Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Branford, the Best Bee in the World

Chris Ware’s latest collection Building Stories comprises fourteen comics of different shapes, sizes, and formats. I wrote about opening the box a few days ago, and I’ll (try to) write about reading each of the pieces.

I started with Brandford, the Best Bee in the World, the tragicomic existential dilemma of a bee:

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In an opening segment freighted with peril, our hero Branford finds himself “trapped in a box of hard air,” in a predicament that makes “the water run fast out of the holes in the front of his face.” When he does find a way out, he takes at as a sign of redemption from the Almighty:

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Branford, now free to return home to his wife and family, promises God to quit lusting after the queen bee.

Easier said than done—even if his erotic dreams are interrupted with the domestic problems of crooked picture frames, broken vases, and burnt dinners:

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Branford solves his domestic trouble by going out into the world to provide pollen for his family, even if it means suffering an existential breakdown of identity, one that causes him to flashback to his beeblooded past.

The flashback episode introduces heavy alliteration that continues throughout the rest of the narrative. Framed as a 19th century comic strip, it combines zany humor with horrific familial violence and suicidal despair, an unnerving, bizarre combination that carries over throughout the comic:

I won’t spoil anymore of Branford, other than pointing out that its narrative arcs in a strange loop. And even as its narrative doubles back into itself, it also points out, metatextually calling to another volume of Building Stories: here, see Branford to the right (and upside down) to a larger comic with no name.

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I took the visual overlap as a prompt to read the comic on the left next. How did I start with Branford and not one of the other comics? It was on top.

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