“Pittsburgh” by Frank Santoro. New York Review Comics, September 2019. 216 pp. Hardcover, $29.95. Adult.
Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review. Visit the store or contact them at email@example.com to find or order this or any book reviewed on this blog.
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Think Pittsburgh—what do you picture? Most people imagine heavy, decaying industry: steel, rust, and grime. Frank Santoro sees color—really bright color. Witness this two-page spread:
In his new book “Pittsburgh,” Santoro, a native of the city, graciously invites readers into his personal history of the place, as he works to summon and piece together memories of his family, neighbors, and neighborhoods. Continue reading ““Pittsburgh,” by Frank Santoro”
Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review. Visit the store or contact them at 574.534.1984 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find or order any book reviewed on this blog.
”Rusty Brown, Part I” by Chris Ware. Pantheon, September 2019. 352 pp. Hardcover, $35. Adult.
“Sprawling” is an adjective frequently applied to the visual and narrative style of vaunted comics master Chris Ware. The above image is only a section of the unfolded cover of his new book, “Rusty Brown, Part One,” but it well conveys the nested, insular, and almost maddeningly complex narrative mapping for which Ware is famous. (See my review of his 2012 book in a box, “Building Stories.”)
“Depressing” is an adjective frequently—perhaps most frequently—applied to Ware’s characters and their stories. In “Rusty Brown,” however, though the characters’ lives are often bleak, the book culminates in an expression of the type of hope and determination that keep Ware’s characters—and, really, the human race—going, even in the face of despair. “Books can’t tell us how to live,” he explains in a recent ”Guardian” interview, “but they can help us get better at imagining how to live.”
As well as how not to live, as some of the characters in “Rusty Brown” suggest. The book runs one by one through the stories of seven protagonists, introduced at the start of the book with film-like credits. The names are all very similar: for example, “W.K. Brown as W.K. ‘Woody’ Brown.” All of the characters either teach at or attend a small private school in Omaha, Nebraska. Though the real-life Chris Ware is associated with Chicago—he lives in the suburb Oak Park, populated by Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and patterns that echo throughout his work—he grew up in Omaha. “Rusty Brown” could be an alternate, “what if?” universe for Ware, especially since an art teacher at the school shares his name. Continue reading ““Rusty Brown, Part I,” by Chris Ware”
“Clyde Fans,” by Seth. Drawn and Quarterly, May 2019. 488 pp. Hardcover, $54.95. Adult.
Drawn and Quarterly sent me a free review copy of this book.
Canadian comics artist Seth cultivates an antique persona, complete with tie, overcoat, fedora, and what look like horn-rimmed glasses. With a given name like Gregory Gallant, you wouldn’t think he’d need a pseudonym.
But Seth likes to push boundaries: between people and their public and narrative personas, as well as between history and fiction. Seth’s first major book, “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken,” published in 1996, was supposedly autobiographical, about his search for a “New Yorker” cartoonist who had disappeared from public view. As the book gained popularity, Seth eventually let on that he had manufactured the whole scenario, although much of the detail from the narrator’s life in the story was autobiographical. In an odd twist, despite the book’s fictional core, it’s often cited as the catalyst for an explosion of autobiographical comics that began in the 1990s and has fueled the genre since.
Seth’s just-released “Clyde Fans” is also fictional, although as he explains in an author’s note in the back of the book, it began with a real-life Ontario storefront of the same name, which he used to walk past. The office was closed, gathering dust, but he could see two framed portraits on a back wall, and wondered about the story behind those two men and their defunct business. He began writing a serial comic about Clyde Fans and the two brothers who ran it, whom he named Abe and Simon. Abe narrates in the image below, and you can see the two portraits hanging on the wall behind him before the frames zoom in for close ups:
Continue reading “The Weight of Memory: “Clyde Fans,” by Seth”