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Jar of Fools: A Picture Story Paperback – September 1, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Paperback, September 1, 2003
$14.92 $4.46

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Editorial Reviews


“A lovely, short 'picture novel' exploring the tenacious bond between an alcoholic stage magician and his cranky mentor.” ―New York Times Book Review

Jar of Fools is full of people trying to stop things they care about from melting away, like estranged lovers and old-fashioned jobs...all the main characters--the magician, a coffee-shop cashier, a small time con-man--are in danger of ending up beaten down and swallowed up by the silences of life which Lutes' well-paced art evokes so effectively” ―Details

“The story itself is so masterfully told that it could stand alone as a novella in Harper's. When combined with Lutes' spare black-and-white line drawings and creative use of the comic book medium, it becomes something transcendent--a piece of literature that speaks to the emotional core.” ―Wired

“Employing the lost skills of mood, sparseness, and language, Lutes' stunning comic Jar of Fools transcends the usually mealy-mouthed limits of graphic novels and, in the process, winds up being a damn good read.” ―Spin Magazine

“Reading Jar of Fools is like getting a slow motion punch in the face. There's plenty of time to get out of the way, but something compels you to wait and find out of it's actually going to hurt as much when it hits. And, of course, it does.” ―Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan

From the Publisher

Jason Lutes was born in New Jersey in 1967, and started reading and drawing comics as soon as he was able. The European comics he encountered during childhood visits to France made a great impression on him, and have proven a strong influence on his adult work. The first time he gave up comics was to attend the Rhode Island School of Design(BFA in Illustration, 1991), but publications such as R. Crumb's Weirdo, Art Spiegelman's RAW, and Chester Brown's Yummy Fur lured him back. Upon graduation, he moved to Seattle, lost his spleen in a bike accident, and washed dishes until he was hired by Fantagraphics Books.The second time he gave up comics was a year later, when he became disillusioned with the comics industry and quit Fantagraphics to wash more dishes. He was lured back by the opportunity to draw a strip for "The Stranger", a Seattle weekly, and that strip was later collected in the book "Jar of Fools". In 1995, after a stint as art director at "The Stranger", he quit to try his hand at being a full-time cartoonist. He currently lives in Seattle, where he infrequently produces chapters in the comics novel "Berlin" and fondly recalls happier days as a dishwasher. In 1996 Lutes started work on Berlin, a projected 600 page story set in Germany during the twilight years of the Weimar Republic. Berlin; Book One, collecting the first part of the trilogy, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (September 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1896597726
  • ISBN-13: 978-1896597720
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,512,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven E. Higgins on September 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Not to be hyperbolic, but Jar of Fools is quite literally one of the best realistic graphic novels ever produced. Yet for some reason, very few people have heard of the work, which is quite a shame. Its creator, writer/artist Jason Lutes, has been brilliant in his recent series Berlin, in which he explores the characters of an ensemble cast in the historical setting of Germany between the two World Wars. Jar of Fools should be similarly noted and acclaimed for its fantastic characterization, albeit in a more modern setting.
Currently published through Drawn and Quarterly (as is Berlin), Jar of Fools revolves around failed stage magician Ernie Weiss. Ernie's life has been headed downhill since an unfortunate "accident" involving his brother's act as an escape artist. Now alcoholic and destitute, Ernie feels trapped by his past and is unable to overcome the demons that plague him. At the same time Ernie's former girlfriend Esther is stuck in a relationship that's going nowhere and in a dead-end job she hates, while Ernie's mentor Al Flosso tries desperately to escape both his nursing home and his memories of brighter days.
The revelations about each of these characters as the narrative unfolds are both heartbreaking and, paradoxically, uplifting. These characters have each metaphorically "lost the magic" in their lives and long to be free from the problems they face in their daily lives: their sexual dysfunctions, their inability to form relationships, their lack of self-worth. Yet the story focuses not on the endless tragedies they must endure but instead on how, by coming together, each of these people are able to conquer difficulties that overwhelmed them when alone.
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Format: Paperback
Jason Lutes, Jar of Fools (Drawn and Quarterly, 2003)

I've read some pretty good graphic novels in the past couple of months, but Jar of Fools was impressive on levels that a number of them never even thought to explore; it was definitely the best of the early-January batch. You have a burned-out magician, dangerously close to being homeless, pining over his lost girlfriend. You have the lost girlfriend, also pining. You have the mentor, stuck in a rest home. You have the con man, trying to get money to feed his kid, who shortchanges the lost girlfriend. And in weaving this tapestry, you have a wonderful little story about love, loss, and sacrifice.

Lutes' touch is spare when he's drawing, and light when he's writing. There's enough here for you to understand what's going on without having to go back and re-read anything, but you'll make a mental leap or two while you're going through it (this is a good thing). Everyone here is rather simple, though in no way does that mean they're two-dimensional; Lutes creates complex characters, but the timespan of the book is so short that we only get to see what he wants us to. It's a subtle, and impressive, move.

This is really a fantastic book; definitely one worth checking out, whether you're a fan of the graphic novel form or not. This might be the perfect book to show you that they do stand as literature; it's not quite on the level of something like Charles Burns' Black Hole, but you're not going to invest as much time, either. A perfect place to begin. ****
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Format: Paperback
Since it's a comic people probably don't pay as much attention to it as they should, but those people would be wrong. What Lutes has created here is a neat little tale that is both poignant and beautiful, tragic and uplifting, all at the same time. The story of a failed magician, doubly haunted by both the death of his brother and the failure of his last relationship, watching his mentor slip into senility, Lutes weaves the themes of magic and loss into the stories of his characters. None of the characters, from the con-man trying to raise his daughter, to the ex-girlfriend trapped in a dull existance, seem to be where they want to be, but that seems to be as much their own fault as the fault of life itself. Lutes evokes a sense of sympathy for his characters, even when they fail to see what their actions do to themselves and the thrill of the story is seeing whether they'll realize it in time. Lutes uses the comic format to its fullest, creating a fine synthesis of words and pictures, letting the art speak for the story when necessary (the silent moments are perhaps the story's finest pages) without forcing it to labor under weighted prose. In the end he creates a tale as richly detailed as any prose story, made that much better by the comic (I'm sorry "graphic novel") format, a medium he does his part to prove it can be so much better than it is. Get this and maybe more comics like this possible.
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Format: Paperback
The artistic influences of Jason Lutes' "picture novel," Jar of Fools, are fairly easy to spot. The drawing style is European, with the clean lines of Herge of Tintin fame, while the storyline is contemporary Americana of such short story writers as Raymond Carter. But Lutes is good enough, and his story strong enough, that it transcends being merely a reflection of his study, and the combination of the disparete pair make this graphic novel something unusual among the others on the shelf.
The story is about a troubled young man whose brother was an escape-artist who failed a straitjacket-river trick, whose romance has failed, and whose stage magician mentor is further slipping into Alzheimer's daily. At the same time, his ex-girlfriend is attempting to put her life together. When these lives intersect with a young girl and her con-artist father, magic happens--but not the fantastic type, just the magic of people finally connecting to life.
I hate to simply keep comparing it to other works, but sometimes the mind just works that way. With its magician characters and realistic depiction of street life, it recalled for me Nicholas Christopher's Veronica much more than any previous graphic novel. And while the story was interesting and the art entirely appropriate, the sum of it all still left me with a slightly vauge dissatisfaction, likely due to the somewhat downer ending with its open-ended quality (again, reminiscent of modern short stories, where the end is as much a beginning as anything). It's not going to appeal to action-adventure readers at all, but if you liked Clowes' Ghost World or Will Eisner's A Contract with God, you might enjoy this one.
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