Posts tagged ‘Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth’

November 9, 2012

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Untitled Wordless Loop

by Edwin Turner

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Continuing this project:

I’ve thus far titled the pieces I’ve been reading of Chris Ware’s Building Stories in a rather ad hoc fashion, but this entry is a wordless affair.

It continues the story of the “lonely girl,” the “cripple” who is the primary narrator of September 23rd, 2000.

Here, we see her raising her daughter in a series of wordless, precise panels that span roughly a decade.

Building Stories’s brilliance derives in large part from its precision and economy—Ware tells a story on every page, a chapter in every small panel:

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I’m a parent (my daughter is five, my son is two), and so much of this untitled piece struck me as utterly real and authentic—so true in the details.

There’s a moment when our mother looks up to see her daughter reading—silently, to herself—that is bittersweet, a kind of gentle heartbreak:

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There’s a fine line between the precise evocation of emotion and sentimental schlock, but Ware never comes close to treading it here—he’s always firmly on the side of the real.

And yet this doesn’t come at the expense of evocations of wonder, as we can see in the panels below:

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As I’ve suggested a few times already, Building Stories is a sort of  Möbius strip; this particular comic nearly literalizes this metaphor.

It begins with our mother drifting from sleep to waking memory, and ends thusly, a strange loop documenting how fast and how slow life changes.

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October 22, 2012

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / I just met

by Edwin Turner

Continuing kinda sorta where we left off

Not sure of the name of this episode, but I’ll refer to it as I just met, a phrase that repeats twice in a huge headlinish font that seems to suggest, y’know, title:

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I just met uses a few pages to tell the story of a deteriorating relationship—what happens when two twenty-somethings turn into two mid-to-late-thirtysomethings?

The comic opens with an establishing shot of what I take to be the building in Building Stories; we also get a glimpse of what I assume will be another character, the beehive, and a few other details that surely will attach themselves to these panels in future readings. We also get the general bitter tone of the couple’s relationship:

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He was one of those dudes who was once in a band; she was one of those chicks who thought guys in bands were cool.

The romance of their initial hookup is summed up neatly in the pic below; knowing Ware’s spare, precise style, the trash on the floor seems to scream symbolic detail!

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The hurt and disappointment in I just met unfolds over just a few painful pages—painful mostly in their concrete reality.

We know who these people are, even if we’re lucky enough not to be them.

Just as in  Branford, the Best Bee in the World , which I read earlier (although, to be clear again, there are no reading directions or prescriptions for Building Stories), there’s a theme of eternal recurrence, of mistakes playing out again and again in a painful, recursive loop.

Just when Ware threatens to overstate the mundane repetitions his principals suffer, he pulls off a daring and effective move, transposing his characters into the psychic collective memory of a future that’s in many ways already familiar. The effect is simultaneously jarring and oddly reassuring—the promise that our capacity for human connection and deep empathy will never buckle under the threat of drastic technological change, but also suggesting that the cost of maintaining this emotional constant is deep, ugly pain.

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October 19, 2012

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

by Edwin Turner

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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