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Clip: Chris Ware exhibit in Chicago

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  • Carl Z.
    Among Ware s work is the cover of Karl Hendricks s _A Gesture of Kindness_ and several other album covers. The link shows some samples of his work.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2006
      Among Ware's work is the cover of Karl Hendricks's _A Gesture of
      Kindness_ and several other album covers. The link shows some samples
      of his work.


      Ware's house built on intellect, not humor

      May 9, 2006


      To characterize Chris Ware as a comic artist is to lead anyone not
      familiar with his oddly wrenching graphic novels and comic strips
      seriously astray. Yes, the format and look of the work is that of
      comics, but the word "comic" implies humor. Conventional comic strips
      can be expected to offer up a laugh or at least a smile. Even in
      Charles Schultz's wistful "Peanuts," there was usually a joke buried
      somewhere in the midst of all that bittersweet insight.

      Ware's work, however, is light on the sweet and heavy on the bitter,
      often focusing on the minute details of troubled relationships and the
      inner lives of desperately lonely people.

      "Building Stories; Anatomy, I" (2002), which tells the parallel
      stories of the tenants and landlord of a Chicago apartment building,
      is among Chris Ware's cerebral works on view at the Museum of
      Contemporary Art.

      Now a sampling of this intelligent work is on view in the artist's
      first solo museum show, which opened Saturday at the Museum of
      Contemporary Art. Featuring dozens of pages from Jimmy Corrigan: The
      Smartest Kid on Earth, published in 2000, and the more recent Building
      Stories, which is ongoing and has run weekly in the New York Times
      Magazine since 2005, this small, dense exhibit makes clear what is
      less obvious in any single strip: that Ware's work is as literary as
      it is visual.

      Ware came to Chicago in the mid-1980s to attend graduate school at the
      School of the Art Institute, and his work is strongly connected to
      this city. Jimmy Corrigan tells the story of four generations of a
      Chicago family, centering on the banal misadventures of the lead
      character who searches for and is reunited with his estranged father.
      Building Stories branches out into less traditional territory, telling
      the parallel stories of the tenants and landlord of a Chicago
      apartment building. In the strip, one of the main characters is the
      building itself, whose memories are as much a part of the story as are
      those of the human characters as it recalls its past glory, pines for
      a return to its former loveliness and remembers, like any average
      neurotic, its history in numbers: 617 dead plants, 32 dogs, 4,167
      takeout orders, 23 pianos and 28 grease fires.

      Ware's literariness isn't about language exactly and certainly not
      about plot -- not much happens in Building Stories, particularly; he
      concentrates on character, dramatic structure and pacing. Ware's work
      is a mix of fiction, drawing and graphic design in which small
      gestures and the placement of a figure within the tiny confines of a
      single strip frame speak as much or more about motive and psychology
      as a lyrical prose passage. The stories are told with a reserve and
      measured pacing we don't ordinarily associate with this medium --
      better known for gravity-defying superheroes.

      In Ware's comic strips, the action is mostly internal, either
      psychological or cerebral. An entire strip in Building Stories can
      consist of a depressed one-legged girl lying in bed trying to think of
      a reason to get up.

      The cover art for "Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth" (2000),
      which traces four generations of a Chicago family.

      The extreme self-absorption of his characters can be maddening and yet
      their angst is so real and so respectfully drawn -- unlike many comic
      artists, Ware never makes fun of his subjects' bodies or dilemmas --
      that the viewer-reader simply can't look away.

      The very tenderness with which Ware treats his subjects draws us in.
      Sound effects are noted but they are quiet -- the slurping of soup,
      the frustrated exhalation of a lame person trying to hurry or the
      surprisingly poignant empty speech bubble that emanates from the mouth
      of a sick cat. Some cats do talk a blue streak; this one's silence is
      ominous. Such is the level of Ware's observations; though the lives he
      chronicles are crushingly uneventful, we come to care a great deal
      about them.

      In Building Stories, an old woman's life is told as she ages from
      fetus to wizened crone, and throughout the tale she seems oblivious to
      her own life passage. As she muses on trivial subjects, she grows up
      and old before our eyes and never seems to live her life Such is the
      story of most of Ware's characters and to read them is to not to be
      uplifted. One strip ends with a character thinking to herself "I am
      entirely, 100 percent horrifyingly alone." In another the same
      character asks herself, "Is it possible to hate yourself to death?"

      As I made my rounds of this show, completely absorbed in the lives of
      Ware's characters, I heard a couple murmuring to each other behind me.
      "This is a little too depressing," the woman was telling the man in an
      urgent whisper. "I have to leave."

      Margaret Hawkins is a local free-lance writer and critic.


      When: Through Aug. 27
      Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago
      Museum admission: $6-$10 (free on Tuesdays, and for children 12 and
      under and members of the military)
      Phone: (312) 280-2660
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