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.