Book Review: Readings

Dash Shaw

Readings

The Mother's Mouth

by Dash Shaw

Alternative Comics, 128 pp., $12.95

Read enough modern comics, and eventually you'll wonder if anyone else is going to do something like what Chris Ware does at the level that Chris Ware does it and using the sort of narrative methods that Chris Ware uses ... but without seeming like a lesson from Derivation 101. Who will chart the deep and sometimes wracked paths of the human heart through its most vulnerable, dangerous, needful, and even pathetically brave territory, and do so in a way that's oblique, elliptical, complex, and refuses to diss the journey with the wham-pow of a fist into gaudy Spandex as in the four-color heroes of our childhood ... and yet not be that potatohead-looking fucker in Chicago who used to draw for UT's Daily Texan and now looms like Galactus over the vast landscape of sequential art?

Ladies and gentlemen, Dash Shaw.

The Mother's Mouth is a love story and a death story. It's several love stories and death stories, actually, which deepen the central boy-meets-girl template the way a life is helplessly deepened by the lives of others. It's a staggered chronicle of the bonds developing between struggling musician Dick Lucido and children's librarian Virginia Miles, told in fragments that are joined thematically or visually and rendered with a melange of methods. Elegant, figurative line-work, either against white background or paper collage; childlike sketches (for the little-kid flashbacks); embellished photographs; charts and icons and even sand paintings (!) form the architecture of this intimate tale. Panels (or their absence) and text are arranged to create rhythms of surprising complexity, as Shaw draws you into the lives of Dick and Virginia and all that's going on between them. What goes on between many of us is often speech, and the dialogue here is captured perfectly: no exposition, no artificial contortions, nothing but the fumbling, hopeful language of you and me and everyone we know. This book, packaged in a perfect-bound 7-inch-by-7-inch with color covers and black-and-white interiors, is a rewarding addition to Alternative's offerings this season.

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