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The Comics of Chris Ware

The Comics of Chris Ware
Drawing Is a Way of Thinking
FdiLcd by David M. Ball and MarLha B. Kuhlman
UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Mississippi 1ackson
Publication of this volume was made possible in part through grants provided by Dickinson College
and Bryant University. The editors would also like to thank Meredith Milnes, Ellie Cutler, Shannon
Kobran, and Tristan Deveney for their help and hard work and special thanks to Alec Thibodeau, for
keeping us covered.
All images and artwork, unless otherwise noted, are copyright © 2009 Chris Ware. The editors of
this collection would like to thank Chris Ware for generous permission to reproduce his comics
throughout this volume.
Frontis: Portrait of Chris Ware by Ivan Brunetti. © 2010 Ivan Brunetti.
The University Press of Mississippi is a member of the Association of American University Presses.
Copyright © 2010 by University Press of Mississippi
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America
First printing 2010
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The comics of Chris Ware : drawing is a way of thinking / edited by David M. Ball and Martha B. Kuhl-
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-60473-442-3 (alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-60473-443-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Ware, Chris,
1967–—Criticism and interpretation. I. Ball, David M., 1976– II. Kuhlman, Martha B.
PN6727.W285Z63 2010
741.5’973—dc22 2009033755
British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available
For Cara
For Nicholas
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InLroducLion: Chris Warc and Lhc “CulL oí DifficulLy”
Martha P. Kuh|man and Lavìd M. Pa|| ix
Contexts and Canons
InvcnLing CarLooning AnccsLors: Warc and Lhc Comics Canon
1eet Heer ¸
Maskcd FaLhcrs: 1ìmmy Corrìgan and Lhc Supcrhcroic Icgacy
1acob Progan ±¡
Tc IimiLs oí Rcalism: AlLcrnaLivc Comics and Middlcbrow AcsLhcLics
in Lhc AnLhologics oí Chris Warc
Marc Sìnger 28
Chris Warc’s Failurcs
Lavìd M. Pa|| ¡¸
Artistic Intersections
Chris Warc and Lhc Burdcn oí ArL HisLory
Katherìne Roeder 6¸
In Lhc Comics Workshop: Chris Warc and Lhc Oubapo
Martha P. Kuh|man ,8
Comics and Lhc Crammar oí Diagrams
!saac Cates µo
The Urban Landscape
On Modcrnism’s Ruins: Tc ArchiLccLurc oí “Building SLorics”
and Lost Puì|dìngs
Lanìe| worden ±o,
Chris Warc’s “Building SLorics,” CcnLrificaLion, and Lhc Iivcs oí/in Houscs
Matt Codbey ±:±
Reading History
ConíronLing Lhc InLcrsccLions oí Racc, ImmigraLion, and RcprcscnLaLion
in Chris Warc’s Comics
1oanna Lavìs-McF||ìgatt ±¸¸
Public and PrivaLc HisLorics in Chris Warc’s 1ìmmy Corrìgan
Shawn Cì|more ±¡6
AuLobiography wiLh Two Hcads: Quìmby the Mouse
Pen¡amìn wìdìss ±¸µ
Everyday Temporalities
Chris Warc and Lhc PursuiL oí Slowncss
Ceorgìana Panìta ±,,
Imagining an IdiosyncraLic Bclonging: RcprcscnLing DisabiliLy
in Chris Warc’s “Building SLorics”
Margaret Fìnk Perman ±µ±
PasL ImpcríccL: “Building SLorics” and Lhc ArL oí Mcmory
Peter R. Satt|er :o6
Appcndix: A Cuidc Lo Chris Warc’s Primary Works ::¸
SclccLcd Bibliography ::¸
ConLribuLors :¸±
Indcx :¸¸
Introduction: Chris Ware and the “Cult of Difficulty”
Rcading Chris Warc’s comics íor Lhc firsL Limc can bc a disoricnLing cxpcri-
cncc. Why docs Lhc hardcovcr cdiLion oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd
on Farth havc such an cnigmaLic and ornaLc dusL jackcL` Whcrc cxacLly arc
Lhc auLhor’s namc and Lhc LiLlc oí Lhc work, and whaL is Lhc purposc oí Lhc
covcr’s inLricaLc diagrams and cuLouL insLrucLions` Tc curious ícw who un-
íold Lhc covcr arc rcwardcd wiLh a map LhaL is compriscd oí pancls oí varying
sizcs and oricnLaLions wiLh abrupL shiíLs in scalc, offcring a world-hisLoric
vision oí mulLiplc gcncraLions and LransaLlanLic connccLions bcLwccn Irish
immigraLion and Lhc Middlc Passagc (scc plaLc ±). Arraycd on Lhc pagc wiLh
a dizzying visual inLcnsiLy, Lhcsc Liny sccnarios arc puncLuaLcd crypLically by
conjuncLions and phrascs such as “Tus,” “BuL,” “And So” and Lravcrscd by a
ncLwork oí arrows and lincs (dashcd or solid) LhaL opcraLcs according Lo an
iniLially inscruLablc logic. Ií Lhis sccms Loo daunLing, Lurning Lo Lhc cndpa-
pcrs rcvcals “Ccncral InsLrucLions,” íollowcd by an “InLroducLion” and fivc
sccLions LhaL culminaLc in an cxam, all rcndcrcd in painíully Liny Lypc LhaL
rcquircs prcLcrnaLural vision or bringing Lhc book so closc Lo your íacc LhaL iL
almosL Louchcs your nosc.
As Lhc covcr warns us, whaL wc havc hcrc is dcfiniLcly “a bold cxpcrimcnL
in rcadcr Lolcrancc,” and many will noL havc Lhc Limc, inLcrcsL, or paLicncc
íor iL. PuL simply, Lhis volumc is noL íor Lhcm. BuL íor Lhosc rcadcrs who,
íascinaLcd and challcngcd by Lhc worlds LhaL Warc has consLrucLcd, scck Lo
gain ncw poinLs oí cnLry inLo his comics, Lhis collccLion offcrs a rangc oí mul-
Lidisciplinary pcrspccLivcs LhaL wc hopc will inspirc livcly discussions and
opcn prcviously uncxplorcd avcnucs íor rcscarch. Tis volumc offcrs Lhc firsL
such susLaincd criLical analysis oí Chris Warc’s alrcady prodigious body oí
work, yiclding a varicd, provocaLivc collccLion oí cssays LhaL spans mulLiplc
approachcs and oricnLaLions—írom liLcrary Lhcory Lo urban sLudics, disabil-
iLy sLudics Lo arL hisLory, criLical racc Lhcory Lo comics hisLory—in ordcr Lo
bcLLcr undcrsLand and illuminaLc Warc’s graphic narraLivcs.
In his :oo¡ covcr sLory íor Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne, “NoL Funnics,”
Charlcs McCraLh prcdicLs LhaL comics arc Lhc ncxL ncw liLcrary íorm and
praiscs 1ìmmy Corrìgan as “casily Lhc mosL bcauLiíul and mosL complicaLcd
oí all Lhc ncw graphic novcls.”
WriLing onc ycar laLcr in Lhc New Yorker, arL
criLic PcLcr Schjcldahl idcnLifics Warc as bclonging Lo a “culL oí difficulLy” LhaL
has always characLcrizcd avanL-gardcs, írom Lhc cubisL cxpcrimcnLs oí Pica-
sso and Braquc Lo Lhc obscurc crudiLion oí FlioL and Pound.
Tcsc compari-
sons would undoubLcdly cmbarrass Warc, buL Schjcldahl and McCraLh arc
noL alonc, Warc’s work has also bccn likcncd Lo Lhc ficLion oí ILalo Calvino,
1ulio CorLazar, 1ohn BarLh, and Lhc “high modcrnism oí [Franz] Kaíka.”
inLcrvicws and criLical cssays, Warc himsclí has a dccidcdly liLcrary bcnL, in-
cluding rcícrcnccs Lo FrncsL Hcmingway, Ico TolsLoy, Vladimir Nabokov, and
CusLavc FlaubcrL in his cxplanaLions oí Lhc Lonc and sLrucLurc oí his com-
Tcrc arc also markcd similariLics bcLwccn Warc’s work and Lhc conLcm-
porary cxpcrimcnLal ficLion oí Davc Fggcrs, whosc mcmoir A Heartbreakìng
work oj Staggerìng Cenìus, publishcd Lhc samc ycar as 1ìmmy Corrìgan, bcgins
wiLh íronL maLLcr LhaL conLains a scalc raLing Lhc auLhor’s scxual oricnLaLion
and a prcíacc Lo Lhc prcíacc LiLlcd “Rulcs and SuggcsLions íor FnjoymcnL oí
Lhis Book.”
In Lhc ficld oí liLcrary sLudics, Warc’s work has alrcady madc a
powcríul claim íor scholarly considcraLion and inclusion in coursc syllabi.
YcL liLcrary rcícrcnccs alonc íail Lo accounL íully íor Lhc mulLidisciplinary
rcach oí comics gcncrally and Warc’s work in parLicular, which draws signií-
icanLly írom Lhc ficlds oí finc arL, archiLccLurc, dcsign, and cnLcrLainmcnL
culLurc. Among his arLisLic influcnccs, Warc ciLcs Philip CusLon, who cham-
pioncd a rcprcscnLaLional sLylc laLc in his carccr conLrary Lo Lhc íashion oí
absLracL cxprcssionism, much in Lhc samc way LhaL Warc rcsisLcd ClcmcnL
Crccnbcrg’s acsLhcLics whcn hc was a sLudcnL aL Lhc ArL InsLiLuLc oí Chi-
1oscph Corncll, Lhc soliLary surrcalisL oí AsLoria, Quccns, is anoLhcr
oí Warc’s íavoriLc arLisLs.
Tc mclancholy charm oí Corncll’s idiosyncraLic
shadow boxcs and his nincLccnLh-ccnLury acsLhcLic oí Lhc pcnny arcadc arc
íclL kccnly in Lhc mcLiculously orchcsLraLcd pancls oí Warc’s comics, which arc
rcminisccnL oí Lhc woodcn comparLmcnLs in a LypcscLLcr’s casc. Iouis Sulli-
van’s modcrnisL archiLccLurc and unapologcLic usc oí ornamcnLaLion providc
anoLhcr sourcc oí inspiraLion íor Warc, who írcqucnLly dcscribcs comics as
an archiLccLurc oí visual iníormaLion LhaL aligns sccing and rcading.
wisc, Warc’s inLcrcsL in ragLimc and Lhc ícrmcnL oí musical innovaLion aL Lhc
Lurn oí Lhc Amcrican LwcnLicLh ccnLury—ScoLL 1oplin figurcs promincnLly
hcrc—givcs him uniquc insighL inLo composiLion and íorm across disciplincs
and mcdia (scc fig. I.±). AlLhough Lhc individuals in Lhis divcrsc grouping oí
crcaLivc influcnccs arc quiLc disLincL írom onc anoLhcr, Lhcy all LcsL Lhc limiLs
oí Lhcir rcspccLivc disciplinary convcnLions, unscLLling Lhcir audicncc’s cx-
SiLuaLing Warc wiLhin Lhis mulLidisciplinary, avanL-gardc íramcwork íorc-
grounds how his work cxposcs and manipulaLcs Lhc languagc oí comics in
ways LhaL dcmand a grcaL dcal oí Lhc rcadcr and LcsL Lhc rcprcscnLaLional
possibiliLics oí Lhc mcdium. ForLunaLcly íor Warc, his inLcrcsL in drawing
comics in Lhc carly ±µ8os coincidcd wiLh gcnrc-LcsLing cxpcrimcnLs by oLhcr
arLisLs in Lhc ficld. In ±µµ¸, ArL Spicgclman dcscribcd Lhc siLuaLion oí comics
as “hav[ing] alrcady shiíLcd írom bcing an icon oí illiLcracy Lo bccoming onc
oí Lhc lasL basLions oí liLcracy. Ií comics havc any problcm now, iL’s LhaL pco-
plc don’L cvcn havc paLicncc Lo dccodc comics aL Lhis poinL. [. . .] I don’L know
ií wc’rc Lhc vanguard oí anoLhcr culLurc or Lhc lasL blacksmiLhs.”
and Warc sharc a common inLcrcsL in Lhc craíL oí comics, Warc’s consummaLc
graphic dcsign is painsLakingly rcndcrcd by hand, noL on a compuLcr,
likcwisc rcquircs paLicncc Lo “dccodc.”
As Lhc co-cdiLor oí RAw magazinc
wiLh his wiíc, Françoisc Mouly, Spicgclman hclpcd Lo culLivaLc a vanguard in
comics by bringing LogcLhcr Amcrican and Furopcan arLisLs who oLhcrwisc
Fig. I.1. Ware has a
long-standing interest
in ragtime music and in-
struments. Chris Ware,
Reginald B. Robinson, and
Frank Youngwerth, “Lake
Street” (Amsterdam: Oog
and Blik, 1999).
could noL find a placc íor Lhcir cxpcrimcnLal or unconvcnLional work wiLhin
mainsLrcam comics publishing. Warc’s firsL cxposurc Lo Lhc magazinc in ±µ8¸
was íormaLivc: “I could Lcll immcdiaLcly LhaL iL was somcLhing wholly diffcr-
cnL [. . .] and sophisLicaLcd in a way my Ncbraska brain aL Lhc Limc simply
couldn’L undcrsLand. [. . .] IL rcarrangcd my mind abouL comics íorcvcr.”
Trough RAw, Warc was cxposcd Lo Lhc work oí comics innovaLors such
as Charlcs Burns, Cary PanLcr, Kaz, Richard McCuirc, Bcn KaLchor, and
Spicgclman himsclí, all proíound influcnccs on his arLisLic ouLlook and ca-
Upon rcading Lhc firsL insLallmcnLs oí Maus, Spicgclman’s acclaimcd
narraLivc oí his íaLhcr’s cxpcricncc in AuschwiLz, Warc dccidcd Lo “Lry Lo
do comics LhaL had a Lruly ‘scrious’ Lonc Lo Lhcm.”
Warc’s cncounLcr wiLh
Richard McCuirc’s sLrip cnLiLlcd simply “Hcrc,” which appcarcd in RAw in
±µ8µ, was a similarly íormaLivc momcnL. Tc manncr in which McCuirc nar-
raLcs Lhc hisLory oí a singlc spacc Lhrough many millcnnia using ncsLcd pan-
cls Lo rcprcscnL, in Warc’s words, “mulLigcncraLional opposiLions LhaL arc aL
oncc Lrivial and poignanL,” is an apL dcscripLion boLh oí McCuirc’s comics
and Warc’s maLurc work.
RAw dcmonsLraLcd LhaL conspicuously “difficulL”
comics could bc Lakcn scriously and scrvcd as a íormaLivc inLroducLion inLo
alLcrnaLivc comics íor Warc.
Iikc Spicgclman, Warc also finds inspiraLion in Lhc visual languagc oí an
carlicr gcncraLion oí comics arLisLs írom Lhc carly LwcnLicLh ccnLury and has
bccn an insLrumcnLal caLalysL in rcissuing Lhcir work.
Onc can disccrn affin-
iLics bcLwccn Lhc surrcal drcam scqucnccs and dcLailcd landscapcs in Winsor
McCay’s Lìtt|e Nemo ìn S|umber|and and Lhc íanLasy scqucnccs in 1ìmmy Corrì-
gan, wiLh Lhc íundamcnLal diffcrcncc LhaL in Warc’s rcinLcrprcLaLion Lhcrc is
no rcdcmpLivc momcnL oí awakcning.
Ccorgc Hcrriman’s Krazy Kat is also
an csscnLial rcícrcncc íor Warc’s carly characLcr Quimby Lhc Mousc, boLh íor
Lhc guiding narraLivc oí unrcquiLcd lovc bcLwccn a caL and a mousc and íor
Lhc visual jazz oí his invcnLivc pagc layouLs. Frank King, auLhor oí Lhc long-
running comic sLrip Caso|ìne A||ey, is anoLhcr oí Warc’s íavoriLc carLoonisLs,
and 1ìmmy Corrìgan can bc undcrsLood as an ironic updaLc oí King’s poignanL
íaLhcr-son narraLivc.
Sccn broadly, Lhis involvcmcnL in Lhc rcnaissancc
oí carly LwcnLicLh-ccnLury ncwspapcr comics marks a shiíL madc by many
graphic novclisLs oí Lhc currcnL gcncraLion away írom Lhc morc convcnLional
hisLory oí mulLiply auLhorcd supcrhcro comics in publishing houscs such as
DC and Marvcl, and Loward a íocus on Lhc arLisLic lcgacics oí carlicr indi-
vidual comics arLisLs such as Rodolphc Topffcr, McCay, Hcrriman, King, and
Cliff SLcrrcLL.
In a morc conLcmporary vcin, Warc’s comics arc írcqucnLly discusscd and
LaughL in conjuncLion wiLh a youngcr gcncraLion oí arLisLs who arc rcinvcnL-
ing Lhc mcdium oí comics. Whilc Lhc visual sLylcs oí such arLisLs as ScLh, Dan-
icl Clowcs, Adrian Tominc, 1oc Sacco, Marjanc SaLrapi, and Alison Bcchdcl,
Lo namc a ícw, arc quiLc disLincL, Lhcy all cmploy a dcgrcc oí íormal complcx-
iLy and sharc somc LhcmaLic conccrns wiLh Warc.
Tcrc is a simulLancously
sclí-rcflcxivc and sclí-dcprccaLing qualiLy Lo Lhc rcprcscnLaLion oí collccLing
in ScLh’s !t’s a Cood Lìje, !j You Lon’t weaken (:oo¸) and Warc’s ongoing “RusLy
Brown” narraLivc. Iikc Warc, Clowcs and Tominc offcr an ironic vicw oí ado-
lcsccncc and romanLic disappoinLmcnL LhaL succccds in bcing boLh dcLachcd
and dccply íclL in Chost wor|d (±µµ8) and Shortcomìngs (:oo,), rcspccLivcly.
AlLhough Sacco’s Te Fìxer (:oo¸), SaLrapi’s Persepo|ìs scrics (Te Story oj a
Chì|dhood, :oo¡, Te Story oj a Return, :oo¸), and Bcchdcl’s Fun Home (:oo6)
all diffcr írom Warc in LhaL Lhcir work is ccnLcrcd in auLobiography and non-
ficLion, all íour arLisLs arc conccrncd wiLh rcprcscnLing how Lhc LraumaLic
pasL, whcLhcr on a pcrsonal or hisLorical scalc, inLcrrupLs and dcLcrmincs Lhc
LrajccLory oí livcs in Lhc prcscnL.
Takcn LogcLhcr, Lhis gcncraLion oí arLisLs and wriLcrs is charLing ncw di-
rccLions in conLcmporary graphic narraLivcs, boLh in Lcrms oí Lhcir íormal
innovaLions and in Lhc complcxiLy oí Lhcir subjccL maLLcr. Indccd, íor all oí
Chris Warc’s conspicuous difficulLy and absLracLion, aL Lhc hcarL oí all oí his
work is a laycrcd, nuanccd, and richly rcndcrcd scnsc oí placc and cxpcricncc.
Tc vcrLiginous diagrams in 1ìmmy Corrìgan corrcspond wiLh Lhc conflicLcd
and involvcd gcncalogics his novcl aLLcmpLs Lo dclincaLc, his cnLanglcd lay-
ouLs visually rcminding Lhc rcadcr oí Lhc cnLanglcd and unrcsolvcd lcgacics
oí diaspora and racc rclaLions in conLcmporary Amcrica. Iikcwisc, Lhc archi-
LccLural complcxiLy oí “Building SLorics” rcflccLs Warc’s mcdiLaLions on ar-
chiLccLural spacc in cvcryday liíc, as much as his painsLaking rcproducLions
oí discrcLc Lcmporal momcnLs in “RusLy Brown” mirror Lhc simulLancous
banaliLy (and occasional flashcs oí painíul bcauLy) in his characLcrs’ largcly
mundanc livcs. FxpcrimcnLaLion is Lhus a mcans oí convcying cxpcricncc in
Warc’s comics—a poinL hc oíLcn cmphasizcs in his inLcrvicws and cssays—
producing onc oí Lhc mosL simulLancously complcx and moving collccLions oí
work in conLcmporary comics.
Life and Works
Franklin ChrisLcnson Warc, who publishcs mosL consisLcnLly as “Chris Warc”
buL whosc work has also appcarcd undcr Lhc monikcrs “F. C. Warc” and “C.
Warc” and pscudonymously undcr “Ccorgc Wilson,” was born on Dcccm-
bcr :8, ±µ6,, in Omaha, Ncbraska. BoLh Warc’s moLhcr and his grandíaLhcr
workcd íor Lhc Omaha wor|d-Hera|d, and cxposcd him aL a young agc Lo Lhc
ncwspapcr arL dcparLmcnL, drawing classcs aL a local arL muscum, and Lhc
ncwspapcr comics Warc’s grandíaLhcr would rcccivc írom UniLcd FcaLurcs

From his narraLivcs cxploring íamilial bonds in carly childhood
(Quìmby the Mouse) Lo Lhc scLLing and visual palcLLc oí ±µ,os Omaha (“RusLy
Brown”) and Lhc vcry flaLncss oí Lhc landscapcs characLcrisLic oí his acsLhcLic,
Warc’s MidwcsLcrn background is apparcnL LhroughouL his work.
Warc firsL pursucd íormal Lraining in Lhc finc arLs aL UnivcrsiLy oí Tcxas aL
AusLin and bcgan work as a carLoonisL íor Lhc sLudcnL papcr. His firsL comic
sLrips íor Lhc Laì|y Texan wcrc publishcd írom ±µ8, Lo ±µµ±, dcmonsLraLing an
carly inLcrcsL in íormal play wiLh comics convcnLions. CharacLcrs arc drawn
placing LcxL abovc Lhcir own hcads or rcaching across pancls Lo affccL Lhcir
íuLurc sclvcs. Warc on occasion would composc as many as Lwclvc diffcrcnL
comics íor Lhc various plaLcs uscd Lo prinL a singlc issuc oí Lhc Laì|y Texan,
providing conLinuous narraLivcs and alLcrnaLc conclusions íor Lhosc rcadcrs
inLrcpid cnough Lo comparc diffcring vcrsions oí Lhc samc day’s ncwspapcr.

