cover image Is That All There Is?

Is That All There Is?

Joost Swarte. Fantagraphics, $35 (144p) ISBN 978-1-60699-510-5

Like many of the underground comics artists of the 1970s and ’80s, Swarte worked at a right angle to mainstream style by imitating elements of it so closely that his every frame became an act of querulous subversion. This long-time-coming compilation of Swarte’s painstaking work could be taken at first glance for a long-lost volume of Hergé, with his clean lines, tightly packed frames, animallike characters, and the fast-paced mix of bumptious action and slapstick comedy. But the stories themselves are a different matter, playing in an altogether more adult arena, as befitting stories that once delighted readers of Raw. However, in between the graphic sex, heroin syringes, exploding craniums, and tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes (still cringe-worthy, even with the implicit critique), Swarte creates art of his own. In addition to undermining the colonialist attitudes of Hergé and classic Disney cartoons with his R. Crumb-ish verve, Swarte also presents a clutch of perfectly packaged riffs on cartoon art. Having a Chris Ware introduction makes sense, given Swarte’s excruciating eye for architectural detail, and could help introduce Swarte to a larger audience, but the book may not need it—the art doesn’t speak for itself, it shouts. (Feb.)