Monday, July 16, 2007

Chad's Challenge part three: most important comics

So Chad asked me: You said that Eightball #22 and Jimmy Corrigan are the most important comics in the past five years (or so). Why these books?

Well, first of all, it's impossible to talk to any comics artist (and I mean an artist working in comics drawing something other than superheroes) that hasn't been influenced by Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. Every artist I've ever spoken to has brought them up. Their stuff is just so innovative and really does more with the medium of comics than anything else you've ever seen. Ware especially really plays with the notion of how to even read the page of comics, so much so that even his indicia for his books are part of the CONTENT of the story and that you can't just zip right through even a page of his stories. You really have to examine each page of art to even figure out the flow of it, because of how elaborately crafted it is. And Clowes even doing a comic the size of Eightball #22, which is more than twice the size of a regular comic, and each page containing many different strands of story at once, is incredibly inventive.

And both stories are just so labyrinthine that they require a lot of you as a reader. Eightball #22 (which Clowes has repackaged as Ice Haven) is a series of interconnected stories in a particular town following a wide cast of characters and centering vaguely on a kidnapping case. It's very much like Winesburg, Ohio or Spoon River Anthology (or Short Cuts or Magnolia, if you prefer). It's an incredibly complex and subtle plot that doesn't spell it all out for readers, but it's not about the story really. It's about the characters and they all feel very real, every situation, every bit of dialogue.

And Jimmy Corrigan is like a Faulkner novel in its complexity and the way it jumps around in time. We see Jimmy Corrigan as an adult meeting his father for the first time, and we see Jimmy's grandfather as a child years in the past, and it's all incredibly moving character work that is intricately plotted out and expertly laid out on the page.

Basically these are the kinds of comics that made people sit up and go "wow, comics ARE literature!" much more than Maus or anything Eisner did or even the more recent media darlings like Blankets, Fun Home, or Persepolis. Don't get me wrong; I love all of those books. But they're honestly pretty simple to understand; like McCloud says, they use comics as their megaphone only.

But Jimmy Corrigan and Eightball #22 play with the medium just as much as they do tell a story, and the stories they both tell are much deeper than any of those previous examples. Faulknerian is a really apt description I think.

So Chad, tell me a comic writer/artist whose work is critically acclaimed but that you absolutely refuse to check out, despite the hype. What is it about their work that makes you reluctant to try it, even though its quality is so lauded.