I have never really been a fan of comics. Despite a period of my life when I played Dungeons and Dragons and read fantasy novels, I was never one of those gamer geeks who frequented the comic shops ordering pristine editions of DC comics and leaving them in their plastic sleeves to keep them collectible and safe. I came to the graphic novel form quite late. I enjoyed the movie Ghost World and was surprised to enjoy the Harvey Pekar graphic novel that the film was based on. I found Adrian Tomine soon after and was drawn more to Tomine’s sad and beautiful illustrations than Harvey Pekar’s work. Although I had dabbled in graphic novels, it was not until Chris Ware put out his book Jimmy Corrigan that I completely fell in love with the medium.
Jimmy Corrigan did something to my head that I have never been able to rectify. Somehow reading that thick and complex mind-trip of a book rewired my relationship to the world. It is a book about how the mistakes of the father and grandfather can be replayed, altered or repeated by the son. The book skips across generations, tying three different ages together by little habits, relationships to problems, and genetically pre-programmed responses. This sounds a lot drier than it is. The book is subtle and nuanced and it is easy to forget you are looking at pictures on a page. Like with a great novel, I was transported into the world of the book and would emerge feeling disoriented back into my ordinary life.
Ware has put out several other offerings since then, but the sheer size and complexity of his ‘book’ Building Stories made my heart begin to race. There are fourteen separate pieces in it. Some books, some broadsheet newspapers, posters, pamphlets it is all packaged in a box about the size of a monopoly game. There is no proper way to read this ‘book’ you can dive in anywhere. Part of the story is narrated by an old fading house. Other parts of the story feature the three major characters who live in the house. Each one is lonely in a different way and yet they hear each other and impact on each other’s lives. The whole book points out that everyone is lonely and yet everyone is living so close to other lonely people. Surely people can reach out to each other and become less lonely, and yet, of course they can’t, because even when the characters do interact the results are sad or disastrous.
I have spent most of 2012 reading nothing but classics of erotic fiction. I am writing a book that references the classics of literary erotica/pornography and as a result my reading has been very focussed this year. It has been enlightening to read the great works of erotica back to back. I have been able to see the differences and similarities between the works. I have delighted in the connections between books, one book referencing another. I have enjoyed thinking about our cultural relationship to the erotic, but I was desperate for a bit of relief from unrelenting sex.
Then Building Stories hit the shelves. Ware provided me with a huge distraction from my project. Building Stories is so immersive you will want to call in sick just to lay all the pieces of the puzzle out on the loungeroom floor and enter the world of the characters. There is certainly a thread of eros that loops through Chris Ware’s masterwork. There are themes of love and sex and how we see ourselves in relation to our sexuality. The book explores some of my major stressors as well, what if we miss the opportunities afforded to us and end up creatively unsatisfied? Emotionally bereft? Dying alone? There is not a lot of joy here but there are some wonderful human moments. Sometimes reading Building Stories I imagined that Chris Ware had been hiding in my little flat, using me as a model, chronicling my own little disappointments and insecurities.
I love this book. I love Chris Ware. After reading his work I will never see the world in quite the same way again.
Krissy Kneen is the author of Swallow the Sound, Affection, Triptych and Steeplechase (Text Publishing 2013). She has short stories published in various journals including Griffith Review, Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Nerve.com. She works as the events manager at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane.
12 Nov 12 at 7:30
Just a small correction: Daniel Clowes created the Ghost World graphic novel, not Harvey Pekar. I think the movie of Pekar’s American Splendor series came out at around the same time.
12 Nov 12 at 10:50
Oh dear, Christopher. I have indeed made a mistake. This really is just an interest for me and I am not an expert on the form. I have so much to learn but I am a willing student. Thanks for the correction.
13 Nov 12 at 13:35
Not at all! I’m far from an expert, anyway — that correction probably represented the extent of my knowledge about the world of graphic novels! Hence my unseemly haste in making it.
The Chris Ware book sounds amazing, by the way.
14 Dec 12 at 14:38
bithes get to work
14 Dec 12 at 14:40
who was that i like it