Time on the board

An exhibition at the Center Pompidou, the edition enriched with a monograph: the work of the unclassifiable Chris Ware is in the spotlight, which fragments time on his boards nourished by references to the history of comics.

Chris Ware is undoubtedly the most important comic book author of recent years, and not only in the United States, we read from the outset in the monograph devoted to him by Jacques Samson and Benot Peeters. The work offers French-speaking readers an introduction to the multiple facets of the American cartoonist through a chronology, a bibliography, a long interview by Benot Peeters, texts by Ware, and an analysis conducted by Jacques Samson. The edition of this monograph (originally published in 2010) – updated, enriched with a new interview and equipped with a new cover – comes to accompany a new year of celebration of his work in France.

Expected for several years, nominated on various occasions, Chris Ware was indeed awarded the grand prize at the Angoulme international comics festival in 2021. The title, awarded by vote of the profession, rewards an author for his or her entire work. work, which is then the subject of an exhibition during the subsequent edition of the festival. The retrospective exhibition mounts in March 2022 during the Angoulme festival, and adapts to the Public Information Library of the Center Pompidou from June 8 to October 10, 2022, allows the French-speaking public to discover or rediscover Ware's work. The exhibition shows the graphic universe of the American designer in all its facets, from the design of original plates and all kinds of printed objects to the manual manufacture of models and various figurines. Chris Ware, the comic strip reinvents offers this valorization enterprise as a reading companion (see the exhibition guide by Benoit Peeters and Julien June Misserey).

Jimmy Corrigan (Back cover)
New York, Pantheon, 2000. Chris Ware

An editorial adventure

Since the French translation of Jimmy Corrigan at Delcourt in 2002, Chris Ware became an essential name in comics in France. This graphic novel, a polyphonic and multi-generational story of 380 pages, mixed narrative ambition and formal experimentation in a way previously unheard of in comics. If his page compositions can recall the experiments of OuBaPo (derived from OuLiPo) in France, Ware has put this formal inventiveness at the service of an ambitious narration, dedicated to making the experience of everyday life and the passage of time palpable in the exercise of reading. The way in which his comic strip pages are composed offers multiple perspectives and thus leaves great freedom to the reader. Building Storiesa life story in fourteen fragments read in an indefinite order, extended this principle to the very scale of the book-object by an editorial coup.

Building Stories, box and its 14 elements
2012 – Chris Ware

The monograph by Samson and Peeters thus describes Ware's approach as a reinvention of comics and its language, which began with the publication of theAcme Novelty Library, one of the most unusual editorial adventures in comics (p. 6). In the 1990s, Ware was working with theAcme Novelty Library a periodic title in the serial mode of the comic book American, but which completely disrupted the usual format. Each issue took on different dimensions, letting the material object adapt to the stories rather than following the constraints of a standard established by the market. Typography, model, assembly, paper: each material aspect is designed and worked so that the background responds to the form. This treatment of the book object hit the mark in the French context of the 1990s, when a new generation of cartoonistsices and editorices tried to renovate the standard of the color cardboard album. Jean-Christophe Menu, co-founder of the Association, devoted an article to Ware in 1997, saluting the immense visual quality of the objects.

Acme Novelty Library, n°15, front and back covers.
2001 – Chris Ware

This meticulous attention to the printed object will of course be found in each of his following works, from Jimmy Corrigan Rusty Brownwithout forgetting Building Stories, whose presentation in a cardboard box containing miscellaneous books and booklets printed in different formats speaks for itself. Each translation is, likewise, closely monitored by the designer to ensure the material coherence of his works. If the work of Samson and Peeters returns in detail to this importance of the printed object, the iconographic section does not reflect it as clearly, despite the multitude of illustrations and plates reproduced; the three-dimensionality and sensoriality of the objects are inevitably flattened, contrasting with the monograph assembled by Ware herself for Rizzoli in 2017. The exhibition organized at Bpi also perfectly highlights this work on the book in all its forms, including original plates, multiple editions, but also all kinds of peripheral objects assembled by the designer.

Display case bringing together objects derived from Jimmy Corrigan presented in the Chris Ware exhibition, Public Information Library, Center Pompidou.
Photo Herv Vronse Center Pompidou.

