Page 45 Review by Stephen
Twelve self-contained stories which readers of LOCAL will love, for each of which Becky Cloonan selects a specific tool from her seemingly infinite art box.
For a start, the strangest of dating games with the boy breaking in to leave Polaroids for Megan in LOCAL is reprised here as a young woman, driven to writing herself proscriptive post-it notes for each and every aspect of her life then sticking them all round house and outdoors, suddenly discovers notes that aren't hers.
"Who are you?" and "Can we talk like this?"
Initially perturbed, she misses a bus which breaks her routine and triggers a panic. But there on the bus shelter is stuck another note:
"I love that this is who you are."
She smiles, a tear welling up.
That's a beautiful panel. Cloonan's thought long and hard about body language, in particular the posture of hands. It's all so tenderly done, with a superb sense of light.
It's also a story driven creatively on Brian's part largely through the post-it notes themselves, for what follows is a playful coming together of minds followed by a breadcrumb trail of messages which finally lead to a café; but we never do see who brings her coffee, only that she's charmed.
The advantage of a long-form narrative as opposed to short stories is that you only need one knock-out punchline, yet here a good nine or ten are electric whilst the stories themselves are dazzlingly imaginative. In addition to light, Becky's ability to convey the sweaty claustrophobia of being caught on a gridlocked highway choked with exhaust fumes during a heat wave in 'Waterbreather' is matched only with the blessed relief of diving into a river below. After a flashback to the man's unusual childhood sub-aquatic experiences, the resolution is surprisingly serene given where it leads him.
However, you're going to need a much stronger stomach than the protagonist's in 'Pangs' for which 'unsettling' is merely a starting point. Here Cloonan's art is as bleak as a derelict bathhouse as a young, nail-biting loner rations himself on carefully parcelled frozen food then tries one last time to reconnect himself with those around him by dating a girl at a restaurant. It doesn't go well so he returns home alone and resorts to measures so drastic they will make you wince.
There's also a tale about a couple who repel each other like inverted magnets yet can't stay apart because it destroys their physical health - the ultimate in "Can't live with 'em; can't live without 'em" but working both ways. There's also a self-fulfilling prophecy and then a time-travelling story which addresses the eternal question of what you would say to yourself in your early teens, and whether in fact you would listen.
"That's me. That's dinner every night. That's my Mom, pretending my Dad isn't calling me, his daughter, every filthy and demeaning name under the sun.
"How do you explain away something like that?
"How do you survive something like that? I should have an answer, but I don't. Honestly, it's a blur. But it's an acutely painful blur. I can feel her pain, the embarrassment, the panic. I can hear her heart pounding from here."
Whatever Elisabeth planned to say to herself, in whatever way she hoped her life would be changed, it's when she bumps into her best friend waiting loyally outside for that dinner to be over, hiding behind the car, that she recognises the one fatal error she made. Intrigued...?
It seems to be a book about relationships, be they friends or lovers, some of whom understand and look out for each other, whilst others don't. Two of my favourites are where they don't, but with very different results.
In 'Mixtape' a young man listens to the tape left behind by his girlfriend who's committed suicide, although in actual fact she's either communicating from beyond, or he's coming to an understanding himself. The understanding is that he never understood her. She asks him to take her to their favourite places, only they turn out to be his. It's not confrontational at all - she just wants him to learn, move on, and then use his fresh self-awareness.
'Breaking Up', however, couldn't be more confrontational as Angie ditches Gabe in public. Interspersed between the present argument are problems from the past, but it's not as straightforward as it first appears (are these power struggles ever?), nor is it all one-track recrimination. I particularly enjoyed the complexity of that one. You almost forget about the elements of the fantastical after the first few stories, since those elements become less and less obvious.
Even in the earliest episodes originally published a decade or so ago, Becky Cloonan startles one with an extraordinary variety of art styles from hard and dark to wide-eyed yaoi, with bits of O'Malley and Paul Pope in between. At no point does she seem to lose confidence or the ability to submit the art to the task of telling the story clearly and with sympathy - something many corporate comicbook artists find themselves incapable of.