Art and literature combine in new graphic novels
By Todd Leopold
Two graphic novels of note: Chris Ware's "The Acme Novelty Library" ...
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(CNN) -- It's been five years since Chris Ware put out "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth."
That book, an intricately drawn, heartbreakingly evocative graphic novel about three generations of fathers who visit their sins on their sons, won all kinds of awards -- Britian's Guardian newspaper gave the work the Guardian First Book Award, a first for a graphic novel -- and tons of acclaim ("This haunting and unshakable book will change the way you look at your world," raved Time magazine).
What could he possibly do for an encore?
Ware, a quiet, introspective sort, has dutifully been working on smaller projects -- notably his Acme Novelty Library comic books. Several have now been collected in "The Acme Novelty Library" (Pantheon), due out September 20.
One wonders how he does it, create a world so detailed and elaborate, full of precise lines of type, fake ads, phony histories, made-up strips and characters so neat and tidy you don't so much as read them as surround yourself with them. I'm reminded of certain authors -- Borges, Raymond Carver -- but with a quietude and melancholy all Ware's own.
Indeed, Ware's work isn't to everyone's liking. Some critics find it too fussy, even hollow. But it's a sign how seriously graphic novels are taken that reviewers are willing to grant his work its aspirations and not dismiss it as overloaded comic books.
In fact, it's a very good time for graphic novels. Even The New York Times is welcoming the form: starting September 18, the Times Magazine will present full-page installments of a graphic novel as part of a 10-page section called "The Funny Pages," according to The Associated Press. (The first contributor: Chris Ware.)
Eye on Entertainment samples a few recent releases.
Charles Burns, whose haunting, starkly contrasting black-and-white panels were one of the main reasons to read the New York Press in the early '90s, has put together the individual issues of "Black Hole" (Pantheon), a novel he's been working on for more than a decade.
"Black Hole" concerns some Seattle teenagers in the mid-1970s. They do all the things bored teenagers do -- have stilted conversations, pursue sex, drugs and alcohol, listen to music -- but then a strange sexually transmitted disease enters their lives, and so does death.
"Dazed and Confused" this ain't. "Black Hole" is due October 18.
And then there's the world of "Ice Haven" (Pantheon), brought to you by Daniel Clowes of "Ghost World" fame. On the surface, much of "Ice Haven" appears to be a travelogue of the title town, parodies of children's comic strips and an almost "Classics Illustrated" version of the Leopold and Loeb case. (Nathan Leopold, incidentally, is no relation to me.) But there's something deeper going on here.
"Ice Haven" came out June 7.
Marjane Satrapi, who told her life story in "Persepolis" and "Persepolis 2," offers the secrets and gossip of tea-drinking Iranian women in "Embroideries" (Pantheon, again). The text is the thing in "Embroideries," which came out in April; Satrapi's drawings are more incidental than those of the "Persepolis" volumes. But what words!
Finally, for those wanting to check out the roots of many graphic artists, back in March Grant Geissman put out "Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics!" (HarperDesign). Want to partake of early Will Elder? What was John Severin doing before he joined Cracked? What kind of gleefully horrific stories could so upset the authorities of the time? It's all here.
Now, if only Ben Katchor has something in the works ...
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