Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bottomless Belly Button: Canadian Independent Cinema, on Paper

I finally got around to reading Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button last night. I guess it's my fault that it took so long for me to sit down with this immense tome, but I've been eager to read it ever since I saw the first copies last year at the New York Comic-Con. But I didn't buy a copy there, because I didn't feel like lugging it around. "I'll order it online," I said out loud, to no one in particular.

I forgot to order it online.

And then I saw it again at MoCCA, and even though Dash Shaw was there, signing copies, I said out loud, to no one in particular, "Oh, I totally forgot to order that! I'll buy it now. But...I don't want to carry it around all day. I'll remember to order it online."

So, I did. Via I knew I should have gone straight through Fantagraphics, but that one-click ordering was too convenient, and I can't resist my free shipping.

I finally received my copy of the book yesterday. Quite a delay, eh? And I guess that's because the book actually had to go back to print already. So, I'm a few months late to the party, once again.

But Bottomless Belly Button is excellent. Definitely worth your time. Don't be intimidated by its size -- I read the whole thing in one sitting, and part of its charm is its swift pacing, punctuated by moments of painful awkwardness. Dash Shaw's style is a kind of measured primitivism, with the characters simply delineated and the panel compositions seemingly rudimentary. But what makes this book so wonderful is the accumulation of simple moments and simple images. I know it's perhaps too easy to compare alternative comics to independent cinema (and, alternatively, compare big-budget studio movies to mainstream superhero comics), but what Dash Shaw's work most reminds me of is a type of film embodied by the work of Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand.

In Arcand's 2003 feature, Les invasions barbares, a family assembles around a dying patriarch and the unfolding story is full of pathos, love, humility, conflict, humor, and competing ideals. Arcand's work has a more deeply political undertone than Shaw's 720 page comic, but the comic resembles the film in concept -- in Bottomless Belly Button, the Loony family assembles around the mother and father, who have declared divorce after 40 years of marriage -- in structure -- both Arcand and Shaw alternate between scenes of the parents and children, with the family members struggling with the world in their own unique ways -- and in tone. Shaw and Arcand ultimately celebrate life, embracing all of the pain and uncertainty that is part of the grand ballet of humanity.

I'm sure Bottomless Belly Button will wind up on more than a few "Best of" lists this year, including my own.


Chad Nevett said...

The Arcand comparison has put this book on my list. If only because you used the French title. And it reminds me to see if his most recent movie, L'Âge des Ténèbres is out on DVD yet--and it is! WHOO!

Timothy Callahan said...

Yeah, it was just my ploy to reel you in.