The Crystal Ballroom
by Frank Thorne
(Fantagraphics, 2003)

The Crystal Ballroom is a glimpse into the past of renowned cartoonist Frank Thorne. While this book is listed as a sequel to Frank Thorne's illustrated autobiography Drawing Sexy Women, the work stands alone to relate an interesting series of events in the author's adolescent life.

Although the story takes place in spring 1946, don't think that this is one of those looks back at more "innocent" times. The slang may be more colorful now, but 16-year-old boys have always had the same thing on their minds regardless of the historical era. And it's the attention to little details that makes this story so wonderful, such as referring to a "safety" or watching their fathers' stag films. Only someone that lived in that period can perfectly capture seemingly unimportant aspects.

Another great aspect of the story is that Thorne doesn't hesitate to tell the truth. Whether it's his father's addiction to laxatives, his adolescent sexual fantasies or his unflinching portrayal of some of his closest friends; Thorne displays the past without any gilding or embellishment.

The fantastic artwork imparts a theme of truth. Thorne doesn't ink his pencil drawings, so they retain a rough waiting-to-be-inked quality. Having worked for decades as a cartoonist/illustrator, Thorne masterfully captures each person's individuality. The lead character has a consistent protuberance of his upper lip. His father's blue-collar nobility is always present in his facial expressions. A teenage girl's sexuality is conveyed with the slightest pencil stroke, be it a hand unbuttoning a blouse or a backseat caress.

The feeling of truth (in prose and imagery) and the attention to detail elevates The Crystal Ballroom from a self-indulgent piece of nostalgia to a provocative day-in-the-life-of story. If you want to visit (or revisit) a time in America's past without any filters, then Frank Thorne has provided just the story for you.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 10 April 2004

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