By Chris Ware
It’s ludicrous to consider this awe-inducing artifact without first looking at its packaging. Fourteen objects in different formats—books, booklets, pam-phlets, newspapers and more—are housed in a box the size of a board game, collecting what Ware has published for years under the “Building Stories” banner in a variety of high-profile publications. The works reveal themselves like a Russian doll, ranging in size from strips containing ten panels to conventional hardcovers—two of these, in fact, each alone worth the $50 price tag—up to the largest pieces, which are broadsheet-size and fold out into gorgeous comic-strip art pieces. Each work is unique unto itself, but also part of a larger story, which raises the question: in what order do you read this? Is there supposed to be an order? Is randomness the point?
Building Stories is set in a Chicago low-rise that is also sometimes the narrator, rue-fully overseeing the goings on within itself. The collection’s major character is a middle-aged woman, an art-school grad that never became an artist but is a mother; her track through life pops up in a number of the books. (The longest is about her post-college life.) Another key character is the building’s owner, who we see as a young girl, in adulthood, and as an unsatisfied, lonely landlord. Anyone familiar with this series will already know—or will know from Ware’s other major works, Jimmy Corrigan and the Acme Novelty Library series—that the artist mines themes of depression, loneliness, observation, and chance as can few else in the graphic-novel medium.
As usual with Ware, the vérité drawing style is impeccable, every mark and color just so, the frames natural and exquisite. Because of the variety of formats, Ware takes liberties with the pages: in one of the longer books, a drawing rests right in the center of a two-page spread around which crowds a story related, some- how, to the central image—a vagina, for instance. Reading this collection can be a challenge; you might get lost in the variety of frame-sizes or the text’s strange paths. But the characters’ emotions still resonate strongly. Ware is not only a master of form but of exposing modern mal-aise, the highs and lows in the lives of unextraordinary, nonsuperheroic people. And bees. Did I mention Branford, the Best Bee in the World? Branford and his difficult little bee life appear here, too.