Whilc Warc has dismisscd many oí Lhcsc carly cfforLs as cmbarrassmcnLs, clc-
mcnLs oí his maLurc work firsL bcgin Lo suríacc hcrc.

Warc’s Hcrrimancsquc
duo oí Quimby Lhc Mousc and Sparky Lhc CaL, his haplcss poLaLo-shapcd nar-
raLor who would laLcr rc-cmcrgc in Lhc pagcs oí RAw and Te ACMF Nove|ty
Lìbrary ¸, and 1immy Corrigan, Lhc cponymous hcro oí Warc’s brcakLhrough
novcl in :ooo, makc Lhcir firsL appcaranccs in Lhc Laì|y Texan sLrips. Tc
corc scnsibiliLics oí Warc’s graphic narraLivcs—gcncric play, íormal invcn-
Livcncss, Lhc incorporaLion oí commcrcial arL and acsLhcLic paradigms írom
carlicr cras oí Amcrican popular culLurc, and a prodigious visual imaginaLion
LhaL consisLcnLly blurs Lhc linc bcLwccn high arL and mass culLurc, cpisLcmo-
logical qucrics and irrcvcrcnL humor—all cmcrgc in a nasccnL íorm in Lhcsc
firsL ycars.
Howcvcr, Warc’s carccr bcgan in carncsL whcn Spicgclman, sccing onc oí
Warc’s comics in Lhc Laì|y Texan ncxL Lo a rcvicw oí Maus in ±µ8,, offcrcd him
íour pagcs in RAw.

A sophomorc aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Tcxas aL AusLin aL Lhc
Limc, Warc would cvcnLually publish Lwo picccs íor RAw, Lhc firsL oí which,
“Waking Up Blind,” íollows Lhc sclí-flagcllanL, slapsLick advcnLurcs oí a po-
LaLo-shapcd proLagonisL as hc sLrugglcs Lo kccp his cycs in his hcad, only Lo
gougc Lhcm ouL again oncc hc sccs himsclí in Lhc mirror.

Drawing on Lhc an-
Lic cncrgy oí carly LwcnLicLh-ccnLury carLoons, vaudcvillc, and film, “Waking
Up Blind” cxhibiLs a minimalisL’s inLcrcsL in íorm and spaLial rclaLions, scnd-
ing iLs characLcr carccning across Lhc pagc in a manncr rcminisccnL oí Lhc
indigniLics laLcr suffcrcd by Sparky aL Lhc hands oí Quimby. Warc’s sccond
piccc íor RAw, “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics/I Cucss,” juxLaposcs a digrcssivc,
auLobiographical cssay abouL Warc’s childhood againsL a pasLichc oí goldcn-
agc supcrhcro comics, inLcrLwining a conícssional sLory oí íamilial and racial
Lcnsion wiLh a morc convcnLional rcprcscnLaLion oí dcrring-do and hcroic
rcscuc (scc plaLc :).
Alrcady wc wiLncss Warc’s homagc Lo Lhc hisLory oí
comics in his skillíul rcndcring oí Lhc LcxLurc and visual cncrgy oí ±µ¡os-cra
work as wcll as a criLical and ironic disLancc írom Lhc gcncric convcnLions oí
LhaL samc idiom. Tc rcsulLing composiLion dcmonsLraLcs Lhc arbiLrarincss
oí many oí Lhc convcnLions oí Lhc comics mcdium whilc Lclling a sLory wiLh
a grcaL dcal oí cmoLional rcsonancc, anLicipaLing Lhc morc complcx composi-
Lions Lo íollow.
In ±µµ±, Warc’s movc Lo cnroll aL Lhc ArL InsLiLuLc oí Chicago markcd a ma-
jor LransiLion in his carccr, and alLhough hc was ulLimaLcly disaffccLcd wiLh
Lhc school’s biascs againsL narraLivc and rcalisLic rcprcscnLaLion, Lhc rangc
oí his arL hisLorical knowlcdgc conLinucs Lo iníorm his work. Tc cxposurc
affordcd him in RAw lcd Lo his own scrializcd comic wiLh FanLagraphics, Lhc
firsL volumc oí which appcarcd in ±µµ¸ undcr Lhc LiLlc Te ACMF Nove|ty Lì-
brary. NoLablc íor iLs hcLcrogcnciLy, Lhc firsL Lhrcc volumcs oí ACMF dcvclop
Lhrcc scparaLc sLory lincs: 1immy Corrigan, Quimby, and (íor lack oí a bcLLcr
Lcrm) “poLaLo guy,” rcspccLivcly, cach appcaring in radically diffcrcnL visual
sLylcs, cvcn down Lo Lhc shapc and sizc oí Lhc bound comics Lhcmsclvcs (scc
fig. I.:). SubscqucnL issucs oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary conLaincd an cvcn
morc accclcraLcd display oí crcaLiviLy and varicLy, offcring ncwly running
gags likc “Big Tcx” and “Talcs oí Tomorrow” whilc dcvcloping Lhc ongoing
sLory oí 1immy Corrigan. Concludcd in ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±¡, 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth Look ovcr scvcn ycars Lo complcLc and ap-
pcarcd in novcl publicaLion in :ooo Lo widcsprcad acclaim. IL was íollowcd
by Lwo book-lcngLh collccLions oí Lhc ACMF maLcrial—Quìmby the Mouse in
Fig. I.2. “Potato guy,”
tumbling down stairs in
a slapstick manner much
like Quimby in later com-
ics, is one of Ware’s first
characters. Chris Ware,
The ACME Novelty Library
3 (Seattle: Fantagraphics,
1994), 29.
:oo¸ and Lhc cxubcranLly LiLlcd Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary Annua| Report to
Shareho|ders and Raìny Lay Saturday Ajternoon Fun Pook in :oo¸.
Compiling and rcorganizing a good porLion oí Lhc scrializcd work Lhrough
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±¸, Lhcsc volumcs arc noncLhclcss difficulL Lo caLc-
gorizc. Nonc oí Lhcsc projccLs is wholly discrcLc írom Lhc oLhcrs (Quimby ap-
pcars in 1ìmmy Corrìgan and vicc vcrsa, boLh makc appcaranccs in Te ACMF
Report), nor docs any offcr Lhc convcnLional assuranccs oí a sLablc LcxL. Many
scrializcd cpisodcs ícaLuring 1immy Corrigan wcrc cxciscd írom Lhc novcl
publicaLion, which iLsclí is conspicuously íragmcnLcd and draws aLLcnLion
Lo iLs own disconLinuiLics. Tc Quìmby and Te ACMF Report hardcovcr vol-
umcs arc looscly hcld LogcLhcr by cssays LhaL wind LhroughouL Lhcir rcspcc-
Livc books and scrvc only obliqucly as a kind oí ligaLurc íor cpisodic comics
around common Lhcmcs. Civcn Lhcsc qualiLics, iL would sccm insufficicnL Lo
classiíy ciLhcr undcr Lhc labcl “graphic novcl.” As such, Warc’s ocuvrc offcrs
uniquc challcngcs Lo Lhc liLcrary criLic, Lhc arL hisLorian, and Lhc comics Lhco-
risL alikc, providing a complcx array oí LcxLs Lo inLcrprcL and considcr. (For
a íull discussion oí Lhc cdiLorial dccisions madc Lo addrcss Lhcsc conccrns,
scc Lhc appcndix, “A Cuidc Lo Chris Warc’s Primary Works” aL Lhc cnd oí Lhis
Warc’s works-in-progrcss—“Building SLorics” and “RusLy Brown”—offcr
similar challcngcs and rcwards, pursuing many oí Lhc lciLmoLiís prcscnL in
Lhc carlicr work, whilc also brcaking ncw ground. “Building SLorics” cxplorcs
Lhc inLcrsccLing livcs oí LcnanLs in a Chicago Lownhousc, placing 1ìmmy Corrì-
gan’s guiding Lhcmc oí misscd connccLions bcLwccn Lhc scvcral malc gcncra-
Lions oí a singlc íamily wiLhin an archiLccLural conLcxL, all Lhc whilc cxploring
Lhc rclaLionships bcLwccn individuals and Lhcir livcd spaccs. “RusLy Brown”
is likcwisc proving Lo bc a capacious projccL, onc LhaL is Laking shapc Lo bc
Warc’s mosL ambiLious narraLivc Lo daLc. WhaL bcgan as Lhc abjccL advcn-
Lurcs oí an ardcnL comics collccLor now has radiaLing spokcs LhaL addrcss Lhc
íailcd wriLing carccr (and scicncc ficLion musings) oí RusLy’s íaLhcr, Woody,
Lhc growing disLancc bcLwccn RusLy’s dccaying adulLhood and his childhood
íricnd Chalky WhiLc’s asccnL Lo middlc-class rcspccLabiliLy, and Lhc LorLurcd
coming-ouL oí Chalky’s daughLcr, BriLLany, among oLhcr ploL lincs. In onc
narraLivc sLrand, Warc rcprcscnLs onc day in cach ycar oí Lhc liíc hisLory oí
his sccmingly minor characLcr, 1ordan W. IinL, aLLcmpLing Lo picLurc his
worldvicw aL Lhc agc in which iL is narraLcd, an almosL 1oyccan projccL Lo
map consciousncss (scc plaLc ¸). Whilc nciLhcr oí Lhcsc novcls-in-progrcss
has ncarcd iLs final íorm, Lhcy yicld LanLalizing glimpscs inLo Lhc ncxL phasc
oí an alrcady prolific carccr.
In addiLion Lo Warc’s comics publicaLions, hc has also carncd a rcpuLa-
Lion as a crcaLivc and gcncrous cdiLor, cssayisL, and arLisLic collaboraLor. Two
imporLanL collccLions oí conLcmporary comics, McSweeney’s Quarter|y Con-
cern ±¸ (:oo¡) and Lhc .oo, Pest Amerìcan Comìcs, arc his projccLs, and hc
scrvcd as a guiding íorcc in Lhc rcissucs oí Ccorgc Hcrriman’s Krazy Kat and
Frank King’s Caso|ìne A||ey.
Warc’s admiraLion íor Hcrriman is apparcnL in
his involvcmcnL wiLh an cfforL Lo rcpublish Krazy Kat as Krazy 8 !gnatz, a
mulLivolumc scrics LhaL Warc has dcsigncd.
His own collccLion oí King’s
sLrips also comprisc an imporLanL parL oí Lhc rcissucd volumcs oí Caso|ìne
A||ey undcr Lhc LiLlc wa|t and Skeezìx, a collaboraLion, wiLh cdiLors 1ccL Hccr
and Chris Olivcros, LhaL ícaLurcs Warc’s conLribuLions as covcr arLisL, dc-
signcr, and cdiLor. Hc has cxhibiLcd his work aL Lhc :oo: WhiLncy Bicnnial,
Lhc :oo¸ MasLcrs oí Amcrican Comics cxhibiLion, and Lhc sclí-dcsigncd :oo,
solo cxhibiLion aL Lhc Shcldon Mcmorial ArL Callcry and has curaLcd a show
aL Lhc Phocnix ArL Muscum on Lhc painLing, sculpLurc, and graphic work oí
conLcmporary graphic novclisLs likc ScLh, Kim DciLch, and Cary PanLcr (scc
plaLc ¡). In collaboraLion wiLh NaLional Public Radio’s Ira Class, Warc hclpcd
Lo illusLraLc and dcsign Lost Puì|dìngs, an claboraLc DVD on Lhc prcscrvaLion
oí Iouis Sullivan’s archiLccLurc, in addiLion Lo producing mulLiplc animaLions
íor Lhc Lclcviscd vcrsion oí Class’s “Tis Amcrican Iiíc.” Morcovcr, his work
has appcarcd on book covcrs and movic posLcrs and his cssays and book rc-
vicws havc bccn publishcd in vìrgìnìa Quarter|y Revìew and Pookjorum. Com-
mcnsuraLc wiLh his imporLancc in Lhc ficld, Lwo volumcs oí Warc’s skcLch-
books havc also bccn publishcd, giving a íascinaLing, and oíLcn conícssional,
window inLo his crcaLivc proccss and Lhc carly gcncsis oí many oí his mosL
cnduring crcaLions. For all oí Lhcsc rcasons, Warc promiscs Lo bc a major and
cnduring figurc in LwcnLy-firsL-ccnLury arL and liLcraLurc.
NoL LhaL Warc pcrccivcs himsclí in Lhis way, doubLlcss hc would dismiss
Lhis praisc as cxaggcraLcd or prcLcnLious. In inLcrvicws hc sccms somcwhaL
incrcdulous and abashcd by his succcss. BuL by any mcasurc, his work has
íound admircrs insidc and ouLsidc oí Lhc comics world. Warc has won ovcr
LwcnLy Harvcy and Fisncr awards in Lhc ±µµos and :ooos in Lhc caLcgorics
oí producLion, coloring, and lcLLcring. Whcn 1ìmmy Corrìgan won Lhc Amcri-
can Book Award (:oo±) and Lhc Cuardian FirsL Book Award (:oo±), rcadcrs
who had ncvcr pickcd up a graphic novcl, much lcss a comic book, suddcnly
Look noLicc and Lhc book sold ovcr onc hundrcd Lhousand hardcovcr copics.

