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Graphic images

Art and literature combine in new graphic novels

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Ware
Two graphic novels of note: Chris Ware's "The Acme Novelty Library" ...

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Eye on Entertainment
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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.

Eye-opener

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 ...

On screen

  • In a further sign that this is the dismal season for movies, this week's entries include "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," which has a good cast (Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson) but apparently offers nothing special; "The Man," already pulling a pitiful 20 percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com and serving as a paycheck for Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy; and "An Unfinished Life," which, despite its major-name cast -- Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez -- Miramax is dumping on the market with little publicity.
  • On the tube

  • The major broadcast networks and several cable networks are collaborating on "Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast," a fund-raiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Among the actors and musicians lending their voices: Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres, Ray Romano, Jack Nicholson, Cameron Diaz, Sela Ward, Chris Rock and Paul Simon. 8 p.m. ET Friday.
  • Saturday, MTV, VH1 and CMT are offering "ReAct Now: Music & Relief," with artists including Young, Crow, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Alan Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, the Neville Brothers and Kanye West. 8 p.m. ET.
  • The National Geographic Channel begins a new series, "Science of the Bible," 10 p.m. ET Wednesday. The first episode concerns the birth of Jesus.
  • Sound waves

  • Back in 1959, Dot Records released an album, "Singing a Happy Song," by a singer named Fern Jones. Jones was an interesting artist: a preacher's wife from Arkansas who sang as if filled with equal parts Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline. Her backing group included Hank Garland, Floyd Cramer, Joe Zinkan and Buddy Harman -- masters of the Nashville scene. But the album made nary a dent and was forgotten -- until now. The fine folks at Numero Group have reissued it and some other Jones work on "Fern Jones: The Glory Road" (Numero), which comes out Tuesday.
  • Tracy Chapman's new album, "Where You Live" (Elektra), comes out Tuesday.
  • A new B.B. King album, "80" (Geffen), comes out Tuesday.
  • Paul McCartney's latest, "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard" (Capitol), comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • "Five Families" (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's), Selwyn Raab's history of the Mob in America, comes out Monday.
  • The second volume of Hilary Spurling's Henri Matisse biography, "Matisse the Master" (Knopf), comes out Wednesday.
  • Been awhile since you've caught up with Humbert Humbert and his predilections? Well, Vintage has just released a 50th anniversary edition of Vladimir Nabokov's classic, "Lolita." It's due out September 15.
  • Video center

  • "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" comes out on DVD Tuesday.
  • The original release of the 1959 best picture winner "Ben-Hur" ran well over three hours. Now there's a four-disc DVD version that includes the epic film and two documentaries, several screen tests, the 1925 silent version of the film and who knows what-all. Comes out Tuesday.
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