I’ve been really enjoying ‘Building Stories’ by graphic artist Chris Ware. It’s an astonishing piece of storytelling, billed as a graphic novel but actually a set of fourteen different printed items delivered in the above box.
Ware’s work has been seen plenty of times here via New Yorker covers (here’s a personal favourite, and Daniel has a whole bunch here). It’s a crisp, graphic and colourful comic book style with a subtle wit, drier and more observational than other polymath artists such as Christophe Niemann (another New Yorker contributor). The various parts of this box set – tabloid size newspapers, cloth bound books, traditional comic book formats, small concertina pieces – can be read in any order, but together they tell one person’s life story. There’s no start or finish, just loose snapshots of a life, with the occasional confusion between similar characters of different generations serving to emphasise the general melancholy of the piece. This is pure modernism applied to comics; comparisons to William Burroughs’ cut-ups and cubism may seem over the top but this is storytelling in the same vein. The reader is left to bring it all together, and re-reading parts in different order is rewarding (parts have appeared before in various magazines, including Nest, The New Yorker and The New York Times).
Typically for Ware, the plot couldn’t be further removed from traditional comic books. Superheroes are busy somewhere else as we witness a woman’s rather lonely existence. We see the day-to-day problems of work, bad plumbing, an unhappy marriage and motherhood as life plays out around her Chicago brownstone apartment.
All of which makes ‘Building Stories’ sound rather downbeat, and there’s no avoiding that general mood. But the way the stories are drawn and told make it a really enjoyable, even exhilarating, experience. Highly recommended in terms of design, storytelling, and combining the two.