Interview: Graphic Novelist Chris Ware on His Latest Work 'Building Stories'

Oak Park's Chris Ware, the author and artist behind the new book 'Building Stories' comes to Unity Temple on Oct. 4. Patch sat down with Ware to discuss the new book, its inspiration and what he's working on next.

Oak Park-based graphic novelist Chris Ware isn't they type to let function dictate form. So, it would make sense that Ware's latest work isn't a singular work of fiction in the traditional sense. The author and artist, known for taking the road less traveled, instead presents Building Stories as a sort of box set featuring books, pamphlets, posters and more that the reader will need to put together in a similar way that they would recall memories from their own life—scattered, non-linear and of one's own making. 

Tonight, Ware will hold a discussion of Building Stories at , hosted by Writers at Wright. In anticipation of the discussion of the book, Patch talked with Ware about the new work, inspiration and alone time.

Patch: Where did the inspiration come from for Building Stories? Is it based on specific people you've met living in a three-story apartment, or do the stories come from your own experiences?

Chris Ware: The story is entirely fictional, though the main character and her daughter are loosely based on my wife and daughter. Although, where the character in the book gets married, has children and abandons her creative ambitions, my own wife Marnie is a former artist who went back to school to become a science teacher, and she's currently the chair of her department at a Chicago Public School, for which I'm very proud of her. My daughter, Clara, is the light of my life.

Patch: The stories, centered on the four characters, seem to deal with a sense of loneliness and isolation. Is this a theme of the book? Is this a feeling you've had in your own life?

Ware: Hasn't everyone? The book is not strictly about loneliness and isolation, but whether it's preferable to spend one's time living alone, or spend one's time living with someone else, which is still, in a sense, living alone, if one handles it incorrectly.

Patch: The stories have no exact beginning or end. Does this mean there is no resolution, just experiences? Why did you decide to produce the work in this way?

Ware: I wanted to create something that could be read in a way analogous to how one thinks of one's own life, which is from all sides at once and from any angle. The structure is not intended to be disorienting or confusing, or worse, intended as a puzzle or a game, but an attempt to get at how one imagines, remembers and rewrites one's own life. At the same time, the book should be fun. Stanley Kubrick once said that the real measure of art isn't whether something is good or not, but the degree of affection it inspires, which I try to follow, since I think he was right.

Patch: Can you tell our readers what to expect at your discussion of Building Stories at Unity Temple on Oct. 4?

Ware: I'll show a few pages from the book and a few things that inspired me along the way. My good friend and comics scholar, Dr. Hillary Chute (who organized the cartooning conference at The University of Chicago in May) has very kindly agreed to act as interlocutor, as well, since I'm boring. I'm also including a few extra images about Oak Park, since some of the book is set here.

Patch: What got you interested in using the graphic novel as a platform for telling stories?

Ware: Drawing comics is all I've ever wanted to do—it's a demanding, time-consuming medium that asks [that] one not only be good at writing, but also at drawing. And so, [it] has the potential for tremendous condensed expression, to say nothing of reflecting the processes by which we abbreviate and edit the world so that it's not crushing and depressing. Also, hopefully, comics can be beautiful.

Patch: Do you think that by presenting Building Stories in this format it will be enjoyed by the reader in a way that wouldn't be possible in a more traditional graphic novel.

Ware: I studied art, not writing, and I think of books more as art than as simply containers for text. Aside from being beautiful, I think art should also be affordable. If the reader or viewer doesn't like it, then he or she won't regret throwing it away.

Patch: What's next for Chris Ware? Are you working on something new already, or are you focused on this release at the moment?

Ware: I will try extremely hard to avoid thinking of myself in the third person, despite your kind efforts to the contrary. Seriously, however, I've been working on another graphic novel concurrently with Building Stories, which I hope to finish sooner than later. Cartooning is not exactly the most time-efficient of media, sadly.

Tickets for Ware's book discussion at Unity Temple cost $10 on Oct. 4 can be purchased at , or online at booktable.net. Tickets can also be redeemed for $10 off the cover price of the book at the event.


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