Thursday, October 25, 2012

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Chris Ware could retire right now. Period. And leave a proud body of work. The envy of many artists and writers. His ACME Novelty Library series. Singularly awesome. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. A layered masterstroke. With every release I shake my head and pronounce, THIS is his epic. THIS will be the work mentioned next to his name in the future. Then the guy keeps on going. Chris do you ever sleep? His latest big box of anxiety and emotional isolation has arrived and exploded all over my desk. And when I say "big box", I mean just that.
His latest work is called BUILDING STORIES and is a fly-on-the-wall peak into the life of the residents of an aging building in Chicago, eventually focusing on an average middle-income middle-aged middle-everything woman (later a mother). The "if-these-walls-could-talk" narrative is spread across 14 different books, posters, pamphlets, chipboards and other what-have-you all housed in a large box. A large tangible remnant you can hold in an ever virtualizing world of tiny screen images.
His trademark visual style is that of a detached almost "alien" observer. Peering through invisible walls into the most intimate of human moments. And then even deeper, into the tormented and confused emotions of it's subjects. Rendered in typographic, flat, simplified, almost architectural or even "scientific" illustrations. It's as if an alien observer, or perhaps an angel, sent to Earth to do a "book report" on modern man had found a Winsor McCay cartoon strip in the back of a 1905 newspaper and adopted this visual aesthetic to present his investigative document. Finely observing all the minutia and detritus of human existence and honing the details down to the most crucial and primal. In Ware's work we, as readers, see the world (and recognize our own lives) through this filter. And what's surprising, to me anyway, is what gets through this filter. Perhaps even amplified by it. All the emotion. The sadness. The futility. In fact, some readers would argue his illustrations amply convey these feelings without the aid of a single word.
And that seems to be another Ware trademark of some contention. The running thread of sadness permeating his work. His use of the comic medium is not one of fantasy and escapism. Chris uses his talents to cut to the heart of the human condition and pull back the curtain on our internal selves. Lifting the veil to reveal the scars we all carry and try to hide. That seems to continually be the focus of his interest and the direction of his graphic novels.When someone unfamiliar with Ware's work sees the title Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, they assume it's another Disneyesque adventure of some young-inventor (ala Meet the Robinsons, or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs). Not what it trully is. The story of an awkward middle-aged man meeting his absentee father for the first time at a "greasy-spoon" diner in Michigan over Thanksgiving. The power and force of Ware's work is typically underplayed and never advertised. His Art Deco covers rarely hint at the quiet human struggles awaiting inside. These aren't your father's "comic books".

Ware's attention to detail is not limited to his visuals. I'm impressed with Ware's ability to write equally well for a woman as for a male character. He nails those awkward moments and little gaps in communication there are so common in couples (and strangers too). This book (I mean books) is chock full of those little emotional triggers. And the aftermath. They do make you smile knowingly. But sometimes, they surprise you and cut a little deeper.

The cool thing here is that Ware is giving the reader a rare gift. To play an interactive role in the experience of this work. By breaking the stories up into 14 separate glimpses spread across a variety of materials, that can be viewed in any order, each reader gets a completely unique experience. We are the ones building the story. Almost like going through someone else's belongings after their death. Piecing together their life's history. We learn a bit here when they were young, and another bit there when they were not so young. Only to ourselves are our lives one long unbroken string. To others, our lives are bits and pieces. Associated with holidays, places, memorable events, music, smells, tastes. Just bits and pieces. 

And considering the subtle detail included in Ware's fiction, it affords the reader the wonderful luxury to repeatedly dig as deep as they so choose, or allow themselves to.  
Well...  I haven't yet finished reading, viewing, and examining all that's in the box, so I'm off to dig deeper and continue... building stories. And, thanks Mr. Ware.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pictures: 10/24/2012

Today after a nice home lunch, I walked around my yard. Such a beautiful autumn day. The colors of the leaves are still a week or two away from their peak. But I still wanted to capture a little of their grandeur. So I took a camera and strolled around my yard. This is a taste of what I saw. ~ Darren

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Danger 5: To the Rescue?

Illustrator: Chris Wahl
What do you get when you combine:
60% Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds
20% Agent 007 James Bond
45% World War II (that lasts into the smoke-filled 1960s), 
30% David Zucker comedy (think Airplane! or Naked Gun)
5% Get Smart
28.7% Diabolik
a multitude of "headshots"
deathbed recipes for the ever elusive 'perfect cocktail'
a smidgen of Venture Bros.
a dash of pulp magazines and lounge muzak
equal parts Daikaiju / Dinosaur film
and a tiny shoestring budget?
(Is that too many percent?)

Stir well. Set your blender on "simmer". 
Wait for it to come to a froth.
Now throw that shit out the window and watch Danger 5.

Currently the premier absurdist Australian comedy program. 
The complete Season One is awaiting you below.
Or buy the DVD here!  

Oh, and as always... kill Hitler.

(And maybe this is a little NSFW as there are triple entendres, villainous dinosaurs, talking German "Nazi" Shepherds and of course Hitler's infamous sex kitchen. You have been warned. Put the kids to bed, cuz there's DANGER in the air. DANGER 5!)  

      Pilot Episode: "The Diamond Girls"          

     Episode 1: "I Danced For Hitler"     

     Episode 2: "Lizard Soldiers Of The Third Reich"     

     Episode 3: "Kill-Men Of The Rising Sun"     

     Episode 4: "Hitler's Golden Murder Palace"     

     Episode 5: "Fresh Meat For Hitler's Sex Kitchen"     

     Episode 6: "Final Victory"     

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Advertising as Art: Episode 2

Here's more of those wonderful early 20th century French and Italian graphic posters.


Advertising as Art: Episode 1

Here's some classic French and Italian poster advertising from the early to mid-20th century. Sophisticated, charming, and lighthearted, they evoke a simpler carefree era... that of course never truly existed. But that's the success of these ads. They make you feel good and want to be a part of whatever it is they are promoting. They sell the "sizzle", not the steak.

I'm particularly hankering for a steaming pile of juicy pasta right about now. With a little cheese and a nice glass of Pinot Grigio. Damn the power of these old posters!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sight for Sound: "Lullaby"

[ second in a series of illustrated song lyrics ]

 words by priscilla ahn  |  photo illustrations by darren wheeling 

If you would like to help your fellow man:
Bless you.