Chris Ware is a unique force in comics. Combining the talents of draughtsmanship and caricature with amazing characterisation, dialogue and story-telling, at his best he’s capable of works as unforgettable as Jimmy Corrigan. Ware came to public attention through his The ACME Novelty Library comic, published since 1993. It was in these volumes that he first experimented with Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby the Mouse, the characters that went on to cement his reputation in larger books of their own.
This volume, subtitled Our Annual Report to the Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Book, is a collection of the best bits from the Novelty Library comics. Five characters and their supporting cast permeate the book: Rusty Brown, a selfish and immature collector of children’s toys; Big Tex, a mentally handicapped man, still living with his resentful father; Rocket Sam, a futuristic castaway on a uninhabited planet who builds his own robot friends but still can’t treat them in a humane way; a nameless superhero unable to relate to the world and people around him; and another nameless character from the future, persecuted by an Orwellian computer system. Throw in cameos from the likes of Quimby and Corrigan and you’ve got a recipe for Ware at his darkest – a bleak cross-section of humanity that’s both savagely amusing and borderline disturbing.
Scattered amongst the pages are tightly packed and intricately detailed prose pieces, spoof adverts and a cut-out-and-build Novelty Library, all equally cynical in their undertone. Perhaps it’s the book itself which is the star of the show though – a beautifully oversized behemoth, virtually impossible to read in any way other than spread open on the floor on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s absolutely stunning, like something from an era long past, when books were crafted with care and passed down the generations.
The bleak outlook won’t appeal to all readers, but if you like your humour dark, or you’ve already sampled and enjoyed some of Ware’s fine output, this can’t fail to ring your bell. Expensive but reassuringly so, this is a book to read through, to dip into, to take your time over. And like a CD of your favourite band’s difficult to find B-sides, it adds further depth and richness to Ware’s already wonderful works.