Friday, July 15, 2005

Book No. 20: McSweeney's Quarterly Concern No. 13, edited by Chris Ware

This one's all about indie comics, from Chris Ware's funny and bitter foldout cover to the wealth of material inside, including (and this is a small sample) comics by Los Bros Hernandez, Crumb, the ever-awesome Jim Woodring, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, George Herriman's last, unfinished Krazy Kat cartoons, a print of Obadiah Oldbuck, which is the first comic printed in America (albeit one blatantly stolen from Rodolphe Topffer, the Swiss inventor of comics as a medium), some thrown-away scrawls of Peanuts characters by Charles Schultz, and written essays Ira Glass, Michael Chabon, and John Updike (including some fairly impressive cartoons from Updike). Basically amounting to a hodge-podge anthology of short stories and essays around the central theme of comics, this edition of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern is enormous fun for those who enjoy this sort of thing, and would probably be enlightening even to those (and I'm thinking specifically of snotty John Leonard here) who think of themselves as being above the topic. Or perhaps Leonard only hates Marvel comics; I'm unsure.

Pointless critic-bashing aside, I don't have much too add about this collection. The topics are too varied to draw together a cogent point, other than, maybe, "Comics have widely-varied topics, somewhat like literature." For instance, the dream-logic in Woodring's Frank stories have absolutely nothing in common with Sacco's journalistic accounts of post-war Sarajevo, besides that both were drawn by Americans with technical skill and their own sense of story. Ware seems particularly defensive about his chosen profession, and perhaps he has good reason to feel that way. Or maybe not. The praise for Ware and his work, including this very anthology, appears to be universal, even from highfalutin' intellectuals.

In short: even smarties like the picture-books. And this here picture-book is a good 'un.


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