Sincc Lhcn, boLh Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary and 1ìmmy Corrìgan havc conLin-
ucd Lo carn Lhc adulaLion oí criLics, including Lhc bcsL graphic novcl and Lhc
criLics’ award aL Lhc Angoulcmc ícsLival in Francc (:oo¸), Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs
ArLisL CranL (:oo6), and Lhc VPRO Crand Prix írom an inLcrnaLional board oí
comics cxpcrLs (:oo8).
Ware among the Critics
DcspiLc Lhis long and complcx rcsumc, íor many ycars Warc was a culL fig-
urc primarily known only wiLhin Lhc comics communiLy.
AíLcr Lhc publica-
Lion oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan in :ooo, howcvcr, his work bcgan Lo aLLracL susLaincd
scholarly aLLcnLion. IL is noL surprising LhaL Lhcsc iniLial cssays Lcnd Lo íocus
on íormal aspccLs oí Warc’s work, givcn Lhc labyrinLhinc complcxiLy oí his
comics. In Lhc firsL acadcmic cssay publishcd on Warc in :oo±, Ccnc Kanncn-
bcrg 1r. analyzcd Lhc way in which “LcxL rcads as imagc” in Warc’s carly ACMF
Nove|ty Lìbrary comics, much in Lhc samc way LhaL visual liLcraLurc docs, Lhus
challcnging Lhc LradiLional LcxL/imagc dichoLomy in comics criLicism.
íormal approach dcmonsLraLcs how Warc’s LcxL opcraLcs on mulLiplc lcvcls—
narraLivc, mcLanarraLivc, and cxLranarraLivc—and írcqucnLly undcrmincs
Lhc visual conLcnL oí Lhc comics Lo rcprcscnL conflicLing cmoLions and ironic
commcnLary. Tis ironic undcrcurrcnL pcrvadcs Warc’s comics, whcLhcr wc
considcr “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics/I Cucss” írom RAw or Lhc íaux advcr-
LiscmcnLs in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary, which íuncLion as dark parodics oí
advcrLiscmcnLs in goldcn-agc cra comics books and Scars, Rocbuck and Com-
pany caLalogucs and “undcrcuL Lhc uLopian opLimism promiscd by advcrLis-
ing and cnLcrLainmcnL.”
Bclgian criLic 1an BacLcns also highlighLs Lhc sLrucLural qualiLics oí Warc’s
comics, íocusing spccifically on Lhc rolc oí consLrainLs in Warc’s limiLcd palaLc
and usc oí simplificd íorms Lo crcaLc “a mulLi-laycrcd, poly-scqucnLial rcad-
ing and wriLing.”
Tis minimalisL acsLhcLic, which hc likcns Lo OLLo Ncur-
aLh’s inLcrnaLional visual languagc oí “isoLypcs,” dirccLs Lhc rcadcr’s aLLcn-
Lion Lo rclaLionships and paLLcrns LhaL opcraLc aL Lhc lcvcl oí Lhc pagc layouL.
BacLcns comparcs Lhc non-lincar chronology and rcpcLiLion in Warc’s comics
Lo Lhc íragmcnLcd narraLion oí Lhc Frcnch nouveau roman, in boLh cascs, a
rcpcaLcd phrasc or imagc bccomcs a “narraLivc gcncraLor” LhaL signals a shiíL
in Lhc sLorylinc. MosL rcccnLly, Tomas BrcdchoíL discusscs how 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan subvcrLs Lhc rcadcr’s cxpccLaLions by including Lwo- and Lhrcc-dimcn-
sional diagrams and objccLs “in ordcr Lo dcíamiliarizc or challcngc our habiL
oí undcrsLanding Lhc narraLivc linc as pcrvasivcly lincar and scqucnccd in
BrcdchoíL siLuaLcs Lhc zocLropc and oLhcr cnLcrLainmcnLs in 1ìmmy
Corrìgan in rclaLion Lo Lhc work oí scminal auLhors in visual sLudics such as
Rosalind Krauss, MarLin 1ay, and 1onaLhan Crary in ordcr Lo dcmonsLraLc
how Lhc hisLory oí phoLography and Lhc moving imagc is subLly wovcn inLo
Lhc LcxL. For BrcdchoíL and BacLcns, Lhc mosL rcvoluLionary aspccL oí Warc’s
comics is Lhcir non-lincar and ycL highly organizcd composiLion.
OLhcr criLics havc sLrcsscd Lhc liLcrary qualiLics oí Warc’s work and dc-
vclopcd parallcls and comparisons írom Lhis quarLcr. WriLing in :oo¸, Brad
Pragcr cxpands upon Warc’s rcprcscnLaLion oí “modcrniLy’s Lroublcd rclaLion
Lo Lhc pasL and Lo progrcss” by siLuaLing 1ìmmy Corrìgan wiLhin Lhc mod-
crnisL LradiLion oí Kaíka and Frcud.
CcnLral Lo Pragcr’s argumcnL arc Lhc
connccLions LhaL hc dcvclops bcLwccn WalLcr Bcnjamin’s MarxisL criLiqucs
oí commodiLy culLurc and Lhc alicnaLion cvidcnL across mulLiplc gcncraLions
oí Corrigan íaLhcrs and sons, boLh írom cach oLhcr and írom Lhcir surround-
ings. Myla Coldbcrg, in a :oo¡ cssay, finds similariLics bcLwccn Lhc daring
prosc collagc oí 1ohn Dos Passos and Lhc hcLcrogcncous combinaLions oí nar-
raLivc and childrcn’s “acLiviLy pagcs.” FurLhcr cxpanding upon Lhc modcrn-
isL íramc oí rcícrcncc, shc comparcs CcrLrudc SLcin’s usc oí rcpcaLcd words
and phrascs Lo cmphasizc Lhc LcxLurc oí languagc Lo Lhc rccurring moLiís
in 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
In his :oo6 arLiclc, “Tc Shamcíul ArL,” Danicl Wordcn
argucs LhaL shamc, inLimacy, and gcndcr mclancholy—íamiliar Lropcs írom
masculinc modcrniLy—arc Lhc govcrning principlcs bchind Lhc McSwccncy’s
comics anLhology cdiLcd by Warc.
Danicl Racburn’s monograph Chrìs ware (:oo¡), Lhc firsL book dcvoLcd
solcly Lo Lhc arLisL’s work, providcs valuablc biographical and hisLorical con-
LcxL íor undcrsLanding Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí Warc’s arLisLic producLion and
includcs rcproducLions oí his carly comic sLrips, sculpLurcs, and various dc-
sign projccLs. Tis lavishly illusLraLcd volumc hclpíully juxLaposcs somc oí
Warc’s primary sourcc rcscarch maLcrials íor íonLs and advcrLiscmcnLs Lo his
dcsigns íor lcsscr-known works, such as his covcrs íor Te Ragtìme Fphemera|-
Racburn’s inLroducLory cssay offcrs significanL insighLs inLo how Warc
himsclí undcrsLands and arLiculaLcs Lhc undcrlying sLrucLurc oí his comics.
To clucidaLc Lhc mcchanisms bchind his work, Warc invokcs Lhc analogics oí
music and archiLccLurc. Hc likcns Lhc proccss oí crcaLing comics Lo Lhc acL oí
composing music, in boLh cascs, Lhc arLisL is conccrncd wiLh “Lak[ing] picccs
oí cxpcricncc and írccz[ing] Lhcm in Limc.”
Inspircd by CocLhc’s dicLum LhaL
“archiLccLurc is írozcn music,” Warc cxplorcs Lhc rclaLionship bcLwccn com-
ics, music, and archiLccLurc in projccLs such as “Building SLorics,” scrializcd
in Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne and Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8. For Warc,
word and imagc arc inscparably cnLwincd in his crcaLivc proccss, hc docs
noL bcgin wiLh a scripL and Lhcn crcaLc Lhc imagcs as an illusLraLion. RaLhcr,
his composiLions arc improviscd and dcvclopcd on Lhc pagc: “WriLing and
drawing arc Lhinking. Wc’rc Lold in school LhaL Lhcy’rc skills buL LhaL’s wrong.
Drawing is a way oí Lhinking. IL’s a way oí sccing.”
Critical Approaches to the Comics of Chris Ware
Tc cssays in Lhis volumc Lakc Warc’s claim LhaL “drawing is a way oí Lhink-
ing” as an impcraLivc, building significanLly upon Lhis growing scholarly gcnc-
alogy and offcring a broadcncd íramc oí rcícrcncc írom mulLiplc disciplincs
and sLrains oí criLical inquiry. Our inLcnLion is Lo placc Warc’s work in as
divcrsc a scL oí conLcxLs as his own widc-ranging inLcrcsLs and influcnccs dc-
mand, collccLing Lhc work oí boLh csLablishcd scholars and cmcrging voiccs
in comics criLicism.
In our firsL sccLion, Contexts and Canons, hisLorian 1ccL Hccr considcrs how
Warc, likc Spicgclman and oLhcrs, has parLicipaLcd in rcshaping Lhc canon oí
comics hisLory. Hccr argucs LhaL Warc is invcnLing his own comics anccsLors
Lhrough his work as an cdiLor and book dcsigncr, championing arLisLs who
cngagc in íormal cxpcrimcnLaLion or íocus on cvcryday liíc, such as Rodolphc
Topffcr, Ccorgc Hcrriman, Frank King, and Cluyas Williams. 1acob Brogan
Lakcs up Lhc qucsLion oí canon íormaLion írom a diffcrcnL anglc, arguing LhaL
Warc’s 1ìmmy Corrìgan is an aLLcmpL Lo rc-imaginc Lhc posiLion oí Lhc supcr-
hcro in Amcrican comics wiLhouL granLing iL a ccnLral or oLhcrwisc íounda-
Lional rolc. Brogan claims LhaL 1immy Corrigan’s sLrugglc Lo comc Lo Lcrms
wiLh his íaLhcr scrvcs as an allcgory íor Lhc auLhor’s anxicLy ovcr Lhc cndur-
ing influcncc oí Lhc supcrhcro in comics hisLorics. In his cssay “Tc IimiLs oí
Rcalism,” Marc Singcr analyzcs Warc’s rcjccLion oí rcalisLic figurc drawing in
his own comics and Lakcs a criLical vicw oí his promoLion oí mcmoir, auLobi-
ography, and rcalisLic ficLion in his anLhologics, dcícnding Lhc vcry LradiLion
Brogan rcads as imprisoning. Finally, David M. Ball cxamincs Lhc pcrsisLcnL
rhcLoric oí íailurc LhroughouL Warc’s ocuvrc, locaLing Lhis impulsc in a longcr
Amcrican liLcrary gcncalogy LhaL valorizcs liLcrary prcsLigc ovcr populariLy.
Ball argucs LhaL Warc’s sclí-abncgaLion bccomcs a ciphcr íor his ambivalcncc
abouL comics’ ncwly íound rolc as liLcraLurc, rcviving anxicLics around canon
íormaLion LhaL havc Lakcn placc in Amcrican liLcraLurc and liLcrary hisLory
bcíorc him.
Tc Lhrcc cssays LhaL comprisc Artìstìc !ntersectìons approach Warc’s com-
ics írom Lhc pcrspccLivcs oí arL hisLory, comparaLivc liLcraLurc, and graphic
dcsign. Trough hcr closc rcading oí “Our HisLory oí ArL,” KaLhcrinc Rocdcr
sLudics how Warc’s comics vcrsion oí arL hisLory rcvcals his íundamcnLal am-
bivalcncc Loward high arL and Lhc insLiLuLion oí Lhc muscum, aL Lhc samc
Limc LhaL hc has bccn cclcbraLcd by many in Lhcsc arcnas. DcspiLc Warc’s pro-
íound knowlcdgc oí arL hisLory, Rocdcr poinLs Lo Lhc Lcnsion bcLwccn Warc’s
suspicion oí Lhc arL world and his íamiliariLy and casc wiLh iLs convcnLions.
MarLha Kuhlman considcrs Warc’s comics írom a pcrspccLivc iníormcd by
Frcnch comics, spccifically an cxpcrimcnLal collccLivc known as Oubapo. For
boLh Warc and Oubapo, Lhc conccpL oí Lhc workshop or íacLory bccomcs a
kcy Lropc as Lhcy sclí-consciously crcaLc an avanL-gardc íorm oí comics LhaL
cmbraccs cxpcrimcnLaLion in Lhc mcdium and abouL Lhc mcdium. IasLly,
Isaac CaLcs asks us Lo rcLhink Lhc LradiLional cmphasis on scqucnLialiLy in
comics Lhcory and proposcs a pocLics oí Lhc diagram LhaL draws upon iníor-
maLion Lhcory in ordcr Lo offcr a ncw approach noL only Lo undcrsLanding
Warc’s comics, buL also Lo conLcmporary comics morc broadly. UlLimaLcly,
CaLcs shows LhaL undcrsLanding Warc’s comics as diagrams allows us Lo scc
how Lhcy íuncLion as puzzlcs Lo bc solvcd.
Tc promincncc oí Chicago in Warc’s works, parLicularly in 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan and Lhc “Building SLorics” scrics, cmcrgcs in Danicl Wordcn’s and MaLL
Codbcy’s cssays in a sccLion LiLlcd Te 0rban Landscape. Drawing upon Lhc
cssays oí figurcs as divcrsc as Iouis Sullivan and WalLcr Bcnjamin, Wordcn
íocuscs on Lhc imporLancc oí flànerìe, mcchanical rcproducLion, and ruins
in Warc’s rcprcscnLaLions oí archiLccLurc in Lost Puì|dìngs. Wordcn poinLs Lo
Warc’s criLiquc oí Lhc impcrsonal, homogcnous, and sLulLiíying qualiLics oí
Lhc InLcrnaLional sLylc popularizcd by Iudwig Mics van dcr Rohc and con-
LrasLs Lhis wiLh Warc’s undcrsLanding oí archiLccLurc as Lhc impcLus íor a
rcncwcd acsLhcLic scnsibiliLy and connccLion Lo Lhc ouLsidc world. Codbcy
locaLcs “Building SLorics” hisLorically in Lhc Chicago ncighborhood oí Hum-
boldL Park, a siLc LhaL rcvcals Warc’s conccrns abouL Lhc proccss oí gcnLrifica-
Lion and Lhc cffccLs iL has on Lhc archiLccLural and human Lcrrains oí Lhc ciLy.
Rcading “Building SLorics” in Lhc conLcxL oí currcnL dcbaLcs abouL gcnLrifica-
Lion in Chicago and oLhcr major U.S. ciLics, Codbcy inLcrprcLs Warc’s graphic
narraLivc as a criLiquc oí gcnLrificaLion and a dcícnsc oí urban hisLoric prcs-
In Lhc firsL cssay in Lhc sccLion Readìng Hìstory, 1oanna Davis-McFlligaLL
discusscs how Warc’s comics cngagc qucsLions oí caricaLurc and racism in
comics hisLory and Amcrican hisLory wriL largc. Shc argucs LhaL 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan consLiLuLcs an incisivc criLiquc oí Lhc myLhs oí Amcrican naLional idcn-
LiLy, asking us Lo Lhink abouL hisLorical and íamilial connccLions bcLwccn Fu-
ropcan immigranLs and black slavcs. UlLimaLcly, shc rcads 1ìmmy Corrìgan as
a counLcr-narraLivc Lo LradiLional and oíLcn inaccuraLc hisLorics oí immigra-
Lion in Amcrica. Shawn Cilmorc’s cssay also conccnLraLcs on 1ìmmy Corrìgan,
analyzing Lhc complcx juxLaposiLion oí Lhc public hisLory oí Lhc ±8µ¸ World’s
Columbian FxposiLion in Chicago and Lhc privaLc hisLory oí Lhc Corrigan
íamily. Cilmorc dcmonsLraLcs how Lhc graphic narraLivc wcavcs LogcLhcr a
disLanccd, hisLorical pcrspccLivc LhaL rclics primarily on an iconic modc oí
rcprcscnLaLion wiLh a morc pcrsonal rcgisLcr LhaL rcflccLs 1immy’s subjccLiv-
iLy. IasLly, Bcnjamin Widiss rcads Quìmby the Mouse Lhrough Lhc auLobio-
graphical criLicism oí Philippc Icjcunc, cxamining Lhc connccLions bcLwccn
Lhc slapsLick anLics oí Lhc Quimby comics and Lhc auLobiographical cssay wo-
vcn LhroughouL Lhc volumc. Trough his analysis, Quìmby the Mouse cmcrgcs
as a mulLilaycrcd disquisiLion on Lhc inLcrlocking caLcgorics oí sclí, arLwork,
and Limc.
Tc quoLidian world is a ccnLral conccrn in Chris Warc’s work, and Lhc
Lhrcc cssays LhaL comprisc Lhc final sccLion, Fveryday Tempora|ìtìes, íocus
on diffcrcnL aspccLs oí Limc and ordinary cxpcricncc: Lcmporal rcgrcssion,
Lhc cvcryday cxpcricncc oí disabiliLy, and sLrucLurcs oí mcmory. In “Chris
Warc and Lhc PursuiL oí Slowncss,” Ccorgiana BaniLa analyzcs Warc’s work
in Lcrms oí iLs dclibcraLc íascinaLion wiLh slowncss. Invoking Cillcs Dclcuzc
and Fclix CuaLLari’s conccpL oí Lhc rhizomc, BaniLa inLcrprcLs Lhc slowncss oí
Warc’s narraLion as sympLomaLic oí his proíound rcsisLancc Lo conLcmporary
consumcr culLurc. MargarcL Fink Bcrman discusscs Lhc ways in which Warc
rcprcscnLs Lhc young woman wiLh a prosLhcLic limb in “Building SLorics,” ar-
guing LhaL shc is siLuaLcd wiLhin an acsLhcLic oí Lhc ordinary, Lhus dcmys-
Liíying hcr physical diffcrcncc. By imagining Lhc disablcd cxpcricncc as noL
radically diffcrcnL írom Lhc daily riLuals oí Lhc oLhcr inhabiLanLs oí Lhc build-
ing, Warc opcns a spacc íor Lhc proLagonisL LhaL Bcrman Lcrms “idiosyncraLic
bclonging.” In “PasL ImpcríccL,” Lhc lasL cssay oí Lhis sccLion, PcLcr SaLLlcr
considcrs how mcmory is consLrucLcd in “Building SLorics.” Hc analyzcs Lhc
inLcrplay bcLwccn cpisodic, cxpcricnLial, and narraLivc mcmory and cxplains
how Warc’s work produccs an inLricaLc laycring bcLwccn Lhcsc sLrands.
CollccLivcly, Lhc rcach oí Lhcsc widcly varicd approachcs Lo Chris Warc’s
comics dcmonsLraLcs Lhc rangc and gcncraLivc hcLcrogcnciLy oí his ocuvrc.
Tcy also rcspond Lo an impcraLivc alrcady inhcrcnL in comics’ mulLiplc
modaliLics: Lo Lhink nimbly and crcaLivcly across convcnLional disciplinary
boundarics. In Lhis rcspccL, Lhcsc cssays ccho a growing numbcr oí scholars
and comics crcaLors who havc argucd íor a morc sophisLicaLcd “visual-vcr-
bal” liLcracy commcnsuraLc Lo Lhc spccific dcmands and uniquc qualiLics oí
graphic narraLivc, Chris Warc’s among Lhcm.
Wc hopc LhaL Lhis volumc cn-
Fig. I.3. The complicated
complexes of the artist.
Chris Ware, Self-Portrait,
richcs and cxpands Lhc challcngcs and rcwards oí rcading Chris Warc’s com-
ics, proving LhaL cnjoymcnL oí and criLical LhoughL abouL graphic narraLivcs
arc muLually susLaining acLiviLics. Voiccs in Lhc arcnas oí graphic narraLivc
and Lhc acadcmy havc much Lo lcarn írom onc anoLhcr in Lhc ycars ahcad,
and wc LrusL LhaL Lhc cssays and vicwpoinLs collccLcd hcrc will advancc LhaL
cmcrging dialoguc.
1. Charles McGrath, “Not Funnies,” New York Times Magazine, July 11, 2004, 24+.
2. Peter Schjeldahl, “Words and Pictures: Graphic Novels Come of Age,” New Yorker, October 17,
2005, 162.
3. Myla Goldberg, “The Exquisite Strangeness and Estrangement of Renée French and Chris
Ware,” In Give Our Regards to the Atom Smashers! Writers on Comics, ed. Sean Howe (New York: Pan-
theon, 2004), 205; Brad Prager, “Modernism and the Contemporary Graphic Novel: Chris Ware and
the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” International Journal of Comic Art 5.1 (2003): 195.
4. See Gary Groth’s interview with Ware in the Comics Journal 200 (1997): 119–71. Ware also
created a witty cover for the Virginia Quarterly Review’s “Writers on Writers” special issue (fall 2006),
which included a fanciful and encyclopedic tour of the history of literary influence, including such gems
as “Johnson on Sterne,” “Austen on Johnson,” and “Coleridge on Opium.” Ware also includes two
Nabokov quotes as epigrams to his introduction to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (San Francisco:
McSweeney’s, 2004).
5. Dave Eggers and Ware are very much intellectual interlocutors: Eggers has written apprecia-
tively of Ware in Masters of American Comics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) 309–16 and
in the New York Times (“After Wham! Pow! Shazam!” November 26, 2000), and Ware has appeared
multiple times in Eggers’s ongoing McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, edited a comics anthology appear-
ing as the thirteenth number of McSweeney’s, and painted a mural on the façade of Eggers’s Writers’
Resource Center, 826 Valencia, in San Francisco.
6. See Ware’s article “Philip Guston: A Cartoonist’s Appreciation,” McSweeney’s 13: 85–91 and
the second page of “Apologies, etc.” (Omaha: Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, 2007), Ware’s self-
authored exhibition guide to his 2007 show at the University of Nebraska.
7. Ware created a curio cabinet inspired by Joseph Cornell; to view a photograph of his artwork,
see Daniel Raeburn’s book, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 50. Ware has in
his living room “a shrine of sorts to honor Joseph Cornell and the unique, inventive, private life that
Cornell shared through his art.” See “Nobody Special: An IMP Special Report,” The Imp 3 (1999):
8. See the collaborative project “Lost Buildings,” created by Chris Ware, Tim Samuelson, and Ira
Glass. Published by This American Life, WBEZ Chicago, 2004.
9. Art Spiegelman, quoted in Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,”
PMLA 123 (2008): 460.
10. See Jan Baetens’s article, “New = Old, Old = New: Digital and Other Comics following Scott
McCloud and Chris Ware,” January 1, 2001, and January 18, 2009. Electronic Book Review, January 1,
2001. (accessed January 18, 2009).
Even though Ware’s comics may appear to be computer generated, Baetens argues that his artwork is
actually more sophisticated than what McCloud predicts for the future of digital comics in Reinventing
11. The discrepancy between the amount of time it takes to read Ware’s comics and the amount
of time it takes to create them is staggering. In the article “Not Funnies,” by McGrath, Ware describes
working on a wordless comic: “It involved maybe 8 to 10 seconds of actual narrative time. But it took
me three days to do it, 12 hours a day” (46).
12. Interview edited by Bill Kartalopoulos, “A RAW History,” Indy Magazine (winter 2005). (accessed January 18, 2009).
13. Groth interview, 128.
14. Ibid., 127.
15. Chris Ware, “Richard McGuire and ‘Here:’ A Grateful Appreciation,” Comic Art 8 (2006):
16. Groth interview, 164; Todd Hignite, In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 238.
17. John Carlin, Introduction to Masters of American Comics, ed. John Carlin, Paul Karasik, and
Brian Walker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 162.
18. Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge,
MA: Da Capo, 2007), 353.
19. See Raeburn, Chris Ware; and Hignite, In the Studio.
20. McGrath, “Not Funnies,” 26; Chute, “Comics as Literature?” 459; Peter Schjeldahl, “Do It
Yourself: Biennial Follies at the Whitney,” New Yorker, March 25, 2002; and Carlin, Introduction, 163.
21. Chris Ware, “Apologies, Etc.” (Omaha: Sheldon Memorial Gallery, 2007), n.p.
22. Interview with Chris Ware conducted by the New Yorker, archived at the “ACME Novelty Ar-
chive” Web site.
(accessed June 26, 2008).
23. Most notable among this disavowed early work is Ware’s science fiction satire Floyd Farland:
Citizen of the Future (Forestville, CA: Eclipse Books, 1987), now out of print.
24. Groth interview, 128; Kartalopoulos, “A RAW History.”
25. See vol. 2, no. 2, 1990, redrawn and reprinted in ACME Novelty Library 3: 20–21.
26. See vol. 2, no. 3, 1991, reprinted in Quimby the Mouse, 39–41.
27. George Herriman, Krazy and Ignatz, 8 vols. to date (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2000–present);
Frank King, Walt and Skeezix, 3 vols. to date (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005–present).
28. Wolk, Reading Comics, 353–54; Hignite, In the Studio, 238.
29. McGrath, “Not Funnies,” 26.
30. Groth interview, 119.
31. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strate-
gies,” In The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina Gibbons (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 175.
32. Kannenberg, “The Comics of Chris Ware,” 195.
33. See Jan Baetens, “New = Old, Old = New,” and his essay “Comic strips and constrained writ-
ing,” Image & Narrative (October 2003).
constrained.htm (accessed January 18, 2009).
34. Thomas A. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 885.
35. Prager, “Modernism and the Contemporary Graphic Novel,” 205.
36. Goldberg, “The Exquisite Strangeness,” 205.
37. Daniel Worden, “The Shameful Art: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Comics, and the Politics
of Affect,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 894.
38. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 23.
39. Ibid., 25.
40. Chris Ware, quoted in Daniel Raeburn, “The Smartest Cartoonist on Earth,” The Imp 1.3
(1999): 9.
41. Marianne Hirsch, “Editor’s Column: Collateral Damage,” PMLA 119 (2004): 1212.
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Contexts and Canons
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Inventing Cartooning Ancestors:
Ware and the Comics Canon
In ±µµo, Chris Warc, Lhcn a LwcnLy-Lwo-ycar-old sLudcnL aL Lhc vcry bcgin-
ning oí his carccr, madc a pilgrimagc Lo MonumcnL Vallcy, Arizona, in ordcr
Lo invcsLigaLc Lhc liíc oí Ccorgc Hcrriman. AuLhor oí Lhc classic sLrip Krazy
Kat, which ran in a varicLy oí ncwspapcrs írom ±µ±¸ unLil Lhc carLoonisL’s
dcaLh in ±µ¡¡, Hcrriman uscd Lhc oLhcrworldly dcscrL landscapc oí Lhc rcgion
as Lhc cvcr-shiíLing backdrop Lo his comics. Along wiLh Lhc adjaccnL arca oí
Coconino CounLy, MonumcnL Vallcy inspircd Lhc drcam-likc lunar landscapc
LhaL madc Krazy Kat a rarc cxamplc oí carLoon modcrnism. Fagcr Lo lcarn
morc abouL Lhc sourccs oí Hcrriman’s arLisLry, Warc íclL hc had Lo scc Lhc
landscapc oí juLLing buLLcs and flaL-Loppcd mcsas LhaL Lhc carlicr carLoonisL
had so crcaLivcly incorporaLcd inLo his work. Tis hajj Lo Lhc SouLhwcsL was
an carly maniícsLaLion oí Warc’s inLcrcsL in Lhc hisLory oí carLooning, a pcr-
sisLcnL íascinaLion LhaL has bccn much morc Lhan an anLiquarian passion and
has had a proíound influcncc on Warc’s body oí work.
TroughouL his carccr Warc has consLanLly cvokcd carLoonisLs írom Lhc
pasL, parLicularly Lhc ncwspapcr carLoonisLs oí Lhc carly LwcnLicLh ccnLury
and Lhc pionccring supcrhcro arLisLs oí Lhc ±µ¸os and ±µ¡os.
Tcsc rcícr-
cnccs havc Lakcn many íorms, ranging írom sly visual allusions Lo ouLrighL
dcclaraLory cclcbraLions. A quick invcnLory would includc Lhc carly Warc
sLory “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss” írom ±µµ±, donc in a sLylc closcly
mimicking LhaL oí Supcrman co-crcaLor 1oc ShusLcr, Lhc caL/mousc dynamic
oí Lhc Quìmby the Mouse sLorics, borrowcd írom Lhc anLhropomorphic lovc
Lrianglc aL Lhc hcarL oí Krazy Kat (whcrc Lhc íclinc lcad characLcr has an un-
rcquiLcd passion íor an irasciblc rodcnL), Lhc many ironic rcícrcnccs Lo Supcr-
man, sprinklcd LhroughouL 1ìmmy Corrìgan, LhaL scrvc as a íanLasy counLcr-
parL Lo Lhc blcakncss oí Lhc main sLory, and Lhc unusually ovcrsizcd dimcn-
sions oí somc oí Warc’s books, such as Lhc Quìmby the Mouse volumc and Te
ACMF Report, which rccall Lhc íull ncwspapcr-sizc Sunday pagcs by carLoon-
isLs likc Winsor McCay and Frank King in Lhc firsL dccadcs oí Lhc LwcnLicLh
Warc’s dccp and abiding lovc oí old comics is also cvidcnL in his numcr-
ous rcprinL projccLs, whcrc hc has uscd his own sLrong scnsc oí book dcsign
Lo bring ncw aLLcnLion Lo works likc Hcrriman’s Krazy Kat and Frank King’s
Caso|ìne A||ey.
To daLc, Warc has dcsigncd and co-cdiLcd íour volumcs oí
Caso|ìne A||ey (undcr Lhc umbrclla LiLlc wa|t and Skeezìx) as wcll as Lcn vol-
4 J E E T HE E R
umcs dcvoLcd Lo Krazy Kat (undcr Lhc LiLlc Krazy and !gnatz). Asidc írom Lhis
cdiLing and dcsign work, hc has also wriLLcn cxLcnsivcly abouL Lhc hisLory oí
comics in a varicLy oí vcnucs, ranging írom Pookjorum Lo a muscum caLaloguc
publishcd by Lhc Iibrary oí Congrcss.
On onc lcvcl, Warc’s cngagcmcnL wiLh Lhc hisLory oí comics shouldn’L bc
surprising. Onc would cxpccL pocLs, novclisLs, and painLcrs Lo bc similarly
connccLcd wiLh Lhc LradiLions oí Lhcir rcspccLivc arL íorms. YcL Lhcrc is a sig-
nificanL diffcrcncc bcLwccn how a carLoonisL rclaLcs Lo Lhc hisLory oí his or
hcr craíL and how pracLiLioncrs oí morc LradiLional arLs arc shapcd by Lhcir
acsLhcLic hcriLagc. Ií pocLs, novclisLs, or painLcrs Lry Lo cducaLc Lhcmsclvcs
in Lhc hisLory oí Lhcir rcspccLivc gcnrcs, Lhcy can draw on a vasL rcposiLory oí
insLiLuLional knowlcdgc houscd in librarics, univcrsiLics, and muscums. UnLil
vcry rcccnLly, carLoonisLs didn’L havc acccss Lo anyLhing comparablc in Lhc
hisLory oí comics: monographs, library collccLions, muscum holdings, and rc-
prinLs wcrc ícw, haphazard, scaLLcrcd, or incomplcLc. Tc Canadian carLoon-
isL ScLh, whosc passion íor old comics maLchcs LhaL oí his íricnd Chris Warc,
oncc noLcd LhaL mosL carLoonisLs havc Lo cducaLc Lhcmsclvcs in Lhc hisLory
oí comics by scrounging Lhrough uscd book sLorcs or glcaning whaLcvcr in-
íormaLion Lhcy can írom Lhc ícw gcncral hisLorics oí Lhc arL LhaL arc avail-
Tis cssay will cxaminc Warc’s work as a comics hisLorian, paying parLicu-
lar aLLcnLion Lo his book dcsigns. My conLcnLion is LhaL in rcsLoring arLisLs
likc King and Hcrriman Lo Lhc public spoLlighL, Warc is cngagcd in an acL oí
anccsLor crcaLion, oí giving a pcdigrcc and lincagc Lo his own work. In oLhcr
words, Warc’s book dcsigns arc a íorm oí canon íormaLion, a way oí filling in
Lhc gap oí missing archival and hisLorical maLcrial and crcaLing íor comics a
scnsc oí a conLinuous LradiLion and lincagc. Bcíorc going íurLhcr, I should
noLc LhaL I’vc workcd closcly wiLh Warc on many oí Lhcsc rcprinL projccLs,
co-cdiLing Lhrcc oí Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx books and wriLing inLroducLions Lo
íour oí Lhc Krazy and !gnatz books. Tcrcíorc, alLhough I am noL spcaking on
bchalí oí Warc, my accounL is iníormcd by my many convcrsaLions wiLh him
on Lhcsc Lopics.
Warc’s work as a hisLorian and dcsigncr significanLly ovcrlaps wiLh his Lhc-
maLic conccrns as an arLisL. In 1ìmmy Corrìgan, Lhc haplcss proLagonisL gocs
on a scarch íor his missing íaLhcr, and in Lhc coursc oí Lhc narraLivc, a largcr
íamily hisLory is rcvcalcd. In Warc’s hisLorical rcscarch, hc has soughL arLis-
Lic íorcbcars and in doing so has crcaLcd a kind oí arLisLic gcncalogy. RusLy
Brown, Lhc main characLcr in Warc’s novcl-in-progrcss, is an avid collccLor
whosc narrow-mindcd acquisiLivcncss oíLcn Lakcs on a paLhological inLcn-
Warc’s knowlcdgc oí collccLors comcs írom firsL-hand cxpcricncc sincc
hc has bccomc a major collccLor and inLcracLcd wiLh oLhcr collccLors in Lhc
coursc oí his sclí-cducaLion as a comics hisLorian.
In Lrying Lo undcrsLand Lhc rolc LhaL Lhc hisLory oí comics has playcd in
Warc’s work, iL is imporLanL Lo bcar in mind LhaL hc is íollowing a íamiliar
paLLcrn. InnovaLivc arLisLs oíLcn invcnL Lhcir own anccsLors as a way oí giv-
ing a pcdigrcc Lo Lhcir work. Tcrc is a scnsc in which Franz Kaíka invcnLcd
Charlcs Dickcns and T. S. FlioL invcnLcd 1ohn Donnc.
Prior Lo Kaíka, Dickcns
was rcad as a popular cnLcrLaincr who spccializcd in hcarL-warming picLur-
csquc Lalcs. Kaíka’s ficLions and commcnLs on Dickcns rccasL Lhc VicLorian
novclisL as Lhc dark wriLcr oí clausLrophobic allcgorics such as P|eak House.
Similarly, FlioL rcmadc 1ohn Donnc, largcly rclcgaLcd Lo Lhc sLaLus oí a liLcr-
ary curiosiLy, inLo a major prccursor Lo modcrnism. In Lhc ficld oí comics,
Warc has cngagcd in a comparablc rcwriLing oí hisLory by offcring a ncw rcad-
ing oí pasL masLcrs. Challcnging Lhc sLandard vicw oí comics hisLory, which
has highlighLcd Lhc work oí rcalisL illusLraLors such as Hal FosLcr, MilLon
Caniff, Alcx Raymond, and 1ack Kirby, Warc offcrs an alLcrnaLivc canon LhaL
prizcs carLoonisLs who pracLicc ciLhcr íormal cxpcrimcnLaLion or íocus on
cvcryday liíc, such as Rodolphc Topffcr, Ccorgc Hcrriman, Frank King, and
Cluyas Williams.
WhaL Lhcsc arLisLs havc in common is LhaL Lhcy can all bc undcrsLood as
significanL prccursors Lo Warc’s own arLisLic pracLicc. Oí coursc, arLisLic influ-
cncc is always a complcx, rcflcxivc rclaLionship: an arLisL is shapcd by Lhc pasL
and in Lurn crcaLcs ncw work LhaL Lhrows Lhc pasL inLo a írcsh, uncxpccLcd
pcrspccLivc, and Warc’s iniLial aLLracLion Lo parLicular arLisLs sprang ouL oí
acsLhcLic inLcrcsL raLhcr Lhan idcnLiLy crcaLion. YcL iL’s noL cnLircly accidcnLal
LhaL Lhc arLisLs Warc lovcs Lhc mosL arc Lhc oncs who mosL closcly mirror his
own pracLiccs. For cxamplc, Warc’s bclicí LhaL carLoonisLs should aim Lo draw
imagcs LhaL arc iconic in Lhcir simpliciLy raLhcr Lhan posscssing illusLraLional
dcnsiLy can bc linkcd Lo Topffcr’s Lhcorics. For Topffcr as íor Warc, comics arc
noL a íorm oí drawing LhaL Lrics Lo mimic rcaliLy buL raLhcr a íorm oí visual
shorLhand LhaL uscs imagcs Lo Lcll sLorics, wiLh narraLivc spccd íavorcd ovcr
rcprcscnLaLional accuracy.
Warc’s usc oí Lhc íull comics pagc as a cohcsivc
uniL owcs much Lo Lhc Sunday pagc dcsigns oí Winsor McCay as wcll as Hcrri-
man and King. Warc’s affiniLy wiLh King’s Caso|ìne A||ey is bcsL dcscribcd as a
maLLcr oí Lonc and mood. Unlikc Lhc broad burlcsquc gag humor or mclodra-
maLic blusLcr oí oLhcr ncwspapcr comics, King’s sLrip had a gcnLlc, rcflccLivc,
nosLalgic Lonc as iL íollowcd Lhc daily livcs oí a MidwcsLcrn íamily ovcr many
Tis íocus on Lhc quoLidian has sLrongly influcnccd Warc’s own
aLLcmpLs Lo rcgisLcr minuLc, commonplacc cvcnLs in his comics. Cluyas Wil-
liams, anoLhcr largcly íorgoLLcn carLoonisL LhaL Warc chcrishcs and wishcs
Lo bring back inLo prinL, workcd in Lhc samc vcin oí quicL domcsLic humor as
Tus, Warc’s archival and rcvisionisL dcsign work sccks Lo changc how his
íavoriLc comics arc pcrccivcd. Bcíorc Warc, Krazy Kat was cclcbraLcd largcly
on liLcrary raLhcr Lhan visual grounds, and Caso|ìne A||ey was gcncrally rc-
gardcd as a daLcd and scnLimcnLal comic sLrip. By lavishing his aLLcnLions
on Lhcm, Warc is Lrying Lo changc Lhcir sLaLus as culLural arLiíacLs, making
Lhcm prccursors Lo works likc Quìmby the Mouse and 1ìmmy Corrìgan and link-
ing Lhcsc carlicr crcaLors wiLh Lhc cadrc oí alLcrnaLivc carLoonisLs who havc
cmcrgcd in rcccnL ycars, such as ScLh, Dan Clowcs, and Ivan BruncLLi. Tis
linkagc bcLwccn Lhc pasL and prcscnL can bc sccn clcarly in Lhc issuc oí Mc-
Sweeney’s Warc cdiLcd, which includcs a phoLo oí Frank King, an arLiclc abouL
Ccorgc Hcrriman, and oLhcr gcms írom Lhc pasL ncsLlcd amid a bcvy oí mod-
crn carLoonisLs.
In scarching íor anccsLors in carlicr comics and rccasLing Lhc hisLory oí
comics Lo highlighL work LhaL is similar Lo his own, Warc is parL oí a largcr
cfforL by likc-mindcd carLoonisLs oí his gcncraLion. ArL Spicgclman, a mcnLor
who offcrcd Warc an carly naLional vcnuc in RAw, has oíLcn wriLLcn on com-
6 J E E T HE E R
ics írom Lhc pasL and soughL Lo rcsurrccL sclccLcd masLcrs, noLably Harvcy
KurLzman and 1ack Colc.
Tc Canadian carLoonisL ScLh sLakcd ouL a claim Lo
Lhc LradiLion oí New Yorker carLooning, Canadian comics, and Charlcs Schulz’s
Peanuts (in Lhc lasL casc, dcsigning a mulLivolumc scrics LhaL parallcls whaL
Warc has donc wiLh King and Hcrriman).
ChcsLcr Brown, anoLhcr Canadian
carLoonisL, crcaLivcly appropriaLcd Lhc sLylc oí Harold Cray’s Lìtt|e Orphan
In cffccL, Warc bclongs Lo a cohorL oí conLcmporary carLoonisLs who
arc doing innovaLivc work in Lhc prcscnL whilc rcwriLing and rc-mapping Lhc
hisLory oí comics.
To undcrsLand why Warc and his ícllow carLoonisLs arc rcwriLing com-
ics hisLory, iL is imporLanL Lo puL Lhcir work in a hisLorical conLcxL. Whilc
carLooning has a hisLory LhaL gocs back Lo Lhc carlicsL days oí prinL (ií noL
íurLhcr), Lhc main LradiLion oí mass-markcL comics only coalcsccd in Lhc laLc
nincLccnLh ccnLury whcn Amcrican ncwspapcrs, borrowing írom Furopcan
LradiLions oí illusLraLcd saLirc, sLarLcd publishing carLoons wiLh a rccurring
casL oí characLcrs as a rcgular ícaLurc. Tcsc carly comic sLrips, noLably Lhc
Ye||ow Kìd and Lhc Katzen¡ammer Kìds, oíLcn ícaLurcd rambuncLious childrcn
cngagcd in ncar íaLal violcncc. WiLh Lhcir broad physical comcdy, Lhcsc com-
ics owcd much Lo vaudcvillc and Lhc popular sLagc. Tc firsL ncwspapcrs LhaL
publishcd comics, puL ouL by prcss barons likc 1oscph PuliLzcr and William
Randolph HcarsL, wcrc widcly dcspiscd as scnsaLionalisLic and vulgar by po-
liLc socicLy. Bccausc oí Lhcir conLcnLs and Lhcir vcnuc, Lhc carly comics wcrc
immcnscly popular buL also disrcpuLablc.
To a largc cxLcnL, Lhis lcgacy oí mass-markcL populariLy and concomiLanL
social disdain applicd Lo comics íor much oí Lhc LwcnLicLh ccnLury, cvcn as
Lhcy bccamc a fixLurc in mosL daily ncwspapcrs. Considcr Lhc íaLc oí Lhc
mosL arLisLically accomplishcd oí Lhc carly comics, Winsor McCay’s Lìtt|e
Nemo (which ran írom ±µo¸ Lo ±µ±¸ and was rcvivcd írom ±µ:¡ Lo ±µ:6). Whilc
McCay’s sLrip was lovcd by millions and carncd him a rcgal salary, iL rarcly
rcccivcd any criLical aLLcnLion aL Lhc Limc and was quickly íorgoLLcn aíLcr iL
sLoppcd appcaring in ncwspapcrs. Tis oblivion was so complcLc LhaL Mc-
Cay’s íamily was willing Lo allow Lhc original arL Lo bc dcsLroycd and scaLLcrcd
aíLcr Lhc carLoonisL’s dcaLh in ±µ¸¡.
In his liícLimc, Lhcrc wcrc a ícw haphaz-
ard collccLions oí McCay’s comics buL Lhcsc rcprinLcd only a small íracLion oí
his work and quickly ícll ouL oí prinL. In cffccL, McCay, alLhough a kcy figurc
in Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí comics as an arL íorm, crcaLcd work LhaL was as cphcm-
cral as Lhc ncwsprinL on which iL was prinLcd.
WhaL was Lruc oí McCay could bc said oí many oLhcr lcsscr carLoonisLs.
For dccadcs, ncwspapcr comics rcmaincd an cvancsccnL arL íorm: cvcn whcn
sLrips wcrc rcpublishcd in book íorm, Lhcsc rcprinLs wcrc invariably incom-
plcLc, oíLcn wiLhouL daLcs, or publishcd in chcap comic books or papcrbacks
LhaL wcrc only slighLly morc subsLanLial Lhan Lhcir original ncwspapcr in-
carnaLion. Tcsc rcprinLs wcrc occasionally augmcnLcd by popular hisLorics,
oíLcn wriLLcn by carLoonisLs Lhcmsclvcs, which Lcndcd Lo bc iníormal and
Tc inhcrcnL impcrmancncc oí ncwsprinL was rciníorccd by so-
cial snobbcry. In his conLrovcrsial book Loub|e Fo|d, novclisL Nicholson Bakcr
shows LhaL Amcrican librarians, disdainíul oí Lhc Lypc oí vulgar publicaLions
and indiffcrcnL Lo Lhc arLcíacLual valuc oí visual íorms likc comic sLrips, sys-
LcmaLically dcsLroycd Lhcir physical holdings oí ncwspapcrs, prcícrring Lo
prcscrvc Lhcsc documcnLs as microfilm.
In opposiLion Lo Lhc disdain oí comics by Lhc official cusLodians oí cul-
Lurc, a group oí amaLcur hisLorians (or, morc colloquially, “comic sLrip íans”)
cmcrgcd in Lhc ±µ6os. Working undcr Lhc banncr oí nosLalgia, Lhcsc íans
soughL Lo prcscrvc Lhc ycllowing ncwspapcr pagcs LhaL librarics wcrc dc-
sLroying. Chicí among Lhcsc comic sLrip prcscrvaLionisLs was Bill Blackbcard.
Born in ±µ:6, Blackbcard grcw up rcading Lhc advcnLurc comic sLrips oí Lhc
±µ¸os, noLably Mìckey Mouse, Terry and the Pìrates, and Lìck Tracy. In ±µ68,
horrificd by whaL hc would onc day dcscribc as a “holocausL oí naLional ncws-
prinL archivcs,” Blackbcard csLablishcd Lhc San Francisco Acadcmy oí Comic
ArL, a nonprofiL organizaLion LhaL would Lakc írom librarics any ncwspapcrs
Lhcy wishcd Lo discard.
Blackbcard quickly acquircd a massivc and cxLcnsivc
collccLion LhaL would includc morc Lhan :.¸ million clippings and Lcar shccLs
as wcll as morc Lhan ,¸ Lons oí ncwsprinL. WiLhouL Lhc cfforL oí amaLcur his-
Lorians and collccLors likc Blackbcard, almosL all Lhc old ncwspapcr comics oí
Lhc carly LwcnLicLh ccnLury would havc bccn losL or, aL bcsL, availablc in Lhc
impcríccL íorm oí microfilm.
SLarLing in Lhc ±µ,os, Blackbcard uscd Lhis collccLion as Lhc raw maLcrial
íor his cxLcnsivc cdiLorial acLiviLics, rcsulLing in Lhc rcprinLing oí morc Lhan
Lwo hundrcd books oí such old comic sLrips such as Krazy Kat, Terry and the
Pìrates, wash Tubbs and Captaìn Fasy, and Tarzan. Pcrhaps Lhc mosL significanL
book LhaL Blackbcard had a hand in producing was Te Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon
oj Newspaper Comìcs, co-cdiLcd wiLh MarLin Williams and rclcascd in ±µ,,.

