Page 45 Review by Stephen
A very British graphic novel full of very British squabbles, this had me hooked from its opening double-page spread of a northern, rural British town nestled between rolling green hills populated by black-faced, white-wooled sheep, giant gleaming-white wind turbines and the sort of exposed moorland trees which have been buffeted and so sculpted by horizontal gales.
What clinched it for me was the 24% gradient sign on top of the one-track road wending its way down to Oldroyd, a good old-fashioned 1 in 4!
All of this is lit as an early winter's evening sets in, closing on 5pm. I think there's a storm brewing.
As above so below: the modern inhabiting the traditional. Yellow light begins to glow from the tall plate windows of the old stone building complete with corner quoining, as the half a dozen inhabitants of the stark, open-plan office to Berkeleys Corporate Banking start shutting up shop and casting on coats while laughing delightedly. It's all a bit Beryl Cook!
Bespectacled programmer Terry Mann isn't laughing. He's still hunched over his computer terminal, crossly typing in code. He's going to grow increasingly crosser over the next 48 hours, and then Terry Mann will do something truly terrible.
"Animals give you true love when people just let you down."
That's far from an absolute truth, obviously, but the same people who'll let you down are as likely to let their animals down, when dogs in particular seldom given less than 100% of their unwavering, unconditional love.
It's been exactly 60 years since we launched little LAIKA into space, the first animal to orbit the Earth until it promptly died, presumably terrified, five hours after lift-off. Nick Abadzis' graphic novel of the same name will set your fires burning long before re-entry.
Terry owns a big, beautiful, thick-furred, greyish-white dog called Eric, so massive that he overflows a two-seater sofa. Something like a Scottish Deerhound, I'd have thought. He doesn't like the expensive, vitamin-enriched diet he's on, so in Terry's absence, Eric raids the kitchen bin instead and throws up all over the living room carpet.
They live together largely in silence, Eric eyeing his taciturn master through the French windows from outside in the cold, dark garden, or getting in the way of the FIFA results on the television set.
He only wants to be spoken to. Terry switches the lights off and goes to bed instead.
Terry Mann also owns a credit card with a £6,500 credit limit which he's just maxed out. In addition, he's assiduously collected some Reminders and a Final Demand.
Terry's sister Debbie is ebullient! She's engaged to be married to handsome and suave Vikram Singh, recently promoted to management at Berkeleys Bank. They're all going to celebrate tomorrow at some hideous, staid golf club - a meal which Terry can ill-afford.
Terry's parents are overjoyed at the engagement, in the sort of cloying, superficial, success-orientated way that might make any reasonable observer vomit. Vikram's family too are ecstatic, proud of their son, but in the same boastful manner as the Manns while dismissing their daughter Mia as a failure. Right in front of her face.
Here's our preening Debbie, not so much disdainful as utterly incredulous:
"So Mia, you're an actual gardener? Like... outside, digging? Not a florist?"
Mia keeps her own counsel.
Terry tends to be a quiet one too. He's called into Meeting Room D at Berkeleys Bank to find his own immediate manager, Celine from HR and Mr Frank Grace who's visiting from Internal Audit. Client money is missing - a lot of it.
"Right. I want to get to the bottom of this before I involve the police and the financial services regulators.
"I'm looking for a cunning, highly skilled technician with access to Corporate Banking back-end systems and Secure-Code areas. I'm looking for an indebted, desperate person who made one mistake.... Just once the hacker accessed the system from outside the Bank.
"The IP address of that hack traces back to your home, Mr Mann."
Summarily suspended, Terry is escorted off the premises in front of his co-workers, drives back to the home he cannot afford, picks up a new batch of bills he cannot pay, then treads in more dog vomit.
Eric looks innocently up. You will not believe what Terry does next...
So much of this made me smile with recognition. I loved the contrast between Terry's expensive but clinically appointed flat and Mia's more homely house with its low, exposed timber beams, shower that won't work, window seats, cosy blanket thrown over the old tatty settee, thick curtain to keep the cold out from the wooden front door under which I bet that the wind whistles through, and the patchwork of gradually acquired rugs arranged across the front room so as to create a corridor along which bare feet might travel, perhaps, to collect the morning milk or mail.
The formal, golf-club luncheon sequence is delightfully staged like the top table of a wedding feast or the Last Supper, with the smug couple beaming from its centre, approving parents on either side, then Terry and Mia - the outsiders - sat opposite each other at either end. Both mothers are a treat in body language and expression, while Mia's hair, flopped easily over one eye, is ever so endearing. I like that she doesn't do handshakes.
Scarlett's colours are perfect, particularly at night, out in the countryside or in the rug-orientated confines of Mia's sitting room. She plays deliciously with the 1 in 4 gradient during certain scenes with 45-degree panels!
I've only given you one side to one part of the story, of course, and even then I've resorted to allusion. You might wonder why Terry has such an expensive house in the first place and why he owns such a big hound which he doesn't even like. Sophie has thought it all through, but delivers the goods only at the appropriate hour.
A lot of travelling will be involved before we are done, and there'll be a fair few car conversations.
After enormous satisfaction I turned the final four pages slowly, quietly absorbing their contents, closed the cover with the palm of my hand and thought, "Raymond Briggs would be ever so proud".