"There’s a lack of pretentiousness to the word ‘comic book’ that I think suits the medium itself very, very nicely."
December 19, 2012 9:35 PM   Subscribe

The NYT Book Review just named it one of the 5 best fiction books of the year. The AV Club helpfully posted a video to show you what happens when you open it. Actually, lots of folks posted videos to show you what happens when you open it. Other folks raved in print about the author and his career. The Comics Journal asked a dozen critics of the author's work to send in reviews; this one focuses on the role of disability in the narrative. This one notes the book "is in a very primary sense a comic about women and the private lives they lead, and it investigates more fully than any other comic I have ever read the way they age, fall in love, explore their sexuality, come to terms with compromises they’ve had to make as they’ve grown, accept their limitations, confront squandered ability, have children (or choose not to have children), marry (or stay single), and make sense of the world around them." You might find Chris Ware's Building Stories worth a look or two. Or fourteen.

The New York Review of Books link describes the origin of the project:
In September 1999, as Jimmy Corrigan was nearing completion, Ware visited the preserved apartment of the outsider artist Henry Darger. Darger had lived an isolated existence, working feverishly on thousands upon thousands of pages of eccentric fiction and drawings. "The whole room," Ware wrote in his sketchbook journal, "was set up entirely in the sole service of the maintenance of aching loneliness—it was strangely uplifting, though, and an apt yet strange condensed metaphor for the way we all go through life." Within the year, Ware had begun work on Building Stories, which takes that metaphor, and that mingling of pervasive loneliness and unexpected uplift, as its starting point.
Nice informative 15-minute Chris Ware interview on WNYC

Chris Ware discusses his work on MSNBC

LA Review of Books interview:
I do think that when it comes to art, books offer a sort of reassuring physical certainty for the ineffable uncertainties of life, but then again I'm 44 and don't tweet or have a Facebook page or participate in most of the things that blunt the textures of experience in favor of delivering them up more quickly to your friends, so maybe that's just me. I find it very telling that the regular selling point of this or that new version of technology is that it's "higher resolution." What does that mean, exactly? It's like admitting the inherent superiority of life while still trying to sell some sort of living death instead. I am absolutely convinced that sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time damages the brain and alters one's brain chemistry. You can feel it happening — you start surrendering more and more of yourself until, eventually, you recoil and think, "Ugh. I feel gross." I think it's colloquially known as "Swearing off Facebook for a While.”
The Fantagraphics essays are from contributors to this 2010 book about Ware.

Full NYT review.
posted by mediareport (28 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Chris Ware is a lot more cheerful in person, FYI.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:48 PM on December 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Building Stories is amazing. It justifies printing books in an age of e-readers. Stunning, moving, possibly Ware's best.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 9:55 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chris Ware discusses his work on MSNBC

That has to be the most perfect frown ever.
posted by hellojed at 10:13 PM on December 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Chris Ware is somebody who I can't help but admiring for his skills and genius, but who is so very hard to read because it's all so gaddam depressing.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:11 PM on December 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

The book - and I call it a book, even though its physical manifestation obviously calls for new thinking about the definition of a book - has been sitting on a random but prominent short white stool in our dining room for a month. That's how long it took me to read it, coming home, opening it, pulling out a bit at random, and reading it in the dying hours of light.

I will read it again. I almost never read a book twice, but this one would be hard to read only once. I think you know why.

It's a book because it has an ISBN; art is art because it has a frame around it. I'm too tired to go into it any further right now.

It is a masterpiece, and, although I like patronizing my local independent bookstore, having this monster dropped off at my doorstep for thirty bucks beat spending fifty to lug it home from the bookseller. Many will claim it's depressing. It may be for you, but most literature that tells the truth about life does not claim that life is consistently a tale of unalloyed joy. We read books to help us make sense of a damaged world. It's ultimately up to the reader to take this final step, not the writer, unless the writer is publishing a self-help book.
posted by kozad at 11:36 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently went to a birthday party for a friend and one of the gifts he got was Building Stories. I would've have put it in my purse and run out the restaurant were it not so huge and heavy. In other words, it looked very cool and I was instajealous of my friend for getting to enjoy this new thing that I didn't even know existed a minute prior.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:22 AM on December 20, 2012

I read it this week. I found it less depressing than Jimmy Corrigan.

Years ago, I read a review of the book Davy ( by Edgar Pangborn) written by Spider Robinson in which he said he still has three o'clock in the morning conversations with some of its characters. I feel that way about this book; in fact, I feel I know the main female character better than some real people I know.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:03 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Against my better judgment, I didn't preorder this. I made it clear it'd be an awesome gift, since I'm sooooo hard to buy for. But then, my adorable, loving and intelligent wife didn't order it for a fortnight! And has since informed me it's completely sold out, and unavailable at any of our local bookstores.

I HOPE she's just setting me up to super-surprise me on Christmas day. Like maybe she's trying to make me feel like a Chris Ware character.
posted by DigDoug at 4:14 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If she gives you a copy of Frank Miller's 'Holy Terror' instead, then you'll really be able to feel like a Ware character.

