Page 45 Review by Stephen
Oh, oh, oh, irony abounds!
A wit-riddled use of this medium's unique properties to flagrantly (and comically) expose its own high-handed, immodest, opinionated, egocentric and startlingly ruthless narrator as unreliable from the very start, I'd equate this to some of your favourite fantasies - perhaps from Image Comics - with a more literary history bent.
Pretensions, the protagonist has so very many: both towards authorial success much envied in others (but ostensibly, disdainfully dismissed) and within his own hyper-analytical, self-referential and overwrought purple prose.
Please don't confuse the narrator and his authorial voice with that of Ryan O'Sullivan, for the latter's beady eye is very much on the ball.
It's a wrecking ball.
Our cad without a conscience is called Henry Henry. His first name is Henry, his second name is Henry, though no one believes this nor much else besides.
He aspires to write a ground-breaking, trend-setting great book of his own, although those who would seek such lofty ambitions are superciliously derided as superficial. Specifically he covets the reputation and success of his mentor, veteran fantasy author Arthur Proctor, along with his recently completed new manuscript, 'Terror Forming'. It lies unattended and so far unread in old Arthur's flat, across the hall, which Henry has access to...
Henry's only incomes lies instead in translation, wherein most of the original language may be lost because Henry knows best. Also, as he boasts:
"The grammar, the rhythm, sometimes the story, often the characters, places and settings. Even the title, on occasion."
This is only suffered because Arthur has persuaded his agent to humour Henry. This agent he describes in a parenthetical aside thus:
"A nameless man of little consequence to our tale. You are free to imagine him a name. Wolfgang would be more than sufficient. Please don't consider this dismissal a sign of my dislike for him. My agent was a dear friend. I'm only refusing to name him for the sake of descriptive brevity."
They hate each other. And there'll be plenty more circumlocution to come, plus other Chaucerian sleights of hand, for O'Sullivan has only just become to crack his mischievous knuckles.
So back to the flat of Arthur Proctor, laid up unresponsive in hospital, whose work Henry claims to hold in contempt with the spitting emphasis on "genre":
"Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world. Yet I am the one lack in originality?"
But if Henry is super-adept at one thing it is self-justification:
"To plagiarize my own benefactor! A wicked idea. How could my agent suggest such a thing?"
It wasn't a suggestion, it was an accusation.
"Although, I could see his point.
"Arthur was dying. A novel is of no use to a dead man.
"And who was Arthur to claim this story as his own? His influences were my influences. We read the same books and watched the same television programs. I had no intention of stealing my neighbour's latest manuscript. I merely wanted to glance over it. To see if the secrets of authorship lay hidden within its coffee-stained pages.
"Arthur would have agreed to it, if his health were better.
"I suppose, in a way, I was carrying out his wishes."
So it is that he sidles up surreptitiously to Arthur's door, Andrea Mutti playing the body language here and throughout to perfection - whether Henry's skulking, aghast, alarmed or outright terrified - completely contradicting the supposed insouciance, confident bravado or the insincere excuses of the captions. Especially when Henry's interrupted while pilfering the manuscript by its author's daughter, Jill, a "professional artist, if you believe in such oxymorons": then he really pulls out all the stops of self-justification in answering to himself her accusations.
"How dare she suspect me of burglary! I only placed the manuscript in my jacket to avoid confrontations... I had no intention of thievery. My hand was forced."
If the art is juxtaposed against the captions dictated in order to out all the lies, not so the real-time dialogue which remains as revelatory as what's seen. Except that the narrator (okay, O'Sullivan and Andworld Design on the lettering and its placement) contrive to make sure that as few of those inconveniently embarrassing speech balloons remain unseen, blocking them behind more protestations or offering alternate versions which reflect far better on Henry while leaving behind just enough of what's said to expose the fabrication and mendacity. It's a device similar to that deployed by Mazzuchelli's deployment in ASTERIOS POLYP and Clowes's in MISTER WONDERFUL, but to different effect. Either way, only in comics, folks!
Now, I know I've yet to touch on the titular Fearscape itself and so the fantastical element (other than what's going on inside Henry's deeply deluded head), but I've been a damn sight more helpful than the back-cover blurb which, in keeping with the contents, deliberately omits giving even a hint of the book's plot points in favour of addressing potential readers directly to tell them it's doing so.
But let's just say that the clue's in the title, and that Henry is in for a very rude, transdimensional awakening - as are the Fearscape's occupants upon encountering Henry. Please don't imagine that you're in for something salutary like a re-run of Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' with omniscient spectres and a penitent protagonist.
This is a big book of lies, strained credulity and almost wilful gullibility too on the part of some of the more conceptual entities who really (no, really) should know better. But then Henry is as quick-witted as he is a shameless blusterer and bare-faced liar.
He's also forgotten something foreshadowed early on, with further clues lobbed oh so casually in later, about his childhood encounters with Arthur Proctor.
Andrea Mutti is equally at home in the quotidian world of potted plants, bookshelves, hospital bedsides and suburban street scenes as he is in the fantastical realm of the Fearscape which allows him to really let rip with infinite graveyards, craggy caverns and presumably bottom chasms populated by mermaids, minotaurs, assorted ghastly phantoms and a disembodied brain floating silently atop its spinal cord. Plus, as I say, there's all that character acting. Colourist Vladimir Popov suffuses the stygian Fearscape with the same ethereal, misty glow that Dave Stewart lent to Olivier Coipel's forms in MAGIC ORDER written by Mark Millar, while keeping the real world relatively clean; yet not so clean that the lines can't blur between them.
Watch out for the trio of casually homophobic thugs hanging around outside The Blacksmith pub, for example.
There's so much here that I haven't had time to type up from the language to all that literature I alluded to, not least a very brief note on James Joyce's 'Ulysses':
"For that is the strength of this book, to see a human mind, fully fictional (as all minds are) captured for eternity on the page."
"Fully fictional (as all minds are)"! This book is bursting with things to make you think, so much so that some of them are merely lobbed in parenthetically like that.
Then there's Henry's resolute refusal to accept responsibility for anything, anything at all, even for his most his most hideous of betrayals. Don't imagine you're safe, either, dear reader, for eventually he'll turn on you too. Initially Henry is assiduous, almost unctuous in his courtship of his readership (albeit with back-handed attacks on others), but when pushed to the shove he'll attempt to make you complicit in his own culpability.
What a bloody rotter!
Iconoclastic from beginning to end, I'm thinking Laurence Sterne's 'The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy', only with fewer black-dog days, even more pictures and a cube-headed I don't know what.