Chris Ware, continued from Page 32 apportioned variety of reading material ready to address any imaginable artistic or poetic taste.” The accompanying pictures show each of the 14 pieces, which are then connected to a line drawing of “an average, wellappointed home.” No clue is given as to the order in which the pieces should be read. The two-paragraph blurb also states the collection’s purpose as it summarizes the author’s view of human existence: “Whether you’re feeling alone by yourself or alone with someone else, this book is sure to sympathize with the crushing sense of life wasted, opportunities missed and creative dreams dashed which afflict the middle- and upper-class literary public.” The characters here, all worthy of sympathy, aren’t from the usual literary class. The old woman on the first floor — none of the characters have names — transcends her isolation through nostalgia. The man and woman on the second floor are alone together, leading separate lives (and having separate fantasies) even as their days are intertwined. The central character of the collection lives on the top floor. She’s a young woman with only a leg and a half, a woman too eager to be loved. She suffers from insomnia, the
The architectural elements of Ware’s design carry over into his narrative as he reveals the quiet desperation of the lives conducted within and without a three-story apartment building.
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ignorance of an indifferent society, and a nagging self-doubt of the sort that surfaces often in Ware’s writing and sketchbooks. She eventually enters a relationship, has a daughter, and moves out of the building into a home of her family’s own. But the story line takes a back seat to her alienation. Panel after wordless panel shows her in bed or moving through the mundane events of the day. Only her daughter seems to fill the hole she sees in her existence. There’s little comic in Building Stories, and told without pictures, these tales would be tedious. When the lonely young woman wanders out of the building coatless in a snowstorm declaring, “Let it bury me, for all I care,” readers might want to look away in embarrassment. But Ware’s telling illustrations won’t allow it. Not everything in the package is without humor, however. The Daily Bee, a newspaper-sized foldout, takes a laughable look at the male in society and his futile attempts to stand apart from the swarm. A small, heavily stylized chapbook, Branford: The Best Bee In the World, is a joke-filled allegory of how we mistake happenstance for acts of God. How do these works connect to Building Stories? In both, Branford comes home to a hive in a tree outside the apartment building to suffer the same existential and relationship problems of the humans next door. Aside from being housed in a box, Building Stories is unique for the way it melds narrative and illustration into an artistic whole. In an art form with a long history of serialization, Ware’s 14-installment assembly can be entered at any point. He has taken the comic far from the strip, with page layouts that twist multiple narrative threads into a single strand. His most frequent design element is his most successful. He’ll center an image — often an eyeless mask or an entire body — in the middle of a page and let the story circle around it. Ware has insight into psychology and everyday existence. But it’s his ability to illustrate the human condition in unique ways that keeps the stories meaningful. In this sense, Building Stories is both a narrative and a visual triumph. ◀
John Lithgow stars in Arthur Wing Pinero’s uproarious Victorian farce, broadcast in HD from London’s National Theatre.
Back-to-Back Evenings of Great Performances Both shows 7 pm • $22/$15 Lensic members & students
Christopher Plummer plays legendary actor John Barrymore—and gives a performance that’s creating Oscar buzz—in this dramatic one-man film.
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“Building Stories” by Chris Ware was published by Pantheon Books in 2012. t h e l e n s i c i s a n o n p r o f i t, m e m b e r- s u p p o rt e d o r ga n i z at i o n