Page 45 Review by Stephen
"The Gars were gathered in the cool air, all dreaming the same dream.
"The dream flew in the wind."
Soft seeds blow too, like those of a dandelion clock.
Perhaps they are that dream.
Some kiss the brows of the Gars fast asleep on the rolling meadows, naked and at peace in their Eden-like idyll.
Then they're swept away "past the peaks of the Fishbone Mountains, over the slumbering swamp" and across the path of a perched Legendary Bird who is about to bid a final farewell. It surveys all it has ever flown over, quietly, acutely, before a tear wells up in its eye.
I'm sure it's only the wind.
It's certainly just the beginning.
What follows is the first of so many strange transformations that make this journey - embarked on by many in diverse directions - like a Jim Woodring fable, albeit with an altogether different visual vocabulary.
It begins thus:
"Beyond the sighs of the clouds, between the horizons of twilight, lies the land of Garlandia. Its vast plains and soft slopes seem to preserve light; its climate is mild. Since time immemorial, it has been home to the Gars, a species of peaceful creatures who delight in contemplating the magic of the place with childlike wonder."
Yet instinctively, all I could ponder was: how far will they fall?
You'll have nearly four hundred pages to find out.
They seem to lead a passive, communally serene and united existence, but to my mind their community already has flaws: it's built on a hierarchy which defers to the shaman, the supposedly wise man who interprets omens for them, and they question not.
Easily led, and so submissive, they have been conditioned not to think for themselves. This will be part of their undoing.
Then there's that very reliance upon signs and on portents. The cows lie down in the field: will it rain?
Early on, their territorial instincts too are established, heightened by a sense of superiority, when a "Wrinkle-Face" with a decidedly Chinese, mythological aspect tries to warn them of change and is dismissed as "insolent" and shooed away as unworthy with stones. So, they aren't adverse to violence, either.
Now watch what happens when something new and genuinely ugly slinks into their midst, and takes advantage of precisely those flaws...
GARLANDIA is so well constructed, so immaculately set up with soft subtlety that whatever the innocents do, they will come a cropper of what they've previously been happy to inculcate or to perpetuate, and so have to go it alone. Vilified and ostracised, they will travel so far from their safe and familiar comfort zone into territories new, strange and potentially hostile.
And those who go it alone are protecting their newborn child.
Visually, it is a tour de force, the writer wisely trusting on the legendary Mattotti to carry its predominantly silent weight for nearly four hundred pages.
Trails of blood are mirrored by ripples in the water.
There are jungle-framed watery landscapes which screamed India at me, and I basked in every single one.
No page should be rushed over, for Mattotti hasn't.
I don't have this specific image for you, but page 81 is the most perfectly composed landscape, lush and rich in delicate detail, over which the artist has bravely thrust thicker, darker slices of air-borne or even magic-based movement / susurration to give you an impression of the cosily cocooned under threat from unsuspected, outside forces.
There is so much space given over to the extraordinary transmogrifications and visionary fireworks that I'm thinking of Katsuhiro Otomo's dozens-of-pages detonation during AKIRA.
The creators have dedicated this to the worlds of Tove Jansson's MOOMIN and Moebius, but I also saw Dr. Seuss in the creatures and their cavorting.
I have three A4 pages of dense, impassioned notes I'm drawing on (which even I can barely read), but amongst them I can decipher an emphasis on all the brilliant beasts you'll encounter from majestic Air Whales and giant, swimming snails to the Wrinkle-Faces, Rain-Monkeys and the Bird Of Fate itself. Plus the opportunistic, parasitic, mind-poisoning crustacean is worthy of Gerald Scarfe. I'm thinking the vile, looming magistrate during Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'.
I'm sure this will mean many different things to many different people, but for me it's a warning against unthinking; against blindly giving credence to any authority which should be questioned and challenged instead. It's also a wise warning against the intoxication of alcohol and all other anger-exacerbating drugs, when consumed communally, en masse, in a war party waiting to happen.
Oh, how far they have indeed fallen!
Two brief amusements to pick out before I pop off, otherwise I'll be here all day:
Firstly, there's the outside Elder who is told by a Gar of Garlandia's existence but declares "Well, there's nothing in my books!" which to him means that Garlandia can only be a figment of everyone's imagination. It's pre-Vespucci Columbus colliding with a new continent, determined that it must be already known; that hilarious, curiosity-free complacency and self-satisfied ignorance that kept humankind back before the Scientific Revolution.
Lastly, I loved how when the Lord of the Lagoon issues instruction to pregnant Cochineal to help her build and feather her nest, and says, "Let us see if you will succeed in following them," those instructions are issued from his mouth not as words, but as stream of butterflies which she must physically rather than figuratively follow in order to find what she needs.