with the naff joke metaphor because something as wonderful as these three silent mini-masterpieces deserve so much better. Let me tone it down and start again…

A triple treasure trove of gorgeous artwork and interwoven narrative starring, funnily enough, a fox, a wolf and a woodsman, whose lives overlap in these simultaneously told tales including one extremely significant and particularly dramatic event.

the-fox-1I think if we were to construct a Venn diagram explaining the intersection it would be where cute, deadly and demented collide. Each work takes the viewpoint of its titular character, and is most definitely a complete story in its own right, and could most certainly be enjoy by enjoyed as such. It’s just that each of the three provides a unique insight into the other two, particularly with an understanding at precisely how we arrived at the crushing conclusion…

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So, aside from being extremely cleverly constructed, what else have these comics got going for them? Did I mention they were gorgeous? Absolutely, breath-takingly swooningly so! Joe’s art style and choice of colour palette minds me of Jeff SWEET TOOTH Lemire’s, except Joe’s penmanship and brushwork is a touch deliberately tidier and smoother stylistically. Simply beautiful. There were so many times I unconsciously stopped reading and just naturally paused to admire his handiwork, which is a real rarity for me.

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If Joe continues with this level of skill and craft I suspect he will go on to big things, not that these aren’t a trio of tasty treats in their own right. Also, were that not enough to satisfy even the most ardent comics appetite, he’s thrown in a cow pie, a proper dagnabbit cow pie with horns and everything, that just had me chuckling away merrily! I haven’t seen one of those since back in my diddy Desperate Dan Dandy days!  Try saying that with a mouthful of cow pie!

JR

Buy The Fox and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Wolf and read the Page 45 review here
Buy The Woodsman and read the Page 45 review here

Losing Sleep (£9-99) by Joe Latham & Luke Hyde…

“You know I can hear them right…?”
“What are you talking about cretin?”
“The ants scream every single time you kill one of them, I can hear it.”
“Shut your face Ashton! Or I’ll shut it for you.”

Definitely one for fans of recent retro telly hit Stranger Things, ohhhh yes. Sensitive younger sibling Ashton regularly gets a beat-down from his obnoxious older brother Cregg, who in Ashton’s own words… “is a real jerk sometimes”. Pretty much all the time, to my mind.

Except… during Cregg’s latest physical assault on their way to school, waterboarding Ashton by holding his head in a massive pile of snow (so perhaps snowboarding rather than waterboarding then!), Ashton appears to partially enter an entirely different reality. Well, at least his head does, anyway.

He’s so excited about what he’s seen, and withheld from Cregg, obviously, that he can’t wait for school to finish, tea to be consumed, so he can get back to ‘the place’ to see whether what he experienced was real, or just some oxygen-deprived, sinus-snow-filled hallucination.

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It was real, very real. A strange, oddly coloured mirror-world, distorted and disturbed by maltreatment from the human realm. Oh, and where a huge, very scary looking creature lurks… Ashton, being Ashton, assumes the creature will be friendly, and promptly offers his assistance to help return the mirror-realm back to normal… I think you can probably surmise where this is going now, right…? Yep, it’s going to be time for Ashton to level up, find his inner hero and save everyone, even Cregg.

Excellent, small but perfectly formed fantasy yarn penned by Joe Latham and then brought to vividly diverse blue and white versus black and red drenched life by Luke Hyde. The contrasting colour schemes for the two worlds are particularly impactful at the moments of transition providing a real juddering schism between Ashton’s reality and the other-world.

JR

Buy Losing Sleep and read the Page 45 review here

Literary Life: Revisited h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds.

Dear, literary-life-coverdear Posy Simmonds! Such a classy lady and such a class act: literate, erudite, eloquent, posh and not above putting the word ‘penis’ on the cover.

Thanks!

From the creator of the long-form graphic novels TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY plus the MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS of exceptionally well observed 1980s, socially satirical one-page comic-strip wonders, comes a new edition of the 2003 publication with 40 new cartoons and comic strips.

Clipped from the Guardian Review section, these are also one-page comics or cartoons both celebrating and satirising the world of book publishing: writers, readers, book shops and publishers all come under her all-seeing eye as she arches her eyebrow ever so playfully at authors’ egos and their dustjacket photographs, launch parties, creative challenges, publishing peccadilloes, inane and sometimes insane questions during festival panels, and the good-old, in-store author appearances to sign or read extracts.

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There arise matters of expectations, promotional activities and attendances. I’ve a cracking collection of recollections called ‘Mortification’, dripping with tears wept by those invited to make such public appearances only to find themselves humiliated by the lack of turn-out, often on account of zero publicity on the part of the store managers or festival organisers. I personally know of a couple owning a comic shop twenty-five years ago who invited a comicbook creator whose regular readership there numbered precisely three. Nor were they expecting to increase that audience: the couple simply wanted to meet him.

The interior art I’ve found for you isn’t of the highest quality, I’m afraid, and lacks the soft, pale indigo tones of this edition, nor does it adequately reflect Simmonds’ fine, flowing lines. She does ‘chic’ oh so well. I’ve always marvelled at her ability to present so much on the page whilst maintaining a harmonious composition full of space.

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One of my favourite pieces is called ‘Rustic Block’ in which an author sits at her laptop in a warm, cosy, countryside kitchen complete with AGA stove, hanging straw baskets and bunches of dried flowers. Through her rain-lashed window we can see sheep.

“9.05am  Chapter one: It was raining. The sheep were
“9.20am  It was raining. The sheep were in the field.
“10.15am  It was pouring. The sheep languished in the field. The gutters dripped. The clock ticked.”

Already weary when she started, our author is approaching exhausted. Her ashtray is beginning to overflow.

“10.50am  Hannah yawned, “Wish I’d never moved to the country. You feel positively catatonic. You can’t think of any
“11.45am  “Christ,” snarled Hannah. “Wish I’d never moved to effing, sodding Suffolk. Had a brain once. In Kentish Town I used to
“12.30am  Suddenly one of the Jacob ewes ran amok, stabbing, slashing and gouging a bloody path as it”

The trace of a smile appears on her lips.

‘Ask Doctor Derek’ is a fabulous conceit of great lateral thinking: a series starring a man and his stethoscope imparting words of reassuring wisdom to troubled writers who visit his surgery as they might a priest in a confessional.

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Visually there are elements of ‘60s romance comics, especially the dark, feathery, female eyelashes, long blonde hair and utter innocence. Naturally matters of maternity and paternity arise:

“Doctor, is it too soon to try for another?”
“Well, let’s see… You had your first last April… and it sold all right.”

Then there are those “pre-delivery jitters”:

“See, I’m three months overdue! I got my dates wrong! … My editor’s going spare!!”

As to authorial maladies like writers’ block, Doctor Derek diagnoses them with intestinal logic:

“You see, I was so regular, doctor! Eight thousand words a day… every day! But now I sit in that little room for hours and hours… and nothing comes out!”
“You’re on the second of a two-book contract… and you’ve taken a very, very bulky advance, yes? Well, this can weigh heavily on the system…. cause it to seize up!”

Suspecting complications, Doctor Derek digs deeper, suggesting that a second opinion on her synopsis might reveal additional causes behind the blockage. Her plots prove so twisted that the script has become knotted, compacted.

“And it took just another ten minutes to work it out with a pencil!”

Look, I did warn you. Posy is a dame, but the word ‘penis’ is on the cover.

SLH

Buy Literary Life: Revisited h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 6 h/c (£19-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

This is the finalsunny-vol-6-cover volume of Taiyo Matsumoto’s unsensationalist SUNNY, set in and around a Japanese orphanage, which has at times had me typing through tears.

The first key is this: few of these kids are without parents, but they’ve been orphaned anyway. They’ve been left in the custodial care of incredibly kind, dedicated individuals by mothers and / or fathers who can’t cope for medical reasons, won’t cope for selfish reasons or don’t cope because they are irresponsible fuckwits without the first clue as to how lucky they are or the first thought as to the seismic impact on their offspring.

To know that you have been rejected, yet still yearn to be taken back and dream of it. To be surrounded in town by other parents and children still together yet at loggerheads over nothing. To have nothing yourself but hand-me-downs like a pencil case inscribed with the name of its previous and owner, and to want so little except love. To feel embarrassed, ashamed and judged for being an orphan.

To see no spark of maternal instinct in your mother when you meet her again, except a token effort and lame excuses.

It’s all here in this as in other volumes.

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Art from a previous volume.

The second key is Matsumoto’s refusal to cute-ify the kids. They can be loud and brash while quietly broken inside, or they can be red-cheeked and dripping with snot. Or, in Kenji’s case, they can display and deep-seated sense of responsibility well beyond the reach and comprehension of their drunken dads.

Kenji is given the opportunity to go on a career path field trip to a refinery but he has a paper round and an inferiority complex to maintain:

“A low-class foster kid like me? No way… Gotta deliver the Evening Editions anyways.”
“You’re not “low class!”” counters Mr Adachi with a genuine passion. “Can’t you jus’ get someone to cover your route for a day?”
Workin’ for a livin’ don’t count as a career path?!”

He’s actually still smarting from his skin mags being confiscated.

Kenji’s dad is actually local, perpetually drunk every time Kenji sees him in public. But for once Mr Ito seems to recognise the importance of doing something for his son, offers to fill in on Kenji’s delivery and together they practise the day before. They have a great time rekindling old memories and there’s a brief glimmer of hope – of recognition in Mr Ito of his failings.

“Maybe s’time for me to turn over a new leaf!
“Runnin’ off and abandonin’ you and Asako…
“Sad excuse for a human being.”

While on the field trip, Kenji even buys his dad a nudie pen as a thank-you. But when he returns, well.,. You’ll see when Kenji impresses me no end: dignity and responsibility in one so young and mistreated. It makes your heart swell even as it is broken.

As the book progresses there is the very real sense of a coming conclusion, and possible tragedy, with ever so many poignant song lyrics coming through the radios.

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Art definitely from this volume, the rest being in black and white.

The loudest and brashest and possibly most broken of all is ash-haired Haruo – whom I’ve dealt with extensively throughout this series but most prominently in SUNNY VOLUME 5 – who’s much younger than he looks. It’s subtly conveyed by his reflective aviator shades being far too wide for his face, and a nose which could not belong to anyone far into their teens.

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Art from a previous volume, and in another language.

Normally all front, he’s now chewing quietly on his fingernails in unsure deliberation because he’s considering something momentous.

From the creator of GOGO MONSTER, TEKKON KINKREET and contributor to Humanoids’ anthology THE TIPPING POINT.

[Please note: all black and white art here is from previous volumes.]

SLH

Buy Sunny vol 6 and read the Page 45 review here

Little Tails In The Forest (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci.

A companion to LITTLE TAILS IN THE JUNGLE, this is a thoroughly accessible Young Readers’ educational adventure from the creators of the silent, more adult-orientated, thrillingly choreographed and quite stunningly illustrated LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX, LOVE: THE LION and (in February 2017) LOVE: THE DINOSAUR.

You are, however, on perfectly safe and cuddly ground here as Squizzo the squirrel wakes Chipper the puppy dog up and leads him through the forest to his cousin’s for lunch.

Now when I say forest, I mean American or Canadian forest because although we may have foxes, butterflies, bats, owls, woodpeckers, snakes and deer – and quite possibly stag beetles (I really don’t know: I’ve never seen one) – we’re not so hot any longer on wolves, wild boars or hungry bears in Britain. So I wouldn’t get your kiddywinks’ hopes up on that score.

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As in the other volume, in bright, white and sage-coloured comic strips most often above (but sometimes below) full-colour paintings, the knowledgeable Squizzo leads the initially more tentative Chipper through the forest with unfailing confidence in his sense of direction.

So of course they get lost.

I liked the somewhat circuitous map.

I also liked that Bertolucci has adapted his style from, say, LOVE: THE LION so that the animals’ eyes are of an ilk that you’d expect to see in children’s animation – much more stylised with an added element of the anthropomorphic.

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The emphasis is on adventure and excitement to entertain your young ones and introduce them to the majesty and colourful diversity of the forest, moving ever swiftly on to keep wide eyes shining bright and their own fur free from predators.

In the back of the book, however, time is taken to revisit some of the animals encountered earlier and learn a lot more. I had never thought, for example, about the dual dissuasion of a skunk’s defensive weapon: not only is a squirt of its nauseating perfume going to make any brave or stupid enough to attack feel sick to the stomach, but it will then stain them for days with its malodorous scent, so making their approach conspicuous to other critters they might fancy a bite of.

SLH

Buy Little Tails In The Forest and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, others.

Thanos fans, this is a classic companion to Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK (extensively reviewed) wherein your favourite, purple, craggy-chinned Death-doter casts his first considerable shadows. These two books are where the story of Thanos starts and I commend this to you almost as unequivocally as I do Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK which is tragic in its truest, time-twisting sense.

But let us begin at what is most emphatically an end, with The Death Of Captain Marvel.

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of all the people I’ve met in my lifetime. I’ve made quite a few friends along the way. I also keep remembering Adam Warlock. I was with him when he died. His was a hard and sad life, filled with pain and confusion.
“When death came for him he welcomed it as a friend. I’ll not do so.
“I’ve enjoyed this life. It’s had its bad moments, but it’s had far more good moments. I’m going to miss it.”

Surprisingly haunting, even to this day, this was a landmark publication from Marvel in 1982 for so many reasons: it was its first original graphic novel; it was Jim Starlin’s return to a character we all thought he’d long had his final say on; and it featured the death of one of Marvel’s flagship superhumans not in self-sacrificial battle but quietly, in bed, from the all-too human disease of cancer.

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Like Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s more recent, magnificent SUPERIOR, it remains the antithesis of everything that all too often irks me when real-life issues like incapacity or bullying enter the arena of superhero comics. All of Marvel’s preternaturally bright scientists turn up when they finally learn of the good Captain’s fight, and they try and they try, but they still can’t save him. Nor should they have. Back in 1982 it would have been a magic-wand insult to all those with incurable strains of the disease which was far less treatable than it is now.

Fighting the disease or lying down and accepting your fate…? Now that is explored here in great depth from all sides of the argument and poor Rick Jones – whose teenage transgression originally compelled Bruce Banner to leap into the detonation zone of his own Gamma Bomb and so become the Incredible Hulk, and who was once bonded to Mar-Vell by those place-switching Negabands – takes it harder than most.

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Seven years ago a supervillain called Nitro (oh, it’s always Nitro – see CIVIL WAR) succeeded in stealing a canister of nerve gas from the United States Army. During his explosive battle with Captain Marvel the canister fractured and its lethal nerve agent began to leak out, threatening to kill thousands of local residents. And Mar-Vell – with his alien physiology providing immunity to so much physical harm – stopped up the proverbial damn with his thumb. And promptly passed out. “Is this the End of Captain Marvel?!” screamed the Next Issue caption with customary alarm. Well, no. The thing about superheroes is that they get knocked down, then they get up again: you’re never going keep them down. And so the Kree soldier soldiered on for many further adventures.

In publication terms, it wasn’t even a sub-plot.

Seven years later, and the Captain is recording his memoirs for posterity. His one unique ability is his Cosmic Awareness, giving him an empathic knowledge of shifts in so much around him. But that power turns itself inwards and, long before he is diagnosed, he already knows he is dying. The photonic nature of his Negabands staved off the carcinogenic effect of the nerve gas for seven whole years, but the period of remission is over and now, gradually, one by one, his friends and family find out.

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I adored Starlin’s art. In so many ways he took after the photo-realists like Neal Adams with some extraordinarily impressive neo-classical figure work. But then he’d give it a more expressionistic edge, making the jaws more jutting and gesticulations more angular. The Death Of Captain Marvel graphic novel boasted plenty of both, along with some striking colour art from Steve Oliff. He forsook the rich, warm colours of the preceding series for something altogether more pallid and nuanced, especially during the deathbed sequence.

Coming back to Starlin, there’s a particularly brave panel which stood out a mile after Mentor asks Mar-Vell if his lover, Elysius, knows of his terminal condition. After a moment’s silence he looks up from a panel over which Starlin has scrawled – literally scrawled – not photo-realistic shadow but thick lines of creeping darkness right emanating from his face whose eye sockets and teeth are emphasised so as to suggest a skull, and says,

“No…
“Not yet”.

Better still is the composition of the page in which he does break the news to Elysius, out in the sunshine of an idyllic cityside park on Titan, each silent panel interspersed by a narrow window as Mentor watches protectively over them, then withdraws respectfully leaving the couple alone and the window empty and black.

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“Meanwhile, on the far side of the royal palace, down a long and quiet corridor and behind oak-panelled doors… a woman sits with her man. The long hard vigil that all lovers fear begins.”

It’s a dignified and respectful book, guest-starring so many of your favourite Marvel characters shown to be unusually uncomfortable: awkward in their impotence and unable to express how they feel. Isn’t that so often the way with cards of condolence? I like this. I still like it a lot. And Starlin wrote a very difficult final few pages very, very well.

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Before then, however, you’re in for 250 pages not just guest-starring but fully featuring the Avengers, Rick Jones and The Thing as they first learn of Thanos. The hard way.

Seriously, if you’ve loved Marvel’s most excellent modern two-parter INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 with their shared Page 45 review, and you are intrigued enough to learn how Thanos’ legacy began, it is with the life and strange death of Adam WARLOCK and then here.

Reprints CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #25-34, IRON MAN (1968) #55, MARVEL FEATURE (1971) #12, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1 and material from DAREDEVIL (1964) #105 and LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL #1-5. Those aren’t the dates they were published in, but the dates those series began in order to distinguish them from Marvel’s more recent titles of the same names.

SLH

Buy Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Summerland (£7-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Paloma Dawkins

The Theory Of The Grain Of Sand s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten

Diary Comics (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin

Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c (£20-00, Floating World Comics) by Ryan Humphrey, various

The Disciples s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 5: The One (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Warren Pleece

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 5: Arena Of Fear (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande, various

Normal (£11-99, Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Warren Ellis

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 2 (£14-99, Titan) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby

Samurai vol 1 (of 2): Isle With No Name s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio & Frederic Genet

Batman: Detective Comics vol 8: Blood Of Heroes s/c (£15-99, DC) by Francis Manapul, Ray Fawkes, others & Fernando Blanco, Marcio Takara, Francis Manapul, Steve Pugh

Captain Marvel – Earth’s Mightiest Hero vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by various

Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood

Vision vol 2: Little Better Than A Beast s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Tom King & Kevin Walsh, Gabriel Hernandez Walta

X-23 Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Marjorie M. Liu, Daniel Way & Phil Noto, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman, others

Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Michael Gaydos

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

Black Butler vol 23 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

News

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ITEM! Adventures in Moominland at the South Bank Centre 16 December to 23 April.

More of a family experience than an exhibition, you can clamber through forests, huddle in caves and set sail on the high seas while learning of Tove Jansson. Yes please!

Page 45’s MOOMIN graphic novel collection. Click on any cover for reviews!

Art below is from MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD illustrated prose novel. Spooky!

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ITEM! Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For returns in scathing post-Trump form!

Follow the link for more – this is just the top tier.

Bechdel’s FUN HOME, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? and DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR reviewed!

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ITEM! Haunting animation of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL. Some seriously good scoring too.

We’ve reviewed every Shaun Tan, so please pop in our search engine. THE ARRIVAL, reviewed.

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ITEM! MARCH Book 3 wins America’s National Book Award!

All three books in MARCH trilogy in stock, reviewed!

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ITEM! You may remember the awful news from Page 45’s Reviews December week four about Nottingham City Library selling Nottingham Central Library’s building with no site confirmed as a replacement. I signed the petition and have received the following:

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

Hi Stephen,

Our library petition has gathered over 1,500 signatures in a week as news filters through that the City Council have sold the Central Library building. And it’s not just us. Both Derby and Sheffield Councils have announced the sale of their library buildings. Libraries are the heart of our cities and they’re being ripped out as cash-strapped councils look for funds.

On Saturday 10th December we will hold a ‘read-in’ at Nottingham Central Library, and we need a big turn out to show the Council how strongly we feel about this. A read-in is a mostly silent event to show support without disturbing library users. We’ll invite the press and have informed the staff via their union. We’ll be there for one hour, and we’ll also be encouraging people to join the library on the day and borrow a few books!

Share the event on Facebook

Please invite friends, family, workmates and neighbours along to this important event. A big turnout sends a powerful message to the council and the government that libraries shouldn’t close to pay for the bailout of the banks.

Read in at Nottingham Central Library
Saturday 10th December, 12-1pm
Angel Row

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 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week four

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Shaun Tan! Roller Derby! More Avery Hill excellence! Young Readers’ educational adventure! News underneath!

Equinoxes h/c (£30-00, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa.

“I’m thirty-one, equinoxes-coverI feel lost, I’ll have but one life, and it’s slipping through my fingers like a torrent.”

Camille is thirty-one. Without an apartment of her own, she’s virtually broke and she feels she’s wasted her ten years since college. Buffeted by wind and rain, she struggles to make progress, and in any case she has lost any sense of direction. She’s rudderless.

“I’ve been here for months and I feel like I haven’t found anything. It’s there, right in front of me, but I can’t see it. I feel myopic…
“What sense does it make to be turning up every stone without knowing what you’re looking for.”

She feels alone, but she‘s not alone.

In this remarkable graphic novel with its complex, intricate structure, we’re introduced to so many seemingly unconnected individuals all of whom – to one extent or another – are missing someone or missing something, awakening to their age and mortality, and watching others go about their business seemingly with purpose while wondering where their own lies.

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There is so much fear and anxiety that they are useless or (worse) mediocre: that they haven’t achieved anything, are failing to achieve anything, and never will achieve anything.

“You think it’s too late?” asks middle-aged Vincent of his much-missed brother turned priest.
“Too late for what?”
“To stop playing Ping-Pong.”

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Like Alessandro Sanna’s THE RIVER, Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES is presented in four seasons beginning in autumn and culminating in summer, each with their distinct colour palettes, textures, line treatment and weather conditions. There is ever such a lot of wind and rain in autumn and winter, drawn and coloured in an impeccable low light. It is difficult to forge through and obscures the vision.

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Each begins with a silent sequence set in the Neolithic Age. Autumn’s depicts a young hunter surviving the curiosity of a predatory tiger by holding her or his breath underwater for lung-burstingly long time. Of course, like the tiger, you don’t know that’s what’s happening; you can only the smallest of ripples on the other side of a partially submerged tree. Eventually the tiger slinks off, and the youngster emergences onto the tree trunk, exhausted but alive.

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The second shows the lone hunter pursuing multiple tracks that have successfully crossed ice, but it proves too thin and cracks, stranding the youngster on one side while the tracks continue on over the horizon. 

Believe it or not, like everything else in this graphic novel, these four sequences will prove connected to each other and to the whole.

Louis lives in a remote rural home where he’s helped out with practicalities like his internet connection by younger lodger Antoine. They share a political past of protest which Louis is now weary of, while former protégée Catherine Vallet is France’s newly appointed Minister of Sustainable Development and the Environment. She hasn’t contacted Louis. Louis visits his son or, more accurately, his son’s graveside (1951-1963), sees fresh flowers and asks him, “Has your mom been by?”

Samir Benjelloun is approaching retirement, but is being dispatched to the east of France to help dig the new Morteuil Airport. Its development is being protested against.

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Vincent is that middle-aged orthodontist, divorced from Christine who does her best to stay friends, but his cantankerousness doesn’t make it easy. At weekends he picks his fifteen-year-old daughter up from Christine’s city apartment and brings her back to his modern coastal villa. They visit a jumble sale. Vincent grumbles that Pauline is a pain, shows no interest in anything important and that her friends have minimal IQs. But actually Pauline is paying attention in a way that will surprise Vincent, and is beginning to make her first tentative steps into the discovery of art and, with it, herself.

We know this because our first real encounter in this entire graphic novel is between Pauline and a charcoal portrait in an art gallery. A woman with a camera snaps a portrait of Pauline, her face a picture of uncertain curiosity.

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The woman with the camera turns out to be Camille. There are dozens more connections which will become clear as the story progresses (I have three A4 sheets of paper covered in scribbles and arrows criss-crossing like a demented cat’s cradle which long went awry), but that’s the last of one I’m giving you for we only discover Camille’s name, let alone anything about her, much later on. She and her camera, however, prove a vital part of the book’s heart and structure, for not only does each season end with an insight into her world – one of painful loss, and a resistance to making contact or opening herself up at all – but also each snapshot she takes comes with its own attendant revelations about her intuitively chosen subjects.

There are three or four per chapter, some more unexpected than others, and together they build up a broader picture of perspectives which share much common ground.

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Pedrosa deploys a dazzling variety of illustrative techniques within each season which affect the level of intimacy we see in front of us. There is, for example, an extended sequence in a log cabin high up in the forested hills at night in similar style to the Jeff Lemire-like cover, in which Vincent continues his deeply troubled exploration with brother Damien about what matters in life. Stripped to this visual minimalism they finally begin to get to the heart of the matter.

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By contrast an early sequence between Louis and Antoine shows a masterful knowledge of body forms, body weight and body balance. Hands hang, clothes hang; shoulders are hunched over with age or are so clearly supported by spine.

With spring comes with a richness of colour after bleak winter, and a waxier treatment. It seems to me that’s where the honesty begins between individuals here. People receive visitors and begin to relax outside.

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“Memory’s not fair, is it?” asks elderly Cecile of Louis.

No, as we shall see, in its erosion over time, memory robs us of what we would wish to remember forever, yet plagues us with the things we cannot forget yet. Our memories and minds can make us so hard on ourselves.

“I’d like to be forgiven for my mistakes,” confesses Camiile, “but nobody can do that. You have to be satisfied with your own forgiveness.”

SLH

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

Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Steven Tillotson.

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There are five things you should know about Untitled Ape’s Adventure: it is epic, it is insane, it is deliciously mischievous, completely unpredictable and mind-bogglingly beautiful.

It is also heart-rendingly poignant.

Do excuse my elementary grasp of geography here.

High above the dense canopy of the Congo jungle, below the craggy peaks of the Ruwenzori range, across the Horn of Africa, then back over the Victoria Falls floats the purple ghost of the Untitled Ape. It hovers over the tree tops before plunging down, deep down into a cold, dark cavern. The ghost of the Untitled Ape solidifies in pain and roars in anger.

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This appears pre-prologue as if on parchment discoloured with age.

Much, much later – later than you can imagine – the Untitled Ape punches through the top soil of a verdant meadow rich in blooming wildflowers. He crawls up and out, pulling himself across the long grass, struggling to raise himself onto his hind legs and knuckles. He topples and falls.

“Oi mate! Big fella! Over ‘ere!
“Blimey! No offence, mate, but you look awful!
“Anyway, do us a favour and get me fags out of this tree will you?”

The cat’s dropped its cigarettes down the hollow of a fallen tree. The Untitled Ape is exhausted but strong, and tears the tree apart with his bare hands. They bond.

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There’s plenty more of this sort of contrast to come, comically juxtaposing the mythical and mysterious with the mundane: names like Garry and Gail, Alan and Kevin belonging to beasts I’ll leave to surprise you.

I adore the form of the Untitled Ape, rising on its knuckles like on any gorilla, its forearms massive, its hind legs spindly, a skull that seems to float where its face should be.

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The colours are gorgeous and the light effects striking as the two friends embark on their journey to find Untitled Ape’s family which he suspects is in danger. Hampered by a flood of biblical proportions and a highly suspect sense of direction, they row their way across the countryside then through a city submerged under water (with the most striking perspective seen from above) then out into the ocean, thence on their way.

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Unfortunately a) it’s the wrong way b) they’re being followed. Why? And how – surrounded on all sides by water, with nothing on the horizon behind them – does the Untitled Ape know?

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It’s going to a be long, arduous and very funny journey as they bump into families and become side-tracked by most unexpected creatures with long-standing friendly feuds. There will be ups (very high ups) and downs. There will be an ice-cream van stranded on top of a column of rock high above the sea.

There will also be sudden bursts of memory.

SLH

Buy Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) and read the Page 45 review here

The Singing Bones h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan.

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Truly this is a work of wonders, with an eloquent introduction by Neil Gaiman and historical context provided by Jack Zipes,

An exquisite and exceedingly lush hardcover from the creator of THE ARRIVAL etc featuring 75 tales from the Brothers Grimm, I strongly suspect that this a gift which you will keep on giving for years.

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For each of these dark, fantastical, folklore fables Shaun Tan has created sculptural stories: miniature tableaux distilling them to their core characteristics. For make no mistake, although Shaun is a prodigious artist in multiple media he is, like many others also at heart, a storyteller and this is no mere art book.

Fashioned from clay – and often adorned with string or surrounded by sand, sugar and salt, and whatever else is deemed appropriate (upended carpet tacks!) – these compositions of animals, faces and figures are painted in contrasting colours then lowly lit, as you might find them in a museum, to create harmonious wholes. And that’s exactly what they are like: finds! Inspired by Inuit art, these are mysteries for you to discover like any ancient artefact and unravel for yourselves.

They are moments of theatre.

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They’re also ever so tactile: the sort of thing you want to hold in your hand, cupping each orange-sized object or objects in your palm and perhaps stroking them in the hope that they’ll sing.

Plate 2 depicts ‘The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse’. In the story itself a cat and a mouse decide to hunker down together for the winter, buying a pot of fat which they would share through sparse season and so get them through it. Let’s just say that the terms of their agreement aren’t adhered to by the cat who covets the fat and, when the mouse discovers this betrayal of their friendship and protests at its greed, the cat gobbles the mouse up too. And so it goes.

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What Shaun has sculpted is a tiny white mouse sitting “comfortably” inside the yawning maw of a thoroughly contented, well fed, fat, black cat. It’s ever so satisfying (for the cat, at least) but relatively simple.

However, Plate 7 is a deliciously complex interpretation of ‘The Twelve Brothers’.

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It is spot-lit from the front against a shadowy background receding in focus. The twelve brothers are represented as the coffins they were intended to be confined to by the king, standing like the gravestones which would have been erected in their memory. This reflects their actual transmutation in the tale into ravens. At the forefront cowers their sister, the princess, inadvertently responsible for their current condition – and future fate should she utter a word – her face a mask of silent guilt, hands over her mouth both in horror and lest she speak, so damning her brothers eternally.

That is one complex narrative in a single composition.

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Each visual tale in turn is accompanied by an artfully edited extract to form a specific, evocative vignette like the artworks themselves, while concise and elegant synopses of the stories as a whole are also provided in the back.

This is pretty handy, because if each of these sculptures doesn’t immediately intrigue you into wanting to learn more, then I would be extremely surprised.

In addition, further recommended reading is suggested so that you can track down the stories in full, in various iterations / states of sanitisation.

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On the subject of which, I highly recommend Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s HANSEL & GRETEL which could not be less sanitised. Gaiman disinters its original, bleak, morally bankrupt bad parenting, while Mattotti goes to hunger town on its illustrations:

“They are eerie, awful things, crawling with shadows, swirling in darkness, with the thickest of tree-trunks blotting out the sky.
“Stark, dark and black with just a glimpse of white light, they are cold and claustrophobic, evoking all the bleakness of a land ravaged by soldiers to the point of being all but barren, bringing those few inhabitants left to the brink of starvation.”

And while we’re talking fairy tales, try Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell’s THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE and THE GRAPHIC CANON OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE.

Then pop ‘Shaun Tan’ into our search engine, for we have a wealth of storytelling excellence for you there!

SLH

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

Benson’s Cuckoos (£13-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anouk Ricard…

“Morning! bensont-cuckoos-coverIt would seem you’re two minutes late! That’s not good.”
“I’m sorry. Uh… Happy Birthday, Boss?”
“Oh, this? It’s not my birthday. I just happen to like this hat. So what do you think of the team? Tiptop, huh?”
“Uh yeah!”
“We’re meeting at eleven o’ clock. I hope you bring some good ideas.”
“We are? I didn’t know. I’m just getting settled in.”
“Well, now you are. I don’t see the problem.”
“Well I don’t have anything prepared.”
“So go prepare something then! You’ve got two hours. And if it’s crap, you’re fired.”

I have worked for people as unhinged as new guy Richard’s boss, oh yes. He might be a slightly exaggerated caricature but not by much. I’m reminded of a certain boss in Colchester who, when I attended a sales meeting on my very first day in my capacity as Technical Manager, launched into the most insane blitzkrieg tirade against the sales reps, several of whom were also relatively new and looked utterly shell-shocked (it would be fair to say there was a high turnover of staff, particularly on the sales side), culminating in him screaming that they were a bunch of colossal c*nts who were costing him money. Interesting use of an adjective it struck me at the time, delighted as I was not to be the focus of his sudden ire.

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The flip side of the coin was he insisted the senior management, a group of six of us, go to the pub every single day with him to play cards or pool where you had to drink beer or spirits, no soft drinks allowed. Lunches would routinely extend to a couple of hours and occasionally he would decide we weren’t going back at all and then things got rather messy indeed. Plus he let me stay in a house in the grounds of the business for free. He did fire me ultimately, when he found out I was looking for another job, but just a very strange chap, frankly.

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Anyway, Richard seems utterly bewildered by his new boss’s antics, and the various other shenanigans going on at Benson’s Cuckoos, including the departure of his predecessor George, which he gradually begins to realise was probably more of a disappearance than a voluntary exit.

As we roll through surreal scene after scene of meeting, shaming, team bonding, awkward lift moments, the ribald laughs and head-shaking, wince-worthy, excruciating toe-curlers keep on coming.

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Only adding to the mayhem is the anthropomorphic colourful cartoon style employed by Anouk. I struggled slightly with her previous work, ANNA AND FROGA, purely due to the storytelling which whilst heavy on the surrealism, seemed light on the coherence. This, though, flows seamlessly, keeping the chuckle levels high from silly start to farcical finish.

JR

Buy Benson’s Cuckoos and read the Page 45 review here

Slam #1 (£2-99, Boom Studios) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish.

What a fresh and far from obvious start!

This made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.

This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules – there are certainly key and keen strategies – but it’s essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.

“Are you a sportsman, Stephen?”

Clearly not, but I am a convert!

Moreover, its innovative presentation – not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby – proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.

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“10 Facts about your new Derby life:
“1. You will have fun.
“2. You will get hurt.
“3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
“4. You won’t. Because you love it more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life.”

Persuade me.

“5. You will find your voice” and “6. You’ll learn all kinds of new phrases.” Namely:

“Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!”
“Fill those holes!”
“Take up space! Wall it up!”
“Get on her!”
“Hit her, hit her, hit her!”

I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.

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But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I’m wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially – and may still be to this day – a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for in order to join in, thence be looked down on, for decades to come, as second-best. Haha! The shoe’s on the other dismissive and disdaining foot!

If all that wasn’t enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men do not feature and are barely mentioned within. For once, none of this is about you, fellas! This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There’s one. There’s only one.

As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight. Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer.

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There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.

It’s not ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, it’s “Hello, here’s all the fun!”

We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it’s all Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.

“7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
“8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it.”

Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day’s performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!

“Fun fact about Derby life #42:
“It gets complicated.”

