Couch Tag

By Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-676-8

In modern trend for graphic novels combining autobiography with a touch of therapy as they recount the lives of their authors is well established now, but once such “tragicomics” were a scarce but inviting commodity. Immensely appealing and frequently painfully unforgettable, they prove our medium fully capable of tackling the most contentious issues. One of the most moving and impressive came from veteran Indie cartoonist and mini comics self-publisher Jessie (Dreamtoons; Ten Thousand Things to Do; Lovf: An Illustrated Vision Quest of a Man Losing His Mind) Reklaw: who’s generated unmissable thought-provoking strips and stories since 1995 when he was working towards his doctorate in Artificial Intelligence.

Born in Berkley, California in 1971, he grew up in Sacramento before attending UC Santa Cruz and Yale, and his earliest publications – just like most of his modern output – delved into the phenomena and imagery of dreams. The experimental Concave Up led to syndicated weekly strip dream-diary Slow Wave, which uses readers’ contributions as the basis of the episodes. It ran from 1995 to 2012 in both printed periodicals and as a webcomic and is sorely missed.

His graphic autobiography is just as beguiling: a life reduced to brief vignettes serially grouped into 5 innocuous-seeming chapters which, through cleverly layered and carefully tailored reminiscences, describe Recklaw’s strangely unconventional (if not actually dysfunctional) family and personal struggle for stability.

Primarily crafted in monochrome wash, the history sessions begin with ‘Thirteen Cats of My Childhood’ – which older readers will recognises from Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Comics 2006, where it was also published – wherein succinct and ferociously functional recollections of a succession of ill-starred family pets serves as a splendid and powerfully effective narrative conceit to introduce the far from ordinary Walker clan.

By following the brief lives of ‘Black Star’, ‘Frosty’, ‘The Triplets’, ‘Mischief’, ‘Figgy Pudding’, ‘Gene’, ‘Survivor’,‘Tiger’, ‘Boots’ and ‘Harry’, we see a family of decidedly alternative outlook whilst also relating the rules of the furniture-based children’s game which gives this book its title.

‘A Note About Names Part One’ follows, revealing more about the sensibilities of the author’s parents, after which ‘Toys I Loved’ continues the amazingly instructive anecdotes about formative influences, as games and playthings act as keys to memory in increasingly unsettling, discordant and disturbing tales beginning in infancy with cuddly toy ‘Ruff-Ruff’ and skipping through a childhood dotted with sibling rivalries and sporadic best-friendships.

Jess, Sis, Mom and “Daddy Bill” are all defined courtesy of ‘The Mask’, ‘Me’s’, ‘Blankie’, ‘Sprinkler’, ‘Play-Doh’, ‘Stretch Armstrong’, ‘Six-Million-Dollar Man’, ‘The Hulk’, ‘Firecrackers’, ‘Green Cup’, ‘Diecast Robots’, ‘Drawers’, ‘Comic Books’, ‘Action Figures’, ‘Dirt Pile’, ‘Doll House’ and ‘Barbies’, before the life-changing advent of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

‘The Fred Robinson Story’ details the potentially obsessive nature of teenage pranks with Jess and like-minded buddy Brendan – over a number of years – bombarding a complete stranger with a barrage of creative celebration; turning a random name in a phone book into the recipient of odd gifts and star of music and handmade comic books in ‘The Box’.

The lads develop their musical tendencies in ‘Los Angeles’ and penchant for creative vandalism in ‘Batsigns’, before returning to their lengthy cartooning crusade in ‘Fred Robinson X-ing’: relating how the prank publishing campaign mushroomed and Brendan’s girlfriend Kristin changes the status quo, after which Jess gets a ‘Letter from Norway’ and‘Better Fred’ reveals how things eventually ended…

‘The Stacked Deck’ recounts educational episodes and memorable moments resulting from the entire extended family’s passion for card games and tendency towards compulsive behaviour, as seen in ‘War’, ‘Go Fish’, ‘Spades’, ‘Pinochle’,‘Crazy Eights’, ‘Speed’, ‘Poker’, ‘31’, ‘Rummy’, ‘Solitaire’, ‘Spite & Malice’ and ‘Ascension’

Final chapter ‘Lessoned’ is delivered in a succession of distressed colour-segments: raw and disturbing pages of evocative collage and experimental narrative dealing out a unique tarot set of A-to-Z insights and disclosures, beginning with ‘Adults’, ‘Birth’ and ‘the Crash’.

