Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Clowes and Ware from Penguin: The Book of Other People

So: there are short stories by Dan Clowes and Chris Ware in the new collection called The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith for the benefit of 826 New York and published by Penguin.

The Ware story ("Jordan Wellington Lint") is really surprising, because it uses a formal device I haven't seen Ware use before: each page is dated to a moment in the title character's childhood, with a drawing style meant to evoke the developing consciousness of the character, who ages from birth to age 13 over the course of the strip. One of my co-panelists from the Ware MLA thing called this device "Joycean," and I think it definitely stands up under that comparison.

Worth noticing, too, are a fun set of Posy Simmonds illustrations for a story by Nick Hornby. (Or, really, it's not quite a "story": it's a series of about-the-author blurbs that track the undistinguished literary career of James Johnson.) That's a light, funny piece, and Simmonds's illustrations do a lot to help it work.

But I should say something about the Dan Clowes story, since I've scanned a couple of panels from it. It's a study of a single evening in the life of an online "film critic" named Justin M. Damiano, who is on the verge of writing a scathing review of a new film by a director whose work he used to like. I imagine that in the context of this book, the story might seem kind of slight: it's just four pages long, and it rises and falls on a single decision.

But following Ice Haven's Harry Nabors and the ruminations about filmmaking in David Boring, this piece seems like an interesting addendum. Are critics really like horseflies? Damiano is. Like the girls in Ghost World, he aggressively espouses opinions that seem to have been crafted merely to be contrary; he seems to be driven by a combination of loneliness and narcissism. It's a compelling, even somewhat sympathetic portrait of an internet personality type that we're all familiar with.

So: it's a fun book, and it's for a good cause. I should point out, though, that I just got it a couple of busy days ago, and I haven't actually read the prose pieces yet. So this is not a review, really—just a recommendation that you seek this book out.

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