Ah. And now I am hooked.

SLH

Buy Slam #1 and read the Page 45 review here

At The Shore (£17-99, Alternative) by Jim Campbell…

A monsterat-the-shore-cover mash of sea monsters, zombies and teenage hormones make this pocket-sized work from Brooklyn based Jim Campbell pack a punch. Which is probably a very dangerous thing for a pocket-sized work to do thinking about it…

Gabi is continually trying to regale her school friends Bernard, Dean and Jorge with her childhood stories of her father’s strange experiences whilst harvesting seaweed. But every time she gets going they either decide it’s all too boring and repeatedly interrupt to tell her so, or all start to collectively swoon over new girl Astrid whenever she enters stage right. To be honest, Bernard, Dean and Jorge seem like a bunch of rude, lecherous idiots. Ah yes, they’re teenage boys aren’t they!

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But when the zombie apocalypse begins during a trip to the beach, the boys fawning over Astrid in her bikini whilst Gabi glowers in her t-shirt, and barnacle covered cadavers are suddenly emerging from the waves wanting more than sushi, they’re unsurprisingly desperate to pay attention to what knowledge Gabi has to impart. For what she knows will prove vital to their survival.

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I really enjoyed this fun-filled fear feature. The coloured art is excellent, a mixture of slightly toned down Joe SPENT Matt and HICKSVILLE-era Dylan Horrocks. The zombies are genuinely spooky with their pointy fish-like fangs. The plot was sufficiently weird and wonderful to keep me entertained right to the end.

JR

Buy At The Shore and read the Page 45 review here

Little Tails In The Jungle (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci.

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Thoroughly accessible Young Readers’ educational adventure from the creators of the silent, more adult-orientated, thrillingly choreographed and quite stunningly illustrated LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX, LOVE: THE LION and (in February 2017) LOVE: THE DINOSAUR. Please, please make no mistake, however, (as so many have before): those four books may look cute, but include scenes of a natural nature, which involves throats being ripped out left, right and centre. As I wrote quite explicitly of LOVE: THE LION:

“Not so much the Circle Of Life as the constantly turning tides of food-chain fortune and the constant threat of being stalked, surrounded, flattened, clawed, mauled, mangled and otherwise shredded by crocodiles, vultures, spotted hyenas and even other lions.
“I’ve never seen so many carcasses.”

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You are, however, on perfectly safe and cuddly ground here as Squizzo the squirrel takes Chipper the puppy dog up, up and away in his cardboard aeroplane across the globe to visit the jungles of the world in South America, Africa and Asia.

In bright, white and sage-coloured comic strips most often above 9but sometimes below) full-colour paintings, the confident and knowledgeable Squizzo leads the initially more tentative Chipper in search of the jungles’ increasingly rare denizens.

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Investigating at a discreet distance so as not to disturb the shy guys and avoid become part of the food chain, they encounter heat and humidity and insects that bite, but forge on to find jaguars and black panthers, tarantulas, toucans, tapirs and tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, gorillas, a bright pink Amazon river dolphin, and many more beauties besides.

The emphasis is on adventure and excitement to entertain your young ones and introduce them to the majesty and colourful diversity of the jungle, moving ever swiftly on to keep wide eyes shining bright.

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In the back of the book, however, time is taken to revisit some of the animals encountered earlier and learn a lot more. Why is a toucan’s enormous beak not too heavy for its head, toppling it over and knocking it off its perch? Where does a jaguar hunt and where does its name come from? What is the difference between a black panther and a leopard or jaguar? Answer: only the colour of its fur! They still have spots; you just can’t see them because of their dark pigmentation, a genetic trait which may or may not be passed down to the next generation, so that a black panther can still give birth to a regularly spotted leopard. I knew that once!

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Finally a whole page is devoted to The World Wildlife Fund, Planète Tigre etc (with websites to visit) explaining why and how so alarmingly swiftly the animals’ ecosystems are being obliterated.

Key fact: there are fewer than 4,000 tigers in total left in the wild.

SLH

Buy Little Tails In The Jungle and read the Page 45 review here

2000AD Script Book (£19-99, Rebellion) by various including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant, Rob Williams, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, Al Ewing, Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Si Spurrier, John Reppion, John Wagner, Leah Moore, I.N.J. Culbard, D’Israeli, Carlos Ezquerra, Henry Flint, Simon Davis, Rufus Dayglo…

Zarjaz. 2000_ad_script_book-1Or in common Earthling parlance, excellent. The number of legendary writers and artists that have graced the pages of 2000AD since its launch in 1977 is simply staggering. It has proven to be an excellent launch pad for a number of British (and overseas) creators, who were given a relatively free hand on established iconic characters and just as importantly, the opportunity to introduce their own.

It’s remained at the forefront of the British comic scene as a viable publication for nigh on forty years in part due to this blend of old fan favourites like Dredd and crazy new characters, and in part due to the continuing shuffling of the stellar cast of creators combined with nurturing surroundings for relative newcomers to hone their craft.

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I will bet more than a fair few of you who’ve picked up the odd Prog or thousand have at some point thought, I could do that, I could write or draw  (or if you’re a particular sort of smartarse both) for 2000AD. It is, however, not as easy as these prodigious talents make it seem. Fortunately for us, though, we have a chance to see how the professionals do it with such apparent ease with these scripts set page by page with the final art. It’s fascinating to observe how each artist has interpreted the writer’s notes and what changes end up getting incorporated into the finished version.

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Inside you’ll find scripts for classic characters like a Judge Dredd tale from the Day Of Chaos arc, Psi-Judge Anderson, Bad Company, Slaine, Durham Red and Zombo. Then there are some more modern works like Brass Sun and Aquila, plus a great selection of the just plain weird like Lobster Random. Altogether there are 15 pieces for aspiring creators to analyse. Alternatively, if like me, you’d rather sit back and relax and peruse the finished product without peaking behind the curtain of creative process, you can find much Mega-City madness and everything else 2000AD related in one section HERE.

JR

Buy 2000AD Script Book and read the Page 45 review here

International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Hallelujah! In this companion title to his INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, Bendis is back off autopilot, a word which Maleev – his partner on SCARLET VOL 1 & 2 – doesn’t even know the meaning of.

Like Michael Gaydos, Maleev brings out the best in Bendis, so it’s time once again to throw away the costumes (for the most part) and enjoy some honest-to-goodness human interaction and humour à la JESSICA JONES: ALIAS which was the very best series ever to be published by Marvel.

Almost as brilliant as Bendis & Maleev’s DAREDEVIL with all of its wit-riddled snappy patter, this catches Iron Man at an inopportune moment under Bulgaria’s Monument To The Soviet Army, dead, paralyzed, or “rethinking his disastrous life choices that led up to this humbling moment”.

Amongst those disastrous decisions was Stark’s determination – twenty years ago while studying at Cambridge – to get to know a mysterious young woman with an overprotective family, famous in some circles at least. She knows exactly who Tony is, but Tony…?

“You really don’t know who I am?”
“Should I? Is your father a big deal or something? Is it – is he Bono?”
“My mother.”
“Is she Bono?”

He’s such a scallywag!

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“What does your Mom do that warrants bodyguards? I only ask because they’re coming this way and I think one of them is about to punch me in the face so hard I probably won’t remember even meeting you.”
“Ugh! You’re going to get tasered.”
“I’d really rather not.”
“I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I. Can you request that they don’t?”

All the while Maleev plays it as deadpan as usual, except with a new energy during irreverence of youth. Tony cannot help throwing his head back and laughing with joy at Cassandra Gillespie’s fantastic name, nor can he resist smiling at his own bravado and wit. It’s perfect characterisation for Marvel’s charming but smuggest git.

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Paul Mounts’ daytime colouring adds a new air of optimism to Maleev’s fresh-faced students meeting for lunch (less of an assignation, more of the-stalked-stalking-stalker scenario) and when you look at those panels, concentrate on the eyebrows and lip-line especially, imagine a moustache, chop the flop of his hair right back… and that really is our Tony Stark.

“You Googled me by now.”
“I did.”
“How’d that go?”
“I found out you’re a world-class trapeze artist.”
“Is there a trapeze artist with my name?”
“Just admit you trapeze. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

New verb: to trapeze.

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What could any of this possibly have to do with Iron Man flat on his back, systems down, in Bulgaria?

Well, first it’s time to meet Cassandra’s family for dinner in not the most awkward and hostile reception by prospective in-laws ever (he lies)… and then there’s the unsolicited postprandial intervention by those oh-so-shouty regenerative ones, Hydra.

But essentially it’s Stark’s modern-day quest to discover the identity of his true parents now that he’s learned that he was adopted as a baby.

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You’ll find out exactly who they are in this volume.

His father’s not whom I strongly suspected – which I think is a missed trick and a shame – but it could certainly make things interesting. I’d tell you right now (you can always ask at the counter so long as I’m not serving), but it may be that Bendis still has a trick up his sleight-of-hand sleeve.

SLH

Buy International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

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Dogs Disco (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Losing Sleep (£9-99) by Joe Latham & Luke Hyde

The Fox (£5-00) by Joe Latham

The Wolf (£5-00) by Joe Latham

The Woodsman (£5-00) by Joe Latham

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Little Tails In The Forest (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci

A.D. After Death Book 1 (of 3) (£4-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire

Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, New York Review Comics) by Hariton Pushwagner

Black Canary vol 2: New Killer Star s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher, Matthew Rosenberg & Annie Wu, various

Flash vol 9: Full Stop h/c (£22-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 3: Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Captain Marvel By Jim Starlin – The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, others

Darth Vader vol 4: End Of Games (£17-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca, Mike Norton, Max Fiumara

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 4: I Kissed A Squirrel And I Liked It s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson, Jacob Chabot

One Piece vol 80 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

News

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ITEM! Annual Auction Of Original Art for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is go!

Includes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM / MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO shout-athon above, and Duncan Fegredo’s HELLBOY below.

Donations come from Bryan Lee O’Malley, Craig Thompson, Duncan Fegredo, Edmond Baudoin, Emma Vieceli, Hunt Emerson, Ian McQue, Jonathan Edwards, Jordi Bernet, Mick McMahon, Petteri Tikkanen, Sean Phillips, Stuart Immonen – and the guys from VIZ.

More on the LICAF Original Art Auction 2016.

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ITEM! Nottingham City Council is selling off the Nottingham Central Library building with no site earmarked for a replacement.

Brilliant.

Because who needs books? A fast buck, yes; books, quite evidently not. And this, in our City of Literature.

Should you give a monkey’s, you can sign this petition to Save Nottingham Central Library.

Thnx

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ITEM! At the time of typing – and I haven’t been in for two days – Oxfam Nottingham, just up our round, has a acquired a complete set of SANDMAN (#1-75 plus the special) in lovely nick and is selling it for £300.

You don’t see many of those around!

Since it was gift-aided, if you stump up the £300 then Oxfam will actually receive £375!

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Claire at Oxfam Nottingham works incredibly hard in her collation and curation of their extensive selection of back-issue comics (there are some beauuuuuties in right now: Vaughn Bode, Robert Crumb – first print of HUP #1 – early Barry Windsor-Smith NICK FURY, early Mignola sword-and-sorcery, SIN CITY one-shots… with early FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, IRON MAN and Jack Kirby KAMANDI to come as soon as Claire and I have priced them), so please keep your exceptionally generous donations coming and your spending power spending.

Every donation is treated with due diligence and respect, and Oxfam Nottingham makes a huge amount of much-need money from them.

Thanks very much!

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November week three

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

We begin with a brand-new review of Dave McKean’s Cages. News underneath!

Cages (25th Anniversary Edition) (£26-99, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.

“It’s just paying attention.”cages-cover

In which stories are told, rhythms and patterns are perceived, connections spring forth and sweet music is made.

It’s in conversations that we so often discover these connections – of ideas and experiences and perhaps greater truths. They make themselves known in the to and fro, the ebbs and flows, one observation or recollection sparking another in the other. Without conversations we are locked in our own insular little world. They’re my favourite thing in life.

Communication catalyses creativity – and this is a book about both – juggling what you see, what you’ve experienced, what lies in your head and what you hold in your hands to create these rhythms and patterns and connections. It requires judgement, perception and balance; the courage to get started or start again.

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It is also, unsurprisingly, a book about cages, for not everyone is blessed with freedom or companionship, and there is a singular sort of loneliness experienced between couples who’ve essentially stopped talking to each other about anything that matters, out of fear of hearing or telling the truth.

After a prologue of Beginnings and Ends – of creation and frustration and doubt; of God’s withdrawal and mankind’s rage – we open with the moon high up in the heavens, its full, perfect orb shining in an open, star-lit sky. Across this slinks a lithe silhouette, unmistakably feline.

Under the moon lie many silent spires and ornate cupolas.

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The black cat pauses to survey birds in flight before dropping from the rooftop to the tenement’s fire escape to descend, flight by flight and observe what transpires inside.

A lone, anxious man winds his watch to make sure that it’s ticking. This will become funny later on. His window is remarkably high.

Further down a dreadlocked musician whom we’ll come to know as Angel sits outside his own window, playing a wind instrument. He chats to the cat with a charming lilt.

“Yo! Mr. Cat.
“And how are you this fine, fine night.
“You really are de doziest great supine I hever see, y’know?
“Eh? Mister Cat?
“Nothin’ wrong wit’ that now.
“But surely is a perfect raven of a night, Mr. Cat.
“Don’t it feel like de start o’ sometin’.”

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The cat is curious but keeps its own council. It passes a pigeon, pausing only briefly to inspect, before peering into another room through cracked glass. There is a shift in style from fluid black ink and blue-grey tone to pencil and soft washes: a man with a ponytail stands frustrated in front of his easel; a couple make love; a couple much older embrace; the room is quite empty.

Back in black and another storey down, we see two sinister, burly men in coats and hats menacing another; a finger points threateningly, a hand is raised in resignation and a painting is removed from its wall.

Descending further still, a white cockatoo caws out from its cage. “What a bugger! What a bugger!” An unseen occupant shoos the cat away.

It leaps down to the ground to be greeted by a man in search of an address. The cat can’t help, but Jeffrey believes he can. Jeffrey is a man with a wire constellation round his head and an insight into God’s grand scheme of things. Later he calls it his “consternation” and he happens to be right. He declares the stranger to be lost, but I rather think that’s Jeffrey’s problem. Fortunately our new lodger is greeted by a homeless man who, as they walk, speaks of spiritual identity and the nourishment of the soul, for which he is given the price of a cup of tea.

“Ahh, you’re a saint an’ a saviour, sir. God grants your wishes, my friend, have a good life.”
“I just want to know where Meru House is!”
“Look around you, son… your wish is granted.”

He’s right on its doorstep. This is Leo Sabarsky, an artist with a ponytail starting again from scratch. Under his arm he carries a blank canvas. It’s time to make contact.

But just before he enters, outside the tenement’s front door and below all its scaffolding, Leo finds a paper page torn from a book called ‘Cages’. It is charred.

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The choreography and concept behind this introductory sequence is ever so clever. Although we will wander elsewhere – down narrow side-streets whose lantern-light emanates in white, watery waves, pulsing like music; from the jazz bar where Angel performs; and to one other quite startling, barely possible residence – it firmly establishes the focus on this one particular building and the cages which lie within. To a cat, almost any room must look like a cage. It also poses so many questions which – even if you don’t know quite what they are yet – will all be answered as we encounter each individual again, along with others connected but so far unseen, from different perspectives, in different lights.

It was here that McKean first branched out from the relative photo-realism of BLACK ORCHID, the intense expressionism of ARKHAM  ASYLUM and the dense puppetry, photography and full-colour photo-collage of MR PUNCH to something far sleeker to keep your eyes moving across its pages. This was essential for such a big book (nearly five hundred pages), so much of which concentrates on conversations and monologues, and the discipline of a black which glows, a blue-grey which sheens and the white light which shines casts emphasis on the shapes, the textures, the figure forms and expressions which are deliciously lively and angular and energetic – in short, communicative. They add their own lilt and cadence to the conversations.

However, however, if you think McKean has ditched his customary love of the multi-media approach – carefully selecting what will work best for each constituent element – then there are revelations within.

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There are bursts of full-colour passion which stand out all the more strikingly for their restricted use; though I would remind you that not all human passion is positive.

There’s a haunting reverie rendered in fantastical black and white photography and additional painting then a blaze of iridescent red and electric-blue colour which is sandwiched within a strict nine-panel grid for a desperately sad sequence as delusional old Edie, owner of the cockatoo, busies herself in her husband’s much-missed absence. Afraid to go out without him, her flat may be a cage but so is her head, crammed with a past of herself and her husband, both thwarted.

“KAW! Bill’s not home yet, Bill’s not home yet.”

All the art here is in service to the story. When Angel, on stage, discusses the dissonance of one brother’s music, full of fire but no discipline (as opposed to the other twin’s learning but lack of passion – it’s basically Jane Austen’s ‘Sense And Sensibility’ given a musical context), his words which speak of “a racket” are lost in the visual cacophony.

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But perhaps my favourite chapter lies at the graphic novel’s centre / heart when Karen is first introduced at the jazz cafe-bar. Karen we have only seen from afar. She lives in a building opposite Leo’s room and, searching for any inspiration to free him from the fright of a big, blank canvas, he has sketched her as she waters her plants on her balcony. Angel has taken an interest in that sketchbook, borrowed it, and now returns it via Karen.

“A friend asked me to return your book.”
“Ah a…”
“He would have given it back himself…
“Ahmmm…”
“Only he’s over there, grinning.”

Angel is indeed at the other side of the bar, smiling knowingly.

“Son of a…”
“So, do you spy on your other neighbours too?”

Leo is at first speechless.

“I’m speechless.”

I told you so. He babbles a bit. Okay, he babbles a lot.

“Christ, listen to me. I’ve forgotten all the words I’ve learned since I was six. I’ll get the drinks.”

It’s enormously sweet. It’s all very natural. Then the art does a similar thing to that which Frederik Peeters would pull off later in BLUE PILLS: it pulls back from their table as the music kicks in, then at the same time focuses solely on their shared space as if everyone else in the busy room had disappeared. That’s what happens when you meet minds with somebody new: the outside world evaporates, you lose track of time and you are lost in the music of conversation. We don’t hear what the couple says; we only see them engrossed in each other, their wine glasses floating in the air as their shared table dances across the page in a liberating, free-form flood of images. It is, I kid you not, ecstatic.

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But you wait until you witness Karen’s extraordinary residence. It’s magical, as is Leo’s imaginative line of getting-to-know you questioning which, when I first read this 25 years ago, I swore I would try out on a first or second date. I never did; you certainly should. Take notes, and watch out for waterfalls!

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CAGES – as I may have mentioned more than once – is essentially a book of conversations, some of them rhetorical for we all talk to cats, none of them extraneous and all of them riveting. McKean has Alan Bennett’s ear for dialogue and his own for its exchange: for when someone’s listening and when they are not, for when someone blithely goes off on one while the other may be fixated elsewhere, and for when two people seek to get to the bottom of something important by refining their ideas and interpretations of each other’s ideas, together. In McKean’s hands it’s like music, but then he is a musician and has much to say on that subject through Angel. The two come together here.

“The ‘D’ scales are conversational scales.
“When I listen to someone I listen to de tonal modulation of de speech.
“I listen to de shades and pauses an’ phrasings.
“I listen an’ learn what that person is t’inkin’ t’rough de structure of what dey say… not de fabricated meanin’ of de words dey use…
“De message is in de music.”

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And I don’t know how often this is pointed, but the conversations in CAGES are – so many of them – very, very funny. The breaks and beats between new tenant Leo Sabarsky and deaf-as-a-doorpost Doris, the concierge, are so astutely observed, while the yelling, swearing, doing-the-minimum delivery guy is a scream. Leaving his elderly minion to heave an impossibly heavy crate up steep flights of stairs, he carries the smaller one under his arm (“UP” pointed down), secures his signature and pins a badge to Sabarsky:

“Joe’s Removal’s: Service Is Our Middle Fuckin’ Name.”

The same could be said of the fickle barman, who is not a people person, proffering one his many conflicting opinions of Angel:

“He’s a poet. An immense, creative force. I mean, the man’s a god, really.”
“Mmm.”
“I know I know. I’m a conservative sort of guy. Okay, the man’s a glowing, transcendent ball of light. A pure and all embracing power. An opalescent…”
“Yeah, I get the picture.
“You know, when I first came to work here, I asked him where the toilets were. You know what he said. Do you know what he said?
“I can’t imagine.”
“”Over there.” “Over there,” that’s what he said! “Over there.” Jesus, I cried, you know?”
“Profound.”
“”Over there,” that’s what he said.”

I love the way the thought is still lingering there, the barman stroking his own neck in further contemplation. I like the way McKean minimises “I can’t imagine” so that it’s uttered almost under Leo’s breath.

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There’s an exquisite conversation between Karen, Leo and the first man we met conducted using – ah, that would constitute spoilers, I fear, but trust me: it’s different and delightful and once again funny.

I’ve not mentioned Jonathan Rush and his wife Ellen yet. Well, I have: they’re the ones who receive hostile visitors. They’re also less than pleased to see Leo, but Leo is new and persistent, wrangling his way through their door with the old cup of sugar routine. To begin with they communicate through the door.

“And what would you want with sugar, Mr. Sabarsky?”
“Ahmm… well, I’d like to make some tea. I only have the wine that I packed to bring with me, and I don’t know where the shops are yet, so I’d really like to borrow some sugar so I could have some tea.”
“I see.”
“And some milk.”
“And milk?”
“Well, and some teabags too, but don’t worry, I’ve got the water and cup.”
“Uh huh.”
“Oh hang on, no, I haven’t. I’ll take a cup as well if I could?”

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Strangely, though they have been there a while, Jonathan and Ellen don’t know the area very well. Immediately Leo believes he recognises the man – it’s in his eyes, which are intense, haunting or haunted – and McKean shows a memory of them, then the eyes being sketched, and that’s when Leo remembers, on picking up one of Jonathan’s novels and its author’s photograph on the back.

“I knew I recognised you. I actually drew you once. I remember your eyes. Christ, well, that’s proof that when you draw it’s one of the few times you really concentrate.”

The book is called ‘Cages’.

You’ll discover Jonathan and Ellen’s current predicament during another inventive sequence, as the writer takes one of his own books down from the shelf and reads its dedication, “For my wife Ellen for criticism and hugs, two things I couldn’t live without.” Behind the dedication, then further book spine’s we’re shown Jonathan’s recollections of how each book was received upon publication: happy hugs in the woods, discussions over dinner with friends and peers, delightedly spotting his own books in a with shop window, award nominations, an award ceremony… then the ghosts of the past become stranger, and you may be reminded of what Angel told his audience about illumination. For that, you will have to read the book. It is astonishing how coherent this all is – different elements informing each other – and how many ideas are addressed here.

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From the creator of BLACK DOG, THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH, Page 45’s current Comicbook Of The Month – and so much more; please do pop Dave in our search engine – this is a big book of beliefs, doubts, traps, fears, and new beginnings. Keep moving, keep juggling, keep talking. Keep creating something new.

“Of course, it’s impossible.”
“What is?”
“Trying to make concrete what I can see in my head. It’s impossible.”
“Well, you have to do one or two impossible thing now and again. Otherwise you get complacent.”
“ …”
“…”
“Absolutely right.”

SLH

Buy Cages (25th Anniversary Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Return Of The Honey Buzzard (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Aimée De Jongh.

A honey buzzard, return-of-the-honey-buzzard-coverperched on a post and alert to its surroundings, stares up over its back and into the sky.

Its attention darts forward, then down. In the silence it considers its distracted prey.

“BLOODY HELL, LAURA!”

The honey buzzard takes fright and flight.

“Why won’t you listen to me?”

It’s Simon who isn’t listening.

My guess is this’ll grab you on its first three pages. If not, I give it no more than the eighth and ninth as Simon angrily presses his cell phone’s red button, sits there fuming inside his van, then drives over a railway crossing into dense woodland, and darkness. Ancient trees, some spawning fungus, tower over the small van. When Simon stops, it’s outside a sequestered cabin. His face stays in shadow, silhouetted against the sky, as he enters.

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Simon flicks on a switch, and there are books. There are so many books – some in boxes, some scattered across the floor, others stacked high upon shelves. Simon takes one specific book down and sits crossed-legged on the bare wooden floor and is transported back twenty years to when he was at secondary school, happily reading the same bird guide. Almost immediately the cell phone intrudes again. A picture of his wife Laura appears, smiling. Feeling harassed, he rejects the call. In contrast to his younger self he now appears scruffy, weary. Piling boxes of books into the back of the van, his eyes are already wide – no longer angry but harrowed, haunted – and he drives as if in a stupor.

But after what happens at that same railway crossing on his way back – after the gate goes down and he’s left there idling, and the woman appears at edge of the trees – Simon’s state of stupefaction will be close to catatonic.

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Its atmosphere already established, this won’t let you or Simon go until it’s done. De Jongh’s body language is impeccable, very physical, and her expressions maintain an intensity whether vulnerable or fearful or resentful and angry.

Anger, fear and vulnerability rage through this debut graphic on every front presented to us: past and present, personal and professional, increasingly driven by guilt. Inaction is an action in and of itself, and gnawing regret, which can come creeping in waves, rarely recedes forever.

So much about the construction impresses me: Simon’s past and present dual traumas aren’t perfect parallels for that would be lazy. Instead they twist on each other in such clever ways about which I can only confer with you in private once you have read this. One key element is constant, however, and there are additional pressures at play which reduce Simon’s ability to resist unravelling.

Then there are the visual details, un-signposted, like books gradually disappearing from display as Simon’s life empties of hope.

If I hadn’t already doffed my cap to De Jongh, it would be off again in a second for one particular and ever so satisfying sleight of hand which passed over my head exactly as it should have done.

SLH

Buy The Return Of The Honey Buzzard and read the Page 45 review here

Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains (£14-99, www.silentarmy.org) by Nicola Gunn & M.P. Fikaris…

“Focus group for the Protest Against the Extinction of the Human Race.”

“Do you know we are the first generation that could potentially live forever?”

Two very conflicting sentiments, there, I think you’ll agree. Both, of course, annihilation and immortality, are entirely possible for our current generation. I suspect neither may come to pass in our lifetimes, but I also suspect the threat and promise of each are probably only going to increase.

Happily for us, there’s a very incongruous group of people who have gathered in an utterly nondescript room to discuss such weighty matters, including one person togged up in a fully encapsulated chemical protection suit. They seem, however, far more interested in whether they are likely to get a parking ticket or whether they should be having milk and sugar in the hot beverage of choice…

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In the end, matters of the heart rise to the surface to become the subject of most import for our collective, as perhaps was suggested by the title. For some people are indeed like solitary monoliths in their romantic behaviours, their own worst straight-jacketed emotional enemies. Though there are also some interesting philosophical points interspersed along the way, I have to say.

Captivatingly moving musings, illustrated in stark black and white punctuated with the most amazingly psychedelic multi-colour letratone episodes, which are possibly only visible to the being in the protective suit, I wasn’t entirely sure! If you’re an Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen this may well appeal.

JR

Buy Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains and read the Page 45 review here

Where Do I Belong? (£9-99, www.silentarmy.org) by various, edited by M.P. Fikaris…

“Hi! I’m Fikaris and I started this project ‘Where Do I Belong’ back in early 2014.
“It began from seeing some refugee art project zines on a table my friend Sam was sitting.
“After asking Sam on the spot if he would be interested in some kind of collaboration on the subject…”
“SURE!”
“… I then wrote to Safdar to see what he thought of doing something together.
“So we came up with this idea & what you are holding is the outcome…
“Comic art & cartoons relating to the idea & question of place, identity & belonging.
“From asking a bunch of people this question whilst helping them to develop the art of storytelling.”

That, in a nutshell sums up this eclectic and very worthy anthology work. A combination of distressingly powerful single-page pieces and some longer strips juxtaposing the realities of life for detained refugees in Australia with the lives of comparative luxury enjoyed by Australians themselves.

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You’ll learn some disturbing facts, such as Australia is the only country in the world to detain refugee children as its very first option, the average length of detention being roughly a year, something which demonstrably has deleterious effects on their mental health.

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There are those who presumably feel Australia’s draconian policy on illegal immigrants – those actually managing to arrive without the correct papers (assuming they weren’t on a boat that was forcibly turned around or towed back to the territorial waters of its country of departure as a matter of course by the Australian navy…) are immediately sent to the likes of Papua New Guinea or The Christmas Islands for processing – is the right way to go about matters, if you want to keep illegal migration to a minimum, regardless of the human cost to those individuals themselves.

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However, as I have commented many times, were I in the position many people in the so-called third world find themselves, would I attempt to get into the ‘promised land’ through illegal economic migration? Of course I would. These, then, are their thoughts, reflections and very moving stories on their successful or otherwise attempts to reach Australia and their subsequent treatment at the hands of the authorities. Don’t expect polished, artistic, comic perfection; do expect raw, powerful, emotive, hard-hitting truth.

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JR

Buy Where Do I Belong? and read the Page 45 review here

Derek The Sheep (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Gary Northfield.

Signed andderek-the-sheep-cover sketched in for free!

“Oi, sheep. How’d you like to eat the juiciest grass in the whole world?”
“I think I already am!”
“Wait till you’ve tried this stuff! Go on… have a nibble…”
“Well… I don’t know…”
“Go on!!”
“Oh, alright! Just a nibble!”

Uh-oh.

What is it with sheep, cows and horses that they can have an entire field full of grass to munch on, but offer them some more of the exactly the same stuff and they’ll waltz right up to the fence and nibble it out of your hands?

You know Derek is going to give in – on anything within – and you just know it’s going to go ridiculously wrong. Give him a momentary advantage and he’ll turn it into a calamity. Give him five more seconds and he’ll compound the calamity into a catastrophe.

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It seems impossible, doesn’t it? It’s a meadow; they are sheep. All they do is eat grass. Outside of barnacles, they are the most sedentary creatures in the animal kingdom. What can possibly go wrong?

Enter Gary Northfield – Lord Lieutenant Stoopid and King of Bog-Eyed Buffoonery ™  – responsible (and I used that word under duress) for GARY’S GARDEN, TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS, JULIUS ZEBRA: RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS and JULIUS ZEBRA: BUNDLE WITH THE BRITONS and suddenly the farm animals are wearing galoshes, kicking around footballs and tobogganing down snow slopes on bits of old Farmer Jack’s barn.

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To a substantial extent the comedy is predicated on the abandonment of all shades of sanity in the same way that Simone Lia’s THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS IN WORM SCHOOL undermines worm logic. We all know what a worm is, what a worm can do. Similarly we all know what a sheep is (stupid) and what a sheep can do (eat grass, run from anything that goes “Ruff!”) and what a sheep patently cannot do (open a can of baked beans). Same goes for cows. I don’t recall the last time I saw a heifer basking on its back outside a barn, sunglass on with the radio at full blast, blaring “Who Let The Dogs Out? Woof! Woof!”

Sheep are already inherently funny. But sheep on a tractor…?

“I’ve been pretending to be old Farmer Jack, trundling around in the mud.”
“WOW! This is so cool!”
“I know! Vrrom! Vroom! Beep-beep!”

Sheep driving a tractor…?

“Pedal faster, Lizzie! Them dogs are gonna catch us!”

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And it’s all illustrated with such wild abandon, such glee! These sheep aren’t just stupid, they’re gormless – all mouth and eyeballs! The colours are those of innocence and nature into which Northfield introduces the unnatural, the preternatural and the stupour-natural.

From the pages of THE BEANO, then, thirteen full-colour short stories running at roughly half a dozen pages each in which Derek the sheep is traumatised by bees, bubblegum, bulls and bulrushes (oh, he finds a way!), forever tempted as he is by that grass which is always greener. “This is a really bad idea, Derek,” could come from any of these disasters waiting to happen wherein he digs himself deeper and deeper into stinky doo-doo. Once, quite literally.

We don’t have the fourth and final page of the sledging fiasco for you, but do you really not know what’s going to happen next?

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“Ooh, I don’t know, Derek. You know how precious Farmer Jack is about his barns.”

Exactly. It’s a good job sheep are famously dab hands with a hammer, isn’t it? Spatial awareness…? Not so much.

Brought to you directly from Gary himself, I can assure you that all our copies now and in the future will have this demented man’s mark left indelibly inside the front cover. So sorry.

SLH

Buy Derek The Sheep and read the Page 45 review here

Now in Softcover!

Sandman Overture s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III.

“Everyone kills, little brother.
“They even kill their dreams.
“And you have waited too long.”

Everything is ending: life and afterlife, birth and rebirth. Eternity will be extinguished because Morpheus made a mistake born of compassion. When he failed to cauterise the chaos in time the universe itself went mad.

He has one last Hope and an unexpected ally. But then what greater driving force is there than the will to live?

Neil Gaiman returns to SANDMAN with a prequel which is integral and reminiscent in so many ways of Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA whose metaphysical musings on the nature, power and achievements of the human imagination weren’t just illustrated but illuminated by one of comics’ most inventive artists, J.H. Williams III. Once more Williams brings his very best to bear on a script which would have overwhelmed many others and sheds the most spectacular light on some pretty dark matter.

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SANDMAN Synopsis: Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, his family are The Endless. Each of them is older than you can comprehend, though some are older than others. They are as gods to mortals, though they can surely die, and they change as we change for they are aspects of our everyday existence. Drawing on so many elements of prior mythologies, this was one of the 20th Century’s very best comics and Neil Gaiman’s prose readers will love it.

In a story which leads straight into the original book, SANDMAN VOL 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, long-time devotees will discover so many answers to questions they may not have realised existed. For example, if Destiny holds in his hands the book of everything that was, is, and ever will be, then who gave that legacy to him? Who gave birth to the Endless? You will finally meet Morpheus’ mother and you will meet his father. So will Morpheus, after such a long time. Their last encounters didn’t necessarily end too well. Parents and their children, eh?

You’ll meet Delirium when she was once known as Delight. Indeed, you’ll meet all of The Endless once again but before you first did so. Including the one they don’t speak of who went away.

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I promise you a complete and satisfying pay-off during the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters regarding the siblings, their relationships with each other, themselves (“Despair is now another aspect of herself”) and with those who gave birth to them. Their parents have very specific names and very specific roles and they both make so much sense.

But perhaps most satisfying is the further exploration of Morpheus. Both of his nature as Dream itself…

“It is the nature of Dreams, and only Dreams, to define Reality.”

… and as an individual, and how that impacts, has impacted and will impact on his role, both here and hereafter.

“Am I always like this?”
“Like what?”
“Self-satisfied. Irritating. Self-possessed, and unwilling to concede centre stage to anyone but myself.”
“I believe so, yes. In my experience.”

And he of all people should know.

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I’d love to about talk responsibility – which is key both here and throughout SANDMAN – and specifically about someone whom Dream deems his self-serving opposite in that respect. I’d like to talk about promises too which are not unconnected, but I made you a promise and I keep them.

As for this comic’s exquisite beauty, I remind you of the most inspired choice of artists imaginable in J.H. Williams III.

