cover image Ex Libris

Ex Libris

Matt Madden. Uncivilized, $29.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-941250-44-0

Comics scholar Madden (Drawing Words and Writing Pictures) constructs a postmodern puzzle narrative that’s equal parts playful and penetrating in this dexterous adventure. A nameless protagonist awakens with amnesia in a nondescript room and discovers a bookcase full of comic books that seem to comment obliquely on the situation. Drawn in the first-person point of view, the narrative moves the reader/protagonist from story to story as they gradually come to understand how they became trapped in the room and learn the visual language of comics so as to escape. The comics-within-comics premise provides Madden opportunity to recreate a dazzling array of genres and styles: romance comics, horror comics, gritty European realism, funny animal comics, autobio comics, manga. (“Maybe I should become a hardboiled detective for a while,” the protagonist muses. “I’ve found myself in a scavenger hunt, leaping from book to book.”) Cerebral self-referential humor abounds, with characters discussing their existence as cartoons and saying things like, “Am I doomed to live out my days in a para-narrative spatio-topical desert?” amid hat tips to Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges. Madden calls attention brilliantly to the medium’s building blocks—elements like panel borders and sound effects—in a kind of comics theory course with the punch line of the protagonist declaring that “drawings have a greater power than words to get under your skin.” This endlessly inventive work is a metafictional master class in comics. (Oct.)