This is my first experience with the work of Chris Ware. This is old school Virgin Read.
Let me begin my saying how much I love this art. If you've read this column at all before, you might remember that the only other art I’ve
raved about is Michael Avon Oeming's art for Powers.
Something about these two artists--who have nothing in common–is just so smooth, and creamy. I just want to drink the art off the page.
Acme Novelty is the truest art of storytelling with pictures I've seen. There’s text, yes. But the quietness and loneliness portrayed throughout the pictures in the first few pages is the hook. I just knew that this was a sad man. Something was wrong…but what? And even more engaging was after being led through the quiet sadness of this man’s daily ritual, he walks outside to face the huge silhouette of a rocket ship. Huh?
So, I kept reading. I
definitely enjoyed it. I initially
didn’t think I’d be able to finish it in time to write my weekly review. (And, well, I didn’t. I’m a day late! ) But I’m torn now by my need to please all of
you comic folk who know way more about this stuff than me, and my desire to tell you my most
visceral reaction to this experience.
Tearing over. Here goes nothing.
My most visceral reaction is that I kept getting really irritated by the
bleakness. Irritated at the author of this bleakness. I guess that could be a testament to how "good" the
art is. The story of the dog and the
perimeter, followed by the perceived deception and betrayal of his
“friends”….it wasn’t just that all that stuff was "well told." It
was the illustration of the dog as she
died, or the illustration of our protagonist as he desperately ran through the
night to find an extra suit in the pod.
It was all so painful, but in this encompassing way that honestly, I wasn't prepared for, never would have expected, and am not really sure I wanted to go through.
But I hung in anyway, through the irritation, through the bleak portrayal of this sad man and his pain. I hung
in because after such a set-up, and such a conflict, I wanted the pay off of a resolution. I wanted it to end, to climax, to--not a happy ending. Just an ending.
BUT THERE ISN’T ONE.
Which is TOTALLY irritating.
There I was learning that this story is just a story inside of a story. I had to put the book down--and this was days ago--and I couldn’t pick it up again for awhile. I'll be honest--I felt gypped. And tricked. I felt used.
I got over it. Wanted to read more.
So there I was, and there it goes: story within a story number two. (Which had a flashback in it.) And again, yes, the pain and desperation and
discomfort of our young “hero” (hardly!), was palpable and well depicted. But things just got worse and worse. There’d be an upswing and then a downturn
again. Oy. After a while, this became
almost totally repellent. There’s some humor
thrown in, sure--this guy likes to randomly
pull his pants down to his ankles and expose himself when he is by himself. Ha Ha. I’m not sure I understood this joke,
and probably had the same quizzical expression on my face every time I came
across this--is it just another
part of the storytelling, where the joke stands in stark contrast to other things around it? It just seemed so "male." Not in an Alpha-dog, macho kind of
way. It's just all wrapped up in sex and lust and
what male people do when male people are by themselves and feeling, um,sorry, lame. It was like reading the diary of an extremely
wimpy younger brother.
You know what came to mind for me? The Moth’s Story Slam instructions. Yeah.
Let me explain. A few years ago I
heard about these Story Slams at a café in the West Village in NYC. I don't know why, but it sounded really interesting. People get up and tell a story, and the
audience votes. And the whole thing is
like a tournament with big winners at the end. They win the big story slam prize. I don't know what it is. They get to be king of stories.
Anyhow, I never attended one, but I thought about it and
thought about telling a story there.
Here’s some of the key points from their “how to” page. (The stuff in italics is there words.)
Not This Way: "So I was thinking about climbing this mountain. But then I watched a little TV and made a snack and took a nap and my mom called and vented about her psoriasis then I did a little laundry (a whites load) (I lost another sock, darn it!) and then I thought about it again and decided I'd climb the mountain the next morning."
Yes This Way: "The mountain loomed before me. I had my hunting knife, some trail mix and snow boots. I had to make it to the little cabin and start a fire before sundown or freeze to death for sure."
I think Acme started just
as suggested. Like I already mentioned,
in the first few pages it started in the action, set up the stakes – lonely guy
with dog, sad – and they seem to be there (wherever "there" is) due to this giant spaceship sitting in the field.
Here's the next Slam tip:
Steer clear of meandering endings. They kill a story! Your last line should be clear in your head before you start.
Now, sure, they’re talking about when you’re telling the
story. But I think it goes for any book
too! And this seems to be almost the
style Chris Ware kept using. The stories would trail off with one ending
and then start telling another story. Look, I understood how "they are all connected" and that "it's part of the storytelling,"
but the meandering definitely had the power to lose me. And it did lose me. And sometimes it threw me out of reading it completely.
There are several other Slam tips, but the last two that I want
to mention are:
Contestants are judged on ……sticking to the theme and having a story that sticks—one that has a conflict and a resolution.
No rants! Take up this anger issue with your therapist, or
skip therapy and shape your anger into a story with some sort of resolution.
(Stories = therapy!)
I felt like I was reading a lot about conflict and very little
about resolution. And when there was a resolution
it didn't feel like it was any kind of choice--it felt like random happenstance. This character is a classic victim – at
least that’s how it felt, to me, to read. It was
like hanging out with that friend who only knows how to
complain. They want things to be
different, but jeez, if things would only go their way for once! It's exhausting.
Which brings me to the final tip up there, “No Rants.” There’s no anger issue here, but there is a
whiny, wimpy issue. Enough
already. It's really boring. I mean, you really are "catching him with his
pants down" over and over again. Now, sure: we all have plenty of these moments in our life, but god, it doesn't really
make for great entertainment. It's therapeutic
for the writer, for sure, but not for this reader. I just felt uncomfortable.
All that being said – this is unlike any other comic I’ve
read to date. I recently wrote about
Punisher and how I wish the artist would have taken a little more time with the
moments that could really have shown some difficult emotion, any difficult emotion. That’s something I'm not coming across in comics, and I'm starting to wonder if it just doesn't happen that often. And here’s an entire
work that deals so well with art and emotion in a totally unique way. I should be standing up in my chair
applauding. One could argue that this is
true blue, honest to god, Big Bold Letter Art.
But honestly, you know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of that actor or actress who is
really good at crying. Crying in a scene
is hard to do. It's not merely making your eyes water. The impressive part is in witnessing an actor
so committed to a role, and so committed to buying fully into the desires and
objectives and obstacles of the character that they are playing, that they
truly react as if they are that character. That takes true talent.
Then you’ve just got someone crying on stage for a couple of hours. It's not entertainment. It's not art.
Now, that comparison right there, that isn't really fair. Acme Novelty Library isn't extemporaneous public storytelling. It's an exquisitely drawn piece of work, an emotional comic book by a legendary artist who I know very little about, and the very little I know comes from one other person. I feel, and I felt, completely over my head in this task of "reviewing" it. I don't pretend that I've got any expertise in talking about this, in reviewing it. I've never read a comic like this, I've never spent time with one of this caliber. I don't even know what to call it--comic book doesn't even feel right, it's nothing like what I've read before for these columns. I'm glad I read it. It took a while, and it...hurt. You understand? This hurt to read, and it's hard to explain.
I didn't know that they could do them like this. Okay? I didn't know.
-Nina Stone, 2008