Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ice Haven- Brought Low By The Clever

One of those news-esque type magazines- Time or Newsweek- listed Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes as a graphic novel you should own. It just so happens that the library I work at has a copy. I have a library card. You do the math.

I should preface the following with this information: I really was not fond of Ghost World. At all. Not the movie. Not the comic book. I found it annoying and pretentious. I wanted all the characters to die in an asteroid strike.

Just so you know.

Ice Haven is a series of interwoven character studies loosely revolving around the disappearance of a small boy in the town of Ice Haven. The stories are told in comic strip style in bits and pieces throughout the book.

The stories are interwoven beautifully. Each character has his or her own circle of influence and each circle gravitates back to the center. The writing is really quite excellent throughout most of the book. Clowes examines each character objectively. He shows the inner workings of their personal dramas with humor. And he manages to tie everything in to the disappearance of David Goldberg quite well. (My favorite bit is Clowes repeatedly referencing the Leopold and Loeb case. It adds a bit of tension to the story and moves it forward.)

The book is set up in comic strip style. Clowes' art beautifully evokes the 50s and 60s era of comic strip art. The line he uses, the flatness of the coloring, the design style of the characters- these all work together to give the book a Charlie Brown kinda feel. I was really knocked out by Clowes' art for the first time.

So I was really, really loving this book. Really loving it. Thinking of purchasing it actually.

And then I hit the end.

Not the end of the story. The story doesn't really end so much as come full circle. No, I reached the end of the book and the point that took Ice Haven from "Wow, that's fucking awesome!" to "Oh, yeah, it was pretty cool. Until the end."

Clowes has a character in the book called Harry Naybors. Harry is a comic book critic. And at the end of the book Harry has three pages where he discusses the graphic novel you've just finished reading. Harry maps it all out for you and asks you pointed, guided questions about the story designed to make you think.

I couldn't decide if Clowes was satiring criticism or if he added that last bit to explain what he was trying to get at. Or perhaps he just felt like being metatextual. No matter what his motivation, it annoyed the holy hell out of me. It was equivalent to Martin Scorcese's blue peas in The Aviator. It was a way to show off how clever one can be at the expense of the story.

I'm still debating buying Ice Haven. But if I do I'm going to take a magic marker and make sure those three pages are rendered completely unreadable.

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Blogger Aries327 said...

I love what I just read. I think I'll come back to your blog, I stumbled across it on the recently updated thing.

I have to say I'm mostly a stranger to graphic books. I bought two on a whim when I went with my mom to the comic book store in SLC recently (she buys Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic books and I love them). I bought one by Andi Watson because I liked the cover and I bought one by some guy who was traveling through Morocco or Monaco (can't remember). Honestly, not gripping. Either of them. The Andi Watson one was Slow News Day and I just thought the characters were sort of boring and cliche and the drawings were confusing sometimes. I was disappointed and looking for a better experience with graphic novels.

But I love your blog thus far and will probably come back. I'm always looking for good writing and so much of what's out there is crap. You were refreshing. Thanks.


6/23/2005 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous J. Kevin Carrier said...

In the original printing of Ice Haven in EIGHTBALL, the Harry Naybors epilogue was actually part of the back-page ad, so his spiel was integrated with plugs for back issues, subscriptions, original art, etc. There, it was pretty obviously a goof, just a cute way of presenting the obligatory commercial info. I haven't seen the new book version yet, but I can see how that bit might fall flat without the "it's just an ad" context.

6/23/2005 07:26:00 PM  
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