The North Adams Transcript reviews ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20

Investigating the dark side of families

North Adams Transcript    |    John E. Mitchell    |    April 3, 2010

ACME Novelty Library 20:
Lint by Chris Ware
(Drawn and Quarterly)

Even after the graphic novel explosion that has seen intellectually and creatively rich comics released by major publishers and embraced by lofty publications like The New Yorker, few creators have come close to surpassing one of the pioneers in exploring the art of the form and using it to tell a story beyond any narrative.

Creator Chris Ware has blazed a trail by making books that are entirely his own unmatched vision. With "ACME Novelty Library 20: Lint," he reveals the level to which comics compete with film and may actually be capable of filling in for the venerable old European art film styles that are now part of a bygone era.

Part of his continuing Rusty Brown narrative, "Lint" doesn’t so much chronicle the life of Jordan -- or Jason, as he prefers -- Lint, as it does let it happen in front of the reader.

Abandoned as a child by his mother and raised by a hostile father who seems to hold a grudge against his son, Lint spends his early years as a messed-up loser for whom all roads lead to disaster and meager expectations from the world around him. Like so many, Jordan the younger might not be superficially recognizable in the face -- or even lifestyle -- of Jordan the elder, but there is a ghost of a ne’er do well inside that haunts him, and sometimes seems to take control.

Whereas many comics flit between grid-style storytelling and free-form paneling, Ware’s page layout reflects the levels by which he measures reality. Large panels are broken into smaller ones piled on top of each other as the narrative flows, sometimes disintegrating further, to the point that the details are lost in the tiny frame.

Other times smaller panels surround larger ones. His panel progression can be entirely instinctual, reflecting more than 100 years of comics-reading training in our culture. It can switch suddenly to a more alien structure that begs the reader to decipher the order, even as it presents visually the jumbled recollection of time that so many of us have.
The way Ware makes use of sequencing, layout and minimalist dialogue, and mixes them into sequences that are better described as visual poetry than dream sequences, bring to mind filmmakers from Peter Greenaway to Charles Taylor. Both of those filmmakers understand that the tools of their medium are really part of a coded grammar that can extend beyond the narrative to relate so many things words could never touch. Ware embraces this pursuit better than any comics creator alive today and, in doing so, reveals himself as one of our most potent artists and storytellers.

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