Ranging between early days and contemporary times, the alphabetical summary and keen self-diagnosis continues with ‘Disease’, ‘Earache’, ‘Family’, ‘Gifted’, ‘Humor’ and ‘Invulnerability’, turning a corner towards understanding with ‘Joint’, ‘Kiersey Test’, ‘Legal Guardian’, ‘Melancholic’, ‘Number’ and ‘Obsession’.

After cleverly addressing the revelations of the author’s bipolar mood disorder and explosive determination to take control of his life by rejecting sickness and weakness, ‘Phlegmatic’, ‘Question’, ‘Role-Playing’, ‘Sanguine’, ‘Tests’ and ‘Unconscious’ carry the account to a new normal with ‘the Vandal’, ‘Walker’, ‘X-Mas’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Zero’.

Bleak yet uplifting, nostalgic and distressing, harsh and blackly funny, Couch Tag is a devastatingly moving account of coping with adverse heredity, sexual deviancy, social nonconformity and familial discord which I suspect could only be told in comics.

This is not a book everyone can like, but it’s definitely a story to resonate with anyone who has felt alone, odd or different.

And surely that’s all of us at some time…
© 2013 Jesse Reklaw. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

By Fermín Solís, translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-84-4 (PB)

The places and moments where great art intersects with mundane reality have always made for great storytelling, and that’s never been more deftly demonstrated than in this highly personal interpretation of a crucial moment in the history of 20th century cinema.

Luis Buñuel Portholés (February 22nd, 1900 – July 29th 1983) was a Spanish filmmaker who renounced his citizenship in favour of Mexico, and his catholic faith in favour of truth: an iconoclastic, moralistic thinker and revolutionary who embraced surrealist doctrine and reshaped the arts of filmmaking.

If you have the stomach and suitable respect for the medium, please view Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or and That Obscure Object of Desire – if not all of his heady output – but probably best leave it until after reading this engaging visual introspection from award-winning cartoonist Fermín Solís Campos.

The self-taught cartoonist, animator and illustrator of such treats as Otra Vida and El Hombre del Perrito shares many similarities with his subject and a solid yet whimsical earthy touch that is perfect for this examination of a key moment in the celluloid auteur’s rocky progression from wunderkind to industry lynchpin.

‘Do Not Disturb! Artist Dreaming’ opens with Buñuel wracked by his usual night terrors of barnyard fowl, Christian iconography and talking wildlife before an old friend calls to inform him of a cash windfall. It’s the end of 1932 and old comrade Ramón Acin trails him through the seedy warrens of the city, carousing and pontificating on past glories before deducing ‘Paris no Longer Loves Us’. Are there no challenges left? Is surrealism no longer enough to challenge the world and outrage society?

‘Ten Hours from Paris’ and months later, they and a small crew are assessing one of the most poverty-stricken regions of Europe. A Spanish region wedded to faith but so poor that the residents have no conception of even basic foodstuffs like bread. As the bizarre villagers and their weird tortoise-like huts bore into Buñuel’s fevered subconsciousness, his creative dry spell vanishes. Inspired again, he carefully concocts Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread) contravening all established rules and mores to create a new genre beyond simple documentary. Alternatively called ethnofiction, pseudo-documentary or cinema verité, its cost to veracity, human compassion and even simple morality might be too much to bear…

Challenging, compelling and utterly absorbing, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a superb graphic assessment of the creative process that will surprise and delight in equal measure
© 2008, 2019 Fermín Solís. © 2019 Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, S.A.U. All rights reserved.