Like Will Eisner, Jim Steranko and Dave Sim, Williams truly experiments when constructing individual pages or sequences of pages from the most unusual, often organic panel compositions which are additionally apposite to the proceedings. As in, you’ll be presented with a defiant predator on the prowl through panels constructed from teeth when teeth are both that protagonist’s signature aspect and the enamelled elements between which he literally perceives what surrounds him. You’ll see!

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Then, like David Mazzucchelli, within and beyond that backbone Williams also ensures that as many constituent components of comics storytelling as possible serve the story itself.

Please don’t think that colour artist Dave Stewart of lettering legend Todd Klein have been slacking, either.

You’ll relish being astonished by Williams’, Stewart’s and Klein’s contributions while immersing yourself in this book. That’s all you could really want. But when you turn to this edition’s considerable back-matter material including interviews with the artistic orchestra and composer Neil himself, you will surely need to reacquaint yourself with that misplaced mandible currently residing on your carpet.

Such are the elaborate lengths they all went to achieve specific effects for individual sequences as a team that you will wonder no longer why this series took so long to materialise before you as one of the pinnacles of comics’ construction.

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As I always say on the shop floor when a project’s delayed, quality is worth the wait. No one wants to read something cobbled together without caring for the sake of a corporate cash-cow. No one wants their treasured dreams diluted by the shoved-out second-best when what we desire above all is a comic which lives up what we once loved.

Prepare to have your expectations exceeded.

You will travel through time and you will travel will space, as will Morpheus himself. If not of his own volition. That’s how this begins and that’s how it ends, which is where it all began in the first place.

“And I am pulled halfway across the universe in one fraction of forever, with a pain that feels like birth…”

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Don’t miss the epilogue. *shivers*

SLH

Buy Sandman Overture s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

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Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure (with signed bookplate) (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Steven Tillotson

Veripathy (£4-00) by Andy Poyiadgi

Bad Machinery vol 6: The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (£17-99, Oni) by John Allison

Benson’s Cuckoos (£13-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anouk Ricard

Equinoxes h/c (£30-00, Fanare / Ponent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa

Literary Life: Revisited h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Posy Simmonds

Little Tails In The Jungle (£13-99, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Seth’s Dominion (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly / National Film Of Canada) by Seth, Luc Chamberland

The Singing Bones h/c (£19-99, Walker Studio) by Shaun Tan

2000AD Script Book (£19-99, Rebellion) by various including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant, Rob Williams, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, I.N.J. Culbard, D’Israeli, Carlos Ezquerra

Adventure Time vol 10 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Christopher Hastings & Zachary Sterling, Phil Murphy

At The Shore (£17-99, Alternative) by Jim Campbell

Crossed vol 17 s/c (£22-99, Avatar) by Christos Gage & Emiliano Urdinola & Emiliano Urdinola

Dawn Of The Unread (£14-99, Spokeman) by various edited by James Walker

Flash vol 8: Zoom s/c (£15-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth, Bong Dazo, Vicente Cifuentes, Ale Garza

Justice League: Darkseid War – Power Of The Gods s/c (£14-99, DC) by various

Multiversity s/c (£26-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Ivan Reis, Cameron Stewart, Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke, others

New Suicide Squad vol 4: Kill Anything s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Sean Ryan & Juan Ferreyra, Gus Vazquez, Ronan Cliquet

Civil War II: X-Men s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Andrea Broccardo

International Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

The Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 1: Believe It s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Gurihiru, Danillo Beyruth, Travis Bonvillain

Uncanny X-Men: Superior vol 2 – Apocalypse Wars s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Ken Lashley, Paco Medina

X-Men: Wolverine / Gambit s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

Art Of Castle In The Sky h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki

Bleach vol 68 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

My Hero Academia vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One-Punch Man vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Sunny vol 6 h/c (£19-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto

News

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ITEM! Swoonaway Tragic Sunshine website full of gorgeous prints to buy!

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ITEM! Gary Northfield (see DEREK THE SHEEP reviewed above) takes watercolour commissions for his Bog-Eyed Buffoonery ™ tailored to your specific tastes:

Gary Northfield’s Original Watercolour Commissions

Make sure you click on the numbered pages below to give you some ideas, then send Captain Stoopid your own!

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ITEM! RACHEL RISING’s Terry Moore sketching live in Paris: it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Rachel Rising Omnibus 6

ITEM! New and extensive Luke Pearson interview!

Luke Pearson self portrait

ITEM! Finally, to gasps of delight, preview pamphlets of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER have arrived are waiting for you on our counter. Wait until you get a load of page 2!

Don’t live locally? You can access a preview pdf of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER from Improper Books here!

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On its initial launch we sold 100 copies of PORCELAIN: A GOTHIC FAIRY TALE by Ben Read & Chris Wildgoose (reviewed) in its first 10 days.

Last year PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA was our biggest-selling book… and it only came out in October!!!

Currently due in Spring 2017, you can pre-order copies of PORCELAIN IVORY TOWER – with a free and exclusive signed bookplate – from Page 45 right now by emailing us at Page45@page45.com

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November 2016 week two

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c (£67-99, IDW & Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim, Gerhard.

If the 300-issue, cerebus-cover-art-treasury-cover6,000-page magnum opus that is CEREBUS remains one of the most inventive comics this medium has ever produced, with narrative innovations cascading from its pages at such an astonishing rate as to make Niagara Falls look like a domestic, dripping tap – and it does – then its covers were no less ingenious, iconic and iconoclastic, all at the same time.

What makes this luxurious, full-colour treasury even more of a thirstily devoured “Yes, please!” is that so many of these illustrations don’t just set the tone but actively inform the story within, which most modern readers have had access to only in the form of those whopping, black and white CEREBUS phonebook collections. They never reprinted the colour covers to keep their costs down, but some seen in sequence form comicbook narratives in their own right (#153 & #154) and they are bursting with clues.

The diversity of their approaches and angles – geometric or otherwise – was jaw-dropping, especially when one considers the relative, relentless homogeneity of the corporations’ covers competing for space on retailers’ shelves back then, and even more so to this day.

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You never knew what you’d be startled by next: stark silhouettes, spot-lit close-ups, balletic action shots, quiet reveries, dream-sequence deliria, architecture only, lunar photography, William Morris wallpaper either hung with framed portraits or used to frame pithy, telling snap-shots; typography only (ever so brave and oh so effective), images rotated sideways to reflect what lay within, woodland landscapes, a funereal flower arrangement, glistening bottles of booze placed in the foreground of drunken misdemeanours, film-poster parodies, cosmic chess matches….

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…, or Dave / David Sim drawing the divine Mick / Michael Jagger in precisely the same pose as Michelangelo once sculpted David.

No, I wasn’t perceptive enough to spot that little joke – and, trust me, I studied these long and hard as I acquired each treasured gem.

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The good news is that, thanks to the conversational back-and-forth between Dave Sim and Gerhard’s annotations on almost every page, you’ll be privy to even more process notes and private self-indulgences. Take the cover to #77. Here’s Gerhard:

“Dream covers are always fun. When I was drawing the water pouring from the statue, I thought it might be fun to have the water fill the letters M and T… as in ‘MT is full’. Say it fast, and you’ll get the joke… or not.”

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Dave was joined by landscape artist Gerhard in CEREBUS #65, though not on its cover which was the typography-only effort bearing the truism (which has stuck with me ever since), that “Anything done for the first time unleashes a demon”. There were some very, very fine titles: some portentous, some ripping the piss – out of themselves, readers’ expectations or Marvel’s melodrama – some simply playful yet salient, like “Sane As It Ever Was”.

From #65 onwards Dave continued to write and draw all the characters while Gerhard would render the backgrounds in meticulous detail, providing both textures and colour. The cover to #66 is a ripped-open version of #65, exposing Gerhard’s first cover and colour contribution.

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“It was interesting watching Gerhard tearing art paper carefully so it LOOKED like torn art paper.”

That’s what I mean by meticulous.

“It took me years to figure out that Gerhard LIKED doing precise measurements / vanishing point stuff: that it was his favourite part,” observes Dave of the phenomenal window on #68.

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Of #162’s extraordinary spectacle: “Vanishing point and applied geometry. It was there in front of me the whole time.” And once again of #164’s delicious, crystal-clear, blue-sky winter panorama with its single shattered skylight because we’d been there before.

Neither of the artists is here merely to pat themselves or each on the back, though. They’re both commendably candid about their mistakes, shortcomings and where things didn’t work out the way they had planned. But it was a monthly comic which only once fell behind schedule (towards the end of CHURCH & STATE) so at the end of the day, a) they had to go to print and simply strive to do better next time b) you simply don’t know what it will look like until the printed article appears right in front of you.

Sometimes I found myself shaking my head, bewildered by what one or the other considers a failure. The library cover to #151 with its tumbling book and exceptional sense of space has always struck me as one of the ten best covers ever to grace a comic, but Gerhard was so frustated by its colours that when he hung it on its clip on completion, he did so facing the wall.

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“In these situations,” writes Dave, “you take the hint and just hope it’s still on its hook, face to the wall, when you come in tomorrow. It’s HIS cover.”

Hilariously, however, Dave confesses that during much earlier days – the beginning to HIGH SOCIETY – he tried his hand at watercolours for the covers without comprehending that you were supposed to dilute them. You know, add water. So he used them as you would oil and acrylics, virtually smearing them onto the board. Such is the way of the self-taught artist. I actually liked those covers, but you can’t un-see something once you’ve been shown.

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Successful experimentations are equally well documented, like Gerhard’s discovery that using a toothbrush to flick white or red ink onto the boards was far more effective for snow, stars and blood than an airbrush. There are lots and lots of different space and star effects in evidence. Also, in one instance, a book bearing bloody finger prints. They’re Gerhard’s, if that ever proves forensically relevant.

You may have noticed by now that the covers are presented in different ways. The majority are shot from the originals before some or all of the lettering and extra effects have been added which, with attendant notes, gives extra insight into the process behind them. I find it fascinating to peer behind the curtains to see bits pasted on here and there, and what was entrusted to the printers instead.

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Others are reproductions of the covers as we encountered them complete with the ever-evolving CEREBUS logo and other typography. I learned a new word: “majuscule”. Sim has long been hailed as one of the medium’s all-time greatest letterers, sliding sentences up and down, giving them an extra lilt or cadence (when Thatcher is speaking, for example), and deploying the visual equivalent of onomatopoeia in places. At least one is the result of Sim and Gerhard revisiting a cover, recreating it for a commission.

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They’re reproductions or recreations because some of the originals have been sold, and so many more have been stolen. I’ll leave the introduction to fill you in on that aspect.

So yes, there are practical and commercial considerations as well as artistic ones assessed. From time to time, Dave’s Inner Business Manager retrospectively smacks himself upside the head to much comedic effect when either carelessly or wilfully making design decisions which ran the risk of thwarting his own sales.

When getting it right on #52 he writes: “Cerebus breaking a chair over the head of a barbarian. Yes, Dave, BRANDING. What is it you’re not ‘getting’ about what you’re trying to sell here?” In addition both Cerebus and the logo are found at the top, so easily seen even in shops with semi-tiered shelves which obscure some comics’ bottom halves. Everything is a learning curve including copyright infringement, though Dave did get away with it on satirical grounds.

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“The three ‘Wolveroach’ covers which I really just did to show Frank Miller and Joe Rubenstein how the WOLVERINE mini-series covers SHOULD have been done – more like Neal Adams. Thus overshooting the ‘Branding’ runway and smashing through Marvel’s intellectual property fence and leaving this mixed metaphor jackknifed into their swimming pool with its tail in the air.”

Of the second in the series, #55: “Now that you mention it, it DID look sort of familiar”.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we finish where Dave Sim and Gerhard concluded, with the final ten issues sub-titled CEREBUS: THE LAST DAY. For this Gerhard supplied a detailed 360-degree view of the room divided into nine covers which conjoin seamlessly with each other and at each end.

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This in itself constitutes sequential art when considering that time passes ever so slowly inside, but the pan is paused with #298 for a halting juxtaposition.

That’s what I meant when I wrote at the start that the exterior art informs what lies within and – at times – creates a narrative all of its own.

This is a gallery we never thought we’d see because of those aforementioned colour costs which would have jeopardised the self-publisher’s finances, so bravo to IDW for enabling this miracle.

I’d only add that to close this book immediately after the final cover is to feel almost as bereft as Mark and I did after reading the very last panel on the final page of CEREBUS itself twelve years ago.

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Although: lo and behold, here comes the brand-new CEREBUS IN HELL? #0, on Page 45’s shelves this very week!

SLH

Buy Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cormorance (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes.

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“This summer I went swimming,
“This summer I might have drowned,
“But I held my breath, and I kicked my feet,
“And I moved my arms around,
“I moved my arms around.”

– ‘Swimming Song’ by Loudon Wainwright III

It’s Nick Hayes himself who chose that epigraph to this otherwise wordless graphic novel, and it could not be more appropriate. It speaks to the heart of the struggle inside the story, both figuratively and otherwise.

I say “wordless” but it’s far from silent. It is bursting with the guttural calls of the cormorants, and on one of its many spectacular double-page spreads the late-night “toowheet” of an owl observing all gives way to the “chip chip” “peep peep” of an early dawn chorus. Framed by foliage, to the left a crescent moon shines over the city and its suburbs, soothing what was a heart-rending, glass-shattering day, while to the right the sun rises over the still of a disused reservoir in the process of being reclaimed by nature, one’s eyes drawn there following the flight path of ever-present cormorants.

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It is a book of staggering beauty told in aquatic shades of blue and green adorned here at there with spots of warm orange, all printed on rich, creamy paper. Maximum use is made of form and textures of wood-grain and water, wings and feathers, or the skeletal shapes of tree trunks and branches beneath so many different leaves. The old-fashioned diving arch of the indoor and outdoor municipal swimming pools looms large in the second section, before the third act wherein the first two conjoin lets loose an orgy of free-flowing nature at its most energetic.

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That whirlwind and flood of movement is heralded by a thrilling format surprise which opens up an oasis within the industrial and a moment of calm in the turbulence – with nature buzzing, nature calling – immediately followed by a plunge whose depth is delivered in a burst of air bubbles and concentric ripples. Then the cormorant dives too.

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Nick Hayes’ THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER was an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and a ridiculous clever reprise of Coleridge’s ancient original to mourn man’s mismanagement of nature. Here nature’s healing power both over one’s heart and itself is celebrated instead, as long as we take the trouble to connect with it.

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I can’t say much more even of its structure for fear of spoiling your own experience, but it begins with a boy then it begins with a girl. Commemorative photographs taken of the family on each of his birthdays are dear to the boy; soon he will be eight. Badges awarded to the girl on achieving new swimming lengths are lovingly sewn onto her swimsuit by her mother; she’s aiming for 100 metres next. The boy’s mum sends him to school with fresh packed lunches with a heart and kisses drawn on slips of paper each day which he keeps inside his school desk. The girl’s mum teaches her swimming which they both adore; but the boy’s not terribly good at it.

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Each will have reason to break into the disused reservoir surrounded by wooden fencing and wire mesh fencing, and their journeys are not that dissimilar.

SLH

Buy Cormorance and read the Page 45 review here

Saving Grace (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grace Wilson…

You’re here? You better have come to fix the house or you can leave.”
“My girls! You are all so feisty! I love it! RAAARR!
“Well, my darlings… Grace, exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine, you’re right, the house is in disrepair, and something needs to be done.
“SO I’M RENOVATING THE ENTIRE HOUSE!
“And then, I shall sell it.
“But, I’m an organised man, so you have four weeks’ notice.
“But hey, if you come across £1,000,000 then call me.
“I’ll see myself out…”

Well, Mr Zanetti, the landlord of Grace and her chums is just the most delightful chap, isn’t he? He drops his little bombshell just after telling Grace the best cure for her spots, which apparently even Anthea Roddick of Body Shop fame swears by, is male semen… Grace is mid-swig of her cuppa and ends up exhaling tea through her nose halfway across the table. Which is when exuberant Vicky, elegant Jessica and punky rebel Maxine arrive to save the day and here we are…

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House hunting seems a rather tedious prospect for our ladies, so when a deluge of rain floods the basement and forces them out of Mr Zanetti’s slimy clutches even sooner than anticipated, a £99 package holiday to sunnier climes seems the most elegant and entertaining solution to their immediate accommodation anxieties.

What it actually does is end up exacerbating tensions between our quartet and pretty soon Grace finds herself hunting for a room in a shared house by herself… It’s even more of a humbling experience than looking for a job… She’s currently working on a zero-hours contract in an art supplies shop, dealing with customers who think asking for a 12” hog hair is a prime opportunity for some unwelcome innuendo…

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Ah, good old London town. Not that I personally think there is anything remotely good about it, and this highly entertaining graphic novel only serves to reinforce my prejudices against the Big Smoke. I just can’t understand how young people can possibly manage to survive, never mind thrive, in such a ludicrously expensive environment, whilst earning so relatively little. It’s like student life forever with a fraction of the fun to me. Simultaneously, meanwhile, there are artisan bakeries and other hipster joints springing up everywhere charging ever higher prices for what are, in essence, the basic essentials revamped and all tarted up. No, give me the marginally lower priced pleasures of the provincial life every time. Well, Nottingham anyway!

Grace, like most young Londoners going nowhere rapidly, doesn’t consider leaving the city an option, and so instead we are able to enjoy her mis-adventures at a mildly smug (on my part at least) remove. Well, unless you are someone in exactly her position I suppose! In which case you will no doubt be nodding sagely and wincing in sympathy in equal measure. Presumably this work draws upon the creator’s own experiences, and for a first graphic novel it is excellent. The slightly untidy art style might not be to everyone’s taste, but it neatly captures the down at heel lifestyle Grace and her friends are living!

JR

Buy Saving Grace and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl #1 (£2-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?motor-girl-1-cover
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? You may even have seen Terry Moore’s new avatar on Twitter – of a diminutive, comedy, green alien, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm. No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving. Which is deadly as well as ever so slightly illegal.

But is that all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO (and HOW TO DRAW)? Oh ye of little faith!

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All it takes is a single, un-signposted panel (if you’re alert enough to spot it) to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for – either as well or instead.

So yes, new shorter-form series before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

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Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, superb use of grey tones at night, and – oh dear, Libby, I’d really get off that cell phone if you want to outlast this series.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you this time.

Hey, after the RACHEL RISING OMNIBUS s/c (just £49-99, half the price of its component parts!), I think I’m allowed a succinct Mr. Moore review!

SLH

Buy Motor Girl #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Muhammad Ali h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Sybille Titeux & Amazing Ameziane…

“And then muhammad-ali-coveryou meet Malcom X…
“All of Harlem is ready to follow him, but you are the one he chooses.
“You like him as much as he likes you, and he knows how to put your thoughts into words. You never leave his side, you are like soulmates finding each other in a sentimental movie.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this biography. If you’ve read a few comic biographies you’ll know that much like prose ones, often they can feel rather dry and not really present a fully-formed picture of the individual in question. Perhaps that is even more true with comic biographies actually, given the much more concise amount of time and space the creators have to present their take on an individual.

I’m happy to report to I did really enjoy this work.  It wisely picks some interesting scenes and episodes from Ali’s life that it wants to focus on and then presents those in very detailed fashion, often with quotes from a fixed cast of talking heads. Again, the cast is chosen carefully, a narrow selection of his opponents, (including Henry Cooper who so very nearly beat Ali, then Cassius Clay at Wembley Stadium in June 1968), his inner circle of boxing coaches and people like Malcom X and Elijah Muhammad.

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A relatively small portion is given over to his boxing bouts, just the most famous ones like the bout with Cooper, his two match-ups with Sonny Liston, the Rumble In The Jungle with George Forman and the Thriller In Manila with Joe Frazier, which I think is probably the right choice. And even these are seen mainly from the perspective of his opponents or coaches looking back, which provides an informed, relatively objective viewpoint, rather than Ali’s bombast.

The majority of the book actually focuses on his socio-political awakening and subsequent cultural influence. For some of my generation and younger, especially an ocean away, who only ever knew Ali the hero, it’ll perhaps be surprising to learn how reviled and feared he was by the white American populace at large at the time once he converted to Islam, Malcom X by his side as he rejected Cassius Clay as his slave name, and joined the Nation Of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. He was already regarded as an obnoxious braggadocio by a lot of people, perhaps not unreasonably so given some of the more unpleasant trash-talking antics he submitted his opponents too.

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But once he embraced Islam it was open season on him, which ultimately culminated with his imprisonment at his refusal to fight in Vietnam. His impassioned speech on that topic, encompassing the inequalities still faced by blacks at the time, was an immensely powerful oration, and it is portrayed superbly across a double-page spread. It also earned him a prison sentence of 5 years, a fine of $10,000 and a ban from boxing of 3 years. He managed to avoid prison whilst the case was appealed, but his boxing licence wasn’t returned for nearly 4 years.

Given the FBI’s then covert COINTELPRO program to engage in covert surveillance against black leaders and groups, with the justification that they were infiltrated by communists, to “increase factionalism, cause disruption” that definitely contributed (at the very least…) to the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. it is perhaps surprising that Ali himself wasn’t the subject of an assassination attempt.

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The work also shows the one act he truly regretted for the rest of his life, turning his back, figuratively and literally on Malcom X. Malcom had already split from the Nation Of Islam, perceiving Elijah Muhummad as someone who wasn’t a true Muslim in heart or practice, and choosing to whole-heartedly embrace traditional Islam, including a pilgrimage to Mecca. Ali, meanwhile, was touring various African countries at the behest of the Nation Of Islam when a chance meeting outside a hotel occurred in Ghana (not Nigeria, as the creators incorrectly suggest here). Malcom called out to Ali, delighted to see him, and Ali simply turned and walked away for the entire world to see. Within a year, Malcom X was dead, and Ali always deeply regretted both the snub itself, and then not ever making amends with his friend.

Ali’s early life and latter post-boxing days bookend the meat of the story, told in sped-up fashion so as to encapsulate his whole life. I thought overall this was a very well presented work. I did struggle slightly with some of the narration at times, purely because much of it is worded in the second person as though it is spoken to Ali himself. It’s a distracting conceit I personally didn’t particularly care for though after a while you do stop noticing it. The art is excellent, with lots of interesting page and panel composition devices, and some nice period touches. In summary, it might not be the greatest biography but it is a very good biography of The Greatest.

JR

Buy Muhammad Ali h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Aleister & Adolf h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Avon Oeming…

“Your pathetic sex aleister-adolf-coverrituals don’t stand a chance against the power of the swastika.”
“The symbol isn’t yours, Rudolf.”
“The blood of thousands will make the swastika a Nazi sigil forever. The Jews, they will power it with their lives.”
“Their deaths, you mean. God will forsake you! I will bring such horrors down upon you!”
“We are creating horrors you cannot even imagine. Filling our sigil with the deaths of millions. Death is more powerful than sex.”

So that would be Aleister Crowley interrogating Rudolph Hess with the aid of massive amounts of mind-bending chemicals whilst being observed by (Bond creator) Ian Fleming! This is a fantastically nonsensical, sex-filled, drug-addled black and white romp where we are requested to believe that her Majesty’s government have enlisted the Beast (as Crowley liked to be known) to defeat Adolf Hitler through the power of Magick.

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This is one of those classic take a pinch of truth (Hitler’s obsession with the occult and astrology) and spin a yarn only fractionally more unbelievable than some of the strange secret missions that did actually take place during WW2. Our story is told through the eyes of a young agent called Roberts, entrusted to keep an eye on proceedings and report in to his superiors. He quickly falls under Crowley’s influence, however, becoming an acolyte of the Beast, though he likes to try and convince himself he is merely operating undercover.

We actually first meet Roberts in 1995, dying of cancer in New York City, when a young web designer, utterly baffled by the fact that he can’t prevent the logos on a new webpage for his corporate client from moving around, is sent to speak with him for some arcane reason. I was actually enjoying the ‘40s period part of the story so much I had forgotten about the modern opening by the conclusion! Rest assured, though, the story does come very neatly full chalk drawn magical circle.

Excellent art as ever from Oeming, perfectly capturing the noir tone of Rushkoff’s writing. Nice to read something that is as disturbing as it is amusing. Though I think what perturbed me most is how Aleister Crowley looks more than a little like Brian Michael Bendis!! It only occurred to me due to Oeming’s long collaboration with Bendis but once I had thought the thought, the similarity could not be unseen!

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I do also in fact wonder whether it might not be a little conceit on Oeming’s part, much like Moebius making Jodorowsky the likeness of Professor Alan Mangel in MADWOMEN OF THE SACRED HEART. Not least because there is also a very specific sexy synchronicity between those two works involving three-way action. I would love to believe so, but actually, I think Bendis just does happen to have a remarkable resemblance to the Beast! Still, some would say Bendis is quite the magician in his own right… Marvel certainly would!

JR

Buy Aleister & Adolf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c (£26-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Davide Gianfelice, Becky Cloonan, Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, various, Massimo Carnevale.

“Nothing comes free or easy. northlanders-book-2The good life always requires a turn through the shit from time to time.”

Ain’t that the truth? Some turns are shittier than other, and the good life is not guaranteed.

Each one of these self-contained Viking sagas is as exceptional as it is varied: you never know what you’ll find dug up from its history and hammered into narrative next. Here Brian Wood conjures ten generations of Icelandic family feuding beginning in 871 A.D. when its earliest settlers – a family of three – heaved their scant possessions salvaged from Norway onto its far from fecund soil. Life was hard but at least they were free. Within a year, however, they were followed by others driven out by the land-grabs back home, fleeing the rule of hated King Harald. These were larger families bringing strength in numbers backed up by the weight of their swords.

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So it is that Ulf Hauksson’s merchant father takes it upon himself to toughen his son up in the most brutal of fashions, thereby creating a monster.

“Neither of them could look at me for weeks.
“This was valuable time for me. It allowed me the chance to detail and catalogue my hatred, to fully articulate, in my mind, who deserved what and why.
“That morning my parents had a son. By that evening, as a result of my father’s efforts to teach me cruelty and violence, they had something very different on their hands.”

What follows is that afternoon’s legacy: two centuries of ever-escalating struggles for power as the population expands and sustainable self-governance crumbles under the weight of numbers, the influence of those still in thrall to Norway and corruption in the form of Christianity and its Holy Men with their insidious schemes to divide, conquer and then reap the spoils in the form of hegemony and wealth.

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Marriage plays no small part in this. Indeed it’s all about family and two fathers are going to find out precisely how sharp the serpent’s tooth is before their lives are done.

Structurally, ‘The Icelandic Trilogy’ is stunning. Three chapters each devoted to three separate snapshots spanning two hundred years. The first barely boasts a population to speak of, but by 999 A.D. a port has been established and the Haukssons have built a heavily fortified compound.

It isn’t, however, impervious. Here is a daughter:

“I was taught to keep books when I was six years old. I am literate where Mar is not. The Hauksson men fight, the women administrate.
“And together we dominate. The society of Iceland is balanced on our stacks of silver and gold, our sword at its throat.
“Which makes the attempt on my life unthinkable.”

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The family’s gained ground through guile and good judgement, but it’s not immune to being goaded – and it’s about to meet its match. As for 1260 A.D., it is to despair but then so it goes, eh?

NORTHLANDERS has played host to a magnificently strong set of artists and Azaceta is on glorious form in his tale of innocence bludgeoned to death, while Zezelj’s jagged plains of ice and snow and treacherous, shadow-strewn ravines are freezing. You wouldn’t cross them without a thick pair of boots.

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His hair and beards are as matted as you can imagine and probably crawling with lice. There’s one page which starts out with a lamb so startlingly lovely you wonder what it’s doing there – it’s quite the contrast to what’s gone before. By the time you reach you bottom, though, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, well, that makes sense!”

This volume also includes ‘The Girl In The Ice’ illustrated by Becky Cloonan, Brian Wood’s cohort on DEMO, ‘The Sea Road’ and ‘Sven The Immortal’. There are more of these thicker “books” repackaging the slimmer “volumes” to come, but in the meantime Brian (personal favourite graphic novel being LOCAL with Ryan Kelly) has returned to this era on very fine form with BLACK ROAD illustrated by Garry Brown, whose first collection is out now and reviewed by our Jonathan.

SLH

Buy Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Intercorstal 683 (£4-00, self-published) by Gareth A Hopkins.

I don’t know, is the answer. I don’t know what’s going on except that it’s quite the experience.

Anything this abstract is open to interpretation, and I have no crib sheet to copy from. I never do and never will and I truly wouldn’t want one.

I love experiencing new art for myself. That’s something I touched upon sarcastically in my review of ANCESTOR wherein technology has evolved to render everyone all-informed. That too will give you much pause for thought.

I found this thrilling. In spite of the chaos of the full-colour cover, this black and white orgy of interlocking forms strikes me as highly disciplined. It doesn’t look random at all.

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It’s like a carefully choreographed ballet as performed by crisply delineated yet thoroughly malleable, constantly morphing techno-organic entities whose forms appear to coil round each other, perhaps merge then separate.

None of the images I have for you here are consecutive and, with hindsight, that might have been an error on my part for it’s all about sequence. Nor is each dance brief, so the result is a rightfully indulgent, extended eye-bath and I promise you that seeing is believing: you really do need to pick up a physical copy from our shelves for yourselves and decide what you make of it.

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Are those individuals in space-suit armour crouching in a simian fashion, awaiting orders from the taller one to the left?

I simply don’t know.

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Just over halfway through there appears to be a blinding light eroding these forms during which Hopkins demonstrates a superb sense of negative space before a robed, monocular individual rises and strides, best foot forward into the foreground (possibly).

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After which darkness descends and the formerly stark art is splashed with swathes of sweeping black ink and – to me – a lone survivor emerges to sit on a large cushion tapping into its laptop.

This has no words.

I have no words.

If I was any more egomaniacal than I already am, I would swear blind that this was created purely to make monkeys out of reviewers, Gareth A. Hopkins chortling in private at our flailing public attempts to do justice to what was for me a so-far unique experience. I suspect I have just taken a Rorschach Test.

It’s very beautiful. Let’s leave it at that.

SLH

Buy The Intercorstal 683 and read the Page 45 review here

Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.

Thrilling foreshortening on this best cover yet, for which I am reliably informed Sara built a model from steel wire and live bees.

It’s possible I may have misheard that last bit.

We’ve so far seen little other than rodents in this all-ages, anthropomorphic, transglobal adventure: lizards for transport and beetles for heavy lifting at the Egyptian archaeological dig, and now bees for the Antarctic sledge race to track down the legendary Sceptre Of The Sun before a less benevolent faction gets its purloining paws on it.

It was the startling discovery of an ancient stone in MULP #1 which catalysed this quest. On it were two remarkably similar accounts of an apocalyptic event in both Egyptian and Greek, albeit seen from their respective mythological perspectives. Most intriguing, however, were the Mesoamerican drawings in between the other two records on that self-same tablet, the most prominent of which is an image reminiscent of Viracocha, creator of the sun, the moon, and the stars, holding two sceptres and surrounded by ferocious, fanged beasts. This Incan myth backs up at least one of the other two in implying that the apocalyptic event may have been, furthermore, an extinction-level event for at least one species of giant. And, hey, for the mice to have evolved now to the level of human Victorians, their natural predators must have surely died out too.

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The legend ends with the creation of a second race divided into groups and taught divergent customs, languages and songs. To guide them Viracocha gave his most favoured son, Manco Capac, one of the two golden sceptres, the Tapac-Yauri.

The search for this led our intrepid band of explorers to Peru, all the way up to Manchu Picchu where, sequestered deep beneath the ruins of a solar observatory, they discovered an engraving which seemed to confirm the links between the three civilisations and imply both beneficial and fiercely destructive uses for that sceptre, all centred on the sun. So now things are really heating up, because if our own mouse mates don’t find the fabled sceptre first then the less altruistic expedition – which was already proved itself ruthless – won’t be using it to light candles or nurture crops.

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For now we’re on ice, as our furry friends attempt to weather the freezing conditions they find themselves in. But will it all end in fire?

I love how so many visual clues have been embedded in the various mythical accounts, along with extra allusions to the likes of Prometheus. It all ties together so satisfyingly.

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Some startling, starry skies and other lovely low-light colouring from Dunkerton, even by day, but otherwise for this third instalment I’m going to leave you to expect the unexpected, especially at night, and to hunt down my own hidden clues.

SLH

Buy Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 of 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“Oh, can we give you a ride back to town, Mr. Wiener? Only it’s awfully draughty in here… now.”

Now that you’ve shot a hole in his roof, McBoo.

“Umm, after we’ve got our car out of the ditch, that is.
“And some of the ditch out of our car.”

That one wasn’t McBoo’s fault, surprisingly. The ditching was down to fellow detective Kirk Bergman’s malfunctioning map-reading skills in the pouring rain, but whatever the weather this dysfunctional duo are a car crash waiting to happen.

If they’re going to solve any case it’s going to be by accident. Fortunately, at those they are specialists.

Here they are summoned to Weiner Bros Studios by a certain Sam Weiner on account of death threats received by Dunstan Bassett, an aging film star whose career has gone to the dogs. Alas, award-winning Sam Weiner seems otherwise engaged; it’s his brusquer brother Jack who greets them just in time for Dunstan’s stunt double to get blown up on set, leaving nothing behind but his boots.

For rapacious Jack this is far from inconvenient: releasing that footage will be a money-making goldmine. But for Bergman and McBoo it’s a sure sign that the danger in Dunstan’s death threats is all too real so they swiftly set about piecing together clues. It’s only when those pieces fall off that the pieces, the clues, and the clue in the glue start sticking together to make sense.

We have only just begun, for what they should be investigating is staring them right in the face. It’s a shame, then, that McBoo’s attention span is shorter than a squirrel’s.

“McBoo, I don’t know what you’re doing… but I really hope you’ll have stopped by the time I turn around.”

From the writer of two of our very few books of illustrated prose, which are commended to you with all my heart – THIRTEEN CHAIRS and A BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT – I present you with all-ages pun-tastic, slapstick comicbook crime from The Phoenix for which I can find flip-all usable interior art online. Again.

PUBLISHERS, THIS IS A VISUAL MEDIUM.

Please see Pager 45’s Phoenix Comic Book section for more from this stable.

SLH

Buy Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity and read the Page 45 review here

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

Good grief, there are normally 30-odd here!

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Sandman Overture s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III

The Return Of The Honey Buzzard (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Aimee De Jongh

Where Do I Belong? (£9-99, www.silentarmy.org) by various, edited by M.P. Fikaris

Instruction Manual For Lonely Mountains (£14-99, www.silentarmy.org) by Nicola Gunn & M.P. Fikaris

DC Comics / Dark Horse Comics Crossovers: Justice League vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC / Dark Horse) by various

Deadpool V Gambit: The “V” Is For “Vs.” s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker & Danillo Beyruth

Rocket Raccoon And Groot vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Kocher & Michael Walsh

The Ghost And The Lady Book 1 (£15-99, Kodansha) by Kazuhiro Fujita

Psycho Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Midori Gotou & Natsuo Sai

News

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ITEM! LOST TALES by Adam Murphy wins Young Readers British Comics Award as voted for by Leeds school children. Such a beautiful, witty collection of short stories from around the world – pop it on your Christmas lists!

