Rusty Brown, a normal, nerdy, bullied, disenfranchised tweenage kid in Omaha, Nebraska, is just trying to survive a regular junior-high school day with his best friend Chalky White. But in this deeply Ware-ian world, it won't be easy.
...heartbreaking [work], as they say, of staggering genius: feverishly inventive and intimately told, drawn with empathy, architectural rigor and a spooky sense of a divine eye. Opening in Ware’s native Omaha circa 1975, Rusty Brown is at least four books in one, with a sum much greater than all the parts, expanding not just the possibilities of the form but also the mental space of his reader. Along with David Bowman’s Big Bang, it’s the most audacious and inspiring fiction I’ve read this year ... Ware’s superpower is to view characters through time, to chart their thickening bodies as well as the children they were ... Rusty Brown is also playful and funny ... All of Ware’s books gesture to infinity: With their microscopic paratextual matter, it’s likely that no one aside from Ware himself has ever definitively finished one of them. Of course, Ware’s true gift is not the density of his books but in how he compels us to feel amid such bounty.
...[a] moving, sourly funny and virtuosically drawn book ... It’s hard to express in prose how imaginatively and effectively Ware marries words to images, how expressive his almost diagrammatically minimalist style can be, how he juxtaposes banality and trauma, how he sketches the passing of time and the sense of nowhereness in blank wide shots ... Amid all this bathos and desolation, there are little acts of kindness or connection, and memories of happiness or hope that the characters return to. It’s awful, but amid the awfulness there’s a tender attention to the individuality of each character.
...a lovingly executed piece of work, the product of an implacable mind, deserving of sustained and repeated attention. If one feels any resistance to calling it a 'novel', it comes not from the presence of graphics...but from the piecemeal narrative method. Even the moments of overlap between the book’s four sections convey the spirit of an in-joke or nudge. The overall result feels closer to a linked collection of stories, a treasure trove of insight and invention, rather than an organic whole ... Ware’s literary project has been to move comics away from superhero mythology to the realm of the heroic everyday, on the model of Charles M Schulz’s Peanuts, but with a more self-conscious sense of artistry and ambition ... Every one of his frames...is used to bring us closer to his people and their world. There’s nothing that he isn’t interested in trying to render at least once, from genitalia of various hues to snowflakes to every kind of living space. It’s as if he sees the essential challenge of graphic novels as being to invest the page with as much meaning and detail as humanly possible ... Ware’s sensibility is gloriously mixed ... he is thinking all the time about impact and effect and comprehension, and it’s difficult for his reader to avoid doing the same, stopping at frequent intervals to register, with gratitude verging on awe, just how much one has been subliminally noting – the store of visual information in every frame ... Rusty Brown is a human document of rare richness – infinitely sad, intimately attuned to desolation and disappointment, but never closed to the possibility of a breakthrough, of someone transcending a dead-end, sad-sack fate. Though pain is germinal, love and hope exist ... [an] impassioned and ineffable piece of work...