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Ice Haven
Written and Drawn by Daniel Clowes
Published by Pantheon Books; $18.95 USD

Ice Haven by Dan Clowes This Ice Haven hardcover edition features material from Eightball #22, some of which has been re-worked, as well as several new strips, which may enhance the enjoyment of the book for both new readers and those wanting to revisit the town of Ice Haven.

The story centers around the disappearance of a young child, David Goldberg, and the subsequent effect on various people throughout the community, including the story's narrator, Random Wilder, comic critic Harry Naybors, the young Charlie-Brown-inspired Charles, his step-sister Violet, Ice Haven newcomer Vida, and Mr. and Mrs. Ames, detectives for hire.

Clowes draws some obvious, and a few not-so-obvious inspirations from so many varied places that I could easily write a column, or even a series of columns about them all. The disappearance of David Goldberg is inspired/based on the true story of Bobby Franks, a child kidnapped and murdered by Richard Leopold and Nathan Loeb in 1924, a fact that is repeatedly referenced in the book's pages. Clowes even devotes a series of panels to the telling of that story. Elements of Thornton Wilder's Our Town can surely be found, and then there are the obviously Schulz-inspired children of Ice Haven, and there are trace amounts of Hitchcock to be discovered as well, the most obvious of which is likely his film Rope, which is based on a stage play inspired by the crime of Loeb and Leopold. The way Clowes sets up his tale is reminiscent of Robert Altman's film Short Cuts (which itself is based on a series of short stories by Raymond Carver), but while both Ice Haven and Short Cuts have various narratives that seem to cross paths as well as a central location, that's probably where the similarities end.

Where Altman's film serves as a window into the lives of a few L.A. citizens, Clowes uses his Ice Haven vignettes as a tool for examining ourselves. The characters of the book address so many different human concerns that it would be a disservice to both the work and the reader to try and discuss them all at length here. The most prominent though is love and its many forms. Each character in the book, with the possible exception of one, expresses some form of love, or what we/they perceive as love, within their story, be it Vida's obsessiveness over Random and his poetry, Random's self-obsessed rants as well as his feelings for the town of Ice Haven, Charles's unrequited longing for his step-sister Violet, her desire to escape her current life by way of long-distance boyfriend Penrod, even young George's affection for his stuffed blue bunny; the list can go on and on.

Clowes's art is very cinematic in a number of places, and at times the pages can seem like storyboards for a film, and the relationship between film and comics is something Clowes addresses briefly through comic book critic Harry Naybors. Often times his panel layouts are evocative of certain well known styles of cinematic scenes. His close-ups are always haunting and no two ever feel the same; be it Random in his distinguishably goofy and beady eyed glory, or Violet staring vacantly off into space as she contemplates going all the way with her boyfriend Penrod. Clowes's ability and willingness to make his dialogue seem unimportant is one of the book's more fascinating elements, and another example of the importance of visual storytelling in the book. In quite a few panels the words within them are excised in favor of showing the characters emotional state by way of simple expressions. It's not a tool used often, but it's used to great effect when it is employed here.

As mentioned, the children of Ice Haven are at the very least some distant, more adult cousin to Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, and as such the panels focusing on them feel like something out of the Sunday paper, some so precisely "Schulz" that the resemblance is a bit jarring, but not in a negative way. It's admittedly hysterical to see a Charlie Brown clone wax poetic about human nature and sexual desire, as well as envisioning the murder of poor missing David Goldberg, but at the same time the words ring true and you find yourself nodding along to the rants of a kid who wants nothing more than to have a romantic relationship with his step-sister.

Ice Haven represents the best of what comics can offer; compelling stories involving relatable characters and a look at ourselves and the problems of our life and those in the lives of the people around us through the eyes of strangers. With Ice Haven Clowes has built a story full of so many layers that once you begin to pull them back, it's impossible to stop. Each story has a mystery behind it, and while Clowes has laid the clues to solving the mysteries within each of them, he never attempts to solve them. As in life we're left to draw our own conclusions, to rationalize to ourselves what we believe to be true; there are no definite answers.

Perhaps the most entertaining bit of dialogue Clowes offers up in Ice Haven, at least to those in the business of critiquing comic books, or, hell, critiquing anything, comes through Mr. Ames. After meeting Harry Naybors, Ames offers up this little tidbit: "If a comic book is presumed to be 'art,' then can't we also presume that it is made up of qualities inherent to its chosen form, qualities that, by definition, defy verbal description? Isn't it incredibly pompous to presume to quantify in words something that is intrinsically beyond the range of words?"

Yes, yes it is.

-- Logan Polk

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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