Page 45 Review by Stephen, Mark & Jonathan
The most eagerly anticipated completion in comics of the last decade alongside BERLIN by Jason Lutes!
From the creator of WIMBLEDON GREEN, IT'S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN, GEORGE SPROTT and THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS (those last two being Page 45 Comicbook Of The Months), this exquisite slipcased die-cut h/c collects a 488-page generational epic so long in the making that our Mark was still on hand to review the first instalment, after which Jonathan and I observed PALOOKAVILLE's progress as it was released periodically.
Honestly? It's mostly Jonathan.
Two brothers inherit their father's company, selling and manufacturing fans.
In the first half of the book it's 1997 and Abraham Matchcard wanders through his day, looking back through the ups and downs of the business, admitting that they were unprepared for the rise of the air conditioner industry. Once thriving, Clyde Fans was overtaken by technological progress, too self-assured to change track when advancements took place. At the abandoned headquarters he voices regrets for his life and that of his brother, Simon:
"Christ, it's the norm for a salesman to promote himself. That's the number one produce he's selling. It's also a quality I've always found repulsive in myself and others."
We go back to 1947 for the second part of the story. Arriving in the small Canadian town of Dominion, Simon is out of his depth. He's asked to be a travelling salesman, wanting to prove himself to his brother, but without the requisite charm and bluff he finds himself knocked back a few times, backing away with sweaty palms. As he walks the street, the buildings seem to crowd him out. He can't face phoning Abe to say how its all going. And it's not going well.
This is not only an excellent character study but also a delicately drawn evocation of the past. Seth, as we know from IT'S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN, has sympathies for Abe and his feelings of being left behind as the world expands and thunders on. The detailing of the clothes and stores is wonderful, right down to the cheap, plastic novelties another salesman is hawking. There are a dazzling few pages at the beginning showing the dawn approaching as we see the light falling on the buildings. As the pressure builds for Simon, his brother is shown in single panels, looking down on him like an angry God. We feel the guilt and panic.
Abraham Matchcard, President of the Borealis Business Machines company which produces his own Clyde Fans, sits in his office with his lawyer and reluctantly signs the papers that will declare it bankrupt.
On the wall hang photographs of more prosperous times when they could afford to develop charity funds. By contrast he's about to make every one of his employees redundant, and as Abraham drives past the picket line he's haunted by each individual face of those he's just passed. They're on strike for no more than a decent, basic living wage, but the company can't afford even that, and by tomorrow morning they will no longer have any job at all.
After that Abraham's thoughts revert to a father whose face he doesn't even recall; a man he hated.
This is the story of the steady decline of Abraham Matchcard and his business empire through the inevitable changes occurring in manufacturing industries and the retail sector, but also through the inability of Abraham to adapt. He knows he's a dinosaur, he can see extinction coming, but he's still going through the motions.
Later, he endures the very definition of strained conversation with his brother Simon. Strangulated would probably be a better adjective to employ, actually.
It's quite incredible how such a downbeat, depressing story can be so utterly gripping.
Design is something that so powerfully stands out in Seth's work these days. His love of small panels, frequently working on a 4 x 4 or 4 x 5 grid on an already relatively small page, means you really do see the clever constructional conceits that are ever-present throughout his stories. I can't think of another creator where you can be so strongly aware of the design element without it distracting from the storytelling whatsoever. I am still completely present in the moment reading a PALOOKAVILE, but it's just I am so vividly aware of this extra dimension and depth to the construction of the page subtly subconsciously seeping into my overall perception. His attention to detail is immaculate.
Eventually there's the inevitable, sad, yet fulfilling moment as the epic story of Simon Matchcard draws to a conclusion by coming full circle back to the year 1957 where we left him at the end of the first half. Here we see the epiphany which sets him on the course of what will turn out to be his long, lonely life. It's a rather poignant scene, knowing as we do everything that is to follow. For here, Simon is nothing but full of optimism of what lies ahead, certain of the path he is taking and the rewards it will bring.