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Chris Ware
Written by Daniel Raeburn
Published by Yale University Press; $19.95 USD

Cartoonist Chris Ware is the worthy subject of the latest edition of Yale University Press’s Monographics series of books, previous volumes of which examined graphic artists such as Chip Kidd and H.N. Werkman. Daniel Raeburn was an appropriate choice to author the first book to examine Ware’s life and work, having done such an admirable job on the Chris Ware-themed issue of Raeburn’s own journal, The Imp. That volume came in the form of a newspaper, and went a long way towards painting a portrait of the artist. The new Monographics book functions as a companion to the Imp issue, again incorporating excerpts from Raeburn’s discussions with Ware along with uncommonly insightful theory and commentary from Raeburn.

The book is divided into four parts. The first is a twenty-page essay entitled "Building a Language." Raeburn’s thesis here is that Ware has continued and expanded upon theories of graphic literature first put forth by pioneers such as Rudolphe Topffer. In cogent, fluid prose, Raeburn perfectly articulates just why Ware is such an important creator. Ware’s own theories on comics art are fascinating to read, and lead to a greater appreciation of his work. My only real problem with the book appears in this section, where some of the images are reproduced too small on the page. A selection from Ware’s cartoon diary, for example, is completely illegible on the last page of this section, and one wonders as to the reasoning behind even bothering to reproduce it at this size.

The book’s second section is titled "Selected Work," and consists of gorgeous reproductions of comics art, sketches, paintings and sculptures by Ware. Thankfully, all of the reproductions in this section are large enough to be fully appreciated. This is the most appealing portion of the book, and it reminded me of the "In the Studio" feature found in most issues of Comic Art Magazine. Ware’s first Chicago strip is reprinted here, as are most of the covers to the elaborately designed Acme Novelty Library comic books.

Perhaps the most enthralling pieces, though, are Ware’s non-comics work. Everything from assembled cardboard cutouts from his comic books to hand-made toys. The Quimbies the Mouse and Sparky the Singing Cat "kinetic sculptures," shown on pages 48-49, for example, are two of the most striking pieces of art of any kind I’ve encountered in recent memory. Simultaneously creepy and touching, these sculptures (or rather, the beautifully printed images of same) perfectly illustrate Ware’s ability to wrest a surprising amount of genuine emotion from the most unlikely of places.

The book is rounded out with notes and an extensive bibliography, noting the original appearances of Ware’s comic strips before they are collected as comic books and later as hardcover graphic novels. This book is a must-have for fans of Chris Ware or anyone interested in contemporary graphic art. If you are not already a fan of Chris Ware, I’d be surprised if Daniel Raeburn’s book did not make you one.

-- Patrick Markfort



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