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Acme Novelty Library #20

Acme Novelty Library #20 Acme Novelty Library #20

Acme Novelty Library #20 back

Chris Ware


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Blood will out, as they say, and so much of Ware's work is about nurture, isn't it?

JIMMY CORRIGAN followed the timid end-product of a line of increasingly negligent, fucked-up fathers, gradually revealing how each generation 'benefited' from their childhood upbringing. Rusty Brown, whose life-span in snippets revealed the most physically and spiritually repulsive comicbook creation ever to sully our shelves during the big, red ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, is the cretin whose paternal lineage is currently being examined, and much to everyone's confusion this is indeed part of that, although you wouldn't necessarily gather it from the self-contained contents which tell the story of one Jordan Wellington Lint from the cradle to the grave.

I'll repeat that, then: this is a self-contained read with a beginning, middle and decidedly final end.

Under the most heavenly cloth-bound cover, gold-embossed and designed at a misted-memory guess to mimic those tiny slabs of Lindt Swiss chocolate, we are as ever with Ware confronted by a couple of maps in the form of a diagrammatical narrative and a family tree. Rusty Brown and his Dad do indeed form part of the former, as does Chris Ware drawing the family home which bookends this saga. Yet none of them appear in the family tree which instead reveals the dynastic origins of the Lint family at whose centre lies Jordan (1958-2023). What, dear reader, is up?

It is winter.

In what would in any other season be a leafy suburb, a mock-Tudor, three-story home lies cold, still and empty. The light is fading as the window frame's shadow rises over a formal family portrait which one supposes to be of a mother, father and son. Evidence suggests that either the house has lain empty for some considerable time, or has lately been ill-maintained. Cut.

Now we're presented with a complex series of basic images: impressions on the mind of a child. The father's there to the bottom-right, but it's the mother who's most distinct and dominates the page with giant hands, a contentedly smiling face, eyes, nipple, mouth (repeatedly) and a bottle. Gradually the images grow more complex and detailed as the boy's comprehension of his environment improves. The mother panics over a poo and Jordan fiddling with himself. But now come three key scenes, each involving violence. In the first the toddler has just learned to assign labels to the basic elements that make up his life: house, tree, sun, ant; Momma, Dad. "Dad hitting Momma. Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad." By the second it evidently doesn't seem so bad as it's Jordan hitting a black play-friend over the innocent possession of a bright red brick (yes, I think race is relevant here). The third… the third's truth will only be revealed later on, but for now let us say that it's Jordan outside with his mother and an ant he picks up from an unopened flower.

"Nono… Jordan… don't kill it… Black ants are good for flowers…. We don't want to hurt them… besides, it might be a Momma ant and then what would her children do?"

But alas, it's too late. The ant has stopped moving and Jordan has a vision of a family of ants at the Pearly Gates. As a black maid (ditto) lays the kitchen table in the background, Jordan becomes increasingly distressed, unconvinced that it's merely asleep and so his mother goes out of her way, tenderly, to take it back outside and put it on a leaf.

"We'll leave it there so when it wakes up, it can find its way home, okay?"

On the next page his mother is dead. Jordan is inconsolable, running upstairs to smell and cling to her clothes.

On the next page his father is remarrying, but as the wedding vows are recited all Jordan hears is (sic), "Two love and two cherish… two love and two cherish… Until death do us part… until death do us part…" He's picking at a hang-nail.

Now without giving the game away these are all memories and memories are, at best, selective. Chris Ware is meticulous in his detail. Nothing is misplaced but not everything is as it initially seems. But from there onwards - from internalised obsessing then exploding in class; from early coveting, bullying, and defiant, raging, macho self-image mixed with sexual arousal and disregard for his own personal safety - the life of Jordan / Jason (the perpetually deluded) is one long car crash of intoxication, misappropriation, greed, stupidity, vanity, disloyalty and rancour. Groundless rancour at that, looking back in anger on events that didn't necessarily play themselves out in the way he chooses to rewind them in his mind.

There are also memories he has chosen to erase completely and hide. But blood will out, as I say, as will the truth, tumbling onto the page in a series of images you would never imagine coming from the pen of Chris Ware as the quiet precision explodes in one child's terror at being trapped, and the most ferocious, malevolent, expressionistic savagery in pursuit.

Please: it's not what you think. I know what you're thinking, and it is not that. That would make me a very poor reviewer. But it will change what you have read up until that point completely.

Suffer the children, eh?