In the graphic novel Ice Haven, Daniel Clowes writes about the intertwining stories of different people that all take place in the small town known as Ice Haven. Each chapter holds a theme that is portrayed through the visuals and texts included in them and one of the main themes throughout the novel is marriage and relationships. Ice Haven explores the different factors that make up a marriage and relationship and how they can either make or break the couple involved. Marriage and relationships are not as big of a fairytale as they seem which can be seen throughout Daniel Clowes graphic novel Ice Haven; not only is there one imperfect relationship but multiple that depict the various problems that can arise because of “love” ranging from how a man’s issues can push a woman to her limit and make her want to escape her marriage to how fear and misery can push a girl to extremes for love so she can escape her daily life and struggles.
In the chapter titled “Seventeen” the reader explores the obsessive love a senior in high school named Violet has with a guy named Penrod. She has many daydreams about him and writes multiple notes to him about how miserable she is since she is bullied at school and hates her life at home. When Violet is daydreaming about Penrod the color changes in the panel to a blue filter because blue is a calming color and when Violet daydreams about him a sense of calmness rushes over her allowing her to escape from reality for a few moments. The lines are curvy in her notes to Penrod to realistically portray her handwritten cursive. It is evident that Violet fears her stepfather because she at one point has an intrusive thought about him spying on her while he is naked and writes a note to Penrod asking, “What if he rapes me?”
When Violet has the intrusive thought about her stepfather the bubble has a red filter over it to express the fear that comes with her thinking about that. Violet’s life has become overwhelming for her and Penrod has become an escape whether he is presently with her or not. She is dependent on her love for him because without it she would constantly have to live in the fear and misery of her actual daily life. This is not a typical teen romance that most girls yearn for where the couple goes out all the time and are deeply in love. It is far more difficult than that because Penrod is older than her, her mother does not approve of him and it seems as though she can only briefly contact him on the phone out of desperation.
She exclaims to Penrod while on the phone with him, “[…] I’ll do anything you want!” (Clowes 23.) If Violet is willing to do anything Penrod wants she is putting herself in an extremely vulnerable and desperate state that he can easily take advantage of. Clowes uses subject to subject transitions for his panels to show what Violet did during her day and blacks out everything but a circle of Violet on the phone on the last panel to signal it is the end of the chapter. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Violet is willing to do whatever it takes to be with only Penrod and escape the place she should be able to call home.
When it comes to relationships the novel transitions from Violet’s desperate love for Penrod to a troubled marriage that is introduced in the chapter titled “Mr. and Mrs. Ames Detectives for Hire.” From the beginning of the chapter it is clear Mr. Ames is not some sweet loving guy because he complains about what they are eating and already insults the town they have just gotten to. He puts no regard into Mrs. Ames’s feelings even after she tells him, “Joe, let’s go do something” (Clowes 35) and instead changes the subject. The way he does that shows how little he cares about what would make her happy and instead wants to focus more on his work. Immediately the reader can tell Mr. Ames has really bad anger issues when he starts to get upset with how loud their neighbor’s music and goes over to their hotel room, pulls out a gun and threatens the guy. In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud explains, “Even the variations of lettering styles […] speak of an ongoing struggle to capture the very essence of sound” (McCloud 134.) Clowes does a good job of changing up his lettering styles to show when Mr. Ames is yelling, how loud the music playing is and how loud he is knocking on the door. He also uses symbols really well to show how scared the man is of Mr. Ames by adding a lot of sweat droplets to the man’s face.
When Mr. Ames walks back into the room it is apparent Mrs. Ames had fled because she is getting fed up with her husband’s behavior. Not only does he have extreme anger issues, but he also puts work before his own wife and disregards the fact that she wants to enjoy his company outside of their job. Marriage is not always easy, but it should not be so tough that one person cannot stand to be around the other due to their behavior. Mr. Ames knows he messed up and says, “Who could blame her for walking out?” (Clowes 36.) He may care about her when she is not there, but his actions when she is present say otherwise. He is only pushing her away rather than making her want to be with him and that will lead into her finding an outlet for their marriage due to her being unhappy.
Daniel Clowes is trying to capture the drama in this chapter by making some panels larger than others such as when Mr. Ames points the gun to the man’s head, when Mrs. Ames flees the room and when he comes home to find her in bed. This shows the importance of how Mr. Ames’s actions have led to certain consequences that affects them both. People in marriages do not always realize that even though they made a vow to one another if a person is unhappy that can lead to them drifting away from the marriage and wanting to find their happiness elsewhere. Mr. Ames’s behavior towards Mrs. Ames and other people is causing that to happen but he may not catch his mistake until it is too late.
