Book of the Month

Building Stories

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Avg Rating: 5.0
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 0.1%
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By Chris Ware

Size: 0 pages
Price: 50.00

This book is big. Actually, the case that this book comes in is big. Actually, it’s not really a book. It’s a few books. It’s also a set of booklets, pamphlets, and a sort of newspaper. There’s also a comic printed on a large board game board thing. But it actually is all one book, or graphic novel, or… experience? Either way, it’s a big experience.

You’ll hear Chris Ware referred to as an indie cartoonist, but that’s not really right, as his audience probably outshines most of mainstream comics. He’s a darling of indie comics creators and critics, sure, but he’s also breathing rarified air as a creator who gets to do his thing, with support from a major publisher, and gets incredible respect doing it. It might not be for everyone, and it might seem like a different type of comics from Marvel and DC, but he’s using the same tools and language, and Chris Ware is unquestionably a master of the form. His latest project, Building Stories only goes to prove it further.

You crack open the case to this thing, and pull off the plastic, and you’re buried in fourteen different formats, all covered in Ware’s unmistakable cartoons. As with all of Ware’s work, the design is impeccable, starting with the illustrations on the packaging, and going right down to the folding leaflets, and everything in the middle. It’s difficult to describe the level of detail and care that every corner of Building Stories has received. Being familiar with Chris Ware, I’m not surprised, but I never fail to be impressed. I’m continually brought back to an exhibit of comic art I saw once, where I was dumbfounded by looking at original art from two specific artists: Jack Kirby and Chris Ware. Kirby is self-explanatory, but the original Ware pages blew my mind. First of all, they were huge. Secondly, they were all drawn by hand, including the amazing hand lettering. The level of precision was like nothing I’d ever seen, and I’ve never gotten over it. For Building Stories it feels like Ware upped his game, and where it could feel very much like a gimmick or an artist indulging himself beyond rationality, the experience was far different.

For some reason, I thought this would be a quick read. There were some bits here and there, and two books that looked kind of short. Yet every square inch is so densely packed with content that I was reading for hours. And I never got bored once. The story, such as it is, focuses on a 3 story building and the tenants who live there. Some of the stories are narrated by the building itself. Some focus on the woman who owns it, but most of the stories are about the girl on the third floor, a young girl who abandoned a career in art, and who has one leg. I noticed early on that I never got her name, and as I kept going, no one ever said it. I have to assume that’s intentional, or it’s hidden somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of panels, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, because the storytelling is so personal that you know her back to front regardless. The reading is most definitely voyeuristic. There are times when you’re just watching these people (and it does feel more like watching than reading) laze around and you hear their thoughts, sorrows and loneliness. It sounds depressing, but it really wasn’t. It feels more like documentary, as history unfolds to either side of the building’s timeline. There’s a way that Ware gets into the small thoughts and doubts his characters have that goes beyond simple quibbling, and it shines a light on who the characters are. I was continually drawn in by the small thoughts that go through a characters head, as you understand the world as they see it. Ware’s cartooning backs this up, by using varying panel sizes that speed up and slow down moments. At times, it’s like we’re looking at still frames of a piece of film. The repetition of shapes and patterns in the pages mimic the repetition of moments in the lives of the characters, and the reader finds himself immersed in the inner lives of these characters. The panels do not necessarily flow easily from one to the other, and Ware often employs arrows to assist, but that frenetic energy actually works for this story, like the indirect ramblings of the mind. Personally, I had a hard time pulling myself out, because I just wanted to keep reading. The good news is, there’s a lot there.

The last Chris Ware work that made an impact on me was Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Many of the same attributes I liked in this book were present there, but the difference was that I never related to Jimmy, unlike here. There’s something in all the characters, and their strained, awkward interactions with life that I instantly latched on to. Where the prior work is one big dense book, the idea of this package made it seem less daunting, rather than tedious. Where I thought the presentation would make the experience irritating, it did the opposite, and I was charmed. It’s almost too well thought out to take it any other way.

Building Stories is a wonderful comic book experience, and one that’s like no other I’ve found. It’s not just a book, and it’s not just a comic book. But in the center of all that is a story that’s incredible accessible and incredibly human, and I can’t recommend it more.

Josh Flanagan
I’m only scratching the surface of what’s in this box.


