Etelka Lehoczky

"A bloody racist." When African novelist Chinua Achebe summed up Joseph Conrad this way in 1975, it was like a bomb going off in the literary canon. Spurred by Achebe's brash assault, some critics started arguing that Conrad's works should perhaps not be read at all. These writers pointed to Conrad's imperialist tendencies, his apparent inability to see Africans as equal to Europeans and his use of the n-word.

Being a male feminist has got to be tough. No sooner do you become aware of the virulent, insidious web of oppression that's permeated society for over 2000 years than you realize that, because you happen to be a man, the most effective thing you can do to fight it is to just shut up. Or as comedian Hannah Gadsby put it in GQ's recent roundup of Voices of the New Masculinity, "How about you scale back on your confidence? How about you try not to act in every situation?

Yes, there are monkeys. There are Hollywood cowboys and antique toys in Kim Deitch's graphic novel Reincarnation Stories, as well as cartoon magpies Heckle and Jeckle, a storytelling robot and a crystal ball. Frank Sinatra, D.W. Griffith, Bozo the Clown and even Jesus make appearances. These pages overflow. Even the cover pushes at boundaries, with the iconic Waldo the cat zooming out at the reader in a fiery flying car. All this might make Reincarnation Stories seem like a release, a purging, a great unmediated yowl or yawp from the depths of the artistic soul.

One of the really neat things about comic artists is their ability to make small stories into big ones. Stanislaw Lem's 1976 tale "The Seventh Voyage" is small in various ways: Besides taking place inside a cramped spaceship and featuring only one character (well, sort of), it's quite short and is told in a wry, dialed-down tone that comes close to disguising just how funny it is. In the hands of Jon J. Muth, though, every tiny development in Lem's plot becomes the catalyst for a painting showing a slightly different perspective on the action.

Even if Rusty Brown weren't the latest book from Chris Ware, whose instantly recognizable style and impeccable talent have defined the genre of art comics for some 30 years now, it would still be an event. The bricklike graphical epic documents a handful of ordinary lives in Omaha, Neb., meditating on the cosmic significance of everyday actions and the countless invisible connections linking people together.

Pages