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ITEM! Matthew Dooley wins this year’s Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize 2016 with this fabulous piece!

Interview with Matthew Dooley here.

At the time of typing Page 45 still has a limited number of copies of Matthew Dooley’s sold-out MEANDERING in stock and reviewed. Oh, whoops, we sold out overnight. Still, you can read the review!

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ITEM! Watch Jamie Smart a spectacular BUNNY VERSUS MONKEY panel right before your eyes!

You’ll find Jamie Smart’s all-ages books in Page 45’s Phoenix Comics Book section.

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ITEM! Dan Berry (SENT / NOT SENT and COELIFER ATLAS etc – pop him in our search engine!) drew me as a bird, from life, right in front of me. He even drew my eyebrow ring. I’m so totally plucked.

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ITEM! First page from the most recent HELLBLAZER #3 (this isn’t a wind-up. It’s like the old scathing, anti-authoritian HELLBLAZER). Too, too funny:

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ITEM! Primary school in Scotland scraps homework in favour of reading books and comics instead.

  1. Yes, they recommended comics!
  2. Both pupils and parents were balloted and they voted in favour
  3. The whole endeavour was reported by the Daily Mirror factually, with a balanced, level head and not one single sound-effect or careless semi-caustic remark.
  4. Progress!

– Stephen

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Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk & The Turkish Lieutenant. You should be able to click on this image to read our review.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews November week one

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Featuring John Allison’s Bobbins, new Grey Area by Tim Bird, John Martz, Chuck Palahniuk & Duncan Fegredo, Simon Roy, Moebius, Matt Sheean, Malachi Ward, Michel Rabagliati, Neil Gaiman, Adam Kubert!

Bobbins vol 1: 2016 (Signed) (£5-00) by John Allison.

Who calls their own comic BOBBINS?

Well, John Allison, obviously.

Of course, it might not be self-deprecation: a man with such intimate knowledge of the Singer Sewing Machine might well be referencing the weaving of threads – the intertwining of lives, as they move in and out of each other’s orbits. It’s something he’s spectacularly good at.

And here’s a hidden art you don’t see too often: between each of these perfectly timed, interconnected, vertical, four-panel gag strips with their own sublime beats and conversational cadence, there lies an extra beat. Some follow swiftly on from each other, to be sure, but not every conversation has to be heard. Instead it’s not just the strips themselves which move the narrative so swiftly on, but the judicious gaps in between.

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I like that the left-hand strip on each printed page is raised a little above the right. That too carries its own momentum – a musical ebb and flow rather than the comparatively regimented monotony of next, next, next. These are the details that matter.

From the creator of sundry other BAD MACHINERY bobbins like GIANT DAYS and EXPECTING TO FLY (Page 45’s biggest-selling comic last year) comes a self-contained, signed and limited edition comic both written and drawn by John Allison which focuses on the employees of a British local newspaper called City Limit.

I love that the paper’s called City Limit, singular. It only has one. And it’s not even a city, it’s the town called Tackleford.

The cast includes familiar faces from EXPECTING TO FLY including Shelley Endeavour Winters who’s starry-eyed with enthusiasm at the prospect of her first shared accommodation yet worried about the potential finality of leaving home. Once fully fledged, will she still have a room there to go back to? It’s a familiar inner conflict, but the joy lies in the unexpected, even extreme ways it’s expressed.

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Then there is this: John Allison’s characters have an inner life in which their minds are ticking and whirring internally and independently of each other so that when one responds or interjects, the other is often still ruminating on their own train of thought, as if the other hadn’t even spoken.

“Shelley. I don’t think writing a sex column means you have to go out there and rut furiously. You have to be more of an anthropologist.”
“A priapic David Attenborough? So I’d use a night vision camera.”
“I reckon you’re looking for anecdotal evidence, not a prison sentence.”
“Do you think work will pay for one?”

Shelley’s still thinking optimistically of the night-vision camera, not the prison sentence. Same thing happens here:

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Similarly there’s a photo-shoot sequence to publicise this local paper’s sex column – which Shelley’s really not sure that she’s up to, but she did go and blurt out the idea in a brainstorming session – from which Amy physically ejects the inept, gangly-limbed Rich with much visual mangling and invites Shelly to devour the camera “As if you don’t bone it soon, a volcano will spontaneously erupt”.

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Immediately you see Shelley’s grateful adoration for the intervention, but not The Look. For that you’re made to wait for its delayed effect at the bottom of the subsequent strip, for once Shelley’s mastered this empowering advice, she cannot let go. The satori and success of it is still buzzing in her head.

“Shelley, the photo shoot is over. Stop doing The Face.”

How often in any medium do you see this oh-so-astutely observed human trait of a lingering daydream or train of thought?

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“Wow, That’s a good trick, Amy.”
“I know. You look like a five alarm fire at a fuck factory.”

And that’s what I mean about cadence.

It’s all so exquisitely well drawn. The range of expressive emotions each character undergoes within a mere four panels is riveting. Each character is animated – as in not just brought to life, but to vivid movement as when Amy presses her palms together and Shelley sashays away into the foreground at the bottom of the page and into the next instalment, one forearm in front of her slinking, sliding hips.

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Let’s talk fashion sense, and the crisp triangles of white shirt jutting out from under Shelley’s jumper. They don’t hang, they jut.

Let’s talk background details like the Tetris poster hanging from Shelley’s home bedroom wall, a nod to Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY earlier in Shelley’s life in which Tetris was used as a metaphor for coping with life. Or the punchline to one particular page of brainstorming which doesn’t come in the dialogue, but on Len’s flipchart assessment of the finance-free idea of inviting a catalysed citizenship to contribute to the paper instead of his already ill-paid minions:

“Unworkable Utopian Options.”

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There is so much lurking beneath the surface, so many skills which don’t trumpet themselves and shouldn’t. As Edward Albee (‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf’) once wrote “I don’t like symbolism that hits you over the head. A symbol should not be a cymbal.” You shouldn’t hear it clash. Similarly you shouldn’t read something as if it’s being written in front of you – almost hear the keyboard being punched – or see it being drawn. To enjoy a comic we shouldn’t necessarily perceive all the meticulous work that goes into making it so wickedly witty and enjoyable. I just thought it was about time I did that for John Allison, because this is the very best of British comedy in any medium, with far more depth than that epithet implies.

I’m probably going to witter on about the hair next time. There’s some great hair here.

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Every one of our copies is signed!

Also available from John himself this coming weekend at Thoughtbubble, where I’m sure he can be prevailed upon to sketch too!

SLH

Buy Bobbins vol 1: 2016 (Signed) and read the Page 45 review here

Burt’s Way Home (£14-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz.

A perfectly formed,burts-way-home-cover poignant little book, this is set amongst snowflakes, staring out at the stars.

It’s very kind and very quiet, told in black, white and eggshell blues.

Two alternating perspectives are presented to us: Lydia’s and young Burt’s.

Lydia is a mouse of a certain age, homely in a long, pleated skirt, cardigan and glasses. She has many family portraits on her walls. Burt is a young, blue bird.

“Burt and I live at the edge of town, in the small apartment building at the bottom of Mount Maple,” we are told.

Burt then shares his private thoughts in two pages of comics:

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Oh.

Well, clearly Lydia isn’t Burt’s biological mother, for she is a mouse, and he is a bird.

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Lydia walks in to their living room, bearing comforting milk and cookies, and sees Burt perched on a chair, staring silently out of the window at the infinite evening sky.

“I hope he’s happy here.”

This sets the timing and tone perfectly for what is to come, Lydia watching over her charge – as he sets about repurposing some household appliances then holding the resultant jumble ever higher in the sky – if not with a complete understanding, then at least loving patience, wondering what’s going on in his head and only wishing he’d wear a hat.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what he’s been through,” she thinks.

“I know it will take some time before he settles in.”

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Everything here is so meticulously balanced and judiciously chosen – the alternate exchanges, the anthropomorphic tradition, the tenderness of expressions, Burt’s specific behaviour and the absence of any direct communication between the two until the very end – not only for maintaining the ambiguity of Burt’s true origins, but also the truth that, in all the most important ways, it really doesn’t matter.

John Martz has kindly signed and sketched in all our copies.

SLH

Buy Burt’s Way Home and read the Page 45 review here

Grey Area – Our Town (£7-00, Avery Hill) by Tim Bird…

“There wasgrey-area-our-town-cover a gap in the fence.
“I still think about it sometimes.
“I wonder if it’s still there.
“Maybe the fence has been repaired.
“Maybe the land was sold to developers.
“There could be a housing estate there now.
“Or a supermarket.
“Maybe it’s not how I remembered it.
“Was there a gate?
“Did we climb the fence?
“It isn’t marked on the map.”

Goodness me, if he hasn’t gone and done it again! Tim Bird is a master of making you stop and think. Which is a tad ironic because his comics are all about the fluidity of never-ending motion through time and space, with the emotions such journeys can invoke. Except in Tim’s universe you don’t need a TARDIS to experience the miraculous or the momentous. No. It’s right there in front of you all along, a world of never ending wonderment, if you simply open your mind as well as your eyes and look…

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After his (now out of print) treatise to the mighty motorway in GREY AREA: THE OLD STRAIGHT TRACK and his paean to a passage from capital to coast in GREY AREA: FROM THE CITY TO THE SEA (which won the 2015 award for Best British Comic), this GREY AREA sees Tim integrate the lives of two people in a most remarkable manner, utilising the power of well placed origami, set against the backdrop of their mutually shared locale. I’ll let Tim use his characters to explain in a far more imaginative manner than I ever could…

“Our paths crossed.”
“Our maps overlayed.”
“Time and place aligned.”
“Our boundaries broadened.”

I’ve said it before, but the man is a poet.

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Years later, having also moved on geographically, our characters return, just passing through on the train and deciding on a whim, triggered by a very poignant motif, to revisit those old haunts imbued with their shared love. The final dramatic full page spread, I’m not ashamed to say, made my heart swell and occasioned a solitary tear to roll down my cheek…

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JR

Buy Grey Area – Our Town and read the Page 45 review here

Paul Up North (£15-99, Conundrum) by Michel Rabagliati…

“So, when’re you gonna buy that bike?”
“I need to save up another hundred bucks. But I think I’ll get a moped instead… it’s less expensive, and I won’t need a permit or anything…”
“Smart move! Mopeds are fun. You can go anywhere, and they’re cheap on gas…!”

Sixteen-year-old Paul, of course, buys the moped, despite one last longing look at the far sexier motorcycle whilst in the shop. It’s barely more than a hairdryer, mind, and attracts the amused piss-taking attentions of the elder biker brother of the lovely young lady he’s trying to woo. He succeeds, eventually, despite his awkward, excruciating attempts at romance, and promptly falls madly, deeply in love with her. Which quite pleases the young lady in question. To start with at least anyway…

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Yes, Michel Rabagliati’s thinly veiled autobiographical creation returns with his hormones a-raging and his engine a-racing. Well, puttering along at least, much like his adolescent love life. It’ll end in tears, I suspect you all know that already, for Paul has ever been a boy to wear his heart on his sleeve, but to see the train wreck of first love hitting the buffers so damn hard, well, it’s enough to make you want to lock yourself in your bedroom and mope for a week in solidarity with our sensitive soul. His mum and dad are sympathetic, but even they lose patience eventually!

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For all of Paul’s tears though, this is a wonderfully sentimental and nostalgic look at the fun and frolics of teenage years, before the strictures of adulthood fully kick in. Life was simpler then, at that age, though it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time! Michel Rabagliati plays out the seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations of the waning of adolescence and reaching the cusp of adulthood note perfectly.

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This comic is in English, we promise. These pages from French Canadian edition.

JR

Buy Paul Up North and read the Page 45 review here

Habitat (£8-99, Image) by Simon Roy.

Evolution and devolution: habitat-coverthere isn’t one single trajectory.

Please don’t judge this book by its cover: there is nothing half so opaque inside.

Clear-lined and lambent, the interior art will take your breath away with its contours, perspectives, phenomenal sense of scale, the sheer wonder of what has come out of Simon Roy’s mind, then the extraordinary skill with which he has transferred his imagination onto the printed page.

Cho is a young man who’s just been sworn into the Brotherhood of the Habsec, He is now no longer a civilian, but an elite warrior of the Habitat Security who on his very first hunt has impressed his superiors enormously with his initiative, speed and prowess.

But what they’ve been hunting are humans – for their meat.

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This doesn’t disgust Cho, for there are no more animals left alive other than the Carrion Gulls in this closed environment, and we do not appear to have become vegetarians. Unfortunately cannibalism comes with a price, as anyone who lived through Britain’s BSE (Mad Cow Disease) crisis will recall after we decided it was a jolly good idea to turn our herbivore cattle into carnivores by feeding them each other in the form of meat and bone meal derived from cows including their nervous-system-rich spinal cords. Aren’t we a bunch of lovelies?

Human spinal cords are exactly what Cho’s younger family are gathering now from the communal midden:

“Mia, no! It’s the one part you’re not supposed to eat!”
“Mom says it’s okay. It’s just for soup.”
“Mom and Grandma have the shakes because they eat spines from the midden!”

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No, what our young Cho objects to is the gratuitous cruelty with which the Habsec bring home their prey. For that he is boisterously pushed around, which leads to an accidental, clay-breaking find.

“Boy! Where did that come from?”
“The civvie’s amulet, sir.”
“Speak up, trooper!”
“The civvie I caught today, sir. There was a punch card, inside the clay amulet he wore.”
“You have this punch card?”
“Yes.”
“Give it to me.”

Young trooper Cho does not hand it over.

Instead – somehow sensing the importance of what he has discovered – he once more seizes the initiative with speed and prowess, catalysing everything that is to come.

We will return to the plot soon enough – including that key metal punch card – but what Simon Roy has so aptly done for a regressive society is fused the futuristic with both the recent and ancient historical past.

Set on a vast, once thriving cylindrical space station barely maintained by the scant surviving, highly reclusive engineer teams – recycled oxygen and rotational gravity being two of the few still functional technologies – the resultant environment and stone architecture now overgrown with bamboo and trees is resonant both of Babylon 5, Aztec / Mayan culture and the Brutalist movement which spawned in Britain concrete monstrosities most famous perhaps in their high-rise, city-centre, public-parking incarnations, but also – to my mind – some of the most magical urban community housing like the mid-70s’ tiered, balconied Alexandra Road flats in Camden Town designed by Neave Brown. I’ve not lived there, so I don’t even know, but it always looked to me like something progressive, overwhelmingly sci-fi and gobsmackingly beautiful.

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They’re presented here with their ultra-clear, broad, bisecting walkways and waterways creating eye-popping vistas which then sweep upwards as their cylindrical world curves upwards around a central light-giving, heat-radiating sphere.

The channels are roamed by similarly styled and equally overgrown monuments on stilts, known to the Habsec at least as Engineering Platforms but which the civvies – presumably never having seen more than one at a time – revere as The Great Builder.

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But even the Habsec have limited understanding of what little technology is left to them. Mostly they fight with bows and arrows, staves, and a sword which is presented to each upon initiation. This is fashioned using a 3-D printer into which the only known metal punch card is ceremonially inserted, generating one solitary option: the sword.

That is why the unexpected discovery of a second punch card is of such staggering importance. What will it render when activated?

Well, that would depend on which of the four templates you choose.

In the balance of power between the civvies, the Habsecs and the Engineers, this could be a game-changer.

Like Emma Rios’ I.D. and Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward’s ANCESTOR, this was originally serialised in the periodical anthology, ISLAND, home and haven to much creative innovation.

The colours – in the outer habitat at least – are gentle and earthy and often washed in a mossy green, so that when blood is spilled it stands out a mile, as does the Engineers’ direct communications with their machines in bright red and yellow code.

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It also means that the mostly bare-limbed occupants seem very much at one with their environment, although they are dwarfed by it and their vulnerable, fleshly forms are not half so resilient.

So what happened to the space station so long ago that its marvels of technology have largely been lost and the lives of its inhabitants have been reduced to mere tribal survival?

SLH

Buy Habitat and read the Page 45 review here

The World Of Edena h/c (£44-99, Dark Horse) by Moebius…

“Father, Iworld-of-edena am afraid to approach the Paternum…”
“Silence, my child! You are weak and unenlightened, but the Paternum cares equally for all his offspring.”
“The communication has begun, Father, but we continue to experience the same interference problem.”
“No matter. Continue transcription. Please form a circle around the matrix, sirs. Then remain totally silent.”
“Father! Look! The screen is filled with the interference again. I… I am losing the signal! It is as if there is a more powerful force which…”
“This is impossible! Nothing can block the communication between our Father-Mother-God and us, his children!”
“I will try broadening the spectrum…”

You do that, son. Because if there is one thing I have learnt reading Moebius over the years, both his own stories (pretty much all currently out of print like THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE which is verrrrry frustrating) and those penned with the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky (THE INCAL / MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART) it is that, to paraphrase the late Douglas Adams, Moebius can do six impossible things before his morning café et croissant

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It has a fascinating genus, this material, beginning life as an exclusive promotional work for Citroën, simply entitled THE STAR about two seemingly genderless interstellar castaways, Stel and Atan, who drive around on their rather barren new home in an old Citroën. Eventually they find a pyramid which transports them to a veritable Garden of Eden elsewhere in the Universe.

It was a bit of a lightweight throwaway story, frankly, but it clearly stuck with Moebius, who decided to embark upon a sequel. Once he started he felt extremely inspired and quickly plotted out an epic storyline, which he realised was going to have be an extended series of books to do it justice. Hence this gargantuan tome which collects all six (well, five and a bit parts) together in English for the very first time.

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If you like the quasi-mystical malarkey going on in THE INCAL, you will love this, as it is undoubtedly the most philosophically inquisitive Moebius ever got in his own stories, covering pretty much all aspects of humanity, the structures of society, set against the backdrop of a so-called advanced civilisations and of course, the ever-enduring battle between omnipresent forces of good and evil.

Interestingly for all that, the stories themselves don’t feel remotely heavy-going, quite the opposite actually, as the more complex elements merely sit in the background of the extremely entertaining, and perilous, adventures of Stel and Atan. That is certainly due to the art style as well, which is as stripped down and pure ligne claire as Moebius ever got, with relatively sparse backgrounds devoid of the bonkers embellishments that populate the INCAL material. To my mind this is an exquisite triumph which serves proves Moebius is an equally talented writer as he is artist.

JR

Buy The World Of Edena h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ancestor (£13-99, Image) by Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward.

There plentyancestor-cover to give you much pertinent pause for thought here.

Do you ever grow a little anxious? Do you ever feel a bit down?

Perhaps you have a routine for that or a pick-me-up: some songs that will get you grinning or at least sooth away the stress. Maybe, if it’s more than a mood shift, then you have medication.

Now imagine there’s an app for that. Imagine there’s an app that will remember what buoyed you up in the past and present options for doing so again.

Now imagine that app was biologically hardwired into your brain so went with you everywhere and could even adjust your metabolism.

Welcome to The Service! It’s not just an app but the entire internet, social media and your personal profile combined. Everyone has it and it’s turned on permanently, whirring away inside your head, offering you information on sights and sounds, and even evaluating art objects so you know exactly what you should think about them. Individual insight is so overrated.

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Maybe you’d like to impress someone with skills you do not possess. You could run this exchange inside your mind:

“Run BarTndr.p”
“WELCOME TO BarTndr! WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE?”
“Two Black Widows’”
“CEDE PARTIAL MOTOR CONTROL TO BarTndr?”
“Sure…”

Suddenly you’re Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’. Might spike your serotonin levels, but that can be monitored and modulated too.

Wait: we’ve only just begun. I’ll try not to load this one way or the other, but do you take pleasure in the slow process of getting to know someone gradually, or would you feel more at ease without the initial small-talk, which in certain circumstances can prove quite awkward?

Our main protagonist Peter Chardin has just made use of the calming programme sent to him by Tom Matheson and it has worked wonders. Now Matheson introduces him in a bar to Anne Northrup, chic but in sunglasses so you can’t see her eyes. What Peter does have access to about Anne is any other number of the sort stats you might find on Bookface if you could trawl through someone’s history in an instant: personal history, friends and relatives, favourite music, favourite films, favourite books, favourite comics, sundry likes and dislikes and travel experience complete with photographs, ratings and perhaps even a list of subjects not up for discussion.

Presumably these are personalised with default settings for ‘public’ and ‘private’ which can then be adjusted for individuals; but what is “allowed” is there for immediate exchange.

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The brilliance of Sheean and Ward is that they utilise the comicbook medium to maximum effect here, showing us all this in a single panel – The Service’s manifold interactive options floating round each user’s head at eye-level in little yellow globules – reproducing as closely as possible the experience of that first instantaneous interaction. It’s dazzling to us, but it’s extraordinary what we can all become accustomed to.

And how lost we then feel when what we now take for granted is suddenly denied us. It’s bad enough leaving your mobile at home by mistake – suddenly you feel unconnected when you wouldn’t have thought twice about it two decades ago – and that’s just a phone! Now imagine you lost The Service.

That is precisely what happens when Matheson now drives Peter and Anne and a desultory, sceptical Jim to a last-minute party held at his estate by Patrick Whiteside. Peter, Anne and Jim have just enough time to search The Service to learn of the prospective host’s prior history:

“PATRICK WHITESIDE WAS PART OF THE R&D TEAM FOR THE SERVICE. HE DID KEY RESEARCH ON MATTER TRANSFERENCE AND SUB ATOMIC RECORDING.”

Matheson is already familiar:

“He’s not just a lab-coat, either. He’s transformed philosophy of the mind with his unique approach to intentionality.”

But he does have his critics, and a certain documented history. Oh, and a Suppression Field around his estate. The Service goes down just as Whiteside’s homestead comes into view, high upon rocks above the trees. It is… imposing… and it is guarded.

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Inside it is palatial, like a vast, luxuriously appointed personal exhibition hall and art gallery. And Peter does feel liberated by the lack of Service, allowing him to focus on and experience the paintings and sculptures personally, uninformed by the distractions and dictations of ‘expert’ outside information and accreditation. For someone who was on the research and development of The Service, Patrick Whiteside seems vehemently, vociferously keen on the benefits of not being dictated to.

At which point I would proffer Jonathan Hickman’s opening comicbook salvo from way back when, THE NIGHTLY NEWS.

I like that we’ve lost most of the vowels in the likes of BarTndr, like Tumblr, and I like that Peter Chardin’s are the only protagonist’s thoughts we are privy to throughout and – as opposed to the apps’ and exchanges’ capitals – that they’re all in a smaller lower case, giving them a vulnerable fragility, and him an isolation.

The printed page is about the matt-est I’ve ever encountered, and the work which was originally serialised in ISLAND (like Emma Rios’ I.D. and Simon Roy’s HABITAT) appears to be an organic, collaborative construct in both writing and art by Sheean and Ward. There is some gorgeous design work in elements I can’t even hint at for fear of giving the evolutionary game away, and the body language in chapter two was nuanced and telling – as was the walk from Patrick Whiteside’s public gallery into his private one.

Above all, however, it made me think a great deal about interaction: where we were once, where we are now and where we might go.

As to where we might go, this flew a great deal further than I was expecting.

SLH

Buy Ancestor and read the Page 45 review here

The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman Deluxe Edition h/c (£26-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Mark Verheiden & Adam Kubert, Arthur Adams, Michael Alred, Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Mark Buckingham, Matt Wagner, John Totleben, Eddie Campbell, others.

In which we concentrate on the question “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?”

I’ll tell you what happens when you finish a great story by Neil Gaiman: you go Very Quiet and Very Still. Nothing else happens except in your mind, and perhaps not even there for a few seconds. It needs time to process, to percolate. Shhh…

From the literary magician who can transform a motorcycle manual into something that not only sounds but is profound, comes another story about telling stories and indeed about stories told. Or, as Alan Moore might put it with particular application here, “All stories are true”.

After Lord knows how many fingers tapping on Lord knows how many keys, and so many wrists rendering different shades of pencil, there are so very many tales told about Batman in so many different ways that not all of them join up. How could they? Why even should they? Does it actually matter? The only important thing is that The Batman never gives up: “There’s always something you can do.” He’ll live, he’ll die and he’ll live again in animation on the television, in live action on the silver screen and on the page in prose and in comicbook form: revised, re-envisioned, reinvented.

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This is Gaiman and Kubert’s answer to the question of discontinuity, embracing it all in word, in form and in deed. And celebrating it by paying tribute. Kubert’s pencils are glorious, and his ability to mimic Mazzucchelli, Lee, Kane, Adams, McKean et al is stupendous. In addition, can I confess that I guffawed at Two Face’s car?

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As the story opens, Batman lies dead in a casket. His friends and adversaries from across the last several decades gather round in the back of the Dew Drop Inn (and you should, you really should) tended by the man who killed Bruce’s parents in Crime Alley.

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Each stands up to tell a different story of his demise or recall what the driven dark knight said about life. As they do so, the man they are mourning listens to them closely and watches unseen, unsure of what he is witnessing. Is Bruce dead? And if so, who is his female fellow shade?

“This is Crime Alley.”
“Yes. Very good.”
“But it hasn’t looked like this for sixty years or more. This is crazy… Why are we here?”
“Why? Bruce, you never left.”

The finest pages are most certainly the last, but my secular self very much enjoyed this exchange edited to safeguard your own discovery, summing up exactly why I just don’t care whether or not there is an afterlife. It’s one of the best explanations of and exhortations to altruism that occurs to me right now:

“Are you ready to let it go now? To move on?”
“To go to my final reward? I told you, I don’t believe in –”
“You don’t get Heaven, or Hell. Do you know the only reward you get from being Batman? You get to be Batman.”

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Contains WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER plus SECRET ORIGINS #36, SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1, WEDNESDAY COMICS #1-12, BATMAN #686, DETECTIVE COMICS #853 and GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME #1.

SLH

Buy The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bait: Off-Colour Stories h/c (£19-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Lee Bermejo, Kirbi Fagan, Duncan Fegredo, Tony Puryear, Alise Gluskova, Marc Scheff, Steve Morris, Joelle Jones.

A bit of a coupbait-cover for Dark Horse, this is a brand-new collection of prose short stories written by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and indeed the writer of FIGHT CLUB II which was an original comic, not an adaptation, and not merely plotted by Palahniuk then farmed out to another.

Just like the recently arrived A WALK IN EDEN by Anders Nilsen, it’s illustrated throughout in clear-lined black and white so that you can embellish it with your own chosen palette of colours, either keeping carefully within its contours or going full-on Bettie Breitweiser if you honestly feel you’re that talented. It is however, most emphatically an adult colouring book in its truest sense, for Chuck is rarely, if ever, child-friendly. A decade on, I am still shuddering from ‘Guts’, that short story from ‘Haunted’ involving the pleasures of a swimming pool filtration system.

The one from BAIT that I’ve read so far is ‘Let’s See What Happens’ illustrated by Ducan Fegredo (ENIGMA, KID ETERNITY and HELLBOY: MIDNIGHT CIRCUS etc) is a scream, though thankfully not in the same way as ‘Guts’.

It’s a family affair, at the beginning of which young daughter Heather has the temerity to come home from school, innocently and adoringly hugging a brightly coloured pamphlet whose cover is adorned with lots of equally excited kids surrounded by exotic wild animals (and, umm, a stegosaurus) gathered under a rainbow which invites all and sundry to “JOIN US!”

On the back is stamped the address of a local church.

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By the time her Mum and Dad have read the leaflet promising the love of a quite different family, Heather is already infatuated, converted, and convinced she’s going to meet a stegosaurus. She wants to go to church.

“Not that Heather’s parents were idiots. In their experience it was crucial to expose a child to religion, in particular to religious services so boring, in a setting so stifling, in clothing so uncomfortable, in the presence of self-righteous, bullying, bad-smelling old people, that the child in question would be scarred for life. If a kid hated church it made the God issue all the easier. A bad church memory, scarred deep in their psyche, did the trick better than a lifetime of rational arguments explaining why Mommy and Daddy and all the really smart humanists were atheists.”

Do you sense a certain degree of hubris?

Heather’s parents are going to give her that scarring experience.

No, they really are.

Let’s see what so self-righteously happens.

SLH

Buy Bait: Off-Colour Stories h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

23 Skidoo One-Shot (£2-99, Angina Studios) by Al Columbia

Aleister & Adolf h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Avon Oeming

Cages (25th Anniversary Edition) (£26-99, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean

Rachel Rising Omnibus s/c (£49-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Saving Grace (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grace Wilson

Cerebus: Cover Art Treasury h/c (£67-99, IDW & Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim, Gerhard

Derek The Sheep (£8-99, Bog Eyed Books) by Gary Northfield

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton

Northlanders Book vol 2: The Icelandic Saga s/c (£26-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Davide Gianfelice, Becky Cloonan, Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, various, Massimo Carnevale

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Artist Tribute h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by various

Kabuki Library vol 4 h/c (£35-99, Dark Horse) by David Mack

Muhammad Ali h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Sybille Titeux & Amazing Ameziane

MULP: Sceptre Of The Sun #3 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sarah Dunkerton

DC Super Hero Girls vol 2: Hits And Myths s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancey Labat

Gotham Academy vol 3: Yearbook s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher & Adam Archer, Sandra Hope

Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Travel Foreman

Invincible Iron Man vol 2: The War Machine (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato

His Favourite (£8-99, Sublime) by Suzuki Tanaka

News

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Duncan Fegredo Page 45 Bookplate, sold out yonks ago, obv!

ITEM! Video of Sean Phillips interviewing Duncan Fegredo about his craft and past while Duncan draws live at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016!

These two friends always bring out the wittiest in each other and you will learn so much about their early years together in the British comicbook industry, and that industry itself.

Sean had done bugger-all preparation, wings it to perfection and causes much mischief, while poor Duncan does ten things at once.

Buy swoonaway Duncan Fegredo Hellboy prints like this from his website!

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ITEM! Duncan Fegredo’s preparation for the event. See, someone’s a professional!

Watch Duncan Fegredo draw Hellboy from scratch, close-up!

For more Fegredo, please see BAIT reviewed above.

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ITEM! Mary Talbot’s exceptional, photo-filled overview of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016.

She caught the relaxed atmosphere to perfection.

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ITEM! In case you missed it… Page 45’s own photo-filled, record-breaking blog of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016!

See your favourite creators like Tillie Walden, Tom Gauld, Isabel Greenberg, Dave McKean, Katriona Chapman and Bryan Lee O’Malley. Learn what they actually look like!

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– Stephen

I honestly promise to talk about something else next week.

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Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2016 week four

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Yes, that is new Craig Thompson, directly below! News under reviews.

Coelifer Atlas (£5-00) by Alex Paknadel, Dan Watters & Charlie Adlard, Dan Berry, Nick Brokenshire, Joe Decie, Mike Medaglia, Bruce Mutard, Ken Niimura, Jake Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Craig Thompson, Petteri Tikkanen, Emma Vieceli.

“You sure these seats are ours? Check the tickets.”
“Jess…it’s me.”
“Point.”

Rarely have I experienced a comic whose final two pages changed everything I’d thought I’d read: everything.

Suddenly each element of the story – what I had seen, what had been said, and the sheer enormity of it all – reconfigured in my head from chaotic, spinning molecules to form the stillest and clearest of crystals.

And it really was an “experience” – a transformative one – which impressed upon me the agonising reality of living with OCD in a most surreal way. It’s very clever stuff, and not without comedy value, either. My educated guess is that your own second read-through will prove as much of a revelation as my own.

“Look, we gave ourselves some wiggle room so you could do your… so you could do you. But time’s up. Train’s due in five minutes, mate.”

Neil doing Neil can be painful to watch. Steps must be taken; steps must be counted, and if things don’t add up, they must be taken and counted again. He’s certainly not going to take the wrong seat on a train. But his sister has known him all his life, and knows that listening to Neil talk himself through it works wonders.

It’s just that today of all days it is vital that Neil and Jess get where they’re going, and that’s only going to heap on added pressure.

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“Atlas never carried the world on his shoulders.”
“No?”
“Popular misconception. He holds the Celestial Sphere – the heavens.”

Regardless, it was still very heavy.

Neil knows stuff, especially about order and especially about time. You’ll learn why it was that railways exposed the disorder in sundials. Well, think about it: “The sun sets eleven minutes after London in Carnforth”.

There’s a lot of disorder today.

I’ve carefully chosen two pages of interior art – by Bryan Talbot then Emma Vieceli – which don’t give too much away. But you’ll notice the serpentine coils in place of passengers and seats filling the carriage as Neil desperately dives for the washroom, implying danger, disorientation and even perhaps the avoidance of those standing, while the clear path between indicates an emergency exit and only one goal. The serpent will be reprised by Medaglia.

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Also on Vieceli’s pages, rarely have I seen blood diluted by water so well coloured, and the loving concern on Jess’ furrowed face in the third panel is pitch-perfect.

As for Talbot’s final, slightly startling panel on comic’s first two pages, you will understand later how exceptionally well judged that is too. I can assure you that is but a hint of the chaos to come, Nick Brokenshire upping the ante – deadpan and in exquisite detail – to great comedic effect.

On your first time round, I suspect that the abrupt and extreme switch in styles between the likes of Jake Phillips’ fine lines, deep shadows, sand-paper-brown, grained photo-collage and Dan Berry’s cartoon fluidity and flood will make you wonder, but this choice and turbulence is far from uncalculated. The contrast if not conflict in the baton-changes between artists (who drew two pages each in under two hours) is deliberately dramatic and disorientating because those shoes, they do need to be walked in. The handover between Berry and Adlard, on the other hand, could not be better timed in its wake-up call.

I cannot say much more for fear of spoiling your own surprises, except that Craig Thompson’s final two pages are arresting and worthy of Will Eisner, the last one carrying such enormous emotional weight on its shoulders.

“We award points for effort under THIS roof, my ducks.”

What an incredible effort.

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All five pounds of every single sale goes to OCD Action via LICAF.

For another exceptional work involving OCD, please see my favourite piece of comicbook fiction, Glyn Dillon’s THE NAO OF BROWN. For another exceptional comicbook relay race between artists, I recommend the brilliant piece of British social history which is the fictional NELSON.

SLH

Buy Coelifer Atlas and read the Page 45 review here

The Lottery (£14-50, Hill & Wang) by Shirley Jackson & Miles Hyman.

“The childrenlottery-cover assembled first, of course.”

A virtually silent adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s prose short story, its few words are chosen carefully for maximum, ominous impact.

It was a very short story if its only words are reproduced here.

From the very first page I was unsettled, but then came the faces as furrowed as the fields in this small and remote country hamlet, the knowing looks, the date so evidently important, and the portrait of the woman in its austere cameo frame which looks stern, strict and perhaps disapproving of anything so fancy as a newfangled camera.

It’s as if the locals are isolated in time as well as geographically. Every one of them frowns. They seem to share a knowledge you are not privy to.

