Chris Ware

From Academic Kids

Chris Ware (born December 28, 1967) is an American comic book artist and cartoonist, best-known for a series of comics called the Acme Novelty Library, and a graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Born in Nebraska, he currently resides in Oak Park, Illinois. Ware's art is extremely eclectic in its influence, largely reflecting his love of early-20th century American aesthetics in both cartooning and graphic design. He can go from one artistic style to another with little conspicuous effort. While a handful of critics have accused Ware's work of being cold and overly obsessed with technique, the majority have come away impressed with his command of the medium and seemingly limitless willingness to experiment. The more canny observer can see the strong influence of early cartoonists like Winsor McCay and Frank King (creator of Gasoline Alley) in Ware's work, especially in terms of layout and visual and storyline flow. Outside of the comics genre, Ware has found inspiration and a kindred soul in Joseph Cornell, both men sharing a need to capture items of nostaliga, grace, and beauty within "boxes."

Ware's earliest published strips appeared in the late 1980s on the comics page of The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to numerous daily strips under different titles, Ware also had a weekly satirical science fiction serial in the paper titled Floyd Farland: Citizen of the Future. This was eventually published in 1988 as a prestige-format comic book from Eclipse Publishing, and its publication even led to a brief correspondence between Ware and Timothy Leary. Now embarrassed by the book, which he considers amateurish and naive, Ware is reportedly purchasing and destroying all remaining copies.

Ware eventually attracted the attention of famed Manhattan cartoonist, publisher and designer Art Spiegelman, who invited Ware to contribute to Raw magazine. This led to greater acclaim, and Ware's eventual relationship with Fantagraphics Books. His Fantagraphics series Acme Novelty Library defied comics publishing conventions with every issue. The series featured a combination of new material as well as reprints of work Ware had done for the Texan (such as Quimby the Mouse) and the Chicago weekly paper New City. Ware's work appeared originally in New City before he moved on to his current "home", the Chicago Reader. Beginning with the 16th issue of the Acme Novelty Library, Ware starts self-publishing his work, while maintaining a relationship with Fantagraphics for distribution and storage. This is an interesting return to Ware's early career, when he self-published such books as Lonely Comics and Stories as well as miniature digests of stories based on Quimby the Mouse and an unnamed potato-like creature.

Quimby the Mouse was an early character for Ware and a bit of a breakthrough as far as his current approach to comics is concerned. Rendered in the style of an early animation character like Felix the Cat, Quimby the Mouse is perhaps Ware's most autobiographical character. Quimby's relationship with a cat head named Sparky is by turns conflict-ridden and loving, and thus intended to reflect all human relationships. While Quimby retains mobility, Sparky remains immobile and helpless, subject to all the indignities Quimby visits upon it. Quimby has also been seen in the role of narrator for Ware's reminiscences of his youth, in particular his relationship with his grandmother. Quimby was presented in a series of smaller panels than most comics, almost providing the illusion of motion ala a zoetrope. In fact, Ware once designed a zoetrope that could be cut out and constructed by the reader in order to watch a Quimby "silent movie". Ware's ingenuity is neatly shown in this willingness to break from the confines of the page.

Later issues of Acme Novelty Library serialized Ware's semi-autobiographical novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. This was later published in book form to enormous acclaim from not only the comics press but the mainstream as well. The book won The Guardian First Book Award for 2001, the first time a graphic novel has won a major United Kingdom book award. Ware was also the first comics artist ever to be invited to exhibit in the prestigious Whitney Museum biennial exhibition, in 2002. Ware has also exhibited in Europe.

Ware is currently at work on Rusty Brown, a series ostensibly about an action figure collecting manchild and his somewhat troubled childhood, but which, in Ware's typical fashion, diverges into multiple storylines about Brown's father, his best friend Chalky White, and a woman who appears to be White's sister (who appears to lose a leg between her teen and adult years).

Another ongoing strip is based on Ware's character of the Super-man (not to be confused with Superman). In interviews, Ware has expressed the thought that were Superman real, he would probably indulge his every desire, growing fat and selfishly taking advantage of the world around him—all of which the Super-man does). Ware's Super-man resembles the way Ware drew God during the early part of his career, even wearing the same caped costume and domino mask and having the same slightly sadistic personality. The Super-man also turns up in Jimmy Corrigan as an ambiguous and somewhat abusive mentor.

Ware is an ardent collector of ragtime paraphernalia and publishes an annual journal devoted to the music titled The Ragtime Ephemeralist. He also plays the banjo and piano. The tremendous influence of the music and its era can be seen in Ware's work, especially in regards to logos and layout. Ware has designed album covers for such ragtime performers as Virginia Tichenor, Reginald R. Robinson, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, and Guido Nielsen.

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