The Onion A.V. Club reviews ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20 and PALOOKAVILLE #20

November 19, 2010

The AV Club    |    Noel Murray, Jason Heller, Zack Handlen, Leonard Pierce, Oliver Sava & Christian Williams    |    November 19, 2010

November 19, 2010

By Zack Handlen, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, Oliver Sava, And Christian Williams

Thematically, ACME Novelty Library #20 (Drawn And Quarterly) offers little that readers haven’t seen from Chris Ware before. This is the latest chapter in Ware’s serialized “Rusty Brown” graphic novel, about a sad little kid growing up in Omaha and the sad little people who drift in and out of his life. ACME #20 specifically tells the story of Jordan Wellington Lint, who appeared in ACME #16 and #17 as a cocky high-school stoner who bullies Rusty. Now Ware surveys Lint’s entire life, from birth to death—1958 to 2023—and considers how and why he became such an asshole. All the usual Ware hallmarks are evident: childhood trauma, the loss of a parent, mixed messages about race and morality, an almost crippling preoccupation with sex, an inability to forge lasting relationships, and an old house that keeps calling the protagonist back like a homing signal. But while Ware continues to work in shades of blue (emotionally speaking, that is), he’s become far more daring and varied in his storytelling. The last ACME followed Rusty’s father, a failed science-fiction writer, and included a lengthy story-within-the-story set on Mars; #20 spans 65 years and includes scenes set in churches, recording studios, football stadiums, frat houses, and mini-mansions. Formally, Ware’s work over the past few years—and especially in #20—has been as complex and playful as the early ACME strips and short stories that made him an alt-comics sensation in the mid-’90s. Here, Ware comes up with inventive depictions of how a baby Lint sees the world, how old man Lint feels during a doctor’s appointment, and how one of Lint’s sons writes about his jerk of a father in a bestselling memoir. The fragmented, time-skipping narrative can be hard to follow at times, but it fits together better when reread and when taken as a part of the “Rusty Brown” whole. What separates this work-in-progress from Jimmy Corrigan is that Ware seems to be working more intuitively, inserting rhyming images and structural parallels from chapter to chapter without overemphasizing their meaning. He’s showing how easily a shift in focus creates a shift in perception. In Rusty’s story, Jordan Lint is just a villain. In Jordan’s story, it’s not so simple… A-

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For the new issue of Palookaville, Canadian cartoonist Seth abandons the pamphlet format—perhaps permanently—in favor of a hardcover anthology containing the latest installment of his graphic novel Clyde Fans, some samples from his sketchbooks and commercial art jobs, a lengthy photo essay about an elaborate model city he built in his basement, and a melancholy autobiographical strip about a trip to a Calgary book festival. The new format suits Seth; for much of the past decade, he’s been remarkably productive, but the work has been coming out in disconnected pieces, and hasn’t always been easy to find. (With a story as slow-paced and moody as Clyde Fans, waiting sometimes up to a year for another oblique piece of an unfinished puzzle had become less than rewarding.) That said, the material in Palookaville #20 (Drawn And Quarterly) isn’t Seth’s strongest. The Clyde Fans chapter is powerful, detailing the 1975 closing of a machine plant, with Seth using images of the plant’s significance in its community as a kind of Greek chorus in order to explicate the tragedy. But the chapter will undoubtedly be even more resonant when it appears in the finished novel, and the remaining pieces in the book—though engaging enough—feel too much like padding. (And in the case of the “I hate my life” autobiographical story, too much like whining, with little of the self-deprecating wit that Seth is capable of.) Given that Seth has had some real triumphs in recent years with mini-projects like Wimbledon Green, it’s disappointing that he doesn’t deliver a book that’s front-to-back essential. Still, as a first step to a new conception of Palookaville, this 20th volume shows lots of potential… B



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