In spring or fall, you can almost always find something good and worthwhile on bookstores' new-release tables, but winter is a lot rougher. In January, publishers are usually still tabulating the damages from Christmas, determining if their prestigious fall publications earned enough money to break even for the year, and book reviewers are already looking ahead to spring, when the hot new shit gets published. In the dead of winter, no publisher will ever release a novel by, say, David Foster Wallace, because the dead of winter is for misfit, unmarketable books and generic thrillers and maybe another Joyce Carol Oates novel or two.

Walk into any bookstore right now and it's pretty easy to tell from the anemic displays and the bored expressions on all the booksellers' faces that there's not a lot going on. It's not uncommon to walk around a bookstore in late January and find that it's entirely populated by sobbing women sitting on the floor in the self-help section and men in suits mumbling to themselves over erotic-photography books.

I wonder if all this depression explains why Drawn & Quarterly issued two brand-new Chris Ware books into the post-Christmas gloom. Since Charles Schulz's passing, Ware has become the new King of Melancholy, and all the empty space and the unread, bad new books in bookstores in winter look somewhat like a Ware cartoon, anyway: It's practically free publicity.

The first of the two to debut was The Acme Novelty Date Book, Volume Two, a collection of Ware's sketchbooks from 1995 to 2002. Much like Robert Crumb, Ware uses his sketchbook as a journal, writing his feelings and thoughts (representative sample: "JESUS CHRIST, I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO DRAW!") and compulsively sketching pictures of whatever catches his eye: sad people on the bus, crumbling houses, the alienating interiors of airports. It's less an art book than the interior monologue of a fussy genius who's continually falling in love with, and having his heart broken by, complete strangers.

The second, Acme Novelty Library Number 18, is a stand-alone volume that provides a welcome break from Ware's somewhat-tiring Rusty Brown storyline. It basically chronicles the nighttime lamentations of a one-legged woman who's only had one sexual relationship in her life. It's wordier than a lot of Ware's other work, but it's some of his strongest composition to date. This one is guaranteed to leave the reader feeling either mordantly depressed or full of a kind of tender love for all humanity. It's the cartoon equivalent of a bookstore in winter. recommended