These two shorties in Chris Ware’s Building Stories showcase the novel’s thematic recursion, a recursion doubled in both its metastructure (14 pieces that the reader can read in any order) as well as the structure of many of the individual pieces. In the case of the two parts pictured above, we get Möbius strips that become richer with rereading. The strips seem to twin each other not just in their format, but also in their theme.
Both strips feature Lonely Girl, who perhaps emerges as the dominant protagonist of Building Stories. The one pictured at the top gives a voice to her daughter, a girl who seems to repeat some of her mother’s tendencies toward isolation and depression.
Ware’s strength here (and always elsewhere) is the economy of storytelling: He packs entire short stories into just a few panels, coloring his narrative:
The second loop features a solitary Lonely Girl who trudges through the snowy night in a near-suicidal despair:
Read recursively, the strip dooms Lonely Girl to an endless loop of despair—and it’s at moments like these that I’m happy there are other parts to Building Stories—some kind of existential “out” for our poor heroine.
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:
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:
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:
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.