significanL carly cxamplc oí comics canon íormaLion, Lhis book would influ-
cncc how a ncw gcncraLion oí rcadcrs saw Lhc hisLory oí comics. ILs virLucs
includcd Lhc íacL LhaL iL was cxLcnsivc and wcll sclccLcd, almosL all Lhc major
Amcrican ncwspapcr comics wcrc rcprcscnLcd, and Lhc cxccrpLs wcrc somc oí
Lhc bcsL cxamplcs oí Lhc comics mcdium.
Among Lhc many young rcadcrs who wcrc impacLcd by Lhis book was Lhc
Lccnagc Chris Warc, who rcad iL in Lhc mid-±µ8os as hc was Lrying Lo cducaLc
himsclí on comics hisLory. ParLicularly imporLanL íor Warc was Lhc íacL LhaL
hc firsL cncounLcrcd Frank King’s Caso|ìne A||ey Sunday pagcs in Lhc Smìthso-
nìan Co||ectìon, which lcd him Lo sLarL scarching íor oLhcr cxamplcs oí King’s
work. Bccausc King had only bccn ícaLurcd in a ícw ouL-oí-prinL volumcs LhaL
conLaincd only a íracLion oí his producLion, Warc sLarLcd collccLing ncws-
papcr clippings, Lhus bcginning Lhc paLh LhaL would lcad him Lo co-cdiL Lhc
wa|t and Skeezìx volumcs. In rcLrospccL, Lhc books Blackbcard was cdiLing in
Lhc ±µ,os and ±µ8os can bc undcrsLood as a halíway housc bcLwccn Lhc car-
licr pcriod oí haphazard rcprinLings and Lhc morc cxLcnsivc rcprinL volumcs
LhaL Warc would undcrLakc in Lhc carly LwcnLy-firsL ccnLury. Blackbcard’s
volumcs aspircd Loward archival complcLcncss, oíLcn covcring Lhc cnLirc run
oí a sLrip, and hc would providc hisLorical background in his crudiLc inLroduc-
Lions. In LhaL scnsc, his books scrvcd as a modcl íor Lhc volumcs LhaL Warc
would laLcr cdiL.
BuL Lhcrc arc significanL diffcrcnccs bcLwccn Blackbcard’s projccLs and
subscqucnL work by Warc and oLhcrs. Bcíorc Lhc risc oí casy digiLal rcproduc-
Lion, in Lhc ±µ,os and ±µ8os, Blackbcard wasn’L always ablc Lo rcsLorc his old
8 J E E T HE E R
ncwsprinL comics Lo a pcríccLly rcadablc condiLion. Morcovcr, Lhc produc-
Lion and dcsign valucs on Lhcsc books wcrc somcLimcs slapdash, pcrhaps duc
Lo Lhc íacL LhaL somc oí Lhc publishcrs camc ouL oí amaLcur ían publishing.
Finally, Lhcrc was Lhc sclccLion oí comics Lo rcprinL. MoLivaLcd in parL by
nosLalgia, Blackbcard graviLaLcd Loward Lhc advcnLurc sLrips hc lovcd as a
boy (Terry and the Pìrates, wash Tubbs and Captaìn Fasy, Tarzan) and gavc lcss
aLLcnLion Lo Lhc carLoonisLs who dcalL in domcsLic Lhcmcs (noLably, Frank
King, Clarc Briggs, and Cluyas Williams). To bc surc, Blackbcard did cdiL a
scrics oí Krazy Kat books in Lhc laLc ±µ8os and carly ±µµos, buL Lhcsc wcrc
Lhc cxccpLion Lo his gcncral prcícrcncc íor advcnLurc sLrips drawn in a rcal-
isLic illusLraLional sLylc. In his choicc oí sLrips Lo rcprinL, Blackbcard was also
rcsponding Lo markcL condiLions: mosL oí his books wcrc sold in comic book
spccialLy sLorcs, which caLcrcd Lo íans oí advcnLurc and íanLasy comics.
Whcn Warc sLarLcd invcsLigaLing Lhc hisLory oí comics in Lhc mid-±µ8os,
hc was incviLably influcnccd by Blackbcard’s pionccring rcscarch. BuL Warc
also approachcd Lhcsc old comics wiLh a diffcrcnL scnsibiliLy. Sincc hc had no
nosLalgic mcmorics oí rcading Lhcsc sLrips whcn Lhcy wcrc firsL publishcd,
hc lookcd aL Lhcm wiLh an arLisL’s cyc as a sourcc íor inspiraLion and idcas.
Tc imporLancc oí Lhc Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon in shaping Warc’s scnsc oí Lhc
pasL can’L bc ovcrsLaLcd. By Lhc ±µ,os, Frank King was a virLually íorgoLLcn
figurc. Much morc so Lhan Blackbcard, comic sLrip íans oí Lhc ±µ,os had a
somcwhaL onc-sidcd scnsc oí hisLory: Lhcy Lcndcd Lo bc aging nosLalgia buffs
who wanLcd Lo rcrcad Lhc advcnLurc sLorics oí Lhcir youLh. Tcy doLcd on
Hal FosLcr’s anaLomical accuracy in Prìnce va|ìant, MilLon Caniff’s cincmaLic
sLoryLclling in Terry and the Pìrates, and Alcx Raymond’s flowing drapcry in
F|ash Cordon. WhaL Lhcsc íans Lcndcd Lo dislikc and ignorc wcrc Lhc carLoony
arLisLs who Lold sLorics LhaL wcrc íunny, warm, and human: F. C. Scgar’s Pop-
eye, Harold Cray’s Lìtt|e Orphan Annìe, Frank King’s Caso|ìne A||ey, and Hcr-
riman’s Krazy Kat. Bccausc iL was cclccLic and widc-ranging, Lhc Smìthsonìan
Co||ectìon challcngcd Lhis narrow vicw oí hisLory.
In rcading Lhc Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon, Warc was Lakcn by a Caso|ìne A||ey
Sunday pagc comic whcrc Lhc main characLcrs WalL and Skcczix, a íaLhcr and
his adopLcd son, go íor a walk in Lhc woods (scc plaLc ¸).
Tis pagc is a mood
piccc in comics íorm, wisLíul wiLh auLumnal cmoLions. Warc would oíLcn pay
homagc Lo Lhis pagc in many oí his own composiLions whcrc hc uscd Lhc im-
agcry oí íall and íalling lcavcs Lo cvokc Lhc Lransicncc oí human liíc (scc plaLc

