Thursday, January 19, 2006
Recommendations, Part III

I'm committed to turning out at least one more of these before I'm done this week. Then, next week, back to the bitching -- and I've got a couple of good ones saved up!


Chris Ware

Poor Chris Ware, I've been pimping him out to everyone lately. And I'm not sure why I've undertaken this sudden flurry of promotion -- the guy's not new to me, I've been following him for several years, and while he recently had a new collection out, I haven't had the money to buy it, so I can't recommend it specifically.

Furthermore, I'm not a comics kind of person. I've indulged in the occasional Sandman or Transmetropolitan graphic novel, and I think I even have an early Preacher graphic novel around somewhere; I also admit to owning a copy of Maus and one of In The Shadow of No Towers. But those are really more about the zeitgeist than about comics per se. (And, okay, I also love Robert Crumb. But who doesn't?)

But Ware is in a whole other category. This, again, isn't about comics per se, it's about art, plain and simple. If Ware were just a great comic-book artist, he'd have my respect, but not my money. But he's not just a comic-book artist -- the man is a fucking genius.

I've included a couple of full-page scans (edit: I haven't been able to include them yet, because they're really hard to scan in well. But if anyone around Memphis wants to see, ask me, and we can arrange a book loan.) but they hardly do justice to Ware's talents. The thing is, while his short strips can contain immense pathos, he's one of those artists whose work really has to be taken as a whole to be fully appreciated. Okay, so "Quimby the Mouse" (the despair of the average suburban mouse) lacks narrative ties to "Rusty Brown" (the despair of the social misfit) or "Dick Public" (the emptiness of a shallow life) or "Tales of Tomorrow" (yet more despair in the emptiness of a shallow, average, suburban misfit's life) or "Jimmy Corrigan" (all of the above, taking place over generations). The bleakness still compounds through every storyline's association with every other. In a single page, a character can peek into a frame, and in a series of convoluted (but beautiful) frames, Ware will detail their entire origin: sperm, egg, birth, rejection, adoption, a conflicted growing-up, and here we are. And all without a word of exposition. That takes some doing.

His more recent works have featured a heavy line on fatherhood and the pitfalls thereof -- apparently he had a baby, and now he's obsessing over the apparent impossibility of raising a functional human being. It's a dark ride he's on, but not one without love, not without a desire to find something beautiful and meaningful. Just not counting on it, either.

And as if all that weren't enough, he has to go and make his work graphically stunning, too. The books of his work are incredibly -- even absurdly -- well-designed: every single surface of the book is covered with stuff to look at. The spine, the endpapers, the underside of the band of paper attached to the cover (in such a way that you can't actually read the strip printed thereon without damaging the book, a favorite Ware prank). There's even a strip printed on the edges of the cover -- a man's conception, infancy, blissful childhood, sexual awakening, first romance, marriage, the birth of a child, his working life, the death of his mother, the departure of the child, more years of meaningless work, retirement, old age, and death... all drawn in 110 tiny frames on the edges of the cover. Jesus fucking Christ.

And then there's the text. I won't even go into the text. I spent a whole day reading it -- and I'm obligated to say that it was some of the funniest, darkest stuff I've read -- but I feel like I barely made a dent in it. And I won't go into the subject of the bizarre little paper-construction toys always included in the books, based on the comics -- again, you can't make them without destroying the book, but I'm willing to bet that if you did, they'd actually work. This is the work of a brilliant obsessive.

Anyway, I suggest starting with the Acme Novelty Library, or if you're ambitious with Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. It was Jimmy Corrigan that sold me (but I'd spring for the hardback copy if you can find one; the paperback just doesn't quite hold the full measure of Ware's genius, somehow.)
2:23 PM ::
Amy :: permalink