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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

 

Autobiographix
By Frank Miller, Will Eisner, and others
Edited by Diana Schutz
Designed by Paul Hornschemeier
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Like the last Schutz-edited anthology I read (Happy Endings), Autobiographix is a mostly-successful anthology by an unusually-strong group of cartoonists. This is increasingly rare, as most anthologies I've read in the past few years have been varying degrees of agony to plow through. Schutz appears to be a fine editor, and one of the few in an industry that has forgotten the meaning of the word.

If you read the Streetwise anthology of a few years back, you might have an idea of what to expect here -- mostly experienced and gifted cartoonists share vignettes from their own life experiences. The book leads off with an impressive piece by Frank Miller, a funny and telling account of his experience as an actor with a brief but visually memorable scene in last year's Daredevil movie. The brief story not only underlines the paradoxical excitement and tedium of the movie-making experience, but enlightens as to how Daredevil publisher Marvel Comics has treated Miller over the past few years. Miller's piece is brief, sharp and enlightening -- if only his longform work of the past few years was this good.

Sergio Aragones delivers a terrific anecdote about meeting Richard Nixon. The incident happened at Warner Books, which at the time was publishing books by both men. This is the second-best "Meeting Richard Nixon" story I've read (after Dr. Thompson's, of course), and I thought the most intriguing element of it is that Nixon apparently not only knew who Aragones was, but how to spell his name.

My favourite piece in the book is the reflective and appealingly mannered "Rules to Live By," by Jason Lutes. It's fascinating to me to see Lutes utilize his Berlin stylizations in the depiction of his current life and environment. The piece is philosophical and probably one of the most reflective and (as he admits) didactic in the book. It's thoughtful and gorgeous and a true highlight in a book full of strong material.

Farel Dalrymple of Pop Gun War contributes a very untypical effort, a sad, beautiful story of lost love. It's him telling the story of someone else that touched his life, and as impressive as Pop Gun War has been, Dalrymple is a powerful storyteller in this mode, too.

Other contributors include Eddie Campbell, Matt Wagner, Linda Medley, William Stout, Paul Chadwick, Bill Morrison, and more. It's an impressively talented and diverse selection of creators.

The book is designed by Paul Hornschemeier, who contributes the closing story as well. His elegant, understated design work and his quiet, complex contribution (an examination of the very theme of autobiography) unify the collection and give it added grace and a sense of enduring significance. Schutz thanks her publisher in her endnotes for allowing her to pursue "more personal, less strictly commercial" projects such as this. It shames the industry to think what might be considered more commercial than these genuinely human stories, skillfully told with honesty and passion. Grade: 4.5/5

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