Page 45 Review by Stephen
Families, it doesn't get much better than this!
Andi Watson is a true British Treasure.
We're talking Alan Bennett, David Attenborough, Posy Simmonds and Raymond Briggs.
Highly regarded by his comicbook peers, ask diverse British creators from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE's Jamie McKelvie or Kieron Gillen to THEY'RE NOT LIKE US artist Simon Gane whose Mediterranean landscapes are as assuaging on the eyes as dear old Optrex, and you will find Andi Watson sharing much-cherished space at the top of their lists.
What we have here is a mammoth collection of all four GLISTER comics reproduced at twice the size of the Walker originals which allows the art to breathe properly and your children's eyes will, I promise, shine like marbles at the wonder within.
I'm going to cheat now, for this is what I wrote when each first appeared, edited to remove repetition and inject a little later-learned insight or afterthought.
The Haunted Teapot and The House Hunt:
Printed in puce then aquatic blue inks, these two are an all-ages joy!
It's like splashing about in a puddle or a fountain: gleeful, playful and ever so refreshing.
"Strange things happen around Glister Butterworth.
"Perhaps it's because she gets out of the wrong side of the bed.
"Or perhaps it's because the clocks struck thirteen when she was born.
"Occasionally the strange things begin with a knock at the door..."
Such a simple set-up announced with economy and eloquence like Oliver Postgate's 'Bagpuss' or 'The Clangers', with an execution similarly liberated from the strict laws of reality but in a perfectly credible and individualistically realised, charming world of its own.
Magically, however, unlike the opening sequences of 'Bagpuss' etc, each introduction is a variation on the original theme and can go off on quite spectacular tangents, depending on the mood of Glister herself or the wobbly-towered, cobbled-together cottage-come-mansion she lives in.
Possibly it's rural England in the 1950s, but it's one where there may be trolls extracting tolls under bridges or your house might take umbrage at being described as a little rickety and go off in a huff, leaving you homeless on the village green.
That's exactly what happens in 'The House Hunt' after snobbish Mr. Swarkstone pays an official and officious visit to Chillblain Hall in order to see if it's up to inspection-scratch after their village is entered into rustic beauty pageant. Glister gives him a guided tour, but experiencing Chillblain Hall is akin to visiting the Addams Family: disconcerting to say the least.
"The best thing that could happen is for this ramshackle lean-to be shipped brick by brick across the Atlantic and pieced back together in some Texas rancher's theme park. Good morning to you."
Unfortunately their home overheard him.
Oh, Glister tries to cheer it up, really she does, because she loves its creaky, dilapidated, warped-wall ways!
"Doesn't the tower look handsome in this light, Dad?"
"The what?" says her Dad, camera pointing in the opposite direction. "Yes, the tower, splendid feature."
You know what it's like, though, when you've been told that you're an embarrassment. It's not very nice, is it?
"But the doubt had already seeped into the hall's timbers like a cold in an old man's bones on a winter's night. Roof tiles fell more frequently than ever. The wood panelling groaned excessively in the small hours."
Then, later that day, it was gone.
Before that, in 'the Haunted Teapot' our Glister receives an anonymous package containing an old china teapot, and I know you should seldom look a gift horse in the mouth but the Trojans would tell you otherwise.
Here too the seemingly innocent gift harbours a presence of its own: the ghost of an author who claims that his works have fallen from grace, and needs the young lady to transcribe the novel which he left unfinished. Glister gamely agrees at first ("Will it take long? We're having boiled eggs for tea."), but finds that the work is not only interminable, but positively Dickensian in its suffering. She offers more compassionate alternatives:
"Can't there be a kindly landlord at the local tavern whose wife takes pity on Albert and saves him a piece of game pie?"
"Splendid idea! Albert suffers from food poisoning."
"An indulgent grandfather returns to care for him?"
"Capital! Grandfather sunk in a typhoon on the way home from India."
The writer's really quite obdurate in his calamity-coloured ways.
