Chris Ware’s characters reside in a penumbra of disappointment, humiliation, and thwarted hope: Think of the lad in Joyce’s “Araby,” whose eyes “burned with anguish and anger” after failing to impress the object of his infatuation. In Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, a scrim of disillusionment separates childhood from everything to come. The mute, potbellied superhero of one untitled strip wreaks unintentional havoc, his oafishness with women echoed in other tales that feature Rusty Brown, Chalky White, and Putty Gray, a full spectrum of toy-collecting geeks obsessed with the plastic detritus of their ’70s youth and “girl on girl” porn.
Purposefully anachronistic (“the internet” is always sealed off within grandmotherly quotation marks), the book fetishizes print. Bold slabs of color play off type so tiny it requires a magnifying glass; a 110-panel strip, covering birth, childhood, dating, parenting, death, and all the longing in between, runs down the covers’ leading edges; the layout of a haunting, glow-in-the-dark constellation map mirrors the spiraling design of the densely printed introduction. Provided you don’t have a basement crammed with Mylar-encased comics, Ware’s overweight, underloved losers deliver a heaping portion of mordantly funny schadenfreude.