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Bottomless Belly Button Paperback – April 3, 2008
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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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*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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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. But I didn't like how Shaw adds words to describe non-dialogue physical features; for example, such as writing for sound effects, "shrug" on a shoulder or "grip" on a hand gripping something or writing "Purples" and "Pinks" so we know what color the sky is. An even more awkward example is when Dennis is cooling down after a hot run, and he places his head in front of a fan. On his forehead it says, "Cool air against the sweat on your forehead." Very clumsy. The other criticism: He names the family the Loonies. Really cute. Mercifully, this is mentioned only two or three times.
Recommended if you like: Adrian Tomine; David B.; Jason; Chris Ware; Charles Burns; Daniel Clowes; Rutu Modan; Allison Bechdel; Craig Thompson; or Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
Sure enough, the work may have been over-hyped elsewhere, and sometimes the characters could feel a bit flatter than what they actually are, or aim to be... But overall, the touches about a reaction to a family break up, life perspectives, the range of situations covered, and an general sense of existential uncertainty make for a good graphic read.
The volume might look imposing given its length but it reads quickly. The narrative tries to stir away from more traditional comic-book patterns, but it is not particularly complex, and the graphic work is more than adequate to explore the story at hand.
Highly recommended for all readers, but not appropriate for children as there is sexual content. Enjoy!