Rcadcrs oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan won’L bc surpriscd LhaL Warc was aLLracLcd
Lo Caso|ìne A||ey. 1usL as 1ìmmy Corrìgan Lclls Lhc sLory oí a son’s scarch íor
his íaLhcr, Caso|ìne A||ey prcscnLs Lhc oLhcr sidc oí Lhc coin: a íaLhcr’s ícar oí
losing his son. As I discuss in Lhc inLroducLions Lo Lhc firsL Lwo volumcs oí
Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx scrics, carLoonisL Frank King was dccply anxious abouL
his rclaLionship wiLh his son bccausc hc and his wiíc had cxpcricnccd a sLill-
birLh during hcr firsL prcgnancy.

For Lhis and oLhcr rcasons, Caso|ìne A||ey
in iLs carly dccadcs was a comic sLrip LhcmaLically íocuscd on Lhc rclaLionship
bcLwccn a íaLhcr and son. In Lhc sLrip, bachclor WalL WallcLL adopLs a íound-
ling hc namcs “Skcczix.” YcL LhroughouL Lhc coursc oí Lhc scrial, WalL worrics
abouL losing his son. Tc dominanL mood is Lcndcr apprchcnsion, a Lonc LhaL
Warc himsclí would borrow in his own work cspccially whcn rcprcscnLing
domcsLic liíc. IL’s Lhis quicL Lonc and íocus on ordinary liíc LhaL madc Caso|ìne
A||ey such an appcaling modcl íor Warc.
Asidc írom Lhc rcsonanL íaLhcr/son Lhcmc, Caso|ìne A||ey LaughL Warc
much abouL narraLivc. During Lhc coursc oí Lhc sLrip, Skcczix and Lhc oLhcr
characLcrs grow oldcr. Tis rcal-Limc aging disLinguishcd Caso|ìne A||ey írom
oLhcr comic sLrips and comic books, which Lcndcd Lo bc scL in an cLcrnal prcs-
cnL, as UmbcrLo Fco noLcs.

Skcczix is discovcrcd as an iníanL in ±µ:±, bc-
comcs a school boy by ±µ:¸, gocs on his firsL daLcs by ±µ¸¸, livcs on his own by
±µ¸µ, and finally bccomcs a soldicr by ±µ¡:. Tc dimcnsion oí Limc, cspccially
as iL uníolds in a growing íamily liíc, would bccomc a rccurring conccrn íor
Warc, bccoming visiblc in Lhc mulLi-gcncraLional sagas oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan and
“RusLy Brown.”
In :oo:, Chris Olivcros, hcad oí Lhc publishing housc Drawn & QuarLcrly,
approachcd Chris Warc and mysclí Lo work on a scrics oí books rcprinLing
King’s work. In Lhc summcr oí :oo¸, I wcnL on a Lrip wiLh Warc and Olivcros
Lo mccL Drcwanna King, Lhc grand-daughLcr oí Lhc carLoonisL. ForLunaLcly
íor us, iL Lurncd ouL Drcwanna was dcvoLcd Lo hcr íamily’s hisLory. Shc was
an avid gcncalogisL and pack raL, and hcr bascmcnL was jammcd wiLh King
mcmorabilia: original arL, phoLos, diarics, and lcLLcrs. Among oLhcr Lhings,
Drcwanna owncd Lhc original woodcuL-sLylc Sunday pagc LhaL Warc had bccn
so íascinaLcd by whcn hc firsL rcad Lhc Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon. WiLh grcaL gcn-
crosiLy, Drcwanna sharcd noL only hcr íamily Lrcasurcs buL also hcr mcmo-
rics. MccLing hcr convinccd us LhaL wc could wriLc abouL King’s liíc aL lcngLh
in a way LhaL would cnrich Lhc rcading oí his comic sLrips. King was csscn-
Lially an auLobiographical arLisL, so íacLs abouL his liíc dccpcn our apprccia-
Lion oí his arL.
Bccausc oí Lhc abundancc oí íamily maLcrial providcd by Drcwanna King,
Warc dccidcd Lo organizc Lhc inLroducLory cdiLorial maLcrial in a way LhaL
capLurcd Lhc carLoonisL’s domcsLic liíc. King had bccn an avid phoLographcr
and oíLcn uscd his íamily phoLos as inspiraLion íor his publishcd drawings.
Tc íamily Lhcmc oí Lhc sLrip suggcsLcd LhaL iL mighL makc scnsc Lo prcscnL
Lhc inLroducLory maLcrial as a íamily album. Our goal íor cach wa|t and Skee-
zìx volumc is Lo crcaLc an inLcgraLcd wholc. My inLroducLory maLcrial is wo-
vcn in scamlcssly wiLh Lhc oLhcr clcmcnLs oí Lhc book: Lhc dcsign, Lhc pho-
Los, Lhc comic sLrips, and Lhc hisLorical noLcs arc providcd by Tim Samuclson,
a disLinguishcd archiLccLural hisLorian.
Tc cffccL wc’rc hoping Lo achicvc is
somcLhing likc a housc oí mirrors. Idcally, rcadcrs should bc cngagcd by Lhc
sLory oí WalL and Skcczix, and Lhcn scc how Lhc Lalc rcflccLs aspccLs oí King’s
liíc as sccn in íamily phoLos and diarics. Tim Samuclson’s hisLorical noLcs
providc anoLhcr anglc oí rcflccLion and placc WalL and Skcczix in Lhc conLcxL
oí King’s cra.
Oncc, whilc Lalking abouL whaL hc hopcd Lo do wiLh Lhc scrics, Chris and I
camc up wiLh Lhc idca LhaL onc way Lo dcscribc Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx books is
Lo comparc Lhcm Lo Vladimir Nabokov’s Pa|e Fìre.
Tis novcl is compriscd oí
a long pocm (wriLLcn by a ficLional pocL), a inLroducLion by an unLrusLworLhy
narraLor, and an cvcn sLrangcr cxplicaLion oí Lhc pocm, concluding wiLh a
sly indcx. Tc glory oí Pa|e Fìre is LhaL all Lhcsc clcmcnLs play off cach oLhcr
Lo crcaLc a disoricnLing wholc. Whilc Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx books arc much
1 0 J E E T HE E R
morc sobcr Lhan Pa|e Fìre, Lhc aim is Lo makc cach book as mulLi-laycrcd as a
modcrnisL novcl. Pa|e Fìre, as Warc oncc suggcsLcd Lo mc, is an idcal book íor
a carLoonisL Lo sLudy bccausc carLooning is a hybrid arL, and Nabokov was a
masLcr oí mixing disparaLc clcmcnLs inLo a singlc book. Tc wa|t and Skeezìx
books arc vcry much a collaboraLivc projccL, buL Lhc idca oí crcaLing Lhc book
as an inLcgraLcd wholc camc írom Warc.
Asidc írom Lhc cdiLorial maLcrial, Lhc dcsign clcmcnLs oí Lhc wa|t and
Skeezìx books dcscrvc aLLcnLion. FirsL oí all, Lhcsc books havc a similar look
and íccl Lo Lhc firsL 1ìmmy Corrìgan hardcovcr. Placcd ncxL Lo cach oLhcr on
a bookshclí, Lhc dcsign oí Lhcsc volumcs bcars a sLriking rcscmblancc Lo
Lhc 1ìmmy Corrìgan covcr: all oí Lhcsc books arc oblong, wiLh dusL jackcLs in
muLcd colors (highlighLing pink and ycllow), in cach book, Lhc spacc on dusL
jackcL is Lhoroughly cxploiLcd, displaying arL on boLh Lhc insidc and ouLsidc.
Tc various sccLions oí Lhc book (Lhc inLroducLion, Lhc rcprinL oí Lhc daily
sLrips, and Lhc hisLorical noLcs aL Lhc cnd) arc disLinguishcd by Lhcir papcr
sLock: whiLc papcr íor Lhc cdiLorial maLcrial and an cvocaLivc ycllow, suggcs-
Livc oí old ncwspapcrs, íor Lhc rcprinL sccLions.
Whilc Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx books arc dcsigncd Lo clcvaLc an uníairly nc-
glccLcd comic sLrip, Lhc Krazy and !gnatz scrics has Lhc morc spccializcd Lask
oí gcLLing rcadcrs Lo Lakc a closcr look aL a much cclcbraLcd arLisL. Sincc aL
lcasL Lhc carly ±µ:os, whcn criLic CilbcrL Scldcs singlcd ouL Krazy Kat íor
praisc, Ccorgc Hcrriman’s work has bccn uniquc among comics in having
an audicncc among inLcllccLuals, wriLcrs, and finc arLisLs. PromincnL íans oí
Krazy Kat includc 1oan Miró, 1ack Kcrouac, c. c. cummings, and UmbcrLo
Prior Lo Warc’s work, Krazy Kat had bccn sporadically rcprinLcd: Hcnry
HolL rclcascd an carly sclccLion in ±µ¡6, disLinguishcd by an cxubcranL cssay
by c. c. cummings.

