Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"I really liked the comics of Chris Reynolds back then and I am happy to report that I still do."
Classic understated compliment from the most dapper man in comics there! He is actually a huge fan of Chris Reynolds, our Seth. So much so, that he agreed to curate Chris's material for this collection and design the book, which is a sideline of his. I frequently spot Seth illustrated covers on prose books in Waterstones and then promptly feel cheated that it isn't also his comics within...
The front and rear covers here are a masterpiece of design, with a subdued mauve background paired with highly reflective cyan and coral shading and lettering, the front cover featuring the head of the helmeted character Monitor - one of the nominal stars of many of the short stories that form this chunky collection of over 250 pages set in the fictional Mauretania - outlined in Reynolds' trademark thick black line.
I'll leave you to read Seth's designer afterword for yourselves, but it very neatly summed up my own thoughts and feelings regarding this material, which I will have to feely confess, I was previously utterly unaware of. I must give therefore also give plaudits to New York Comics Review in that respect, whose mission statement... "In the tradition of NYRB Classics, NYR Comics presents new editions of out-of-print masterpieces and new translations of books that have never been published in English-from intimate memoirs to absurdist gags, graphic novels to dizzying experiments." ... has seen them publish the likes of Mark Beyer's AGONY, PEPLUM by Blutch, SOFT CITY by Hariton Pushwagner, PRETENDING IS LYING by Dominique Goblet and YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES by Yvan Alagbé, which have all graced the Page 45 shelves..
My experience of this work, like Seth, was one of mystery, first and foremost, flavoured with desolation, isolation and ratiocination. That particular train of thought is never quite going to arrive at the station, but I'm entirely sure that is Reynolds' intent. It is the journey, most definitely not getting there, perhaps not ever actually arriving, which is what this material is about. There are pieces which can be put together across the stories, clues dropped quite deliberately too I suspect, but you're not going to be able to assemble a whole jigsaw of the obtuse workings of Mauretania and its equally peculiar inhabitants, and so you will be left pondering...
Which is not to say it is downbeat, not at all, though it did also remind me of Jeff Nicholson's THROUGH THE HABITRAILS in its seemingly, at times, abstract tone. It certainly has a dreamlike quality, some of the most subtly surreal material I have ever read, I think. I can certainly see why it would appeal to Seth, whose IT'S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN and pretty much all of his early life autobiographical material published over the years in PALOOKAVILLE has a similar graceful, almost delicate and meandering feel to it.
The quiet, rural landscapes and partially deserted cities of the never actually named country of Mauretania feel and look much like Britain. Perhaps not surprising given Chris Reynolds hails from Wales. The characters are a bemusingly polar bunch, I must say. In addition to various utterly banal workers and families, we have the behelmeted recurring Monitor (who is the closest we get to a lead character), a hardboiled police inspector named Rockwell, alien overlords who seem to have peacefully conquered the Earth through some strange, mystical hypnotic process called the Dial, plus several other one-off oddballs like the random bearded chap with more than a passing resemblance to Peter Suitcliffe. Thus the ostensibly sparse population of Mauretania manages to feel as collectively incongruous and mildly mysterious as the plots of the stories themselves.
The art contributes greatly in that respect. With its substantial, bold black linework it very strongly reminded me of a Jesse Reklaw work, THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE, which was a collection of peoples' dream stories synchronously enough. There is also a dash of Eric COMPULSIVE COMICS Haven, Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane in there too. I can see some people initially finding the inking a bit heavy for their tastes but soon you'll be drawn into the strange goings-on and left suitably perplexed.