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Saturday, June 5th, 2004


McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 13

by Chris Ware

A review by Chris Bolton

For the past few years there's been a growing, insidious movement aimed at achieving mainstream acceptance of the comic-art form. The thing is, I don't want comix to be taken seriously. True, it would be nice to stop getting those skeptical sidelong glances when someone who thinks comix are for kids catches you reading one — but that's their problem. Those of us who grew up with the form and have graduated from supermen in tights to the more adult graphic novels that have emerged in the past two decades don't need to be told that comix have "matured." In fact, I'd rather society never accepted comix as a unique, potentially astonishing storytelling form — and that comix stayed the rebellious younger sibling to prose and film. I fear the curse of legitimacy: acceptance leads to complacency leads to boredom. The establishment will co-opt the form, take away its uniqueness, and give it the dull, formulaic sameness that plagues too many novels and films (and mainstream comics, come to think of it).

Having said that, allow me to extend my gratitude to Chris Ware for the thirteenth issue of the McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Over the last decade Dave Eggers's literary journal has offered a number of uniquely packaged editions — from individual chapbooks for each story to the inclusion of a They Might Be Giants CD to accompany the text — but rarely have I found much of note inside the lovely covers. For me, the design work tends to be the most appealing aspect of the journal.

Issue 13, however, is edited by Ware, the creator of the Acme Novelty Library with its continuing stories of Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby Mouse. This not only means the cover and dust jacket (which unfolds into a large and dizzyingly intricate poster) are beautifully designed, but that the entire journal is filled with either comics or essays about comics by the likes of John Updike and Ira Glass.

While most of the best pieces in McSweeney's No. 13 have been excerpted from other sources (Joe Sacco's terrific The Fixer, Art Spiegelman's forthcoming In the Shadow of No Towers), the vast majority are more than worth a look. Notable pieces include contributions from industry stalwarts Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), Adrian Tomine (Sleepwalk), and the Hernandez brothers (Love and Rockets), as well as from artists previously unfamiliar to me, such as Mark Newgarden's handful of macabre and funny "Little Nun" strips, Chester Brown's "The Death of Thomas Scott," and David Heatley's oddly affecting "Portrait of My Dad." Ware contributes an interesting essay about the often-frustrating life of a comix artist, as well as some typically solid examples of his comic work. For afficianados of the form, there are some pages from Charles Schulz's sketchbook, George Herriman's final Krazy Kat comic strips, and an original page of a Mutt and Jeff strip in which the titular characters agree to commit suicide.

McSweeney's No. 13 is subtitled An Assorted Sampler of North American Comic Drawings, Strips, and Illustrated Stories, Etc. Like any sampler, not every piece will be to each reader's taste. But for those who appreciate comix and the brilliance of the form, the hit-and-miss ratio is far better than in many similar anthologies. Ware has assembled a gorgeous tapestry of sumptuous illustrations and odd but compelling stories that suggests comix are still a long way from cookie-cutter formulas and mass-market acceptance. If you're already a comix fan, you'll treasure it. If you aren't, it might just convert you — but be sure you don't spread the word to too many others. We don't want the secret to get out...

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