"Stop obsessing over things that aren't going to happen..."
Oh, Blake, how very disappointing and dismissive of you!
During this astutely observed romance Sarah Burgess doesn't once disappoint. Its open elegance almost belies the keen understanding and complexity of what lies and lingers beneath.
Blake Sinclair, however, will prove quite the frustration. Oh, he is pretty and dippy and o'er-brimming with infectious enthusiasm! He's that oh so casual, free-roaming spirit, friend to all and declared enemy of the fake. He's culturally well informed, confident in his opinions, comfortable in his skin and utterly oblivious to cause and effect.
He is, as Adam Ant once sang, "Young, dumb and full of it".
Perfect in pale peach and lemon yellows, the pages here glow like a summer sunrise or a glass of Bellini with the early evening light pouring through it. They are as tangy as a citrus fruit fool with bits of lemon peel left within.
Until the rain hammers down in volume three.
It begins with Blake Sinclair up bright and early and cheerful as anything, prising open the bedroom window to soak up the sunshine and leap barefoot into the day. He's young and dashing in a gangly, tousled-hair kind of a way and, oh, how he loves the ladies! He's just spotted a new one with tufted white hair, up on a balcony, called Blythe. Unfortunately he's also left one behind in that bedroom whose window he's now clambering back through. Daisy is just waking up, punctuating her sweet-smiling words with love hearts.
""So, what are we going to do today?"
What do you mean?"
"I mean, I don't want to do anything with you. You're very attractive, but I never said I liked you."
It's a brilliant Blake and Burgess moment of which there will be many more. Blake may be a little in love with himself ("I just like to sit in front of the mirror sometimes" - talk about self-regarding!) but he doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. He is completely open and honest - by which I mean blunt and careless and inconsiderate. But he never said he liked Daisy and if the night before was anything to go by, why would he want more of the same? Daisy dominated the entire conversation, force-fed YouTube down him all night, got plastered then groped him. It wasn't romantic. It wasn't a date and, to be honest, Daisy's a melodramatic brat.
Ruthie, however, is not. Ruthie is genuine and affectionate and, when she sees Blake call Daisy's friends on their tedious, insincere gossip, she summons the courage to follow him home to discover they share the same building. They also share similar interests and swiftly bond, but Ruthie is tentative and fragile and far from ready for Blake's casual behaviour and his complete inability to communicate when it matters the most...
We've only just touched the tip of the romantic iceberg, as you'd expect with three substantial volumes.
Firstly, Blake's chilled and worldly-wise friend Janey comes to stay for the summer and they haven't seen each other for a year. Initially intimidated by Janey's confidence and misreading Blake's adoration of his friend, Ruthie finds the arrangement difficult. But Janey may be just what she needs to understand Blake. As for Blake, what he probably needs is a dose of his own medicine and you remember I mentioned balcony-borne Blythe? I think he may have finally met his match.
There's so much to celebrate here, for it isn't just about romance but friendship as well. Blythe comes with her own entourage - flatmates Sasha and Gareth - and Burgess understands the initial, wary culture clash of different scenes converging, in this instance punks and indie kids. There are multiple misunderstandings, presumptions and a whiff of judgemental hypocrisy in the tribal pigeonholing. But there are also timely mirrors being held up and the joy of discovering completely new territory and traditions. Book three, for example, may begin back at the same window, this time during a thunderstorm, but it will open onto a completely fresh thrill when Blythe, Gareth and Sasha appear at the door and invite Janey, Ruthie and Blake to a party in the park round a roaring bonfire even though the rain is torrential. Cartoon theme tunes are belted out and new, confidence-boosting bonds are formed between unexpected individuals.
Back in book two, however, Burgess visually nails the isolation and insecurity of feeling lost and lonely at a party where everyone else is jabbering away and gesticulating wildly and you simply don't feel the same connection or enthusiasm. An essay in timidity and uncertainty, on one page Ruthie is hugging herself defensively before glancing awkwardly around. It's followed by a full page on which the revellers are coloured in both background and foreground in a warm glow, whereas poor, pale Ruthie, right in the middle, is surrounded by more space than you'd think possible in a crowd.
There is so much space in all three graphic novels - more space perhaps than in any other comic I've read. The forms are all as lithe as you like, the clothes and bed sheets hanging off them with a perfectly judged weight depending on texture, while quite often the panels are free-floating and borderless.
As to the body language, few can use shoulders as well as Sarah. And here's an interesting thing: instead of orbs for irises, Burgess uses a lot of angled hearts. It's a way of drawing the natural highlight on an eye, but in Sarah's hands it also emphasises both sparkle and affection - especially in Janey - and vulnerability and bewilderment in Ruthie.
Unlike Daisy, Ruthie is far from needy, and I want to give her a great big hug. I want to give Gareth a peck on the cheek, Janey a pat on the back (err, mostly) and Blake a great big slapping for what he does in book two.
There will be drama and laughter, maybe a few tears and an occasional awkward introduction. There will be frank discussions, eruptions of anger and a little lewd behaviour as well. Oh yes, the gossip: I love how the gaggle of friends venting their "tut-tuts" on the very first morning are only partly overheard because half of their sentences are lost outside the word balloons. Same for when Blake walks into a room to find Sasha enthusing about colours. It's clever like that.
Speaking of clever, I refer you to Blake's outburst at the top of this review.
He's not addressing any of the ladies who hanker after his careless heart. He's talking to male punk Sasha who's been in love with Blythe since before Blake ever came onto their scene. I'm afraid that it's unrequited. Sasha knows this, Blake knows this. But the context is that they've been playing an RPG of Blake's choice in Blake's own territory with his own friends, and relative outsider Sasha has been good enough to gamely join in. Blake triumphantly declares he has won and although Sasha protests not unreasonably, Blake bursts out with...
"Look, don't get pent up just because you can't accept that the treasure is mine!"