Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Absolutely outrageous! You were definitely cheating! Because I was and you still won."
"Never play cards with an ex-street thief, dear."
It's a beautiful, playful scene: Child who became Lady and who is now Mother, wrapped up all warm and sat on a tarpaulin-lined travelling rug, out in the snow among the shattered remains of the cemetery. Her two immediate children, Ariemma and Victorienne - one adopted, the other almost all that is left of the love of her life - have brought her a picnic of secret provisions and there is finally a brief lull or lacuna for laughter.
There's also Nana, her former lover's mother who provides nourishment and encouragement without fail.
"Steady on. Things aren't that bad, are they?"
"I think... they are. It's all falling down."
Child came from nothing. Lady built so much. But Mother is another proposition altogether.
While resolute in her principal of defence not attack, Mother has surrounded her estate full of sentient Porcelain scientists, craftsmen and guardsmen with a vast, impenetrable wall and built therein - and high into the sky - the most enormous, elaborate tower structure which inevitably casts its imposing shadow over the surrounding city, forever drawing attention to its lofty self-seclusion.
She had no choice: the military wanted to use her Porcelain creations as weapons in their war and would not take "No" for an answer. "No" was her answer anyway, but it cost her dearly. Now she has seen everyone and everything she holds dear assaulted and under siege. She has done things in the interest of expediency which she prays that no one will know.
But it's all coming out now, and it's all coming down.
"Mother? Your order."
"Launch the attack."
I cannot even begin to tell you what a heart-wrenching tide you are in for. I could try, but your jaw will still hit the floor when turning the pages yourself.
PORCELAIN volume II was our biggest-selling graphic novel in 2015, even though it came out in October that year. Its sales eclipsed everything that was published as far back as January, February and March, and at Page 45 even doubled that of its worthy rival: Neil Gaiman's return to SANDMAN with SANDMAN: OVERTURE.
Let's play that again: Neil Gaiman, New York Times best-selling novelist returning to one of DC's biggest perennial sellers, owned by Time Warner with its multi-million-dollar advertising budget. Its sales were, as expected, stratospheric. PORCELAIN is published from a small British farmhouse with an advertising budget of approximately zero.
Essentially steampunk, yet effortlessly levitating over any of those more quirky elements which might make it more niche, PORCELAIN is the story of one woman's trajectory in life from a street-thief who had nothing but bullish friends to a woman who inherited - through assiduous attention and learning - a craftsman's creative genius and then, in his memory, was inspired to set about building her own principled legacy whilst under pressure from society's baser instincts and territorial demands. But that's the funny thing about principles while under restriction and covert or overt attack: you inevitably compromise some, and there was always a dark secret at the heart of their art. Over and again, Mother maintains that if only she'd been left in peace in order to protect, then none of this would have been necessary...
PORCELAIN has also always been about family since volume one when the original Porcelain-maker adopted Child - who had none - as an "Uncle". Now she too has adopted, and both her girls have become teenagers, eager to learn but restless and testing boundaries when the biggest boundary of all is that impenetrable wall, outside of which they aren't safe. Nana is part of that family as are her trusted, wealthy advisors, Prosper and his lover Siegfried. But so are Mother's Porcelain for they are not just sentient, they are each of them unique individuals with desires of their own and lives they might lose.
Ah yes, motherhood: it forms a much broader part of this arc than I'm willing to divulge, but here is a key moment when an option to evacuate is offered by the city, under safe passage aboard a fleet of trading vessels en route to the Island States.
"Captain, you speak well, but I will not trust my children in another's hands."
"Great Alchymic, my reputation... my fleet would stand for you, as though my own children. Sail with us away from this coming war. Please."
"... No. We leave in our own fleet one day or not at all. I'm sorry your time was wasted."
"My lady, you must come with us. My future depends on it."
There's not one random word in the Captain's entreaty and, when you read it, watch Chris Wildgoose's body language carefully, then weep.
So we leave wordsmith Benjamin Read to focus on Chris Wildgoose, letter artist Jim Campbell who accentuates the Porcelains' individuality through subtle variations within their speech balloons, and colour artist André May whose seasons, weather fluctuations and times of day are eloquently evoked even indoors. It's a predominantly soft, subtle and complementary palette which May employs so that when the green glows, it does so eerily, ethereally and - in several eye-smacking scenes - as aggressively as if it were red.
As last time, Wildgoose provides nearly a dozen pages of detailed, annotated preparatory work showing just how much thought has gone into each Porcelain's evolving body structure, red-glass armour, robes or uniforms, limb joints and the "almost ivy-like growth to the Rune patterns".
I'll have already slapped you with Chris Wildgoose's monumental aerial shot of the tower structure which may have required a little more effort on Ben Read's part than the similarly striking second page in their brilliant book, BRIAR. But I'd have to ask! It manages to combine, harmoniously, elements of the European and the traditional fairy-tale castle with Persian minarets and futurist buttressing, gangways and even gardens. Once more, hats off to André May in lighting each outcrop up against the city beneath it, distinct yet distanced by haze.
Mother's face is more drawn than Lady's, increasingly so as she wears herself out in The Link. The Link is where Mother can co-opt an individual Porcelain's body momentarily or see through the eyes of all her creations at once - which gives one quite the advantage over any other generals when in command of an army.
The lines are crisp and ridiculously rich in detail, but never stiff, never without humanity especially when it comes to the Porcelain, some of which are slender and others ape-like in posture while Alder, the loyalist of the loyal, has a soft, tender gentleness in spite of his hulking body and massive, heavy hands.
As ever at Page 45 each copy of PORCELAIN comes - initially at least - with an exclusive bookplate signed by Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose for which we are profoundly and eternally grateful, just as we were proud to launch this third volume in our very own Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017, much to the surprise of all including ourselves! I heartily love a last-minute surprise!
They never last long, so please snap them up. While stocks last, etc.
So here we go: once more the military will not take "No" for an answer and once more the adamant answer from Mother remains "No".
The citadel is surrounded on all sides and - with the war over - the army has turned its full attention and all its resources upon Mother, her entourage and their sky-scraping enclave. Please do not think they are stupid. They have stratagems of their own.
Does our commanding ex-street thief having something fresh and unexpected up her sleeve?
She does! Yes, she does!
Oh. I'm very much afraid that she does.