Spring 2005

Ware: we are not worthy

Chris Ware

By Daniel Raeburn. Laurence King Monographics, £14.95

Do we deserve someone as good as Chris Ware? Surely we are not worthy. Whether your interests are in graphic design, illustration, lettering, Chicago, storytelling, the history of comics or raw human nature, Ware has something to say (and show) about all of them. Like Dave Eggers, he seems to have embarked upon a vast magnum opus about the way we live now, with an obsessive zeal that makes other storytellers seem trivial by comparison.

Yet what’s striking about Ware’s work is its completeness as a solo project. There are few collaborators in his canon – every tiny caption, fake ad and copyright line is lovingly lettered by hand and laid out within a page design architecture of the highest order.

Daniel Raeburn, who once devoted an entire, large-format edition of his journal The Imp to Ware and his work, is clearly the best man to analyse this fascinating subject for the Monographics series. In keeping with the series’ format, the main essay is compact, more like a long magazine article, leaving plenty of room for visual examples, from God, a 1992 strip for New City through all the Acme Novelty Library favourites (Rusty Brown, Quimby) to the ambitious Building. Six spreads give Ware’s masterpiece Jimmy Corrigan some of the critical analysis it deserves, and we get a glimpse of one of the cardboard models he constructed in order to draw accurately the world he created. There are also point-of-sale displays, Cornell-like boxes, a wedding invitation and a painted toy called the ‘Raeburn Algorithmic’. This last term was coined by Ware to describe Raeburn’s habit of ‘improving’ stories. ‘Great for . . . writing about popular children’s art forms that were completely dismissed in the public consciousness over a half century ago,’ claims Ware’s label.

The book is an entertaining hymn of celebration to Ware’s peculiar genius. Raeburn’s achievement is to use the tools of criticism to explain, without too much exaggeration, why Ware’s work (and world) is so rich and resilient, and why we can expect – and perhaps even deserve – much more from the artist.

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