Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bottomless Belly Button

Dash Shaw
Dash Shaw's acclaimed graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button clocks in at an enormous 720 pages. You wouldn't know it from reading it though - the book is utterly captivating, and the pages fly by, drawing you in like a good thriller. The story follows the reunion of the Loony family as three siblings' parents plan to get a divorce late in life. The book shifts from one member of the family's perspective to another, each with their own interesting issues (with the youngest brother drawn like a frog). At times funny, at times heavy-hearted, Bottomless Belly Button is drawn beautifully, and easily secures Shaw as an innovative young cartoonist to watch. There are definitely influences from other important creators in this work - Chris Ware, for one, although this book does remind me more of Craig Thompson's Blankets than anything I've read: It felt very realistic, and was able to fully capture the mood and feelings associated with a life-altering moment (although the moment here is the fallout of lost love, as opposed to a blossoming first love in Blankets), and is similarly paced. My favorite character within is the youngest "frog" brother, who isn't understood by his family, and is all but ignored for the most part. But he's content with being alone in his room until he meets a woman while staying at his parents, experimenting in sex and love at the same time as the love between his parents withers (although they do express their fondness for one other despite the divorce, in a really touching scene toward the end of the novel). I also like the oldest brother who searches the house he grew up in for some physical evidence for why his parents are divorcing, as he can't grasp them simply falling out of love with one another. He becomes very frenzied in his quest, and it gets pretty intense. I found the sister's story the most uninteresting, but she brought her daughter along with her, and the emotional young girl has some fun, awkward scenes. The people who get the least amount of time spent with them are the parents who are divorcing, but I think the short time we spend with them captures their personalities perfectly, and paints a full picture when combined with what the siblings say about them when they're out of the room. I rather came to admire them and their decision (especially with the difficulties both of them have in life) by the story's conclusion. I loved this book, and I believe it to be a serious contender for best graphic novel of the year. It's emotionally-charged, but also fast-paced, intriguing and very human.

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