Friday, June 24, 2005

25. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern No. 13

edited by Chris Ware

I know what you’re thinking. McSweeney’s is a periodical, not a book. Which is true and I had some compunctions about including it in The Challenge, but here’s the thing: Have you seen how big a McSweeney’s is? It’s book-sized, people. It takes as long to read as a book. It’s as satisfying to read as a book. If I were reading, say, a Best American Short Stories I’d include it in The Challenge. So why not McSweeney’s? Also, I do a lot of reading that I don’t include in The Challenge, mainly of magazines, and since I read Granta on a quarterly basis and since that is also the size of your average book and, also, since I am not including it in The Challenge, I feel justified in including McSweeney’s. So there.

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No. 13 is the comics issues, edited by our very own Chris Ware. I waffled on buying this for a very long time, given that I had little interest in comics before, but since deciding that I wanted to become more acquainted with that world I figured this collection would be a decent introduction. (Also, we sell it where I work and I got it with my employee discount…ha ha ha.) I’m happy to say that I really liked it. Having always been wary that I didn’t “get” comics, it was nice to find out that they really aren’t so inaccessible. Yay for deconstructing prejudices. I liked that, in addition to the comics, there were “words only” pieces by authors describing the history of comic art, their personal memories of comics, and how comics still play a role in their lives. It made for a nice mixture of words and pictures.

This is all going to sound very stupid to anyone who’s already into comics, so you can skip reading if that’s the case, but I never realized how comics are really an art form unto themselves. You’re not just telling a story with words, but pictures as well, and things that you might have articulated with florid descriptions you have to do with just a few lines of dialogue and changes in scene and facial expression. That’s just really, kind of, you know…impressive. Some of the pieces I really enjoyed were, of course, Chris Ware’s with his distinct lines and bold coloring; Charles Burns’s “Black Hole,” whose story I’d really like to continue reading; Seth’s excerpt from “Clyde Fans,” with the eerie shadows and vocal mantle pieces; and the except from Adrian Tomine’s “Optic Nerve No. 9.” (Which I liked so much that I ordered Summer Blonde the other day and can’t wait to read it.) The piece that I was most impressed with, and surprised by, was Richard McGuire’s “ctrl,” the story of a seemingly ordinary, but ultimately fateful day. What impressed me so much was that the story is told entirely in pictures. No words. Yet McGuire so adeptly captures the actions and emotions of the day that while my initial reaction was, “Whaaa?” I finished the piece floored. You’ll have to cut me some slack – I’m a words girl here. I just didn’t know you could do so much with pictures.

So while I am definitely coming around on the comics issue, I’m also happy to say that I’m coming around on the McSweeney’s issue. I’ve never been that big a fan of Dave Eggers’s writing, but I admire his mission with the magazine and have always wondered if reading it would be worthwhile. This will be the second issue I’ve read and I think I have my answer. I wholly plan on reading it more.


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