Building Stories, Panel by Panel

building stories
The Chicago brownstone at the center of Chris Ware’s Building Stories, and a glimpse into the lives within.

Chris Ware’s Building Stories is ostensibly a comic book chronicling the lives of the occupants of a three-story Chicago brownstoneBut it’s so much more than that. At once expansive and intimate, it is a masterpiece of storytelling, a fragmentary collection of sad and beautiful vignettes that began more than a decade ago serialized serialized across several popular publications, including The New YorkerThe New York Times, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.

If there’s a central theme to Building Stories, it’s the passing of time – and our futile struggle against it. The comic book is the perfect medium to explore this idea. After all, what is a comic but sequential, narrative art? Unlike a photograph, a comic panel does not typically show a single moment in time but is, rather, a visual representation of duration. That duration might be the time it takes Superman to punch out a giant robot or the seconds that pass while a failed artist chops a carrot. The manipulation of time and space and emotion is Ware’s greatest strength. He controls every aspect of the page, how the story is told, and how the story is read, requiring true engagement from the reader. At times, the effect is reminiscent of an Eadweard Muybridge photo sequence – except instead of a running horse, the sequence depicts a young couple struggling through an awkward conversation at the end of a first date.

Every volume, every page, and every panel of Building Stories has been carefully considered and painstakingly designed. Ware’s drawings are often diagrammatic and vaguely architectural; his page layouts read like complex maps of human experience. It must be mentioned that Ware writes and draws everything by hand, giving the book, with its exacting precision, a sense of craftsmanship. And though it’s not always clear what path to follow, every single composition, whether clean or cluttered, has a profound effect on how the text is understood and how it resonates emotionally. Ironically, given the amount of detail in each drawing, Ware might best be described as an impressionist. After all, a Monet painting doesn’t show us exactly what the water lilies looked like, but how it felt to see them.

A Little Perspective From Spider-man and Renzo Piano’s New York Times Building


[image via flickr usr thehighlandway]

When I saw the photos last week of Alain Robert, “the French Spider-man,” scaling the side of Renzo Piano’s New York Times building, I was immediately struck by a single thought…well, 2 thoughts really. 1) That. Is. Amazing. 2) If superheroes were to exist, they would appear incredibly insignificant relative to the enormity of the cites they have so solemnly sworn to protect. I mean really, seriously insignificant. So often, our heroes are presented as larger-than-life characters; near-omniscient giants towering over buildings and streets. The reality however, is much more prosaic, as Monsieur Robert so kindly demonstrates. A single man is tiny. A hero, even of the “super” variety, is tiny. No matter how powerful, they will always be humbled by the buildings of a city. Take for example, the following two images: Continue reading “A Little Perspective From Spider-man and Renzo Piano’s New York Times Building”

American Cities That Almost Got It Wright

[image via wired]

Middle Eastern cities reaching higher into the skies every week and continue to turn pre-dysopic set-pieces from Bladerunner or the Jetsons. In times such as these, Wired thought it’d be a good idea to look at some earlier ambitious plans — the enormous “what-ifs” of modern architecture. The above example, for instance, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s effort to poke out the eyes of god, a Chicago tower known as The Illinois. To set the stage for this Midwestern retro-futurescape, Wired whipped up a fictious sci-fi inspired narrative

Almost everything below the 50th floor is an elevator lobby, and almost everything above the 300th floor is perpetually covered in vomit due to the skyscraper’s oscillations — it moves in 40-foot circles at its tip. It’s such a chore getting from one end of it to the other that we didn’t even evacuate on 9/11. After all, how could anyone hit a skyscraper that wiggles back and forth like that?

The article reminded me of a previous post on Life Without Buildings — Unbuilt Works Find Life in Art. Specifically, FLW’s unbuilt complex of Ellis Island Key project, a complex of space-age looking apartment buildings for New York’s (in)famous island… Continue reading “American Cities That Almost Got It Wright”

976 sq. ft.

Published in the Fall 2007 issue of FantagraphicsMome, is a story entitled 976 sq. ft.  Written and illustrated by Tom Kaczynski, 976 sq. ft. tells the tale of a modern residential tower rising in a quickly gentrying neighborhood. The physical and psychological impact of this new structure is presented through the perspective of a young couple who live just across the street. An excerpt:[ click the image for a larger version ]It’s a very well told story. Notice in the above image how in the center panel, the depiction of the tower expands to dominate the page as it begins to dominate her consciousness. And that last line…well, that’s just incredible.“uh…I need an ambulance… or an architect.”If you have any interest in comics or cartooning, I definitely recommend check out Mome, or almost anything else published by Fantagraphics.

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Building Stories