. . . Chris Ware

. . .

Last year, the Comics Journal split its double-sized hundredth issue between Chris Ware (proprietor of the well-griefed Acme Novelty Library) and Charles Schulz (still the sole artist on Peanuts). Critical wisdom, repeated several times in the course of the magazine, is that this provocative pairing works for only the first half of Schulz's career, and that by the mid-1970s the final sparks of viciousness and bitterness were leached from Peanuts, leaving it a thin collection of very soft gags.

Well, it's true that Schulz doesn't kick Charlie Brown around much any more. But there's still plenty of crummy mood left in the old guy, and for the last couple of decades, it's been channeled through a character left unmentioned by the Comics Journal: Spike, the beagle hermit who looks a little like Dashiell Hammett.

Only a week or two ago, he featured in a downright Warean moment: a single-panel strip of a desert thunderstorm, with Spike, small and centered, braced against a cactus and accompanied only by the thought-balloon "Mom!" (Or, as Ware would've put it, "M-m-mom?")

And my favoritest Peanuts of all time ever was a 1980s Sunday Spike -- I paraphrase from memory so's not to stir up the lawyers:

(Spike looks at cactus) "Did you ever hear how it was that I moved to the desert? When I was very young, almost a puppy, I lived in a house with a family. One day the family had a birthday party in their yard. A guest saw a rabbit and told me to chase it. And then everyone was shouting for me to chase it. I was excited and wanted to do the right thing, and so I chased the rabbit. The rabbit ran into the street and was run over. And so I came here, where I can never hurt anyone again." (Pause) "I've never told anyone that story." (Looks at cactus) "I guess I still haven't."
I think of that punchline a lot... it seems like it's hit something essential about fiction, and criticism, and autobiography -- maybe about all writing for publication.... "I've never told anyone that story. I guess I still haven't."

. . .

Irony Watch

Chris Ware - art = Dave Eggers ?
'Cause I remember that comic Eggers did for the SF Weekly, and -- hoo boy, he sure ain't Chris Ware!

Among other equations derivable from San-Francisco-to-New-York transformation functions (well, more like Berkeley-to-Brooklyn, but you'd hardly expect a bohemian spokesperson nowadays to admit to being from Berkeley, would you?), we find that old favorite:

Snob + hypocrisy = Times rock critic

. . .

I dreamt I found in an early issue of the Acme Novelty Library a previously overlooked inset of "Underground Cartoons from Mainstream Publications," guest edited by Mark Newgarden. The one I opened to was a 1950s-New-Yorker-ish ink wash of two seals happily inspecting their new-fangled friendly-habitat zoo environment and a zookeeper explaining, "Of course, in autumn you'll be hunted down and slaughtered just like everyone else." I flipped back a couple of pages to a spidery line drawing of several groups of people standing on their balconies in a tall apartment building; the caption read "An Experiment in Directed Hearing" but I woke before I could figure out the joke.

+ + +

Without a strong hand at the till of the ship of state, our nation's copyeditors continue to run wild in the streets. From the very first issue of the Acme Novelty Library to the current Amazon bestseller, Jimmy Corrigan has remained consistently The Smartest Kid on Earth. But evidence collected by conspiracy theorist Juliet Clark suggests that over half of the newspapers who've responded with "Zoom! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't Just For Geeks Anymore!" book reviews instead for some reason consistently refer to "The Smartest Kid in the World."

In the race to incompetence, San Francisco's own ChronEx wins by a bulbous red-veined nose. Directly beneath a large reproduction of a graphic containing the original title, it refers consistently to "The World's Smartest Kid," trimming Chris Ware's wordy epithet by a full 20%. Compare and contrast; let the voters decide!

  this second sort

. . .

Comics comment: Acme Novelty Datebook, Peepshow, Yummy Fur, Fancy Froglin, Blab!, Zero Zero, LowJinx, Maakies, etc.

The expression of the face becomes coarse, and the movements slow; the eye is sunken, the face bloated and pale, and the disposition is fretful and irritable; the appetite is capricious, the throat irritated, and the patient makes frequent attempts to clear it, in order to speak distinctly. There are pains in the chest, wakefulness, and during the night lascivious thoughts and desires. The relish for play or labor is gone, and a growing distaste for business is apparent; there is a determination of blood to the head, headache, noises and roaring sounds in the ears, the eyes may be blood-shot and watery, weak or painful, the patient imagines bright spots or flashes passing before them, and there may be partial blindness. There is increasing stolidity of expression, the eye is without sparkle, and the face becomes blotched and animal-like in its expression. The victim is careless of his personal appearance, not unscrupulously neat, and not unfrequently a rank odor exhales from the body.

