Bob's Comics Reviews April 1997 Arrows


Chris Ware: Acme Novelty Library
OK, I'm about to make a confession that will lose me all my comics credibility: I don't care for Chris Ware. I'm sorry.

Oh, it's well drawn, there's no doubt about that. It's stylish and often innovative visually; the color palette is subtle, and the use of shadow and color to depict the passage of time is effective; the small type is amusing; and Ware can imitate early-1900s typography to a T. I particularly admired a set of panels dividing a scene-- an overhead view of a house and yard in isometric projection-- into little panels. That's been done, of course, but I haven't got to the clever bit yet. The clever bit was that not all the mini-panels depicted the scene in the same year.

The problem I have with it all is that it all evokes a single emotion, pathos, and it's not even my favorite emotion. Ware has several characters-- Jimmy Corrigan, Quimby the Mouse, Big Tex, the unnamed citizen of Tomorrow-- and they all seem to be pathetic losers, terrorized by mercurial parental figures, and they spend most of their days sitting around with a hangdog look, going to the bathroom, consuming passive entertainment, and of course receiving abuse.

Here's one comic that exemplifies Ware's shtick: The man of Tomorrow (a balding nebbish, like most of Ware's heroes) sits in a small bare room, sitting on the bed, listening to music and reading a brochure about travel to the Moon. He goes there; comes to a hotel, where he checks into a small bare room, sits on the bed, and listens to music. Now isn't that just too damn pathetic?

I just don't have much patience for someone who could be bored by a visit to the Moon. If you go to the Moon, man, don't just sit there in your hotel room-- see the sights. Jump around. Marvel at the landscape. Play some golf. Try flying in the Lunar Dome. Look at the earth and stars. What's the matter with that? Is that too vulgar, too touristy for Ware?

Another cartoon shows Big Tex living at his niece's house in his dotage; we hear but don't see the family getting ready to go out without him, kids squabbling, father shouting and making fun of Tex-- you can tell he's a Bad Person because his talk is scatological. Some minutes after they're gone Tex rouses himself enough to wave "Bye bye". Oh, man, is that pathos or what? He just sits there and then says "Bye bye"... oh, man!

Hmm, I wonder if this is how conservatives view liberalism? Like a never-varying pity-fest on behalf of passive, put-upon patsies? No wonder they're so nasty. A steady diet of Jimmy Corrigan would make me wanna holler, too.

The current strips have included some spectacular views of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, including a revival of a technique (using blue for the lines of the cartoon for a softening effect) I thought had died out with Winsor McCay. Indeed, the pages are like Slumberland without the fantasy. They feature a young Jimmy Corrigan, who it turns out even as a kid was a balding nebbish.

This just in: The Jimmy Corrigan bits of Acme have been published as a book; see my review.

Bill Plympton: The Sleazy Cartoons of Bill Plympton
I've always loved Plympton's animated shorts, so I snapped up this slim volume when it appeared early this year. It's mostly humorous, surrealistic one- or two-pagers about sex. Plympton has an unequalled visual imagination as well as an unusual sketchy style. He's also the only illustrator of enormous mazongas I've seen who draws them with a network of blue veins. Beto Hernandez could learn something from that.

You've got to love a guy who turned the nudes in Life Drawing class into cartoons with punchlines.

Batton Lash: Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre
It's one of those premises that sound obvious once somebody else has gone to the trouble of thinking of it: crackerjack lawyers Wolff and Byrd specialize in the supernatural-- their clients are walking heaps, vampires, people with haunted houses or undead pets, even a lightly disguised E.C. Comics Crypt Keeper. It's irresistable.

The writing is sprightly, and carries on the E.C. tradition of frequent bad puns. The art is competent, but lacks something-- perhaps a sense of design; it's as if Lash has no sense of the page as such. The panels are illustrations; they pack no punch.

The stories get a bit more complex in vol. 2. So far Lash seems to be able to handle this, tho' I hate waiting a year to find out how a story arc ends up.

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