-->
Comics

The Acme Novelty Library no. 18

Brian Bethel

If Ware's skill as an artist is to find the never-ending manifestations of sorrow and melancholy, his failure as a writer is to find meaning or resolution within them.


The Acme Novelty Library No. 18

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1897299176
Price: $17.95
Writer: Chris Ware
Length: 56
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-12-10
cat_label_url
Amazon

As if to compensate for the mindless enthusiasm and glee of the superhero comics of their youth, so many alternative graphic novelists of the past quarter-century or so have focused their work on a profound, inescapable sense of personal depression and hopelessness. While the medium continues to grow almost daily by leaps and bounds, alienation, loneliness, and melancholy have become a reliable standby for so many contemporary graphic novelists. Much of this is thanks to the work Chris Ware, whose epic late-nineties graphic novels like Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby the Mouse explore the ramifications of emotional emptiness on a grandly complex and ambitious scale. Ware's newest book, The Acme Novelty Library no. 18, which tells the story of a one-legged girl recalling her various failed relationships, likewise relishes in this irreconcilable depression but inadvertently exposes its inadequacies as a means in and of itself.

Like all of Ware's work, Acme Novelty Library no. 18, part of his ongoing "Building Stories" series, is about missed opportunities, the regretful remembrance of things past, and the agony and loneliness of growing up to find that you have somehow failed to successfully mature. As usual, these penitent recollections are told through Ware's epic, blueprint-like diagrams. With the minute, technical craft of his art, Ware is able to scientifically poeticize the flow of thought with an almost-Proustian sensibility and, at his best, is able to capture the most sentimentally sloppy of moments and emotions with the most precise, categorical of means. The opening pages of Acme Novelty Library reveal a complicated labyrinth of nighttime thoughts, wherein the nameless protagonist contemplates the possibility of her own death. Each morbid prospect is visually linked to the next, only to be finally returned to where it began, creating an endless chain of circling thought. Ware counterbalances the epic grandeur of these diagrams with an elegant, understated cursive, at times imbuing the seemingly far-removed work with a delicate intimacy.

Ware's comics are always enticing to read, primarily because they are so richly colored and delicately crafted. Sweeping, full-page drawings like the aforementioned combine the best motional qualities of film with the diagrammatic qualities of architecture and illustration. Ware is particularly talented at sustaining a set format for several pages, using a key motif to show transition and growth within the story. In one section, for example, various photographic family portraits lie in the center of the pages, presenting the official, external version of the events that surround them. As the surrounding events become more depressing and dysfunctional, the portraits point to the gap between experience and official representation. As always, the subtle changes recorded by these narrative experiments are used to further a sense of loss and agony.

But if Ware's skill as an artist is to find the never-ending manifestations of sorrow and melancholy, his failure as a writer is to find meaning or resolution within them. At times it seems as though melancholy moves beyond simply being an affect for Ware and becomes an end in and of itself. Like the filmmaker Todd Solondz, Ware populates his stories with his relentless onslaught of pained, tortured characters; yet if Solondz's flaw is an excess of cruelty, Ware's is an excess of pity. One can't help but feel that Ware's project as a storyteller is to create characters for him to cast his pity upon – nearly all of his narrative creations are inexplicably unconfident, depressed, lonely, and universally untalented. His characters themselves are unable to find meaning in their problems beyond dull and clichéd grievances and the occasional unrealized dream of suicide, and as a result, the reader isn't able to find meaning, either. The most Ware's protagonist can find to say about her hopeless situation is frequently less-than-profound ("My life is stupid. I'm stupid") or merely restating the obvious ("I am entirely, 100%, horrifyingly, alone").

Ware seems to seek to make up for the static melancholy of his works by upping the ante with his own technical abilities, but, problematically, the more mathematical and precise Ware's drawings become, the less heart and human interest he is able to squeeze into them. A little over halfway through, the book becomes repetitive and tedious. Ware's complex diagrams, however elaborate, are unable to provide the book with a sorely missed literary depth, and though they continue to provide the blandness of the protagonist's depression with an ever-shifting artistic sophistication, it soon becomes impenetrable and monotonous.

Ware remains perhaps the most masterful and certainly the most prolific of contemporary graphic novelists, and he already has contributed immensely to the medium over the course of the past fifteen years, showing the possible technical and structural complexities inherent in comics. For him to continue to push forward the medium as he has in the past, Ware must likewise strive for a newfound complexity in storytelling, likewise pushing the medium past its cliché of alienated, self-pitiful stories and into the more complicated realm of true literary depth and sophistication.

6
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image