The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser, R. V. Pierce M.D.

. . .

Comics comment: Acme Novelty Datebook

Nick Lowe summed up a tour with Van Morrison: "He's completely mad. But he sings like a fucking bird."

Robert Crumb draws like a fucking bird sings, and so his sketchbooks tend to contain his best work. The structural labor of comics narrative cramps him; heedless of beak and plumage, he lunges for the easiest way out.

Chris Ware is no fucking bird. Instead, he's driven by structural concepts.

The structural concept of his sketchbook is that he wishes he were more like Robert Crumb.

+ + +


Regarding the earlier group review, a reader comments:

i don't get it. why?
Future art historians will surely describe our era as the Golden Age of masturbation portraits.

Yay us.

. . .

Reference Work, 2

You read a story and suddenly there's a part that becomes just words because you know nobody ever did it like that, or said it that way but you have to pretend just to find out what happened. What I am describing is like that, too. Everything flattens out and isn't real.
- The Captain, Equinox
My challenge was to not point out how our friendship, or Ian's encouragement of my artistic ambitions, or, for that matter, the laughter we shared watching Godard's Alphaville at the Bleecker Street Cinema, expressed possibilities of connection that our daily orgy of nihilism denied.
- Jonathan Lethem, "The Beards"

I agree with Leonard that there's a thinness in much highly-praised contemporary fiction. But the thinning agent's not foreign blood.

In serious mainstream prose it's easier to incorporate John Wayne as a villain than to reproduce his attraction as a lead. An ambitious story or novel must make Ignatz genuinely destructive and Krazy purely female. The sensitive protagonist has no siblings; the jolly uncle is a child molester; superhuman privileges bring no joy and improve nothing.... These are generic conventions. They're integral to the story being told, but when I strike them my stride falters. I don't slip, but I slide a bit.

What disappoints Leonard are Chabon's, Franzen's, Moody's, and Lethem's references. What disappoints me is the familiarity of their disappointments. It isn't specific to these novelists, or to subjects like soul music or comic books. The same story's been told of painters and boxers, poets and actresses, gypsy fiddlers and twelve-tone composers: the transmutation of exhilarating matter into glum defeat.

Artists like Herriman, Hawks, and Gaye delight through the thrownaway (even if well rehearsed) gesture that transfixes. By nature, they're anti-plot or at least anti-character-development. When narrative attempts to depict such lyric effects, they can only be given too little or too much attention. If it's made the point of the story, the point of the story must be loss. It only takes a few minutes to hear a song by Schumann or Mimms and then where's the hero? Even as articulate an artist as Smokey Robinson can only tell us that rich guys love cocaine.

Alternatively, the writer may try to suggest some aspect of the experience in passing, using the critical equivalent of free indirect discourse, or may, like Stephen King and James Joyce, flatly cite brandnames.

In any case, narrative is saved: life is only interrupted. The choice has nothing to do with the referent itself, nothing to do with "high" or "low". Wagnerian opera was as bad for John Jones as hip-hop was for Arthur Lomb.

It may, however, say something about the referrer. Across media, a downward turn indicates depth. Chris Ware, like Lethem, started in high-art institutions, became revulsed by academic pretensions, was attracted by genre practitioners, established himself as a star in the most conceptually daring end of low-art publishing, and then (with a success that stunned his new peer group) was welcomed into the market covered by the NYRB&TBR. For both Ware and Lethem, disappointment was a vehicle.

On the other hand, prose fiction can embody its own sort of lyric effect. Lethem's "Sleepy People" is an example whose lack of critical regard shows how low beauty places in most readers' and reviewers' criteria. Although in some ways the career of Karen Joy Fowler anticipated Lethem's, her preference for comic structures puts her in constant danger of being reshelved from high-middlebrow to chick-lit or YA. And the most enthusiastically referential of storytellers Howard Waldrop, Guy Davenport unable to sacrifice the gaiety of their scholarship, remain coterie property.

... to be continued ...


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.