The reader explores Mr. and Mrs. Ames’s relationship once again in the chapter “The Ransom Note” where it is apparent the couple are not as in love and loyal as they should be. Mr. Ames explains how when he met Mrs. Ames “she was going through some bad times” which is why he fell for her because he states, “I’m attracted to people who are in trouble, I can’t help it; I want to save people […] I’m one of the good guys.” By saying this it is him admitting he has lost attraction towards his wife since she has been through her bad times and already gotten out of them which is similar to the way Penrod may disconnect himself from Violet once he gets what he wants from her.
Clowes uses thin, faint and rough lines to show it is raining in several of these panels as Mr. Ames looks off into the distance at Vida while she seems to be troubled. This gives the reader the impression that Mr. Ames may be thinking about other women that are in trouble who he would want to be there for since Mrs. Ames no longer needs him to get her out of her bad times. It is also starting to seem like Mrs. Ames may be having an affair because she claims she had eaten a hamburger and lied in bed all night when Mr. Ames was gone but then uses the bathroom prompting Mr. Ames to ask her, “When did you eat asparagus?” because her urine smells like it. He hates asparagus so there is no way he could have eaten that with her.
Clowes uses bigger, curvy lines to change his lettering style to make the sound effect “TSSSSS” (Clowes 71) to show she is peeing. She is being dishonest with him and does not want to tell him the truth in fear of him getting angry with her or because she simply does not care since she is fed up with him. Clowes puts signs of her having an affair in other chapters of the novel many of which Mr. Ames spots but does not comprehend. Mr. Ames being a workaholic with anger issues has pushed his wife away from him and made her feel neglected when it comes to the love, care and romanticism that should be in a relationship. If she is pushed to her limit with his behavior and how he does not stop putting his work before her it is no wonder she had begun to act suspicious and went off to do things on her own. In no way is cheating right but it is human nature for people to want to find something they are not getting elsewhere despite the consequences. Their relationship has become toxic and shows how troubles building up in any relationship can lead to the downfall of it.
In the chapter “Violet Alone Forever” Violet’s relationship with Penrod takes a turn for the worst as he begins to make her feel neglected and like he does not truly care about her. She is constantly calling him, but he rarely wants to talk to her and it starts to really wear on her as she exclaims, “I wish he would just tell me it’s over instead of always making lame excuses, he’s such a coward!” (Clowes 79.) In a previous chapter called “Violet in Love” Violet and Penrod flee to a motel together where they want to have sex for the first time, but Violet does not want to unless they get married. It seems like they actually do but it may have been a fake ceremony. This is similar yet different to Mrs. Ames’s actions because she is trying to escape the reality of her marriage by doing other things such as having affairs whereas Violet went to extremes with Penrod such as possibly getting married to escape the reality of her living situation. The way Penrod avoids her and stops putting any interest into her makes it seem as though he only wanted her for one thing and that was sex.
This goes hand in hand with how relationships are not the fairytale they seem they are going to be because sometimes people are in them for the wrong reasons. Violet was at an extremely vulnerable place in life where she would have done anything for him like she had said to run away from her miserable life. Penrod took advantage of the state she was in and because she gave him what he wanted he felt there was no need to be with her anymore. Clowes uses complex lines in Violet’s mediocre drawing of Penrod to show the reader how long she has not seen him and to dramatize Violet saying, “I couldn’t really even remember what he looked like” (Clowes 80.) Violet went to extremes to pursue love as an escape from her problems, but the love she thought she found only made things worse. Young girls believe love is the answer to everything when really it is not and if they find love in the wrong places it could impact them in ways they are not ready for. Luckily for Violet her mom got a divorce and she was finally able to leave her fears and misery in the town she could never call home.
Ice Haven, although funny and eventful, focuses heavily on themes of much more serious topics. Marriage and relationships are one of those topics when it comes to how people make it out to be some sort of fairytale when really a lot of work goes into having one, many problems will surface, and it is important couples treat each other right to ensure it lasts. Daniel Clowes focuses on the darker aspects of what happens in relationships whether it is how Mr. Ames’s behavior leads to Mrs. Ames’s having an affair or how someone like Violet is pursuing love for all the wrong reasons that just ends up hurting her worse in the end. People need to be more careful when it comes to love because sometimes it may be the answer to their problems or the start of many more to come.