Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Book-A-Day #177 (1/9): Theories of Everything by Roz Chast

First of all, I'd like to begin with a sentence that has never before appeared in the history of the English language: Roz Chast fucking rocks.

This is more-or-less her complete cartoons; the subtitle is "Selected, Collected, Health-Inspected Cartoons by Roz Chast: 1978-2006." If you've ever thought you might want a Roz Chast cartoon collection, this is the one. And if you've recently thought you might want somebody's cartoon collection, might I suggest this one?

There are plenty of good New Yorker cartoonists, but most of them are very New Yorker-y (all those Thurber-derived couples in their living rooms, with the occasional bar scene or talking animal). Chast isn't like that at all. Her cartoons are deeply New York without being the product of seventy years of guys making little drawings at the bottom of the page. (Don't get me wrong -- those guys are really good, and really funny. But Chast is at least as funny, and she takes an immensely wider world as her subject.) David Remnick talks about this a bit in his introduction, saying "Roz is always creating something different: fake greeting cards, a triptych of fake Sylvia Plath poems, a three-page strip in the form of a family car vacation." Chast can switch gears from pseudo-Mankoff to four-times-as-good-as Guisewise within a page. Because she's a woman, she sometimes gets typecast as "domestic," and her cartoons are usually about people's regular lives (as opposed to astronauts, big businessmen, or bartenders) -- but that's because her cartoons come out of real life, rather than other people's cartoons of already cartoony professions.

Chast's drawing style is deliberately loose and stylized -- she's a cartoonist, not an illustrator -- which may annoy the kind of people who like to sniff about how "bad" the drawing is in modern cartoons. (Like Saul Steinberg's anatomy ever made much sense -- drawing can be great even if it doesn't reflect the real world.)

In conclusion: Roz Chast is the shit. And this book is about 400 pages (it's not paginated at all) of Roz Chast goodness.

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