AS HE DEMONSTRATES with every one of his droll, moving, meticulous publications, Chris Ware is one of the most fascinating storytellers we have, one dedicated to extending and elasticizing the medium of cartooning. His new “publishing experiment,” as he calls it, is Building Stories, a book Publishers Weekly declared “one of the year’s best arguments for the survival of print.”
Building Stories is both a collection and a magnum opus, a mosaic both intimate and epic. Within a large, decorative box are fourteen separate but inter-related “units” of different formats — pamphlets, newspapers, hardcover books, and even a Little Golden Book-style children’s book — across which Ware depicts the stories of a group of apartment dwellers, each of whom develops distinct emotional mechanisms for dealing with loneliness, regret, and memory.
Ware spoke to the Los Angeles Review of Books about his process, his ideas, and his belief in the supremacy of the book.
Casey Burchby: Did this story germinate in a piecemeal way, as reflected in the way it's organized in the final book? Or were you filling in a larger story as you worked on it?
Chris Ware: The book is pretty piecemeal, really a collection of short stories, or memories — an attempt to get at something of the way one stores away, recalls and rewrites one's experiences, however disgustingly pretentious that might sound. (It's also about getting married, having children, friends and parents dying, losing a sense of one's purpose, and abandoning creative ambition.)
CB: Do these stories have any root in your own experience living in an apartment?
CW: The apartment where about half of the stories are set is a loose blend of the two buildings in which I lived before my wife and I moved to Oak Park (though we still live only one block from the city of Chicago). The apartments were both in a neighborhood called the Ukrainian Village, near Wicker Park, where a lot of artists and musician-types lived in the early nineties because it was considered affordable, though it eventually became unaffordable as part of the ongoing process of dark ages/renaissance/mannerist real estate renewal (i.e. "gentrification") that all neighborhoods in large cities undergo — and, of course, of which I was a part. I can remember being led through an apartment by a real estate agent in 1991 that opened into a Jacob Riis-type tableau of an extended Eastern European family sitting on the edges of their beds, frozen; he walked me around the people as if they more or less didn't even exist. I frequently wonder what happened to them. Needless to say, I didn't rent that apartment.
CB: With work as detailed and as graphic as yours, I'm wondering how you organize the story prior to starting to work on a page. Do you draft the story in prose? Or do you sketch pages first? What are the first steps of the process?
CW: I don't draft or script; the drawings and stories form themselves out of the images and what they suggest as I draw them, along with the memories they might dredge up. There's really no way I could plan these things; the connections and coincidences that occur have to happen on the page....read more