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The Three Rooms In Valerie's Head


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The Three Rooms In Valerie's Head back

David Gaffney & Dan Berry

Price: 
17.98

Page 45 Review by Stephen

"You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him."

That's such a lovely line, lobbed in as effortlessly and unexpectedly as everything else, taking the reader - and Valerie's boyfriend - completely by surprise. It's not done in anger but out of calm curiosity, and the trajectory of that particular sequence will prove even more startling and funny than you think.

We will return to that anon.

Dan Berry's exceptionally expressive cartooning you may already know from THE END, CARRY ME, SENT / NOT SENT, THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY, BEAR CANYON or THE SUITCASE (a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), plus the Eisner-Award-nominated 24 BY 7 and COELIFER ATLAS, both of which, like THE THREE ROOMS IN VALERIE'S HEAD, were originally commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes over the entire town of Kendal every year in October. All of these we have reviewed extensively.

The singularly dextrous David Gaffney, meanwhile, will now be shooting to the top of your attention and the forefront of your radar, once the wit in this read has been savoured. It is ever so carefully constructed.

There are three rooms in Valerie's mind: a front, a back, and a cellar. But if you think that the front room's a living room, you are very much mistaken. All she does there is obsess.

What should perhaps command her attention is studiously buried and ignored by banishing it into the back room. What Valerie takes out to play instead are the ghosts of her former boyfriends, resurrected from the cellar, positioned like a trad-jazz band and articulated by herself. It is they whom she converses with throughout, wondering where it all went wrong.

"The drawback was having no space in the front room for anything else."

Well, quite.

Before you leap to too many conclusions, I promised you surprises and I don't break my promises. There may well be a very good reason why Valerie is so retrospective. And before you go blaming Valerie for being so unlucky in love, the individuals who'll be paraded in front of you will prove to have looked through odd prisms of their own. Ever such odd prisms, and the art will adapt accordingly!

One, for example, invents a car windscreen to compensate for his myopia so that he doesn't have to wear his glasses or corrective lenses while driving. Which is fine for him and it's a genius foil against car thieves. Unless they possess the same prescription as he does, they won't be able to see what's in front of them. On the other hand, it's a wee bit rubbish for any passengers he's carrying and his own rear-view mirror may prove something of a blur.

There's a lot of allusion and metaphor in this comic, but I swear that it's sweet and not half as heavy-handed as my own. "Symbols should not be cymbals," as Edward Albee once wrote.

Music is one of the big ones, specifically Mahler's 2nd Symphony plus Valerie's love of accordions and other bellow-based instruments. Don't think you have to be an all-knowing clever clogs because I'm certainly not. Listen to Gaffney about music instead:

"It's pure. Music doesn't imitate, it doesn't explain, it doesn't try to be like other things."

I'd not thought of that before. Most drawings, paintings, prose, poetry and comics all seek to create, recreate, imitate or elucidate on that which they are not: life, real or imagined. Words convey thoughts, actions or occasions as best they can and I adore them for that, leaving me with the freedom to let my imagination roam. Images imply or are otherwise representational. Music may elicit or imply, but otherwise it is its own beast. In the hands of the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser even songs' lyrics are left to be similarly ethereal because she left her voice free to be a musical instrument - no real words at all...

But this is a comic with images which do imitate ever so subtly well, and one of its best is the page in which Valerie responds to a former boyfriend's recollection of their shared, supposedly idyllic past which doesn't chime favourably enough with her own. The colouring aside, which is mood-specific throughout and beyond this specific page, it's the body language and expressions which delight. Jake's finger and closed eyes turn a contradiction - bad enough in Valerie's eyes - into something close to a rebuke. As to those eyes, narrowed in the fourth panel as she leads challengingly forward, they really do seethe and spit daggers.

"Valerie," we learn later, "kept a ball of tissue under her armpit and dropped shreds of it into his food to keep him loyal."

This is an observational gem, more fanciful and energetic than Tomine's but no less perceptive and far more engaging in that the reader is enticed into the recollections as an active observer on the spot, rather than a witness at a distance. Dan has gone to great lengths to make this so, including a sequence which - I was told in complete confidence - he drew with his left hand in order to accentuate the giddiness which worked all too well on myself, giving me an immediate sense of vertigo while lying flat on my back in bed. That's no mean feat.

So we return to the where we came in with the opening quotation and its reprise of the vase on the very second page which Valerie's so intent on remaining oblivious to. I showed you that vase earlier on. Like so many other visual refrains repeated unexpectedly throughout, it's a fab piece of foreshadowing whose exceptional choreography by Dan Berry is surpassed here as Valerie throws caution to the wind and a bouquet at her boyf in an act of abandonment which is - to her - delightful spontaneity.

"You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him."

As the shining white and blue china hurtles towards him, Brett freezes, recoils and cowers in terror, and the leaves and flowers begin to tumble from their fragile, spinning vessel.

"Is he poised?
"Confident in his judgements?
"Does he seem willing to take responsibility for someone else's actions?"

David Gaffney has a way with words which dance around and right off the pages to stick with you forever. There's nothing extraneous or laden. Instead they trill so brightly and lightly like a musical movement that's subtle and always heading somewhere. As often as not, they're headed somewhere far from expected.

"You learn the most if the object belongs to someone else."

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