The Stringer

By Ted Rall & Pablo Callejo (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-272-4 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-273-1

How many times have you heard it? “Print is dead”, “there’s no money in news” and other crass judgements solving a thorny problem by simply dismissing and diminishing it.

Thankfully folk like Ted Rall don’t always accept what they’re told in the way they’re meant to and have the ability to counterpunch with counterpoints…

Frederick Theodore Rall III was born in 1963, so he’s grown up with the gradual defanging and commercial contamination of journalism in an era of increased distrust of democracy and unchecked political malfeasance. A figure of constant controversy, he works widely as an editorial cartoonist, columnist and author of such books as Waking Up in America, The Year of Loving Dangerously, Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America, To Afghanistan and Back and many more.

Equally adept with outrageous but well-reasoned fantasy as compelling non-fiction, Rall has reunited with Pablo Callejo (Bluesman, The Castaways, The Year of Loving Dangerously) for a frighteningly convincing extrapolation of the way things are, that is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in the last decade.

Mark Scribner is a highly experienced, world-weary investigative journalist who has also grown old in the above-cited decades. A veteran observer of conflicts, police actions, interventions and wars, with contacts from every stratum of all those zones and scenes and bars. He literally knows everyone in the global conflict game while viewing the advance of citizen reportage and click-bait editorialising with increasing despair.

However, when a crisis of conscience finally comes in a crisis barely making headlines anywhere, Scribner – always somehow in the right place at the right time – makes a bold new decision and picks a path far less, if indeed ever, travelled…

However, although his new lifepath carries incredible rewards as well as danger, Scribner is still tied to his old self and the values that elevate or destroy all humans alike, and his successes carry seeds of awful destruction…

Gripping, smart and scarily plausible, this potent dose of realpolitik is a supremely engaging yarn no news junkie or comics addict can afford to miss. Maybe you can’t handle the truth, but you should definitely handle this…
© 2021 Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Stringer is scheduled for physical release in the UK on May 25th 2021, with digital editions available now. For more information and other great reads please see

All the Places in Between

By John Cei Douglas (Liminal 11)
ISBN: 978-1-912634-23-1 (PB)

We’re all been locked up in our own heads as much as in our homes recently, constantly in search of solutions to ease anxiety, however we can. Here then – in timely fashion and most serendipitously – is a sublime gem in the conceptual mould of Tove Janson, laced with oblique yet helpful ruminations on healing mindfulness and enjoyed as a voyage of genuine inner discovery.

Not only is the message calming and helpful – and delivered in beguiling imagery guaranteed to restore your weary disposition – but it also guarantees a solidly entertaining mystery journey helping to moderate your hunger for physical travel and fresh experience.

Crafted in dreamy, silent passages, All the Places in Between follows a pensive girl by a barren seashore as she fretfully, nervously but determinedly passes from ‘All the places we’ve been’ to ‘All the places we’re going’

On the way she meets her exact opposite and is cast ‘adrift’: occupying ‘the lighthouse’ before finding civilisation drowned and devastated. Time drags ‘between’ before isolation draws her to ‘the city’ where she finds ‘a companion’ to care for. Eventually that temporary relationship sunders, ‘buried’ in the wreckage of the world and dwarfed by insurmountable chasms and a ‘tsunami’ that brings resolution of sorts as ‘the lighthouse returns’, prompting a revelatory resolution in ‘space’

Not a book to summarise, but definitely one to look at and wonder, John Cei Douglas’ oneiric ramble is a calming and enticing trip we can all benefit and draw comfort from.

Filled with delightful human moments.
© 2020 John Cei Douglas. All rights reserved.