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On the night of June 26, the evening before the annual lottery, Mr Joe Summers lets Mr. Harry Graves into the Summers Coal store front. They greet each other solemnly, then retire to a backroom, lit by a single overhead bulb, wherein waits an old wooden box high on top of the shelves. They lift it down together, as if observing some sacred ritual, and proceed to check the empty rectangles of white paper, folded in two to form simple squares, to ensure that they are all blank.

One by one these folded slips are posted through the dark hole waiting in the top of the box.

Without a word, Mr Harry Graves takes a pencil and on the inside of a single one of those slips of paper he proceeds to draw a circle, then fills it with graphite from the outside in until it is indelibly black. He hands it Mr Joe Summers who drops it through the hole in the lottery box where it waits with the others until tomorrow morning.

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“The morning of June 27 was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth a full-summer day.
“The flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.”

Yes, it is a bright day indeed, and the village is verdant. The soil is quite evidently fertile, for the fields are rich in ripening corn.

The white chapel shines in the sun, as does the crisp, fresh laundry flapping on lines in a welcome breeze. Everything seems right, everything seems ordinary. But today is June 27, the day of The Lottery.

“In some towns there were so many people that The Lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26.
“But in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours.
“It could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”

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The art is neat. It is neat and tidy like the village folk themselves. It is also laden. Otherwise ordinary images – I’ll say it again – unsettle you. Heavy, agricultural machines and implements loom large and take on a threatening nature.

Ancestors are invoked. Tradition is respected around these parts. And The Lottery is part of that tradition.

On time, the villagers dutifully drop what they are doing and gather round. They congregate.

But by noon – after all is said and all is done – they will be back in their family houses, in time for luncheon.

I should emphasise that this is not a supernatural story. It would be far more reassuring if it were.

SLH

Buy The Lottery and read the Page 45 review here

The Marionette Unit (£12-99, TMU Workshop) by Azhur Saleem, James Boyle & Warwick Johnson-Cadwell…

“Have you got any steampunk?”

… Is a fairly oft-heard refrain within the four mind-bending and wallet-emptying walls of Page 45, but frankly, there is somewhat of a dearth of material on said topic which we can heartily recommend. Bryan Talbot’s LUTHER ARKWRIGHT and Matt Fraction’s FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE are usually mentioned, along with Warren Ellis’ AETHERIC MECHANICS and CAPTAIN SWING AND THE ELECTRIC PIRATES OF CINDERY ISLAND. Also Bryan Talbot’s GRANDVILLE, plus Alan Moore’s early LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN if you’re pushing the definition (trust me: true steampunk pedants, sorry, aficionados, will disagree). Oh, and most definitely DOCTOR GRORDBORT PRESENTS ONSLAUGHT for comedy value, but there’s not a great deal else, surprisingly.

This, happily, will now become my de facto recommendation for it is premier amongst hoodlums of the condensation-producing variety! With its plethora of pipework and variety of valves on the cover background, as quilled by Warwick DANGERITIS / 21st CENTURY TANK GIRL / NELSON Johnson-Cadwell, no one could be in any doubt as to its temperature-titillating temptations.

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Actually, it’s an extremely clever cover beyond that because the sinister foreground profile of the top-hatted toff, with his tailcoat of twisted tentacles reaching down to plug into our heroine’s back, perfectly encapsulates what disturbing dystopian ductwork, of both the figurative and literal type, you will find within. For Beatrice, searching for her lost sister, is forced to enter the disturbing Saint Mary Abbot’s workhouse, owned by the evil Dubré, whose peculiar idea of social mobility is, shall we say, rather different to the accepted definition… I think I shall allow him to explain his dastardly scheme to exploit the hoi polloi of the social strata.

“My name is Dubré and I am the foreman and engineer of all that you will see here.
“Years I have been perfecting the tools that you will use… and that will be plugged into you.
“You are in safe hands… hands that will serve a working class of and for the future.
“I expect total cooperation. You will see that none complain here, and for good reason.”

Yes… because if they do, they get clubbed and thrown in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, never to be seen again. Sorry, couldn’t help interrupting his maniacal monologuing there…

“There are two things I believe in here… a strong work ethic… and a resilient nature.
“You will work many hours, but you will not tire. I assure you, this is like no other workhouse.
“I bid you a warm welcome, dear workers of the future!”

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Which all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Except of course, the workers are no more than another, ultimately disposable, cog in Dubré’s empire of capitalist output. Indeed, very precisely so, as the plugged-in workers suddenly find their bodies are no longer their own to control, merely obeying Dubré’s industrial instruction…

Work them ‘til they drop, then, and when they are of no more use, get rid of them… In this era of zero-hours contracts, it’s a cutting reminder that whilst we might like to believe that workers’ rights and protections have evolved beyond Victorian values, for many, they simply haven’t, as Mike Ashley is only too happy to attest. Well, once he was finally forced in front of the MPs Select Committee, that is…

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So it’s a scything piece of social satire from writer Azhur Saleem, then, as well as a steampunk-powered adventure romp, conceived with co-creator James Boyle. Excellent! Whilst this is their first foray into the world of comics they’ve a long background in film-making and the media and design industries and clearly understand how to craft an engaging story. I think fans of PORCELAIN would very much enjoy this, actually. An impressive debut! I look forward to the next instalment. Yes, for this work is merely the opening chapter in Beatrice’s quest to track down her sister.

JR

Buy The Marionette Unit and read the Page 45 review here

Demon Vol 1 (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga.

Wickedly crafty, demon-coverthe extent of Shiga’s ingenuity will only begin to become clear during chapter four, and then it will blow your brains out. Which is apposite enough.

Up until then, you’re going to have trust him.

Fortunately I do, for the inventive mathematician of comicbook creators responsible for EMPIRE STATE and MEANWHILE is meticulous with detail, known neither for imprecision nor for being random. He is a logic-driven puzzle-maker and a puzzle-solver, and here he invites you to solve the following puzzle before his protagonist does.

I too will be methodical in removing one word and adding another from the situation so as to retain the sequence of events as I originally perceived it.

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Jimmy Yee is in a modest motel room. With much consideration, he writes a suicide note and hangs himself.

He wakes up in bed, perplexed. Some time has passed but not much. The suicide note on the motel stationery is gone, as is the rope he hung himself from. He’s been given a second chance, but is determined to kill himself. So he writes another suicide note, draws a bath and slits his wrists with a razor blade.

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Jimmy Yee wakes up in bed. Yup, that painting above it is still there but the room’s a little messier. Some time has passed but not much. He’s been given a third chance, but he is still determined to kill himself. Fortunately a gun has now materialised beside the obligatory Bible in his bedside drawer. He writes another note, repairs to the bathroom, wraps the gun in a towel, sits on the bath which is free from blood and water, and shoots himself in the mouth. His skull explodes.

This time Jimmy Yee wakes up in the bath and there have been repercussions. The tiles have been shattered by the gunshot and the bullet is lodged there at the fracture’s epicentre. He necks a bottle of pills and passes out on the bathroom floor.

“Enough already!” he screams when he wakes up in bed. He hastily scribbles another note and goes to the bathroom whose tiles remain fractured but this time there’s his corpse in the middle of the floor. There’s only one thing for it: he throws himself directly into the path of an oncoming juggernaut.

Lucky to wake up at all, he does so next – understandably – in hospital. He has a concussion but little else. He receives a visit from his daughter, but it totally confounds for him three precise reasons I will not explain. He acts with a degree of suspicious hostility which we, the reader, do not comprehend.

We have only just begun.

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Once Jimmy Yee finally works out what’s been happening to him, he begins to calculate the potential his predicament provides, how to make the most use of it and how to successfully access its means of execution.

Unfortunately he’s not the only one who knows what he’s doing. The Office of Strategic Services is on his case.

The subtle body language best exemplified in EMPIRE STATE is back in full evidence. Love the defensive hunched shoulders. But what Shiga has done with the visuals here – once the proverbial penny has dropped – will have you in even more awe.

This is my best poker face, yes.

Please note: although the majority of FirstSecond books these days seems aimed squarely at the Young Reader or Young Adult market, this, emphatically, is not, and there will be some very awkward conversations around the kitchen table should you mistakenly buy DEMON for young ones you dote on.

SLH

Buy Demon Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Tetris – The Games People Play (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Box Brown…

“Haha! Why?! What’s with these puzzles and games, Alexey? Aren’t we here to study psychology, behaviour, that stuff?”
“Hear me out here: games aren’t just an escape, not there just to keep us busy during idle hours.
“Puzzles and games reveal a lot about psychological behaviour! They imitate the mind! They inform life!!”

Indeed they do. And Alexey Pajitnov, computer scientist at Moscow Academy of Science in 1984, was just about to have to his own mind blown as to how much impact his musings about the development of human consciousness and subsequent meddling with computer coding were going to have.

Tetris, it’s a funny old game, as renowned addict Jimmy Greaves might have been heard to articulate… I actually didn’t pay it a great deal of attention as a callow teenager, fixated as I was on what I perceived to be far more sophisticated games: the likes of Elite, Jet Set Willy and err… Daley Thompson’s Decathlon.

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As a more mature gamer, with infinitely less time these days, and probably somewhat more sluggish reflexes (I doubt I would get anywhere near my personal best of 41.12 seconds for the 400metres on Daley’s, a feat that required two of my friends to physically hold my computer desk down with their full weights to prevent it tipping over whilst my digits dashed across the sexy rubber keys of my ZX Spectrum 48K…) I have recently come to appreciate the merits of puzzle games, in my all-too-brief twenty-minute tram commute gaming slots. And their addictiveness…

I think, actually, that will be one of the true lasting legacies of Tetris, that it was a game which transcended the then traditionally rather narrow demographic of computer gamers, almost entirely young male teenagers at that time, appealing to absolutely everyone, right up to pensioners, on a level that ignited the avarice of games manufacturers on a hitherto unimaginable degree. In that sense, looking at the demographics of gamers today, Tetris truly was years ahead of its time.

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Box Brown provides us with a fascinating insight into both the genial genius of Alexey Pajitnov, who truly could have had no way of knowing what RSI-inducing monster of a time-thief he was about to unleash on an unsuspecting world, and the greedy, grubby shenanigans of big business, including one Robert Maxwell, who engaged in a frantic scramble for the various rights for different territories and platforms, with varying degrees of success.

The fact that they were all dealing with the inscrutable, hard-nosed Soviet party apparatchiks rather than a naïve game designer, thus being played off against each other beautifully, makes it all the more chaotically delicious a read. It would be fair to say there were more than a few shady stunts pulled and noses put out of joint on the capitalist side of the equation. Box details them all for our delectation.

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Plus we get to see Robert Maxwell sink into the drink, quite literally, one more time, as his vast empire began to unravel and crumble around his ears. I remember very well all the kerfuffle at the time, the suspicions that he’d faked his own death (still wouldn’t surprise me to find he was living in the lap of luxury somewhere), the rumours of suicide which would have invalidated his vast life policy, quite delighting his insurance company I’m sure. Anyway, that alone brought a fair few memories back, I must say.

We also get a brief history of the rise and rise of the likes of Nintendo, then just a card trading company, as they made the bold decision to diversify their gaming offering. I think we can say it was a wise decision! Even Alexey eventually gets paid, even if he only manages to get a mere slice of the vast pie of riches his creation plundered from the pockets of gamers, old and young alike. But money was never the point for Alexey. He just wanted to see if he could make a game that people – everyone – wanted to play. I think it’s safe to say he succeeded in his aim. Another brilliantly constructed chunk of late twentieth-century cultural history from the man who also brought us ANDRE THE GIANT.

For a comic which uses Tetris as a metaphor for coping with life, please see John Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 and #2!

JR

Buy Tetris – The Games People Play and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 3 (£13-99, Boom) by John Allison & Max Sarin.

“’Dangles and makes noise’ or just ‘dangles’? I can’t choose.”

Does that chime with you? Trying to find the perfect present for friends? Daisy’s trying to find one for Susan’ birthday.

“A delicately embroidered pashmina?”
“She’d just wipe up a spill with it.”

I love John Allison’s vocabulary. It’s full of pinafores and broaches and Singer Sewing Machines: feminine things of the past which he picked up from his Mum. Being in John’s company is like being sprinkled by pixie dust. He’s not quite of this world, and I love it.

But whereas BAD MACHINERY is magic realism, GIANT DAYS is essentially grounded in astonishingly well remembered real life at university. Clearly he drank a lot less than I did. It stars Susan, Esther, Daisy, young Ed who’s infatuated with Esther and older McGraw who once dated Susan and may now be doing so again. McGraw’s seniority is denoted by his surname. John’s very precise with his words. The cadence of each sentence is judged just-so.

“Why are you being nice to me, Susan? I know it takes a lot out of you.”

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Specifically recalled here is the exhausted delirium of staying up two nights on the trot feverishly writing an entire dissertation at the very last minute which you had a whole month to hand in on time. By which point you become a nocturnal, a creature of the night, and Magic surrealism sure creeps in then, full-blown in Max Sarin’s giddy art. Her timing is every bit as funny and thrilling as Allison’s.

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It’s a dangerous existence if you linger too long, its more committed, permanent residents lurking like vampiric vultures.

“They’re sun-deniers. They think ‘daytime’ is government propaganda.”

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In order to rescue Susan, Esther – already attuned to the night and armed with gothic knowledge –  embarks on three essays back-to-back including 3,000 words on Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ overseen by a framed photo of a certain cinema critic looking ever so erudite.

“That’s right, Dr. Kermode, stare the learning into me.”

She flies through those 3,000 words at a furious pace (on a notepad, in pencil!) and some of them might be in the right order until —

“...The End! Wait, do you write ‘The End’ at the end of an essay?
“I wish I’d actually read ‘Hedda Gabler’.”

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Max Sarin’s also on top, manic form in a flashback after McGraw’s given Ed Gemmell’s sexual secret away to Susan.

“I had to tell Susan. You don’t understand, Ed, she’s cruel.”

The next three panels show Susan extracting that secret with a barrage of “Tell me tell me tell me tell me. Tellllllll meeeeee…” as she attacks McGraw with a skeleton’s claw, right in the face.

There’s an equally expressive sequence during a sonic obliteration at a Black Metal gig, the audience’s hair blasted back as if in a deafening wind tunnel. Her eyes watering, visiting hell-raiser Big Lindsay concedes defeat by scrawling in eyeliner on the palm of her hand, “CAN WE GO BOWLING?”

For far, far more, please see GIANT DAYS VOL 1, GIANT DAYS VOL 2 and the GIANT DAYS PACK of self-published comics which precedes them both.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 3 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.

“People are so stupid.”goodnight-punpun-cover-3

Few are more stupid than Punpun Onodera, Mama Onodera and Uncle Yuichi Onodera. Each of the family is a complete fuck-up in their own increasingly alarming, dark, dark way.

Ironically it was Punpun’s father who was ex-communicated for domestic malfeasance in volume one, but you’re in for such a jaw-dropping revelation about that episode here that I had to reread it three times to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. I hadn’t.

Punpun is now a teenager, sporting the sort of long, lank hair that put me in mind of Harry Enfield’s Kevin until he discovers hair gel to hilarious effect. It wouldn’t be so funny if the Onoderas weren’t all presented as minimal, cartoon birds with stick arms and legs in a world in which is photo-realistic.

After obsessing with another girl in his younger years, he now finally embarks on his first-ever date.

He is embarrassingly awful at it.

Also: during it, most especially towards the end.

It is cringe-worthily comical. Until it isn’t.

It’s all so masterfully done, Asano presenting you with a cripplingly internalised lead character who over-thinks everything, yet who is at heart utterly shallow.

Although you may feel for Punpun when he experiences the art gallery exhibition. Briefly.

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We have a whole section on our website dedicated to Inio Asano, so please click on any of the covers for far more extensive reviews, including two considerable and – I hope – considered assessments of this specific series, each volume racking in at nearly 450 haunting pages car-crash people and densely detailed art. I’m not normally so brief especially on any of my three favourite Japanese creators, Inio Asano, Jiro Taniguchi and Taiyo Matsumoto (SUNNY etc).

Strictly adults only, just like A GIRL ON THE SHORE.

SLH

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road vol 1: The Holy North (£8-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“Fuck off. I’m eating.”
“Take it easy. This is business. You are Magnus, yes?”
“I only arrived in town this morning. No one should know me.”
“Perhaps your reputation precedes you?”
“Reputations kill. I prefer to be alone and unknown.”
“How much privacy, Magnus, would this buy you?”
“What’s that for? You want someone killed?”
“Not at all! Good heavens. I’m not talking about murder. I’m talking about an escort job. Taking a church official up the Northern Road to Hammaruskk Coast.”
“The Northern Road. We call it the Black Road, and had you spent more than two fucking minutes in this land, you’d have known that. And a voyage up the Black Road most likely is a murder trip.”

Finally! For those of us who have been waiting patiently since the flaming longboat burial afforded to Brian Wood’s NORTHLANDERS saga on the Vertigo imprint, our patience has been rewarded, and how! Magnus the Black is a man with much on his mind. He’s had the emotional bedrock of his life shattered with the loss of his wife and seen the presumed sovereignty of Odin and the old gods smashed by the one true God of Christianity.

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It’s the latter which probably causes him to take the escort job, at four times the original price, of course, because it gives Magnus the chance to ask the Cardinal some burning questions. About how a man born a heathen can get into Heaven, for example… He’s hoping the answers will give some structure to the rest of his life, one way or the other. Not that he believes a life of piety and forgiveness will be required in either eventuality…

“… I wanted to be closer to the Christians. They talk in riddles. They preach peace and love in the midst of performing incredible violence.
“There’s a structure, a purpose to what they do that is beyond my ken. They’re changing Norskk, changing it with words and with iron and with blood. I need to understand them better.
“I have yet to determine if I will go to war for the Christians, or against them.”

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It won’t surprise you to learn that the trip up North isn’t without its challenges. Of the head meets hammer variety, that is… The Cardinal’s not worried, though, he says he’s got a guardian angel. Which is where the mystery really begins…

What a wonderfully dark opener! It’s like NORTHLANDERS never went away (please note, the rest of the re-collected bigger editions of NORTHLANDERS will be out shortly). And whilst Garry Brown never worked with Brian Wood on that title, fans of THE MASSIVE will be more than familiar with his work. It’s a gritty, flinty style that’s perfect for this title and as with NORTHLANDERS, the colours, provided here by Dave McCaig are suitably understated and restrained.

JR

Buy Black Road vol 1: The Holy North and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions!

The End Of Summer (£11-99, Avery Hill) by Tillie Walden.

Album-sized re-issue of Tillie Walden’s first work following the two Ignatz Awards and the spectacular success of I LOVE THIS PART (a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month) and A CITY INSIDE.

This is my original review, untouched, before I knew what further treasures lay ahead.

Well, would you just look at this architecture!

Vast arches, vaulted ceilings and windows several storeys high; classical statues set inside concave bays; halls which conclude with the opulence of a Roman cathedral’s chapel. Could you get more Baroque than this?

Then there’s the ethereal air, nightgowns and all that time spent in bed; an indoor lake on which the children go sailing; and a giant cat called Nemo.

Winsor McCay, anyone?

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This is a family home! Also a haven from a three-year winter during which the doors must remain firmly closed, but for a sanctuary it doesn’t seem very safe. It’s cold and it’s hard and there will be conflicts and confinements. I don’t think this family is very healthy at all.

Quite apart from the fact that young Lars is dying. I’m not sure of what but he seems rather sickly, consumptive. He appears to be fading away. His closest relationship is with his sister, Maja, but that’s also going to run into trouble. As I say, not the healthiest of families.

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He’s comforted by that giant cat which – when it’s not carrying Lars on its back – is constantly curled up like a gigantic, fluffy, white pillow which is what Lars uses it as.

To be honest I wasn’t sure what was happening towards the end. It’s all very rarefied and the family far from distinctive. But it’s very beautiful with the crispest of architecture which boasts the most enormous sense of space and attendant frigidity. You can almost hear the echoes.

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SLH

Buy The End Of Summer and read the Page 45 review here

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Vivek J. Tiwary & Andrew Robinson, Kyle Baker.

“…So what’llfifth-beatle-cover it be for you? What is it that you want..?”
“Well, I suppose I want what everyone else wants… Peace, love, and belonging… that perhaps it’s belonging that’s most elusive.”

On the surface this is pure effervescent swinging sixties fun with a dapper yet cheeky biopic feel, portraying the charismatic guiding hand behind the Beatles’ rise to stardom. But when the cheers die down, the after party is over, the champagne bubbles have gone flat, what can you do if what you really feel is completely and utterly alone? Brian Epstein made making the Beatles his life’s work and tragically it probably greatly curtailed his, with his untimely death at the age of 32. As the Beatles themselves began to indulge in less legal pharmacological pursuits, Epstein became first addicted to amphetamines, and then sleeping tablets to try and help with his acute insomnia. Ultimately, it was an overdose of barbiturates which caused his premature passing.

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It’s inevitable that any work like this will be only a potted history of events, even in a career as short as Epstein’s, but it features all the notable highs and lows, and of course bizarre anecdotes you would expect. Epstein had his personal demons, primarily due to having to hide his sexuality at a time when despite the Sixties sexual revolution, male homosexuality was still illegal in England and Wales, ironically enough only being decriminalised about a month after his passing. And whilst this work doesn’t shy away from looking at the deep sadness Epstein clearly felt about being unable to openly look for romantic love, which he clearly felt could be the one thing that might save him from his workaholic and destructive tendencies, there is also much fun and frivolity about the magical journey he and the Beatles were on. The absolute highlight for me though is his lunch meeting with Colonel Parker, manager of Elvis and a man with a notorious appetite for money…

“You take fifty percent of everything Elvis earns?!”
“No. Elvis takes fifty percent of everything I earn.”

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As Parker launches into tirade after tirade about Jews in the entertainment industry then just for dessert indulging some casual homophobia, Epstein begins to see the Colonel almost metamorphosising into some devilish version of Mammon in front of his very eyes. It’s a timely reminder that whilst Epstein himself was on a staggering 25% gross (not including expenses) of The Beatles’ income, he never had anything but their own best interests at heart. Indeed, just three years after Epstein’s death in August 1967 and with the breakup of Beatles then complete, John Lennon noted in a Rolling Stone interview that upon hearing of Epstein’s death: “I knew that we were in trouble then… I thought, ‘We’ve fuckin’ had it now'”.

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The beautiful artwork, from Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker, elegantly captures the wild rollercoaster ride that was Epstein’s life from the moment he laid eyes on the proto Fab Four in the Cavern to the moment he was finally laid to rest, complementing Vivek J. Tiwary’s excellent script.

JR

Buy The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

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Cormorance (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes

A Walk In Eden (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen

The World Of Edena h/c (£44-99, Dark Horse) by Moebius

Burt’s Way Home (£14-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz

Bait: Off-Colour Stories h/c (£19-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Lee Bermejo, Kirbi Fagan, Duncan Fegredo, Tony Puryear, Alise Gluskova, Marc Scheff, Steve Morris, Joelle Jones

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 14 – The Exorcist (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Cameron Stewart & Chris Roberson, Mike Norton

East Of West vol 6 (£13-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Habitat (£8-99, Image) by Simon Roy

The Intercorstal 683 (£4-00, ) by Gareth A Hopkins

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac h/c (£35-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez

Midnight Days s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner & various inc. Dave McKean, Mike Mignola, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Sergio Aragones

Prince Of Cats h/c (£22-99, Image) by Ronald Wimberly

The Flash By Geoff Johns vol 3 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins, various

Black Widow vol 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Captain America White s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

Deadpool: World’s Greatest vol 4: Temporary Insanitation s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan, Charles Soule, David Walker & various

Doctor Strange: What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen? s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by various including P. Craig Russell

Inuyashiki vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiroya Oku

News

 

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ITEM! “Page 45 Shatters Sales Record At Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016!” And I mean, obliterates!

Blog with lots and lots of photos of fabulous creators having fun, like Tom Gauld and Emma Vieceli!

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Beautiful comics, beautiful comics!

In that blog you’ll find Tillie Walden, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Sean Phillips, Jake Phillips, Hannah Berry, Craig Thompson, Isabel Greenberg, Ben Haggarty, Adam Brockbank, Darryl Cunningham… Eugene… and so many more!

 

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Original art and sketches to swoon over, too. It’s all there!

Ooh, look, here’s Dave McKean in our room!

 

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ITEM! Speaking of Mr McKean, if you enjoyed his BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH, you’ve still some time to see this BBC programme on Paul Nash: The Ghosts of War.

 

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ITEM! And speaking of the Beeb, The BBC’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 Blog.

Really captures the spirit of it all! Take a great gawp at what happens outside our room!

Also: here, have a tree! That was in Kendal too.

 

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ITEM! Aaaaaand, speaking of The Lakes Fest, here’s the winner of LICAF’s 2016 Beatrix Potter Re-Imagined Competition. Exquisite.

 

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ITEM! Terry Moore to bring back STRANGERS IN PARADISE – as a comic!

Hooray! From the creator of RACHEL RISING, there are few series I’m fonder of than the epic that is STRANGERS IN PARADISE, and there are few creators I am fonder of than the adorable Terry Moore!

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ITEM I wish it wasn’t.

I’m afraid that on Sunday Steve Dillon died.

Staggered, all I could manage on Twitter @pagefortyfive was:

“Steve Dillon’s gone. Ridiculous.”

“Steve Dillon’s faces were so nuanced he could make a 200-page conversation in a bar absolutely riveting.”

“I’d only add that Steve Dillon’s art was all the more eloquent for being understated: it drew you in, rather than pounced on you.”

Garth Ennis pays tribute to his friend and PREACHER partner Steve Dillon.

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2016 week three

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Includes new Jon Klassen, the Charles Burns trilogy, and News underneath with teasers of far more to come!

Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey (£25-00, Abrams) by Si Lewen.

Hooray for parades!parade-cover

Hooray for their trumpet-blowing procession of pageantry!

Hooray for the streets pullulating with crowds swept up in celebration, whooping with joy and waving their colourful flags!

The multitudes mill, a dog dashes by to give chase. Quick, quick, you mustn’t miss it!

How lucky to be local enough to live up above, for the terraced-housing windows supply the best vantage points for the ebullient reception below! Although some of their occupants aren’t quite so sure.

Oh, it may be a little eerie in brass-rubbing black and white with its grainy textures and spectral, almost skeletal throngs, but surely it is impossible not to be caught up in the euphoria, the almost ecstatic energy of shouts and screams and the regimented, hypnotic, rattle-gun roll of military drums?

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Personally those drums terrifies me even during peace-time, civic parades.

But yes, that’s what the likes of Adolf Hitler have always relied on: the euphoria and the ecstasy and the sheep mentality. You’ve seen the old film footage of the Nazi war machine in human, jack-booted, foot-soldier form, goose-stepping through German cities on their way to restore national honour. The multitude of onlookers jostle for position and go wild. They go wild!

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Here the military first appear relatively small on the page both in number at stature on the left-hand side of an otherwise open and empty page, not threatening at all. But swiftly they swell, uniform in uniform, a relentless, implacable black tide of terrifyingly angular forms, jagged bayonets jutting out into the sky from the barrels of their brandished rifles.

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We close in further still, all else obliterated by the intimidating density.

Heels on bitumen, heels on bitumen; unending heels on unyielding bitumen: this is a deafening, crushing and crusading cacophony in “das ist richtig“ visual form.

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It gets worse.

Children used to play at parades. I clearly recall E. H. Shepard illustrating an A. A. Milne procession that included Christopher Robin, though I’m not sure it was in ‘Winnie The Pooh’ itself. Nothing could be more innocent.

So it is here under bright summer sunshine, two birds soaring effortless in the distance, as three small youths imitate their elders, grinning under their paper hats, one toot-tooting a toy trumpet.

But we all know what happens to innocence in war.

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It gets worse.

I’m not going to take you any further, but it gets much worse.

Originally published in 1957 and now edited and introduced by Art Spiegelman, this slipcased hardcover reproduces Si Lewen’s ostensibly silent comic in accordion form, which is perfect for any procession of pedestrians or atrocities. You will be witness to both.

Some images recall Picasso’s Guernica from 1937, but without the comfort of colour. It is spiked throughout by thousands of back-slung bayonets in stark silhouette like razor wire atop an impenetrable, ever-advancing wall. The grainy textures are those of the grave – of hundreds of thousands of shrouds – and there is a certain fearful symmetry as to how this begins and how it will end, and ever and forever, I fear.

Highly recommended to those who admire the likes of Drooker (THE FLOOD) and a perfect companion to Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR, the flip-side presents a full-colour, illustrated guide to Si Lewen’s wider career as a “serial painter”. I don’t use that term randomly, either. He was very keen on seeing his works hung close together so that they would inform one another.

And so am I.

SLH

Buy Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey and read the Page 45 review here

Meanderings (£4-00, Throwaway Press) by Matthew Dooley.

Seventeen stories of disillusion and disappointment.

If disappointment is something you crave, you’re in for a famine or feast, depending on how you look at it.

Prime Minister Salisbury stands proudly on his pedestal.

“Ah… to be commemorated in stone is truly to live for eternity!”

He may be dead, but he has centuries of veneration ahead of him. Or is that pigeon droppings? The final panel is perfect.

Two more sculptures – more abstract in aspect – anticipate their own grand urban unveilings.

“Where I’m going I’ll be affecting real change in people’s lives.”
“Mmm…”
“Really! Helping to inspire and lift people out of poverty.”

Alas, not all poverty is pecuniary.

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Matthew Dooley is even disappointed in himself. I don’t know why: there are plaques commemorating Matthew’s accomplishments all over the country.

Birth:

“Noted dawdler finally emerged here 24th May
“1984”

School:

“Wimpy know it all annoyed many here
“1988-1995”

Sixth Form:

“Obdurate muso made little impact here
“2000-2002.”

University:

“Argumentative pseudo coasted here
“2002-2005.”

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It’s at this point in typing my free-form, off-the-cuff review (heavily edited and reorganised over the weekend) that I realise that commemoration is another key theme. That, and the passage of time. There are five more English Heritage memorials as Dooley attempts to climb the ladder of heady accomplishment only to find all the rungs missing.

The problem is that, on page after page, Matthew Dooley totally fails to disappoint.

I love his fine line and neat, unargumentative lettering.

The colours are soft and sweet in sage, cold blues and pink with a rusty red reserved for Dooley’s own beard and bonce. The eyes are very Chris Ware, don’t you think? As are the moribund musings.

In summary, if you’re someone who’s looking forward to the end of the world – as the occupants of the first entry within – then this is the comic for you.

The cover could not be more bereft.

SLH

Buy Meanderings and read the Page 45 review here

Last Look s/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Charles Burns.

“N-no!! There’s got to be a way out!”

And then you wake up.

This is the sort of work that terrifies me.

It’s the nightmare scenario of things being beyond your control: wandering around in your pyjamas, no money to pay for a meal you’ve just eaten, not knowing where you are or where to go and being alone in the company of deeply unsettling strangers.

And that’s just the nightmare – the images, thoughts and scenarios which Doug can’t shut out in spite of the number of pills that he’s necked – of embryos in eggs, putrescent meat riddled with giant, outraged maggots plucked then gobbled down by a cowled figure whose nose appears eaten with syphilis; terrified creatures clinging to driftwood as they’re carried helplessly downstream by the rapids.

Yes, that’s just the nightmare. But it seems Doug’s real life took a turn for the worse as well.

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The book begins with Doug, his features simplified to a TINTIN cartoon with two crossed plasters stuck to his temple, waking up in bed not knowing where he is. There’s a hole in the far brick wall which his black cat climbs through, into the darkness beyond.

He’s sure his cat is supposed to be dead. Doug dons a dressing gown and follows…

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When Doug actually wakes up in bed, you’ll notice he’s no longer so simply drawn. That’s your cue to discerning what’s real from what’s not, though those lines are so often blurred, are they not?

His temples have been shaved, and a bandage is taped to one side of his skull, but he still hasn’t a clue where he is.

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Evidence lies on the covers: a basic cassette tape recorder, a graphic novel, a photograph of a girl holding a giant heart to her naked breasts. There’s a flick-knife embedded in the heart. The sound of the door buzzer terrifies him. Why?

Some of the answers to this series of puzzles – why he perceives himself to look like Tintin in his dream, who the girl in the photograph is, where the hole in the wall came from and why that buzzer might terrify him – are slowly revealed by Doug’s returning memory. But not where the bandage came from, not yet, though one can easily infer.

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The production values are beautiful, unusually for Burns it’s in colour, and although he’s breaking new personal ground, readers of BLACK HOLE will still be in familiar territory. There are disaffected teens indulging in drugs, alcohol and extreme art projects involving the body; violence threatens to break in from outside, and raging hormones may well prove the source of much trouble. Oh yes, holes. There are lots and lots of holes.

“What didn’t I tell her?
“What parts of the story did I leave out?
“I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her the truth.
“…And I tried… I really did.”

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If the first chapter freaked me out – preying on fears that feature frequently in my own dreams: food you really shouldn’t eat, holes that shouldn’t be there, getting hopelessly and helplessly lost only to be misled further by strangers (I don’t know what happened to the missing stairs, filthy latrines and my teeth all chewed out on the floor) – then the second proved equally unsettling.

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There’s more of that when he delivers romance comics on a metal trolley to bedridden female patients, pushing the cart down endless, roughly hewn tunnels in a semi-industrial warren prone to unseen accidents that render certain off-limit areas toxic. Apparently there was screaming in the late hours last night. It came from Cindy’s cubicle, and it went on for hours… until it stopped.

Meanwhile, in his waking world, Doug is recalling his courtship with raven-haired Sarah: a stroll in windswept, autumn-leafed park where they picked up sixties’ romance comics from an old man at the flea market. Sarah was delighted at the find. Doug bought her the lot, and it bought him a kiss.

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“You know what? That was really sweet of you. I know you think these are stupid, but… but wait.. here’s where you stop and kiss me… just like they do in the comics.”

“My kiss was awkward and clumsy,” recalls Doug. “But she made up for it… She made it perfect.”

The evening too seemed perfect, a simple dinner together back at Sarah and Nicky’s. Nicky was out, at band practice but Sarah… Sarah is a little more fragile than she looks.

There’s more about the buzzer and the threatening voice behind it, as well as Doug’s stage performances behind a Tintin mask. Oh yes, and those photographs.

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But it’s the romance comics that particularly fascinated me this time: the search for missing issues, and speculation on what must have happened in the gap. For those of us reading comics before the birth of the collected edition that’s got to ring bells, as well as dreams in which you finally fill your gaps at a second-hand stall – gaps that in real life might never have existed. The comics are in Japanese so it’s even more difficult to fathom what happened, and they’re drawn unmistakably by Marvel Comics veteran John Romita Sr. whom Burns nails both in the composition and the man’s brush strokes. The hair is quite perfect.

There’s a telling scene during which Doug attempts to win a tortuously circuitous argument by shrugging off his own role in its potential resolution, knowing he’s doing so and so only looking Sarah’s way – more than a little sheepishly, to see if it’s working – once her back is turned. It’s a precisely judged expression.

