Another winner from Ware, up there with Jimmy Corrigan.

THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY

Like the cartoon equivalent of Willy Wonka—a graphic visionary opens the door to his creative factory with a wide-ranging anthology that conjures a world (if not a universe) unto itself.

Before he helped spur the graphic novel to greater cultural legitimacy and mainstream popularity with Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Chicago artist Ware had established a devoted following among comic connoisseurs with his work under the periodical ACME Novelty Library banner. This tabloid-sized collection of short strips suggests a manifest destiny of the imagination, as Ware moves all over the artistic landscape, from the retro homage of Quimby the Mouse to the sci-fi futurism of Rocket Sam and Tales of Tomorrow to the new frontier of Big Tex. (Inevitably, Jimmy Corrigan pops in as well.) Many of these strips are a single page or less, and some of them are not accompanied by text. Ware elsewhere employs plenty of small-type language to subversive advantage through a series of comic-book advertisements that suggest the cultural imperialism of America-the-theme-park, and the quick-fix, self-help capitalism that puts a price on everything from creativity to sexual/spiritual fulfillment to reason to live. Cutting closest to the subculture that shaped Ware’s sensibility are the ongoing adventures of Rusty Brown, in his move from geeky kid to obsessive collector. For those willing to dismantle the book as a disposable artifact, there are cut-and-fold projects for assembly and a constellation chart of the cosmos suitable for wall-hanging. Ultimately, the artist argues that the essence of cartooning isn’t drawing; that this is a complex language of pictures and works, meant to be read rather than merely viewed. The innocence of childhood comics, the formal precision of design (almost art deco in some places) and the darker realities of modern life find an edgy balance in Ware’s work.

Another winner from Ware, up there with Jimmy Corrigan.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-42295-1

Page Count: 108

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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