All the Places in Between is scheduled for release on April 29th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Haru’s Curse

By Asuka Konishi translated by Hannah Airriess (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1949980264 (Tankōbon PB)

Manga has an unfair reputation for being lightweight and genre-centric in the west, but if that’s true in any way it’s more an artefact of what we’ve seen translated into English rather that an inherent aspect of the form. Here’s a deceptively dark and subtly off-kilter example of my point from Asuka Konishi, who’s most successful offering to date is gangster romance Raise wa Tanin ga li.

Like that remarkable thriller, Haru’s Curse (which first saw life as Haru no Noroi 1 and 2 in Gekkan Komikko Zero Samu from Ichijinsha, Inc.) also examines the Japanese tradition of arranged marriage, but this time in purely emotional terms as it outlines a potent romantic triangle fuelled by filial devotion and societal expectation.

And pressure. Lots and lots of self-imposed, guilt-tinged pressure…

A comedically mature romance with sharp edges and dangerous corners, the relationship blossoms in seasonally-themed chapters which begin with ‘Spring is gone’ as boisterous, overactive underachiever Natsumi Tachibana reels in grief following the death of her beloved younger sister Haru. The shattering sense of loss over her meek, mild eternal soulmate is peppered with anger and shame when she attends the funeral rites and meets again the stiff-necked, stand-offish rich boy her little Haru was forced to become engaged to, but whom she grew to adore…

Although now just an ordinary middleclass family – apart from having a status-diminishing stepmother thanks to father’s scandalous divorce – the Tachibana’s are of a proud and ancient lineage. So, when the matriarch of a spectacular rich banking family wanted a wife for her heir, she didn’t much care which daughter her son Togo Hiragi picked.

Natsumi was just happy it wasn’t her, and quite baffled at the genuine affection Haru felt. However, after Haru’s debilitating disease and tragic demise, the pressure was on again to honour the contract…

A distant and reserved discussion with the emotionless golden boy results in a bizarre devil’s bargain. Togo seems as reluctant to pursue matrimony as she is, but family duty compels them both, and Natsumi is consumed with curiosity as to what her sister ever saw in the big oaf. She accepts the situation on condition that he takes her to every place and re-enacts every date he had with Haru. At least this way, the sisters can be together again, after a fashion…

The campaign begins in ‘July’ and carries on into ‘August’ with all concerned going through the very painful motions, but gradually dislike and shame (Natsumi feels cursed and dreads public scorn for betraying her sister’s memory and “cheating” on her with her fiancé) turns to neutrality and grudging interest.

Events take a surprising twist in ‘September (Parts One and Two)’ after Natsumi finds Haru’s online diary and is forced to make radical changes to her own flighty lifestyle and assessment of her devoted departed…

Small, apparently incidental developments finally bring Togo out of his defensive shell, and by the time ‘November (Part One and Two)’ rolls round a major familial earthquake is set to upset everybody and redefine the future of all concerned in ‘and winter will come’

The secrets of the changes of stance are explored at the end via a brace of sidebar vignettes. ‘Bonus comic 1 and 2’ reveal how small incidental moments can spark big responses…

At heart a very mature modern romance, Haru’s Curse is a splendid example of how very alike we all are, and how social mores aren’t worth a damn when we’re truly honest with ourselves…
© 2016, 2017 Asuka Nonishi. All rights reserved.

The Black Project

By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-908434-20-3 (PB)

As I eagerly await Gareth Brookes’ imminent latest release, let’s look at his first award-winning work: one that set the scene not just for his trademark versatility of style and artistic weapons of choice, but also the uniquely skewed mindset that finds the extraordinary in everyday life and those weird things called people…

Brookes is a capital-A artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who learned his craft(s) at the Royal College of Art and who has subsequently appeared in ArtReview; Kus; The British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition and numerous classrooms and lecture theatres as inspirational teacher.

