Adi Tantimedh writes,
This is one of my favourite graphic novels of the year.
I wasn’t sent an advance reader’s copy. I borrowed it and it sat on my desk while I was busy with deadlines, and finally read it this weekend. I’m amazed that no one is talking about it more. This is, after all, Daniel Clowes, one of the premiere indie comics creators not creating the usual superhero clichés at Marvel or DC, who has an impressive body of work going all the way back to the 1980s with works like Eightball, Ghost World, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, David Boring and so on.
This is a drily funny hardboiled Science Fiction Crime story about a guy whose wife is murdered and he goes through life angry and bitter for the next twenty years into a futuristic world where he discovers that some schlub has invented a time travel device.
He decides to go back in time to find out who murdered his wife, which means having to go back to her past to find out things about her he didn’t know before to get a list of suspects before he can kill the right guy.
But then he makes a whole bunch of mistakes and absolutely terrible decisions, and things get complicated when he has to jump in time again but ends up in the wrong times and places, and has to figure out how to get back on the right track.
What’s great about it is how Clowes makes the angry loser hero absolutely empathetic so that you feel like if you were in his position and his mindset, you would probably end up making the same insane and reckless decisions he does. It feels like Philip K. Dick without Dick’s odd pathologies, hang-ups about women, and complicated politics. The story is told in a hardboiled, angry, desperate first-person narration you might find in a crime novel that somehow comes off as hilariously, painfully funny the more horrible things happen and the more horrible the hero gets. I think it’s on purpose and Clowes knows exactly what he’s doing here. That’s incredibly hard to pull off by any writer.
This may be Clowes’ most accomplished book to date. The old hunger may not be there anymore, the restless, twisting, turning surrealism and weirdness of Eighball and Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron are gone, but instead there’s the assured, almost relaxed touch of a storyteller and artist at the top of his game. It feels effortless when you know that writing and drawing a coherent comic story takes a lot of effort. It’s also an unabashed Science Fiction and hardboiled crime story rather than the freewheeling experimentalism and surrealism of previous works like The Death-Ray. The big difference here is that the hero may be the angry, dysfunctional, , confused, existential guy you would find in Clowers previous graphic novels like David Boring, Wilson and Mr. Wonderful, but the difference here is he’s the active driver of a dense time travel and hardboiled crime plot instead of wandering through life watching it pass him by. That is a huge difference because unlike those other heroes, this one is always moving, always plotting, always reacting to a situation he created, always fighting, and that creates drama and tension. Where his previous character-driven books usually ended with the story slowly winding down along with his characters, Patience sustains tension all the way through to the end with its urgency. This is a masterful melding of character motivation, action and plot that every writer needs to know. It feels like Clowes had to go through over thirty years of experimental, trippy, surreal stories to reach this point and tell a straight-up, grounded genre story, which still contains his trippy surrealism and sharp observations on beaten-down, desperate people and their existential crises.
And it’s all about Patience.
Patience is the name of the hero’s love. Patience is what he’s lost. Patience is what he needs as he waits for the right thing and the right time to come along to find her killer. Patience is what he increasingly lacks even as he’s forced to wait. Patience is what he’s trying to save and get back. Patience is the redemption he desperately grabs for but fears he may never get back.
I guess it’s a sign of how saturated the comics and graphic novel market is now that no one is writing about this book more, when back in the 90s or even early 2000s a lot more people would be talking about it and keeping it on the radar. It’s as if all the comics news sites are preoccupied with the usual Marvel and DC clickbait rubbish now while a major new graphic novel by one of the biggest indie creators just gets ignored. After the brief flurry or articles promoting the book’s release, back in March, everything’s gone silent. Friends of mine who like Clowes weren’t even aware he had a new book out. It’s as if everyone has forgotten that the movie of Ghost World won an Oscar and launched Scarlett Johansson’s career.
And the book is designed to be the opposite of a disposable comic: it’s a hardcover with strong, stitched binding and printed on heavy stock paper designed to last for a very long time on the bookshelf, not discarded after a five-minute read. It’s thick and dense with plot, shifting points of view and subtle ideas bubbling away under the hero’s existential dilemma. It’s a book to be kept, re-read and cherished.
Looking up, looking down at firstname.lastname@example.org
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