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Review: 'Building Stories' HC

ICv2 Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Published: 11/12/2012 04:23am
Building Stories HC
Publisher: Pantheon
Release Date: October 2012
Price: $50.00
Creator: Chris Ware
Format: Box w/ 14 Books & Pamphlets
ISBN: 978-0-3754-2433-5
Age Rating: Mature Readers
ICv2 Rating: 5 out of 5
 
When the movies were challenged for pop culture supremacy by the new medium of television in the 1950s Hollywood came up with Cinemascope, 3-D, Aromarama and other gimmicks to demonstrate the things that it could do that the small square box in the living room couldn't.  In 2012 with the traditional comics publishing model and format under siege from the new evolving world of digital comics, Chris Ware, who is both a cutting edge cartoonist and a fervent traditionalist (drawing inspiration from the classic comic strip artists like Frank King's Gasoline Alley as well as the typography and design of early Twentieth Century advertisements), has created in Building Stories a collection of 14 inter-related volumes in a dazzling array of formats that would be impossible to duplicate on one-size-fits-all digital viewing platforms like the iPad.  With its collection of hardcovers, pamphlets, broadsheets, and even a game board that looks like it came from a loopy version of Clue, Building Stories is above all a defiant celebration of the medium of printed comics and a somewhat overwhelming demonstration of the medium’s incredible flexibility.
 
In fact with its sturdy box (17” x 12” x 2”) Building Stories is like the coolest vintage board game ever found gathering dust in an attic (eat your heart out Jumanji).  The core of this collection is a series of comic vignettes that first appeared in The New York Times Magazine and follows the stories of the denizens of a 98-year-old building in Chicago.  Ware's status as modern America's most effective poet of anomie is confirmed on every page of Building Stories, which typically catches the resigned denizens of these urban refuges at some stage of quiet desperation.  The mood is melancholy throughout, but not necessarily despairing.  Ware never sentimentalizes, but it is clear that major emotions are rippling just below the controlled expressions of his characters, who appear to be able to control very little else in their lives.  What humor there is in Building Stories comes from the adventures of “Branford, The Best Bee in the World,” who appears trapped in the shop of the female florist, who is perhaps the main protagonist of Building Stories, and then gets his own comic (as well as a newspaper broadsheet, “The Daily Bee), which reveals that the industrious insect is afflicted with a sexual self-loathing worthy of a Woody Allen character--an attitude towards sex that also afflicts many of the human characters in these tales (including the florist, who appears in many of the 14 books).
 
The way that Ware has connected the events, characters and settings that appear in the 14 books that make up Building Stories is clever, complex, and richly rewarding for those willing to give these volumes a close reading.  Building Stories is clearly one of the most demanding works ever created in the comics medium with repeated themes and motifs, architectural, emotional, and decorative, that recur Rashomon-like through the various faceted views of these characters and their living quarters across the decades that make up this challenging work.
 
Note: Although it is far from prurient, Building Stories does contain plenty of nudity and is clearly intended for mature and sophisticated readers.
 
--Tom Flinn
 
 
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