He began literally crafting comics in 2015 with an astounding, disturbing and hilarious epic entitled The Black Project. In essence it’s a paean to uncomfortable, outsider British youth: the ones shunned and ignored by those who overachieve in class, look like gods on the sports field and have great hair and no trouble talking to girls or the right boys. If you’re old enough, try humming “David Watts” (either The Kinks or The Jam versions) while reading this and you won’t go far wrong…

It’s the 1990’s and schoolboy Richard is at that difficult age. Status, social pressure, shifting relationships are all acting on a bizarrely changing body, but at least he’s not overly worried about proving his burgeoning manhood. According to him, getting a prestige-enhancing girlfriend is simple. All you need is time, peace and quiet and the right components…

Sadly, once Richard has completed his amatory endeavours, there’s the small matter of keeping her secret from his few – rather unpleasant – friends, assorted adults in his family circle, teachers and overly-fussing mother. He may not be able to express why, but the clever lad instinctively knows nobody will understand what he’s done, or why…

Inevitably, disaster strikes and “Laura” is lost to him, but Richard is not daunted. He simply adjusts, regroups and starts the laborious creative process again. And again and…

Darkly hilarious and outrageously clever, powerfully mired in the minutiae of English suburban nostalgia and peppered with twisty subplots and red herrings, The Black Project is rendered with mastery in stark monochrome imagery, generated by deftly-chiselled lino cuts and pieces of painstakingly-sewn embroidery. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and equally unique in terms of narrative.

Supplemented by a revelatory Q&A Afterword delving deep into the methodology and inspiration for the book, this is a graphic triumph no fan of the medium or lover of dark fiction should be without.
© Gareth Brookes 2013. All rights reserved.

No Country

By Patrice Aggs & Joe Brady (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-183-3 (PB)

This is the scariest book I’ve read in decades.

That’s an odd thing to say about a collection of strips from a wholesome children’s comic like The Phoenix, but true nonetheless, so I’ll qualify that statement by adding that it’s beautifully illustrated by Patrice Aggs with a complete absence of gore, supernatural terror or zombies of any kind, casting its chilling pall thanks to a subtle, understated script by Joe Brady, who convincingly speculates on the current global and national political situation…

Just imagine a Britain where the Prime Minister ignores the law, suspends Parliament and rules by ministerial fiat. Consider curfews and lockdowns, shortages in the shops and direct monitoring and control of what teachers can say and do. Further ponder on what happens when strident, impassioned protestors organise into militant groups and start systematically and violently resisting daily interventions and oppressions doled out by an ever more heavy-handed police force and too-readily deployed army…

No Country is set in Britain and follows middle schooler Bea, her little brother Dom and frequently bossy older sister Hannah as they daily adapt to a draconian new reality. Their dad used to work as a local councillor, but now looks after the kids and spends his downtime in quiet secret meetings with other adults with worried faces…

Mum has been gone for a while now, but still talks to them via the internet whenever there’s enough electricity. She’s in another country somewhere, trying to get exit visas and paperwork so the family can be reunited… somewhere safe.

Daily tensions ratchet up when the long-declared Martial Law edict is shockingly enforced by new army divisions who occupy the town and “requisition” everything not nailed down. Hannah just got her first boyfriend and is acting really weird, especially after he reveals he’s part of the patriotic rebel front called the Free Kingdom – the other side in a rapidly escalating, ideologically fanatical civil war, ripping sedate stuffy Britain apart.

As hunger grows, home raids and “searches” intensify and friends and teachers start disappearing, Mum finally contacts them that the documents are ready and the family must act immediately. Tragically, not everyone is there to get the message but there’s no time to wait. This is the moment to run…

To Be Continued…

A superb and gripping exploration of the refugee crisis with the comfy, cosy UK all-too-convincingly substituting for Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar (please feel free to look up why I chose those countries). This is a brilliant introduction to real world problems any kid can grasp and be moved by, in exactly the same way books like Animal Farm, A Kestrel for a Knave, Ring of Bright Water or Lord of the Flies ushered in a new, transformational understanding for generations of youngsters.
Illustrations © Patrice Aggs 2021. Text © Joe Brady. rights reserved.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

By Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-410-0 (HB)

How does memory work? Are your recollections neatly sorted and filed away: dry, dusty documents effortlessly relating time, place, event and response, or is the act of personal recall mired in apparently extraneous passions and seemingly irrelevant sidebars of emotion, pulling you from the topic far and away before circling back to what originally set you thinking?