Drawing in cadences

Beyond the material quality of Chris Ware's works, the monograph by Samson and Peeters also underlines the primordial importance of periodicity and the serial in this approach. This aspect is less obvious for a French-speaking readership: not only is the serial history of productions partly erased by publication in graphic novel format, but the emergence of the album in the 1970s in France led to a shift in comics, in a culture of the press towards a book culture, thus leading to a profound transformation of reading practices. Samson and Peeters remind us of the key role played by a periodical title likeAcme Novelty Library in Ware's trajectory, allowing him to bring together the strips which he published in local newspapers while offering him a unique framework for experimentation. This aspect is not limited to a market necessity, nor to the beginnings of the author's career, but remains a salient feature of the publication of Building Stories And Rusty Brownas evidenced by the very edition of the monograph: in 2010, Samson and Peeters referred to these titles as ongoing projects, existing in the form of various fragments, promises of future developments which have since been brought to fruition.

Both in the interviews conducted by Benot Peeters and in the analysis of Jacques Samson, the importance of graphic creation which is deployed in fragments and worked on over time emerges.; and which always deals with changes of support. The monographic approach and the chronological cross-section of Chris Ware's work clearly illustrate the media specificity of comics work, in its material and economic constraints as well as in the work itself on the drawing board, of which the designer details the laborious and slow process in an essay from 2004, translated into French.

Double-page extract from the interview, Chris Ware, the comic strip reinvents, Brussels, p.94-95.
New Impressions, 2021

Historian of his media

Despite Ware's tendency towards self-deprecation, the designer has highly intelligent comments on the form and history of comics. The monograph thus gives a central place to the words of the author, of whom we find two long interviews conducted more than ten years apart. The juxtaposition reveals both the constancy of a journey, the continuity of certain positions taken and the coherence of a singular poetics, but also sheds light on new issues. Ware addresses this not only in detail Building Stories And Rusty Browntwo works which pursue a formal and graphic experimentation while marking a growing openness laltrit (p.78); but also the developments of comics in the United States of which the author was a privileged witness; the covers made for the New Yorker ; the history of Chicago comics; the relationship between contemporary art and musical institutions.

One of the originalities of Samson and Peeters' work is to have included and translated four texts written by Ware in the introduction to catalogs and anthologies, in which the designer details his vision of comics: two personal texts, oriented on the author's career and on its relationship to work, are thus backed by two texts on the history of the medium, devoted respectively to Rodolphe Tpffer and Frank King. Ware has indeed played an important role in the United States in the rediscovery and requalification of cartoonists of the past, both by collaborating on different editions (from writing texts to designing volumes), by writing different texts, and by organizing exhibitions ( like recently Chicago), or by integrating graphic quotations into his own works. The monograph thus makes available texts that are difficult to obtain in France. We only regret that this section was not enriched during the edition with new texts, like the one that Ware devoted to George Herriman in 2017, following the biography of Michael Tisserand which returned in detail to the Afro-American heritage of the designer.

Inspire reading skills

The monograph ends with an analysis by Jacques Samson, accompanied by four micro-readings board. This critical apparatus, unchanged during the edition, nevertheless remains current, precisely because Samson was already devoting his attention to the works currently being published as Building Stories And Rusty Brown. Analysis and micro-readings allow readers to delve into Ware's plates, to linger on the complexity and formal richness of his abundant compositions. The great readability of the graphic style is accompanied by Ware's reading experience which is more of a deliberate act than of a reflex activity (p. 157), as the reader is confronted with multiple ways of surveying the page. According to Ware, more than any other medium, comics have to do with memory (p.57); his way of approaching the comic page aims to restore a sensory, temporal, memorial experience of everyday life. Samson thus describes Ware as a virtuoso of the analytical exposition of the weak time of the event, that where the experience of a petrified duration culminates (p. 175). His micro-readings examine how this experience of time is distributed across the board, inviting readers to sharpen their gaze and pay attention to every detail. This is the whole point of this monograph: to invite us to reread Ware's work with, once again, another look.

“Spring”, Building Stories
New York, Pantheon, 2000. Chris Ware