Building Stories

Nick Richardson writes:

Chris Ware’s new book, Building Stories, isn’t a book at all. It’s a cardboard box, about the size of a board game, covered in bright, blocky illustrations and stuffed with comics. A couple of these are hardbound: one in plain charcoal grey; one with a picture of a girl on the cover, drawing. The rest are paper: some the size of the Beano, some as big as old broadsheets – one is done up as a newspaper for bees, called the Daily Bee, motto ‘God Save the Queen’. Others are mere slivers, a frame or two high. There’s even a comic book that works like a board game: you unfold its stiff cardboard and read it like you’re playing Snakes & Ladders, following an elaborate maze of arrows from frame to frame. The cartooning is old-school: minimal shading, lots of primary colours. Most writers of serious comic books, many of them inspired by Ware – according to the Canadian cartoonist Seth, Ware made his generation realise they needed to ‘try harder’ – fit a sober style to their grown-up stories: Seth’s diachromatic noir, Adrian Tomine’s clean-line realism. But Ware, for the most part, favours the vivid, pared down style of Siegel and Shuster’s early Superman strips. There’s a mismatch, as there was in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, between the style of cartooning and the bleak stories Ware tells; the style makes the stories easier to persevere with.

(LRB 6 December 2012)

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