Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I killed Peter because I'm 12 years old."
Autobiography as therapy: Ka doesn't deny it. Autobiography as an aid to our understanding? Absolutely undeniable, but I warn you right now that in places it's an uncomfortable read. In no way explicit and in no way exploitative nor self-indulgent, it's a surprising calm and considered piece beginning with Olivier as a seven-year-old with strict Catholic grandparents impressing on him the horrors of hell. Back home his parents by contrast are liberal swinging hippies, by which I mean they're not religious, they're not strict and they do swing - skinny-dipping with another couple and encouraging young Ollie to join in. No surprise then that when twelve-year-old Ollie finds one of their female "guests" in the bathroom, neither mind each other's presence.
"I start brushing my teeth. She's standing right beside me. I don't stare at her, but it does something to me knowing she's there, naked - a slight, very pleasant shiver. I love being like this, without any taboos, without prudishness. It's so nice. Then my Mom comes in."
Mom is not happy and kicks him out.
"Ah well, I'm a little disappointed and a little embarrassed, too. I really thought it wasn't a big deal, but it looks like I was wrong after all. I come to understand my clumsiness. I hope Mom's friend doesn't think I'm some young sex maniac."
Into this dichotomy of fire-and-brimstone and laissez-faire comes Peter. Peter is a tubby, beardy, affable, guitar-playing, doesn't-even-mention-religion, modern sort of a priest in a lumberjack shirt. Olivier's parents warm to him immediately, and so does Olivier. Peter organises a summer camp at a farmhouse called Happy River, and Olivier makes lots of friends that first year and has a brilliant time in the countryside. Idyllic. But on the third year that all changes when following an agonising bike ride to the sea, Olivier finds himself alone on the beach while the others swim, and Peter in swimming trunks bumbles over the sand dunes towards him...
It's at this point I should talk about Ka's friend Alfred who offered to provide the art: he's magnificent. He does a bang-up job of representing Olivier over the years - his hair, his gait, his dress sense - and a cracking job of presenting Peter as the jolly bear of a man, winking, grinning and bright. Exactly the sort of adult you'd feel warm and fuzzy around, especially if they began to confide in you... Less so, perhaps, if they got too close to you in a bathing costume, but then Olivier is already used to such intimacy. What follows is conveyed by both creators with immaculate timing and tone so that you really understand Ollie's dilemma as Peter starts talking about being unable to sleep, how the best cure is to have your tummy rubbed at night, and it's better if they match - if they don't have clashing bathing suits like the trunks and Speedos the kids are wearing in the water - by being naked.
"I think again about Bert and Christine, about my parents, about the guest who was showering at our home. Come on, it's cool being naked."
But you can tell by his expression he is deeply unhappy about it. The next panel substitutes Peter's face for that of a cat - a devil-red cat - and the next one shows Ollie, shoulders sagging, as a blue-faced mouse.
"All afternoon long, I'm anxious. I tell myself I should have gone swimming with the others, that way Peter wouldn't have come and asked me to massage him. I wonder how to get out of it and I can't find any way... I can't tell him. I can't tell him that I have to do something that's bothering me. And that I can't run away."
The excuse he finds is that he's knackered from the bike ride, but when Peter offers to let him ride back on the bus he then feels indebted, and so cornered.
I don't know if it's a cop-out for me to leave it there, but I'm going to anyway. The evening lasts a dozen or so awful, virtually pitch-black pages after which Ka charts the rest of his life up to age thirty-four, which isn't all the obvious, self-destructive mess you'd expect until it erupts in church at a friend's wedding service with all the supposedly trustworthy trappings that go with it. I don't feel up to judging any flaws this may have but I don't think the coloured photography towards the end is one of them: it impresses on you that the journey Ka and Alfred take together is as real as everything that has gone before. In a way, it's surreal. They go back to Happy River, and everything is exactly as Ka, aged thirty-five, remembers it. Well, almost everything.