The ACME Novelty Library Volume 20 by Chris Ware
Chris Ware’s already mind-blowing work continues to evolve by leaps and bounds. This book is part of his ongoing Rusty Brown narrative, and one gets the sense that Ware has largely abandoned his initial conception for the project and gone wherever his nutso-genius brain has led him. While the first couple Rusty Brown books were somewhat disappointing rehashes of Ware’s formal and thematic favorites (experimental design, loneliness), in subsequent volumes the narrative has become increasingly fragmented, focusing longer stretches on seemingly tangential characters. #20 takes this approach to its extreme, honing in on the high-school bully character from previous volumes and laying out his entire life, from birth to death – or, more precisely (this being Ware and all, precision is paramount), from nothing to nothing.
Visually it’s as gorgeous as anything he’s ever done, designed to within an inch of its life (and, as Matt Seneca points out, in some ways the book design is the narrative). It would be a shame for the casual reader to avoid this book just because it’s ostensibly part of an ongoing series (and for its generic/numeric title) – it works perfectly on its own. I couldn’t put it down, read it in one gulp, heart racing. It took my breath away.
A brand new driver’s license; a low-riding muscle car; an incandescent blaze of searing red light; “Stairway to Heaven” blaring from the AM/FM radio. These elements all dance and intermingle on the page, sweeping you inexorably forward with an emotional rather than narrative thrust. Ware treats comics like a hieroglyphic code, a language for unlocking some unspeakable truth.
— Joshua O’Neill, a much more capable reviewer than I.
X’ed Out by Charles Burns
I’m sorry to report that this book annoyed me before I even opened it. Charles Burns’ last major project, Black Hole, is probably my favorite comic of all time – rich, strange, beautiful, nostalgic. So I had high hopes for X’ed Out, but was bothered outright by the fact that it’s a hardcover book. Whatever happened to alternative comics – like, actual, stapled comics that cost five to seven dollars?
Then there’s the back cover blurb: “From the creator of Black Hole comes the first volume of an epic masterpiece of graphic fiction in brilliant color.” So that’s why I’m paying twenty bucks for it – because it isn’t a comic book, it’s an epic masterpiece of graphic fiction. Give me a break – the fucking project isn’t even finished.
Okay, okay, I know that’s just marketing. And it’s quite pretty, and Burns is apparently going for a Tintin homage (though those books are softcover, to the best of my knowledge). But, because I bought both books at the same time, I can’t help but compare it to Ware’s Acme Novelty #20, which somehow seems justified as a complete work, between two hard covers (not that his earlier volumes, also hardcover, were always of the same caliber) .
The book itself was interesting enough, and seems to be going in a good direction. I’ll save any final judgments for the completed work, when I’m sixty dollars lighter and one graphic-novel-that-coulda-fit-in-the-space-of-four-comic-books richer.