Page 45 Review by Stephen
An exquisitely beautiful book which is wise, gentle, kind and compassionate, its images are so integral to the storytelling that I will happily class it a comic.
Executed with an exceptional degree of control, it is in places like reading through William Morris wallpaper from which rectangles have been excised with a scalpel.
It's also like watching through a window with its initial broad, white frames. The early colours, trees and leaves - and indeed that meticulous, compositional precision - put me in mind of John McNaught.
That is the visual template set up early on, although even then a beetle or branch will softly breach the strictly allotted space, a hint of the much more organic to come. It's a template thrilling enough in itself but partly set up in order to be broken so that when it is, at precisely the right moments, the contrast is striking.
There will follow full double-page spreads which bleed right to the edges, and canopies or intricate bramble thickets through which you will read but one or two words, arranged just-so. There I thought of Rob Ryden's THIS IS FOR YOU, but perhaps because I already had scalpels in the back of my brain - a sentence I hope never to type again.
Additionally, once I'd got the idea that the fox and the simplicity of its verbal narrative reminded me of John Klassen (I WANT MY HAT BACK and SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE etc), I couldn't get that out of my head, either.
As for the colours they range from pitch-black and silver to a star-strewn slate grey; and from warm, russet-red as the fox nestles amongst ferns to a blazing orange speckled with yellow as courage is found, hope takes hold and the world is explored anew.
It's not always easy, is it?
"Once there was a Fox who lived in a deep, dense forest.
"Because Fox was small and the trees reached far higher than the tips of his ears, he was timid, and afraid to stray from his den."
Those silver birches are so very tall that their trunks don't thin one iota before leaving our sight above the pages' frames, implying an almost infinite, unknowable and therefore unreachable, intimidating grandeur. Fox, his brush curled intimately round one of the birch's base, looks up wide-eyed, innocent and daunted like The Herb Garden's Parsley the Lion.
"And yet, for as long as Fox could remember, he would wake at night to the cool, calm light of Star."`
It's Star's guiding light which gives Fox his courage to scamper around and forage in the forest for food and - oh - it is joyous, so joyous!. They race round together, "Star brightening the shadows ahead".
But Star is Fox's only friend.
And one dark night Star's bright, shining light fails to appear.
What Bickford-Smith does with the colours and cramped confines there is truly arresting.
I own we are late to this party for it's never been solicited through comicbook channels and I know I should be more on the wider, cultural ball - I know! Usually I am or we wouldn't have Paul Madonna's architectural eloquence ALL OVER COFFEE which I discovered in San Francisco or his subsequent EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD.
Nor would we have Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre's all-ages PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS and CAKES IN SPACE, let alone McIntyre & O'Connell's JAMPIRES.
But in this instance I dropped the book-market ball and am enormously grateful and indebted to our customer Fuz who was also responsible for introducing me to A MONSTER CALLS. Don't read that in public, by the way. There will be tears.