I love his draftsmanship, and his commitment, but I struggle to finish the stories. I did have a copy of his notebook drawings recently, which was pretty amazing and not very depressing.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:45 AM on December 20, 2012

I'm curious about this, but honestly, I've read Jimmy Corrigan, I've read Lint, I've read Rusty Brown, and I just don't know how much more I need to read about the malaise of middle-aged white guys in America. Every time I see something of Ware's I immediately know so, not just because of his art style, which I like, but because he's hitting what seem to be the exact same notes. If I'm wrong in this case, I'd like to know, because I don't really want to write off Ware just yet. (I'm also wary because the last book that got praise like this was David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp which turned out to be a well-drawn story about the malaise of a middle-aged white guy in America told with the skill and subtlety of a college Creative Writing course.)
posted by Legomancer at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this - I'd pulled out the NY Mag review with the intention of buying this for my daughter for Christmas. I think I got the last copy in town, phew.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2012

hellojed, that is indeed the most perfect frown ever.

I like depressing things, so I'm surprised that I've never read anything by Chris Ware. I'll have to get on that pronto.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the sort of outside the box thinking that is going to save the comics industry. After all, you can only reboot a bunch of trite, cliched supermen so many times. It's time for creative storytelling and characters I can give a damn about to make a comeback.
posted by Renoroc at 5:11 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My main takeaway from reading DC's Wednesday Comics was just how pervasive Chris Ware's influence already is, even in mainstream comics.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 5:51 AM on December 20, 2012

I find it so ironic that this has become this year's Tickle-Me Elmo.
So many adult-aged comic nerds will be dissapointed on xmas morning... including me.
posted by Theta States at 6:06 AM on December 20, 2012

TBH I've never found any of Ware's stuff depressing.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:42 AM on December 20, 2012


>but because he's hitting what seem to be the exact same notes.

That's totally a valid criticism! and as a young white guy I obviously don't have a great pulse on the situation. The only thing I have to contribute is that he's the only comics, nay, fiction author that I've ever read that makes me too physically uncomfortable to finish reading.

I have a vague idea of what that says of the immense privilege I benefit from.

I had to stop reading Corrigan because I began to identify too much with him - despite at the time being merely a pudgy, shy, sad teenager.

Lint got me early on because it mimiced the death of my own mother.

>If I'm wrong in this case, I'd like to know

I'm only halfway through Building Stories but he seems to perform most of his awkward, uncomfortable emotional exploration from the perspective of female characters.
posted by pmv at 6:48 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just don't know how much more I need to read about the malaise of middle-aged white guys in America

The main character in Building Stories is a disabled woman we follow over the course of her life. The elderly landlady is the next most important life you read about. So you're good on the middle-aged white guy thing.
posted by mediareport at 6:48 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess I still find it somewhat disheartening to see that list of books and note the ratio of lady to gentleman authors and then hear that this book by this gentleman is so amazingly great at offering insight into the lady condition.

I would probably love the book, though.
posted by skrozidile at 7:02 AM on December 20, 2012

Every book Chris Ware does is better than the last one, which is amazing to me. I read Building Stories in one long sitting—it is wonderful. Depressing, yes, but probably has a happier "ending" than anything else he's done, and anyway depressing books always cheer me up for some reason.
posted by enn at 7:23 AM on December 20, 2012

...I've read Lint...

posted by Iridic at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2012

And regarding Ware's focus on middle-aged white guys (and now women) in America—and maybe I am just making excuses here because I love his work so much—but one of the things I have always enjoyed about it is that it shows an awareness of the limited nature of its perspective. That is, unlike so many books about middle-aged white people which treat the middle-class white people experience as though it were the entirety of the human condition, it is impossible to read his books without getting a sense that there is a much larger world just outside the boundaries of the characters' perceptions. In fact, I think you could make the argument that the limitations of the middle-class perspective of his characters—and the resulting pain, loneliness, alienation from the larger world—is an explicit subject of his work.

Certainly, he seems very interested in the edges of that perspective and the places where boundaries collide. I'm sure he set Building Stories in Oak Park because that is where he lives, but it is interesting that it is also the site of one of the sharpest class and racial boundaries in the region, where very-upper-middle-class Oak Park (median household income $74,614, 67.7% white) turns into the Austin neighborhood of Chicago (median household income $32,358, 4.4% white) in basically one block.

I don't mean to suggest that his writing is especially class-conscious and I don't know anything about his politics but I do think he avoids many of the more common pitfalls of middle-aged-white-guy writing and I think he has an awareness that characters like Jimmy Corrigan and Jordan Lint and the one-legged artist are unhappy in large part because of the narrowness of their worlds and the way that narrowness prevents them from forming the kinds of human connections that could make them happier.
posted by enn at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's kind of depressing that Chris Ware is still basically the only comics writer who gets any respect from the literati.
posted by empath at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2012

Chris Ware is a lot more cheerful in person, FYI.

posted by Halloween Jack at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2012

It's kind of depressing that Chris Ware is still basically the only comics writer who gets any respect from the literati.

Bwuh? Did Alan Moore get excommunicated when I wasn't paying attention?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 AM on December 20, 2012

Asterios Polyp was pretty highly praised, if I remember correctly.
posted by Theta States at 9:27 AM on December 20, 2012

and then hear that this book by this gentleman is so amazingly great at offering insight into the lady condition

Fair enough, though it's worth mentioning that the person making that comment was a woman. Both of the Fantagraphics critics I pulled out are female.
posted by mediareport at 2:04 PM on December 20, 2012

Hey, good news. Amazon just emailed me that my backup order of this tome should arrive on the 27th.

So.. I might have a spare. Or maybe just 48 hours of misery. Hardly Ware worthy!
posted by DigDoug at 8:13 AM on December 21, 2012

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