In ±µ6µ, during Lhc nosLalgia boom, CrosscL & Dunlap
issucd anoLhcr sclccLion LhaL was hcavily sLccpcd in Lhc pop arL acsLhcLic oí
Lhc pcriod, wiLh Krazy Kat prcscnLcd as a 1azz Agc prccursor Lo psychcdclic
Morc subsLanLially, Abrams publishcd a Lhird sclccLion in ±µ86 LhaL
was augmcnLcd by a lcngLhy and wcll-rcscarchcd biographical cssay by PaL-
rick McDonncll, Karcn O’Conncll, and Ccorgia Rilcy dc Havcnon.
Bill Blackbcard madc Lhc firsL sysLcmaLic aLLcmpL Lo rcprinL Krazy Kat in
iLs cnLircLy bcLwccn ±µ88 and ±µµ:. Working wiLh dcsigncr Dcnnis Callaghcr,
Blackbcard rclcascd ninc volumcs LhaL gavc rcadcrs a chancc Lo rcad ncarly
a dccadc’s worLh oí Hcrriman’s carly íull-pagc sLrips. Tc dcsign íor Lhcsc
books was simplc buL clcganL, wiLh sccncs oí Lhc main characLcrs on cach
covcr. Fach volumc was augmcnLcd wiLh biographical inLroducLions and his-
Lorical annoLaLions. UníorLunaLcly, Lhis scrics cndcd wcll bcíorc all oí Hcrri-
man’s íull-pagc Krazy Kat work was rcissucd.
In :oo:, Blackbcard rcvivcd Lhc Krazy and !gnatz scrics in collaboraLion
wiLh Warc as Lhc dcsigncr Lhrough Lhc publishcr FanLagraphics. In dcsigning
Lhc ncw scrics, Warc madc a numbcr oí significanL changcs: insLcad oí having
a uniíorm logo, hc uscs a ncw Lypcíacc on cach covcr. RaLhcr Lhan rcprinLing
imagcs írom Hcrriman’s sLrips on Lhc covcrs, hc chosc Lo íorcground bold
shapcs and colors (bccausc Lhc sLrip rcvolvcs around a lovc Lrianglc bcLwccn a
dog, a caL, and a mousc, Warc oíLcn uscs Lriangular shapcs on his covcrs). And
Lhanks Lo Lhc widcr availabiliLy oí digiLal Lcchnology, Warc includcd many
morc phoLographs and cxamplcs oí Hcrriman’s original arL in Lhis scrics Lhan
in prior vcrsions. Bccausc Hcrriman was a collccLor oí Navaho rugs, Warc also
uscd dcsign clcmcnLs inspircd by Navaho arL in Lhc fivc volumcs rcprinLing
Lhc Krazy Kat scrial írom ±µ¸¸ Lo ±µ¡¡.
Comparcd Lo Dcnnis Callagcr’s carlicr scrics oí covcrs and, indccd, cvcn
Warc’s own work on wa|t and Skeezìx, Lhc covcrs on Lhc Krazy and !gnatz
books don’L cmphasizc Lhc characLcrs as much. AlLhough Krazy, IgnaLz, and
Lhc oLhcr dcnizcns oí Coconino CounLy do appcar in Warc’s covcrs, Lhcy arc
oíLcn vcry small, raLhcr likc Lhc figurcs in many oí Warc’s own Quìmby the
Mouse sLrips. In an inLcrvicw wiLh Todd HigniLc, Warc cxplaincd why hc was
willing Lo mimic Frank King’s arL sLylc buL Look a vcry diffcrcnL approach
whcn dcsigning Lhc books LhaL rcprinL Ccorgc Hcrriman: “I Lricd Lo makc
iL look as much likc King’s Lypography as I could (as opposcd Lo Lhc Krazy
and !gnatz books wiLh FanLagraphics whcrc I’m applying a diffcrcnL dcsign
scnsc Lo cvcry covcr), bccausc I wanL [Lhc wa|t and Skeezìx] scrics as much as
possiblc Lo appcar as ií iL was oí King’s own dcvising, I Lhink Lhis scnsibiliLy
applics morc rcadily Lo King’s work Lhan Lo Hcrriman’s. Bcsidcs, I’d ncvcr
prcsumc Lo pass off a mark oí my hand as onc oí Ccorgc Hcrriman’s. I Lhink
King, howcvcr, who uscd counLlcss assisLanLs, wouldn’L mind in Lhc lcasL, his
conccrn was íor rcadabiliLy and sLory, I bclicvc.”
Warc’s commcnLs on Lhc diffcrcnL approachcs hc Look Lo Lhc Lwo scrics
rcvcal his LhoughLíul approach Lo dcsign. In boLh cascs, hc considcrs whaL
makcs Lhc arLisL uniquc and how Lhc dcsign can bcsL highlighL Lhosc aspccLs
oí Lhc work. In King’s casc, Lhc dcsign calls aLLcnLion Lo Caso|ìne A||ey as a
íamily chroniclc. In Hcrriman’s casc, Warc cmphasizcs an undcrapprcciaLcd
aspccL oí Krazy Kat: Lhc bold dcsign oí Lhcsc íull-pagc sLrips. Whilc Krazy Kat
has oíLcn bccn cclcbraLcd as a liLcrary work, Warc’s book dcsigns íocus aLLcn-
Lion on Hcrriman as a visual arLisL, again subLly rc-wriLing comics hisLory by
making iL clcar LhaL Lhc narraLivc cncrgics oí comics can’L bc scparaLcd írom
Asidc írom Lhcsc diffcrcnccs, Lhcrc arc a ícw similariLics bcLwccn Lhc Lwo
scrics. In boLh cascs, Warc is Lrying Lo prcscnL old comic sLrips in a dignificd
íormaL LhaL rcscmblcs liLcrary book publishing, whilc paying LribuLc Lo Lhc
origins oí ncwspapcr sLrips as cphcmcral prinLcd maLLcr by including ycl-
lowcd papcr in Lhc hardback cdiLions. In boLh scrics, hc Lrics Lo siLuaLc Lhc
comics in a hisLorical and biographical conLcxL, alLhough Lhis is casicr Lo do
in Lhc casc oí wa|t and Skeezìx Lhanks Lo Lhc cxisLcncc oí an cxLcnsivc íamily
archivc. And in boLh cascs, hc is dcaling, as an arLisL, wiLh sLrips LhaL spcak
Lo his own LhcmaLic and íormal conccrns as wcll as Lo Lhosc oí many oí his
carLooning conLcmporarics.
In survcying Warc’s cngagcmcnL wiLh comics hisLory, iL is clcar LhaL Lhis
is morc Lhan a hobby or a íorm oí moonlighLing íor him. As is Lhc casc íor
arLisLs such as ArL Spicgclman, ScLh, and ChcsLcr Brown, Warc’s cfforL Lo rc-
Lricvc and rccupcraLc carlicr comics is a pursuiL inLimaLcly connccLcd Lo his
own arLisLic pracLicc and should bc apprcciaLcd wiLhin Lhis largcr hisLorical
conLcxL. ConnccLcd wiLh Lhc work oí Lhcsc arLisLs arc Lhc acLiviLics oí ían his-
Lorians likc Bill Blackbcard and Lhc rising gcncraLion oí acadcmics who sLudy
comics. As graphic novcls likc 1ìmmy Corrìgan havc gaincd a íooLhold in Lhc
1 2 J E E T HE E R
largcr culLurc, Lhcrc is also an incrcasing awarcncss oí Lhc hisLorical LradiLion
írom which Lhcy cmcrgcd. Chris Warc rcprcscnLs noL jusL Lhc íuLurc oí com-
ics buL also iLs pasL, indccd, Lhc burdcn oí his work is Lo show LhaL Lhc pasL
and íuLurc arc LighLly bound LogcLhcr.
1. For Ware’s account of this trip to Monument Valley see Dylan Williams, “An Interview with
Chris Ware,” Destroy All Comics, November 1, 1994, 11–12.
2. For earlier accounts of Ware’s engagement with the comics history see Daniel Raeburn, Chris
Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 5; and John Carlin, “Masters of American Comics:
An Art History of Twentieth-Century American Comic Strips and Books,” in Masters of American
Comics, ed. John Carlin, Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005),
3. Chris Ware, “Thrilling Adventure Stories / I Guess,” in RAW 2.3 (New York: Penguin, 1991);
Chris Ware, Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003); Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library
Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005).
4. Gasoline Alley, which like Krazy Kat is both a daily and Sunday newspaper strip, was created by
King in 1918 and continues to this day, although the original cartoonist retired in the late 1950s and
died in 1969.
5. Chris Ware, “Strip Mind,” Bookforum, April/May 2008, 45, 58; Chris Ware, “Frank King’s Gaso-
line Alley,” in Cartoon America: Comic Art in the Library of America, ed. Harry Katz (New York: Abrams,
2006), 162–67.
6. Seth, in conversation November 22, 2008. Among the books that are frequently cited by
cartoonists as providing a sense of history for their craft are David Kunzle, The Early Comic Strip: Nar-
rative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825 (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1973) and History of the Comic Strip (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990);
Maurice Horn, ed., World Encyclopedia of Comics (New York: Chelsea House, 1976); as well as various
books by Thomas Craven, Coulton Waugh, Bill Blackbeard, and Martin Williams cited below.
7. Rusty Brown’s antics as a collector are a recurring theme in many pages of Chris Ware’s The
ACME Report. See particularly pages 15, 63, 85.
8. On Kafka and Dickens, see Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages
(New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 291; on Eliot and Donne see Leonard Diepeveen, The Difficulties
of Modernism (London: Routledge, 2003), 28–29.
9. Töpffer’s aesthetic theories are extensively discussed in David Kunzle’s Father of the Comic Strip:
Rodolphe Töpffer (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007).
10. For Gasoline Alley as a reflection of everyday life see my introduction to Frank King, Walt and
Skeezix: 1921–1922, ed. Chris Ware, Jeet Heer, and Chris Oliveros (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly,
11. Gluyas Williams (1888–1982) was a prominent early twentieth-century American cartoonist.
A frequent contributor to the New Yorker magazine, he also did a long-running (1922-1947) newspaper
panel about the daily life of a suburban family; it ran under a variety of rotating titles like Suburban
Heights, Difficult Decisions, and The World at Its Worst.
12. Chris Ware, ed., McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2004).
13. For Spiegelman on Kurtzman, see Art Spiegelman, “H. K. (R.I.P.),” in An Anthology of Graphic
Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, ed. Ivan Brunetti (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 57–59;
for Spiegelman on Cole, see Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched
to Their Limits! (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001). In his strips about the 9/11 attacks and their af-
termath, Spiegelman frequently mimicked old comics such as Krazy Kat and Little Nemo and reprinted
samples of these earlier works. See Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York: Pantheon,
14. The Complete Peanuts series, published by Fantagraphics and designed by Seth, was started in
2004 and will eventually encompass twenty-five volumes. See Seth’s comments in Todd Hignite, In the
Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006) 213–14.
15. Chester Brown, Louis Riel (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003). See also Jeet Heer, “Little
Orphan Louis,” National Post, November 6, 2003.
16. On the controversial nature of early comic strips, see the essays by Sidney Fairfield, Annie
Russell Marble, and Ralph Bergengren, rpt. in Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium, ed.
Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 4–13.
17. John Canemaker, Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, rev. ed. (New York: Abrams, 2005), 253–54.
18. Among these popular histories were Thomas Craven, Cartoon Cavalcade (New York: Simon,
1943); and Coulton Waugh, The Comics (New York: Macmillan, 1947).
19. Nicholson Baker, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (New York: Random House,
2001). As Baker acknowledges, the destruction of newsprint had many motives, including the desire
to limit storage space.
20. Bill Blackbeard, “The Four Color Paper Trail: A Look Back,” International Journal of Comic Art
5.2 (2003): 209.
21. Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams, The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (New
York: Abrams, 1977).
22. Ibid., 109. This page originally ran in the Chicago Tribune and many other newspapers on No-
vember 11, 1930.
23. See the “Rusty Brown” page in Ware, The ACME Report, 60. Also see the additional final pages
in the paperback edition of Jimmy Corrigan.
24. For the family dynamics of the King family, see my introduction to Frank King, Walt and Skeezix:
1923–1924, ed. Chris Ware, Jeet Heer, and Chris Oliveros (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2006),
25. Eco discusses how at the beginning of each new adventure Superman starts at the same
place as the opening of the previous story. See Umberto Eco, “The Myth of Superman,” in Heer and
Worcester, Arguing Comics, 146–64.
26. Tim Samuelson is the subject of the Lost Buildings DVD and book that Ware created with radio
host Ira Glass in 2004.
27. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (New York: Putnam, 1962).
28. See Jeet Heer, “The Kolors of Krazy Kat,” in Krazy and Ignatz: A Wild Warmth of Chromatic
Gravy: 1935–1936, by George Herriman, ed. Bill Blackbeard (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2005), 8.
29. George Herriman, Krazy Kat, intro. by e. e. cummings (New York: Henry Holt, 1946).
30. George Herriman, Krazy Kat, intro. by e. e. cummings (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1969).
31. George Herriman, Krazy Kat, ed. Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell, and Georgia Riley de
Havenon (New York: Abrams, 1986).
32. The main cause of the Krazy and Ignatz series faltering was that the publisher ran into financial
difficulties in the early 1990s and eventually went out of business.
33. Chris Ware quoted in Hignite, In the Studio, 238.
1 4
Masked Fathers: Jimmy Corrigan and
the Superheroic Legacy
TroughouL Chris Warc’s ocuvrc, Lhc rolc oí Lhc supcrhcro in conLcmporary
comics rcmains a consLanL conccrn. Popular discoursc Lcnds Lo consLruc
supcrhcrocs as Lhc íorcíaLhcrs oí all ncw comics LcxLs, a bclicí LhaL clcarly
Lroublcs Warc. His work somcLimcs sccms Lo Loy wiLh Lhc possibiliLy oí cí-
íacing Lhc supcrhcro ouLrighL, whcLhcr Lhrough symbolic murdcrs or spcc-
Laclcs oí dcbascmcnL. Warc’s novcl 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth
approachcs Lhc problcm in a subLlcr way, csLablishing a parodic connccLion
bcLwccn Lhc figurc oí Lhc supcrhcro and Lhc cponymous proLagonisL’s long-
abscnL íaLhcr. Tis parallclism cnablcs Warc Lo sLagc Lhc ambiguiLics inhcrcnL
in his work’s rclaLionship Lo iLs own supposcd paLcrniLy. A psychoanalyLic
invcsLigaLion oí Lhc way íaLhcrhood is rcprcscnLcd LhroughouL Lhc novcl
rcvcals Lhc somcLimcs opprcssivc prcssurc supcrhcrocs sccm Lo puL on Lhc
comics mcdium as a wholc. UlLimaLcly, iL also allows Warc Lo cxplorc alLcrna-
Livc gcncalogics, looking bcyond Lhc absoluLc primacy oí Lhc íaLhcr and rcn-
dcring ambivalcnL his work’s rclaLionship wiLh Lhc puLaLivc influcncc oí Lhc
supcrhcro. Warc’s 1ìmmy Corrìgan Lhus imagincs Lhc spacc bcLwccn pcrsonal
and íamilial hisLory as Lhc ground íor ncw comic hisLoriographics.
An Immature Medium?
Tc difficulLy is LhaL Lhcsc ncw hisLoriographics musL comc Lo Lcrms wiLh
Lhc rclaLivc inLracLabiliLy oí Lhc carlicr vcrsions oí Lhcmsclvcs Lhcy conLcsL.
Warc’s publishcd commcnLs suggcsL LhaL whilc hc acknowlcdgcs Lhc rolc su-
pcrhcrocs play in his work, hc is criLical oí Lhc way Lhcsc figurcs characLcr-
izc pcrccpLions oí his choscn mcdium. In Lhc inLroducLion Lo Lhc volumc oí
McSweeney’s Quarter|y Concern LhaL hc cdiLcd, Warc noLcs, “Comics arc Lhc
only arL íorm LhaL many ‘normal’ pcoplc sLill arrivc aL cxpccLing a spccific
cmoLional rcacLion (laughLcr) or a spccific conLcnL (supcrhcrocs).”
Lhc univcrsal validiLy oí Lhis claim is incrcasingly dubious (duc in parL Lo
Lhc aLLcnLion paid Lo graphic novclisLs such as ArL Spicgclman, Warc, and
oLhcrs), iL is undoubLcdly Lhc casc LhaL Lhc ghosLs oí Lhcsc prcjudiccs con-
Linuc Lo haunL Lhc popular rcccpLion oí conLcmporary comics. Tc LiLlc oí
Davc Fggcrs’s New York Tìmes rcvicw oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan—“AíLcr Wham! Pow!
Shazam!”—LcsLifics Lo Lhis íacL.
Any progrcss LhaL comics makc Loward criLi-
cal acccpLancc is casL as a Lurn away írom Lhc supcrhcro, a movcmcnL LhaL is
sccmingly ncvcr complcLc and LhaL iníorms Lhc rcccpLion oí cach ncw graphic
Tis Sisyphcan impassc finds a sLriking analoguc in whaL mighL bc dc-
scribcd as Lhc írozcn LcmporaliLy oí many supcrhcro narraLivcs. UmbcrLo Fco
has characLcrizcd Lhis Limclcss sLaLc as Lhc “onciric climaLc” oí Lhc supcrhcro,
a kind oí sLoryLclling in which “whaL has happcncd bcíorc and whaL has hap-
pcncd aíLcr appcar cxLrcmcly hazy.”
DcspiLc Lhcir scvcnLy-odd ycars oí os-
Lcnsibly conLinuous narraLivc hisLory, characLcrs likc Supcrman and BaLman
ncvcr agc and always cvcnLually rcLurn Lo a kind oí íundamcnLal narraLivc
sLasis no maLLcr whaL happcns in a givcn sLory. Fvcn as Lhc largcr narraLivc
conLcxLs oí Lhcsc characLcrs havc gradually Lransíormcd, Lhis íramcwork al-
lows Lhcm Lo mainLain Lhc illusion oí fixiLy. HisLorics oí changc, dcvclop-
mcnL, and cvoluLion arc Lhcrcby supprcsscd, conLribuLing Lo Lhc imagc oí Lhc
supcrhcro gcnrc—and iLs rcadcrs—as Lrappcd in a pcrpcLual adolcsccncc.
Warc’s imporLanL carly LcxL “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics/I Cucss,” firsL
publishcd íor RAw in ±µµ±, cvidcnccs a simmcring irriLaLion wiLh such
pcrccpLions (scc plaLc :). ScLLing word againsL imagc, “Trilling AdvcnLurc
SLorics/I Cucss” supcrimposcs a rcflccLion on Lhc narraLor’s mundanc child-
hood cxpcricnccs ovcr Lhc imagcs oí a supcrhcroic acLion sLory.
NoLing LhaL
Lhc narraLor spcaks oí a youLhíul passion íor supcrhcrocs, Ccnc Kanncnbcrg
1r. suggcsLs LhaL Lhc sLory is ulLimaLcly abouL Lhc boy’s inabiliLy Lo subsumc
Lhc subLlcLics oí rcal cxpcricncc undcr Lhc caLcgorics oí his íanLasy liíc.
Lhc samc Limc, “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss” is also a mcLadiscursivc
lamcnL on Lhc rcading public’s Lcndcncy Lo associaLc all comics wiLh a singlc
gcnrc. Hcrc, a rcalisLic conícssional narraLivc is subsumcd inLo Lhc imagc rcp-
crLoirc oí Lhc supcrhcro, iLs bcaLs and rcvclaLions co-opLcd in Lhc scrvicc oí a
wholly diffcrcnL Lalc. AL Lhc lcvcl oí Lhc visual, Lhc narraLor’s rccollccLions arc
cffccLivcly boilcd down Lo Lhc poinL whcrc only his childhood rcading habiLs
rcmain in vicw. In Lhis LcxL Warc Loys noL mcrcly wiLh his work’s undcrsLand-
ing oí iLsclí, buL also wiLh how iL is rcccivcd. His apparcnL ícar is LhaL rcadcrs
will scc his work as an cxLcnsion oí supcrhcro narraLivc, irrcspccLivc oí iLs
acLual conLcnL.
A írusLraLion wiLh Lhis pcrsisLcnL misrccogniLion is sLagcd wiLh similar irc
on Lhc back oí Lhc papcrback cdiLion oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan. In licu oí an cxplana-
Lory blurb, Warc offcrs a LwcnLy-Lhrcc-pancl narraLivc in his sparc sLylc, dc-
scribing Lhc journcys oí Lhc puLaLivc “Copy ± ¸8,¡6¸” oí Lhc vcry book LhaL Lhc
poLcnLial rcadcr holds. AíLcr bcing prinLcd in China, Lhc book is Lakcn—firsL
by boaL and Lhcn by Lruck—Lo a “Barncs Ignoblc SupcrsLorc” in Lhc UniLcd
SLaLcs. Whcn a clcrk in Lhc sLorc aLLcmpLs Lo filc Lhc book undcr w in Lhc
liLcraLurc sccLion, aíLcr Lravcrsing TolsLoy, Updikc, and VonncguL, a musLa-
chiocd oldcr man snaLchcs iL írom his hands. Fxprcssing a scnLimcnL Warc
sccmingly holds Lo bc disgraccíully univcrsal, Lhc managcr rcmarks, “Look|
. . . Tis is a ‘graphic novcl’ . . . grajfik nohvcl . . . iL’s kìd’s |ìt . . . you know—
supcrhcro sLuff . . . íor retards|”
Tcrc is a dcgrcc oí chcckincss Lo Lhis sc-
qucncc, cspccially whcn onc comcs Lo Lhc cnd and finds LhaL Lhc cnLirc busi-
ncss has bccn scL up as a parody oí ads cncouraging Lhc “adopLion” oí Lhird
world childrcn. Iikcwisc, a circular sLamp noLing LhaL 1ìmmy Corrìgan was Lhc
winncr oí boLh Lhc Amcrican Book Award and Lhc :oo± Cuardian FirsL Book
Prizc scrvcs as a smirking rcmindcr LhaL Lhis LcxL has carncd rcspccL in spiLc
oí iLs íorm. FurLhcr, Lhis sLamp prcscnLs an ironic LwisL on Lhc Comics Codc
AuLhoriLy’s “Scal oí Approval” LhaL oncc graccd Lhc covcrs oí virLually cvcry
mainsLrcam comic book.
On Lhc onc hand, iL suggcsLs how íar comics havc
comc sincc Lhc Comics Codc AuLhoriLy’s cffccLivc dissoluLion, whilc, on Lhc
oLhcr hand, iL scrvcs as a poinLcd rcmindcr oí Lhc lcngLhs Lhc mcdium musL
go Lo validaLc iLsclí ií iL is Lo bc acccpLablc Lo a widcr audicncc.
Tc anxicLics cxprcsscd in Lhis sccnc arc vcry rcal. FirsL, Lhc managcr’s
painíul, dclibcraLc pronunciaLion oí Lhc Lcrm “graphic novcl” suggcsLs LhaL
Lhis Lcrm, onc cnginccrcd Lo discnLanglc Lhc mcdium’s morc “rcspccLablc”
offcrings írom Lhcir supposcdly vulgar origins, íools no onc. Indccd, onc nccd
only look Lo Lhc graphic novcl sccLion oí a rcal Barncs and Noblc Lo find LhaL
offcrings by supcrhcro publishcrs DC and Marvcl Comics dwarí works likc
Warc’s in availabiliLy. Sccond, Lhc juxLaposiLion oí Lhc graphic novcl Lo Lhc
supcrhcro gcnrc produccs a bridgc bcLwccn Lhcm LhaL consLrucs boLh as syn-
ccdochcs oí a largcr climaLc oí juvcniliLy. According Lo Lhis logic, comics havc
noL maLurcd and pcrhaps ncvcr will. Morcovcr, Lhc managcr’s addrcss Lo Lhc
clcrk conLains a guardcd LhrcaL, suggcsLing LhaL anyonc who Lrics Lo disLin-
guish bcLwccn Lhc íorm and iLs mosL promincnL gcnrc is also “rcLardcd.” Tc
prcpondcrancc oí arLiclcs proclaiming “Comics Crow Up!” conLinually rcin-
scribcs Lhis pcrccpLion, cvcn as Lhc arLiclcs Lhcmsclvcs claim Lo rcíuLc iL.

