For anyone who still views the world of comics as antithetical to the world of art, Daniel Clowes' work should be a revelation. Clowes is a great writer whose gifts as an artist and storyteller are strengthened rather than diminished by the medium in which he works. One of the remarkable things about Caricature, a collection of nine stories mostly culled from Clowes' ongoing Eightball comic, is the uniformity of vision running through his work. Although the book ranges in subject matter from a dilapidated, run-down superhero to a slightly melancholy boy trick-or-treating for perhaps the last time, every story in Caricature exists in the same moral universe: a cold, solitary place where the comic and the tragic are hopelessly interwoven and every joke reveals pain. All of Clowes' gifts as a storyteller are evident here, from his ability to suggest a sad, beautiful world in a single panel to his ability to explore the mysteries of childhood without resorting to cliches or sentimentality. The mood of Caricature shifts almost imperceptibly throughout, as brilliantly observed, minimalist, hopelessly depressing stories ("Caricature," "The Gold Mommy") eventually give way to such satirical, plot-driven pieces as "Gynecology" and "Black Nylon." Predictably, the more melodramatic material isn't quite as memorable as the early, more spare stories, but everything here is essential. At almost $30, Caricature isn't cheap, but it's worth every penny.

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