Daniel Clowes has a peculiar talent for recreating life in small town America with a twist of bitterness and a touch of the disturbing. Like a Twin Peaks of comics, Ice Haven presents a diorama of messed up individuals, whose lives are intertwined around each other and the place where they live. While many of the characters seem superficially normal, there are strong undercurrents of personality disorder, depression and rotten luck.
The unique thing about Ice Haven is its presentation, reminiscent of a collection of newspaper strips. By focusing on each character for a page or two at a time, their personalities and relationships are built up slowly, with seeds for future tensions planted throughout. The slightly unusual geography of the town is omnipresent in the background, anchoring the characters to their location.
These characters are classic Clowes: pretty, wistful teenage girls with dreams queuing up to be shattered; children with hang-ups that are way beyond their years; and a host of disaster-prone men, struggling to make sense of the world around them and slowly withdrawing into their personal oddities.
Ice Haven is a bleak but fascinating peak into American life as seen through the author’s eerie imagination. Its familiar presentation ensures the off-kilter characters are doubly disturbing, making an overall package that’s compulsive reading. This book should be at the top of the reading list of anyone who likes the strange and bizarre, and will certainly strike a chord with those who appreciate Clowes’ other graphic novels.