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Graphic readers: Two new comic books make the grade

A+ "Eightball" - Daniel Clowes

By Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 21, 2002

If superheroes Betty and Veronica and adult male virgins are what come to mind when you hear the words "comic book," then you should know that a lot has changed since comics came wrapped around a piece of Bazooka bubblegum.

Comic books, disdained by true bibliophiles as subpar literature, deserve a place on the serious reader's bookshelf. More specifically, the work of many contemporary cartoonists is lifting the medium to serious literature status.

Although these facts don't say comics aren't for adult male virgins, they do say a lot about the comic book's move toward serious literature.

Daniel Clowes is probably one of the best-known alternative comic book artists around. The wonderful film "Ghost World" was based on his "Ghost World" series, which was first published in the pages of "Eightball."

A "The Comics Journal" (Special Edition - Winter 2002) edited by Gary Groth

"Eightball" is vastly different from what people (normal, non-comic-book-geeky people) associate with comic books. There are no superheroes, no action heroes, and well, not much action either. Instead, "Eightball #22" contains 29 mini-stories. All the stories take place in "Ice Haven," a small, isolated, imaginary town.

Each of the loosely connected tales come together to give the reader a complete view of Ice Haven, a town full of desperately lonely, desperately insecure people. The view is simultaneously painfully beautiful and depressing. It's the comic-book equivalent of a Todd Solondz film.

The connections between characters are brought out subtly, and bits of life in Ice Haven the reader wouldn't expect to learn about are explored in their own stories. A little stuffed animal that belongs to a child in one story is a homicidal ex-con in the next. Rocky, a caveman in 100,000 B.C. digs "a warm hole to die in," thinking it will be his legacy in the future. In present-day Ice Haven, a little boy urinates down the very same hole.

If "Eightball" is your first adventure into contemporary comics, "The Comics Journal" wouldn't be a bad second. The journal's special winter 2000 edition is in full color and about the size of a coffee-table book. In it, editor in chief Gary Groth writes, "most comics have been crap, of course, and most still are ... " Fortunately, "The Comics Journal" features cartoons, essays and interviews by the artists (who aren't toilet-worthy). Though the lists of unfamiliar names may be intimidating, this special edition was designed for curious as well as serious fans. In fact, it's a great way to discover other contemporary alternative artists. The journal asked the artists to draw comics about comics, and the way each artist deals with the subject makes the comics accessible and interesting to anyone, adult male virgin or not.

Recommended: Like the work of Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware's graphic novel, "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth," explores the grayer edges of the soul. Jimmy Corrigan is a lonely, middle-aged man who is terrified of not being liked. He compensates for his loneliness with his sometimes-horrifying, sometimes-uplifting daydreams. Ware fills the book with wonderful little details: toys, diagrams and stories within stories. Reading "Jimmy Corrigan" will make some readers feel like a child again, when childhood meant staying indoors and dreaming of being a superhero. For the rest of us, "Jimmy Corrigan" reminds us that not much has changed since then.


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