WhaL such LiLlcs suggcsL is LhaL cvcn as Lhc mcdium “grows up,” iL rcmains
haunLcd by boLh iLs own childishncss and LhaL oí iLs audicncc. Indccd, Lhc
phrasc iLsclí can casily bc misrcad, Lakcn as an impcraLivc along Lhc lincs oí,
“Hcy, comics! Crow up alrcady!” raLhcr Lhan as a consLaLivc claim LhaL “Com-
ics have grown up.” Somc, likc Douglas Wolk, suggcsL LhaL wc avoid Lhc prob-
lcm alLogcLhcr by simply spcaking as Lhough Lhc mcdium has maLurcd, cvcn
as wc scck Lo complicaLc Lhc bclicí LhaL iL was cvcr wholly childish Lo bcgin
OLhcrs havc aLLcmpLcd Lo Lurn Lhc problcm on iLs hcad, LrcaLing Lhc
connoLaLion oí juvcniliLy as a rcsourcc.
For Warc, howcvcr, no casy circum-
vcnLions oí Lhc problcm arc íorLhcoming, ncccssiLaLing a scarch íor alLcrna-
Livc soluLions LhaL is cnacLcd on virLually cvcry pagc oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
The Death of the Superhero
Tc firsL way ouL oí Lhc pcrccpLion LhaL comics arc a íundamcnLally iníanLilc
mcdium is Lhc symbolic dcaLh oí Lhc supcrhcro. Farly in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, Lhc
novcl’s cponymous proLagonisL spoLs a capcd man drcsscd in Lhc cosLumc oí
a supcrhcro on a lcdgc across írom his cubiclc. Tc Lwo wavc Lo onc anoLhcr,
and Lhcn Lhc laLLcr jumps, landing íaccdown on Lhc sidcwalk bclow. AL firsL a
crowd gaLhcrs around Lhc body, buL Lhcy cvcnLually dcparL, lcaving Lhc color-
íul corpsc Lo rcsL alonc on Lhc oLhcrwisc drcary sLrccL (±¡–±6). Among Lhosc
who bricfly lingcr by Lhc body is a man carrying whaL appcars Lo bc Lwo largc
arL porLíolios, pcrhaps a sLand-in íor Lhc carLoonisL himsclí. IL is LcmpLing Lo
rcad Lhis figurc’s passing inLcrcsL as indicaLivc oí Lhc aLLiLudc Lhc book as a
wholc will Lakc Loward Lhc supcrhcro—Lhc bricí acknowlcdgmcnL oí a dcad
íorm. Tc idca hcrc is LhaL, givcn Limc, Lhc gcnrc will kill iLsclí off, bccoming
noLhing morc Lhan an objccL oí obscurc inLcrcsL.
Howcvcr, Lhc corpsc is a mcrc allcgorical counLcríciL, a subsLiLuLc by which
Lhc novcl sacrificcs Lhc supcrhcro in cffigy. Pagcs aíLcr Lhc iniLial incidcnL,
1immy noLiccs a ncwspapcr LhaL dcscribcs Lhc accidcnL. ILs hcadlinc bcgins,
“‘Supcr-Man’ Icaps Lo DcaLh,” a promising alLcrnaLivc Lo Lhc claims oí ncw-
íound maLuriLy ciLcd abovc. YcL Lhc papcr conLinucs, “MysLcry Man WiLhouL
IdcnLificaLion Falls Six SLorics in Colorcd PanLaloons, Mask / DcfiniLcly noL
Lhc Tclcvision AcLor, AuLhoriLics Say” (¸o).
Tus, cvcn wiLhin Lhc narraLivc,
Lhc cffaccmcnL oí Lhc supcrhcro is doubly a íailurc. NoL only is iL noL Lhc rcal
Lhing, iL is noL cvcn Lhc acLor—a man who has, as wc will scc, alrcady playcd a
ccnLral parL in Lhc narraLivc—who sLands in Lhc placc oí Lhc rcal Lhing. Scnd-
ing Lhc doppclgangcr Lo his dcaLh Lhcrcby rcvcals iLsclí as incffccLual mock-
cry. 1oscph IiLvak obscrvcs, “Mockìng, as Lhc Lcrm suggcsLs, involvcs boLh
dcrision and mimicry, or involvcs dcrision ìn mimicry.”
Hcrc, Lhc inabiliLy
oí Lhc “auLhoriLics” Lo idcnLiíy Lhc body cnLails a íailurc Lo propcrly imiLaLc
Lhc original, arguably voiding any aLLcmpL Lo dcbasc iL. In posiLioning iLsclí
as Lhc wiLncss Lo Lhc supcrhcro’s suicidc, Lhc novcl succccds mosL clcarly aL
unvciling iLs own rclucLanL íascinaLion wiLh Lhc figurc iL osLcnsibly opposcs.
WiLh Lhis in mind, onc noLcs Lhc way LhaL boLh 1immy’s gazc and Lhc nar-
raLivc’s aLLcnLion lingcr ovcr Lhc body, cvcn aíLcr iL has bccn abandoncd by
oLhcrs, sLaying wiLh iL unLil an ambulancc arrivcs Lo rcmovc Lhc rcmains (±,).
Tcrc is an air oí cLcrniLy Lo Lhis momcnL oí capLivaLion, Lhc abscncc oí any
lcxical indicaLor oí Limc’s passagc lcaving Lhc scqucncc’s Lcmporal flow am-
FurLhcr, aL scvcral poinLs, Lhc window ouL oí which 1immy looks
íuncLions as a sccond íramc wiLhin Lhc íramcs LhaL makc up Lhc pagc. Ccncr-
ally spcaking, Lhc division oí pancls is Lhc mosL basic uniL oí Limc’s passagc in
comics, mcaning LhaL Lhcsc íramcs wiLhin íramcs cngcndcr Lhc scgmcnLaLion
oí Limc unLo iLsclí, indcfiniLcly prolonging cach momcnL. Timc is noL arrcsLcd
hcrc—arrows clcarly indicaLc Lhc movcmcnL írom onc pancl Lo Lhc ncxL—buL
iLs pacc and Lhc rcadcr’s placc in iL arc rcndcrcd unccrLain. TogcLhcr, Lhcsc
íacLors lcavc boLh 1immy and Lhc counLcríciL supcrhcroic corpsc hc conLcm-
plaLcs suspcndcd in Lhc onciric climaLc oí Lhc supcrhcro. As Fco noLcs, mosL
rcal changc in supcrhcro comics risks bcing rcvcalcd as Lhc producL oí íancy
or drcam.
IL is Lhc sLablc body oí Lhc supcrhcro LhaL íascinaLcs hcrc, whilc iLs
dcaLh is likc somc imaginary Lalc or “WhaL Ií`” sccnario, a rcvcric írom which
thìs narraLivc musL cvcnLually awakcn. Iikc 1immy, Lhc novcl cannoL quiLc
bring iLsclí Lo look away, cnLrappcd as iL is in Lhis Limclcss LcmporaliLy. WhaL
1ìmmy Corrìgan musL find, Lhcn, is noL a ncw insLrumcnL oí assassinaLion, Lhc
bursLing shcll LhaL will aL lasL picrcc Lhc supcrhcro’s skin, buL a ncw way oí
Parody and the Law of the Father
Such a írcsh pcrspccLivc mighL wcll bc íound in parody. 1udiLh BuLlcr has
argucd LhaL cfforLs aL parody Lakc rooL in Lhc parodisL’s idcnLificaLion wiLh
his or hcr objccL. Tc poinL is ulLimaLcly a simplc onc: Lo parody somcLhing,
onc musL bc ablc Lo sLagc onc’s rclaLion Lo iL, buL Lhis rclaLion musL iLsclí
bc sLagcd in such a way as Lo lcavc Lhc prccisc naLurc oí Lhc connccLion un-
Parody mighL Lhus bc undcrsLood noL as a mcrc spccLaclc oí dcni-
graLion, buL as a proccss oí disrupLion. ILs powcr dcrivcs írom iLs abiliLy Lo
unscLLlc rcgimcs oí corrcspondcncc and non-corrcspondcncc, similiLudc and
diffcrcncc. BuLlcr’s íormulaLion providcs a Lidy summaLion oí Lhc ambiguiLics
aL work in 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s rcconsidcraLion oí Lhc supcrhcro, a rcconsidcra-
Lion organizcd, as wc will scc, around Lhc ambiguous connccLion bcLwccn Lhc
figurc oí Lhc supcrhcro and 1immy’s íaLhcr. Tis is a pracLicc LhaL promiscs
Lo implicaLc 1ìmmy Corrìgan wiLhin Lhc discoursc LhaL iL criLiqucs, hclping Lo
makc ambivalcnL Lhc narraLivc’s rclaLionship Lo Lhc supcrhcro.
In 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s opcning pagcs, Lhc young proLagonisL aLLcnds an au-
Lograph-signing cvcnL hcld in honor oí an acLor known íor playing Supcrman
on Lclcvision. Whcn 1immy’s moLhcr arrivcs on Lhc sccnc, Lhc acLor offcrs Lo
Lakc hcr ouL Lo dinncr as soon as hc gcLs “off work” (:). IaLcr, Lhc man gocs
homc wiLh Lhc Lwo and spcnds Lhc nighL wiLh 1immy’s moLhcr. Tis acL oí
scducLion csLablishcs a íoundaLional corrcspondcncc bcLwccn Lhc supcrhcro
and Lhc íaLhcr, cvcn as iL bcgins Lo disrupL Lhc prisLinc imagc oí convcnLional
hcroism. Tc acLor bccomcs a bridgc bcLwccn Lhc Lwo figurcs, offcring boLh
a visiblc sLand-in íor 1immy’s abscnL paLcrniLy and a Langiblc maniícsLaLion
oí his íanLasy liíc. SupporLing Lhis associaLion is Lhc way Lhc acLor’s íacc ap-
pcars, albciL maskcd, in íull in a pancl, as hc rcmarks, “Hcllo, son” (:). Hc is
onc oí only Lhrcc characLcrs noL paLrilincally rclaLcd Lo 1immy Lo bc shown
in Lhis manncr, a íacL LhaL liLcrally draws him inLo Lhc Corrigan gcncalogy.
TaL hc can bc íully rcprcscnLcd only so long as hc rcmains maskcd implics
LhaL iL is prcciscly his cmbodimcnL oí a íanLasy LhaL allows him Lo cmcrgc
in Lhc visual rcgisLcr oí Lhc LcxL. Madc anonymous, hc bccomcs a LcmplaLc
onLo which 1immy’s paLrilincagc will bc projccLcd. Tis cffccL has a disrupLivc
conscqucncc oí iLs own, making iL pcrpcLually unclcar whcLhcr iL is Lhc íaLhcr
who is Lhc modcl íor Lhc supcrhcro, or Lhc supcrhcro who is Lhc modcl íor Lhc
TroughouL Lhc novcl LhaL íollows, associaLions bcLwccn Lhcsc Lwo figurcs
ping-pong back and íorLh. Whcn 1immy mccLs his long-abscnL íaLhcr, íor
cxamplc, hc is Lold Lo siL down unLil Lhc cldcr Corrigan gcLs “off work,” cx-
pliciLly cchoing Lhc acLor’s iniLial aLLcmpL Lo proposiLion 1immy’s moLhcr (:,
¸6) (scc fig. :.±). Warc projccLs Lhis rcmark ovcr a prcsumably íanLasizcd im-
agc oí 1immy looking on as his íaLhcr has scx wiLh an unknown woman who
is almosL ccrLainly his moLhcr. His íaLhcr’s imaginary grunLs arc inscribcd
dirccLly bcncaLh Lhis rcal rcmark, suggcsLing a crudc doublc mcaning Lo Lhc
suggcsLion hc has ycL Lo “[gcL] off work” and producing a dcgrcc oí íormal
conLinuiLy bcLwccn Lhc íaLhcr oí íanLasy and Lhc íaLhcr oí íacL.
Tis supcr-
imposiLion oí word and imagc—noL so unlikc Lhc íormal sLraLcgy aL work in
Lhc carlicr “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss”—has Lhc íurLhcr cffccL oí
rcLroacLivcly porLraying Lhc Supcrman acLor as Lhc violcnL íaLhcr oí an ovcr-
dcLcrmincd primal sccnc. Sccmingly Lriggcrcd by Lhc phrasc “[gcL] off work,”
Lhc narraLivc’s dcsccnL Lhrough a scrics oí placcholdcrs and sLand-ins inLo
íanLasy suggcsLs LhaL iL was, figuraLivcly spcaking, Supcrman who firsL slcpL
wiLh 1immy’s moLhcr and Supcrman who has sLood in Lhc imaginary placc oí
Lhc íaLhcr all along.
ComplicaLing maLLcrs is Lhc íacL LhaL 1immy’s own largcly rcnounccd scx-
ualiLy is cnLanglcd in his idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc supcrhcroic íaLhcr. Farlicr, in
Lhc opcning cpisodc, 1immy dons a handmadc mask bcíorc a mirror, suggcsL-
ing a íundamcnLal idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc supcrhcro as Lhc guaranLor oí his
own sclí-imagc. In 1acqucs Iacan’s mcmorablc phrasc, Lhis disguisc bccomcs
Lhc “armor oí an alicnaLing idcnLiLy,” Lhc mcans by which Lhc LoLaliLy oí his
own body is madc visiblc Lo him.
TaL is, in Lhc complcLc imagc oí himsclí
LhaL a child sccs in Lhc mirror, his sclí-idcnLiLy is consLiLuLcd Lhrough a rcflcc-
Lion LhaL is ncvcr íully his own.
Our concrcLc rcflccLions arc, in a scnsc, fig-
urcs oí our paLcrniLy, Lhc pcrson or pcrsons LhaL prcccdc us and bring us inLo
bcing. For 1immy, Lhis illusion oí opLics is liLcralizcd—hc bccomcs wholc by
Laking on Lhc rolc oí Lhc characLcr LhaL holds Lhc vacaLcd posiLion oí his ab-
scnL íaLhcr. Tc narraLivc conscqucnccs oí Lhis idcnLificaLion bccomc clcarcr
Lhc íollowing morning, whcn Lhc acLor sncaks ouL bcíorc 1immy’s moLhcr
wakcs, hands 1immy his own sLagc mask, and Lclls 1immy Lo cxplain LhaL
hc “had a rea| good tìme” (¸). A ícw minuLcs laLcr, 1immy’s moLhcr appcars in
Lhc kiLchcn, only Lo bc coníronLcd by Lhc spccLaclc oí hcr now-maskcd son,
who, in a pancl LhaL rhymcs visually wiLh Lhc acLor’s own carly appcarancc,
parroLs Lhc words hc has bccn Lold Lo convcy. Tc as-ycL unrcprcscnLcd pri-
mal sccnc is hcrcby prcfigurcd as Lhc confirmaLion oí 1immy’s sclí-idcnLiLy.
In Lhc proccss, hc simulLancously assumcs Lhc posiLion oí Lhc supcrhcro and
his moLhcr’s lovcr. Ií 1immy’s imaginary sclí-imagc is doomcd Lo íailurc, iL is
prcciscly bccausc hc can ncvcr íully cmbody Lhis rolc, barrcd írom filling iL by
Fig. 2.1. On their first
meeting, Jimmy and his fa-
ther mirror each other in
a sequence that gives way
to a fantasy of the primal
scene. Chris Ware, Jimmy
Corrigan: The Smartest Kid
on Earth (New York: Pan-
theon, 2000), 36.
Lhc prohibiLivc sLrucLurcs oí Lhc inccsL Laboo, sLrucLurcs LhaL psychoanalyLic
LhoughL cquaLc wiLh Lhc íaLhcr’s law. Simply puL, 1immy can ncvcr íully bc
Lhc figurc hc cmulaLcs bccausc Lo do so would involvc iniLiaLing a íorbiddcn
rclaLionship wiLh his moLhcr.

Tc paLcrnal giíL oí sclí-idcnLiLy Lhus comcs aL a pricc, Lhc rcnunciaLion
oí 1immy’s own dcsirc. TroughouL Lhc novcl, hc is Lrappcd in a sorL oí pcr-
pcLual adolcsccncc, ablc Lo saLisíy his longings only Lhrough his masochisLic
íanLasy liíc. Tis is a concciL LhaL makcs him a pcríccL doublc íor Lhc sup-
poscd rcadcrs oí supcrhcro comics, or, cvcn, íor Lhc comics mcdium iLsclí.

Onc cpisodc finds him rccording Lhc sounds LhaL surround him as hc siLs in
an urban park. Hc rccords firsL Lhc song oí a bird, Lhcn Lhc passing oí an air-
planc, and finally Lhc bricí convcrsaLion oí a pair oí lovcrs (µ¡–µ6). Tc firsL
Lwo iLcms scrvc as rcmindcrs oí Lhc íamous manLra, “IL’s a bird, iL’s a planc,
iL’s Supcrman!” By connccLion, Lhcn, Lhc boyíricnd oí Lhc ícmalc spcakcr, a
man shc calls “Lhc mosL wondcríul guy I’vc cvcr mcL,” mighL bc undcrsLood
as Lhc Lhird mcmbcr oí Lhis ccsLaLic scqucncc. Supcrhcrocs, Lhc íormulaLion
gocs, arc Lhosc who arc lovcd as wcll as Lhosc whosc dcsirc can bc rcLurncd by
anoLhcr. For 1immy, howcvcr, Lhc idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc supcrhcro is always
an idcnLificaLion wiLh somcLhing LhaL is iLsclí oLhcr, somcLhing LhaL guaran-
Lccs Lhc cohcrcncc oí his own dcsircs cvcn as iL prcscnLs Lhcm as pcrpcLually
disLanL írom him.

Hc has only Lhc imagc oí whaL iL is Lo bc a scxualizcd
adulL, buL lacks Lhc undcrsLanding oí whaL iL mcans Lo Lruly bc grown up.
Wc can rcad 1immy’s alicnaLion írom his scxualiLy, and pcrhaps his alicn-
aLion in gcncral, as an allcgory oí Lhc sLaLus oí comics. As Warc’s own rcmarks
suggcsL, Lhc promincncc oí Lhc supcrhcro gcnrc in comics mcLonymically
configurcs Lhc mcdium oí which iL is a parL as “kids liL [. . .] íor rcLards” (back
covcr). 1immy’s proLracLcd adolcsccncc would Lhcn sLand in íor Lhc ongoing
íailurc oí Lhc mcdium Lo grow up in Lhc cycs oí Lhc largcr rcading public.

Tis is noL mcrcly a problcm oí rcccpLion, buL also oí producLion. So long as iL
is Lhc supcrhcro LhaL providcs an cxpcricncc oí sclí-cohcrcncc, 1immy cannoL
comc Lo Lcrms wiLh dcsircs LhaL arc his own. Comics, likcwisc, arc cffccLivcly
barrcd írom bccoming somcLhing oLhcr Lhan whaL Lhcy osLcnsibly havc bccn.
Tis is a sorL oí “paLcrnalisLic pcdagogy,” a modc LhaL, as Fco puLs iL, “rcquircs
Lhc hiddcn pcrsuasion LhaL Lhc subjccL is noL rcsponsiblc íor his pasL, nor
masLcr oí his íuLurc.”

Supcrhcrocs hcrc íuncLion as Lhc limiL oí Lhc comics
mcdium’s aspiraLional horizon, a poinL LhaL Lhcy always approach, buL can
ncvcr surpass.
Tus, Lhc supcrhcro is a pcrvcrsc Frcudian íaLhcr-oí-cnjoymcnL, LhaL
monsLcr oí Lhc psychc LhaL Lakcs all plcasurc íor iLsclí and offcrs nonc Lo iLs
progcny. In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Frcud Lclls Lhc sLory oí Lhc mcmbcrs oí
a primiLivc hordc who arc íorbiddcn by Lhcir íaLhcr Lo Lakc any oí Lhc womcn
oí Lhc Lribc as Lhcir own. FrusLraLcd, Lhcy cvcnLually kill and caL Lhc paLcr-
Oncc Lhis acL is complcLc, Lhcir ambivalcncc abouL Lhcir íaLhcr,
whosc sLrcngLh and powcr lcd Lhcm Lo lovc him, ovcrwhclms Lhcm wiLh guilL.
Tis in Lurn prompLs Lhcm Lo Lakc Lhc íormcrly cxLcrnal prohibiLions oí Lhc
íaLhcr inLo Lhcmsclvcs, producing a psycho-scxual codc oí rcnunciaLion LhaL
ironically rcanimaLcs Lhc prohibiLions Lhcy oncc sLrugglcd Lo ovcrcomc.
nccd noL Lakc Lhis psychoanalyLic myLh aL iLs word Lo acknowlcdgc iLs cx-
planaLory íorcc. Tc law oí Lhc íaLhcr rcprcscnLs Lhc inLcrnalizcd cxprcssion
oí our ambivalcncc Loward Lhosc who shapc us, Lhc coupling oí our admira-
Lion íor whaL Lhcy offcr wiLh our irriLaLion aL LhaL which Lhcy prohibiL.
Tis ambivalcncc is vcry much aL work in Lhc way 1ìmmy Corrìgan occa-
sionally Lakcs up Lhc possibiliLy oí Lhc supcrhcro as savior or proLccLor, cx-
ploring Lhc projccLcd imagc oí an idcal íaLhcr only Lo rcíuLc iL. In an cpisodc
LhaL comcs roughly a quarLcr oí Lhc way Lhrough Lhc book, 1immy is hiL by
a mail Lruck and knockcd Lo Lhc ground (scc fig. :.:). For a singlc pancl, Lhc
Lruck’s drivcr, sccn írom 1immy’s supinc pcrspccLivc, is rcplaccd by an imagc
oí Lhc maskcd acLor, his hair now whiLc and his íacc roundcd. On Lhc íollow-
ing pagc—composiLionally a ncarly cxacL horizonLal and vcrLical mirror oí
Lhc firsL—Lhc drivcr is pushcd ouL oí Lhc íramc by 1immy’s íaLhcr. Clcarly ouL
oí brcaLh, Lhc oldcr man huffs, “Hc’s minc . . . Hc’s . . . hmí . . . hff . . . .” (µ8)
(scc fig. :.¸). Tc momcnL is aL firsL sLriking íor Lhc willingncss oí 1immy’s ía-
Lhcr Lo claim Lhc boy hc abandoncd, offcring Lhc possibiliLy oí rcconciliaLion
in and Lhrough crisis. Tis doubling suggcsLs a morc posiLivc undcrsLand-
ing oí Lhc hcrc liLcral mirroring oí Lhc íaLhcr and Lhc supcrhcro. SimulLanc-
ously, howcvcr, onc mighL rcad somcLhing morc sinisLcr inLo Lhc comparison.
1amcs’s inarLiculaLc gasps hcarkcn back Lo Lhc grunLs oí 1immy’s carlicr ían-
Lasizcd primal sccnc. In Lhis lighL, 1amcs’s insisLcnL asscrLions oí paLcrnal
Fig. 2.2. Hit by a mail
truck, Jimmy briefly imag-
ines that the driver is an
aged superhero. Chris
Ware, Jimmy Corrigan:
The Smartest Kid on Earth
(New York: Pantheon,
2000), 97.
owncrship—“Hc’s mìne| . . . Hc’s wcaring my pants| . . .” (µ8)—can bc un-
dcrsLood as cxprcssions oí Lhc íaLhcr’s law. TaL is, Lhcy rcpcaL Lhc way LhaL
1immy’s acknowlcdgmcnL oí his paLcrniLy Lraps him in a sLrucLurally inícrior
posiLion. Tc supcrhcro is Lhcrcby configurcd noL only as a salvific figurc, buL
also as Lhc significr par exce||ence oí filial rcsLricLion and consLrainL.
Ií so, onc oí Lhc novcl’s projccLs may bc Lo undcrminc Lhc íorcc oí Lhis law
Lhrough parodic iLcraLion. ShorLly aíLcr 1immy’s iniLial cncounLcr wiLh his
íaLhcr, Lhc cldcr Corrigan’s car is sLolcn, a íacL LhaL 1immy mcckly poinLs ouL.
As is oíLcn Lhc casc wiLh such momcnLs oí caLasLrophc in Lhc narraLivc, Lhc
immcdiaLc conscqucnccs oí Lhc LhcíL do noL play ouL on Lhc pagc. InsLcad,
Lhc narraLivc divcrgcs inLo onc oí 1immy’s íanLasics in which hc spcaks oí Lhc
incidcnL Lo an unsccn child: “Scared? Ha ha . . . oh no I wasn’L scarcd. Bccausc
ií I had bccn I ncvcr would havc mcL your mother and Lhcn wc would ncvcr
havc had you” (¡µ). Tc LhcíL oí 1amcs’s car, an cpisodc oí rcal paLcrnal impo-
Lcncc, Lhus opcns Lhc possibiliLy oí 1immy’s own íanLasizcd scxual poLcncy,
cvcn as iL poinLs Lo Lhc limiLcd horizon oí his own idca oí maLuriLy.
In Lhc
proccss, iL also puLs him in Lhc posiLion oí Lhc íaLhcr, his normally rcLiccnL
spccch rcplaccd by a surprising loquaciLy. In assuming Lhc rolc oí Lhc íaLhcr,
hc has bccomc, Lhough in íanLasy alonc, Lhc masLcr oí a discoursc LhaL oncc
cludcd him.
Fig. 2.3. Jimmy’s father lays
claim to his son, taking the
place of both superhero
and driver. Chris Ware,
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smart-
est Kid on Earth (New
York: Pantheon, 2000), 98.
Howcvcr, Lhis projccL oí íulfilling Lhc supcrhcroic íaLhcr’s placc is doomcd
Lo íail, undcrmincd by iLs rcdcploymcnL oí Lhc vcry logic iL sccks Lo disrupL.
PaLcrnal powcr inLcrvcncs in 1immy’s íanLasy in Lhc íorm oí a Liny, porLly Su-
pcrman who appcars aL Lhc window. Tis cvcnL dcrails 1immy’s narraLion and
inspircs him Lo dcscribc noL whaL osLcnsibly happcncd, buL whaL is happcn-
ing, íorcing him Lo shiíL írom a “How I mcL your moLhcr” sLory Lo an accounL
oí Lhc man on Lhc windowsill.

