“A Diary Of Time Itself”: An Academic Roundtable on Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown

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The Comics Journal


Over the past eighteen years, fragments of the Rusty Brown story appeared in the New Yorker and Acme Novelty Library volumes, which makes reading Rusty Brown like getting reacquainted with old friends we haven’t seen in ages. In fact, it’s not one story but three interlinked stories—we are brought into the worlds of eight-year-old Rusty Brown, aspiring superhero, and his preoccupied father, Woody Brown; Jordan Lint, a spoiled, self-involved child who grows up to be a domineering patriarch; and Joanna Cole, dedicated elementary school teacher, and a black woman working in a conspicuously white, and often unwelcoming, environment. Pieces of these stories have accumulated over the years, and the dedicated reader will find references connecting distant characters and works. In a sense, Ware’s narrative has the ambition of a novel cycle like Balzac’s Human Comedy, but rather than witnessing the moral and power struggles of 19th century France, we are transported into lives of midwestern characters of the American 1960s and 70s. As remote as this comparison may initially appear, both projects are meditations on the role of social status, power, money, love, and parentage in determining a character’s fate. Each character’s perspective is cast into relief against another’s, producing a kind of shock of recognition in the attentive reader.