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The Comics of Chris Ware

The Comics of Chris Ware

David M. Ball
Martha B. Kuhlman
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Comics of Chris Ware
    Book Description:

    The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is a Way of Thinking brings together contributions from established and emerging scholars about the comics of Chicago-based cartoonist Chris Ware (b. 1967). Both inside and outside academic circles, Ware's work is rapidly being distinguished as essential to the developing canon of the graphic novel. Winner of the 2001 Guardian First Book Prize for the genre-defining Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Ware has received numerous accolades from both the literary and comics establishment. This collection addresses the range of Ware's work from his earliest drawings in the 1990s in The ACME Novelty Library and his acclaimed Jimmy Corrigan, to his most recent works-in-progress, "Building Stories" and "Rusty Brown."

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-446-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Chris Ware and the “Cult of Difficulty”
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Reading Chris Ware’s comics for the first time can be a disorienting experience. Why does the hardcover edition ofJimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earthhave such an enigmatic and ornate dust jacket? Where exactly are the author’s name and the title of the work, and what is the purpose of the cover’s intricate diagrams and cutout instructions? The curious few who unfold the cover are rewarded with a map that is comprised of panels of varying sizes and orientations with abrupt shifts in scale, offering a world-historic vision of multiple generations and transatlantic connections between Irish immigration and...

  4. Contexts and Canons

    • Inventing Cartooning Ancestors: Ware and the Comics Canon
      (pp. 3-13)

      In 1990, Chris Ware, then a twenty-two-year-old student at the very beginning of his career, made a pilgrimage to Monument Valley, Arizona, in order to investigate the life of George Herriman. Author of the classic stripKrazy Kat, which ran in a variety of newspapers from 1913 until the cartoonist’s death in 1944, Herriman used the otherworldly desert landscape of the region as the ever-shifting backdrop to his comics. Along with the adjacent area of Coconino County, Monument Valley inspired the dream-like lunar landscape that madeKrazy Kata rare example of cartoon modernism. Eager to learn more about the...

    • Masked Fathers: Jimmy Corrigan and the Superheroic Legacy
      (pp. 14-27)

      Throughout Chris Ware’s oeuvre, the role of the superhero in contemporary comics remains a constant concern. Popular discourse tends to construe superheroes as the forefathers of all new comics texts, a belief that clearly troubles Ware. His work sometimes seems to toy with the possibility of effacing the superhero outright, whether through symbolic murders or spectacles of debasement. Ware’s novelJimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earthapproaches the problem in a subtler way, establishing a parodic connection between the figure of the superhero and the eponymous protagonist’s long-absent father. This parallelism enables Ware to stage the ambiguities inherent in...

    • The Limits of Realism: Alternative Comics and Middlebrow Aesthetics in the Anthologies of Chris Ware
      (pp. 28-44)

      The thirteenth issue ofMcSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, published in the summer of 2004, captures the precise moment that comics took over the world. The dust jacket (see fig. 3.2 pages 30–31), an elaborately structured comic written and drawn by guest editor Chris Ware, chronicles the tribulations of a lonely cartoonist who, under pressure to meet a looming deadline, decides his comic strip “doesn’t need a punchline at all! I mean . . .lifedoesn’t have a punchline,right?Maybe I should juststop, let it end where it is. . . .” Thanks to a timely divine intervention,...

    • Chris Ware’s Failures
      (pp. 45-62)

      Why bother taking the time to read this? Aren’t there better things you could be spending your money on? Isn’t there something worthwhile you could be doing right now? This is the immediate reaction we might expect from Chris Ware at the thought of a critical volume of essays devoted to his work. Indeed, he had much the same reaction when first informed about the 2007 Modern Language Association roundtable on his comics that served as the origin of this present collection: “I must say, I’m not sure whether to be pleased or terrified that my stuff would fall under...

  5. Artistic Intersections

    • Chris Ware and the Burden of Art History
      (pp. 65-77)

      As the recipient of significant accolades from the fine art establishment, Chris Ware is in rare company in the comics field.¹ In 2002, Ware became the first comic artist ever to be invited to exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial.² He was the subject of solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2006 and the University of Nebraska’s Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in 2007. He has gallery representation and, in 2007, was asked to curate a show for the Phoenix Museum of Art.³ Yet a close reading of “Our History of Art,” a...

    • In the Comics Workshop: Chris Ware and the Oubapo
      (pp. 78-89)

      In order to delve into the complexity of Chris Ware’s work, I would like to begin by pausing to consider a composition by the Dutch artist Joost Swarte because it demonstrates something fundamental about Ware’s structural approach to the medium of comics. This composition, titledThe Comix Factory, appeared in December 1980 as the cover of the second issue ofRAWmagazine, the independent and avant-garde publication edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly.¹ The cover is significant not only because Ware’s work would appear inRAWten years later, thus bringing him into the fold of other experimental and...