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A little later there’s a rare glimpse at Burns’ talent for exquisite photorealism – on the television screen at his father’s which is where Doug retreats to.

“I wanted a safe, dark place to hide.”

Hmmm…. Is that really any way out?

This collects the hardcover Charles Burns trilogy of X’ED OUT, THE HIVE and SUGAR SKULL.

SLH

Buy Last Look and read the Page 45 review here

We Found A Hat h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen.

“We found a hat.
“We found it together.
“But there is only one hat.
“And there are two of us.”

So the dilemma begins!

“It looks good on both of us.
“But it would be right if one of us had a hat and the other did not.”

Awww! Kind and considerate, brotherly love!

They’ll just have to leave it where they found it, in the middle of the desert, right? Hmmm…

This is the third and final instalment of Klassen’s hat-trick trilogy which began with I WANT MY HAT BACK followed by THIS IS NOT MY HAT. I can only assume that Klassen suffered some sort of hat-related trauma during his formative years, for in each of first two an item of headgear is stolen. Neither ends well for the thief, and quite right too!

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Deliciously, what looked on the surface like straightforward illustrated prose was, in fact, comics; for without the images all would have been lost. The pictures began in perfect accordance with the written word, but swiftly started shedding controversial or even contradictory light on what was being said. Howls of laughter from me and every youngster I’ve seen being shown the books on our shop floor.

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The simplicity of what’s said is of equal importance – there is an identifiable Klassen cadence – for when the rhythm is first broken in I WANT MY HAT BACK, that’s when you suspect that something is up.

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Here we are presented with a three-act play, and although I promise you that Klassen will not prove predictable, there will of course be an equally mischievous break between overt claim and covert curiosity, with its attendant hiccup in the otherwise rhythmic beat.

SLH

Buy We Found A Hat h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Low vol 3: Shore Of The Dying Light (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini.

Deliciously drawn sub-aquatic sci-fi, this is about the vital importance of maintaining hope, when there is no hope to speak of.

I, for example – against all evidence to the contrary – am still desperately praying that someone will stop us Brexiting Europe and so breaking this country.

In this instance, the entire world is burnt out and its leaders are broken. Newsflash:

In the future our sun will expand then go supernova, at which point the Earth itself as well as its inhabitants will need more than Factor 500. We will be engulfed. Obliterated. And that will be the end of our story. That isn’t speculative fiction, it is a scientific certainty.

Long before then, the radiation levels on the Earth’s surface will have exceeded intolerable, so if we haven’t already escaped this solar system then we’ll have needed to move underground or deep, deep, deep underwater.

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In LOW humanity hasn’t yet found an alternative, habitable planet, so it has sunk itself into our oceanic depths in several separated colonies. Probes have indeed been dispatched in search of alternative astronomical accommodation… but that was over 13,000 years ago. None have returned.

13,000 years without success; 13,000 years of failure!

Can you imagine maintaining hope in that terrible knowledge? Few others have and now less than a year’s supply of air remains for Stel’s deep-sea colony.

Yes, LOW as a title works both ways.

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In the wake of almost insurmountable adversity – including the dispersal and dire straits of her family – one woman has so far held it together. But how long will that last?

Please see our reviews of LOW volumes one and two for much, much more.

SLH

Buy Low vol 3: Shore Of The Dying Light and read the Page 45 review here

Shame – Collected Trilogy h/c (£26-99, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton.

Shame is a young girl, the result of an immaculate conception brought on by a silent prayer: one moment of weakness in an otherwise exemplary life of selfless benefaction on the part of Mother Virtue. Every day she has hobbled into town from her countryside cottage to ruffle the hair of small children and administer herbal remedies to the sick, the needy and the poor. She loves and is much loved for that, but one evening’s idle contemplation of a flower given in thanks unearths a deep-seated desire in Mother Virtue and, albeit briefly, she wishes for a child of her own.

“Sadly, as is so often the case, Mother Virtue’s selfish wish echoed like a dinner bell in the Heart of Darkness… where, waiting for such an opportunity, lay a dark, dark evil.”

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I think “selfish” is a bit harsh, but all things are relative. It’s as if after twenty-five years of promoting beautiful comics by brilliant people I suddenly succumbed to the woeful desire that a comic of my own see print. I can assure you I have not, for the result would be an equal abomination: a true horror unleashed upon a world that deserves no such thing. Also because I am far from wanting the devil to pop down my chimney and poke me in the bottom.

That’s what happens here, more or less, only without the bottom-poking: Mother Virtue, in spite of her advanced years, finds herself pregnant and in fireside conversation with a demon called Slur:

“Oh yes, dear Mother Virtue! A black seed grows in your barren womb. Planted by your wish and quickened by my magick, for God would never hear such selfish words! Forget all thought of sweeping this off the hearth with your white meddling. The child’s soul is fixed and there is naught you can do about it. She even knows her name. It is Shame!”

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Now, Mother Virtue could have risked exploring the possibilities of nature versus nurture but instead makes her mind up immediately. She lures dryads and nymphs to her rustic cottage and, binding them there to play nursemaid and nanny to her daughter, hoofs it lickety-split, sealing them all behind her in the Cradle she calls home. It is perhaps her very absence that confirms Shame’s fate because – thanks to a casual cruelty so prevalent in play and a chink opened in the spell by errant village children and their shadows – Slur manages to get his minions and message across and it all goes horribly wrong.

John Bolton you may know from HARELQUIN VALENTINE written by Neil Gaiman or, more recently, Peter Straub’s THE GREEN WOMAN. Here his palette is far, far brighter, his dryads and nymphs glowing in the sun, and even when that’s eclipsed there remains a lot more light. Slur’s shadow servants are horrible, spindly creatures vaguely reminiscent of Richard Case’s Mr. Nobody from Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, nor is his Mother Virtue a sweet old lady, more closely resembling Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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It’s a book that’s sexually charged so I warn you of that right now: there be boobage and satanic shenanigans for Shame grows up and finds a novel and highly elaborate way of having her revenge on Mother Virtue. It’s certainly the strangest mother/daughter relationship I’ve come across. Or is it a daughter/mother/daughter relationship? The begets do beggar belief, but that’s witchcraft for you.

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You can tell Shame is evil because she has black hair. She doesn’t half ramble on – to herself, her minions and the darke daemon Slur.

Oh, she shall sully all and sundry! Once she has conquered, cursed and corrupted the whole wide world, there will be no free school milk, no more bedtime stories and every Kinder Egg will come with quite the salutary surprise. Worse still, every chocolate in every box will henceforth be Turkish Delight. She will whip down One Direction’s kecks on live TV (actually, this gets my vote) and curdle your clotted cream teas. There will, in short, be suffering the likes of which has barely been endured outside of a modern British Post Office.

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But wait! Do we have a vessel of vengeance, perchance? A young, simple man whose father is smitten before his eyes, now determined to follow his mother’s verbal breadcrumb trail to who knows what end?

Meanwhile Slur hovers at Shame’s sybaritic side, addressing her as “my shapely talon”, “my septic blossom”, “dear putrescence”, and “my mephitic marchpane”. (New words: “mephitic” meaning “foul-smelling” and “marchpane” meaning “marzipan”.)

Which witch will prevail?

SLH

Buy Shame – Collected Trilogy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez, Lan Medina.

Highly punisher-max-vol-3-coverrecommended, PUNISHER MAX (each one reviewed) is by far the finest run on Frank Castle to date, finally given a socio-political bite by Ennis’ decision to swerve the Punisher’s targeted sights from superheroes to real-world pricks worth punishing like international sex-slave traffickers.

It’s a very different beast to PREACHER team Ennis and Dillon’s PUNISHER: WELCOME BACK, FRANK which was a burlesque played more for laughs.

There’s certainly not a lot of high camp ‘Widowmaker’, although the mismatch of the titular widows does have its moments, and Garth can’t resist giving one of them a lisp. Instead Ennis takes a look at what it might mean being “married to the mob”: knowing what their men do, how they earn their money, and who pays the price, yet sticking around to enjoy that wealth by keeping their guys sweet, even if it means sacrificing their little sisters by matchmaking them to monsters.

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Over the years Frank Castle has set his sights on one thing only: killing those who hurt innocents. Not out of revenge for the death of his family, nor to seek solace in self-justified violence, but quite simply to prevent them from hurting, maiming, torturing or slaughtering again. His verdict is final, and his sentences always end with a full stop.

High on his hit list has always been the mafia, but what of the widows he’s made in his wake? Some of them are tougher than others, and these five are out for vengeance, gathering round their finest china to take down the man who killed their husbands, and using one of their own as bait. They do it quite cleverly too, but what they haven’t figured into the mix is that there’s another widow close to home for whom The Punisher proved a saviour; a liberator from a life of constant marital torture and violence. She’s also out for revenge, but not on Frank Castle – on them.

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Ennis’ stories are invariably self-contained, wisely ignoring the idea of an extended saga that won’t let new readers in, so you can pick up his best without the rest. There’s an uncommon variety in his tones and approaches as well, keeping it fresh for those who do follow the series as a whole.

Lan Medina delivers in every aspect as well. He’s the sort of artist who, like the venerable John Buscema, never seems to make the headlines, but thoroughly deserves to when you take a closer look and realise just how solid and engaging it all is. It’s not “look at me” art; it’s “look at them” art, which is what great storytelling is all about.

Before all that we have Leandro Fernandez illustrating ‘Man Of Stone’ and Gorlan Parlov on ‘Barracuda’ which will provide some of the comedy you may crave.

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If you thought British Gas was underhand, try this group of corporate energy fraudsters, prepared to do anything to hike up their profits. One raped man’s squeal leads the Punisher on a trail of blood, most of it in the water and swimming away from the mouths of sharks. Equally primal is the Barracuda himself, reinvented by Ennis as a gold-toothed mutha with an almost contagious zeal for black humour and slaughter, and who – in true Ennis fashion – is relieved of several body parts along the way.

He’s cackling to the end, though.

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SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

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Bobbins vol 1: 2016 (Signed) (£5-00) by John Allison

The End Of Summer (£11-99, Avery Hill) by Tillie Walden

Demon (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

Ancestor (£13-99, Image) by Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward

Cowboys And Insects One Shot (£3-99, Floating World Comics) by David Hine & Shaky Kane

Grey Area – Our Town (£7-00, Avery Hill) by Tim Bird

Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary vol 1 (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by M.R. James & Leah Moore & John Reppion

I Thought You Hated Me (£7-50, Retrofit) by Marinaomi

Insexts vol 1: Chrysalis s/c (£17-99, Aftershock) by Marguerite Bennett & Ariela Kristantina

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 3: Creation Myths s/c (£13-99, Archaia) by Matthew Dow Smith & Alex Sheikman, Brian Froud

Miss U.S. Of Heya (£10-50, Retrofit) by Menorah Horwitz

Predator: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Brian Thies

Rick And Morty vol 3 (£17-99, Oni) by Tom Fowler, Pamela Ribon & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Vivek J. Tiwary & Andrew Robinson, Kevin Baker

The Lottery (£14-50, Hill & Wang) by Shirley Jackson & Miles Hyman

Grayson vol 4: A Ghost In The Tomb s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, various

Green Arrow vol 9: Outbreak s/c (£15-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Patrick Zircher, Szymon Kudranski

Midnighter vol 2: Hard s/c (£13-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Brian K. Vaughan, Christos Gage, Peter Milligan & various

Supergirl By Peter David vol 1 (£22-99, DC) by Peter David & Gary Frank

All New Wolverine vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Marcio Takara

Captain Marvel – Earth’s Mightiest Hero vol 2 s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by various

Daredevil / Punisher: Seventh Circle s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Szymon Kudranski, Reilly Brown

Doctor Strange vol 2: The Last Days Of Magic (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

Doctor Strange: The Flight Of Bones s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by various

Assassination Classroom vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Platinum End vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Tokyo Ghoul vol 9 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

News

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ITEM! Awful.

Apparently it is over for History of Art ‘A’ Levels thanks to Gove’s Thatcherite blinkers when it comes to anything remotely cultural in education.

Seriously, there will be no more History of Art ‘A’ Levels in England.

I use what I learned about Art History in A Level and Degree every single week, professionally, in business.

And think on this: not only does History of Art teach you about human perspectives on beauty throughout the ages, but about literature, historical socio-politics and even urban planning. See Rome / Paris etc.

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ITEM! THE WALKING DEAD‘s Charlie Adlard is declared the new Comics Laureate at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016! Both the Guardian and BBC picked up on this immediately, then we made page 3 on the Independent. Selected by the Patrons of LICAF, including my silly self, Charlie will be phenomenal!

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True Fact: Not only did I go to school with THE WALKING DEAD’s Charlie Adlard, but we shared the same art class. Oh yes, I’ve seen Adlard originals the world will never see!

Now, guess which one of us is the international best-selling comicbook creator, and which one’s the comic shop till monkey?

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ITEM! We will have staggering sales news about Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 in a dedicated blog with loads of photos any day now.

And I do mean staggering!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2016 week two

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 is upon us! Perhaps you are there? Exciting! Scroll down to our News section for all You Need To Know!

The Fade Out: Complete Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“All he’dfade-out-hc-cover been thinking about the past few weeks is who could’ve murdered Val…
“He’d forgotten to ask why.”

In which I begin to understand what an exceptional character actor Sean Phillips truly is.

Oh, I’ve written thousands of words about specific, expressive elements of Sean Phillips’ craft in reviews for CRIMINAL, FATALE, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE FADE OUT softcovers and THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS etc, but here we are in Hollywoodland so it strikes me as apposite that I finally speak about the acting involved on the part of our favourite artists.

Give me love! Give me lust! Give me conflicted ambivalence and emotional exhaustion! Now give me terrified out of my bloody mind.  Sean Phillips delivers on every single page.

It’s Los Angeles, 1948.

Cinema screenwriter Charlie wakes up in the bath of a bungalow in Studio City, built to keep stars close to the set. The night before is an alcohol-induced mystery to him, but there’s a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminds him of a smile, the smile leads to a face, and that face belongs to the woman lying dead on the living room floor.

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It’s Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie’s working on. She’s been strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie begins to remove all trace of his and anyone else’s presence. But that’s nothing compared to the cover-up the studio’s about to embark on. They’re going to make out it was suicide, smearing the poor girl’s name, and it’s going to make Charlie, now complicit, sick to the stomach.

“Studios had been covering up murder and rape and everything in between since at least the Roaring Twenties. That’s what men like Brodsky were there for… to prevent scandals.
“And he’d helped them this time. He’d helped them.”

As for Gil, it’s going to make Charlie’s old friend, mentor and covert co-writer very angry indeed. It’s going to make him drunk and dangerous – especially to himself.

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Period crime from the creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE and KILL OR BE KILLED, this homes in on Hollywoodland, famous for its writing and acting and myth-spinning slights of hand. They’re lying professionally before they’ve begun to be truly mendacious.

Acting itself is a form of lying – creating the semblance of someone else – but so often stars extend this dissemblance off-screen as well, aided and abetted by elaborate campaigns to make actors more attractive to their idolatrous fans. Take the profile of dreamboat actor Tyler Graves, concocted by bright publicity girl Dotty Quinn, playing up his years as a manly ranch-hand in Texas.

“Dotty, you’re a riot… I’ve never ridden a horse in my life.”
“I know, I still prefer the first one we came up with…”
“Oh right. I was a mechanic Selznick discovered when he broke down in Palm Springs.”
“It was your own little Cinderella story.”

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There’s a telling line in Posy Simmond’s British classic TAMARA DREWE from the horse’s mouth of successful crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiman: “I think the real secret of being a writer is learning to be a convincing liar… I mean, that’s what we are: story tellers… liars…”

He should know: he’s a serial philanderer.

This complete twelve-chapter graphic novel gives room for Brubaker to examine relationships in detail. Gil and Charlie’s co-dependent career ties them inextricably together. Gil has been blacklisted while Charlie’s lost his literary spark so the former dictates to the latter. This should make them allies for they both seek the same thing, albeit searching in different directions. But since both abuse booze for different reasons – Charlie for oblivion, belligerent Gil for release – they’re set on a collision course instead. What one does will inevitably impact upon the other but, as I say, they’re not working together: Charlie doesn’t trust Gil to act rationally, with restraint; Gil doesn’t trust Charlie to act at all.

“They were two broken-down writers, running on desperation and booze….
“And they’d written their story wrong.”

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Actual plot points I’m steering well clear of. We don’t do spoilers around here. But, boy, there are some pretty brutal (if strategically brilliant) scenes of intimidation and one huge misstep when intimidation gives way to condescension.

The recasting of Valeria Sommers with the similarly styled Maya Silver – and the subsequent reshooting of the film – allows Brubaker to examine the worst of Hollywood and its interminable, often last-minute rewrites ruining what was originally inspired. It’s cleverly done with the film’s eloquent and affecting first shoot recalled, immediately juxtaposed by the second lacklustre effort.

As to Phillips, an early morning beach scene gives him a rare opportunity to show what he can do in full sunlight rather than the twilight or midnight he normally resides in.

 

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Here the lines unfettered from their shadows are unusually crisp, smooth and delicate. Lit more lambently still by Breitweiser with a palette of sand, green and aquamarine, and the sea becomes virtually irresistible. Both their endeavours enhance what is a similarly rare stretch of innocent play free from subterfuge. Of course, that would also be the perfect time to lob in an equally innocent question and a guileless answer which will nonetheless send your mind spinning right back to the beginning.

Because Charlie remains haunted by Valeria there are also some scenes depicting both actresses. Maya was cast partly on account of her striking similarity to Val, but thanks to Phillips you couldn’t mistake one for the other for a second, either on the beach or on set. Maya is beautiful, talented, intelligent and caring; so was Val, but her deportment is instantly recognisable as far more experienced, confident and – there’s no other word for it – classier.

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As I say, it’s a period piece, the period being rife with tight-knit nepotism, closed-doors studios and overtly voiced bigotry. Wisely Brubaker has refrained from redacting that. Some people are shits – they just are – and there is such a thing as the non-authorial voice. So much here is tied to the Congressional Hearings just before McCarthyism really hit its stride including a role for Ronald Reagan. Thankfully Sean Phillips is a dab hand at likenesses for Reagan is joined in this fiction by the likes of Clark Gable.

Phillips’ eye for period detail is exceptional, whether it’s the way skirts hang or fly at an angle during a dance, the home furnishings or a buffet banquet. It’s perhaps there that Breitweiser’s decision to avoid local colour shines best, refusing to let your eye settle but dazzling you instead. I can’t imagine how dull and lifeless the spread of food would have looked had it been lit literally instead. Instead it’s both impressionist and expressionist, concerned with the colour and quality of light not as it actually falls or what it falls on but as it might dance on the brain. It’s rendered in free-form, panes of light and slabs of colour with scant regard for the line on the page and every regard for your eye and emotional impact.

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As to Brubaker, as ever he excels at making you want to linger as long as possible in each of his characters’ heads. I challenge anyone to foresee what’s coming. Certainly Charlie doesn’t. He hasn’t been able to for ages. It’s no coincidence that for the entire book Charlie’s been looking through cracked glasses which Phillips has turned into yet another of his fortes. There have been bits of Charlie missing, both as a man and as a writer, ever since he saw combat, and this is the brilliance of Brubaker, tying the two together:

“In that moment, he saw why things always went wrong for him now.
“He understood his problem.
“It was that he’d lost the ability to imagine what happened next.”

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This complete collection of THE FADE OUT three softcovers contains an exceptional wealth of extra back-matter as do all this team’s deluxe hardcovers. Sean Phillips introduces his cover gallery – fully painted portraits of each of the protagonists – with an exploration of how he came up with their linking logo / motif. Ed Brubaker’s on hand with an explanation of why he teases each of his series with a fully-fledged trailer rather than a random splattering of preview pages, and it makes so much narrative sense. And yes, you get that trailer too.

There are some of the essays and which only appeared in the twelve monthly periodicals, along with all their illustrations; Brubaker presents his research; then Phillips and Breitweiser each introduce then demonstrate so much of their process from thumbnails to finished colour pages.

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Page 45 will be bringing this beauty to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 where Sean Phillips will be signing with us, upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower, FOR FREE from 2pm to 3pm this Sunday 16th October.

SLH

Buy The Fade Out: Complete Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (£22-99 s/v; £71-99 Ltd Ed oversized h/c, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.

“Art black-dog-coveris an empathy machine. Art allows one to look through a fellow human’s eyes.”

Art – when derived from studious and subtle observation – can not only allow one to look through another individual’s eyes but to communicate what you see there, to pass on those perspectives.

In that endeavour as in so many more, BLACK DOG is a clever, profound and eloquent beast.

With sympathetic skill Dave McKean has succeeded not only in communicating to a new audience and a new generation Paul Nash’s vision and visions but, in doing so, furthered Nash’s goal to “bring back words and bitter truths” to remind us of the horrors and insanities of war which show no sign of stopping, and to counter those who would perpetuate them.

“I hope my ochres and umbers and oxides will burn their bitter souls.”

Good luck with that one, the pair of you. But they can instil in the rest of us, prone to forgetfulness, a renewed revulsion in order to speak out against these repugnant warmongers and their godawful obliteration of lives, of individuals, they leave in their wake.

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That was the vocation discovered by Paul Nash, and the whole raison d’être of the commission by 14-18 NOW, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and On a Marché sur la Bulle: to blast back into our consciousness the very real, specific horrors of World War I during its centenary years.

Dave McKean has delivered on every front, but he has done so in ways that are far from obvious. For a start, it is not just through the queasy deployment of “ochres and umbers and oxides”, much in evidence during the gruelling sequence setting sail from Southampton Docks along with its sea-slick of blood…

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… but in contrasting them with the most spectacular colour: with that which is other and bright and beautiful; with that which is natural and which should be instead.

One of the most vivid chapters is Nash’s dream, whilst convalescing, of a viciously sharp, scarlet-thorned briar which impedes his progress towards the shimmering blue light of a kingfisher, thence its elusive clutch of tiny, fragile, life-giving eggs.

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“How can this delicate perfection exist in the same world as a 14-ton howitzer firing 1,000 kg shells that propel hot metal shrapnel into soft human tissue, into minds protected by perfectly proportioned, frangible shells?”

Three shells, then: the brain’s, the bird’s and the bombs’. It is in gently compelling us to compare this absurd contrast in our own minds that the truth seeps out: the first’s content is creative, the second’s procreative, while the third’s sole goal is destruction and death.

It is the power of the mind – as well as its vulnerability, to be sure – which is evoked as much as anything during this intense graphic novel. Nash sees colour in the unexpected green shoots amidst trenches when few could see through their desolate, limb-numbing, mind-flattening, seemingly never-ending nightmare to any form of future at all. I wouldn’t be able to without McKeans’ help here.

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But once again, it proves part of what Nash wanted for the future: a tsunami, a revolution of thought “breaking over our ossified society, tabula rasa, wiping the cant and lies from English life.” Sure enough, following the juxtaposition of life-giving green and bleak brown trenches bursting with a spray of white butterflies, there rises an almighty tidal wave that is thunderous.

There will be more time spent in the trenches – with Nash’s brother, just once, when they discuss the distraction and abstraction of the artistic process which may go some way to explain Nash’s later, problematic detachment – but this narrative stretches far further thematically, both backwards and forwards, to what else might have made this man, including the “sadistic discipline” of a school “which was ideal training for an infantryman’s life in the trenches.” He continues:

“It taught me nothing worth speaking of, it answered none of my questions, it required only a kind of desperate obedience, and a stoic acceptance of the constant threat of sudden and terrible violence.”

The grotesque, gap-toothed giant of a martinet towers over young Nash, barking out garbled, mathematical commands as nonsensical as those which would follow, and as impossible to answer with any sane response.

The person who does teach him something worth learning is his grandfather who is by contrast “a man of infinite calm and discretion”, nurturing Nash’s love of art. It’s a scene played out against a chessboard, another battle arena around which Nash and his perpetually distant father keep their distance from each other like any pawn and opposing king lest their contact prove fatal.

“The kings checks his position
“As the pawn moves towards promotion
“Hoping not to be seen
“And neither of them comment on the absence of the queen.”

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The first page consists of four square panels; the second of nine; the third expands into that fully fledged chessboard of similarly black and white squares. Across this are drawn multiple, fractured images of Nash’s distressed mother, oscillating between the darkness and light, representing her turbulent, chequered present. Something extraordinary occurs.

“The dog didn’t return to my dreams
“For a very long time.”

Up until this point we’ve said nothing of the titular black dog, as I think is right. But its shadow has haunted him from the beginning and it will hound the painter almost until the end in a very telling sequence. At times it is ferocious, at others a bounding spirit he pursues. But its presence is pervasive and it goes by another name which is just as revealing.

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You need know nothing of Nash before embarking upon this, but his paintings are referenced throughout both in the language and images (‘We Are Making a New World’,”The Shore (at Dymchurch)’, and I see ‘Wood on the Dawn’ in the boy’s early trees). Often I find engaging in a work like this without prior knowledge a boon. It will surely prompt a wave of its audience to embark on research afterwards and subsequent readings will then spark satisfying flashes of recognition.

Visually the storytelling displays a complete command of dream logic and that “hypnagogic” or indeed hypnopompic state wherein you’re not quite sure what is real and what is imagined. It is in constant flux, morphing from one medium to the next, from light to dark, with subtle sheens, bleeds or explosions of colour. “The fog of war” which drifts over St. Martin-in-the-Fields church to overshadow Nash’s wedding day is terrible to behold, casting a pall over the proceedings: “A confetti of embers and ash approaching the church ahead of the leviathan.” And wait until you see that coelacanth monstrosity.

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But it’s this lyrical deftness I came away admiring the most. McKean manages to find exactly the right word, time after time again, to pair one thought with another, to throw a startling new light on our expectations or twist the natural order of things, as when Nash is advised to “fight to live another day”.

For it’s not just the battles with bayonets and barbed wire and bombs that one fights on the field, but also hunger and disease and madness and memory, both then and thereafter. Nash sought to evoke this in his art and so McKean too seeks to peel back the layers, to get beneath the skin and comprehend the complexities which lie beneath. To examine not just a life but what is ‘lived’ – which is something altogether different.

These are the U.S. Dark Horse editions which Page 45 will be launching with a signing by Dave McKean at 10.30am Saturday 15th October at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower.

SLH

Buy Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash Limited Edition Hardcover and read the Page 45 review here

Notes On A Thesis (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Tiphaine Rivière.

Placard held aloft during a Parisian university protest rally:

“We’re losing our faculties!”

Coming as it does towards the end of this sanity-sapping spiral, it made me roar with laughter. I don’t think it’s their departments they’re referring to.

Caveat: do not read this wry and ever so well observed graphic novel if you have just this second committed yourself to a three-year PhD.  The rest of us lucky pups who left academia behind decades ago – or never moored there in the first place – will have a whale of a time, but you will probably cry.

Perhaps you’re thrilled to be embarking on your brand-new endeavour, just like cheerful, fresh-faced Jeanne Dargan who is so relieved to be relieved of her hyperactive Year-Nine students that she’s ecstatically ditched full-time, inner-city teaching in favour of research which she must fund herself. She’s bursting with enthusiasm, especially since Kafka expert Karpov has agreed to supervise her thesis on ‘The Labyrinthine Motif in the Parable of the Law in Kafka’s The Trial’. Exciting!

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Honestly, this is in English.

Brigitte Claude, secretary for the Doctoral School since 1987, does her best to dissuade Jeanne with ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of similarly perky pupils now rendered lank, limp and weary after 3-7 years of critical endeavour, but Jeanne will not be bowed. The city basks in sunshine and once she’s met the great Karpov herself, not even a little rain dims the bright autumnal colours as she strides purposefully and proud along the banks of the Seine.

“Don’t worry,” she joyously reassures her boyf, “I’m going to get it done in 3 years. 3 years and not a day more…”

Were this early Gerald Durrell autobiography, the next sentence would have read “4 years later…”

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No, really, this is in English. It’s a translation, mes amis!

But no, Jeanne has a plan. She draws up a detailed, three-year timetable involving research, reading and note-taking; a finished PhD plan; writing part 1; writing part 2; writing part 3; revisions and finishing touches; submission. Unfortunately this immediately follows her even more detailed, weekly time-management-table, by the hour, in which Jeanne will juggle her studies with the full-time job she needs to take in order to make ends meet. It’s in Brigitte Claude’s office! Hooray!

“I’m going to join the Events Team at the university! I’ll be the one organising all the literature conferences at the Sorbonne! I’ll be right in the nerve-centre, at the heart of Parisian literary life.”

Just one glance at that timetable would tell anyone less in denial that it’s completely and utterly untenable.

This is crammed full of satirical detail, from posters promoting events like “Laughter in Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy” (Schopenhauer!) to a conference day’s agenda over-optimistically entitled ‘Hope In Kafka’ and a new PhD student gleefully declaring, “I have a feeling I’m going to make some serious waves in the world of Renaissance punctuation!”

Brigitte Claude herself is a masterful visual invention, jealously guarding her administrative office like a triple-chinned, fiery-eyed bullfrog, hands buried beneath her bosom, slinking down her desk to answer the phone with enormous reluctance, and only in defiance of someone entering her secretarial arena in need of information. Her jowls are a joy.

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Delivering speeches is portrayed as a swimming race, accepting questions from the floor akin to opening yourself up to an oncoming battle charge. The exhaustion and despair of the older post-graduates drips from their word balloons and (in a move similar to Mazzuccheilli’s ASTERIOS POLYP wherein Asterios literally talks over the love of his life, his word balloons obliterating hers) one speaker’s conversation-stealing monomania is conveyed firstly by the sheer number – the barrage – of her balloons, then by her swallowing Jeanne’s single, tiny, plaintive speech whole, before blowing an enormous one of her own back out, like bubblegum.

“I’m my own boss!” comes back to haunt Jeanne, as does Jeanne’s visualisation of her thesis as the most splendid, ornate, meticulously crafted piece of neo-classical architecture. I cannot tell you how funny the eventual reprise is. Can you imagine the nightmare of finally composing a 500-page thesis from notes you’ve taken on books you’ve read – and long forgotten – two years ago?

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Sympathy for all you will find in abundance, but students, lecturers and indeed administrators will be pertinently yet playfully poked in the ribs. Poor Karpov, for example, endures such excruciating presumption and neediness from his overly entitled students that one of them is shown offloading from a psychiatrist’s couch; on the other hand, I do believe students should be entitled to some sort of supervision rather than a six-month wait for an eventually evasive reply from their ever-absent professor while he’s swanning about Rome engaging in fully-paid personal research.

Egos will be exposed, intentions will be questioned and both mental and critical faculties be sorely tested.

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Moreover, by the end of the book you may well re-examine your initial infuriation / exasperation with the Year-Nine children let loose on The Louvre in search of The Mona Lisa. There’s a very, very funny background joke on that sequence’s final panel and at the end of the day you should never mock energy, lest you lose it yourself.

Enthusiasm is all!

SLH

Buy Notes On A Thesis and read the Page 45 review here

Light (£17-99, Magnetic Press) by Rob Cham…

What light-coverwould you do if you lived in a world without colour, a boring black and white existence with nary a hint of any chromaticity at all to get your spectral-deficient synapses firing and brighten up your day? Well you’d probably grab a friend and go on an epic adventure to find five magical crystals and see what happens when you put them all together. Along the way you’d probably have to battle multiple monsters and deal with other assorted oddballs and weirdoes intent on hindering your quest.

Which is basically what this is! But whereas you or I would probably make a lot of noise doing it, this is a wordless graphic novel. And because every page is a single-panel illustration without borders, drawn mostly to the exact same scale from an identical perspective set on a black background, it very much has the feel of a gorgeous silent animation.

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There is, however, a lot of colour, of all the major hues. Great, whopping, eye-popping explosions of it left, right and centre! In fact, the number of pure black and white pages is but a tiny handful, forming a stark introduction to the boring world our main character inhabits, before the vibrant splashes of primary and secondary colours start.

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He’s a curious fellow, our redoubtable dungeoneer, that’s for sure. He looks like the hybrid offspring of Fone Bone and Morph. Actually, the black and white pages very strongly reminded me of the original BONE comics – still available in one meaty collected BONE tome – before the coloured individual BONE volumes came along. A fun and very pretty all-ages read that takes a different approach to the silent graphic novel and succeeds with aplomb.

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JR

Buy Light and read the Page 45 review here

Nicolas (£9-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard.

Brave, bold, Brown (Jeffrey); or brief, basic, banal.

That’s your basic reception spectrum right there and, as in all matters, I am 100% to the left.

This is, I think, going to polarise people. Lazy people who think it’s clever to start each word with a ‘b’.

The good news for the likes of Porcellino and Penfold is that it’ll take the heat off them when the less enlightened superhero readers want to cite autobiographical comicbook creators who, according to their ill-informed prejudices, “can’t even draw”. Fuck you, by the way!

From the creator of REUNION (a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), PETTY THEFT and the co-creator of FANNY & ROMEO, this new edition is accompanied by 25 new pages of Pascal Girard in the present which explain so much about Girard’s anxiety in REUNION that I’m tempted to tweak my review. I won’t, but I’m tempted.

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This crippling anxiety – with attendant superstitious rituals recalling (as in “calling back”) his little brother – he directly attributes in no small part to his complete inability to process his sibling’s death when Pascal was barely more than seven years old himself.

The first and last three pages of the original confessional show them joyfully, exuberantly play-acting together as Ghostbusters; by the fourth page Pascal is sitting outside on the pavement, on his own.

How do you react to such an abrupt, gaping and irreversible hole both in your home and in your heart – at the very centre of your world?

You react inconsistently. And, as E.M. Forster suggested in ‘Angels Fear To Tread’, we must not be afraid to be inconsistent.

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For a start, a child’s desires are innocently self-centred, so games and Christmas presents bring as much joy as ever, and Pascal is put out by his parents’ grief during these early anniversaries which spoils all his fun. It’s only as he grows older that he begins to understand what happened and by that point self-awareness comes with the additional price-tag of guilt.

I’d wager it will speak volumes to those who’ve been bereaved at any age: there’s a gnawing gut-level guilt that perhaps you weren’t devastated enough at the time and therefore didn’t care, and a suspicion (or even determination) that you shouldn’t be enjoying yourself now.

Girard makes no such clumsy evaluations on the printed page, electing instead to offer up the simplest of fragments of what he recalls: moments when he’s struck by his brother’s death or even benefits from it through sympathy. That’s why I call this a “confessional”. Judge him if you want, but it’s just human nature.

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Brave and bold for me, then, and very Jeffrey Brown.

Oh, and you know the old adage that it’s only when you lose something that you appreciate what you’ve got? Sometimes you don’t. For Pascal Girard has another younger brother who survived…

SLH

Buy Nicolas and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + Divine vol 4: Rising Action s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

Pop stars on their pedestals. You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as pop gods and goddesses? Turns out some of them really are.

