Thursday, 8 July 2010

Influences: Chris Ware

It's been about six years now since I discover the meticulous and neurotic work of the Chicago-based graphic artist Chris Ware. My first exposure to his ouevre came during my final year at University with my reading of the tri-generational family biopic graphic novel "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth". At first glance it looked like a beautifully rendered piece of retro-Americana. On closer inspection however, it revealed itself to be an infinitely more complex and nuanced construction. Partly autobiographical in it's narrative, it was at times post-modern, at times sentimental, at times whimsical and at times profound. With as many layers as the most oniony of onions, it's a piece of art that will stand the test of time as a stunning testament to the power and potential of sequential art - or 'comics' to you and me. In certain parts it's very funny, but more often than that it's tragic, compelling and dark, and paints a picture of a world where loneliness and disillusion are as ubiquitous as fast food restaurants.

After enjoying Jimmy Corrigan so much, I bought a hardback edition of his sketchbooks, which gave some fascinating insight into not just Ware's working methods and processes, but also his esoteric preoccupation's and insecurities. First and foremost it demonstrated what a skilled craftsman he is, with a free and confident approach to drawing that stands in contrast to the precise reduction of his polished graphic style. I suppose what initially drew me into his work was the crossover appeal with graphic design, but what kept me interested was the supreme oddness and ultra-personal tunnel vision. It was really inspiring for me as a student of graphic design to see someone doing something so technically adroit and visually accessible on one hand, while so offbeat and unusual on the other. It encouraged me to indulge in more personal and confessional work, and to not be afraid of experimenting with unusual ideas; not always with great success might I add, but in the long run I think it was good for me.

To me Ware's work is so unusual because most indie flavoured art (if I can call it that) with this level of self-analysis ends up feeling hubristic and naval-gazing. In Ware's work, the narratives in his stories are built with such subtlety that they transcend their deeply personal origins to become surprisingly universal in their scope. It's also important to note that amongst all the angst, depression and ennui, Ware's work is incredibly fun and playful, with lots of visual jiggery-pokery that keeps things from getting too heavy. It's very clear from his work that he loves what he does, and that amidst all the dark stuff there's a nourishing seam of boyish delight in the sheer inventiveness of his language. For me, Jimmy Corrigan is to Chris Ware what The Office is to Ricky Gervais, in that it's hard to imagine a more perfectly realised vehicle for his talents, but I'll keep an open mind and in the meantime make sure my much-thumbed copy of Jimmy Corrigan stays taped together.

Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth Cover, Published 2000

Cover of New Yorker, November 2006

Excerpt from Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth, 2000

Excerpt from Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth, 2000

1 comment:

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