Review of The Cliff, Book 4: The Heart of Brightness
- by Matthew Brown
The Cliff, Book 4 is a graphic novel with wide appeal on many different levels.
The lively plot is immediately engaging. Mei Mei Castiglione asks private detective Poopsie the Penguin to solve the murder of Carlos Brown. (A prologue reveals Carlos, looking very much like Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame, getting struck down in a single, disastrous “Paw!”) Mei Mei says that the murder of Carlos took place in Varanasi, India. Poopsie travels to the famous holy place, and Mutt Blue (looking very much like author Matthew Brown) appears on the scene. They pursue a rumour that Linux Fan Belt, a former business partner of Carlos Brown’s, may have killed Carlos after hearing that Carlos named his beagle, Snooty, as the beneficiary of his will. And here the adventure begins…during which Mutt Blue learns more than he wants to about his own family history.
Readers will love the wry comments embedded throughout the text. Honky, the pig explains: “I don’t really believe in reincarnation. Most of the people I kill stay dead.”
The meticulously referenced “scholarly” quotations are a hugely entertaining feature of all the Cliff books. Here is one—a delicious parodic mashup of Hollywood crime drama “tough talk” and a life coach’s would-be inspirational message: “ ‘Varanasi is a tough city. Tough on the nose, tough on the bowels, tough on the heart. It incinerates you, then smears your ashes on the forehead of some idol… but nowhere else have I ever felt such love, such clarity, such itchiness.’ - Poopsie the Penguin, Get me the Ice Cream and Shut Up: Secrets to Insecure Management, 346 BCE.”
For me, the greatest source of enjoyment is the beautiful visual art in The Cliff. Matthew Brown’s drawings in black ink are amazing—suggestive to me of the work of Art Nouveau graphic illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley (Salomé and John, 1892; The Climax, 1893; the cover design for The Yellow Book, 1894).
Aubrey Beardsley - from "Salomé"
Most pages in The Cliff Book 4 contain multiple panels, sometimes on the diagonal or in circles. The composition of the pages impacts on the action, and is remarkably diverse from page to page. The images are well-balanced. One page with 12 separate panels places tiles of Mei Mei’s round, big-eyed, white head in strategic opposition to Poopsie’s sleek, black, white-beaked pate.
Other pages contain only a few intricate images. There are wonderful drawings of Mutt Blue having a sleepless night. The images of Varanasi are most evocative and reveal the artist’s study of architectural design. The narrow lanes and high walls, the overhead views of street scenes and the waterfront, and the mansion owned by Linux Fan Belt, could all stand alone, framed and hung in a gallery. There is a full-page, haunting, perspective drawing of Mutt Blue descending outdoor steps between buildings in Varanasi. This is a book to savour over and over again.
April 7, 2015