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Acme Novelty Library #18 (No. 18) Hardcover – December 10, 2007
All Books, All the Time
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Interrupting the ongoing saga of pathetic man-child Rusty Brown, subject of the previous two Acme Novelty Library volumes, Ware essays a gentler, bordering-on-sentimental tale about a lonely young woman with a prosthetic leg. In exhaustive, excruciating detail, Ware recounts her painful early adulthood: her sole love affair, which ended badly; her unfulfilling stint as a nanny; her failed attempts at becoming an artist or writer; her current dead-end job as a florist. Self-reflective to a fault, the nameless protagonist relates her story and reveals her character through extensive first-person voice-over narration, making this the most text-heavy of Ware’s works. Even if the prose does most of the heavy lifting, Ware’s characteristic graphic approach—icy-clear drawings, meticulous compositions, and geometrically varied panels—conjures the hard-edged atmosphere offsetting the story’s potential mawkishness. Applying the formal rigor of the landmark Jimmy Corrigan (2000) to a more naturalistic narrative, Ware creates a sympathetic heroine who, despite the slim book’s somewhat daunting denseness, may appeal to more readers than the off-puttingly doltish Jimmy and Rusty. --Gordon Flagg
About the Author
Chris Ware is the author of Jimmy Corrigan-the Smartest Kid on Earth, which received the Guardian First Book Award and was featured in the Whitney Biennial. A regular contributor to The New Yorker and the first cartoonist to be serialized weekly in The New York Times Magazine, he is the editor of the thirteenth issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and the Gasoline Alley archival series Walt & Skeezix. Ware was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1967 and currently lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Marnie, and their daughter, Clara.
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That said, it's a valid criticism that Ware treads too much familiar territory, here and in all his post-Jimmy Corrigan work. Yes, he experiments in this book, but it's in the style he had already carved out by 1995. We see Ware experimenting with different artistic styles in his notebooks, so why never in his comics? Ware's layouts, lettering and unconventional use of panels in this issue are interesting as always, but it's hard to say his style has evolved or grown in the almost fifteen years he's been doing Acme. Artistically, we've seen this all from Ware before.
Thankfully, Ware *is* evolving as a storyteller. Jimmy Corrigan, although inventive, was a bit too much about being Chris Ware, and it's nice that here, in issue #18, Ware is exploring the world of a female protagonist. Certain scenes, particularly the sex scenes, have never been portrayed with this level of damning honesty and accuracy in any other medium. Ever.
Some people decry Ware's perennial exploration of loneliness and depression. The great comic book writer Grant Morrison once said, "I love Chris Ware's work and consider him a formal genius, but... I sometimes feel like slapping him upside the head and telling him to stop moaning about everything. Sorry, but I live in one of the poorest cities in Europe, and when I see privileged Americans whining about how awful everything is in their sunlit world, I have to gag into my porridge. Kill yourself or get over it, buddy." It's hard to disagree, but perhaps we can appreciate Ware as the best and most determined artist exploring a certain type of American... not outcast, exactly, but people with lower social status or perceived value: the chubby girl, the cripple, the socially awkward guy, the uncool kids... People who are rarely represented in the media and who our American culture, which celebrates the beautiful and confident, looks down upon. Ware is their patron saint, of sorts, but presents them with flaws just like the rest of us.
I'd personally like to see Ware loosen up, artistically and thematically, but whatev. This issue is a powerful read.
Underneath the story's typically apparent theme of alienation (with new characters in the Acme Library, if I'm not mistaken), there is much more at work. Amazingly, over just 56 pages, Ware's finely crafted drawings along with well considered dialogue and occasional stream-of-consciousness narration provide the reader an awful lot to ponder (a good prose writer would need hundreds if not thousands of pages and could still not fully convey the beauty in this slim volume). However, the mind is further boggled when Ware concludes his details-laden enterprise with one very... simple... tiny... wordless... panel. The effect is instant having read it, and I recommend all experience it.
The author describes this as part of an ongoing story, and that may well be. However like all good comics, this story is complete as is. Indeed within the book, certain single page, two page, and especially a few multi-page spreads also constitute complete satisfying stories. Should the reader approach the work with even some of the imagination Ware himself must employ, every single panel is itself can be a complete story. As an illustrator in the truest sense, that may be Ware's intent.
So the "Stunning Masterpiece" title given this review is not to indicate one should ever be surprised when Ware tops even his own earlier triumphs, but rather because the reader may actually be left stunned at the story's conclusion, fair warning given.
There are always great expectations placed on Mr. F.C. Ware, who here delivers devastating inspiration (inspired devastation?) in the calm and measured manner of a master at work. Wow.
The thing I love most about his style is the intricacy within it. His drawings are some what scientific, piecing apart a thought or a scene layer by layer. I guess I love character development, so that is why I'm such a fan of his work.
The Acme Novelty Library is just a feast for the eyes, right down to the binding, which is textured and looks like something you'd find on your grandpa's bookshelf - you can tell that Ware has a passion for reading and for book design itself. As he said in a GQ article he wrote about Penguin Classic's 75 anniversary, "It seems to me a book design should be inevitable--a book demands its own shape just as an oak sprouts from an acorn and a pine from a cone. A book is a body in which a story lives and breathes, and, like a body, it has a spine"
The story within is heartbreaking, it chronicles the inner thoughts of a 29 year old disabled girl who lives by herself, and doesn't seem to have any friends to speak of. The opening panel, detailing her thoughts of suicides, and the thoughts connected with such an action (who will find her? her parents? her landlady?) really sets the mood
The female protaganist continues to bring the reader into her thoughts, mainly expressing her lonliness and her feelings of not really belonging anywhere.
If you are after a fairytail ending, you won't get it here, but you will encounter an honest portrayal of a lonely woman, drawn magnificently, and with real heart, which is really better than any fairtail could ever be.