Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Acme Novelty Library No. 19

by Chris Ware

After finishing the brilliant Building Stories a couple of months ago, I felt a powerful need to read more Chris Ware, which is not an easy thing to do.  I'd read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth years ago, but aside from that, it's very difficult to get ahold of the rest of Ware's work.  His slow-moving and sporadic Acme Novelty Library series is out of print, and often exceptionally expensive to buy on eBay (except that I got lucky with a reasonably-priced #19).

I'd originally avoided this book when it came out because I knew it continued the 'Rusty Brown' story, which I had not read the beginning of, and which I assumed would be collected one day, like Jimmy Corrigan.  It having been five years, with no further movement on this story taking place, I decided it was time to dive in.

This volume is split pretty evenly between two stories.  The first, 'The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars', is a comics adaption of a science fiction story written by Rusty Brown, the protagonist of the second story.  It follows the story of a man (also named Rusty), who is part of a four-person expedition to Mars, in a tale modelled after the pulp sci-fi books of the fifties.  The four people are really two couples, who set up farmsteads on opposite sides of a special atmospheric field that allows them to walk around in a small bubble of atmosphere and warmth.  Their plans to farm and start a colony there are dashed by the lack of a relief ship, and by the bitter jealousy of Rusty.  This story is much more poetic than those it is taking after, as Ware uses the design of the page, and his usual minute attention to detail to create a pretty interesting tale.

After that, we are treated to a story about Rusty Brown, as we follow him through his first love, during his early days in the 'big city', through to his hasty second relationship and marriage.  This is pretty familiar footing for anyone who is used to Ware's work - the hapless protagonist can't relate well to other people, and constantly misreads his lover's cues, moods, and motivations.

Reading this book leaves me craving a little more Ware, because despite how depressing his work can be at times, it really is marvellous.

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