This year the Miami Book Fair International hosted two creator-owned comics superstars: Chris Ware and Charles Burns. Creator-owned authors are risk takers—they are the true, unedited artists of the medium.
Lilliete Noguera, 47, was holding Chris Ware’s tome, Building Stories, while saving a place in line for her daughter to get it signed. Noguera told me her daughter got her to read a graphic novel, The Pro by Garth Ennis and Amanda Connor, for the first time in years.
Michelle Noguera, 24, got into graphic novels through an ex-boyfriend who would not shut up about how great Charles Burns was, so she read Black Hole and when she saw that Burns was going to lead a panel she came, only to discover a new creator, Chris Ware.
“I am new to comics and I wanted to learn more,” Noguera said. “I was very impressed by Chris Ware’s imagery, so I bought the book right after the panel.”
Chris Ware is a big deal. He has published his strips in the New York Times and The New Yorker. He did four alternating covers for The New Yorker’s Thanksgiving 2006 issue and then again for its money issue in 2010, after the recession hit.
The cover for the October 11, 2010, issue was a pull-out gatefold with Chris Ware’s comic about how the recession affected an American family. Ironically, it had an advertisement for a bank on the other side.
Although many people were there to see Chris Ware, who hardly ever addresses his fans, he opened his talk with, “Does anybody want to leave? Now is your chance.”
Ware said he was honored to be sitting next to Charles Burns, who is one of his heroes. Ware’s latest book Building Stories is loosely based on a building he lived in with his wife in Chicago. It tells about the lives of several tenants, including a bee. The book comes in a big newspaper sized box filled with 14 different pieces, from a hardcover book to pamphlets, and what looks like a standing board game of the building.
The protagonist, if there is one, is a lonely woman with a prosthetic leg who finished art school but never became an artist. Ware takes advantage of the large format by having one element of the book fold out into a giant comic strip with a life-sized 10-month-old drawn in the middle. The focus of that story is the protagonist after she had moved to the suburbs, married and had a child. The giant page tells the story of her and her daughter from birth to age 11.
“It’s cliché to say that time goes by so fast after you have kids, but it’s true,” said Ware, who made 11 years go by on one page to show how parents feel. Ware said he put the child at the center because parenting becomes the zero point of your life, and there is only before the kid(s) and after the kid(s). “It sort of redefines your life, at least for me.”
Ware put a sample from Building Stories in Wired magazine’s first Ipad issue, which was animated for interactivity with the touch feature. But Building Stories as a whole cannot be digitized because of its fragmented and physical nature.
“I ultimately believe this is a rip-off,” Ware said about digital comics. “I guess this is what comics will look like in the future, but if the power goes down at least we will still have paper to read, or write, or burn, or whatever it is we will do with it in the future.”
Wares comics are true to life and at times depressing. Although his art is colorful and cartoony there is nothing cute about his sometimes melancholy stories. “I think that’s what art is about,” Ware said. “After I die, which I soon will, I want people to feel what I felt.”