Chris Ware's Graphic Novel Building Stories is an Unfolding, Inspiring Narrative

Categories: Literary

Welcome back to Explicitly Graphic, a monthly column by Cynthia Clark Harvey (who's working on a graphic novel of her own). From time to time, Harvey will review graphic novels, talk to artists, and dive into the scene of all things explicitly graphic. Today, she unwraps Building Stories by Chris Ware.

Cynthia Clark Harvey
I can be a little (a lot) contrarian when it comes to a thing that's "universally" acclaimed. Take, for instance, the original Star Wars. When it came out, everybody who'd ever gone to a movie was seeing it and talking about it, from 9 year old neighbor boys to their parents and beyond.

Once I heard exclamations over the bar scene and the flight sequences and the robots and Chewbacca and dreamy Harrison Ford, I was over it. I felt like I'd seen it. Until I actually did see it in a theater a couple of years after it was released. I LOVED it. I loved it so much I was embarrassed how much I loved it.

So it was with Chris Ware's new graphic novel Building Stories, the culmination of 10 years of work. I saw tantalizing hints of it in May at the Comics Conference in Chicago, heard him speak on a couple of panels and was resolved to get a copy of it the minute it was released.

See also:

- Ellen Forney Talks Mental Health, the Life of a "Crazy Artist," and Her latest Graphic Novel, Marbles
- A Soldier's Daughter's Heart: A Conversation with Graphic Novelist Carol Tyler

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Cynthia Clark Harvey

Then, boom, in October, it was released, immediately had praise heaped upon it, sold out of its initial print run of 40,000 (miniscule by 50 Shades or Hunger Games standards, but substantial by graphic novel standards).

There I was, standing on the outside looking in, grousing: I know it's about the occupants of a Chicago apartment building, I've already heard that it comes in a box, has 14 different pieces that can be read (examined?) in any order, has a fold up game-like board, abysmally tiny fonts in some parts and features a main character who is a one-legged Debbie Downer.

But then I wondered, what if it really is another Star Wars? Another game changer in its genre? What if I am denying myself a delicious pleasure that others have already partaken of just because, if I didn't find it first, I don't want to be one of those bandwagon jumper-uponers, folks who only know who they're going to vote for when they figure out who's going to win?

Well screw that, I decided a few weeks ago -- I want this book -- now named the Number 1 book of the year, amongst all books, not just graphic novels, by Publisher's Weekly. So I ordered it up tout de suite and waited on pins and needles until it arrived.

Christmas in January.

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Great article! I can't believe you lived so many years without Star Wars ;) I grew up with an older brother and now get to watch it again (only the original trilogy, of course) over and over using my little boy as an excuse.


Been following the female character and her family in The New Yorker for years. Sometimes sad but cathartic and like you aren't alone. Also love the way he draws.

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