For those unfamiliar with the literary magazine “McSweeney’s” and its elaborate packaging of its issues into boxes containing various precocious printed items, “Building Stories,” the new collected work of cartoonist, Chris Ware, will really bowl you over. But the audience for this is precisely those readers who are already intimately familiar with Dave Eggers, Ira Glass, Chuck Klosterman and so on. How do you relate with an audience as jaded and self-aware as you are? You keep calm, and know you will dazzle them. Ware delivers solid stories here for the most discriminating connoisseur. “Building Stories,” after all, is a celebration of Chris Ware, of work that has, indeed, appeared in such elite and wonderful publications as “McSweeney’s.” You can consider this collection of the best of a decade’s worth of work as a “McSweeney’s” on steroids.

A lion roars. A dog barks. A bear growls. But a human, all too often…whines. At least that’s what we get in the world of Chris Ware. There are no obvious acts of heroism, nor flights of fancy, nor moments of sheer unqualified joy to be found among his characters. Perhaps such scenes exist but restrained and subtle. And that is part of the point of why Chris Ware does what he does. The world is not a “happy” place and he will show you why. He does not go for the acknowledged hero but focuses on all those lives lived in quiet desperation. He doesn’t want to go with quantity over quality either. No, he favors a select group of well-read and upwardly mobile lives that are lived quietly in desperation and desperately quiet. If Chris Ware has any heroes, they are the likes of Dorothy Parker, Edward Hopper and, of course, Dylan Thomas.

We get such a delicious selection of despondent characters that, whenever there is a glimmer of hope, it seems rather jarring, too out of place. There’s the youngish couple slipping into middle-age who resent each other. There’s the woman who must come to grips with a life wasted in the care of an indifferent mother. There’s that same mother who has spent her whole life in the care of a boarding house. There’s the actual boarding house that is as neurotic as any Ware creation! And then there is the woman with an amputated leg who perseveres through this melancholic landscape and even finds a fairly good soul mate. No one in this world is giddy with silly happiness, not even a simple little bumblebee. For him, Ware has saddled him with a monumental existential crisis!

The packaging of pamphlets, books and magazines is quite beautiful and, dare I say, a joy to read. The only quibble, and this won’t be new for regular Ware readers, is that the type, at times, is so darn small. It feels downright antisocial to do that! Even with the best of eyes, there are some segments that require a magnifying glass! It is what it is. But, ultimately, it’s a good enough trade off for some spectacular artwork, as in his architectural renderings. Built upon one intricate brushstroke after another, the houses, their interiors and exteriors, are built, like Chris Ware’s characters and stories, with great care, with empathy, and with compassion.

“Building Stories” is, just as the box describes, “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets.” It is a decade’s worth of work as seen in the pages of “The New Yorker,” “The New York Times,” and “McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern,” as they call themselves in the most elevated of company. This amazing collection is listed at $50 US. Visit the Random House Pantheon site for more details here.

If you happen to be in Toronto tonight, do stop by and see Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Adrian Tomine, all together to support their recent publications and to support the printed word! Details follow:


Debut their new graphic novels in Toronto
at a special event in honour of The Beguiling’s 25th anniversaryFeaturing iconic Canadian graphic novelist Seth as guest moderator.
Monday, November 12th, 2012, @ 8:30pm
The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West
Admission $10 or free with advance purchase of debuting book at The Beguiling


TORONTOPrepare to welcome three of the most respected graphic novel creators in the world, as Charles Burns (Black Hole), Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), and Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library) visit Toronto TONIGHT to debut their new books. These three contemporaries and friends will each show an all-new audio/visual presentation based on their new works. Then, iconic Canadian graphic novelist Seth will lead all three creators in a rousing discussion of their work and history, including audience participation. This is the centerpiece autumn event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of venerable Toronto comics and alternative culture shop The Beguiling, at the nearby newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.) in the heart of the Annex neighborhood.

Sure to be the talk of the literary world this fall and winter, these three new releases blur the lines between ‘traditional’ graphic novels, illustration, and the publishing avant-garde!

  • Charles Burns’ stunning follow-up to 2010’s bestselling X’ed Out is The Hive. It takes readers further into the recesses of the diseased world of X’ed Out, shattering the boundaries between comics and the people who read them.
  • Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings collects over a decade of the comics, illustrations, and covers produced by the artist for publishing institution The New Yorker, alongside a number of other rare and uncollected pieces in a lavish oversized hard cover.
  • Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth has been hailed as a modern literary masterpiece, and Building Stories is Ware’s first and much-anticipated graphic novel length follow-up. Ware experiments further with form and medium: the story is a literal box. Beautifully presented as variously formatted and sized comics, graphic novels, newspapers and pamphlets, the ensemble creates a fascinating and compelling portrait of a seemingly ordinary young woman, and the building where she lives.

All three of these compelling arguments for the necessary survival of the printed word will be on sale at The Beguiling and at the event.

Admission to the 25th anniversary event is $10, but admissions tickets are free (while supplies last) with every advance purchase of any of the above new books at The Beguiling. Tickets MAY still be available at The Beguiling!

Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, and Charles Burns’ Toronto book event is the centerpiece of a half-dozen events occurring this fall, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of venerable comic book and alternative culture store The Beguiling. Events with local, Canadian, and international graphic novelists will continue throughout the fall, adding vibrancy and texture to the city’s literary events calendar. Visit for more information on upcoming events.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Chris Ware, Comics, Comics Reviews, graphic novels, Pantheon, Random House

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