In 2001, the UK's Guardian newspaper awarded Chris Ware its First Book Award for Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth. For a brief moment, Ware was not only placed alongside more conventional literature, he was found to be superior. His work was compared to that of Kafka. He was called "the Emily Dickinson of comics." He had taken a marginalized art form and created something too great to be ignored.
Daniel Raeburn's new book, Chris Ware, gives the artist the kind of scholarly investment one might expect after receiving such literary accolades. For Raeburn, comics are a medium with their own "infinite possibilities." He argues that Ware has revitalized the comic form, raising it above a genre of superheroes sketched out like storyboards for an action flick. Drawing comparisons to visual art, music, architecture, typography, theatre and music, he presents Ware as not just the future of comics, but as someone who has realized the truth of Art Spiegelman's aphorism: "The future of comics is in the past." Raeburn takes the reader on a very brief tour through the early history of comics and illustration--from Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland) and George Herriman (Krazy Kat) to vintage Sears Roebuck catalogues--tracing Ware's inspiration and influences.
The text is also full of biographical tidbits and illuminating quotes and anecdotes from Ware himself (favorite quote: "Value your worthlessness"). Some of the most interesting moments come when Raeburn tracks the often eerie parallels between Ware's work and his real life--while writing about Jimmy Corrigan's search for his father, Ware was contacted by his real long-lost father, who died one month after Ware finished penning the death of his fictional double.
As interesting as Raeburn's essay is on its own, it's bolstered by countless full-color reproductions of Ware's comics and illustrations, from Quimby the Mouse to his latest projects, Rusty Brown and Building. While some of the reproductions suffer from a reduction in size, the informative sidebars add context and insight.
Sure, Chris Ware is an extravagant novelty purchase. But if you dream in complex flow charts and carry bologna sandwiches around in a Jimmy Corrigan lunch box, well, you're a nerd with a book to buy.