Page 45 Review by Stephen & Tom
A review in duet by Tom and Stephen. As is right, here's Tom first:
Have you ever wondered just how many sexual experiences you've ever had? David took that to the next level with his short story "My Sexual History" where he unashamedly depicted every single sexual act he ever experienced. From the first weird feeling, to his childhood misconception of sex, to every single act in very explicit detail in hundreds of tiny panels on album-sized pages. He then followed that up with the equally candid "Black History" depicting every interaction with an African-American he has experienced, from social nuances and his impressive knowledge of Hip-Hop (with enthusiastic reviews in the margins) to the impression the Thriller video left on him.
He follows this with equally candid documentation of his mum, dad, and to top it - his entire family history. David Heatley bares all and doesn't do it for shock effect. No really! He doesn't do it in a gratuitous way, it's more like an eclectic cataloguing of his life in all its humanity.
So revealing is this comic confessional that Stephen and I have wrestled over whether or not to make it Comicbook Of The Month, not due to its lack of quality (far, far from it! This book is utterly worthy of wider attention) but because it is so frank that we felt like we would be sharing privileged information. It's just so personal, so personable, and nothing has so successfully reflected a myriad array of inadequacies, achievements and all too human failings here since Jeffrey Brown's CLUMSY. And like CLUMSY, David's comics have revitalised autobiography in the medium.
I'm not sure how much I have to add to Tom's insightful preview/review-extra except that it is so jaw-droppingly candid that Jonathan Cape have blanked out the willies, and I can't say I blame them since so many of David's sexual experiences were pre-pubescent and with other boys (who needs an Atari joystick? No, really, that's one of the sequences).
Later on he spends time staring at other men's cocks in the shower, comparing himself unfavourably and then being called on it. To me that suggests that David is now comfortable with his sexuality (a lot of straight guys do that all the time, although there are few who would admit it sober and in print), but who knows? He's equally comfortable documenting how much he cried when his tender young heart was broken by girls, after being beaten up at school, or even as an adult in researching his material. And he has a good heart, does our David. He cares. He cares enough to question and criticise his own reactions over and over again.
As to his experiences with African-Americans from school upwards, they're as long, fleeting, complex and mysterious as with all friendships. But where it gets even more interesting is when black/white politics become involved at college ("God, this is so fucking confusing..."), and when he then moves into Prospect Heights. I learned a lot there.
David's loving tribute to his mother following that particularly intense section is something of a warm relief, though equally riddled with contradiction and self-lacerating hindsight, and his dreams are genuinely fascinating. (How many of you find other people's dreams fascinating? No, only our own are, and to us!).
In short (as if I could ever be), this is a catalogue of human nature: silly boasts, simple misunderstandings, and wild mistakes committed on the spur of the immediately regretted moment. So much of the universal is laid bare in the particular here, because haven't we each and every one of us done and said just the strangest things?
Bravo to Jonathan Cape for recognising and then publishing a talent that is going to be a very hard sell both in most book stores and comic shops because the former are too conservative to comprehend the humanity in front of them, and the latter are too juvenile to even give a damn. My only criticism would be that although we are occasionally given his age during the Mother Strips, we are merely given the year in which moments occurred during earlier chapters. I'd have gone for his age throughout because therein lies an important sense of context, and I had to constantly keep calculating.