Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
I imagine many of the people who will read Chris Ware’s box of 14 different printed things (newspapers, pamphlets, books, a Little Golden Book, etc.) will jump straight to the second meaning of the title, i.e., constructing narratives, without thinking much about what it conveys on the surface: the stories of buildings. One of the things that’s particularly nice about Ware’s work is the way it comes from specific places, and each house/home that appears in its pages both develops its own personality and helps shape the stories that take place within it, all envisioned in something more bitter and, therefore, perhaps more real than fiction’s “new sincerity” movement. Ware’s relationship to his characters has always been ambiguous. He’s not as outwardly bile-soaked as Daniel Clowes and at times he ventures into sentimentality, but the reserve of the visuals undermines the melodrama. What does the author think of these people? Is he toying with them from above, Kubrick-style, flaying them to display their horrible innards? Or is he warmly and humanly embracing their flaws as he points to the importance of relationships with our fellows? Yes and yes and it doesn’t really matter. You, the reader, will go back and forth in your opinions about the population regardless of what Ware wants, which means they’re more than dolls being moved here and there. Building Stories is gentler and less depressing than Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. It’s also an easier read, despite the fragmented presentation. Don’t stress about which piece to pick up first. Ware highlights relevant threads in multiple places, teasing full stories that he reveals elsewhere and guiding you masterfully to assemble the whole picture while still letting you feel smart. It may leave you with a hard little knot in your chest about the human condition (born, mature, possibly procreate, and die, all in a short span and with little to show for it but brief moments of animal joy), but it also somehow makes you enjoy the knowledge. (HB)
Oni Press, 2012
Mike Norton’s The Curse is much more notable for how it was created rather than for what it actually is. The compilation’s three 24-page chapters are the product of 24-Hour Comics Day, an annual event created by international comics cheerleader Scott McCloud that’s exactly what it sounds like. In his forward, Patrick Bower remembers Norton’s inaugural 1999 session as “angry, violent” and “disoriented,” hinting that the The Curse may also describe the event that spawned it. And that’s a fairly apt description of the content, too. The Curse is a rambling, caustic fever dream filled with were-pirates, detective pugs, slapstick misogyny, and many, many 4-letter words. For what it is, it’s a glorious portrait of what an artist can do under militaristic deadlines. Norton’s cartoony style excels in swift storytelling and dynamic angles. And for those who admire the man’s pug obsession (link: http://battlepug.com/), there’s plenty more here. As a stand-alone, intellectual asset, it’s pretty damn goofy. The third chapter revolves around an out-of-work actor who kidnaps two Juggalos to replicate the Human Centipede experiment, and then Tom Waits makes a cameo. Nobody’s going to write a college thesis about this. But if there was a category for insomniac novelty project featuring David Bowie’s man bulge and flesh-eating parakeets, The Curse would win a Pulitzer in a heartbeat. (SE)
First Second, 2012
The revelation that Sailor Twain was originally published as an online serial is an illuminating one, compensating as it does for some of the book’s weaknesses. Garrett mentioned last week that we tend to focus on writing more than art, and no doubt that’s true, but the art is the most captivating part of Sailor Twain. For one thing, it’s rendered in charcoal, a seemingly insane decision that gives each of Siegel’s panels a soft, delicate feel and a focus on linework that’s often missing from digitally cleaned and colored pages. It’s easy to get sucked into the images, which become more complex as you contemplate them. The characters have a little bit of a manga look, with wide eyes and spiky, stylized hair, but the backgrounds have been lovingly depicted and resemble presentation drawings. In a story that’s all about ambiguity, it’s a smart choice. The problems come where you would expect: It’s tough to resolve mystery in a satisfying way, and the book both goes on a bit long and ends with a jolt. The atmosphere is wonderful, especially if you like darkly romantic 19th-century stuff, and the concept is interesting, but the finale kind of fizzles. (HB)
Marvel Comics, 2012
Was Avengers Vs. X-Men not adorable enough for you? Well, of course it wasn’t. It was a big-time superhero crossover event. Those things haven’t been fun since the third grade. (Well, Final Crisis was nifty. And 52. But does that even count?) A-Babies Vs. X-Babies might just be a couple dozen pages of babies fighting each other, but at least it’s the cutest fighting you’ll ever see, with a few great punchlines and sight gags along the way. It’s basically just one joke the entire time, but it never gets old seeing more and bigger Marvel characters turned into sweet little babies. I have no idea how closely it echoes the story of the real event, but I doubt that involved Cyclops stealing Captain America’s favorite teddy bear. It’s the details that make this comic, from the lower-case “a” and smiley star on Cap’s uniform to Doctor Strange’s pacifier. It’s a treat for anybody who doesn’t take comics too seriously. (GM)