Page 45 Review by Stephen
People will only see racism when its at its most extreme...
But racism is more than just slurs and violent acts.
I think its important to be true to yourself.
If something feels wrong you should speak up.
For over 10 years I wrote up to 15 comic and graphic novels reviews every week on my days off.
Two years ago I decided I wanted my life back, and for a year I've been virtually silent.
But this book is worth missing a whole month of anyones leisure time, so Im back.
Charlot Kristensen, everybody: this is her debut graphic novel. I hope you are paying attention, for Kristensen has created something deceptively complex with extraordinary economy and the lushest of lines, form and colour enhanced by carefully chosen light throughout that will reward your careful consideration with much to ponder upon.
Its time to meet Farai and Adam.
I really want to get along with Adams family...
Our relationship means a lot to me...
But I also want him to be there for me.
Is that too much to ask?
No, if we are as committed as we claim, it is the very least we can do for our dearly beloveds: listen long enough to understand and, if necessary, back them to the hilt. Its called love and loyalty. Especially since Farais already reassured her own caring and concerned mother, I already told you, mom, hes different.
But what happens when your boyfriends parents turn out to be nightmares, you find yourself trapped in their affluent home territory and therefore beholden to their oh-so-generous hospitality, then it transpires that said boyfriend...
Well, thats nurture for you.
After two years of not-so-subtle stalling for which Farai gives Adam the benefit of what must inevitably be considerable doubt, Adam has finally invited Farai to meet his parents, so they travel to Windermere by train.
Farai is excited! Adam is angry. Farais tardiness almost made them miss their train. But it didnt; they havent. So why is Adam so angry?
Farai is an artist, a positive and inspired young artist, secure in her identity. Adam is a musician. Hes really very pretty. Hes kind of lanky with a disarming flop of hair falling over one side of his forehead. Farai is full-on beautiful with large, pool-deep eyes, rich lips and a casually tied-up bunch of black hair threaded through with blue and purple highlights. Theyre a very attractive couple.
But for Adams mother, Martha, Farai is a new toy to play with, a sick power trip to take pleasure in, and a goal to be achieved. Can you guess what it is yet?
Hegemony must be maintained at all costs.
Kristensen has created an appallingly real and ever so clever ogre in Adams constantly angling mother. Shes a domineering bully who knows precisely what she is doing. Shes all charm and smarm to begin with, while her husband Charles has been whittled away over the years into being the most monosyllabic, compliant and complicit co-combatant that any garrulous general could hope for. And make no mistake: Marthas vile and outrageously forthright racism is far from casual or accidental. She bides her time and then she pounces before pulling back, wounded blood drawn:
Its cold, calculated and strategically deployed then, as I say, skilfully withdrawn at the very last minute, leaving Farai with little room to manoeuvre by speaking out or conferring with Adam whose default setting is defensive: especially of his parents.
Ah, maybe youre reading too much into it.
Thats always a favourite of mine.
Adam, I know what I heard. And thats not all of it. Your dad and mom were talking about an African gardener they fired just because he forgot to water a plant. They said he had a funny African name and they couldnt understand his accent.
Farai... maybe they didnt tell you the whole story, I dont know. Im sure there were other problems.
Theres a constant sneer on Marthas mouth, and disdain in her eyes, Shes smug, supercilious, condescending and patronising.
Look, Farai Darling, Im only referring to common knowledge. Theres no need to get so worked up.
Also: Every child knows...
I had an older relative who used to greet almost everything I said with, Oh dont be so stupid! And Im not, really, stupid. But using nebulous language like that is a very clever way of dismissively shutting down counter-arguments.
Deliciously, Kristensens art throughout in defiantly uplifting and colourful contrast to Marthas withering, caustic toxicity is an exuberant, life-affirming, joy!
Oh, where there are inevitable, final flare-ups of anger, they are projected with jagged, barb-edged speech balloons and equally angular gesticulations! And Kristensens expressions are ever so subtle and telling.
But predominantly there is a celebration of truly juicy light, form and colour, of fabrics and foliage and stone; beams and streams of sunshine cascading in through the windows, elevating everything inside! And out on Lake Windermere from mid-summer day to shepherds-delight dusk there is an awe-inspiring beauty in the wide-open, bright sky above and the dazzling, tiny white diamonds dancing on the deeper blue waters below which is entirely immune to the self-satisfied shadows cast in between.
Look! the art demands. Look at what could be yours! Look at what is yours for the taking! Look at what you are missing!
Its actually ungrateful, isnt it?
I leave you with Martha fishing for what she loves most instead a reaction this time feeling no need to find any sort of emollient whatsoever to what she erroneously considers will be her coup de grace:
Oh thats interesting, Farai. That... thing on your head.
Oh! You mean my headwrap.
Is that what its called? I didnt know you were a Muslim.
Ahh I think youve misunderstood... This is a very common head attire in my culture. And there are many people from across the world who wear head coverings for different reasons.
Oh, so youre not a Muslim?
No Im not...
Oh thank god! I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
By contrast, youll be ever so proud of Farais response.
Martha delights in playing cat and mouse games but this time shes misjudged her victim, for Farai however calm, reasonable and accommodating of as much of Marthas cold, calculated and malicious behaviour as she can be is no mouse.
That would be Marthas long-dominated son.
I cannot wait to see and hear more from Charlot Kristensen, whose work I already rate right up there alongside early Tillie Walden (I LOVE THIS PART and A CITY INSIDE etc), another of Avery Hills many discoveries whose talent they recognised in her mid-teens then gently shepherded towards producing longer-form works like ON A SUNBEAM and her autobiographical SPINNING, all four of which have sold in their hundreds here.
Now that really is true nurture for you!
Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, October 2020.
I mean, obviously.