    • Comics and the Grammar of Diagrams
      (pp. 90-104)

      Chris Ware’s comics routinely include peculiar and inscrutable devices, external to the comics narrative, designed to testify to the intensity of Ware’s authorial attention: his readers encounter fake catalog advertisements and coupons, collectible trading cards, fold-up paper-craft projects, souvenir calendars, essays and indicia in painfully minute text, and multi-part diagrams of almost inevitably discouraging complexity. These devices may serve as barriers against the casual reader just as much as they reward those who are more serious or more committed. By their density and their meticulous design, Ware’s non-narrative devices imply that a complete appreciation ofThe ACME Novelty Libraryor...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  6. The Urban Landscape

    • On Modernism’s Ruins: The Architecture of “Building Stories” and Lost Buildings
      (pp. 107-120)

      In a two-page sequence of Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” architecture both evidences and withstands the passage of time.¹ Both pages depict the same Chicago apartment building in pale yellow morning light, one in the early, the other in the late twentieth century. On the first page, the apartment building has decorative molding around its roof and curtained windows (see plate 11). A horse-drawn wagon carrying milk passes underneath the first-floor bedroom window. Ware narrates the scene in cursive lettering: “A young boy, fingers idly wandering beneath his quilt, dreams of the future, and how he might win the heart—and...

    • Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” Gentrification, and the Lives of/in Houses
      (pp. 121-132)

      In part 1 of Chris Ware’s serialized comic strip, “Building Stories,” readers are introduced to a three-story row house in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. Ware represents the building as a character that struggles to interpret the motives of a woman who, newspaper in hand, studies it from across the street (see fig. 9.1). Although we can’t see the woman directly (only her torso and legs are reflected in one of the building’s windows), and despite the fact that we don’t know why she’s scrutinizing the building, the mere fact of her presence sends the building spiraling through a welter of emotions....

  7. Reading History

    • Confronting the Intersections of Race, Immigration, and Representation in Chris Ware’s Comics
      (pp. 135-145)

      Chris Ware’s 2005 collectionThe ACME Reportcontains some of the most forceful and clearly articulated critiques of American cultural identity and national policy in the history of comics. Alongside his own strips and short tales, Ware incorporates a deeply ironic and satirical hodgepodge of turn-of-the-century newspaper and magazine adverts, 1950s-era catalogue spreads and prize giveaways, in which his ACME Novelty Company is cast as a metaphorical stand-in for the American nation-state, with special emphasis on its imperialistic endeavors abroad and nativistic policies at home. In this volume, Ware interweaves both historical and contemporary aesthetics, styles, and modes of representation...

    • Public and Private Histories in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan
      (pp. 146-158)

      Chris Ware’s graphic novelJimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earthrelates the stories of two central protagonists: Jimmy Corrigan, leaving Chicago to meet his father in Waukosha, Michigan, for Thanksgiving in the 1980s, and James Reed Corrigan, growing up in Chicago in the 1890s and abandoned at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These narratives alternate throughout the course of novel, sharing thematic, symbolic, and visual resonances as they progress. However, the novel’s narrative content is also shaped by a paratextual framework of prose and images, labeled, respectively, “General Instructions” and “Corrigenda,” through which we can better understand the interrelation...

    • Autobiography with Two Heads: Quimby the Mouse
      (pp. 159-174)

      One of the central tenets of autobiography criticism is what Philippe Lejeune terms “the autobiographical pact,” the “contract of identity that is sealed by the [author’s] proper name,” ensuring that author and narrator are one and the same.¹ Another position, however, insists that the narrator him- or herself is inevitably sundered, that there is an insurmountable gap between the “narrating I” who “tells the autobiographical narrative” and the “narrated I” who is its subject.² These are not mutually exclusive claims—the first makes a quasi-juridical promise, the greatest force of which is extratextual, a promise that holds in spite of...

  8. Everyday Temporalities

    • Chris Ware and the Pursuit of Slowness
      (pp. 177-190)

      InThe Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin gives a vivid impression of how strollers moved in the shopping arcades of nineteenth-century cities: some of them, he notes, walked with a tortoise on a lead.¹ These flâneurs not only cultivated slowness deliberately, but they ensured that others took note of the fact in order to express their contempt for the machine age and its obsession with speed. Benjamin’s image conjures up a type of person almost unthinkable today, but one that perfectly matches the tenor and rhythm of Chris Ware’s comics. Ware’s graphic novelJimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earthproceeds...

    • Imagining an Idiosyncratic Belonging: Representing Disability in Chris Ware’s “Building Stories”
      (pp. 191-205)

      In an introduction to his comic strip “Building Stories,” written for theIndependent, Chris Ware identifies its main character as “a 30-year-old woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life.”¹ What is conspicuously missing from this description, though—as well as from the majority of the text in the comic strip itself—is the fact that the protagonist is an amputee: her left leg ends just below the knee, where she sometimes wears a prosthetic limb. Ware’s description thus strangely elides disability as a characterization of the protagonist, relegating it to a...

    • Past Imperfect: “Building Stories” and the Art of Memory
      (pp. 206-222)

      Comics have a long history of being forgotten. It seems only appropriate, then, that “memory” has emerged as a central trope among cartoonists for discussing how this medium works, both on the page and in the minds of its readers and creators. Scott McCloud, for example, has attributed the power of cartooning to a mimetic similarity between the iconography of comic art and the contents of human memory. Cartoons, he proposes, closely resemble the simplified afterimages of the world that we carry around in our heads, beginning with the sketchy memory of our own face.¹ Art Spiegelman similarly asserts that...

  9. Appendix: A Guide to Chris Ware’s Primary Works
    (pp. 223-224)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 225-230)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 231-234)
  12. Index
    (pp. 235-238)