THE ACME NOVELTY DATE BOOK is a remarkable sketchbook compilation by Chris Ware, the genre- and era-defying cartoonist behind Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby The Mouse. As there's no standard 'narrative', reviewing it may cross some sort of ideological line in the sands of the artbomb desert. So while there's no standard A-to-B-to-C storyline to follow, DATE BOOK documents Ware's growth as an artist and, more importantly, a designer from 1986 until 1995. A going interest in Ware's other works may enrich what you take away from the DATE BOOK, as it offers a unique look inside the process of one of comics' most profound and idiom-defining talents teaching himself to be precisely that.
Ware's fetish for package design is what will strike you first: clothbound on one side in faux-public library style, the heavy covers are perfect Ware-ian anachronisms, charting, amongst other things, Ware's life from his birth in 1967 to his inevitable employment at Wendy's in 2009. It's bracing to see that self-deprecation is a feature of Ware's earliest works and perhaps the only consistent aspect connecting the Ware of 1986 to the Ware of today.
The book's first few sections are from Ware's college years and, in case you're wondering, yes, he's always been pretty fucking good. As you leaf through a decade of Ware's development, something revelatory begins to happen in the mind of the reader: Ware's small ideas become large ones, both to Ware and to the reader; preoccupations evolve into leitmotif; and Ware himself finds a kind of restless, uneasy sense of his talents.
What may be sub-par doodles to him (and, come on now, since he's collected them he must see some worth to them) is an experience in aesthetic overload for anyone else. At its most awkward, THE ACME NOVELTY DATE BOOK is never less than fascinating and beautiful.
Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.