Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"At first only a germ exists, the singularity.
"From this infinitely hot and dense original state, no bigger than a football, the Universe expands.
"An inflation commences. The beginning of Space-time.
"In a split second, the Plasma inflates to a tremendous volume."
Wow. Really, just wow. The first line of the blurb on the back of this 360-page tome reads "Fourteen billion years between two covers" and that is exactly what it is! This first volume of an intended three (!) takes us from the moment of the Big Bang right up to the beginning of the Anthropocene era, when the 'human' age began. Volume two, therefore, BETA... CIVILISATIONS will cover a five million year period from when the hominids first appeared up to the present day, before Jens will allow himself a little speculation (and trust me, he will have earned this indulgence by then) with GAMMA... VISIONS, where he will attempt to visualise various possible futures. As I said, wow.
Before I try to encapsulate the enormity of this undertaking, I'd like to start with the last two pages, which are mostly blank aside from four notes to four very distinct groups of thinkers: the scientist, the faithful believer in God, the purist and errr... the manga lover. Yes, Jens has thought of everything, including a polite little note for those so inclined...
"Should you, out of habit, have opened Alpha from this page you are hereby invited to continue your reading in the direction most familiar to you. You could well examine all the processes and developments illustrated in this book in a completely new way in a visually retrograde motion. It should also be noted that the pages can be considered not only from right to left but consequently, also from bottom to top."
Haha and they say the Germans haven't got a sense of humour! Though actually it was a sentence within the note to the purist that really caught my eye, having completed reading the entire work in the more conventional direction, where Jens states he came up with nothing in this book, "neither factually nor in the drawings."
He has in fact drawn every single panel, but what he means is he has redrawn everything from "Neolithic cave-paintings to Greek mosaics, medieval altar paintings to modern daguerreotypes and advanced space telescope photography to computer-generated 3D images." And a lot more besides. Plus he's eloquently explained the first fourteen billion years of universal history in a manner so clear, so matter of fact, sometimes quite poetic in its simplicity, you'll be entranced from cover to cover. I can't even conceive of how much time has gone into researching this, let alone the illustration. If I had fourteen billion years to do it I don't think it would be enough.
The overall effect of using all these different reference sources, and the continually shuffled order he utilises them in, sometimes putting a medieval altar painting immediately after some space telescope photography, for example, is spectacular. It feels like a gigantic, epic Bayeaux Tapestry assembled by Dadaists (the original monteurs of photomontage). For whilst this is not a collage in the sense of an individual panel, it is in the sense of the work as a whole. There's something rather clever about using pretty much every type of pictorial representation in history to assemble a Universal story of history. But it is the fact he has redrawn everything into a singular style in relatively muted black and white plus one additional (albeit occasionally changing each epoch) colour tone, that renders it so readily comprehensible and digestible to the human eye and brain.
Jens, I applaud you, for you are a comics genius. Yet another example of the astonishing power of our beloved medium to inform and educate so succinctly in comparison to traditional teaching materials. Really, this is a graphic novel that ought to be made available to every single school pupil, because they could learn more in a single sitting reading this than an entire school year of history lessons.