Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Love leaves but yet is present.
"Love takes your hoard and doubles it.
"Love holds you close and lives forever. Love lives."
There are few graphic novels which customers are as fond of at Page 45 as PORCELAIN.
We sold out of our original 100 signed bookplate editions in 10 days, since when sales snowballed and anticipation over the intervening two years has been unprecedented. PORCELAIN BONE CHINA was finally released last Wednesday 11th October 2015 and on Saturday sales were so swift that I was too busy to Tweet. It felt like Christmas.
Better news still: however enamoured you may be of PORCELAIN book one, PORCELAIN BONE CHINA, the middle of this trilogy, is bigger, much meatier, more breathtakingly beautiful and - in terms of trauma and complexity - on another level entirely.
Thanks to writer Ben Read you can look forward to feeling your heart swell with all the love in the world. But prepare to have it ripped right from your rib cage then not dashed but smashed to smithereens by a writer and artist you presumed far too kind to care so little for your comfort.
I'm afraid it's time to grow up.
PORCELAIN book one starred a pugnacious guttersnipe called Child who found herself welcomed into the world and so home of her unexpected benefactor and thence adoptive parent, the enigmatic and reclusive Porcelain Maker. He had grown rich on his inventions: semi-sentient automatons fashioned from china but bound by a secret. She discovered his secret, but at a cost to them both.
Ten years on, and that Child is now wealthy Lady, having inherited the Porcelain Maker's estate and learned his craft involving the painting of runes. She's refining his designs and creating new Porcelain, but she's also desperately trying to undo the damage she's done. She has complicated things beyond your imagining.
She has, however, lost none of her fight or bite. So when the military comes calling, she is less than impressed with the General's rank and regalia and reverts to the urchin-speak which Mariem, her chaperone, has been at pains to rid her off.
"I find that the more ridiculous the hat, the more awkward they feel when they have to deal with a ranting guttersnipe. Proper wrong foots them, it does."
The military are engaged in a war and suffering heavy casualties. This being an era equivalent to Tennyson's they are in dire need of cavalry replenishment and Lady has agreed to sell them her animated porcelain horses
but emphatically not the artificial soldiers they're after as well. The general is enraged, but her more conciliatory Captain fares no better in pleading their cause and - as he'll soon discover - his General isn't the only one with a short fuse.
All of which begs the question as to what has become of the Porcelain Maker himself in the intervening years and those of you who've already relished PORCELAIN book one may believe you know the answer. I wouldn't be so sure. The refrain exchanged throughout the four chapters is heart-rending. Also, if you think that Lady's refusal to supply the army with unstoppable soldiers - which won't eat into scarce supplies but which learn how to shed blood all too swiftly and effectively - is born of mere pacifism, I can assure you that it's much more complex than that. Our Lady is adamant; the General is persistent; and the military is known not just for its might.
Immediately striking, of course, is the cover both in its own right and in its stylistic cohesion with PORCELAIN book one: much the same frame in ceramic white and a similarly restrained palette switching here from twilight blue to the most verdant of greens from André May.
There are other echoes like the opening pages entering the mansion then sat in front of a roaring fire, but the one that made me grin comes a little later when the Captain is caught clambering over the estate wall and attempting to descend the self-same tree which Child formerly danced down as if on a helter-skelter. Captain is a lot less graceful and his reception by Lady is a lot less gracious than Child's once was by the Porcelain Maker. That woman has built an even taller wall round herself than the one defending the grounds.
Wildgoose has put a great deal of time and thought into the new designs for the city, the newly evolved Porcelain, the army and specifically the General and Captain's uniforms and civvies (though don't think the General dresses down). You'll find the preparatory work in the back along with a secret involving the runes which will have you flicking back through the book in a flash.
But that's nothing compared to the finished flourishes which this much longer instalment provides room for. There's a double-page spread, for example, of Lady's recent acquisition based on the Chinese war ship sailed by Admiral Zheng He during the Ming Dynasty. Its scooped white sails are echoed in the shapes of the panels below it, while their arrangement across the page reflects the forward-thrusting profile of the boat up above them. Except it's not a boat, is it?
"It's actually a ship."
"Pfff, I paid for it so I can call it what I like."
"I don't think that's how it works."
It amused me no end that the same argument was made in Antony Johnston's CODENAME BABOUSHKA #2 which arrived on the very same day. Antony and Ben Read went to school together.
I could pour praise on Chris Wildgoose for several more paragraphs - for his fruit-rich orchard avenue; the municipal majesty; the seasonal chapter designs incorporating apposite elements of the story to come; and Gog and Magog now lither than ever - but we have to end something to let you begin.
Following but a day after Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III's SANDMAN: OVERTURE h/c, our second-biggest release of the year, PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA is by far our biggest at double the number of books we ordered in and so far we've sold thrice as many.
Both are true blockbusters but it just goes to show that publishing status is irrelevant, for the former is published by Time Warner's DC while the latter is from the UK's independent Improper Books. Quality is what counts at the end of the day, and you'll find quality in abundance in both.