Chris Ware, writer and artist of Acme Novelty Library writes and draws one kind of graphic novel narrative; one that is populated with sad characters living sad lives, but drawn with an incredible attention to the small details.
Acme Novelty Library #18 is a hardcover graphic novel of about fifty pages (maybe it's more apt to call this a graphic novelette), but while fifty pages may seem like a not very substansive length for a graphic novel, this is not a slight creation at all, because after reading it, the reader feels like they've experienced a big part of the central character's life. The front cover of Acme Novelty Library #18 doesn't have an illustration that suggests what the story within is about, nor does it have a title, it's almost as if Ware is trying not to have an audience for this book.
Ware writes characters that are the opposite of fantastical, they are people we all know on some level and they never have happy endings. One could argue that that is rather one -noteish of Ware and this shows that he doesn't have any range, but I'd counter that this is just an example of a creator reinforcing his world view and attempting to understand what goes on in the heads of these down-trodden people. I can't remember the central character being called by her name and just now, flipping through the book, the only name she's called is "Nanna", by the kid she watches and his father and maybe that's another way in which Ware is presenting her as the everywoman who's going nowhere special in life.
Reading about "Nanna" is very unrelentingly depressing, but at the same time I cared about "Nanna" and wanted to know what was going to ultimately happen to her even though I knew that the end of this journey wasn't going to go where I wanted it to. So even though Ware's work is depressing, I think his books are still excellent examples of this medium because he doesn't take shortcuts in telling his narratives and his story-telling prowess both in visual layouts and just regular people dialogues are almost without par. Acme Novelty Library #18 is a good introduction to Ware's work, but be prepared to bring out your reading glasses because there is so much information on almost every single page (plus the lettering is very small) for which the "normal" way one reads comics isn't going to be enough. Also you might want to have a lighter, more fun comic such as Scott Pilgrim or Groo ton hand to serve as a chaser for the reading experience that is Acme Novelty Library.
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