Dividends of 2010: Listen, My Friends

Posted by on January 31st, 2011 at 1:33 AM

Jason Lint, Gazing at the Boundaries of His Existence

“Jason, I have to ask,” asks a judge of Rusty Brown’s tormentor Jason Lint, central character of The Acme Novelty Library #20, “How in hell did you let yourself get caught up in something dumb as this?”  This in this case is being caught using his company’s assets for day trading and pocketing the profits of each day’s trading for himself.  He gets caught up in something as dumb as that because he sees no reason why he shouldn’t.  That there is a law against it, that the shareholders take all of the risk and receive none of the proceeds, that it will inevitably be discovered at some point, none of this enters into his calculation.  Acme 20, Chris Ware’s latest installment of Omaha gothic, is the life story of a sense of entitlement.  Jason, who is born Jordan but doesn’t think that fits the grand existence he ought to lead, is an eternal infant, carrying a baby’s head from beginning to end, moving from one teat to another, swaddled in privilege.  His mother dies in his early childhood, which in his estimation gives him an inexhaustible drawing account against the world.  His one bit of ambition, to be a rock musician, more out of a desire to have a rock musician’s life than to make any particular music, only goes as far as the umbilicus of his father’s money, and when the umbilicus is yanked he’s back to womb of Nebraska.  As a consolation prize it’s quite cozy.  Into his lap will fall leadership of his father’s company, a concern so well founded that not even he will be able to run it into the ground, or at least not soon (as a corporate leader one imagines him to be like the inflatable autopilot in Airplane!).  His social position will allow him to trade in wives as their sexual allure fades and his children enter into the awkward years.  True, his embezzlement habits will eventually cost him that position and its harem privileges, but his financial fortunes are restored when a child of his first marriage makes him the central character of a Million Little Pieces-like bestselling memoir of highly exaggerated childhood abuse, complete with broken bones.  An apple that fell not far from a tree, the younger Lint doesn’t realize that medical records can be checked, and Jason sues the living daylights out of him.

Objectively speaking one would have to say that Jason’s life strategy is generally successful.  He seems to have it as much both ways as is possible.  His utterly conventional values keep his range of behavior within the idiot proofing of his station in life.  Only the smallest measure of the suffering he causes ever falls on him.  True, he dies alone, but the one benefit every employee of the Acme Novelty Company can count on is a private room at the end of life.  Ware is an acute social observer, and within his lens the social evolution of the last 30 years is observed acutely.  Take for instance the way his living arrangements shift with each younger wife, from the McMansion demanded by the second to the money pit of his childhood home that his third wife wants to live in because it’s “just so cool, y’know?”  (Probably the only matter of taste expressed by any character that Ware agrees with.)  The depiction of Ware’s son’s memoir as a draftsmanship-challenged confessional comic (pain rendered doggedly but not well) is rather pointed.

An annual tour de force is about as much as you can expect from any cartoonist.  Biography is a structure Ware can get by with indefinitely.  There are few artists for whom the critic’s conceit of offering free advice seems so futile, seeing as how the die in his work is generally cast five or ten years into the future.  Still, I can’t help but wonder if it might not be worth his while to try his hand at an actual dramatic narrative one of these days.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.