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ACME Novelty Library - Report to Shareholders

by Chris Ware

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ACME Novelty Library - Report to Shareholders
Chris Ware, author of the much lauded graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid On Earth recently released this compendium of the past ten years of his ongoing series The Acme Novelty Library. Though it does contain mostly reprinted works, much of it will be unfamiliar to recent Ware recruits since many back issues have been unavailable or out of print for some time. There is also plenty of new material to make it a worthwhile investment for those who have been reading the series from its inception.

What's Old

There are lots of one page strips here featuring Ware's cast of stock characters. Big Tex, Rocket Sam, Quimby the Mouse, Rusty Brown, and of course Jimmy Corrigan all have numerous entries and it's very nice to see them reprinted in such a large size (the book is an unwieldy but breathtaking 9' x 15') and on quality stock. Ware's use of color in his strips is always impressive and he takes full advantage of the over-large format to show this off.
It is also lined with a couple of pages of truly hysterical fake ads, meant to resemble the mail-in coupon style ads that appeared in old comic books. Ware's typically melancholy and downright depressing leanings are given a break in these advertisements where his canny sense of ad-copy writing allows for some brilliant parody of both the assumptions of advertisers and the people who fall victim to their temptations.

There are also a few examples of another trademark Acme Novelty inclusion: the cut-and-assemble project. Many of these are notorious for being plausible yet unbelievably complicated to actually construct. There are actually disappointingly few of these in this collection and they are not the best examples of some of the more intricate fare that have appeared in previous issues.

What's New

The new material in this volume reflects Ware's other visual styles and some of the new experiments with form such as Dick Public and The Letterer as well as his various takes on biographies of artists. Much of this has appeared in other publications and is therefore not technically new, but is collected together for the first time here.
There's also a rather lengthy fictional history of 'The Acme Novelty Company' which is meant to lend some sense to the Report to Shareholders subtitle but is so verbose that I admit I did not have the patience to read it in its entirety. Though I'm sure doing so would prove rewarding, it seems at least on the surface level to be antithetical to why one would pick up this graphic novel in the first place.

Then there is a story featuring Ware's 'God' character that is threaded throughout the book. With the first few panels appearing in the early advertising sections and further panels and mini-sequences sprinkled amongst the book's other sections, this culminates in a sort of illustrated cannon that loops back on itself continuously. For all its wordless simplicity, the cyclical nature seems to speak heaps toward that sense of doubt and confusion in humanity that Ware expresses with his practically patented nihilistic take on the absurd.

Style and Substance
Chris Ware is known for his draftsman-like precision and ability to create intricate layouts within which to tell a story. He creates worlds which seem so complicated and full of detail yet have such a crisp and clean quality which make it very easy to devote the time it often takes to really read his work. This is a volume that rewards frequent revisiting and makes use of literally every square centimeter of usable surface. It's baffling and somewhat awe-inspiring how much work he is capable of creating.

This is not so much a book or even a collection as it is an experience. Few other books or graphic novels match the readers' investment with reward. The only lamentable aspect is that it isn't longer. Despite the book's time-consuming intricacy, I was left wanting more.

As an introduction to an artist who is certainly the greatest technical innovator of the form since Winsor McCay, The Acme Novelty Library Annual Report to Shareholders is indispensable. This is a great launching pad from which to jump into the Quimby the Mouse Collection and Jimmy Corrigan, as well as to seek out older issues and prepare for the inevitable Chalky White book. It can't be recommended enough.
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