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Bottomless Belly Button Paperback – June 4, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shaw's stunningly conceived and executed comic opus captures one moment of change in a family. Maggie and David Loony have called their three adult children to their childhood home to announce that, after 40 years of marriage, they're getting a divorce. Dennis, the eldest, desperately searches for an answer to why. He believes that if he just finds the right old letters, he'll understand what's happening to his parents, only to find that his answers say a lot more about his own marriage and infant son. Claire, the middle child, has been through her own divorce and is now struggling to raise a teen daughter by herself. The youngest, Peter, who has always felt like a changeling in his family and is drawn with a frog's head, is going through a delayed coming-of-age. Shaw's style deftly combines cartoon drawings with slavish attention to detail. The result feels reminiscent of a photo album, one person's quest to remember everything from the floor plans of the vacation home to the texture of the sand on the lake beach. Masterfully using the comics medium to juggle all the different characters, weaving their stories together seamlessly, Shaw allows the Loonys' emotions to play out naturally without forced resolutions, leaving a wistful hopefulness that feels just as conflicted and confusing as every family is. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Shaw’s huge new work is, like The Mother’s Mouth (2006), about ordinary love. Its scope is, however, as much broader as its six-times-larger size suggests, while its technique is a lot simpler. It’s the story of what may be the last gathering of the Loony family at their oceanside home—last because, after 40 years, Mom and Dad are divorcing. Despite his wife Aki’s attempted calming, elder son Dennis is freaked and, when not out running or minding baby Alex, pokes into every nook and cranny to find incriminating evidence of either parent’s infidelity. Early wed, long-divorced daughter Claire and her daughter, 16-year-old Jill, are accepting and separately get away from the house for some unsatisfactory “social” life. The younger son, aspiring filmmaker Peter, hovers in the background and, mirabile dictu, meets a girl at the beach who actually likes him, as the single panel representing her perspective, in which Shaw draws Peter with a young man’s instead of a frog’s face, confirms. Employing the same cartoony-ness, bold line, and two-tone high contrast as in The Mother’s Mouth but dispensing with that book’s stylistic variety and fantasy effects, Shaw renders in comics situations and characters identical with those of mainstream realistic novels and movies and handles them with the sensitivity and humor of the best humanist novelists and filmmakers. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (June 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560979151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560979159
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #377,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dash Shaw is a cartoonist and animator. His most recent book "Doctors" is about doctors who enter deceased patients' afterlives to revive them from death. The film rights were quickly picked up by 20th Century Fox. His graphic novel "New School" was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by NPR. His other books include "Bodyworld" and "Bottomless Belly Button". His animated works include the Sigur Ros video and Sundance selection "Seraph" (cowritten with John Cameron Mitchell), and "Wheel of Fortune", and the IFC series "The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century AD." dashshaw.tumblr.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Shaw's marvelous graphic novel extols the emotional distance between family members and the individuals from themselves. Members of the aptly- and humanity inclusively-named Looney family gather to receive word that their parents are divorcing after 40+ years of marriage. What unfolds is a tripartite discovery process of themselves, their relationships both inside and out of the family, and their place in life's plan. Had Shaw's novel been completely text, it's place in the literature section of the bookstore alongside John Banville, Lionel Shriver, and Jennifer McMahon would be assured. However, since it is a graphic novel and comprised of predominately illustrations over text, it's in no bookstore that I've been able to discover. However, Shaw's work is assuredly adult and literary and resonates with themes illustrative of the human condition. Pick it up.
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Format: Paperback
As much as I loved this book, it's unsurprising to me that it has produced highly divisive reviews. The book covers a subject that's been exhausted to death (middle class white family drama), and there is absolutely no sense of resolution to any of the various plot threads running through the book. I have to say, though, if you're looking for 'resolution' and 'coherence' when reading this book, then you are Doing It Wrong. A work must be met on its own terms, and in Bottomless Belly Button Dash Shaw has created a brilliant encapsulation the swirl of impossible-to-pin-down emotions that encompass modern family life. However, what really puts this book over the top for me is not its narrative content, but the formal ambition of Shaw's cartooning. He manages to fully express the character of each of the members of the Loony family without any of the cheap comic techniques usually relied upon by cartoonists (captions, text-heavy expository dialogue, thought bubbles, etc.), but rather by taking the time and care to show the emotional nuances of their interactions with the everyday world around them. What's most admirable about Shaw's work, though, is the precision with which he controls panel layout, a factor that many cartoonists completely ignore. Years can pass between two panels on some pages, whereas in other parts of the book three or more pages are devoted to less than 10 seconds of action. This may seem obnoxious or self-indulgent to those who are used to standard, run-of-the-mill comics, but what it shows is that Shaw is acutely aware of what makes each seemingly inane moment of life so crucial while you are living it. Here, Shaw has bravely captured those qualities in a work that shows that he is a cartoonist to watch.
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Shaw's book is truly top notch. The family drama was not initially engrossing for me, but it eventually drew me in with its well-drawn characters and interesting relationship dynamics. The characters' lack of communication, understanding, articulateness, and contentedness are painful yet often amusing. A reviewer complained that the characters lack depth, and perhaps there's some truth to this. However, one might make such a complaint about a Robert Altman film; for example, "Short Cuts." Nevertheless, such a film and such a book rely more for their effects on a composite approach. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The narrative is deftly handled. Especially notable are the sections where various subplots are crosscut, quickly cycling through each seemingly unrelated narrative strand a number of times.

It is true that the book doesn't conclude with a resolution that neatly unties the knot. Instead, it does something much better, which is to finish mysteriously, emotionally, realistically, and poignantly. All this should suggest that if you like stock stories, then caveat emptor. If you like more literary fare, then you'll be right at home.

Shaw makes a somewhat amusing plea to the reader to rest between the three parts of the book. I suppose if I'd foisted a 700 page book on potential readers I'd be a little worried too. But let's be realistic for a moment: It's a graphic novel! It still a very quick read.

Two minor criticisms: I was fine with the basic illustrations--the graphic part of the book doesn't reach nor attempt to reach the heights of some others in the genre.
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Format: Paperback
"Bottomless Belly Button", as stated on the spine of this massive 700-some-odd page book is a Family Comedy/Drama/Horror/Mystery/Romance graphic novel that will find a place in your heart--it did mine. Following the Loony Family during a week's stay at the divorcing grandparent's beach house, you intimately get to know each character as they come to terms with the divorce announcement, and even themselves.
Dash Shaw's witty style of writing and illustrating help make the characters feel uniquely genuine, and each page is filled with parts of real life the reader can relate to no matter their walk of life. Even if you're not that into graphic novels (I know I wasn't) this book is still a great read. You can tell in the two years Shaw spent drawing this novel, he poured part of himself into it.
Sometimes, the story seems so real that, although the reader is in a trance while 'living' in this beach house, the plot seems to get a bit dull--many pages are devoted to everyday tasks that seem inferred to happen anyway. However, I could never imagine a reader putting down this book as a result of that; simply because you never want to leave the family. Another thing to consider is that the point of this book isn't to be gimmicky and dramatize emotional events, it's just to showcase the Loony's story. What I think I liked best about it is that I didn't feel like I was reading a comic book like a lot of other graphic novels are. It felt like a fiction book made out of pictures to me.
When this book ends it is nearly impossible to keep from tearing up in the last few pages. I started to feel what the characters felt, which never really leaves you--this is a book you will want to read more than once.
"Bottomless Belly Button" should get far more praise and acknowledgement and is incredibly looked over. Picking up this book because it caught my eye in the Graphic Novels section of the library has to be one of the best decisions I've made in a while.
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