“You are of the Pantheon.
“You will be loved.
“You will be hated.
“You will be brilliant.
“Within two years you will be dead.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their fate. She helps them shine brightly for their brief two years. If they are lucky.

Because some of those lights have been snuffed out already.

It’s a brilliant conceit, executed immaculately. Of course the role assumed by these gods in this modern age would be as those most worshipped today, and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, aspiration, envy, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and manipulation, for some are putting ideas into the others’ heads.

They have been played.

You have been played.

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Kieron Gillen has been ever so naughty: he left key moments out to mess with your mind.

Now you’re going to get an unexpurgated replay in chapter three. You will like what you see, but it will make your heads explode.

I cannot tell you anything more for it would all be spoilers – even a single page of volume four’s interior art. Instead I recommend you read our previous, extensive reviews of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, and leave with you with the book’s sly teaser-trailer.

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SLH

Buy The Wicked + Divine vol 4: Rising Action s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Trees vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard.

In the run-up to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 Page 45 is scrambling for time, but consider this at least a signpost to the knowledge that more TREES have arrived!

They are big trees.

These trees are so big that a mere axe wouldn’t cut it – nor even your average, hand-held chainsaw.

They are so vast that if they had canopies, they would be lost from view in the stratosphere. Their girth would exceed the radius of your average town or village, and not just its Green. These trees don’t have leaves, but do they have an agenda?

They have planted themselves implacably on our planet and have so far shown few signs of their nature, nurture nor broader intention, except to sick-up their occasional toxic vom.

They may be staring at you, or they may not. They simply sit there, rooted to the spot, giving nothing away. One thing’s for certain, however: you cannot miss them; you can see them sitting silently from a shoreline away.

What happens now?

Look, I’m basically asking you to refer to our review of TREES VOL 1.

From the writer of  INJECTION VOLUME 1, INJECTION VOLUME 2 and TRANSMETROPOLITAN etc. Pop Warren Ellis into our search engine and see how long he lasts without access to his beard-trimmer *, cigarettes and whiskey.

* He doesn’t have one.

SLH

Buy Trees vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

An Unreliable History Of Tattoos (£14-99, Nobrow) by Paul Thomas.

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Paul Thomas will be signing with us at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 from 1-15pm on Saturday 15th October!

Landscape prose hardcover lavishly illustrated on every page with full-colour cartoons, the ink in question is predominantly blue – as are the jokes!

Those I can’t quote, but Thomas’ art here is to dream up new (and old) contexts for current colloquialisms or conceits, juxtaposing the contemporary with the historical, the irreverent with the revered, and putting frivolous phrases into the mouths of famously po-faced public figures for maximum iconoclastic impact and LOLZ.

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This isn’t merely “unreliable”; it’s full of absolute whoppers, like the most startling set of knuckles to ever be adorned with that ‘LOVE’ / ‘HATE’ legend: the Sphinx’s.

“In 1066, King Harold II famously had his wife Edith’s name tattooed on his chest. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle reported the design to be ‘beautifulle to beholde, beynge of qualyte and reallye cool’, The decoration surrounding it was, however, said to looke ‘a bitte shitte on hyse man boobes.’”

Adding an ‘e’ doesn’t hurt while in those parts of the past that deployed them, but it’s the lateral thinking I admire the most.

“In 1483, Richard III’s first act as king was to convert the Tower of London into a ‘worlde class childcare facilite’.”

I know of two princely playmates who might have claimed otherwise.

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My favourite piece of lateral thinking combined a) the art of tattoo and b) the printed paper bills we have to pay. Or, in this case, the additional surcharge attached to being married to a certain misogynistic monarch. Anne Boleyn is shown paraded in front of the public for beheadification, her executioner behind  her and a line of dashes – – – – – – – – – – –  inked round her neck with the legend “coupez ici” underneath.

I liked the old-fashioned flourish on the ‘z’. I also smiled at Charles Dickens being deemed “celebrated poverty ogler”, which wasn’t quite his humanist mission.

It works best the further back in time you go, perhaps because we’ve almost exhausted the satirical wet sponges that can be thrown at more recent regents and reprobates.

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And while I remind you that I have explicitly alluded to some of the more ribald humour (so don’t run cumming to me), I did chortle childishly at two mutual male admirers in a prison shower being told by the guard to “Get a cell!”” One has a male hen tattooed on his chest, the other twin ’R’s on his buttocks. “I like your Rs”, says one. The other says something else.

SLH

Buy An Unreliable History Of Tattoos and read the Page 45 review here

Shade The Changing Girl #1 (£2-99. DC’s Young Animals) by Cecil Castellucci & Marley Zarcone.

Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colours brighten this beautiful beast up no end.

It’s from the same Young Animals stable as Gerard Way & Nick Derington’s DOOM PATROL #1 which we singularly failed to review. Given Way’s profile we doubted it needed any extra publicity from us, but it was utterly mental and required no prior knowledge of Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s DOOM PATROL. In fact, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way took cheeky delight in confounding previous readers’ expectations at every turn.

This too requires no prior knowledge for we’ve a brand-new cast with bags of potential to alarm all and sundry, especially those who thought young, blonde-haired Megan was gone from their lives for good. This includes not just her friends, but also her parents who were assured that their comatose Megan was so without hope that they’d signed all the papers to pull the plug.

She’s just woken up, and the hospital would be exceedingly grateful if her mother and father would kindly collect her, please.

“She’s upsetting the other patients.”

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She seems very cheerful, though. Almost as if she’s a completely different person.

Now, you’d think that her friends would be thrilled and her parents ecstatic at this modern medical miracle. But if you knew Megan like I’m beginning to know Megan, then you might have more cause for concern.

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It’s the old Megan I’m referring to. But the old Megan is quite, quite gone; her body now inhabited by an alien who’s travelled all the way from Meta by way of Shade’s ever-shifting, technicolour dream coat. Therein lies all the dramatic irony we could wish for.

So, umm, you might by now be wondering what put this girlfriend in a coma to begin with.

Haha! SPOILERS!

From the writer of Young Readers’ ODD DUCK (with Sara Varon art – oh, yeah!) and Young Adults’ THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS, THE PLANE JANES (one of our earliest Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month) and its immediate sequel JANES IN LOVE (all excellent, all reviewed), this is suitable for neither of those demographics, the Young Animals imprint being very much a modern cousin to DC’s Mature-Readers’ Vertigo.

SLH

Buy Shade The Changing Girl #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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.

 The Fade Out Complete Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Goodnight Punpun vol 3 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 2 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Hellboy In Hell vol 2: The Death Card (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola

The Metabaron Book 1: The Techo-Admiral & The Anti-Baron h/c (£20-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Jerry Frissen, Valentin Secher

Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey (£25-00, Abrams) by Si Lewen

She Changed Comics (£13-99, Image) by various edited by Betsy Gomez

Tokyo Ghost vol 2: Come Join Us (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy

Batman By Ed Brubaker vol 2 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns & Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens, Sean Phillips, various

The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman Deluxe Edition h/c (£26-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Mark Verheiden & Arthur Adams, Michael Alred, Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Mark Buckingham, Matt Wagner, John Totleben, Eddie Campbell, others

Catwoman vol 8: Run Like Hell s/c (£13-99, DC) by Frank Tieri & various

Convergence s/c (£22-99, DC) by Jeff King, Scott Lobdell, Dan Jurgens & Ethan Van Sciver, Andy Kubert

Superman: American Alien h/c (£22-99, DC) by Max Landis & various

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 2: Apocalypse Wars s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows: Warzones! (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Adam Kubert, Scott Hanna

Extraordinary X-Men vol 2: Apocalypse Wars s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Victor Ibanez, Humberto Ramos

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez, Lan Medina

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 2: Bordertown s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

X-Men: Gambit & Rogue s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Howard Mackie & Lee Weeks, Mike Wieringo

The Rise And Fall Of Axiom s/c (£17-99, Legendary) by Mark Waid & Ed Benes

Fairy Tail vol 56 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Groo Vs. Conan (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragones, Thomas Yeates

X-Force / Cable: Messiah War s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Duane Swierczynski & Jamie McKelvie, Ariel Olivetti, various

News

ITEM! Here we go! It is upon us!

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At the time of typing, The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 is mere days away (October 14-16) and we’ve published the Page 45 blog starring comicbook creators signing with us FOR FREE!

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Ben Haggarty,
Bryan Lee O’Malley,
Dan Berry,
Dave McKean,
Emma Vieceli,
Felt Mistress,
Hannah Berry,
Isabel Greenberg,
John Martz,
Jonathan Edwards,
Katriona Chapman,
Paul Thomas,
Sean Phillips,
Tillie Walden,
Tom Gauld

We are also joined in our graphic-novel-stuffed Georgian Room, upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower, by the magnificent Avery Hill Publishing!

You’ll find details of everyone’s signing times on that Page 45 LICAF 2016 blog, plus so much more, including all the links you could want to the Festival itself.

Come up and see us, make us smiii-ii-ii-iiiiile!Page 45 sign left

 

ITEM! I promise you we don’t normally keep repeating ourselves in our News Section like this, but The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is Page 45’s biggest event of each year, and we are so proud to be a part of it.

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ITEM! We’ve created a Panel at LICAF to help empower new and aspiring comicbook creators.

Sunday October 16th, 1pm to 2pm in the Clock Tower Council Chamber

You Ask, We Tell! Helping Creators Pitch To Publishers, The Press and to Comic Shops.

Although everything else we do is free, this bit will cost you £8 plus a £1-50 booking fee, I’m afraid (see link), but consider it an excellent investment in your creative and commercial future! Here’s why:

Independent publishing and self-publishing isn’t just a means to critical acclaim but to concrete, commercial success.

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Page 45’s biggest-selling graphic novel of 2015 was PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA, independently published by Improper Books and beating everything from DC, owned by multi-millionaire mega-corps Time Warner.

Page 45’s biggest-selling comic was EXPECTING TO FLY, self-published by John Allison and beating everything from Marvel, owned by multi-billionaire Disney.

With independent publishers you can retain creative control, ownership and be nurtured like nowhere else, fostering long-lasting, personal relationships with retailers and review sites like Broken Frontier which will prove invaluable throughout your career. We’ll show you how.

On that experienced, hand-picked panel:

Ricky Miller (Director, Avery Hill Publishing)
Katriona Chapman (self-publisher of KATZINE, freelance for larger publishers and part of Avery Hill)
Andy Oliver (Editor-in-Chief of pioneering review website Broken Frontier, and brand-new self-publisher)
Stephen L. Holland (Festival patron, award-winning retailer at Page 45 and prize buffoon.)

Every week I’m asked at the counter, “What’s the best way to get my comic published?”, “How do I get myself covered by Broken Frontier?” and “How do I get my self-published comic onto your shelves?”

We’re about to answer your questions.

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ITEM! This is the first year that the legendary Sarah McIntrye has been unable to appear with Page 45 in our Georgian Room. Last year Sarah was even joined by co-creator Philip Reeve to sign their PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS and CAKES IN SPACE!

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Sarah and I could not bear to disappoint the loyal following of families she’s built up at the Festival so Page 45 will be bringing the brand-new JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR… and Sarah in spirit! How…? Sarah has very generously drawn four original sketches which we will give out FREE OF CHARGE to the first families to buy a copy or twelve of JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR during the weekend and who then declare:

“I read your blog, and I’ve got a sprog!”

Terms & Conditions: Adults must be accompanied by a child (which is a nice twist, don’t you think? This is such a family-friendly festival!). Also, the rhyme above is mandatory.

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ITEM! Under Page 45 Reviews (September 2016 week four) we detailed all the LICAF merchandise that would be on sale in our room alongside our own glorious graphic novels including exclusive prints by Hannah Berry, Sean Phillips, Charlie Adlard and Duncan Fegredo et al.

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ITEM! We’ll also be launching LICAF’s all-ages CARROT TO THE STARS graphic novel (reviewed).

Poignant and pertinent, every school library should have one.

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ITEM! Also, also, we will be selling the brand-new 24-Hour Comic Relay Race comic directed by Dan Berry, which will be created in the 24 hours leading up to LICAF by the likes of Dan Berry, Craig Thompson, Charlie Adlard, Emma Vieceli, Joe Decie, Mike Medaglia and Bryan Talbot. Here’s 2014’s anthology, 24 x 7:

ITEM! We would remind you that Page 45 accepts both cash and credit cards at LICAF, and we’ve made upgrades to our till this year to make the process swifter for you and safer for us.

For us: a till drawer which shuts.

For you: we’ve a second scanner so we can whip whichever dozen graphic novels you’ve selected from our mounds of magnificence through that till before you can scream “Second Mortgage!”

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ITEM! LICAF is brought to you by Julie Tait and Carole Tait without whom none of this would happen. Without Sharon Tait, the loveliest light in the world, I would still a quivering mess in the Kendal Clock Tower foyer, 2014.

Together they are the Holy Tait Trinity.

A round of applause for the Holy Tait Trinity all weekend long, please!

– Stephen xxx

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2016 week one

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Families! Win free original Sarah McIntryre sketches! More BREAKING NEWS about The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 below our reviews!

A Distant Neighbourhood h/c (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

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If it were at all possible, would you go back in time with your current critical faculties and relive your life from the age of fourteen?

If so, what would you change – if anything at all – and what would you learn that eluded your former fourteen-year-old mind?

This is a graphic novel which may make you reflect upon your past, on your present, and perhaps on your future. With crystal clear lines of breath-taking beauty and grey-tone shadows which denote so much sunlight, it’s my favourite work so far from the creator of GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, collecting the two former softcovers, the first of which we made Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month.

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It is executed with all the dignity, quiet calm and accomplished craftsmanship that made THE WALKING MAN such a transporting experience, and sees a forty-something businessman, tired and hung-over, boarding the wrong train by mistake. It takes him back to the town he grew up in. Rather than fret, he takes advantage of the happenstance to stroll through the streets of his childhood. They’ve changed so considerably that they’re barely recognisable now, but when he reaches the graveyard under the verdant hillside where his mother lies buried, he stops to meditate by her headstone:

“What were my mother’s thoughts when she passed away?
“My father suddenly went missing when I was in eighth grade. I have no clear idea why my father decided to leave. Even now, whereabouts still unknown, I don’t know what’s happened to him… I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead! I don’t know the pain she might have felt inside, but Mom passed away without ever saying a hateful word about my father.
“I asked my mother once again. ‘Were you happy?'”

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There’s a shift in his shadow as the sun shines down from above, and a shift in his weight so that he loses his balance. A butterfly flits by. He’s wearing his old school uniform.

Hiroshi Nakahara is fourteen years old again. His mother’s alive, and his father’s still there with no sign at all of significant strife. So why did his father suddenly disappear, and can Nakahara do anything to prevent it?

Originally published in Japan in 1998, the time taken to translate it gave Alex Robinson’s similarly themed TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN the chance to emerge onto our shelves first. Whatever their similarities, stylistically they’re very different beasts: Taniguchi has an exceptionally fine, precise yet surprisingly soft and sympathetic line whereby even interiors are spacious and full of window light, whilst his landscapes are a loving tribute to the beauty of nature, the grass dappled in sunshine and shadow, the leaves painstaking rendered in gentle folds above.

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One can’t help but fall in love with so many of his cast, either. Whether wide-eyed in wonder or deep in reflection, harbouring a melancholy kept to himself, Nakahara is drawn by Taniguchi in perfect sympathy with his inner monologue. For although he delights in a confidence around girls he never had as a child, although he rejoices in a rejuvenated athleticism and overindulges in an alcohol binge his younger body can’t cope with, there are school friends whose funerals he’s already attended who are chatting to him now without a care in the world, and he can’t help but look at his mother and father with a different eye to a child’s.

For he knows his father will leave his mother soon, just as his own family in the present are wondering what’s happened to their husband and father…

It’s a work that can’t help but catalyse self-reflection. How would you cope in the same situation? Who would believe you if you told them the truth? How soon would one simple act cause a domino effect leading you down a completely different road to that trodden before? And how come you can’t just take a boy or a girl out to dinner any longer?!

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Taniguchi’s best works are more about contemplation and a search for truth or at least peace of mind than anything else, and usually in the middle of the most beautifully lit countryside you will ever encounter. There’s also an emphasis on respect and gratitude – the touching and impressive Japanese courtesy of not wanting to put anyone else out (it is not about manners; it is all about genuine good will) – and it’s evoked well here as Hiroshi’s grandmother continues to explain his father’s particular circumstances following his experience in World War II, and his mother struggles with her understanding of the debt she owes her second husband, her knowledge of what he has sacrificed for her, yet her need for his presence.

Meanwhile Hiroshi takes the girl he’d never have had to courage to talk to the first time round to the seaside where he relishes the freedom and sensations of being fourteen again, but without the same insecurities.

SLH

Buy A Distant Neighbourhood h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Carthago h/c (£23-99, Humanoids) by Christopher Bec & Eric Henninot, Milan Jovanovic.

Is it okay if I start crying now?carthago-cover

Welcome to a whopping, album-sized, 275-page graphic novel of exceptional light and beauty – and the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.

Specifically, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belongs to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn’t have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised. Since it didn’t die out, you can assume with some certainty that it’s not alone. It’ll have to have some honeys to breed with.

How has it survived? That proved quite clever. Not everything here passes the credulity test quite so creditably: like Major Bertrand’s decision to dive back into the water once a diving cage has been crushed / mangled / mauled beyond recognition, just to see what enormous subaquatic creature could have done that. It proves a pivotal plot point – on account of what else he spies lurking below which he vows never to impart to anyone – but you really wouldn’t do that, would you? “All you can eat” must surely be the default menu of any Megalodon on the move.

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I thought it cruel, being made to read and review this, for I am terrified of sharks. Mesmerised, but terrified. I don’t really want any species to die out, but the very idea of diving in a cage surrounded by Great White Sharks – or even a solitary soul out for a leisurely, late-afternoon swim-stroll – is insane.

I used to have shark dreams once a week between the ages of eight and thirty-five. They rarely ended well.  I would see shadows of sharks even within in-door swimming pools, for which I blame James Bond. Strangely, those dreams ceased once I came face to face with a barracuda while snorkelling in Barbados. It swam, fast as lightning, to within two feet of my nose. Thankfully it executed an equally abrupt about-turn, but not before I was gifted with a true appreciation of how phenomenally hideous its ugly mug was.

All things are relative.

It’s about to get uglier.

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Carthago is the name of the international corporation which trades in both gas and oil, drilling out to sea for both. In 1993 one of their drills penetrated a deep-sea cavern and all four divers disappeared. They couldn’t resist investigating this new, exotic environment, and this new, exotic environment couldn’t resist investigating them. Nom-nom, etc.

I cannot begin to convey to you how tense and claustrophobic Henninot renders their initial, tentative, reconnoitre, so much hidden in the impenetrable, inky black which their tiny, inadequate flares and torches barely manage to illuminate. Thanks to the two-page prologue 73 years ago, we are anticipating a certain sort of… reception… but it’s ever so subtly introduced on the final, small panel of a right-hand page by a free-floating hand and attendant rivulet of blood.

Mr. Snyder, Carthago’s chairman of the board who sports a fetching black balaclava, is well aware of what went on way back then. He’s had video footage since day one. Now he shares it with his suit-and-tie board members, but with strict instructions that it must never be leaked lest they be hit with multiple law suits, not least for negligence. Further fears include the plug being pulled on further drilling, and their already precarious profits ($90 billion from one rig alone) will go into free-fall.

Unfortunately for Carthago, its chairman is not the only one in possession of that film. A radical environmentalist sub-cell within Greenpeace has copies too and shows one to Dr Kim Melville, fresh from discovering three-foot-long crayfish below the Sarrans Dam in France. Parenthetically her daughter, Lou, has discovered pike three times her size in the freezing waters, 150 feet down without the aid of any breathing apparatus or indeed any facial protection whatsoever.

“Lou’s not like other little girls…”

No, indeed, as you will see.

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We’re still on the first two-dozen pages, but what follows is an ultra-competitive race between multiple factions to a) capture proof of a Megalodon’s existence b) expose Carthago’s less than ethical cover-up and collusion, then  c) get to the very bottom of the sea’s hidden depths and secrets sustained over the centuries – improbably so since photography was invented.

Drop in the ocean? I should say so! I’ve not even touched on the prime mover, one elderly Mr Feiersinger confined to a futuristic wheelchair / life-support system. An unimaginably wealthy, ruthless and obsessive collector of the rarest artefacts imaginable, he resides in Eagle’s Eyrie atop the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in a vast, Gothic castle whose cathedral-like hallway resembles the central nave of the British Museum. He has in his indebted thrall the graphic novel’s action hero, London Donovan. You will learn of this debt and of the expedition which led to Mr Feiersinger’s current condition anon, but not here.

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All these paths and many more will cross, criss-cross and re-cross again in an increasingly convoluted, full-blown sci-fi experience involving maritime survivors, monomaniacal malfeasance, more monsters than I’m willing to give away here, hereditary hiccups, ancient civilisations and, yes, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.

The planet is changing: it’s realigning. Ice floes are shifting. Whales and dolphins are beaching themselves in what appears to be a coordinated mass suicide or desperate flight. Forces – both familiar and familial – are coming into play, and if you believe that “the blood-dimmed tide” is already loosed then I swear that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is spectacular. It truly is spectacular.

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Delphine Rieu’s colours in particular complement Eric Henninot’s crisp, clean lines to perfection. Her whites and blues are bright and pure, while Henninot’s faces are a little like P. Craig Russell’s. His sense of scale is as thrilling, particularly when looking up at the dam or Eagle’s Eyrie’s interior, so rich in vertical detail. Moreover, his sharks are ferocious and, as I’ve intimated, they are not the only challenge present.

His successor halfway through, Milan Jovanovic, isn’t quite all that but only because you’ve been spoiled rotten beforehand. The tidal waves are still terrifying, the underwater menaces still petrifying and there’s one page featuring the most misjudged practical joke of all time which will leave one young lad speechless for years.

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However, honestly dictates I concede that two-thirds of the way in it threatens to collapse under the weight of increasingly ridiculous coincidences, along with improbable decisions and observational failures on the part of the cast. It doesn’t, but it threatens to, especially when those cast members haven’t proved so dim in the past. (Apart from Dr Kim Melville, perhaps: “Take your daughter to the seaside!” you will be screaming at her for the hundred odd pages it takes her to do so.)

As to Mr Feiersinger’s younger brother… forty years younger? Okay, if he’s revealed later on to be a covert catamite instead, I will whoop with penitent joy and enormous respect for the lack of hand-holding clues early on. Otherwise pfft!

SLH

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

Carrot To The Stars (£6-00, Lakes International Comics Art Festival) by Regis Lejonc, Thierry Murat & Riff Reb’s.

“Some dream of love
“While dancing in the moonlight.”

A cautionary, all-ages fable, this has an elegant and eloquent simplicity, and a fearful symmetry whose missing element will haunt me for decades. Except that, as drawn by Riff, it isn’t entirely missing, and therein lies the power of its punch.

I cannot be more specific than that, but you will know what I mean when you see it.

The cautionary aspect is emphatically not about dreaming – how tragic would that be? – nor about invention or industriousness. This isn’t some sort of awful, prohibitive, Daedalus and Icarus yarn which William Blake shot down so succinctly in ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’ thus:

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”.

Aspiration should be encouraged. Not even the sky is your limit.

Instead, the cautionary note lies in entrusting your dreams to those with less beneficent interests than your own. It is about the perversion of dreams, and it boasts a specific, all too awful pertinence to our wider world today, and indeed throughout the ages with one particular instance in mind.

So.

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“Some dream of love
“While dancing in the moonlight.”

How romantic is that? And how beautiful is that opening page with its innocent, Dr Seuss-like revelry shared under the inspiring light of a benign, beaming moon? Our inventive rabbit “dreams of something dazzling” and is inspired to build something beautiful in order to give others pleasure. He labours night and day, and his endeavours are rewarded with success.

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“The carrot shoots straight up in the air, as if sucked up by the sky.”

Great line!

“Everyone wakes and wonders and marvels.
“No one can believe their eyes.
“It’s marvellous!
“Who has created this wondrous thing?”

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Ah yes, his endeavours are rewarded with success: more success – and a different sort of success – than he bargained for.

Once more, let me be clear: it doesn’t go to his head. Nothing the rabbit does (except maybe the initial, slightly toxic process which may leave organic carrot farmers frothing at the mouth!) is an indictment of his invention, his intentions or his honour throughout. Indeed his sense of duty is commendable. Just remember whom your sense of duty and loyalty lies with, or is given to.

Corporations have only their own self-interests at heart.

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The art is smooth, bold and beautiful, making maximum use of spotlights, striking shadows and stark silhouettes, leaving the colours to glow in the darkness.

Copies go on sale at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on Saturday 15th October in Page 45’s Georgian Room upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower. Thereafter you can happily purchase from here and elsewhere for worldwide shipping and even pre-order right now. I’d mention LICAF’s partners in this except that it would give the contents’ game away, but those lucky enough to have secured LICAF’s earlier exclusive this year after a certain multimedia performance or via Page 45’s own website may infer what they will.

Translation by LICAF’s own Carole Tait.

SLH

Buy Carrot To The Stars and read the Page 45 review here

Odd And The Frost Giants h/c (£14-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell.

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“The wise man knows when to keep silent. Only the fool tells all he knows.”

Reviewers, take note: you’re supposed to intrigue, not give the entire game away.

A wise and wonderful tale reprising known Norse mythology in a new guise, and another of those all-ages books which will overwhelmingly be picked up and relished here by adults. Like many of Gaiman’s stories, it is in part about the power of words and the determination to succeed – but also the secret of smiles.

Originally published in 2008, this new die-cut hardcover edition is generously illustrated on every page by Chris Riddell (see THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE and FORTUNATELY, THE MILK… also by Gaiman), each black and white portrait adorned with lavish, silver-ink frames. The bear is gigantic, his eagle is imperious and that fox is as lithe as you like.

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Odd is the son of a Scottish mother who loves to sing – of “fine lords riding out on their horses, their noble falcons on their wrists, a brave hound always padding by their side… freeing the oppressed from tyranny” – and a Viking father who stole her away during a particularly fine day’s pillaging.

However, because his father would not even touch her until he had taught her enough of their language to clearly state his honourable intention of making her his wife, they ended up loving each other very much indeed.

Unfortunately he died at sea.

When told the news, Odd didn’t cry, he didn’t say anything. He merely shrugged.

“Nobody knew what Odd was feeling on the inside. Nobody knew what he thought. And, in a village on the banks of a fjord, where everybody knew everybody’s business, that was infuriating.”

That, and his bright smile, unnerved his settlement.

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Now, his father had been a woodsman, a true master of the axe, invaluable to a community where wood was used to make everything – “wooden nails joined wooded boards to build wooden dwellings or wooden boats” – and, determined to make himself useful, Odd took up his father’s axe, so heavy he could barely lift it, and set about felling a tree. And he did. But it fell on his foot and it fell on his leg and it crushed those bones completely. Still, he used to axe to dig himself free, cut a branch for a crutch and hauled his father’s heavy axe home, for metal was scarce and could not be left out to rust.

Two years later, Odd’s mother remarried. Fat Elfred already had seven children and did not care for a crippled step-son, especially when drunk. In winter the men drank more and, confined to the Great Hall, tempers would fray and fights would break out, and that year spring never came. The ice refused to melt and the snow refused to soften. “The games got nasty. The jokes became mean. Fights were to hurt.” So Odd decided he’d sever his few ties completely and retreat to his father’s log cabin deep in the heart of the forest.

And it’s there that he meets a flame-coloured fox, a voracious bear and an eagle with only one eye.

Strangely, he discovers, they can speak…

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Deliberately, I have taken you no further than what effectively is the prologue, but every element I’ve introduced is vital for the journey that follows: determination, resourcefulness, that knowing smile, and keeping it under your hat.

Readers of Gaiman’s graphic novel series SANDMAN and his American Gods prose will relish Neil’s return to three of his favourite characters. I particularly enjoyed the eagle with its one-word screeches, the bear being a bit stupid and the fox being extremely embarrassed about once being a mare. You’ll see, as their history with the Frost Giants unfolds.

All I will only add is that I’ve long admired Gaiman’s ability to put you in other people’s shoes, and then have you walk a mile in them:

“Odd pushed himself to keep walking, one step at a time, remembering when he had walked with ease and never thought twice about the miracle of putting one foot in front of the other and pushing the world towards you.”

The things we take for granted…

SLH

Buy Odd And The Frost Giants h/c and read the Page 45 review here

From Under Mountains s/c (£13-99, Image) by Claire Gibson, Marian Churchland & Sloane Leong.

Brotherfrom-under-mountains-collected-cover Marcellus to his sister Elena about their father, Lord Crowe, from astride his snorting steed:

“Have you asked him about your trip yet?”
“I’m putting it off so I can pretend he might say yes.”
“I’ve been to Menkha a dozen times. I don’t see why you can’t.”
“Don’t you?”
“He might let you come along with me in the spring. I’ll bring it up when I get back.”

Marcellus charges out into the sunlit desert beyond the thick-stoned keep.

“Close the gates.”

Conceived by the creator of BEAST, it’s no surprise that this too deals in part with the dismissal of women in a patriarchal society. Here we have one that’s feudal, and the fact that Elena springs from nobility empowers her not one jot, her father seeing no more in her future than a strategically advantageous marriage. After reading the opening chapter, you might wonder if the House of Karsgate has much of a future.

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Its Volan neighbours are encroaching increasingly on Karsgate territory, the goblin race which holds the balance of power appears to be reneging on their treaty, while the keep itself will be infiltrated tonight by an intrepid thief Tova; and although she thought she’d be alone in that, she won’t be. Something else has been set free by a summoning which takes place well beyond those walls.

Born of fire and a frenzy of hands under a low red moon, it is both ethereal yet as weighty as the words which have bound it, and “the rune that breaks the steel of men”. It is luminous in blue and purple and is given a ceremonial knife…

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Claire Gibson’s script is indeed well weighted and nothing whatsoever is extraneous.

“Every decision you make must have your full attention, no matter how small,” cautions Marcellus’ father, Lord Crowe. The same could be said of every word Gibson’s written, and Lord Crowe would do to heed them himself, for throughout this book he will fail to appreciate that he has a daughter at all. This will lead him to make fatal mistakes, just as he made a fateful one through pride and arrogance a long time ago.

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As Elena attempts to confront her father on her lack of opportunity to learn through travel, birds flap about the sky, not coincidentally, mostly off-panel. There’s quite a lot of Paul Pope in Leong’s faces, while her warm, glowing colours are rich and redolent of the East. A lot of attention has been given from the get-go by Marian herself to the various classes’ costume designs reprinted in the back along with landscape double-page spreads by MULTIPLE WARHEADS’ and KING CITY’ Brandon Graham, while you’ve a map you help navigate by at the front.

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Plenty more politics to come – gender, domestic and state – including pragmatic but empowering words of advice from Elena’s aunt, Lady Ure, and a Council which may not be sending the help Lord Crowe thinks he’s received to negotiate with the goblin Mausgol.

SLH

Buy From Under Mountains s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Becoming Andy Warhol (£15-99, Abrams Comic Arts) by Nick Bertozzi & Pierce Hargan.

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That’s a perfectly judged cover, the relevance of its silver ink becoming clear within the graphic novel itself. Meanwhile, it’s silver screen time.

“So what do I do, Andy? Read a script?”
“Just do anything. Or nothing… Just try to look fantastic.”

You could consider this lack of structure to be a liberating flexibility, Andy trusting his actor / models to be fabulous: a freeform study. Alternatively you could view it as hollow, lazy, clueless and superficial – a bit like Andy’s attitude to friendships. There’s nothing quite like nailing your colours to the wall early on in a review, is there?

“Hi, John…
“We’re in Nebraska or New Mexico or something.
“We decided to drive to LA.
“I guess I forgot to tell you.”

They’re sleeping together.

Throughout Warhol is depicted as careless and callous – and by “careless” I mean he simply doesn’t care. His attitude to almost everything is one long, shrug. I’d be almost surprised if he hadn’t invented “Whatever”.

“Oh, hi, John.”
“We were supposed to meet for dinner tonight!”
“Oh, right. Well, I got busy with this meeting.”

The meeting he’s currently in with Henry Geldzahler, seen earlier coaching Warhol’s contrary interview technique. It’s an honest explanation, but that’s all it is. There’s no apology, no of hint of contrition. That would require a teaspoon of empathy. Warhol dismissed people once he grew bored with them. Actually that would require some effort. Instead he lets them walk away, humiliated.

And, as we’ll see, Warhol was very easily bored.

“This is Billy. The young man who helped Andy set up the show.”
“Actually, I set up the show.”
“Of course. But along Warhol’s guidelines.”
“Not really. He just said put them up in rows.”

It’s good to delegate.

“Andy, you wanna check over the colours?”
“Gosh, you’re all doing such a great job. Choose whichever one.”

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As the book opens in 1962 Warhol is bored of drawing shoes. He’s bored of the whole illustration process, farming it out to his original assistant Nathan.

“Okay, so, Andy. Just prime the colours for the illo, then?”
“Sure, but maybe just do the whole thing, Nathan. You’re so good at getting my style. Make it ‘Warhol’.”

No one lasts long in Warhol’s bitchy circle during these two years which lead to 1964’s World’s Fair and architect Philip Johnson’s commission of a 20 x 20 foot mural to be hung on the New York State Pavilion. It’s a high profile gig. Warhol initially comprehends its magnitude – its importance to his career – and makes some effort to appear grateful. But, true to character, he lets his end of the bargain slide until the last minute before coming up with two successive ideas which infuriate Johnson, the first without any thought to the context of the commission or even its completion, the second wilfully antagonistic. Then there’s the third and final solution…

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Please don’t take my antipathy towards Warhol the vain, affected, work-shy, fame-craving, disloyal, emotional vacuum of a man for a dismissal of his work as an originator of ideas. I certainly rate his pop-art creativity inexpressibly more than I do Roy Lichtenstein’s parasitic pap. Although ideas plural might be stretching it, there is at least a consistency between repeating identical images or variations on that theme in a single exhibition then repeating that process for subsequent exhibitions. And indeed a consistency in repeatedly throwing away whomever he grew bored of like Kleenex.

Consistency is one of this graphic novel’s greatest virtues. Never once does Bertozzi’s Warhol speak out of carefully studied character. His dialogue – on occasions artfully drawn from filmed interviews – is such an accurate evocation of Andy’s vapid mumbling that I could hear his inertia in my head.

Hargan had me convinced I was watching him, too. Every single individual within each frame is immediately identifiable, especially Taylor Mead and Warhol himself, fey and pallid, with his equally inarticulate, immutably inexpressive mask complete with sunglasses even after dark.

In addition, there’s something appropriately boyish about Hargan’s expressions and figures (especially during the one temper tantrum Warhol can muster) which I strongly suspect must stem from a love of THIEVES & KINGS’ Mark Oakley, who I’ve always felt would make yet another perfect illustrator for Peter Pan.

