erasing clouds

Book Review: Daniel Clowes' Ice Haven

by anna battista

“Are comics a valid form of expression? The jury's still out, I'm afraid. There exists for some an uncomfortable impurity in the combination of two forms of picture-writing (i.e. pictographic cartoon symbols vs. the letter shapes that form ‘words’) while to others it's not that big a deal. Alleged awkwardness aside, perhaps in that schism lies the underpinning of what gives ‘comics’ its endurance as a vital form: while prose tends toward pure ‘interiority,’ coming to life in the reader's mind, and cinema gravitates toward the ‘exteriority’ of experiential spectacle, perhaps ‘comics,’ in its embrace of both the interiority of the written word and the physicality of image, more closely replicates the true nature of human consciousness and the struggle between private self-definition and corporeal ‘reality.’” No, this is not taken from a book of criticism on graphic novels and comics, but from Daniel Clowes’ new work, Ice Haven, that opens with a maniacal comic book critic, Harry Naybors, eating breakfast cereals and talking too much about comics.

Clowes' new graphic novel, or rather "comic-strip novel" (the format of this 89 page book is the comic strip), Ice Haven, was originally conceived from his work in Eightball. Ice Haven features more deranged characters and outcasts: Random Wilder, the would-be poet laureate and Ida Wentz, his rival; teenager in love Violet Van der Plazt and teenager would-be writer Vida Wentz; the detective team of Mr. and Mrs. Ames; depressed stationery salesgirl Julie Patheticstein; kids Charles and Carmichael and poor David Goldberg, a child who has been missing for more than a week. The book is based on the story of Leopold and Loeb, the 1924 Chicago murderers who kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old boy.

Clowes has an ability to mould his characters through different styles, giving them very different personalities, building through strips a multi-layered tale. Through the criss-crossing plots, Clowes analyses alienation and child angst, but also the obsession of people with child murder and kidnapping cases.

Ice Haven is a hilarious and at times scary comic-strip novel, the sort of book that you’ll rush to reread as soon as you get to the last page.


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