Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: Bottomless Belly Button

I know that just a couple days ago I wrote a quick diatribe about the state of comics. Well, at my local library, I saw a comic I wanted to read for a long time, but never had the chance, which is Dash Shaw's behemoth called Bottomless Belly Button, and I'm going to review it for you.

Even though the book is about a million pages long, it's really an intimate and sensitive portrayal of the Loony family at one moment in their lives, the weekend that the adult children have been called back to their childhood beach house where their parents announce a divorce after 40 years of marriage. Each of the three children deal with this in widely different ways, and this is the story of that.

While the title is stupendously awful, the comic is actually very enjoyable. Shaw is primarily a cartoonist, it seems, rather than an "ar-teest". His true skill lies in mining emotional territory, and creating absolutely gorgeous character portraits (figuratively). Each character was living, breathing, and feeling. It's a miracle that Shaw pulls this off considering the thinness of the plot.

The cartoony style of the comic added to the overall experience in an abstract way. I feel that if the art had been more photorealistic, I would have hated this. Shaw makes this his own, which is definitely a requirement, again, considering the plot.

I keep mentioning the plot because it seems that Bottomless Belly Button takes its plot machinations from the American indie film textbook, filled with quirky characters, frank sexuality, and a lack of resolution. I feel like I've seen this movie before, to paraphrase Bernie Taupin. However, this doesn't entirely detract from the comic. Any surreal antics or bizarre occurrences would have made the emotions completely obsolete. It's a credit to Shaw that he doesn't indulge in anything supernatural (in the strict definition of the word - not the vampire/ghost sense of the word).

I really liked this comic, but I didn't love it. Bottomless Belly Button conveys some real emotion, and features stunning character building, but the plot leaves me cold. It isn't something one would be desperate to read again. If I had bought this book, I would have been disappointed.

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