VLS Beach Blanket Books

On Comics, Thrillers, and the Bodily Arts

Pears expertly braids three life stories and 1500 years in Provence into a philosophical page-turner. Barneuve is a professor forced to collaborate with the Nazis. Olivier de Noyen is a 14th-century poet avoiding the Plague and treachery at the papal court in Avignon. Manlius Hippomanes is a fourth-century landowner fighting to save his estates from barbarians as the Roman Empire crumbles.

Hippomanes writes the eponymous Dream of Scipio, a treatise on civilization, just before the Catholic Church deems such works heretical. De Noyen stumbles across the text. Barneuve, in turn, discovers it through de Noyen's poetry. The Dream guides all three in making choices they believe will kindle civilization through its darkest days.

Both the ancient and modern Dream speak to a world teetering on the brink of conflict: Like Barneuve, we must choose our allegiances wisely, or suffer the consequences. —Danial Adkison

By Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics, 101 pp., $16.95 paper
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"I'm an artist, not a doctor!" an arts-fair caricaturist joshes with his homely customers, in the title story of Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes's collection. But whether he's spinning baroque noir yarns or putting the pins to a 1966 fetishist, Clowes remedies the dull thud of reality with his hilariously observant, often disquieting, and brilliantly composed panels. His writing is as supple as his draftsmanship: "The air smelled like a sickening blend of burning hair and oranges"; a closet contains "an unbroken piñata, from which the abdominal bounty had been claimed by hand through a tiny hole."

"Black Nylon" offers a washed-up superhero as analysand (his first costume made from his mother's stockings), while "The Gold Mommy" is a note-perfect stroll through a night town of half-remembered family members and vermin that unfurls like a seven-page distillation of Eyes Wide Shut. But it's the trio of apparently autobiographical pieces that most impresses, especially "Like a Weed, Joe," about an adolescent summer spent longing for a girl named Christ, expressed in pocket pinball and messages in the sand, words that the tide obscures. As Jonathan Richman puts it, "Do you long for her, or the way you were?" —E.P.

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