Over the weekend I found a book on cartoonist Chris Ware for $2.76 in the discount bin of a bookstore. After flipping through the book for a few seconds, I realized I recognized Ware’s work when it was featured in the The New York Times Magazine (back when I used to buy the print edition on Sundays!).
The essay by Daniel Raeburn at the beginning of the book reveals Ware to be a fascinating artist:
In sum, comics are a map of the fourth dimension, composed not only of the intersection of words and pictures but also of words that act like pictures and pictures that act like words, with color and composition shaping the map with their own structure and emotional meaning. This requires Ware to be not only a writer, drawer and painter — an illustrator if you must — but a calligrapher, typographer and, to tie all the arts together, a graphic designer. When we extend the demands of comics from actuality to analogy and consider for a moment that Ware must create a world and portray convincingly every character who inhabits it, it is fair to say that Ware’s chosen art also requires him to be a casting agent, wardrobe artist, set designer and actor. In short, Ware has to work like a theatre director. Given that he also has to frame and crop our every view of this world, he also has to work like a cinematographer. He has to be a control freak.
One has to wonder why people shrugged off this confounding art as kid’s stuff. One also has to wonder why Ware stuck with it. For 40 to 50 hours a week, every week, for nearly 20 years. Ware has sat at his scarred drawing table composing one page additions to this most disrespected of all mediums. He has done this work in relative isolation, a part of no movement, no school and, until recently, for almost no money. When we consider this grind it is impossible to overestimate the role of grit in Ware’s honing of his art. As early as 1990. Ware was bucking himself up with these exhortations: “DON’T GET BITTER”, “DON’T STAGNATE”, RESPECT YOUR OBSESSIONS” and the quintessentially Wareian war cry, “VALUE YOUR WORTHLESSNESS”. Under these dictums he added, “READ A VARIETY OF THINGS” and, as a final commandment, “DON’T JUST READ COMICS!” This he added, Keep making stuff, too! Or the above will no be able to happen.” Ware’s latter two pronouncements and his postscript are a key to his art. By working on arts and crafts that would appear to have nothing to do with his art, Ware enriched not only his own comics but also our understanding of what comics require.
The book is called Chris Ware by Daniel Raeburn.