Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Did you really like the tape?"
"She wants to be in the group."
"I didn't say that."
"Look, we have the guitar, what's the problem?"
"I don't know how to play any instruments. I tried to explain that to Cinderella over here."
"Huh, you think I know how to play this? I'm not even sure what the black buttons are for."
"Okay. I accept that knowing how to play an instrument isn't necessary for a high school punk band, but... there's no one who can understand these lyrics."
"Of course you don't understand them. Laura writes them. Imagine the Bronte sisters giving a talk about a study on the thermonuclear fusion of stars. I think its supermodern."
"I have a gift and I must use it."
Indeed you must, Laura, indeed you must...
It's only upon much reflection, and a third re-read of this dainty ethereal work, at first glance pure stark juxtaposition, yet in fact so deftly immaculately intertwined, that I finally realised just how clever it truly is. The word play is delightful, even when we can't initially possibly grasp how precisely Borja is playing with us, with his seemingly carefree turns of phrase yet actually very purposeful choice of words...
The art too is mesmeric, stretching seamlessly across the gulf of two very different social eras with hints of elements as disparate as Tom DEPARTMENT OF MIND-BLOWING THEORIES Gould and Mike HELLBOY Mignola. It also kept making me think at times of LOVE & ROCKETS but I think that was primarily because of the girl punk band angle and the sense of playful fun that is also woven throughout this work. There's some very interesting and clever use of colour too, and a suitably unusual palette that definitely contributes to the mildly spooky sense of atmosphere gently pervading proceedings.
But how times change and how they don't... as we start by finding ourselves back in 1856 and a girl seemingly out of time, in several senses. For whilst Teresa's family want nothing more than to ensure she's launched successfully onto the debutante circuit, which will of course hopefully lead to a respectable well bred hand in marriage, she's far more interested in writing some pretty off-the-wall avant garde poetry such as "The Ghost Rider."
"The fire velocipede hero! The fire velocipede hero?
"Can you see it beautiful lady?
"It is sparkling like the stars.
"The stars, the stars, the stars, the stars of the k..."
Her mum's a tough audience though...
"Can you tell me what this is about? Is this what you call a poem?"
"It's... I'm not sure yet, mother. I think it is about someone who shines."
"It's less than a month until your debut. Your father and I have everything ready. You know it's important, right?"
So when Teresa bumps into a sad skeleton late at night by the lake (who most definitely isn't Johnny Blaze) she's not remotely scared. In fact, she's more than up for some cultural cross-pollination and simply wants to chat about poetry with this amazing apparition. Shame the skeleton is having a somewhat morose time of it and isn't really in the mood to muse about metre and rhyme.
Meanwhile, Teresa's older sisters Gardenia and Daisy, already lost to society by having firmly established their conforming places in it with their bonnets and frilly dresses, and of course ladylike behaviour at all times, are not remotely sympathetic to Teresa's plight. Younger sister Rose, still possessed of her rampant childish imagination, is as intrigued as she is terrified by Teresa and her tall tales of stygian assignations with fleshless wailers. She's also a total snitch...
As we gently oscillate backwards and forwards temporally between our two sets of protagonists we start to unravel that perhaps Laura and Teresa have far more in common than one might think. Both products of their time, yet wanting to rebel against the constraints that they, as young females, find placed upon them. But perhaps not knowing precisely how to, or indeed just how much they can. There's a question neatly posed of just how much identity is perennially forged by rebellion I suppose, but that's not overly dwelled upon.
For this is an exceptionally well nuanced and delicately balanced work. It's certainly one for the reader to find their own place within as they read it. I hugely admire that talent, to create something which has the potential to engender very different responses in those who engage with it. Plus then to leave people thinking about it long after they have finished... Which is precisely why I picked it up again for a second, and then a third read.
But most of all I absolutely adored the deeply mysterious, almost wilfully amorphous and I am sure deliberately ambiguous feel to it. I desperately felt throughout I wanted an answer as to how these two parallel narratives were connected, whilst suspecting I wasn't going to get that closure. But when we do, of a fashion, it is an immensely satisfying payoff. I didn't suspect at all. Maybe I should have. Perhaps I was just too drawn in and masterfully hypnotised to see it coming. Bravo to Borja for that!
It's also wonderful to see just how expressive a relatively simple art style can be. None of the characters have faces, just blank visages, or are occasionally even simply silhouettes, but there is so much emotion conveyed in the body language of the figures themselves. Thus it's almost like mime or watching marionettes in that respect, and again, I think causes the reader to be invested more deeply emotionally into the characters sense of their identities.
Quite unlike anything else I've read so far this year, it's a timely (that word again...) reminder of the prodigious power of comics to take us away from the present moment into other realms and states entirely. A gift from the very real Borja Gonzalez in this case.