Page 45 Review by Stephen
"This place is not yours to understand.
"It is mine to devour!"
Ooooooooh, it's going to grow proper scary, shortly!
At that moment, the warm, rich palette of organic oranges, greens, browns and blues will abruptly give way to a pale purple void and a dark, blackcurrant vacuum: a roost ruled over by an enormous, yellow-eyed agent of destruction and despoiler of spaces, a sharp-beaked bird that can transform itself into a vast, black flapping flock, stealing away Sandy's sketchbook and the wetlands of this world.
Nature itself is under assault, as we all know too well.
Lorena Alvarez - the creator of NIGHTLIGHTS, now out in softcover - returns with some of the most gorgeous sequential-art spreads you will ever behold, some earthly, some unearthly but always with such a command of form and colour that adults and youngsters alike will fall mesmerised until their spell!
The wide, misty wetland being explored by Sandy and her school friends invites wide eyes to roam around its outer reaches, spotting brightly coloured birds hopping between early autumnal berries, the leaves just beginning their senescent switch from dark summer-green to a rusty golden brown. Yet, like Joe Todd-Stanton's MARCY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX, these landscapes also lead the eye round the page through carefully choreographed conversation, perfectly balanced in its visual timing.
Okay, the first one here is more of an argument than a conversation, and Sandy's so concerned for the wellbeing of all the critters being captured and collected - being removed from their natural, safe, life-sustaining environment and dropped into empty jam jars without any thought as to what they might eat - that on the very next page she kicks out in frustration before realising it wasn't some sort of rugby ball she'd punted into mid-air, thence the brook's waters, but a small turtle, hiding in its shell... and she is devastated.
I adore Alvarez's eyes: pools of circular black ink so solid that you could, paradoxically, dive into then swim in them. It's as if you can see straight through to Sandy's emotional core, and a brain actively generating questions.
"Hello?" being an odd opening gambit to an amphibious reptile but sure enough, after a Lewis Carroll rabbit-hole segue, we discover that the shell's inhabitant, curating a collection, is indeed entirely sentient with questions of its own.
Once more, those children's eyes, they are going to wander!
At first the picture frames appear to contain birds, beasts and relatives in portrait mode; flora and fauna and full-blown landscapes, with the odd geometric arrangement.
But then there are colour wheels, solar systems, inventors and inventions like Da Vinci's design for a bird-like flying machine! Hicotea, you see (a Colombian turtle), has been on a quest, a quest for knowledge but I'm afraid her source has dried up. We'll get to that in a bit.
"I've been collecting these things for a while.
"Each of them represents a question that someone asked, and their journey to find an answer... an answer that might show the world in a different light. Take my home, for example. Something that you thought was small is in fact almost infinite... or if you look at a marble, perhaps there is a whole universe inside!"
On the subject of spotting details, I adored how the spiral staircase is carved out of a gnarled, ancient tree, and I admired all the clambering involved in Sandy and Hicotea's journey through the found objects.
"You just have to ask the questions to find out, don't you?"
"I... I don't know. I guess. Sometimes it is easier to stay quiet. People get tired of questions that can't be answered."
"Or scared of the answers they find..."
Hicotea had been exploring the wetlands where she felt comfortable, safe and quite at home, but now they appear to have vanished along with all their vibrancy, life, variety and colour, the portal reduced to a blank space.
"There's something out there that won't let me through."
Sandy manages to topple through, though.
Unfortunately she might not like what is waiting for her.
We haven't even reached page 20. There is far, far more to explore, and along with all the scary stuff - whose compositions with the spaces and holes also manages to evoke a strong sense of emptiness and loss - there are some delightfully funny moments, as when Sandy, in a panic, fleetingly thinks that she's been invited by new friends into their home as dinner, rather than guest.
Alvarez's decision to concentrate on a specific natural ecosystem is very wise, especially one which many schoolchildren will be more likely to have discovered for themselves. We certainly took jam jars down to a big pond at infant school. If you try to communicate to Young Readers all our self-inflicted problems on a global scale, it all grows a bit too enormous, even nebulous rather than, ummm, concrete. This approach, by contrast, makes it more involved and personal.
From Flying Eye / Nobrow, the publisher responsible for Luke Pearson's HILDA, ANIMALS OF THE NORTH, ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH, ARTHUR AND THE GOLDEN ROPE, AKISSI, THE JOURNEY and oh so very much more!