Page 45 Review by Stephen
I've only just spotted it, but stairs: those tiny bunnies are forever finding stairs to bounce down!
You may by now be more familiar with Vern and with Lettuce from Sarah McIntyre's 2018 picture-book pleasure THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wrapped its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers. This is a a reprint of those characters' earliest appearances in fully fledged comics, a long lost treasure rescued from legal-rights limbo by Bog Eyed Books publisher Gary Northfield, creator of the equally exuberant DEREK THE SHEEP and so much more that you can find reviewed in Page 45's Phoenix Comic Collection Section.
I've found the graphic novel's original review by our Tom who left to become a chef, so I'm going to adapt a few of his choice cuts to bounce off myself.
"Vern is a park keeper, trimming its grass, a job that doubles as an all-you-can-eat buffet when you're a sheep. All he normally has to worry about are biker moles wrecking his immaculate green."
Yup, you can really plough a furrow on a Harley-Davidson. I love the way that they're treated throughout like Hells Angels - the underground movement of the animal kingdom!
If you look closely during the fairground escapade you might spot an un-signposted background joke as the everyday anarchists engage in a gleeful game of whack-a-mole.
"His neighbour, Lettuce, in the flat below, is the oldest daughter in a huge family of bunny rabbits, who is constantly lumbered with looking after her many excitable, poopin' brothers and sisters."
They call Vern their uncle, in the way that you do some family friends, and oh the dedicated sacrifices that Vern often makes! "Unca Vern, can we plait your hair?" "Uh, ok." It's quite the comical make-over. I don't suppose many of you whippersnappers have caught your mother or even grandmother - let alone your granddads - in curlers, but that's kind of what happens to Vern, with the additional indignity of finding one of the little bunnies still lurking within.
"I seem to have an ingrown hare."
"The early one-page comics here are brisk set-ups for puns, but quickly evolve into clever explorations of stereotypes and prejudices when a family of Polar Bears move into their block after their ice floe melted. It's snow joke."
Oh Tom! You're fired!
It should be noted that Polar Bears aren't vegetarians, their go-to diet naturally including all sorts of inhabitants native to the land they've been displaced from. The popsicles they keep in their fridge-freezer may contain Inuit, innit.
That's not the end of the naughtiness, either. One early page presaged by bunnies bouncing and bonking downstairs all higgledy-piggledy (as they do in THE NEW NEIGHBOURS) involves put-upon Unca Vern agreeing to their cake-baking 'cooperation'.
"We're here to help!"
Oh dear. There's quite a left-over mess on the floor of flour and sugar and....
"I didn't buy any raisins."
"Sorry, Vern." "They're not raisins."
The colours are highly unusual, lots of nature-derived blue and green, all suffused with the softest of cream.
Even back then the cartooning was exquisite, Vern's wool portrayed like some thread-embossed, spiral-patterned duvet. Later there's a page in which both Vern and Lettuce dress up as extravagantly as Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve do for their kiss-thrilling public appearances!
My favourite combines composition and colours in the most magical way during a moon-and-star extemporised slumber session that put me in mind of some sort of dimly recalled, mythological Eastern midnight: Vern the sheep stuck most awkwardly up a tree, yet Lettuce reclined, equanimous to it all, her normally never-letting-up brothers and sisters adapting with ease, going native, getting into the swing and hanging upside down from its branches like bats.
"Look, one foot!" one boasts, as if doing a wheelie or something.
And the gentle social satire never falters, either, with cellophane-packaged super-health foods parodied well ahead of their time in place of what would be far more nutritious, natural and accessible fruit and veg.
For far, far more from Sarah McIntyre, I commend to you all these beautiful books reviewed in Page 45's Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section I'll just leave you with this insignificant little observation which I believe is no more than the most magical of typically fortuitous serendipities: the very last panel of VERN AND LETTUCE could be interpreted as leading you straight into the first page of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS, right there on the rooftop!