Even though, like most people, I loved Maus, I think it was Breakdowns that really cemented me as a fan of Spiegelman’s work. So I was pretty excited when it turned out that McSweeney’s was publishing a three-volume set of his sketchbooks.
As it turns out, Spiegelman never really KEPT sketchbooks; or, rather, he’d occasionally try, and then stop after a few pages — only a few were anything near complete — and one of those, the “A” volume, originally published in McSweeney’s 27, was done mostly FOR publishing, rather than as a normal sketchbook.
It’s too bad, really – all three sketchbooks in here are great. There’re a handful of short comics, but mostly, it’s just drawings… y’know, of the sort you’d typically expect to see in a sketchbook. If you go in expecting another masterwork graphic novel, or another Breakdowns, you’ll be disappointed — but given that, what’re you doing checking out someone’s sketchbooks if you don’t quite get what they are?
It’s hard to pick a favorite — I think I like the 1979 “Be” volume best, but they’re all really good AND interesting. “Nose”, from 1983 has quite a few roughs for RAW, including experiments with the famous torn cover issue — with torn pages, no less. (Though these ones are machine-cut rather than hand-torn.) “Nose” also features some collaborations with Charles Burns, and, well, really, it’s hard to go wrong with either Spiegelman OR Burns, so both in the same book is pretty neat… not that that’s a particularly rare occurrence, particularly with the aforementioned RAW.
Be A Nose is a welcome look into the mind of one of the foremost comic creators. And, like everything McSweeney’s publishes, it’s a gorgeous package. It’s hard to recommend it enough.