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Quimby the Mouse
by Chris Ware
ISBN 1560974559 / 9781560974550 / 1-56097-455-9
Publisher Fantagraphics Books
List price $14.95
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The casual reader can be forgiven if, after reading cartoonist Chris Ware's introduction to his collection of early work, Quimby the Mouse, they experience a twinge of consumer regret. Ware--the artist behind the graphic novel sensation Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth--is almost pathological in his attempts to downplay these early strips. Indeed, he goes so far as to offer a caveat on the back cover: "Inside, you'll find unnavigable compositions, awkward metaphors, ill-chosen subjects."
But Ware's attempts to distance himself from this work, most of which first appeared in the University of Texas student newspaper and later in his own ACME Novelty Library, don't jibe with the actual finished product. To begin with, the volume itself is a work of art, from the typically intricate, gold-embossed covers to the pages inside, each of which is a testament to Ware's outside-the-box ability as a designer and artist.
This is a book that does for coffee tables what Frank Gehry buildings do for urban landscapes: arrests the eye and overshadows anything in the vicinity. As for the contents, well, while it's true a few of the strips are hard to follow owing to tiny panels and unorthodox narratives, every detail in this work is worthwhile. This includes the fake ads, which demonstrate Ware's mastery of 20th-century print advertising lingo, the instructions on building one's own "working cat head" and of course the strips themselves.
In the latter part, which comprises the bulk of the book, Ware's main character is the hapless Quimby, a version of a traditional cartoon mouse with a few twists. For instance, sometimes he's "Quimbies the Mouse," a two-headed version of himself. Other strips are elaborate, wordless gags focusing on the relationship between Quimby and a pet cat head that he abuses but can't live without. More crucially, Quimby is a stand-in for the author. This becomes especially apparent in the strips where the little mouse wanders through an empty house, and the narration echoes the book's introduction, in which Ware recalls working on the strips while his grandmother's health deteriorated. At these moments, as in Jimmy Corrigan, the book attains a black humour and poignancy no amount of defensiveness on the part of the author can deny. --Shawn Conner, Amazon.ca [via]