I’ve checked out some of Chris Ware’s other books, and while I like his drawing style, think the world of his graphic design abilities, and think the books are always stellar examples of what book design can be, I always found the stories ... kind of pointless. I feel bad saying it, but they seemed to go nowhere, and featured characters I just couldn’t care about.
I have to really recommend this one though. Still has his impeccable drafting skills, combined with exemplary design skills, and show why books can still be such a wonderful storytelling medium when done right. (Oh, and the inside front cover, features a complicated diagram that is worth the price of admission alone.)
The character is again, a very unlikeable one. It tells the life story of Jordan “Jason” Lint, from birth to death. Virtually a page per year. Literally the life story. He’s born into an upper middle-class Nebraska family. He does nothing very interesting with his life, treats others badly, assumes the identities others expect him to. He is a bullying child, a wastrel teen, a feckless frat boy, a no talent wannabe rock star, a cheating boy friend, a corporate apparatchik because of his fathers nepotism, a philandering husband, an absent/abusive father, eventually alienated from everyone in his life.
There are points that will make you squirm.
Despite Lint being an uninteresting and utterly prosaic jerk, Ware stills renders him with pathos and humanity. And the craftsmanship that goes into this exploration of a frankly pathetic character is impeccable.
It starts out with Ben-Day dots that form the face of a baby. I’m not even sure if words can do justice to the brilliance of the next few pages as they show how a growing consciousness perceives the world. The images grow more sophisticated as he gets older. And at the end, as Lint lies dying, his consciousness once again dissolves into dots. The motif of a red dot appears throughout the book, presaging events and harkening back to previous events.
After I finished it, I went back and re-read it, because there is an amazing amount of detail in this - some of it unshown and unspoken. The pages are almost fractal - different sized panels, words treated as graphic elements, smaller panels in light blue that tell another aspect of the tale, show his inner thoughts, and offer hints to things that happened several pages past, or things that are yet to happen in several pages. (A magnifying glass might not be a bad idea.) While one page is devoted (more or less) to one year of each of his years, it could also be seen as paring it down to one day out of each year. Each page shows fragments, slivers, and there is a lot that needs to be discerned between those strobing flashes. And I also had to re-read it once again just to absorb the subtle magnificence of this book.
Seriously, as much as the character is a shitheel with few if any redeeming qualities, this book is a triumph of story telling and art. Very recommended!