Time keeps leapfrogging on, days yielding to weeks, yet I'm still pondering highlights of the year gone past. Man, we Balloonists are slow. Me in particular. Lately I can post only fitfully, with big yawning gutters between. I have to say, though, that Craig's excellent posts (from Tamara Drewe to his wonderful "Gifts" entry) have shamed me back into action. Notwithstanding a grinding work schedule and loss of rhythm, I've just got to post!
Besides Craig's stuff, another thing lighting a fire under my ass is the recent arrival in my mailbox of The Comics Journal No. 296, their Best of 2008 issue, which includes picks by many correspondents (sadly not including me, not this time) plus cool interviews with Lynda Barry, Dash Shaw, et al., an impressive gallery of Finnish comics, and an enticing preview of Carol Tyler's You'll Never Know. I count 140-plus best-of works in this issue's pages, and I'm shocked, in a slow-motion carwreck sort of way, to realize how few of these works I've sampled, let alone read all the way through. Ach, I am out. of. it.
Let's move on. What follows is another of my faves from 2008 that I haven't already written about here. I'll be brief, by Balloonist standards, because I hear time's winged chariot pulling into the driveway, etc.
Shaw is very good and getting better. His book Goddess Head is fascinating and his contributions to Mome are among that series's highpoints. With Bottomless Belly Button he has pulled off something remarkable: a 700-plus page book that doesn't feel like a stunt but rather is perfectly proportioned, intimate, and subtle, a privileged entryway into a private world that nonetheless feels universal in its emotive resonance and applicability. Like Craig Thompson's Blankets, this is a hefty, brick-like book that can be read easily in a few sittings, but Shaw's work is tougher and more astringent than Blankets, as well as more formally inventive.
Essentially, Bottomless Belly Button is about navigating a site saturated in memory: a house that becomes not only a locus of family history and reminiscence but also the setting for the painful disintegration, or at least fracturing, of said family: the Loony clan, who converge on their old beachhouse for one last get-together before the breakup of Mother and Father Loony, married some forty years but now fallen out of love. Shaw takes a generous, multi-sided view of this narrative problem, exploring it from multiple characters' perspectives and in the process suggesting what the dissolution of family, or rather the renegotiation of the idea of family, feels like for all parties.