This week on The Comics Alternative podcast, Andy and Derek take on the herculean — or sisyphean, take your pick of Greek reference — task of discussing Chris Ware’s Building Stories. And they do so, surprising, without pulling any important muscles! There is a lot to talk about concerning Building Stories, and the Two Guys with PhDs are only able to scratch the surface in this episode. But in their review, they nonetheless touch on a variety of important points and questions to consider. In fact, one of the conclusions reached is that Ware’s project — would you really call this a “book”? — raises more questions that it actually answers. And that’s a good thing.
Among the many issues raised in their review, Andy and Derek bring up:
- How the order in which you read the 14 parts largely determines your interpretation and experience of the narrative,
- The physicality of the book(s), and how Building Stories challenges our understanding of “comics” while at the same time emphasizing printed media,
- How the various narratives of Building Stories fit together…and how in some ways they do not,
- The significance of the title and the multiple meanings it generates,
- The challenge of teaching a text like this, and why it both would and wouldn’t work in the classroom,
- Ware’s previous work on “buildings” of some sort or another, spanning over a decade,
- How the constructedness of Building Stories — where we are asked to put its pieces together in order to make sense of it — is analogous to how individuals construct identities and define themselves,
- Some of the major themes of the book, including death, loss, and time,
- The metafictional/metacomic moment that comes at the very end of the “Disconnect” Book,
- How depressing Chris Ware’s comics actually are…but how we love to read them anyway.
To help readers make sense of Building Stories, Derek created a rough time line centered around the unnamed female protagonist’s life. Click the image below to download a copy.
The legend at the bottom of the timeline designates which of the 14 parts are being referred to, and some of the brief descriptions are self-explanatory (such as the “Little Golden Book,” “The Daily Bee,” and the “Bradford Book”). Other texts might need an explanation. The “Graphic Novel” is the one hardbound work in the collection, and the one that looks like a more traditional graphic novel. The “Long Strip Booklet” is the long multi-paged strip-like booklet that is wordless. The “‘God’ Tabloid” is one of the largest pieces in the collection and has the word “God” on the very front (and also throughout) of this newspaper-like section. The “Large One-Sheet” has faces (the unnamed woman and an abstract red one) on either side. The “Large Foldout” is as big as the “‘God’ Tabloid” but it is not multi-paged and has a large image of the infant Lucy on the inside. The “Couples Book” and the “Landlady Book” are about the size of trade comic paperback and each concerns those specific residents in the building. The “‘Game’ Board” is the large foldout part that reminds you of a game board. The “‘Disconnect’ Book” is the same size as both the “Couples” and “Landlady” books, and it has the word “Disconnect” on the front top. Finally, both the “Snow Strip” and the “Lucy Strip” are the smallest in the box (before being unfolded) and are defined by the prominence of their visuals (i.e., snow and images of Lucy).
The Two Guys with PhDs (who talk about comics) also review the Hernandez brother’s latest issue of Love & Rockets: New Stories, although they don’t spend near as much time discussing this as they do Chris Ware’s book. But don’t let the length of the review fool you. Jaime and Gilbert’s recent installment of their New Stories is one of the strongest they’ve created so far. When you’re finished bench pressing Building Stories, you should definitely make time to read the latest Love & Rockets!