Glister lives with her dressing-gowned Dad, by the way, whose pipe blows bubbles and whose silver hair is in permanent disarray - a bit like their adorable home. Like most of the early interiors, it's viewed through the curves of a fish-eye lens, for the art too has been liberated here. Andi rarely plumps for more than four or five panels a page, often merely one or two, giving him space to relax and gently sweep his hand across the paper.
FYI: as he showed us at the first pub meeting of Page 45's Comicbook Of The Month Club (Watson's woefully out of print and so off-our-system LITTLE STAR was our inaugural selection), to enhance the organic nature and sense of space on the page, Andi first writes the script out on separate pieces of paper, and moves them around the page before even beginning to pencil the final image. The script is then dropped back onto the page once it's completed. Ta-da!
The Faerie Host:
"What's the most important rule of Fairieland?"
"Don't go there."
"What are the three other rules of Faerieland?"
"Don't eat anything. Don't drink anything. Don't touch anyone."
"They can be good neighbours and they can be bad neighbours, but they're the best neighbours when they're left alone."
The best and bravest GLISTER book so far, this delves into the history of our young heroine's missing mother, broaching the pain of separation and loss.
For years now Glister has lived virtually alone with her father in Chilblain Hall but when its boundaries change so that its new neighbours are Faerie Folk, Glister starts receiving messages from her mother in the mirror. Is this really her mother or the cruellest, most wicked practical joke in the world?
When they unearth a crude stick figure with a lock of her mother's hair attached, buried in a newly manifested grave, against her better judgement Glister cannot help but follow its instructions (just in case) to cross the carefully demarcated boundary to the land of the Fey in pursuit of the truth. But will she be able to resist all the other temptations therein?
It turns into quite the adventure.
Please don't expect Andi to insult those who've lost parents by presenting a glib, happily ever after ending. Instead he comes up with a scenario far more subtle and magical to bring a certain comfort, with a lovely little epilogue to boot.
As ever there's the added value of an activity - in this case bake your own wizened Faerie head which you can then eat if your stomach's up to it - and the language is far from simplistic, evoking a truly repugnant stench in the heart of the Faerie King's court:
"The floor was a slippy carpet of rotten fruit, the air as thick as curdled milk with the stink of withering and dust."
New word: "widdershins".
The Family Tree:
Anarchy erupts round the grounds of Chilblain Hall, the semi-sentient, shape-shifting mansion that has been the ancestral home of the Butterworths for many generations.
It's seen better days. In fact when it's in a particularly despondent mood, it just lets itself go like a sulky teenager, making its maintenance a full-time occupation for Glister's Dad. It does, however, have a lot of history and it's that which causes the kerfuffle when Glister gets it into her head that they really should have more family around in spite of her Dad's informed and prescient warning:
"Those idyllic family dinners you're imagining never happened. At least, when they did, they never reached pudding without a row or some disaster."
Unfortunately Glister has been sticking her baby teeth into the Family Tree - an actual ancient oak! - swapping the bounty of the Tooth Fairy for a single potent wish: that one day the Family Tree would bloom again. And so it does, bearing fruit in the form of her ancestors who fall to earth with a <thunk> and then proceed to cause chaos.
There's Eliza and her flock of ravenous bunnies, American Scotty and his guitar of discord, an aloof butler, a pair of brothers still congenitally at odds ever since the English Civil War, an etymologist and
Charles. Charles whom Glister cannot account for in the family's ancient records at all.
In every GLISTER book there are things to make or bake, in this case the Butterworth Brothers' cannon. Yes, that's how riotous the tall tale grows! All of them have been reprinted in this 300-page collection along with puzzles, games and - best of the best! - an Andi Watson art lesson which comes with the reassurance for young ones that even Mr. Watson's drawings go wonky sometimes!
But what I really appreciate, apart from the immaculate cartooning with its gnarled trees, organic architecture, tufted hair and anything-can-happen exuberance, is that the language is far from patronising with a vocabulary which will stretch young readers and so lead them to learn: words like 'dyspeptic', 'dissonant', 'atonal' and 'philately'.
Also there are many moments of parenthetical, throwaway wit as when the new crowd stumbles upon one of Chilblain Hall's many unusual features:
"It's the Abyss, whatever you do, don't look into it."