By Anna Lothson
For comic artist and graphic novelist Chris Ware, the creative process isn't about strategy or letting your mind run free. It's about structured chaos.
"The mind is a very organized thing," he wrote in a recent email interview, "and the trick of writing is to not impose any order on the mind, but to find order within it."
His recently release work, Building Stories, is a direct reflection of that.
The 260-page, 14-piece collection offers a look into the creative mind that has found order in a colorful and poetic rendition of life and how a person is developed through life's experiences — albeit not always in the way one wants. Like the construction of the project itself, the characters in Building Stories started like his other works, but expanded beyond just one piece.
"Like everything I do, it simply developed as I worked on it," the Oak Parker said. "Beginning with a single strip about the single woman living on the top floor of the apartment building, the story grew and changed as she married, moved into a house, had a child, and gave up on pursing her own creative life."
The work is satirical in nature and leads the reader through a complex exploration of characters and life themes that are embedded within the design of the cover of the book itself. It's not always the simplest explanation, but the stories behind the characters reflect what so many people feel but don't often express, and that provides the depth in Ware's work.
The pieces of the book, he says, fit together like a puzzle.
"The somewhat rebus-like cover alludes to the fragmentary nature of the book itself and how concrete images, ideas and characters co-exist in one's mind with arraying degrees of personal importance, as represented by scale," he wrote. "It also hopefully points to how the book (which is a comic book) grows from panel, to pages, to books to, finally, a box — which is not unlike a building, as a house is really just a cabinet in which one can sleep."
Although Ware's work is meticulously constructed, he compares it to real-life situations about human development. For him, the structure of a book is constructed like a body: i.e. "bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and it can harbor secrets," as Ware once said in another interview. He also compares writing a book to raising children.
Ware, who moved to the Chicago area in the early 90s, has been published in numerous magazines and has designed covers for The New Yorker magazine, among others, and is best known for his graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, which received an American Book Award, along with other honors. He's published a handful of other work and said he's currently 250 pages into another.
"Cartooning is not a very efficient way of spending one's time, I've learned," he wrote.
Still, Ware's recently released work goes beyond telling stories and reveals what he believes in as a writer. Faced with the challenging woes of the digital era, the brush-and-ink-reliant artist and novelist believes the multi-sized collection, rich in color and design, in Building Stories allows the reader to tap into something beyond just a series of books.
"I think we're at something of a twilight moment now where the vast majority of information we get will soon no longer have its own familiar and comfortable shape," Ware wrote. "Everything is becoming amorphous and undefined, flowable text. So the various-sized booklets hint not only at a nostalgia by the main character for her earlier life, they also hopefully contribute to the imaginary dream-object quality of the book itself."
Change in his industry is inevitable, but Ware has taken it upon himself to face the challenge head on. Admittedly, by his own claim, he's no expert but is willing to keep trying.
"It's the artist's or the writer's duty to somewhat try and point a way toward dealing with a changing and somewhat anxiety-provoking world, though I don't pretend to have any answers. I'm just as anxious about it as everyone else is."