Page 45 Review by Stephen
"They say that the best things in life are free, but being stuck on a videotape isn't one of them."
We will return to that anon, but I hope it's introduced the requisite element of intrigue.
The finest collection of comics that I have seen since BUILDING STORIES, I rate this right up there with Chris Ware for craft, composition and complexity, but the variety of treatments is staggering, and it messes with the medium - with the very possibilities of sequential-art narrative - like nothing at all that I can recall.
And there are dozens of other contenders, I know, but the Hoeys do it in such depth, over and over again. I recall seeing their 'Anatomy of a Pratfall' in BEST AMERICAN COMICS, curated by Alison Bechdel in 2011 when I wrote, not very clearly so I've rearranged it a little:
"Six silent pages of a single street seen from the same vantage point, each page is divided into 12 separate grey and peach panels within which something significant is happening. After successive disasters strike in a domino effect you'll want to go back and laugh yourself senseless at the window cleaner's seemingly unfinished artistry."
X marks the spot. And isn't a piano always involved?
Time isn't passing between panels in the traditional way, only between pages: the grid is used instead to focus your attention on the individual elements coming catastrophically into play.
'Jingle In July' and 'The Slippery Lobster' work in much the same way, the latter being a maritime cross-lane collision-fest which only the dolphins and storks survive, so after a few of these the opening scenarios become akin to a puzzle, a quiz or a question: an opening tableau inviting you to wonder what on earth will happen next.
Far more mischievous, however, is their most recent iteration and evolution of this game, 'The Windy Parade', in which there is a hell of a lot more going on. It bundles together several separate stories, many of which converge, and some of whose protagonists seem to contravene quite defiantly what we in the west consider to be the rules of reading comics (left-to-right, then down a row with a type-writer "ting!" before proceeding left-to-right once more) but it is just an illusion predicated upon the strength of long-ingrained predisposition... (pause)... apart from the very final tier in which time does indeed pass between panels, as the pigeons tell the last of their cumulatively funny jokes and, ridiculously, one of the parade's human onlookers, oblivious to everything else, gets a good guffaw out of it.
Shall we take an inventory of that six-page story? Two different love affairs, two wallets in diverse jeopardy, two defenestrations, police pursuit, dinner and drinks, a graphic novel first pitched then being pitched out of the window, and a giant, inflatable rabbit being ravished from behind by a blown-up superhero.
If you're a cinephile or into jazz, you'll find this even more up your alley, for the Hoeys too are fixated on both, and are fiercely well informed. They present individual histories and portraits of jazz musicians, but when it comes to the movies they truly triumph. 'The Trials Of Orson Welles' features not Orson Welles himself but half a dozen fictional characters, portrayed by Orson Welles in different films, interacting.
Even more impressive, however, 'The People vs Nicholas Ray' is a meticulously researched snap-shot documentary of the director of 'Rebel Without A Cause'. By cross-referencing Ray's own proclamations with quotes from his peers and protégés like Elia Kazan, François Truggaut and Jim Jarmush, then the films' various stars like estranged wife Gloria Grahame (why were they estranged? oh good grief!) plus Natalie Wood who went up against a vindictive Joan Crawford in 'Johnny Guitar', Peter and Maria form a singularly affecting insight into the director's personal and professional direction.
"'I'm A Stranger Here Myself' was the working title for nearly all my films."
They also have a rich love of rhymes, and this pairing of clichés is artfully arranged on the page with their ever-present and often concentric circles, here spooling film:
"Double talk, forward leaning,
"Writers block, hidden meaning.
"Split screen, close up smile,
"The way you walk the longest mile.
"Eye line, hand in glove,
"Running time, sea of love.
"Two shot cutaway,
"Look here comes that raining day."
When reading it, I cannot get out of my head Billy McKenzie's dead-tone intonation during the Associates' 'Fever In The Shadows' b-side, along with his female co-conspirator. No? Try Grace Jones's dead-pan instead.