  1. I’ve been a fan of Chris Ware since first finding his Acme Novelty books back in the late 90’s. His clean graphic, insane amount of detail complexity and warped humor is unlike anyone else in the business. If you have never seen his work, do yourself a favor and look him up; Especially anything related to Rocket Sam (or my favor Rusty Brown.)

  2. I’ve spent a few hours with it and it’s amazing. Fans of Mr. Ware will recognize some of the material — the page shown above with the actual-sized baby is from Kramer’s Ergot 7; the NY Times Magazine series he did several years ago is presented here as a hardcover “Little Golden Book”. The New Yorker pieces he did recently about Money and Masks are here. But a lot of the material was new to me, and I’m pretty obsessive about him. Having it all on heavy stock in a beautiful box is wonderful. I can’t believe it’s ONLY $50 (and I got it for $28 at Amazon).

    He’s speaking in Cambridge,MA with Charles Burns and Chip Kidd on 10/11!

    • I went to that panel. I left a bigger fan of Ware, Burns and Kidd than I already was.

      I was struck by how nervous and humble Chris Ware seemed when he was speaking. I think he is sometimes presented as the face of the snobby “art” comics crowd, but he is definitely a friendly dude.

    • i was thinking that bit about the girl with one leg looked familiar. i think some of this material may also have been previously published in chicago’s “the reader.”

      either way, ware is a master. glad to see this is book of the month.

  3. This is the book that I am most looking forward to this year. Great review Josh

  4. Here’s a question: I really admired the design and art of Jimmy Corrigan but I could not for the life of me get into the story or the character. Like, at all. This sound like an interesting product, but what are the odds of my liking it considering my feelings about Jimmy Corrigan? You seem to like it more, but how much of an “improvement” is it just in terms of pure storytelling?

    • I wouldn’t call it an improvement, because JC was masterful. BUT, the characters are a lot easier to relate to, since Jimmy was just so morose.

    • @Ilash: I’m in the exact same boat as you. Although Ware is obviously an incredibly talented illustrator I disliked Jimmy Corrigan and the storytelling so much I never finished it.

    • Ditto on Jimmy Corrigan. Something about it turned me off pretty powerfully, which I suppose is its own kind of success, but I definitely didn’t want to spend any time with the book, the character, whatever. I like some of the other stuff Ware’s done that I’ve read, and I respect his experimentation with the form, but it’s been ages since I’ve touched any of it because of Jimmy Corrigan.

    • How long ago did you read Jimmy Corrigan?

      I couldn’t get into it at all when I first tried, but that was a long time ago when I was like 19. Now I understand why its a masterpiece because I am older and wiser now.

    • I have only read about half of the materials so far in “Building Stories”, but so far the storytelling is superb. Ware does an absolutely masterful job at telling each person’s story; we get to see what makes them tick, why they are how they are and why there are where they are through incredibly detailed, yet clean and organically storytelling.

      Every once and a while there is a book that gets such fantastic praise that you pick it up, and sometimes in your head or heart you know that you didn’t enjoy it as much as you would have hoped, but because of the praise heaped on it, you tell yourself that it is as great as you’ve heard, even though you find it to be otherwise. “Building Stories” isn’t like this at all; it has surpassed any expectations I had for it. I didn’t completely know what I was getting into, but from so many sources knew it was something special. And I find that to be utterly true. I hope you get a chance to read it and enjoy it as much as I am enjoying it.

  5. For everyone that could get into Jimmy Corrigan, I suggest you read The ACME Novelty Library #16. The main character, Rusty Brown, is this oddly likeable dweeby kid and it’s much easier to get into the story. Lint is good too, but Mr. Lint’s another unlikeable protagonist.

  6. This is one of those rare times when you can call something an ‘experience’ and it is totally true. This box of story is incredible, regardless of where you start reading and where you end. Just truly amazing. I recommend anyone who enjoys the comic form to get it. Its worth three times the price.

  7. This sounds like a truly amazing thing to experience. I need to get this ASAP!

  8. After reading this article. I want this! I didn’t know I wanted it it until now, but this looks really cool!

  9. Santa said it’ll be under the Charlie Brown tree in the spare room Christmas morning if I’m a good boy.

    • This Just In: I was good, but Santa lied.

      … And in other news… Absolute Promethea Vol 3 WAS there!!! …thanks to ME.

      Money well spent.