Mine’s that last one, and it’s a phenomenon used to devasting effect by Mannie Murphy as they pull together deeply intimate musings on famous – but presumably unrequited – imagined inamorata who endured tragic fates, peppered with youthful school experiences and personal philosophies while powerfully delivering a chilling expose of the proudly racist and white supremacist history of hometown Portland, Oregon.

Rendered as a personal diary with sometimes-impenetrable cursive script married to wash-&-ink images, Murphy details long-distance, strictly hands-off relationships with teen icons River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves (specifically as observed in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho); Kurt Cobain and less well-known or admired personalities: all while deftly dissecting the far-from-savoury development and current state of a region long considered the promised land for Far Right fantasists and dreamers.

Available in hardback or various digital formats, the meandering masterclass opens with ‘My Own Private Portland’setting the scene for a mesmerising journey through the city and state through the lens of damaged, disenfranchised and frequently doomed youth. Second chapter ‘Ken Death is Dead’ expands the discussion detailing the career of a beautiful poster child for Nazi extremism and convicted mass killer, who was just another pawn in a cruel game played by older, nastier Machiavellians, after which the story of Oregon and its awful record of racism, exclusion and mass murder – much of it permitted or committed by a complacent and compliant police force – is covered in ‘Flood’.

A hard-earned, personal view of the educational set-up and its grim consequences is related in ‘Victims of Groupthink’with perspective supplied by further reference to celluloid Lost Boys and their connections to bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other notable outsiders, all cleverly married to distressing accounts of tragedies and disasters that systematically shaped the city and the kids growing up the Oregon way.

The miraculous transport of curated memories then closes with a chilling Epilogue as ‘Young Hatemongers’ revisits the Ken Death trial and media storm around it with revelations that came to light during the later stages of this book’s creation.

Dark, brooding, deeply upsetting while brimming with potent immediacy and rough-hewn passion, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an apparently rambling but carefully steered narrative of seemingly random remembrances that serve as a warning from history and heartfelt plea for people to be better than they are…
© 2021 Mannie Murphy. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Louise Brooks: Detective

By Rick Geary (NBM/Comics/Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-952-6 (HB)

Rick Geary is a unique talent not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his tale-telling methodology. He’s best known for crime examinations via his Treasury of Victorian Murder and Treasury of XXth Century Murder series but also worked for decades as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, National Lampoon, Bizarre Sex, RAW, High Times and elsewhere. He possesses a unique gift for sublimely understated storytelling: stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose moving, often melancholy and always beguiling yarns. He is an international treasure.

Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and true crime literature through those aforementioned forensic reconstructions. He has entertainingly analysed some of the most infamous murder mysteries since policing began, but here marvellously repurposes his eye for historical verity to concoct something new and truly fascinating.

A fixation with mercurial silent movie star Louise Brooks coincides with the recorded historical facts of her fall from global fame and subsequent disappearance into the American heartland. A little casual speculation, a few wry ruminations and this is the result…

In ‘Louise: An Introduction’, Geary précis’ how, for a brief flickering moment in 1927, dancer/actress Louise Brooks was the toast of global cinema: her face known from America to Zanzibar before she inexplicably declined to renew her Paramount Pictures contract, moved to Germany to star in erotic classic Pandora’s Box and began an inexorable decline into obscurity.