Together they convey so successfully the art of giving nothing away that you can comprehend its widespread allure. But what Bertozzi intended above all is to give you a glimpse behind those sunglasses, behind the reputation, to the heart and soul of the man. Mission accomplished: he had neither.

For more Andy Warhol in comics – and it really is a pitch-perfection impression – please see Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham’s MIRACLEMAN: THE GOLDEN AGE.

SLH

Buy Becoming Andy Warhol and read the Page 45 review here

Picnoleptic Inertia (£12-99, Breakdown Press) by Tsemberlidis…

Wow. picno-coverTo make any sense of what is easily the most ‘out there’ comic I have read this year, you probably need to have some understanding of the title.  Picnolepsy would be a state where the mind and body could be said to be not functioning as a whole. For example, a simple daydream, or perhaps a medical episode such as an epilepsy seizure, or indeed even absolute, all-consuming  concentration on a task, such as texting on your smartphone whilst meandering down a busy street, oblivious to the rest of the irritated world around you…

In other words, temporary mental absence or disconnection from one’s physical self. Often, particularly with daydreams, the picnoleptic event is clearly extremely transitory. I suspect the inertia part of the title is referring to the fact that this intensely, psychologically perturbing sequence of short stories should be viewed as one extended picnoleptic episode. Given the cyclical nature of the entire work, it makes sense, though it’s about the only thing that does!

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It feels like Tsemberlidis, off his head on salvia divinorum, has climbed inside your mind’s eye armed only with a black biro and a trembling hand, and is perched precariously atop your pineal gland, frantically stabbing out join-the-dots scenes on the spongy canvas of your recoiling brain. This is one of the most surreal metaphysical trips I’ve been taken on for some time. It’s as disturbing as it is enlightening, particularly the ending… I have literally just realised what the dramatic conclusion probably actually means whilst typing this review and whilst it’s offset the extremely strange feeling I was left with, slightly, I feel… well, yes, disturbed.

Can you tell I loved it?

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On the same publishing imprint as GARDENS OF GLASS by Lando, which is as equally bizarre as this work, in a not-altogether dissimilar black and white, ultra-minimal style, I’m therefore not entirely surprised to learn that Tsermberlidis and Lando are the co-founders of Breakdown Press. That may very well be because no one else would publish them, the crackpots, but all power to them for doing it anyway!

There is so much going on here visually, astonishing given the minimalism, that it does indeed feel like you are being squeezed through a pinhole camera obscura into some other distorted, compressed, concentrated hyper-reality. It is psychedelic enough without any need whatsoever for colours. I think colouring would detract from the power of it, actually.

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It is, also, I think, chock full of great little nods to popular culture. There’s definitely a knowing wink to THE INCAL, I believe also the beginning of the truly insane HEAVY METAL 1981 film (which, thinking about it, does contain certain picnoleptic elements), plus Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA, and I am pretty sure I even spotted a wireframe space station from the classic 1980s video game Elite in one space scene! It’s just too distinct a shape for it not to be that. I am sure there are many more such nods, I certainly felt a few twitching at the corners of my consciousness which I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

At this point, you’re either thinking, I have to buy this immediately, or more likely, about to break free from the daydream, or should I say, PICNOLEPTIC INERTIA, you’ve slipped into whilst I’ve been rambling on, and move on to the undoubtedly more coherent next review…

JR

Buy Picnoleptic Inertia and read the Page 45 review here

Blame! Vol 1 (Master Edition) (£26-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei…

You know blame-vol-1-coverwhat I was saying about a more coherent review…

Before the hyper-kinetic BIOMEGA and the supra-chlorophyllic space odyssey KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA there was BLAME! Actually, it’s apparently pronounced Blam, as in gunfire, which has to make you wonder why they didn’t just call it that. Plus surely it would have been a moderately onomatopoeic title, rather than a bizarrely irrelevant one? Though my phonetic pedantry might be slightly coloured by the fact I have spent many a moment recently explaining to a bemused 5 year old why the phonetic sounds she has been learning for all the alphabet don’t actually translate perfectly to how words sound… But then Tsutomu Nihei’s works don’t tend to make complete sense either, he’s more of an action man, whom I suspect might be prone to screaming “BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!” in the ear of his inking assistant whilst they’re working on a particularly frenetic scene just to help them get into the mood…

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Yes, as part of the current generation of denshoushas of Japanese cyber-punk manga, on a par with Hiroya GANTZ / INUYASHIKI Oku in my mind, following in the blazing trail left by Katsuhiro AKIRA / DOMU Otomo and Masamune Shirow, Tsutomu Nihei takes no prisoners whatsoever when it comes to helping his readers understand what the hell is going on in his works. I can’t help but admire that almost autistic blinkered approach. You wouldn’t want it all the time, but it’s a refreshing change occasionally, particularly in the speculative fiction genre. He did do a similarly austere Wolverine mini-series for Marvel where Logan gets flung forward to 2038 a few years back (that’s now long out of print) which Stan Lee was probably twitching uncontrollably to add some dialogue to.

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Nihei just loves hi-tech weaponry, especially big guns, has a definite penchant for villains that have been infected by weird mutating techno-organic viruses, and utilises vast chaotic super-structures for his story settings. As a student of architecture, he clearly likes to make good use of what precise draughtsmanship he’s learnt in that respect for his backgrounds, which are always in complete juxtaposition to the utterly chaotic full-on mayhem going on in the foreground.

Fans of Nihei will clearly see the huge influence this series has on BIOMEGA and KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA. The foreground art isn’t quite as polished at this point in his career, but it’s still extremely impressive. It has as barebones a plot and dialogue as BIOMEGA, but again, that’s not really why people buy his stuff. Personally, I prefer KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA as it is a more sophisticated story, but this is absolutely cyber-punk manga at its most direct and forceful.

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I suppose I should give you a little plot summary to finish as BLAME! is most definitely a great manga in its own right, where lone wolf Killy wanders “The City”, a huge, randomly expanding super-structure that began on Earth and may well now be bigger than the size of a Dyson Sphere, but certainly extending past Jupiter. Armed with his trusty Gravitational Beam Emitter (a VERY big gun basically), he’s looking for any surviving humans with a particular genetic marker that will allow them to access the “Netsphere”, to take back control of the computer network of The City. Along the way he’ll repeatedly encounter the techno-organic mutated Safeguard, who view any humans without the Net Terminal Gene – which is most of them – as a threat to be extinguished on sight. With that now said, it’s time to lock and load and away we go!

JR

Buy Blame! Vol 1 (Master Edition)and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon h/c (£20-99, DC) by Jill Thompson…

“Diana grew from adorable baby to lovely girl as if overnight.
“The tears of the Gods had enchanted this girl and she possessed beauty, intelligence, strength and wondrous powers.
“Handsome and graceful with thick flowing hair, she mesmerised all who met her.
“Weavers spun ethereal threads and tailors stitched night and day to design her the most delicate of robes.
“Clever thinkers invented machines to amuse her.
“Sweet delights were served to her on golden platters at every meal.
“Musicians composed melodies to serenade her as she played or slept.
“Gardeners grew the flowers that were most pleasing to her nose.
“Theatrical performances were created in her honour…
“… and no one ever told her “no.””

Oh dear.

“So the beautiful princess who was so doted upon not only was striking and elegant, but also conceited and arrogant, as well.”

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Yes, before the Amazonian Wonder Woman who – as Jill so eloquently puts it towards the conclusion of this exquisitely beautiful exploration of Diana’s early years – ‘wanders the world, defending the weak, righting wrongs and fighting evil’, there was a right over-indulged spoilt little madam. Which in a small child is perhaps mildly amusing, at times at least (especially if they’re not your own), but not in a full-grown woman.

No, such character traits, if unchecked or unameliorated by adulthood, are obviously going to lead to the tears of many a person, not just the brat themselves when their every whim isn’t catered for instantly.  And so it proves here with disastrous consequences for the delightful denizens of the hidden isle of Themyscira, as there are some very valuable life lessons which are belatedly going to have to be learnt the hard way…

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But first Jill recounts just how the Queen Hippolyta and her Amazons came to sequester themselves away from mankind, Hippolyta’s poignant longing for a child, and the Gods’ answer to that fervent clarion call of desire. It’s a version that will satisfy the comic purists and the scholars of classics alike, told as it is with an elegance and grace to match Jill’s glorious watercolour painted artwork, particularly the Mediterranean palette of olive, terracota and aquamarine divinely invoking the heady sensations of an endless summer in paradise. Why would anyone leave such a veritable heaven on earth to brave the base outside world with all its sins and suffering…?

Fans of Jill’s SCARY GODMOTHER and BEAST OF BURDEN material, and also her take another comics classic, the Sandman and his family, with the hilarious THE LITTLE ENDLESS STORYBOOK and DELIRIUM’S PARTY, will know precisely what to expect. But for people, perhaps Wonder Woman fans, new to Jill’s majestic touch with the brushes and indeed lyrical weaving of words, I think it will be quite the revelation. There’s a fantastic few extra pages of process (I would have loved more!) at the end where she takes us through from pencils to finished colours on a few pages, and it’s quite the visual feast.

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JR

Buy Wonder Woman: The True Amazon h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash Limited Edition Hardcover (£71-99, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean

Giant Days vol 3 (£13-99, Boom) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Trees vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Troll Bridge (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran

The Wicked + Divine vol 4: Rising Action s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

We Found A Hat h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen

Black Road vol 1: The Holy North (£8-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

Garden Of Flesh (£8-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Head Lopper vol 1: Island Or A Plague Of Beasts (£14-99, Image) by Andrew Maclean

Last Look (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Charles Burns

Low vol 3: Shore Of The Dying Light (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini

The Marionette Unit (£12-99, TMU Workshop) by Azhur Saleem & Warwick Johnson-Cadwell

Meanderings (£4-00, Throwaway Press) by Matthew Dooley

Notes On A Thesis (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Tiphaine Riviere

Paul Up North (£15-99, Conundrum) by Michel Rabagliati

The Secret Loves Of Geek Girls (£13-99, Dark Horse) by various including Mariko Tamaki, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie Liu, Margaret Atwood, Jen Vaughn

Shame – Collected Trilogy h/c (£26-99, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton

Tetris – The Games People Play (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Box Brown

Thought Bubble Anthology Collection – 10 Years Of Comics (£8-99, Image) by various including Warren Ellis, Rick Remender, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Duncan Fegredo, Becky Cloonan, Sean Phillips, Charlie Adlard, Emma Rios

Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal (£14-99, Trapeze) by DanTDM

Wolf vol 2: Apocalypse Soon (£13-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Ricardo Lopez Ortiz

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up Marvel Universe h/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Vote Loki s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Langdon Foss, Paul McCaffrey

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 5 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

News

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ITEM! Tillie Walden, recent recipient of two Ignatz Awards and creator of A CITY INSIDE and I LOVE THIS PART, has just launched her new web comic ON A SUNBEAM for free online!

Needless to say, it is beautiful!

Tillie will be signing in Page 45’s Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on both Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th October.

For there follows another great big plug….

ITEM! NOW INCLUDES JOHN MARTZ!                          

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 is little more than a week away (October 14-16) and we’ve published the Page 45 blog starring creators signing with Page 45 there FOR FREE:

Adam Brockbank,Fade Out vol 2 3
Ben Haggarty,
Bryan Lee O’Malley,
Dan Berry,
Dave McKean,
Emma Vieceli,
Felt Mistress,
Hannah Berry,
Isabel Greenberg,
John Martz,
Jonathan Edwards,
Katriona Chapman,
Paul Thomas,
Sean Phillips,
Tillie Walden,
Tom Gauld

… and the magnificent Avery Hill Publishing!

You’ll find details of their signing times on that Page 45 LICAF 2016 blog, and so much more, including all the links you could want to the Festival itself.

ITEM! Under last week’s Page 45 Reviews (September 2016 week four) we detailed all the LICAF merchandise that would be on sale alongside our own glorious graphic novels including exclusive prints by Hannah Berry, Sean Phillips, Charlie Adlard and Duncan Fegredo.

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We’ll also be launching LICAF’s all-ages CARROT TO THE STARS graphic novel, reviewed above and pictured above.

We would remind you that Page 45 accepts both cash and credit cards at LICAF, and we’ve made upgrades to our till this year to make the process swifter for you and safer for us. Like a till drawer which shuts.

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ITEM! This is the first year that the legendary Sarah McIntrye has been unable to appear with Page 45 in our Georgian Room. Last year Sarah was even joined by co-creator Philip Reeve to sign their PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS and CAKES IN SPACE!

1 Seawigs sketched

Sarah and I could not bear to disappoint the loyal following of families she’s built up at the Festival so Page 45 will be bringing the brand-new JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR… and Sarah in spirit! How…? Sarah has very generously drawn four original sketches which we will give out FREE OF CHARGE to the first families to buy a copy or twelve of JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR during the weekend and who then declare:

“I read your blog, and I’ve got a sprog!”

Terms & Conditions: Adults must be accompanied by a child (which is a nice twist, don’t you think? This is such a family-friendly festival!). Also, the rhyme above is mandatory.

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ITEM! You’ve just one week left to order whichever graphic novels you fancy for free collection in Kendal at LICAF. We’ll be bringing along our own selections, obviously, but you can order any of our 7,000 different graphic novels right now, so you don’t have hope that we’re mind-readers.

I don’t know if that’s a democratic upgrade or a capitalist expansion.

Either way, details (surprising no one) are on that Page 45 LICAF 2016 blog.

Pick Up In Kendal

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2016 week four

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

More Lakes International Comic Art Festival news beneath reviews and New Books list! Limited edition prints exclusive to LICAF and more!

Mooncop h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tom Gauld…

“Living on the moon . . . Whatever were we thinking? . . . It seems so silly now.”

I think that may well be about 5% of the entire text in this most laconic of pithy odes to a future that’s been and gone, much like practically all the lunar population! To be honest, it never really happened.

Britain’s doyen of deadpan comic humour returns with this existential examination of the isolation of a lonely lunar plod, patrolling his meteor-pitted manor in the vain hope of finding anything remotely amiss.

It’s a rather solitary existence, punctuated primarily by his daily trip to the doughnut and coffee dispenser. A lost robo-dog provides a brief burst of, well, excitement would probably be taking it too far, but at least it provides the chance for some momentary interaction with the rapidly dwindling inhabitants. For those that still remain are rapidly upping sticks and heading back to the hustle and bustle of mother Earth.

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Our trusty bobby would love to join them, but his request for a transfer is denied, on the grounds of his impressive, 100% successful crime solution rate! Given that no crimes are ever committed in the rarefied confines up there, it’s looking somewhat unlikely it’s ever going to dip far enough to warrant his own collar being felt and get recalled back home for poor performance. Oh dear.

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This is a wonderfully wistful, melancholic musing on how the future might not bring us quite what we want or expect, particularly if technology is involved somehow. It’s good to see computers haven’t got any more reliable years from now! It’s very low-key, meditative stuff from Tom this work, especially given some of the satirical bite he’s more famous for in his strips, of which there is a fantastical selection of online at the Guardian HERE, and in the excellent print collection YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK.

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Like Gauld’s GOLIATH, there is a tremendously impressive sense of space here, enhanced and extended by the overwhelming silence. There are very few landmarks. It’s mostly just blue, blue vacuum although, hilariously, there is the odd, single palm tree isolated in its own bell jar.

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JR

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

Snow White: A Graphic Novel h/c (£17-99, Candlewick Press) by Matt Phelan.

“I, uh… I’m not feeling up to snuff. You go on without me.”
“I shall.”

Ominous, much? If looks could kill…

Camille Rose Garcia’s rendition of SNOW WHITE has proved a monumentally popular book here, its traditional prose illustrated with real relish.

The marked departure of Matt Phelan’s new graphic novel is immediately apparent for it opens with Snow White lying “in state” in the winter wonderland window display of a major New York department store circa 1930.

What Phelan has so cleverly done is use the past as a fantasy world of its own. And it is, when you think about it, for much is not as we now know it.

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Here the seven dwarves are still small but are street urchins, almost Dickensian in aspect, self-reliant, thick as thieves and initially not half so welcoming as their progenitors of this seemingly affluent heiress. But although this iteration’s wicked step-mother is, as ever, raging with jealousy at her step-daughter’s beauty, it’s her inheritance she truly covets after doing away with her Dad.

This is the Great Depression, and it is all about money.

The widowed father is the King of Wall Street, one of the few whose wealth has successfully survived the market crash through studious attention and wise investment. Once an anonymous chorus girl, she is now Queen of Broadway, glamour personified, and her stage entrance atop a multi-tiered crystalline marvel is spellbinding.

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The old man is awe-struck, dumb-struck, smitten, bewitched. Her own painted face is pure, chic and serene… until she opens her eyes. Her mouth twitches at the corner and her eyebrows arch in the very picture of predatory guile.

It is the book’s greatest flourish and it is faultless.

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There are pages, I own, where more contrast in light would have made elements clearer, but the predominantly washed-out aspects enhance the ethereal atmosphere and so fantastical element. The greys and sepias reflect the photography of the time and in that way our sense of it, colour being reserved for… well, you know the key components of the story yourself. Some things never change.

As to the step-mother’s chosen assassin, this is a world without huntsmen so where could he possibly come from? That’s cleverly calculated in the context of this setting, as is his motivation for betraying his Mistress – in a single foreshadowing panel. That’s a moment which would stick long in the craw of any woman or man.

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The story is told in the form of short scenes, sparse in dialogue, picture-driven instead. That lends emphasis both to what little is said and to the only extended conversations – between those who are honest with each other.

Throughout, of course and almost inevitably, the step-mother remains the star. Her eventual fate is once again entirely apposite both in this relatively modern setting and her own source of vanity, but before we get there her eyes, full of seething hatred, will burn deep into your own just as they did in Walt Disney’s animation classic.

”Snow will fall,” pronounced the youtube trailer. And she does.

SLH

Buy Snow White: A Graphic Novel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cat Rackham h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by Steve Wolfhard.

Poor Cat Rackham!

Sometimes he’s Too Sad To Sleep. He lies on his side, tears streaming down his face, matting his fur, until a gentle duck soothes him with a “Shhhh…”

“Shhhh…” she or he sings, patting Cat Rackham’s poor, tired head. Then the duck sits on his face – nests on his noggin – and Cat Rackham falls sound asleep.

Eight panels, simple but affecting, and thoroughly cute.

In a three-page episode Cat Rackham Tosses And Turns late into the night by a camp fire and pulls off his jumper. A spider descends, disappearing into its folds. Gradually the fire burns low, then out and it grows very cold. Cat Rackham reaches for his jumper. The final, single, daylight morning panel is hilarious. Superb timing.

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The strip I have for you here is Cat Rackham Gets Depression. Initially enchanted by the fluttering-by of a bright, white butterfly, once all alone he is seized by inertia. His body lists, leans over until he lies on the ground, open-eyed, motionless, quite, quite paralysed by depression. Night falls. Morning breaks. Spring arrives, autumn falls, then winter comes too, as time accelerates in ROBOT DREAMS fashion and Cat Rackham is buried under a thick blanket of snow.

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When the snow melts Cat Rackham awakens to the tiny sound of two love bugs making out.

This pleases Cat Rackham enormously.

Now, everything so far is ever so gentle and cute. He even has his ear licked by a deer.

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But if you read the interview with Steve Wolfhard conducted by his wife, it will colour each one of those strips ever so slightly and perhaps make them even more affecting for you.

And the colours are delightful. Fresh as a daisy.

None of this, however, prepared me for the central, extended story when Cat Rackham is sent in search of coffee by exuberant Jeremy The Squirrel and finds himself adopted by a little old lady. Except she’s not very little. Her dressing gown bulges as if under pressure from tumours. They are not tumours. And suddenly we’re in transgressive, Fantagraphics territory.

Enjoy!

SLH

Buy Cat Rackham h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Velvet vol 3: The Man Who Stole The World s/c (£13-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“I didn’t believe that Frank Lancaster had killed X-14…
“So I looked into it… and my entire life fell apart.”

In which the period-perfect espionage thriller concludes its first story arc, and it will finally be revealed exactly who has been using whom, and why. Just not here.

What I’ve never done is tell you how I sell this series on our shop floor, with aid of Epting and Breitweiser’s exceptionally sleek and thrilling interior art. So let’s do that thing.

1973. There is an international espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Its agents are so effective that the chances of any of them being taken out in the field are minimal. As VELVET opens, one of their very finest is taken out in the field.

Immediately an inside job is suspected and all fingers point to Frank Lancaster. But Velveteen Templeton, the Director’s secretary, has doubts. A former field agent herself, she suspects it’s a set-up.

It is. But what Templeton doesn’t realise is that she’s being set up to believe it’s a set-up and so get set up herself.

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On the run from her own agency, Templeton has been desperately retracing assassinated Agent X-14’s steps and contacts across Eastern Europe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why X-14 was murdered from within. What had he stumbled upon in America that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn’t recover.

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With only one lead left alive to follow, Templeton believes she has no choice but to take the fight back to America, even though she knows that the second she sets foot on its shores alarm bells will start ringing. She’s counting on it.

“Every move I make from now on has to be two moves.”

Sometimes you won’t see the second move coming; often you won’t have seen the first move being made.

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I can’t take you any further with the story, so let’s talk about the art.

Firstly, I love that Velvet shows her age. It’s not just the thick, white streak of maturity in her sable hair, it’s in the eyes that have seen too much and the suggestion of extra flesh around her mouth which put me in mind of Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING. There was an American TV company desperate to sign the series… if Brubaker would just agree to Templeton being in her mid-20s, thereby missing both the point and the plot.

In addition, her body language changes when undercover as a temp in Paris, her hair dyed grey to fade into the background. She holds a file modestly and meekly to her chest. When she brings a tray of tea to the investment manager’s desk, she’s slightly hunched in high heels.

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As to “period perfect”, it’s not just in the fashion of fabrics, though the black bathing suit in VELVET VOL 1 during the flashback to 1950s Bermuda was a masterpiece, its white stripe anticipating the streak which will appear in Velveteen’s hair. It’s also evident in the hotel room furnishings, the bar tops, aircraft interiors, office spaces, shop windows, fly-posters and the cars with their polished chrome.

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From the writer of THE FADE OUT, CRIMINAL, KILL OR BE KILLED and FATALE, this is just as smart and satisfying.

SLH

Buy Velvet vol 3: The Man Who Stole The World s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Arab Of The Future vol 2: 1984-1985 (£18-99, Two Roads) by Riad Sattouf.

I promise you, this is an English translation; I’ve only been able to find French language interior art!

“Christians? Pfft. What’s the point in being Christian in a Muslim country? It’s just a provocation… When you live in a Muslim country, you should do as the Muslims do… It’s not complicated. Just convert to Islam and you’ll be fine…”
“Hmmm…”

One of my favourite pronouncements from Riad’s Dad in THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE VOL 1, it’s typical of the man’s engagingly ridiculous reductions of complex situations to simplistic solutions in search of an easy life.

Most of the comparisons I see bandied about by the likes of the Observer / Guardian are to Spiegelman, Satrapi and Sacco, but Sattouf’s recollections are far closer in tone to Guy Delisle’s equally entertaining PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES and JERUSALEM, in that they’re more observations of individual human quirks and habits or societal customs and behaviour, all seen through the eye of a wide-eyed six-year-old growing up in Syria, but with the added reflection of a more experienced adult.

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It’s by no means big bundle of laughs from start to finish. Even within his father’s extended Syrian family there will be some pretty grim encounters and if you thought your first few days at school were a nightmare, Riad’s trepidation proves completely justified. But it is overwhelmingly an entertainment, as signalled by the art with its curvaceous cartoon forms, gesticulations and expressions.

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It’s those very skills which flip that first term at school from horrific to mesmerising for the book’s audience, lucky as we are to be viewing from afar, not just in the playground but in class itself, for the teacher is visually riveting. A woman of imposing stature, her face is as soft as her voice, full of love and devotion towards her country and country… until it isn’t, and the entire panel flames red. In addition her garb is a curious combination of modesty and flesh, wearing a hijab above and a very tight, very short shirt exposing her thick, muscular legs and huge, bulging calves atop pencil-thin high heels. She commands the attention of the reader as much as she undoubtedly would have the pupils. Woe betide any for whom that wasn’t the case.

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Riad is shown paralysed, utterly subjugated by his situation.

There’s so much more to learn alongside the lad, for he’s new to both the world and to the country, his outsider status compounded by his startling blonde hair inherited from his French mother which is taken by one of his cousins in particular as a sure sign that Riad is Jewish. This is far from good news if you’re growing up in Syria.

As the memoir progresses we’re introduced to more affluent areas of the country, but although his father is comparatively well off, having secured a position at Damascus University, he chooses – to his credit – to set up home in the desperately impoverished village of Ter Maaleh close to the barely more affluent town of Homs in order to be close to his family. Not all of whom feel or act close to him. Both his mother and elderly half-sister whom we meet later adore him, but the men are another matter completely.

Construction is not the country’s forte: you’ll find cracks everywhere, even throughout the more lavish villas. Against all evidence, Riad’s forever daydreaming Dad enjoys the delusion that his villa will be built with superior craftsmanship – if it’s ever built at all. That would require both action and expenditure, neither of which is in his nature.

During the family’s first ever holiday by the sea, he doesn’t want to stray further than their balcony.

“Given how much it costs we should make the most of our room.”

Then there are the rare words of wisdom he issues after a gang of holiday makers rise up from a swimming pool to ransack a stall selling overpriced inflatable rings in its vendor’s absence. Riad wants one too and suggests that they must be free if everyone’s making off with them.

“We’re not thieves. And just because everyone does something, that doesn’t mean you should do it, too.”

Tellingly, however, this constitutes a dissuasive instruction, not one designed to galvanise his son into action. Confronted with stark inequalities or even serious injustices, his mantra remains “That’s life…”

It’s only after a year or so of moving to Syria and their starkly under-furnished home (with its attendant cracks, of course), that he reluctantly shells out for a washing machine and a stove, after Riad’s surprisingly stoical Mum has had to make do with cooking on a camping stove set on the floor. Paying the price for French food is an annual luxury, and when buying his son’s school uniform he opts not for one made of actual cloth with a belt, but the cheap, plastic version whose fake belt is painted on!

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This he justifies with the seemingly sage observation that uniforms are a great equaliser, and in others I’d suspect the sacrifice of pride in order to appear as poor as other parents would be honest and noble. But he buys Riad a book bag with pockets which Sattouf renders in lurid green, setting him exceptionally apart from his classmates who carry their pencils around in thin carrier bags.

It’s a fascinating upbringing, full of so much which may seem alien, odd and sometimes outright awful, but we’ve all of us been children and, even if the contexts are different, you’ll find far more in common with this than you might at first imagine. Perhaps I should presume. I certainly found far more in common with these experiences that I first imagine: dreading my first days at three different schools; being proved right twice; humiliating inability to summon any coordination or sports skills (I was briefly nicknamed Sebastian un-Coe); terrifying encounters with kids outside my social experience; bewildering, wrong-headed, paternal epithets; the thrill of early holidays; leaning to draw, and a love of new languages, partly through TINTIN.

SLH

Buy The Arab Of The Future vol 2: 1984-1985 and read the Page 45 review here

Jerusalem h/c and Jerusalem s/c (3 volume Slipcase Edition) (£25-00 each, Knockabout) by Alan Moore.

Alan Moore’s VOICE OF THE FIRE was one of the most imaginative prose books I’ve ever read, with a real love of language, exposing the temporal strata of a single geographical location (Northampton) and mapping their interconnections through a series of first-person narratives with vastly different perspectives.

This too is prose, set in Northampton and deals with time.

Quite how I won’t know for some weeks or months for this is nearly 1,200 pages long and I am an excruciatingly slow reader.

We will have a review for you eventually but, in lieu of that for the moment, we’ve three interviews for you, the first of which is by David Marchese discussing JERUSALEM, the working class, Donald Trump, Brexit and Athenian Democracy.

It begins, hilariously, with this.

“You’ve said in the past that an artist’s job is to give audiences what they need, not what they want. What audience need is being filled by a thousand-plus-page modernist novel built on the idea that all time is happening at the same time?”
“That’s easy. One of the needs it’s filling is for an alternative way of looking at life and death. I have a lot of very dear rationalist, atheist friends who accept that having a higher belief system is good for you — you probably live longer if you have one. You’re probably happier. So I wanted to come up with a secular theory of the afterlife. As far as I can see, and as far as Einstein could see, what I describe in the book looks like a fairly safe option in terms of its actual possibility.”

“Which is that everything that can happen has already happened?”
“Yes.”

“So we’ve already had this conversation?”
“It’s probably more accurate to say we’re always having this conversation. We relive it over and over again, and it’s always the same.”

“Then let me retroactively and pre-emptively apologize for that.”
“It does feel like the conversation’s gone on a bit, doesn’t it?”

Both editions appearing to be selling in equal quantities at the moment here, but I personally am plumping for the slipcased softcover set on account of the portability of its component parts and their swoonaway covers as seen above.

The rest of that interview, you’ll find here: http://www.vulture.com/2016/09/alan-moore-jerusalem-comics-writer.html

Then there’s this: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/alan-moore-v-was-for-vendetta-now-e-is-for-epic-1.2799782

And this: https://londonhollywood.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/if-you-read-only-one-alan-moore-jerusalem-interview-make-it-this-one/

Cheerio!

SLH

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

Buy Jerusalem s/c (3 volume Slipcase Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Power Man And Iron Fist vol 1: The Boys Are Back In Town s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by David Walker & Sanford Greene, Flaviano…

“Are you and him back together again?”
“No, baby. We are not back together. Just gotta take care of this thing.”
“A thing? Okay. Just remember… you’re the one who keeps saying you don’t want to get the band back together.”
“And I don’t. This is just me and him doing what we gotta do.”
“Then go do it. I just don’t want to see any tiara pics. I love you.”
“Love you, too, baby.”

Some people are just destined to end up together, for better or for worse. No matter how times they break up, they are inexorably end up drawn back into each other’s orbit. No, not Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, even though they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs amidst the hustle and bustle of capes, tights and nappies, but Power Man and Iron Fist! Yes, Luke and Danny are back doing their ‘thing’ once more, and that thing is busting heads and wisecracks at the same time. Oh, and trying to retrieve their former Heroes For Hire secretary’s family heirloom. Which just so happens to have ended up in the possession of irascible, rock-hard supervillain Tombstone…

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Even though Luke keeps trying to reassure himself this is a one-time ‘thing’, both he and Danny, and indeed a mildly exasperated yet most definitely amused Jessica, know full well the dysfunctional duo ride again once more. At least until poor sales ensure the inevitable cancellation…

Which would be a shame because this is a very funny comic. As funny, dare I say it, as HAWKEYE. It’s the relentless dialogue between the boys, Jessica, and the various bad guys getting a four-handed beatdown that makes it.

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Pretty sure I haven’t read anything else this particular writer has done, but so far, the witty repartee wouldn’t look out of place in a Bendis-penned comic. In particular, there is an extremely funny running joke regarding Luke not swearing in front of his and Jessica’s baby where he has to substitute various words instead of cursing. Only to make it stick, he’s doing it all the time, much to Danny’s immense glee…

“Wow, Jessica keeps you on a short leash.”
“We’re not talking ‘bout my relationship with my wife. We’re talking ‘bout the fiddle-faddle favour you committed us to doing.”
“Bet you can’t say fiddle-faddle favour five times fast.”
“Could you stop annoying the fiddle-faddle out of me? Could you do that? Can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“You already said that. Jennie is family.”
“And you said that. Just let me do all the talking. Okay? This guy is a bad knick-knack-paddy-whack.”

Ha, indeed he is. But even the villains like Tombstone get some great lines…

“S’up, Luke. Been a minute. Didn’t know you was back together with Iron Man.”
“Fist. Iron Fist. And we ain’t back together, per se. Just two friends kickin’ it. Good to see you , Lonnie. I like that suit.”

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Jump on board the fun train and enjoy the runaway ride before it hits the leaf-encrusted buffers. Very nice art from Sanford Greene too, who I suspect has to be a massive Paul Pope fan.

JR

Buy Power Man And Iron Fist vol 1: The Boys Are Back In Town s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

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A Distant Neighbourhood h/c (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

From Under Mountains s/c (£13-99, Image) by Claire Gibson, Marian Churchland & Sloane Leong

Light (£17-99, Magnetic Press) by Rob Cham

Becoming Andy Warhol (£15-99, Abrams Comic Arts) by Nick Bertozzi & Pierce Hargan

Dali (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Baudoin

An Unreliable History Of Tattoos (£14-99, Nobrow) by Paul Thomas

Blame! Vol 1 (Master Edition) (£26-99, Biz) by Tsutomu Nihei

Odd And The Frost Giants h/c (£14-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell

Picnoleptic Inertia (£12-99, Breakdown Press) by Tsemberlidis

Nicolas (£9-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard

Batman Beyond vol 2: City Of Yesterday s/c (£13-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Bernard Chang

Superman vol 1: Before Truth s/c (£14-99, DC) by Gene Luen Yang & John Romita, Klaus Janson

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon h/c (£20-99, DC) by Jill Thompson

All New, All Different Avengers vol 2: Family Business s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Adam Kubert, Alan Davis, Mahmud Asrar

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 2: Standoff s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & various

Silver Surfer  vol 4: Citizen Of Earth s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Show vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by various

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 40-42 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Happiness vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

2000AD Prog 2000 Chris Burnham cover (£3-99, Rebellion) by Earthlets

2000AD Prog 2000 Glenn Fabry cover (£3-99, Rebellion) by the same Perps.

News

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 is imminent (October 14-16) and we’ve published the Page 45 blog starring:

Adam Brockbank,I Love This Part 1
Ben Haggarty,
Bryan Lee O’Malley,
Dan Berry,
Dave McKean,
Emma Vieceli,
Felt Mistress,
Hannah Berry,
Isabel Greenberg,
Jonathan Edwards,
Katriona Chapman,
Paul Thomas,
Sean Phillips,
Tillie Walden,
Tom Gauld

and the magnificent Avery Hill Publishing…

… ALL OF WHOM ARE SIGNING WITH US FOR FREE!

ITEM! In additional news, however, the following limited merchandise exclusive to LICAF will be on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room upstairs in the Kendal Clock Tower, with 20% of the proceeds going to OCD Action, the rest to help fund LICAF itself.

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Prints at £25 each:

30 x Charlie Adlard Beatrix Potter
30 x Luke McGarry Beatrix Potter
30 x Duncan Fegredo Beatrix Potter
20 x Dave McKean Black Dog signed
20 x Gilbert Shelton festival giclee
20 x Jordi Bernet festival giclee
20 x Ken Niimura festival giclee

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Festival lapel badges £2.50 each

Sets of 4 Beatrix Potter Re-Imagined postcards featuring Hannah Berry, Charlie Adlard, Luke McGarry and Duncan Fegredo £2 each

And, wait for it…

25 x Sean Phillips Kill or Be Killed screenprint (50×70) festival variant £50 each

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For more of those images, please see page 43 of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 Programme.

We’ll have another surprise – a graphic novel – for you next week!

–  Stephen