"Conspiracies" is a word I underlined three times in my notes, and although I could not begin to match Josh O'Neill's exceptionally eloquent introduction to this album, if I were to characterise this collection further I'd choose words like circles and circuits, connections, reflections, control, contradictions and confrontations; that which lurks so substantially beneath the surface, that which lurks unseen without and beyond, collapse into chaos and that dear old chestnut, mortality.
There are two particularly poignant stories involving the extinction of obsolete automata.
'I Built You First', written by C.P. Freund (a journalist with decidedly recondite interests) is infused with a giddy, M.C. Escher sensibility. In it, one robot, above, repeatedly challenges its suicidal predecessor below and is each time rebutted with an insistent reminder of its precedence. Here on the first page, the challenge is issued upside down from a boat being rowed on the watery ceiling:
"You are wrecked, my dear robot (his old friend said),
"And your sensory data's dispersed!
"What's the shape of the world that you've built in your head?"
Shot the other: "I built you first"."
As to "shot", he's just put a gun to his own head.
Similarly, the last line on the third page, "Snapped the other: "I suspended you first"", is issued as the android breaks its neck by hanging. It's all pretty tight in COIN-OP.
'Valse Mechanique' is a less formal affair except in its dress code which is strictly black tie. A steampunk waltz as if seen on sepia film footage a century ago, it's set in a ballroom full of robots so run down that their time has almost run out. Maria sings her final song to the assembled throng, then sacrifices her head and its constituent cogs so that the others can go on a little longer.
You've heard of cannibalizing a machine for spare parts...?
A couple of strips - when this landscape hardcover is folded out, it is hard to think of them in terms other than strips - the Hoeys present parallel narratives (the inner and outer life) layered in tandem along with the accompanying illustrations.
'The Inter-Office Memo' is where you will first come in, and it is entirely up to you how you read it: one page at a time in full, or each individual thread at a time from start to finish. The first page is surrounded by old-fashioned city skyscrapers (think Seth), while our protagonist strides through the open-office call centre, each of whose operatives being very specific about the numbers involved. Without, you will find another numbered narrative which starts off all concrete (about the workers, the interconnected office space and the building which houses it), but becomes increasingly and insidiously abstract as we move into the shadowy hidden corporate world or shell companies etc:
"25. Their unseen hands guided and shaped a seemingly disparate group of companies to the completion of their singular intention, one that still remains beyond the prying eyes of the outside world, its limits known only to its creators."
The final numbers in the circled narrative are 27, then 3¹, 3² and 3³ - which is 27.
Meanwhile, the city begins to give way to a jungle while the endless corridors become flooded with rising water until a small boat steams by, our protagonist desperately hitches a life-saving lift, only to discover a waterfall ahead...
Please see "if I were to characterise this collection..."
Before you begin this book, you should probably be aware that the original COIN-OP comics are collected in reverse chronological order, culminating in Peter and Maria's collaborations within the pages of the old BLAB! anthology. I mention this now, because I don't want it to be the review's final sentence, which I've already settled upon with a very self-indulgent chortle.
Finally for now, let's return to where we came in with the recurrent, forever hapless, down-and-out dogs, Saltz & Pepz, who have found themselves trapped in a loop on a videotape. More specifically, they've become trapped on one of those two-person handcars you used to see so often in silent black and white films, often involving a chase in which time's running out.
It's called 'Now Available On VHS' and time is indeed running out, for although each time the tape is played they become more self-aware, they're only becoming self-aware because the tape is degrading, and soon it will degrade so far that it snaps.
For the first three pages the top tier of narrative only alternates between two images, Saltz then Pepz pushing down to propel the handcar against a monotonously identical landscape. The endless track is identical in third tier too, obscured only when Saltz's or Pepz's heads pop up on the other's push.
However, the remote appears to be losing control too, and eventually - finally after all this time of being at the mercy of outside forces they have no agency over (they're homeless throughout the stories) - there is a tiny aperture, an opportunity for action.