cover image As a Cartoonist

As a Cartoonist

Noah Van Sciver. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (110p) ISBN 978-1-68396-561-9

A gloom-struck aging cartoonist grapples with disillusion in this self-satirizing collection of tales from Van Sciver (Fante Bukowski), flavored with a dash of untrustworthy narration. Alternating real life and fiction, the volume’s united by roiling anxiety over a troubled childhood (separated parents, leaving Mormonism, legacy of abandonment) and the grinding penury of the artist’s life. Recurring features like “Mellow Mutt” and “19th Century Cartoonist” recast Van Sciver’s worries as comic interludes. Longer autobiographical pieces are carried by regret-tinged humor. A would-be celebratory homecoming trip for a Denver museum exhibit is crashed by his boorish brother. A fellowship at a remote Vermont college results in isolation (first shunned for his Mormon upbringing, then attacked as “intolerant” by easily triggered students). A fantastical cartoon convention interlude, filled with adoring fans and the occasional alien, works wonders as an homage to Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, right down to the dialogue (“Your earlier funny work is my favorite”). Yet the most memorable scenes are often the most straightforward, such as the expansive, serene landscapes accompanying a heartbreaking moment in which he seeks inspiration: “Okay God, it’s now or never to show yourself to me.” While navel-gazing solipsism is not rare in comics autobio, Van Sciver’s mixture of vulnerability and passion for the form makes this an unusually emotional and resonant work. (July)