Per Dash Shaw’s recommendation at the beginning, I paced my reading of the book, taking in each of its three parts on a separate evening, and finished it just a few moments before writing this. It sounds so well-trod: an aging couple gathers the clan together one last time to announce their divorce after 40 years, but Dash Shaw’s deceptively primitive art and use of new layout and pacing techniques on the page, when combined with some brilliantly naturalistic, casual dialogue that still managed to say something with every line, has produced a book that is easily the best graphic novel of the year so far. It’s a million little moments that create a greater whole, a triumph of the form that is going to echo in my mind for quite some time. Bottomless Belly Button is a book that made me laugh, think, smile, and finally, over a ten-page sequence at the end, weep like I’ve not in a very, very long time.
This 720-page book has delivered on the promise that so many other examples of the medium have whispered in my ear, from Eisner’s A Contract With God to Bechdel’s Fun Home. Of course, it’s not quite perfect – no book with this much ambition could ever be – but that only magnifies the sense of honesty and forthrightness that informs the work throughout. Dash Shaw may be an artist and storyteller of the highest caliber, but his work here is refreshingly free of facade or ironic distance. Recommended very, very highly. In fact, this may be the Great American Graphic Novel I’d been waiting so long for.