Page 45 Review by Stephen
Whenever I rootle through the monthly PREVIEWS order form, snuffling out gorgeous new graphic novels for our shelves two months later, I do a lot of research online. I tweet a lot of my findings as I go, in an effort to entertain with the art and generate pre-orders which are golden.
You couldn't do either of those twenty years ago: it was largely guesswork based on past performances, so new creators were both difficult to discover and risky to take a punt on since comic shops - unlike bookstores - cannot return any unsold books.
Oh, but Amélie Fléchais' luxurious landscapes stood out a mile! The black-furred anthropomorphic forms were delightful, the rich colours delicious and their harmony with a magically enhanced nature immediately reminded me of Isabelle Arsenault's YOU BELONG HERE which has been absolutely enormous at Page 45. There's also a hint of dear Gustav Klimt.
So I tweeted like crazy and dug deep with my orders.
But still, it remains a worry: will the actual story and storytelling be any cop? Many have the riffs been on Little Red Riding Hood and I do not "do" trite nor twee.
Rejoice, for this is neither!
There is a grandmother but she is a wolf; there is a red hood, but that is worn by a wolf; there are some sprawling woods and their navigation may indeed prove quite treacherous but... the similarities to previous iterations pretty much end right there. So many wicked surprises and a very real reason why the wolves you'll encounter are wearing such fine, woven threads.
It is dark, it is witty and although it is pretty, it has quite the lupine bite to it.
Are you sitting comfortably, my kitty-kins...? Then we'll begin!
"Once upon a time, there was a family of wolves who lived in a deep and mysterious forest.
"In this family there lived a little wolf pup who was always dressed in red. Everyone called him the 'Little Red Wolf'.
"Sheltered by the roots of the forest's trees, the little wolf and his family led a quiet and peaceful life."
Already, in those opening three double-page spreads, there is so much for all eyes to relish: details to seek out and savour!
Mother wolf - her eyes alert - glides purposefully home through bountiful, fern-and-fungi-strewn woodlands lit up by a lime and golden, gleaming light. Traditional bluebirds take flight and flit about before morphing on the next to more cartoon creations which perch on cobwebs, sat not on their clawed toes, but their bottoms! A hollow tree-trunk bowl collects drinking rain water dripping from a frond of a fir.
The third spread, however, is ridiculously rich in extras, pulling back to reveal a cross-section of domesticated dens: primarily that which belongs to the wolves, nestled within the protective, cosy confines of the tree base itself, but also a warren of populated burrows below, interconnected by ladders or safely secure and entered elsewhere! Fish swim in underwater caverns watched over by proud, crowned parents; bunnies take tea while puffing on pipes in their exceedingly learned library!
It is indeed a "quiet and peaceful life" for all. However:
Today Little Red Wolf's mother brings home a batch of fresh, juicy rabbits to feed her hungry family, but not all of her relatives live at home. Everyone must be provided for, especially those who once provided.
"Bring this nice rabbit to your grandmother wolf. She's lost her teeth and can no longer hunt."
Dutifully and even eagerly the little wolf nods assent, taking the big bundle of long-eared fluff from his mother, but he does tremble a bit when warned of the dangers in the dead wood - the dark depths of the forest where the huntsman and his daughter live - which must be avoided at all costs.
[Parenthetically, parents, I adore how the soon-to-be-consumed dead bunnies all look blissful, as if sound asleep.]
And so our little red wolf cub sets out, immediately forgetting the dire warnings, for there is so much to be distracted by!
"First he followed a little beetle...
"And then he chased a gently flowing cloud of pollen."
"And then he made his way underground following a bold little mouse."
What a majestic piece of sequential art storytelling that is! It snakes across the page, diagonally to the right then deep down below and - yes! - once more there are so many additional narratives to spot, explore and then absorb if only you care to dilly-dally just as our so easily diverted wolf cub does! When he finally emerges back into the stark light of day, he is lost. However, hand on hip, he is undaunted.
"I am a wolf, the forest is my home, I'm sure I can find my own way, even without the dumb trail!"
Hmmm, I'm afraid that a great big dose of the bad-news-blues is imminent!
We have only just begun. First there comes the cub's own hunger and a cumulatively funny sequence of self-justification as he satisfies it, after which his real worries will begin.
How to explain without spoilers?
You've read my warning. Also:
Songs when sung - being originally from the oral tradition - have a way of warping like Chinese Whispers when handed across or down from one generation to another. They also have a weakness to being warped, especially if shame is involved.
Not everyone who stops singing halfway through has forgotten the words.
I suspect that this will be snapped and then lapped up largely by adults, but it is also perfectly safe for your young ones. If you don't mind a nightmare or two! Kids adore scary but also resolve, surprises and justice. This has the perfect balance.
Now, where did the wolves get their fine, woven cloaks from, do you think?