Just occasionally, a writer or artist – or both in one – emerges who is so astoundingly original that everything else suddenly seems like a facsimile of what has come before. Chris Ware, the 45-year-old American comics artist, is one of these. Widely hailed as one of the foremost practitioners working in the medium today, his new book, if one can call it that without being reductionist, is a work of such startling genius that it is difficult to know where to begin.
And that is part of the point. Take the “cover”, for instance. The work is presented in a large, rectangular box covered in seemingly random letters and fragments of images. It takes a while to trace a path through the puzzle and reveal the hidden title: Building Stories. This creation of a luscious vista of words and pictures that the reader must decode using a variety of subtle threads and directions is typical of Ware; abandon yourself to the process and enlightenment gradually dawns.
The lid comes off to reveal 14 different books, pamphlets, posters and miscellanea which, when pieced together, form a multi-dimensional story about the inhabitants of a Chicago apartment block. We meet, in exquisitely intimate detail, a melancholy thirtysomething woman with an amputated leg; a couple whose relationship is poisoned with the deepest acrimony; and the elderly landlady of the building, her life locked in a cycle of loneliness and nostalgia. All of this is presented in Ware’s distinctive style, which blends evocations of the aesthetic of the early 20th-century American south (Ware collects ragtime paraphernalia) with a melancholy existentialism and pawky humour. Continue reading on the Telegraph website