She returned to the US in 1930, but parts were hard to find. Returning to club dancing, she married twice and divorced both men by 1940 when, aged 33, she suddenly chucked everything and returned to the family home in Kansas…

Following a triptych of the author’s trademark maps (Central Wichita, the area south east of the city and rural Burden, Kansas in 1941-1942) the cartoon chapter-play begins with ‘Back to Wichita’ as Louise retreats to a fractious, unwelcoming Brooks household and desperately begins hunting for a job. Increasingly, however, she is drawn into the town’s only topic of conversation: the seemingly impossible “locked-room” murder of wealthy widow Edna Leach, which is like something out of a movie…

Louise strikes up an acquaintance with a mousy shop assistant at the music store, but ‘My Friend Helen’ only has two topics of conversation: her never-seen boyfriend Walden Pond and the grisly demise of Mrs. Leach…

After America enters World War II and her latest business venture fails, Louise sets upon a new career path as a writer. Such ‘A Pilgrimage’ is daunting so she seeks out a former New York playwright who has lately taken residence in nearby Burden.

Borrowing her brother’s car, she sets off one morning in June 1942, having first made plans to meet Helen and her elusive beau, but encounters ‘Unforeseen Difficulties’ and stumbles upon a deeply personal tragedy inadequately explained by ‘Helen’s Story’

Finding herself lost in the middle of an actual murder mystery where everything is painfully real and terrifying, the performer soon realises she even has doubts about ‘The Victim’ and reluctantly takes on the unlikely role of ‘Louise Brooks, Detective’

It’s a part she was born to play, but after nearly losing her own life putting together the disparate strands and winkling out the culprit, she says ‘Farewell, Wichita’ and heads back to New York with reinvigorated dreams and her future again filled with untapped potential…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination with the lethal propensities of humanity, Geary’s forensic eye has scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile his irresistibly enthralling documentaries. Happily, all that expertise is soundly utilised for his first major fiction feature and once again he has proved bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

A superbly engaging crime conundrum available in doughty hardback and accessible digital formats, the only thing that could improve this book is a sequel…
© 2015 Rick Geary.

A Thousand Coloured Castles

By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-0-993563-30-0 (HB)

The world is filled with amazing women passing largely unnoticed by the loud, shouty males with their hands on the tillers of history and the media, but seldom the kettle or shopping bags. This amazing tale is broadly based on one of them…

It comes to us from an equally intriguing source. Gareth Brookes is a capital-A Artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who began literally crafting comics in 2015 with his astounding and disturbing epic (and forthcoming review) The Black Project.

With A Thousand Coloured Castles, RCA graduate Brookes sealed a growing reputation for challenging and rewarding graphic narratives of the artisanal kind. Brookes is a deep and slyly humorous thinker with his roots in the Littlest of Englands and a skewed eye to storytelling. This captivating hardback tome was created solely from dark wit and wax crayons, resulting in a truly tactile and absurdly otherworldly viewing experience…

Myriam is in her declining years: married to a set-in-his-ways old know-it-all curmudgeon, as seen in most traditionally happy families and captured on paper by Raymond Briggs and TV sitcoms by Richard Wilson.

Fred spends most of his time complaining about everything, which is why it takes a very long time for him to notice that Myriam’s eyesight is fading. It takes even longer for him to grasp that she’s increasingly subject to wild, abstract and utterly convincing hallucinations: vivid visions and shapes that baffle and bewilder even as they light up her drab, interminable existence.

Of more concern to Fred is the wife’s increasing fascination with the overgrown, unkempt back garden next door. He’s happy to moan about it in private but doesn’t want to engage in potential suburban hostilities with the woman living there.

Myriam, however, keeps seeing a strange bedraggled little boy trapped there, even though everybody knows that’s not possible. All except her toddler grandson Jack, who’s always happy to see things her way…

And thus unfolds a multi-layered observation of social norms and aberrant behaviours, supposition and expectation, declining faculties and domestic evil that is truly magical to behold and impossible to predict.

Despite her condition, Myriam proves that she knows what’s what and what’s right as events spiral to an inevitable conclusion and answers are shockingly forthcoming…

Gentle, genteel and utterly beguiling, this is a masterpiece of British fantasy understatement with a potent underpinning of quietly desperate lives truly lived…
© Gareth Brookes 2017. All rights reserved.