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

Categories: Literary
Cynthia Clark Harvey
Unpacking the box and its nearly seven pounds of printed matter is part of the Christmas-ish excitement. It's like one of those great toys we got as kids, one with lots of pieces to figure out how to assemble.

The box itself is part of the fun, with visual puns and a pictograph on the back that suggests "appropriate places to set down, forget or completely lose any number of its contents within the walls of an average well-appointed home." See, just like Mousetrap, but with sardonic instructions.

wrap and top.jpeg
Cynthia Clark Harvey
On tearing off the outer shrink wrap and lifting the lid, I found a neat stack, also shrink wrapped. In order from the top of the stack down, it contained:

  • A wordless, horizontal minicomic in a traditional panel style
  • One sheet accordion-folded comic
  • Another one sheet accordion-folded comic
  • A colorful multipage booklet telling the story of Branford the Bee
  • A Little Golden Book
  • 8 ½ X 11 comic book
  • 8 ½ X 11 comic book
  • 9 x12 comic book
  • Hardcover graphic novel
  • Newspaper, "The Daily Bee"
  • Poster/comic
  • Game board diagramming the building
  • Multi-page over-sized tabloid
  • Single page quarter-folded tabloid

Since Chris Ware insists that there is no order in which to read the pieces, I decided to do it in a decidedly unimaginative way. I read it in the order it arrived, top to bottom. This was immensely satisfying and provided me with a story arc, and a physicality of expansion of the stories. The small pieces are at the top of the pile and at the bottom, the size of the tabloids literally make you stretch your arms to embrace the story.

Unlike most sequential art that, because of its very design, ziplines you through the narration, Building Stories is like climbing a rock wall, in that you choose where, on the page, or in the box, to place your next hold. It's hard work sometimes, and I did have to use a big old magnifying glass to study much of it, but it was totally worth it.

Chris Ware's Building Stories left me inspired, awestruck, and yes, as I always am in the presence of great art, envious. It also left me grateful that Chris Ware made it and that Pantheon published it and that people are reading it.

I have to go jump on a bandwagon now.

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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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