uOur picture above shows an old apartment building in Chicago in the center of the composition, which the artist of this comic page lived in himself. Not that that mattered to his story. “Building Stories,” the most experimental comic Chris Ware has published to date (and any of his previous work would have been likely to overturn everything that had come before in more than a hundred years of comic drawing), is primarily about the house, only in second of its residents. That Ware himself lived there can only be gleaned from a drawing from one of his 1995 notebooks, now on display in a Paris exhibition dedicated to him: There is, in the style of the comic he idolized, but influenced by Ware’s comic otherwise unseen colleague Robert Crumb, recorded that same house in Chicago, and under it is noted: “Our Apartment Building”. Also “Drawn w/gloves on” – it was December. Someone like Ware, who can still draw with gloves like Crumb can without (and Crumb has already been dubbed “The Bruegel of the 20th Century” by museums), arguably deserves an exhibition at the Center Pompidou.
To be more precise: in its library, because this is where comics belong according to this museum (unless they come from Hergé or Jean-Marc Reiser; their works were shown here in the normal exhibition area). The advantage of the library: free entry. The disadvantage: little space. All six comic shows shown there so far have been allocated the same floor space of around one hundred square meters, on which a cube with multiple openings and variably structured interiors by means of partitions will be erected. This is also the case with Chris Ware, to whose work this geometric-architectural challenge fits perfectly. Nobody has perfected the art of putting as much pictorial information as possible on comic pages like the American, born in 1967. This is also shown in our picture.
Just over seventy originals by Ware are on display in Paris. That’s not much, but on the one hand you have to consider that since Hal Foster or Philippe Druillet no comic artist has drawn in such formats. The largest single page shown in Paris is 1.20 meters high as an original drawing. It was published four times smaller, but remained legible, even though the panels were now tiny. The drawing for our page architecture, reproduced here from the colored print version, is also more than seventy centimeters high in the black and white original (typically, however, with numerous preliminary blue pencil drawings).
Virtuoso of the clear line
Ware claims he can’t draw very well; He recognizes true masters of his craft in people like Crumb, Winsor McCay, Frank King, George Herriman and Cliff Sterrett. All but the former are long dead: all but Crumb worked in the first half of the twentieth century. Ware is nostalgic for comics, but one can only see that in his work insofar as he took the compositional boldness of the pioneers of this art as a model. In the abstract austerity of his lines, despite all the playfulness of the pictorial constellations, he appears as a child of the age of computer graphics. Except that he was already drawing before computers could have achieved this clarity.