Page 45 Review by Stephen
Serving behind the bar...
"Oh yeah? How long are you guys on tour for? Three sold-out shows at the Ballroom?! Wow! Tomorrow? You'll put me on the list? Totally! I'll be there!"
Back home, completely immersed in making comics, Leslie looks up at the clock.
There's a moment's pause for self-reflection.
"I am what I am..."
Stein is an artist driven by the need to succeed and to hone her craft at every opportunity - every non-working hour - and over the course of a year and these very pages, you can watch her doing so, aged 32. I was enamoured from the very first page, but you can see the style and ideas coalesce with confidence. The lines are delicate and as soft as well conditioned hair, of which there is plenty on display: Stein's faces are formed from hair, eyes and mouth only, the contours largely left well alone. The washes are light with lots of cream-coloured space between them and between the lineless, free-floating panels, except during the occasional frenzy of form, thought and colour. Oh, and three portraits of a turtle including a close-up of its beak and eye which are completely at odds with everything else on account of being virtually photorealistic!
The lettering's rendered in multi-coloured pencils for emphasis and aesthetics. It works particularly neatly in terms of the mood of what is being said. During a piece when she's told at a comicbook convention, "Hey Leslie! I really like the new style you're doing!" she replies "Hey! Thanks so much, man!" and the lettering is as ebullient as she is. "Can I ask what inspired it?" "Despair."
There are doubts in evidence but she usually finds within herself the courage to cope with them, recognising that "life is non-linear" and "you can't depend on anyone else for your feelings of happiness and self-worth". "Life is messy," she writes, "But life is supposed to messy." A bit like her home!
"Listen, man... lemme lay it out for you... It doesn't really matter. I'm the only one here."
Thanks, Leslie. I feel a lot better about my bedroom now.
On the other hand, this:
"I still look into people's windows... I can't help it. Mostly, I wonder, "Are they happy?" Is it possible?"
The biggest obstacle Stein has to race herself through is chronic insomnia, no doubt exacerbated by bar shifts which can play havoc with your body clock. It seems a minor miracle when she's awake during the day and asleep at night, and she's constantly dozing off when and where she shouldn't.
"I have to fall asleep in my bed tonight..."
Hey, it's an aspiration! Once more we are kindred spirits.
Overwhelmingly, though, this is fun, fun, fun and there's a lovely regular originally from Ethiopia who props up the bar and likes to sing, "I am very happy". One day he asks Leslie if he can borrow "one penny" for a lottery scratch ticket, promising her a 50/50 split if he wins. While scratching away while she washes up, her back turned, his head disappears into a green ball of frenzied squiggles before he knocks over his pint and re-emerges all radiant.
"$100!! $50 for you! $50 for me!"
"Aw! That was nice of you... You could have pocketed it all... I never would have known!"
"Les-lee..." he says, patting his heart sincerely. "I do not want that feeling!"
She hands him a replacement pint, and he breaks back into song.
There are childhood reminiscences of summer camp, her first guitar lesson, Christmases, painting on bedroom walls, the unlikeliest Halloween costumes, and a trauma aged 5 which will strike home with fans of Liz Prince's TOMBOY. In the present day there's a comics festival in France, setting up for gigs, bar shifts and booze, and a day during which she is set upon by a dog.
"I wouldn't let you hump me so you bite me?! I've met your kind before and I'm not dealing with that shit!!"
Lastly, there's a day of triumph when Stein arrives back in town, she's met her deadlines, chucked in her bar job and has an entire week free to draw as much as she wants. "Solid gold!"
Which is obviously the exact moment she catches flu.
Sitting at her laptop, completely cocooned head to toe in a pink duvet with a bobble hat on top of it, she looks just like Philippa Rice in SOPPY.