This past May at a University of Chicago comics conference that since has come to be referred to as the graphics-novel equivalent of Woodstock for all the rock star cartoonists who participated, Chris Ware first publicly mentioned his concept for “Building Stories.”
A reaction from one of the other cartoonists in attendance can’t be printed in a family newspaper. Let’s just say he implied he was humbled by the game-raising breadth of the idea.
“Building Stories,” published in early October, comes in a box large enough to serve as luggage for a weekend trip to Chicago, packed with 14 separate books. And by “books” I mean some are perfect-bound, a few are in a newspaper format, three are stapled, two are printed as posters, another two are 28-inch-long strips and one folds out like a game board.
No helpful starting point is given, and there is no particular order to the tales, most of which involve a woman who lives in Oak Park, Ill., Ware’s hometown. The narratives shift backward and forward in time, often using deep memories and tragic dreams to drive the story.
And that’s the thing about Chris Ware. His work continually surprises the reader with the detail to his elegant and precise drawings.
Ware has confessed to working without thumbnails, except maybe to rough out a main central image for each page. He starts in the upper-left corner of a page and draws “organically,” he said.
Which brings us to the other key element of Ware’s art. Gosh, his stuff is sad.
Always through his stories runs a powerful undercurrent of sorrow. As the protagonist of “Building Stories” confides, “I am entirely, 100 percent, horrifying alone.”
But at the end of the day, despite all the truly unhappy, disconnected characters who push their way through life, it has to be said that “Building Stories” is a truly amazing, unmistakable thing of beauty.