Ware (Building Stories, 2012, etc.) fans rejoice: The long-rumored and hinted-at adventures of Rusty Brown finally come to the page after years in the making.
If Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is indeed the smartest kid in the world, Rusty Brown is perhaps among the least comfortable inside his own skin: He lives a life of quiet desperation in a snowy Midwestern suburb, obsessed with comic heroes such as Supergirl, who he’s sure would melt away the snow with her heat vision (“maybe she has problems shutting it off sometimes”); for his part, he wonders whether, in the quiet after a snowfall, he might have developed superhearing. Rusty’s dad, Woody, is no more content: A sci-fi escapist, he teaches English alongside an art teacher who just happens to be named Mr. Ware but seems happy only when he’s smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee in the teachers’ lounge even if Mr. Ware is given to bewildering him there with talk of Lacan, Baudrillard, and ennui. Joanne Cole, an African American third grade language teacher, gently empathizes with her angst-y little charges while nursing an impulse to learn how to play the banjo; it being the civil rights era, the music store owner who sells her an instrument asks, without malice, “So how’d you get interested in the banjo, anyway? Folk music? ‘Protest’ songs?” The lives of all these characters and others intersect in curious and compelling ways. As with Ware’s other works of graphic art, the narrative arc wobbles into backstory and tangent: Each page is a bustle of small and large frames, sometimes telling several stories at once in the way that things buzz around us all the time, demanding notice. Joanne’s story is perhaps the best developed, but the picked-on if aspirational Rusty (“I appear as a mortal, but…I may not be…”), the dweeby Woody, the beleaguered Chalky, and other players are seldom far from view.
An overstuffed, beguiling masterwork of visual storytelling from the George Herriman of his time.