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Molly Mendoza


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I promised I would be brave.
"I did everything Bee taught me.
"I tended to things just as they would have...
"But they still haven't come back."

If this cover of colour swirling and churning in deep slate-blue waters suggests to you that a sensory explosion may lie ahead, then your eyes and imagination have not deceived you. Multiple metamorphoses, here we come!

It conjures memories of playing with plasticine before most of the colours had become so completely merged that the whole was rendered a solid taupe. On the cover bright strains still resonate.

Similarly inside there's a full-page spread with the consistency of slippery wet clay in which Bloom's forehead and big, lost eyes are dispersed in an aqueous shimmer, like cutting clean through that same ball of plasticine - much further down the line towards its inevitable mud-brown composite when communally shared at infant school - with a very sharp knife to reveal its remaining, less vivid veins in cross-section. It's a fluid, silky effect, at any rate.

Adjust your focus, and it's actually Bee rowing away, leaving Bloom all alone on the shore of the lake, the ripples in Bee's wake disquieting Bloom's young mind.

Bloom has been living on the lake, under Bee's protection and tutelage, for as long as Bloom can remember. Their simple, tranquil, shared routine is one of fishing by boat and foraging for root vegetables and eggs. Milk and cheese are a thing of the past; Bee remembers them, but Bloom's never tasted them. It's possible that they might find some in the city across the water but Bee insists that it's not worth the risk.

"It's dangerous that way, and people aren't going to be as nice as you and me.
"When everything comes apart like it did all those years ago... well, your heart can't help but come apart too."

But what once came apart - a battered old radio in their fire-lit camp - has now been fixed and crackles unexpectedly one night into life. It's a desperate mayday message speaking of hunger and fear and it comes with specific coordinates. It's a message which Bee cannot in all good conscience ignore...

The early scenes are rich in comforting warm earth colours, the close bond between the two - one which really should not be broken - borne out by the tenderness with which Bee cups Bloom's head in strong, huge hands, then clasps their charge closer.

Yet separate they must, however reluctantly, as in the beginning of Shaun Tan's THE ARRIVAL, and Bloom's left alone to stand on the smooth-pebbled shore, watching out across the lake, idly skimming stones, day after day, dusk after dawn, until they can take it no more. In absent-minded frustration, Bloom snatches at the neck-strung amulet with which they were solemnly entrusted, and hurls it after the other stones. Aghast in an instant at the terrible mistake, Bloom dives desperately after the prized possession and a new bright red of alarm materialises in the whirlpool depths, fish eyes enlarge impossibly, the amulet is glimpsed, and the pebbles become boulders between which Bloom is lost!

Forms abstract themselves.

Stronger colours coalesce.

Panels within panels emanate ever outwards.

And suddenly we're somewhere else entirely...

It's time to meet Gloopy instead.

Gloopy very much resembles the Addams Family's Cousin It. Only with eyes, nose, mouth, a baseball cap, and legs you can actually see.

"Who are you? Is that some sort of grass camouflage you're wearing?"
"No! This just me."

It's an easy mistake to make.

Gloopy lives in a sunshine-yellow, rolling rural paradise whose shadows are cast in deep purple. There are gigantic mushrooms, vast, gnarled trees with twisted bases, and the occasional redundant wooden fence. The community of artists are approaching the Great Harvest, celebrated by cultivating their finest crops to create a feast in the Garden in honour of the inspirational moon, under the leadership of Capman.

Gloopy's happy to help but finds any unauthorised, individual creative efforts irritably dismissed and, distracted, Gloopy's frustration leads to impetuousness which leads to their whole endeavour going up in smoke.

"It's been days and they still won't talk to me!
"I could make a statue out of grass? But they probably wouldn't like it.
"Or surprise Pip with an aquatic dance? No... Pip hates surprises.
"Maybe offer Oom some mushrooms? But they would never snack on the job.
"The way they all look at me... it's unbearable.
"I wish I could just disappear."

At which point Bloom bursts upwards from out of the flowering grassland, as if diving upwards out of water, still grasping for the amulet ahead!

What follows is a friendship which forms through adversity, but both their friendship and adventure prove as turbulent as the cover and the morphing doorways to different dimensions suggest.

For Bloom and Gloopy are two very different individuals who come from disparate emotional starting points: Gloopy desires above all to escape rejection and leave; Bloom is desperate to return home in order to resume their vigil. It's partly a matter of promise and honour, partly a worry that Bee may have already returned and found Bloom missing.

After disappearing down the next Carrollian rabbit hole, however, neither will have much choice in the matter.

This is a feast of colour combos, so many more than I have to show for you because I want their surprise to take your breath away, just as they took mine. Mendoza uses them to evoke individual emotional states and wider moods, one specific time and place if I'm not much mistaken, temperatures, atmospheres, chaos and confusion, conflict and conflagration and even - when Bloom and Gloopy pop up out of the central hole of a six-side die - pace.

There the previously frantic sequence of fear and flight from a war-torn kingdom, culminating in a free-fall tumble through increasingly wide slashes of angry red through yolk yellow and green immediately followed by a dam-busted spew of battlements and metal-clawed machines.... is halted abruptly by a calm of cool violets.

"I feel like my whole life just poured out of my skull!
"How can you be so relaxed?
"Doesn't anything scare you?"

Gloopy glances away, silently.

Oh, and that specific time and place? The second I saw the spread of sage green, black and red, I was in Nazi Germany - at least Nazi-occupied Europe - during WWII. Black and red constituted the vile swastika, to my mind, sage green the German uniform. I did check with Jonathan; he agreed.

Fear looms large during this graphic novel - there is one thing that does scare Gloopy - but also balance.

Although Gloopy's fearless curiosity to the point of recklessness puts them in danger, it also allows for discoveries and new experiences which would otherwise have been missed. Plus, although Bloom claims to be far from brave, it's so often Bloom's practical skills learned on the lake coupled with a courage which is instinctive that saves both their souls in the nick of time. As an honest, open and caring friend, Gloopy is quick to compliment Bloom by pointing this out. But being told something is very different to believing something and recognising it in yourself, so it's going to take time and some seriously harsh experiences for Bloom to feel and acknowledge a new strength.

Balance is also in evidence when it comes to art. At one point Gloopy, already desirous of creating something individualistic of their own but having their work slapped down by companions, is tempted by a consciousness of pure creativity who has a world of blue wonders to share. But it's come at the cost of a disconnecting from others, and Gloopy's not convinced that is right.

All of which dovetails neatly into the denouement - after many more environments and challenges - which I won't share with you. I'll only confess that Mendoza took me completely by surprise, refreshingly so. I've just redacted two further sentences and put my poker face on.

I've read this through three times now, each time spotting new details in what I'd describe (without any of its negative connotations) as an orgiastic experience of merging and emerging forms and colours which flow as freely upon the page as the story flows through panels. As such you don't really want to stop and stare, but head right on through and then start anew.

Lastly, I've never seen wetter tears, though they won't all be sad ones, I swear.