Chris Ware was already thought of as comics' most meticulously detailed and formally inventive artist. His ability to arrange text and images on a page goes so far beyond your standard news rack comic book, that readers are often left wondering if he's even working in the same medium. But his latest graphic novel, Building Stories, barely resembles anything we've seen from comics before. Partially inspired by Marcel DuChamp's Museum in a Box, it's a dizzying assortment of 14 separate booklets differing in size and format. The segments range from small, handheld vertical strips, to oversized table-top newspaper pages; from faux LIttle Golden Books digests, to gatefold board game cardboard. The story, which has previously run in snippets as New York Times strips, New Yorker cover fold-outs, and McSweeney's Quarterly features, took a decade to complete. Its story follows the life of one unnamed woman in glimpses of her melancholy youth and later married life. Some of its separate volumes detour to focus on the people living around her in the old apartment building of her single life (including the thoughts and feelings of the apartment building itself), and the petty agonies of a nebbish bee who gets briefly stuck inside her window.
Like all of Ware's work, it walks a thin line between laugh-out loud-but pitch-black humor and gut-punching existential dread. But unlike his previous books, which zoomed backwards and forwards through the mundane lives of their protagonists in an author-guided tour, Building Stories can be assembled and read in any number of ways. Its title doubles as a gentle pun on how the reader takes responsibility for consuming it. In both an intellectual and a physical way, it's interactive to a degree that makes clicking links on a tablet seem small and crummy.
At 7 PM this evening, Ware joins Charles Burns (author of the modern classic forest mutant/teen-sex parable comic Black Hole) at The Strand book store in Manhattan, to talk about their new work, and the current state of the graphic novel. Ahead of time, we sent him a few questions about his magic box.