Panels, pages, and balloons book club: a few notes on Ice Haven

Next Saturday, October 29, we’ll be hosting our second live book club meeting. This time, we’ll be discussing Ice Haven, by Daniel Clowes. The Central Library (as well as other branches of the Brooklyn Public Library) have copies of the book in stock or you can buy a copy on line or at your trusty local independent book or comics retailer

As we did last time, we’re planning to start by showing some slides to introduce a topic of cartooning that is related to Clowes’ book. In the case of Fun Home, we talked a bit about the use of text in comics and how it interacts with images. Ice Haven is striking for its use of a variety of drawing and storytelling styles associated with different genres and formats: kids comics, detective stories, “alternative” comics, and more. We’ll show some examples of the kinds of comics Clowes is referring to and talk about the way style and layout can be used as storytelling tools.

Ice Haven image

Vida Wentz approaches Random Wilder on the streets of Ice Haven

We’d like to remind you that we are posting this here for the use of anyone who wants to host a book club about Ice Haven. In fact, we already have someone looking into setting up a comics book club in Philadelphia—we’ll report back here if we get any news.

One way to approach talking about this book in a group or class setting is to assign or have participants choose a particular section of the book and describe it on its own terms and in relation to the overall narrative.

Here are a few general questions/topics that will likely come up in next weekend’s conversation:

  • characters talking to reader
  • characters exhibiting self-delusion or concentrating on the wrong detail (dramatic irony)
  • what are the narrative functions, if any, of the different art styles and page layouts used?
  • unreliable narrators in comics and prose
  • self-referentiality, calling attention to the fact that you’re reading a comic (or a book, more generally)
  • black humor, misanthropy in Ice Haven, Daniel Clowes’ oeuvre, and underground/alternative comics in general
  • The structure of Ice Haven is not linear. How would you describe it?
  • Notice the titles of each section, their lettering styles, and their placement.

And here are references to a few specific sequences and panels that struck us for one reason or another:

  • “Our Children and their Friends”: follow the bouncing ball (and the sweat beads!) on the second page especially.
  • “Mr. & Mrs. Ames”: notice the use of cropped word balloons in these sequences.
  • “Harry Naybors, Comic Book Critic”: what’s striking about the framed page of comic book art in the second to last panel?
  • “Our Children, Revisited”: What is Charles doing in the last panel?
  • “Violet, Alone Forever”: Violet failing to conjure Penrod’s face
  • “Harry Naybors Explains Everything”: pure silliness or does he make some good points?



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