Best of 2010: Two Surprises

January 5th, 2011 by | Tags: , , , ,

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

chris ware – acme novelty library #20

official page

I’ve never been able to get into Chris Ware. I’ve liked the odd bit of context-less art. I think there was a New Yorker cover that I liked and maybe some spot illustrations elsewhere. I could recognize the skill, it just never hooked me. I even bought Jimmy Corrigan at one point, and it’s sitting in my closet unfinished. I tried it, didn’t like it, dropped it.

Acme 20, though. I haven’t read any of the prior volumes, and to be honest, I barely even know what the series is about. I’d heard some advance buzz from some reliable friends, though, and that led to me throwing it on my Amazon list, which is where I put everything I’m thinking of getting. My good buddy Lauren Davis picked it up for my birthday as a surprise (she is the first person to a) reveal that she knows I have a wish list and b) actually buy something off it).

I read it on a long train ride and was blown away. I knew nothing about it going in, other than it was about a dude and each page was a single day in one year of his life. Acme 20 goes from pre-verbal to death for this guy Lint, and it’s just an amazing work of comics art.

Rather than doing the cheap thing and presenting a highlight reel of Lint’s life, where we see him win at hide and seek, be prom king, marry a hot model, or whatever, Ware instead focuses on a range of events and emotions. We see sadness, happiness, and later on, we find out that some things we’ve seen are far from the whole picture.

Ware uses the page-a-day to his benefit, hiding facts and truths between the pages and between the years. Reality slips and slides as time goes on, with jarring shifts in Lint’s status happening completely off-screen and sometimes never even being explained at all. You have to take things as they come, a lot like you do in real life.

In the end, Ware didn’t make a story about lies or sadness or guilt or happiness or whatever. He just told the story of one guy’s life, for better or for worse. And it was fantastic.

kou yaginuma – twin spica

preview, official page

When I was a kid, I was really, really into certain things. I liked arachnids, especially scorpions (in theory). I liked turtles, and even had an ornery pet painted turtle. I liked drawing. I also really, really liked space. I never had a telescope, but I tore through library books about astronomy. Reading about stars, thinking about walking on the moon, and checking out comparison charts of planets… I ate all of that up. It was cool, and really hard to truly understand. It was so different, right? But you grow up and you grow out of things. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and drew something, you know? Things fade out.

I hadn’t thought about that in years, but Twin Spica brought it all back. I didn’t expect to like it. The art looked way too cute, the lead was this tiny little girl, and it didn’t look like the kind of book where people smoked cigarettes in dark bars and got shot in alleys. I’d seen it around, judged it by its cover, and was like, “Well, maybe if I get bored.”

I got bored one day and read it. Reaction: stunned surprise. Yaginuma made me remember a little bit of what it was a like to be a kid and be endlessly fascinated by the unknown. The endless memorization just because, the spacey daydreams, and just trying to wrap your too-small hands around as huge of an idea as “outer space” come across with a clarity I didn’t expect.

There’s a real love for the subject matter in Twin Spica, but rather than being cloying, overly subservient, and impenetrable, it’s delivered in a way that the love is transferred to the reader. You can tell exactly how much Asumi, the main character, enjoys space. It’s a little bittersweet, too, due to the presence of Mr. Lion. He’s the representation of the dangers of space travel and past tragedy, but even then, he’s there to support Asumi and nurture her interest in space. In the end, her sacrifices and setbacks stand right next to her triumphs and all of it just reinforces her resolve.

As far as showing you what it’s like to be a kid and just entranced with something, just positively drowning and not even caring because it’s endlessly fascinating and infinitely wonderful, Twin Spica nails it.

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4 comments to “Best of 2010: Two Surprises”

  1. Have you read anything past the first volume of Twin Spica? Wikipedia tells me that there will be 16, which doesn’t sound like it’s excessive, but certainly could drop in quality at some point.

  2. @David Fairbanks: I’ve read the first three and will have four and five soon.

  3. @david brothers: Excellent. I guess this is where my manga money is going for a while.

  4. Yeah, I feel the same way about Ware that you did. That he’s this austere fellow who creates art meant for the same audience that enjoys the literature of say, Philip Roth – postmodern and deconstructive, with an emphasis on exploring the nature of human misery and failings, that uses absurdism to underline the mundane nature of the story. It’s not as if I hate that sort of thing at all, but if we’re going to be honest it’s not what I gravitate towards. However, Acme Novelty Library 20 sounds exactly like my sort of thing. I think I might give Ware another shot.