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The Acme Novelty Library (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – September 20, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With all his literary accolades and awards, it's easy to forget Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) is one of the warmest, funniest cartoonists in America. The Acme Novelty Library collects a few issues of Ware's comic book series by the same name and adds plenty of new pages and visual delights. It is, like all of his work, an utterly immersive experience. You're not just reading his comics, you're inhabiting his world: from fake ads to diagrams for paper models to a lengthy and very funny fictional history of the Acme Novelty Company. These strips combine complex and beautiful visuals with the humor of hapless, often sad characters in ridiculous predicaments. "Rusty Brown", a series of strips based around an obsessive collector who will be the subject of Ware's next graphic novel, is particularly strong. These comics showcase Ware's unusual sensitivity towards his characters, building an incisive, multi-dimensional portrait of Brown and his friend Chalky White. On top of all of these riches there is Ware's own personal "history of art" in cartoon form, and a multi-page story about a naked superhero. Combining surreal humor, cutting satire, stunning visuals, and empathic characters, Ware's latest is a wondrous journey into the universe of a master cartoonist in peak form. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The latest from comics artist extraordinaire Ware is rather a hodgepodge. It consists largely of individual, full-page strips that originally appeared in an alternative weekly. But what it lacks in cohesiveness it makes up for in virtuosity, demonstrating why Ware is at the forefront of the medium. The tabloid-sized collection samples all Ware's recurring characters: forlorn spaceman Rocket Sam, nebbishy rodent Quimby the Mouse (eponymous star of Ware's previous collection, 2003), bovine cowboy Big Tex, the futuristic consumer from Tales of Tomorrow, a silently arrogant superhero who is either Superman or God, and even the eponymous protagonist of Ware's breakthrough graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan (2000)--all of them limned in Ware's formally complex narrative manner. More straightforward are strips featuring obsessive toy collector and social outcast Rusty Brown, portrayed with little of the sympathy Ware extends to his other creations, including Rusty's boyhood pal, Chucky White. The volume also features some of Ware's meticulous, nostalgia-fueled renditions of vintage advertisements and an eyestraining faux history of the Acme Novelty Company. Everything impressively attests Ware's mastery. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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So get ready for a good ole' time....
Chris Ware is a very interesting artist. His visuals have an extraordinarily clean/meticulous look with extensive use of primary shapes particularly circles, simple flat colors without shading and thick black bordering. They look like they came straight from a graphics design class. The light, whimsical visual contrast dramatically with Mr. Ware crushingly depressive writing. His stories tend to focus on pathologically introverted figures and main characters who tend to be chunky misfits and loners with little to no friends. The art teacher obsesses on the appearances of his young students and spends class time trying to sneak peeks at the girl's panties. After school he smokes pot in the back of his student's car. And the teachers name? Mr. Ware.
As strange as it may sound my biggest issue with Chris Ware is his tendency to print his books in odd physical dimensions. When I purchased `Quimby the Mouse' I was surprised to find that it was an unwieldy 14 by 11 which made it difficult to store. This may seem trivial but I now check the dimensions of anything I purchase by Mr. Ware. The book I'm reviewing is a much more compact 9 by 7. Another issue I have is his tendency to use absurdly small fonts. I have very good vision and I've never worn glasses or contacts but sometimes I flat out can't read the text. You really have to see it (or not see it?) to know what I'm talking about. My last beef is that his work often goes beyond bleak into the realm of sterile. His art is SO meticulous and precise that it can sometimes lose its humanity as if it were drawn by a robot. The characters tend to resemble each other in manner and appearance with Rusty Brown and Chalky White being practically interchangeable.
This particular edition focuses on Rusty Brown, a young boy in primary school who imagines himself with super powers rescuing the Supergirl doll he carries around. The only semi friend he has is Chalky White who is equally unaccepted by his peers. Since the events are part of an ongoing series there is no beginning or end to the story and nothing triumphant or uplifting occurs. Regardless of the quality of his works it's unlikely that Chris Ware will ever have mass appeal because he is so unconventional. I enjoyed the book but I'm generally one of those people who enjoys comics and movies that are out of the mainstream. On the other hand I love a good Superman story too. I recommend the Acme collection but I can understand where Mr. Ware's critics are coming from.
Rusty Brown himself makes nary an appearance in this volume as the focus is placed instead on Rusty Brown's father, minor science fiction writer W.K. Brown. The work is segmented into two halves, the first being an illustration of one of Brown's science fiction stories, a gripping piece called "The Seeing Eye-Dogs of Mars". There is something very satisfying about seeing Ware tackle science fiction. His art style isn't the most obvious for the genre but the two compliment each other surprisingly well. The novel then progresses into more traditional territory for Ware (which is not to say it isn't emotionally effecting, well observed, and masterfully composed, because it is) and it has the advantage of reflecting back on the opening section. As usual with Ware the book itself is beautifully assembled. Chris Ware is growing leaps and bounds as an artist because he has not lost anything that made his early work special yet has increased his scope as a writer and continues to invent with the form. With each release Ware's status as the best living cartoonist becomes more and more certain while his relative obscurity (considering the emotional power and formal importance of his work) becomes more and more disconcerting. At the very least, this new volume raises the bar for what we can expect from the complete "Rusty Brown."
I was reading this book in bed when I came across a two-page spread featuring an astrological chart with various constellations... I noticed that it had glow-in-the-dark material on it, so after studying it for a few minutes I turned the reading light off - and in the darkness was presented with a glowing star chart, featuring, well, something from Ware that any true fan should experience for themselves - a true gift. It took my breath away and I found myself deeply moved by it.
That moment has earned this book a place in my eternal library.