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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic book

99 Ways to Tell a Story

Matt Madden

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase 99 Ways to Tell a Story

Title: 99 Ways to Tell a Story
Author: Matt Madden
Genre: Art
Written: 2005
Length: 199 pages
Availability: 99 Ways to Tell a Story - US
99 Ways to Tell a Story - UK
99 Ways to Tell a Story - Canada
99 Ways to Tell a Story - India
  • Exercises in Style
  • With an Introduction by the author/artist, as well as Notes on Some of the Exercises

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Our Assessment:

A : well done, most enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 1/7/2006 Craig Taylor
New Statesman . 7/8/2006 Daniel Trilling
The Observer . 23/7/2006 David Thompson

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is either the most maddening comic ever or a small work of genius. A few pages would suggest the former. By the end, thankfully, it reveals itself as the latter." - Craig Taylor, The Guardian

  • "As well as being Madden's personal history of the comic book (there are notes at the back explaining all the different styles), 99 Ways is a fascinating and funny exposé of the techniques of visual storytelling. When so much of our culture is based on the fusion of image and text -- even current-affairs magazines are spending their cash on glitzy redesigns nowadays -- there's never been a better time to take a look." - Daniel Trilling, New Statesman

  • "Mercifully, Madden's comic-book homage manages to sidestep the creaking pretension of Oulipo, Queneau's 'potential literature workshop', and balances postmodern irony with genuine invention and amusement." - David Thompson, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       These Exercises in Style are a variation on Raymond Queneau's book of that name (see our review). Instead of basing it on a piece of text (as Queneau does), Madden works with both text and imagery: the template is a one page, eight panel comic strip, with the rest of the book made up of the variations on that, ninety-nine different versions of the same story.
       The original 'story' is simple and banal: a man is working at his laptop, gets up and goes to another room, hears someone from upstairs ask what time it is, answers ("It's 1:15"), opens a refrigerator, and finds that he's forgotten what he was looking for. The brilliance of 99 Ways to Tell a Story is almost as banal: Madden simply retells essentially the same story again and again. Yet it is never the same story -- and one of the wonders of the book is how very different a story and one's appreciation of it can be even when it has just been slightly altered.
       Some of the variations are merely a change of the perspective, others relate the story in a different way or style (both drawn and/or written), or add or take away elements. A few are radically different approaches -- the story presented as a graph, a map, a binary version. There are numerous homages and the story is presented as everything from a public service announcement to a part of the Bayeux tapestry.
       It sounds like an amusing game, but it really is more than that. The variations are well-done (some in full colour, all as simply sketched or complexly rendered as each variation demands), and the overall effect is one of allowing -- or even forcing -- the reader to appreciate how much form can affect content. It might seem a trite point, but readers are so used to simply accepting as given how a writer presents his or her material that they often forget that, in fact, presentation plays an enormous role in how the story is perceived. Madden's book is a revelatory demonstration of how readers can be manipulated and how a text can mislead.
       Working with both text and images Madden has even more to play with than Queneau did, and he makes the most of it. Astonishingly, for a book that is above all else repetitive, it never gets boring. Even the obvious is interesting, and Madden also comes up with a lot of great stuff, ways of seeing that might not have occurred to the reader.
       Fantastic and thought-provoking fun. Highly recommended.

       One note: the book as object is not exactly a great-looking volume, and somewhat unwieldy in its floppy 200-plus page, 9 by 7½ inch size (though that's a decent format for the contents). It also has an off-putting cover -- all the more so with the odd sales-pitch on the front cover, advertising it as:
An exploration of storytelling that will amuse and delight you, and inspire your own creative work -- your novel, your comic, even your film.
       (This pitch continues on the back cover (though at least there it is buried in smaller print): it "will inspire storytellers to think through and around obstacles that might otherwise prevent them from getting good ideas on the page.")
       There might be something to this -- though it's done nothing for our novel or comic book series, much less our feature film project -- but certainly this isn't anywhere near the top of the list of aspects of this book that make it so commendable. But you can't really blame the publisher: selling it as a graphic version of a Queneau idea certainly won't attract the mass of book buyers -- but selling it like this, indeed, possibly even stocking it in the self-help section (or at least the writers/artists/filmmakers how-to section) will certainly make for better sales.
       It goes for (almost) all books, but even more so for this one: don't judge it by its cover -- or the publicity material.

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99 Ways to Tell a Story: Reviews: Matt Madden: Other books by Matt Madden under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Matt Madden has published numerous comic books.

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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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