Page 45 Review by Stephen
In which Brookes reprises both THE BLACK PROJECT and A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES, neither of which you need read before these deeply satisfying self-contained stories, each delirious in its own different way.
On the other hand, if you have already relished either of those graphic novels then you are in for two wildly witty departures / re-treatments, building on what's gone before, so let's call them "sequels of sorts".
I'm far from surprised because Brookes does love to experiment, not just with style and presentation, but with the very media he employs to produce them. Eschewing both digital art and pen on paper, Gareth has a penchant for selecting the least obvious and seemingly most difficult but fascinatingly physical means of construction, each apposite to what's going down.
"There are things I leave out of course, because I don't want the trouble to start again."
Very wise, Richard, very wise. First dates can be a tentative minefield, can't they?
THE BLACK PROJECT (which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month) featured scratchboard panels within often elaborate cloth-embroidered frames. Why cloth-embroidered? Well, teenage Richard was stitching his girlfriends. Not stitched them up, but stitching them together. He was creating them from bits and bobs which he found lying around. And then he, ummm, you know... courted them? Wooed them...? Made love to them...?
It was a black comedy, yes.
Now Richard has grown up, found gainful employment, and he thinks he has a better handle on life. Actually, I think he does. He's kind and considerate, and has certainly a lot lovelier outlook than his boss's and his boss's best mate's. These are two leering, lager-lout lads of a certain hair-receding age whom he works with, along with his dearest Denise whom Richard has been in love with for four years. She's presented on the page as a radiant if scowling and quite haggard Madonna; or, on another page, as Medusa. Still, eye of the beholder and each to their own, right? I admire everyone who sees beneath the surface.
Anyway, they all invite a very reluctant Richard out for birthday drinks. He was right to be reluctant on so many levels, but I'm going to leave that for you to discover yourselves. Let us just say that there are developments. There are multiple developments.
Compared to the original, we're given a little more colour in the green, blue and tangerine stitching on dowdy beige hessian fabric, while the quite hideous, nightmare-co-worker cast, rendered in block black-and-white, glow with a seam of unsettling, vampiric red, slightly off-set as if you're looking at 3-D pages without the glasses... or as if you've been drugged.
The self-contained "sequel of sorts" to A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES is in some ways even cleverer, for in the original, rubbed out on the page in wax crayon, elderly couple Fred and Myriam were living out their quiet, retirement in tranquil suburbia. Fred was and remains profoundly stick-in-the-mud, constantly complaining conservative whereas Myriam's life seemed far more colourful if alarming, beset as it was with the most vivid and elaborate hallucinations brought on not by a thankfully rare but very real vision impairment called Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Now Myriam is seeing things for what they really are - tanks in the tree-lined street, bludgeoning the neighbourhood to bits - whereas Fred's in a world of his own, deliberately filtering reality through a virtual, rose-tinted one: a headset which you can tweak to your heart's desire. Fred's heart's desire is to be reassured / placated / sedated by the increasingly reactionary, culpably oblivious BBC News embodied here by Fiona Bruce. They both see bombshells, but very different ones.
When Fred is finally persuaded to take a break from virtual reality he still "sees" what he's been taught to by our manipulative media:
"Ah, oh dear. What a mess.
"But I'm sure the authorities have it all in hand.
"Must stop terrorism, Myriam."
There's nothing like a patriotic Royal Jubilee or Wedding street-party celebration for lifting the embattled spirits, is there? It's all about the art of distraction.
Meanwhile, whoops, there goes the neighbourhood - quite literally! - along with this politically apathetic and morally bankrupt, blinkered, blinded, heads-in-the-sand, self-centred and so sad excuse for a country.