General 11-19-2004

Chris Ware: Monographics

A review of Daniel Raeburn's Chris Ware: Monographics published by Yale University Press. $19.95


If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone bemoan the fact that nobody takes the art of comics seriously, I’d certainly have enough money to buy this book—which I would then demand that they read from cover to cover.

It’s clear that nowadays, at least in certain circles, “adult” or “art” comics are getting a lot of serious talk—take for example the critical successes of comics-inspired films such as Ghost World and American Splendor or the Pulitzer Prize awarded to Art Spiegelman for Maus. This latest addition to Yale University Press’s Monographics series, dedicated to the work of modern comics pioneer Chris Ware, is no exception to this encouraging trend.

Daniel Raeburn (editor of the beloved, if infrequently printed, comics criticism zine The Imp) prefaces his discussion of Ware’s work with an essay examining the idea of comics as a language built from expressive elements common to all artists of the comics medium. It is up to the individual, he suggests, to invent his own grammar—his specific rules for implementing the language in his work. By doing so, a successful comic artist creates what Ware refers to in his recent McSweeney’s introduction as “a purely individual, musical vision that comes to life on paper.”

The examples of comics included in this volume have clearly been selected in an attempt to get at Ware’s own individual vision. We meet the classic, semi-autobiographical characters from the pages of the Acme Novelty Library series: Quimby the Mouse and Sparky the Cat Head, Jimmy Corrigan, Potato Man, Rusty Brown and Chalky White. Raeburn guides us through a dissection of Ware’s best-known comics, giving attention to the artist’s color choices, often-skewed timelines and complex frame layouts. Especially for those of us already familiar with Jimmy Corrigan and his cohorts, this explication is a fascinating window into Ware’s creative process.

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