The Daily Planet

Where fictional worlds meet the real world

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Chris Ware’s Building Stories

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.”


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The Man Of a Thousand Curves

At 104, Oscar Niemeyer is not dead. A friend of mine posted about his death on Facebook and I could not believe it, after all the man was 104 going on 64. It is disappointing and unethical to report someone dead when they are simply in the hospital. But that is what online reporting has come to. It’s all about being the first to report but not about being accurate.

If you don’t know who he is then you obviously don’t know the first thing about architecture.

Niemeyer is a legend and he will live on forever. I can just imagine a post-apocalyptic world where his buildings stand like a rose breaking through the concrete. Perhaps I am alone in thinking that architecture is the most important mass medium for communication in the world, but it is. And no man has communicated his love for his country and its fragmented identity more clearly than Niemeyer has for Brazil. I want to interview that man one day so may he continue to amaze us!

From A great interview:

Death is the End

Niemeyer still has many plans. “I do the same things I did when I was 60, so I’m only 60,” he says. “You have to keep your mind alive, work, help others, laugh, cry and experience life intensively. It only lasts for a brief moment.” For Niemeyer, who is an atheist, death is the end, and its approach has the effect of visibly driving him forward. “He doesn’t want to talk about death,” says Brito. “Oscar doesn’t believe that he will die.”

He used to create his designs at the drawing board. But nowadays failing vision has forced Niemeyer to reinvent his creative process. When a new project is in the works, he withdraws quietly to his office. “Architecture is in your head,” he says. Niemeyer pictures the building in his mind until he is convinced that he has found the right solution. Only then does he reach for a pencil and, with a few strokes, commit his idea to paper.

He is the patriarch of a large family in which everyone respects and admires him. A visit to the photography studio of his grandson, 53-year-old Kadu Niemeyer, in downtown Rio reveals the extent of his influence on his descendants. The balcony of the 12th floor studio has a view, across a jumble of buildings, of Niemeyer’s soldiers’ memorial on the shore. The drawings of women on the white walls of Kadu Niemeyer’s studio could only have stemmed from the hand of his grandfather. Stacks of catalogues depicting vaulted, white buildings lie on the floor, yet another sign of Oscar Niemeyer’s all-pervading influence.

All four of Niemeyer’s grandchildren work for him, turning his ideas into reality and managing them. Kadu’s job is to reproduce the work of his grandfather. He never studied photography, but his grandfather showed him the angles from which he wanted to see his works photographed.

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Don’t Apologize for Tutus

A couple of weeks ago I posted an art piece by my sister’s best friend Diana Contreras. I have always thought Diana, or Didi as I know her, was a great artist, but recently she has become quite popular. She was on CNN and The Huffington Post Miami this year.

What I love about Diana is that she is not afraid to use pink, draw ballerinas, or take her art to the street. Her art is unique and illustrative of romance and female empowerment. It is not easy being an artist, much less a female artist, even much less a female artist whose art is fun and at times cartoony. In art class “Didi” was not allowed to draw “illustrations” and “street art” but Diana took on the challenge with the bravery of a true artist.

Diana Contreras is a public school art teacher during the day, and a pretty good one if you ask her female student who won the South Dade NewsLeader/Homestead-Miami Speedway contest in art for drawing a Nascar race car.

At night she works on her art at home where she lives with another female artist Cristina Isabel Rivera. Although Diana never went to art school, instead choosing to study art education, she has not given up on her dreams and she makes art because if she didn’t—she would die. Okay that’s hyperbole but its in her code to express herself, so she does.  

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