by Chris Ware
Depressing, demoralizing, yet strangely compelling. When I received this as a gift it was as unique as I had been promised, but I was skeptical that it was much more than a gimmick. It still seems a little gimmicky, but it is indeed “much more” than that. It works.
The realism of these everyday people struggling with the mundanity of their lives and the squashing of their dreams is captivating. Moments of beauty don’t occur as often as the moments of heartbreak, but throughout the enterprise you have no doubt you are witnessing something artful and original.
I’m intrigued at the inspiration behind these characters, especially the principal, a dumpy, pseudo-artistic amputee. Her story seems so authentic that I was sure it was autobiographical, until I realized the author was a man. That means he either knows a person like that or made her up, and I don’t know which would be more impressive — if he knows her, he has flawlessly captured the essence of an intimate acquaintance, and if he doesn’t he has fabricated one out of thin air.
So either way you cut it, the man is an impressive talent. I’m just not sure, given the depressing subject matter, that I’m likely to seek out more of his work. I am, however, glad to have read this one.
Sidenote: It strikes me that it might be helpful to explain the order in which I read, since every reader will have a markedly different experience with this one. Because I a) wasn’t totally sure I would actually want to read it and b) have a four-year-old child, I started with the shortest comic-strip sections and worked my way longer, ending with the two bound books. I have no real complaints about my reading order, but I will say that the “Disconnect” pamphlet was the one section that both impacted me most and stayed with me longest. Also, given that it is chronologically latest, and has a great, “meta” final page, other readers might enjoy reading it last (though I hesitate to make recommendations).