WiLh Lhc loss oí his discursivc masLcry, 1im-
my’s íanLasy spirals ouL oí his conLrol, and Supcrman grows massivc, liíLing
Lhc housc and Lhcn Lossing iL back Lo Lhc carLh. 1immy’s drcam son is sccn íor
Lhc firsL Limc, his limbs scaLLcrcd around Lhc upcndcd housc. Hcrc wc lcarn
LhaL Lhc now-íragmcnLcd child’s namc is Billy, a Lclling íacL givcn ncarly cvcry
prcvious mcmbcr oí 1immy’s paLrilincagc has bccn namcd 1amcs. Trough
1ìmmy Corrìgan’s cxpansivc narraLivc, Lhc íamilial circumsLanccs oí cach oí
Lhcsc mcn cnclosc Lhcm, such LhaL Lhc namc Lhcy sharc incrcasingly comcs Lo
sccm a prison. WhaL Lhis child rcprcscnLs, Lhcn, is Lhc dcsirc íor a íuLurc LhaL
makcs a radical brcak wiLh Lhc pasL, onc LhaL quickly dcsccnds inLo vaudcvil-
lian Lragcdy. To scck a ncw namc is, up Lo a poinL, Lo scck a ncw law. YcL Lhc
condiLions by which Lhis law is auLhorizcd arc prcciscly Lhosc oí Lhc prior
law, allowing iL Lo rcLurn wiLh a vcngcancc, as Lhc violcnL inLrusion oí Lhc
supcrhcro suggcsLs. Indccd, iL is no accidcnL LhaL “Billy” is Lhc diminuLivc oí
William, Lhc namc oí 1immy’s paLcrnal grcaL-grandíaLhcr. Fvcn Lhc sccming
brcak 1immy makcs írom his pasL Lhcrcíorc rcinscribcs an alrcady-wriLLcn
narraLivc oí parcnLal auLhoriLy. Hcrc wc musL also rccall BuLlcr’s obscrvaLion
LhaL insoíar as parody bcgins in idcnLificaLion, iL somcLimcs íails Lo cngcndcr
a final disassociaLion. Unablc Lo achicvc Lruc rupLurc, Lhc succcssíul parodisL
musL work írom insidc LhaL which is parodicd.
Genealogies, Familial and Superheroic
Sccmingly awarc oí Lhis ncccssiLy, Warc finds a morc producLivc sLraLcgy oí
rcsisLancc Lo Lhc supcrhcroic lcgacy Lhrough gcncalogy. 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s in-
vcsLigaLion oí Lhc rcal complcxiLics oí íamily hisLory finds iLs purcsL íorm in
Lhc book’s considcraLion oí Lhc giving oí namcs. On Lwo scparaLc occasions,
mcdical docLors rcícr Lo 1immy as “Supcrman.” Tc firsL occurrcncc, coming
aíLcr 1immy’s accidcnL wiLh Lhc mail Lruck, is all buL unprompLcd. Iargcly
íorgcLLablc in and oí iLsclí, Lhc incidcnL sccms Lo bc Lhc producL oí liLLlc morc
Lhan bcdsidc banLcr.
Tc sccond incidcnL is morc clcarly occasioncd by Lhc
Supcrman swcaLshirL LhaL 1immy borrows írom his íaLhcr and wcars aíLcr
Lhc laLLcr’s own ulLimaLcly íaLal car accidcnL. In boLh cascs, Lhc plcasurcs oí
idcnLificaLion mighL bc rcad as rcparaLivc acLs. Ií 1immy’s problcm is onc oí
alicnaLion írom his own imagc, Lhis casual acL oí rcnaming offcrs him a ncw
rclaLion Lo himsclí. 1immy, always an inícrior and bclaLcd copy oí Lhc íaLhcr’s
idcal imagc, is inviLcd Lo occupy Lhc placc oí Lhc Loo-pcríccL surrogaLc. Tc
poinL is noL LhaL Lhis rcchrisLcning scLs him írcc, only LhaL, as wc will scc, iL
hclps casc Lhc burdcn oí íamily hisLory. Whcrc Lhc acL oí naming has prcvi-
ously procccdcd írom íaLhcr Lo son, Lhcsc docLors suggcsL Lhc possibiliLy oí a
lcss lincar sLrucLurc oí rclaLion and inhcriLancc.
FurLhcr laycrs oí complcxiLy arc cvidcnL in Lhc Supcrman swcaLshirL LhaL
inspircs Lhc sccond naming. Tough borrowcd írom 1immy’s íaLhcr, Lhc shirL
is acLually a giíL írom his adopLcd daughLcr, Amy. Indccd, so Loo is Lhc “±±
Dad” shirL LhaL 1immy uncomíorLably appropriaLcs carlicr in Lhc LcxL, boLh oí
Lhcm FaLhcr’s Day giíLs (¸¡¸). Tis rcvclaLion scrvcs as an imporLanL rcmindcr
LhaL Lhc appcarancc oí supcrhcroism—or, íor LhaL maLLcr, paLcrniLy—is bc-
sLowcd, noL a givcn. WhaLcvcr powcrs Lhc íamily’s symbolic sLrucLurcs oí pro-
hibiLion and conLrol posscss, Lhcy do noL simply prcccdc us. Tus, Lhc íorcc
oí Lhc íaLhcr—Lhc mask hc wcars—is in parL Lhc giíL oí Lhc child, his own
cmpowcrcd idcnLiLy Lhc producL oí various cxchangcs and rclaLions bcLwccn
íaLhcrs and Lhcir progcny.
As wc lcarn in onc oí Lhc novcl’s many invcsLigaLions oí 1immy’s anccsLry,
1immy’s grcaL-grcaL-grandíaLhcr was also a docLor. AlLhough Lhis man docs
noL appcar in Lhc novcl asidc írom miniaLurc pancls in Lhc book’s opcning
diagram, hc cffccLivcly rcLurns in Lhc placc oí Lhc Lwo docLors wiLh whom
1immy inLcracLs. Trcc gcncraLions oí 1immy’s anccsLry arc Lhcrcby clidcd
as Lwo wildly disLanL momcnLs oí íamily hisLory arc broughL inLo conLacL
wiLh onc anoLhcr Lhrough a doubling LhaL only Lhc rcadcr can rccognizc. Tc
namc “Supcrman” is cvokcd only Lo íaciliLaLc Lhis cxchangc. ILs ccnLral placc
in convcnLional undcrsLandings oí Lhc comics mcdium dcmonsLraLcs Lhc sig-
nificancc oí Lhis LransacLion, buL Lhc word iLsclí has no rcal significancc oí iLs
own. Supcrhcrocs, and Lhc conccrns Warc’s work cxprcsscs abouL Lhcm, can
bc undcrsLood as Lhc ground on which íarLhcr-rcaching hisLorical inquirics
arc builL. Ií supcrhcroic íanLasy is incscapablc in comics—or Lhc popular pcr-
ccpLion Lhcrcoí—Lhcn íanLasy iLsclí musL bc Lurncd Lo oLhcr cnds.
A possiblc approach is cvidcnL laLc in Lhc LcxL whcn Amy lcads 1immy
Lhrough a scL oí picLurcs írom Lhc íamilial pasL Lhcy ncvcr sharcd. As Lhcy arc
rcmovcd írom Lhc jumblcd boxcs LhaL conLain Lhcm, cach phoLograph ncaLly
fills a comics pancl (¸:¸–:6). Tcsc rccovcrcd momcnLs arc Lhcrcby broughL
inLo Lhc passagc oí Limc in Lhc prcscnL, Lhcir spaLializaLion animaLing Lhcm
in rclaLion Lo boLh Lhcir prcscnLaLion and conLcmplaLion. Amy’s boxcs arc
Lhus proLo-comics, purc íormal poLcnLialiLy always awaiLing rcLcmporaliza-
Lion by mcans oí hcr sclccLion and prcscnLaLion oí Lhcm. Tis rcinscrLion oí
Lhc imagc inLo Lhc sLrcam oí Limc is Lhc pasL’s rcincarnaLion, iLs rcbirLh in
a ncw íorm Lhrough iLs conLcxLualizcd rcccpLion. SignificanLly, Lhrcc diffcr-
cnL rcgisLcrs arc co-implicaLcd hcrc: firsL Lhcrc is Amy’s producLivc prcscnL
in which shc Lclls a sLory Lhrough Lhc juxLaposiLion and narraLion oí imagcs.
NcxL is Lhc pasL LhaL is rcanimaLcd by iL. IasL is Lhc íuLurc rcccpLion oí Lhc
LcxL, rcprcscnLcd hcrc by 1immy’s largcly muLc rcsponscs Lo Lhc imagcs Amy
shows him. InLcrcsLingly, 1immy is impliciLly figurcd as a rcadcr oí comics,
noLing aL onc poinL aíLcr a Lcmporal cllipsis oí indcLcrminaLc lcngLh, “BuL
whcn I grcw up I gucss I sorLa sLoppcd rcading Lhcm. [. . .] I-I wouldn’L r-rcally
r-rcad Lhcm n-now . . . u-unlcss Lhc arL was good” (¸:µ).
Ií Amy and 1immy
boLh borc cach oLhcr hcrc, iL is bccausc Lhcir disLincL, almosL accidcnLal rcflcc-
Lions on comics havc Lhc characLcr oí narraLcd drcams—imporLanL Lo Lhcir
subjccLs as Lhcy arc dull Lo cvcryonc clsc. SLricLly spcaking, Lhis scqucncc is
noL libcraLing íor any oí iLs parLicipanLs. InsLcad, iL poinLs Lo Lhc poLcnLial
oí comics Lo inLcrvcnc in and rcarLiculaLc Lhc vcry hisLorical proccsscs írom
which Lhcy cmcrgc.
Amy’s plasLic approach Lo íamily hisLory suggcsLs Lhc possibiliLy oí brcak-
ing wiLh Lhc singular hisLoriographic LrajccLory LhaL Lhc supcrhcro Lcnds
Lo imposc on comics, cvcn ií iL can ncvcr íully lcavc Lhc supcrhcro bchind.
1ìmmy Corrìgan sccms hcrc Lo call íor a morc gcncral íorm oí gcncalogy LhaL
would accounL íor Lhc causal connccLions LhaL sLrcLch bcLwccn various íorms
and figurcs raLhcr Lhan a simplc gcncalogy oí Lhc supcrhcro. Undcr Lhc acgis
oí such an approach, Lhc goal would noL bc Lo cxcludc Lhc supcrhcro, buL Lo
show whaL an cxccssivc íocus on iL has alrcady cxcludcd. Formally spcaking,
Warc’s carLooning in 1ìmmy Corrìgan works Lo modcl and rcdoublc Lhc com-
plcx gcncalogics Loward which iLs ploL aspircs. Trough Lhc novcl’s cxamina-
Lion oí Lhc íaLhcr, Lhc supcrhcro is shown Lo rcprcscnL buL a soliLary poinL in
Limc. Far írom holding a singlc sLory in placc, Lhc work oí gcncalogy—likc Lhc
work oí carLooning—can manipulaLc Lhis sccmingly singular nodc, puLLing iL
inLo ncw rclaLions oí mcaning and consLcllaLions oí causaLion. 1immy’s ía-
Lhcr is a íar diffcrcnL man whcn sccn Lhrough Amy’s cycs Lhan his cquaLion
wiLh Lhc supcrhcro would suggcsL, lcss a poLcnLial LyranL Lhan a bcncvolcnL
co-parcnL. His inhcriLancc oí Lhis oLhcr rolc is a producL oí Lhc flcxiblc aLLi-
Ludc Loward Lhc pasL LhaL Amy’s accidcnLal carLooning cnablcs. Timc’s sLablc
flow, Warc rcminds us, is an illusion oí Lhc opcraLions oí closurc by which wc
connccL cach momcnL Lo Lhc ncxL. WhaL Warc offcrs, Lhcn, is lcss a prcciscly
arLiculaLcd soluLion Lo Lhc problcm oí Lhc supcrhcro Lhan a porLraiL oí Lhc
supcrhcro’s own cndlcss cnLanglcmcnLs.
Tc paradigmaLic cxamplc oí Lhis Lcchniquc’s poLcnLial is a Lwo-pagc
sprcad LhaL appcars ncar Lhc LcxL’s conclusion. Showing Amy alonc in Lhc
hospiLal aíLcr hcr íaLhcr’s dcaLh, Lhc pagc suddcnly opcns up Lo rcvcal Lhc
proccss oí hcr adopLion. Tcn, in a scrics oí shorL sLrips connccLcd by arrows,
Limc Lclcscopcs in a varicLy oí dirccLions, showing how Amy camc Lo bc whcrc
shc is (scc plaLcs µ and ±o). Tis diagram’s purposc—ií iL can bc rcduccd Lo
onc—is Lo rcvcal LhaL Amy and 1immy acLually sharc a common anccsLry. Hcr
grandmoLhcr is Lhc illcgiLimaLc child oí 1immy’s grcaL-grandíaLhcr and his
Aírican Amcrican scrvanL. In Lhc proccss oí rcvcaling Lhis iníormaLion, Lhc
diagram opcns Lhc novcl Lo momcnLs oLhcrwisc losL Lo iLs mulLi-gcncraLional
narraLivc: a flowcr prcsscd in Lhc pagcs oí a Biblc, a plain gravc in a miliLary
ccmcLcry. Tcsc rclics oí Lhc pasL can appcar only Lhrough Lhc íolding oí Limc
LhaL comics makc possiblc, mulLiplc passagcs Lurncd inLo and ovcr onc an-
oLhcr likc shccLs oí origami papcr, producing írom Lhcm a wholly ncw shapc
LhaL aL oncc inLcrrupLs and cclcbraLcs Lhc passagc oí Limc.
Comics may noL, in Lhc final insLancc, bc ablc Lo íully disassociaLc Lhcm-
sclvcs írom Lhc lcgacy oí Lhc supcrhcro. Indccd, Lhough rcprcscnLaLions oí
supcrhcrocs and Lhcir sLand-ins arc all buL abscnL írom Lhc book’s closing
pagcs, Warc’s lasL imagc poignanLly rciLcraLcs Lhc rich ambivalcncc LhaL has
cchocd LhroughouL Lhc narraLivc. OpposiLc Lhc words “Tc Fnd,” Warc shows,
in miniaLurc, a young 1immy carricd Lhrough Lhc air by an agcd Supcrman,
snow íalling all around Lhcm (¸,µ). For all iLs írusLraLions, Lhc supcrhcro rc-
Lurns hcrc as a figurc oí rclicí, Lhc vcry íamiliariLy LhaL makcs iL Lhc mcdium’s
cursc providing a final comíorL in Lhc wakc oí Lhc novcl’s many un-rccupcr-
aLcd losscs. Pcrhaps Lhc bcsL comics can do is Lakc advanLagc oí Lhcir own
íormal rcsourccs, unvciling íorgoLLcn hisLorics and mislaid Lhings, unLil Lhis
consolaLion is no longcr nccdcd.
1. Chris Ware, “Introduction,” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s,
2004), 11.
2. Dave Eggers, “After Wham! Pow! Shazam!” New York Times Book Review, November 26, 2000,
3. Umberto Eco, “The Myth of Superman,” in The Role of the Reader, trans. Natalie Chilton (Bloom-
ington: Indiana University Press, 1979), 114.
4. In a significant argument to the contrary, Geoff Klock has sought to make the case that super-
hero comics have grown increasingly self-reflexive over the course of the past three decades. This
process of maturation is, Klock asserts, the result of their efforts to grapple with the influence of
their generic forefathers. While Klock’s claims are more compelling than some of his critics are willing
to acknowledge, Ware’s problem seems to be how to escape the perception of influence rather than
influence as such. See Geoff Klock, How to Read Superhero Comics and Why (New York: Continuum,
5. Chris Ware, “Thrilling Adventure Stories / I Guess,” rpt. in Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fanta-
graphics, 2003), 39–41.
6. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strate-
gies,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 183–86.
7. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan (New York: Pantheon, 2000), back cover. All further references to
this text will be indicated in parentheses.
8. Established by the Comics Magazine Association of America in 1954, the Comics Code Author-
ity maintained a strict set of guidelines regulating “appropriate” content for comics publications. Dis-
tributors refused to circulate titles unless they featured the Authority’s “Seal of Approval” on their
covers. For a condensed history of the Comics Code see Amy Kiste Nyberg, “Comic Book Censor-
ship in the United States,” in Pulp Demons, ed. John A. Lent (Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University
Press, 1999), 42–68. For a more expansive account see David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great
Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (New York: Farrar, 2008).
9. An article in the Morning Call newspaper opens with just such a headline, noting, “Comics Grow
Up . . . and So Do Their Readers.” Brian Callaway, “Comics Grow Up . . . and So Do Their Readers,”
Allentown (PA) Morning Call, November 10, 2008, B6.
10. Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge,
MA: Da Capo, 2007), 1.
11. Susan M. Squier, for example, has argued that comics might provide a resource for disability
studies insofar as they “unsettle conventional notions of normalcy and disability.” See Susan M. Squier,
“So Long as They Grow Out of It: Comics, the Discourse of Developmental Normalcy, and Disabil-
ity,” Journal of the Medical Humanities 29.2 (2008): 71–88.
12. This headline is a reference to the death (and presumed suicide) of actor George Reeves on
June 16, 1959. Reeves played Superman in the 1950s television series. Les Daniels, Superman: The
Complete History (San Francisco: Chronicle, 1998), 97–99.
13. Joseph Litvak, Strange Gourmets (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 61 (Litvak’s italics).
14. I draw the term “lexia” from Gene Kannenberg Jr., who uses it to describe any linguistic ele-
ment in a panel. See Kannenberg, “The Comics of Chris Ware,” 178.
15. Eco, “The Myth of Superman,” 114.
16. Judith Butler, “Merely Cultural,” Social Text 52/53 (1997): 266.
17. This panel, the fifth and last on the page, is also notable in that panels one and two and panels
three and four mirror one another, demonstrating an uncanny resemblance between Jimmy and his
father. Breaking this pattern, the fantasized sex scene implies that, despite the visual resemblance
between the two men, something belongs to the father that is yet denied to the son (36). As Daniel
Raeburn shows in his monograph on Chris Ware’s work, this doubling of father and son is repeated
on the dust jacket of Jimmy Corrigan’s hardcover edition. When the jacket is properly folded, half of
Jimmy’s face merges with that of his father. Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2004), 69.
18. Importantly, the correspondence is, first and foremost, a formal one, arguably existing be-
low the level of the naïve Jimmy’s fictional consciousness. Moreover, in this light, Jimmy’s vision of
murdering his father on the following page might be understood as a futile attempt to re-contain the
knowledge that here bubbles to the surface of the narrative through the conjunction of these two
19. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic
Experience,” in Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 2006), 78.
20. The mirror may be the most primal form of a panel sequence in comics, the passage of time at
once staged and denied in our encounter with the reflective frame.
21. Jimmy’s fantasy of sex with Amy, his adopted sister (and, as we eventually learn, blood rela-
tion), arguably repeats this otherwise impermissible act in a more acceptable form (333).
22. It bears noting that for Eco sexual renunciation is a mark of the classic superhero’s oneiric
condition. Eco, “The Myth of Superman,” 115.
23. In a telling slippage, Jimmy displaces any discontent with this superheroic/paternal stand-in
onto the woman, muttering, “Ha ha Bitch,” as he replays his tape of her admission. Misogyny here
rears its head as one consequence of the failure to come to terms with the superhero’s centrality
24. Jimmy Corrigan as a whole is too capacious and complex for such an approach to be a total
one. Accordingly, my account can only point to one of the many problems at work in the novel, not a
fantastical solution to the novel as a whole.
25. Eco, “The Myth of Superman,” 117.
26. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1950), 175–76.
27. Ibid., 178.
28. From the start, the novel couples parental power and potency with the automobile, as it is at
a car show that Jimmy and his mother meet the actor who plays Superman.
29. It bears noting that the tiny man at first resembles an action figure, suggesting that Jimmy’s
dream of successfully realized adulthood is defeated by a recognition of the resemblance between this
reverie and the submerged desire for maturity present in childhood play.
30. One might note the way the doctor links Jimmy’s mysteriously injured foot to the superheroic
mythos, asking, “How’d you do this one—leaping tall buildings in a single bound again?” (128). Jimmy’s
bound foot offers a reminder of Oedipus’s punctured feet and establishes a further connection be-
tween barred superheroic desire and the Oedipal constellation.
31. On the dust jacket of Jimmy Corrigan’s hardcover edition, Ware shows that Jimmy is still a col-
lector of comics, indicating his claim that he no longer reads comics is likely a product of his embar-
rassment (dust jacket).
32. Jimmy Corrigan’s hardcover dust jacket literalizes this practice, at once unveiling further com-
plexities to Jimmy’s genealogical descent and making them disappear into the folds of the paper itself
(dust jacket).
2 8
The Limits of Realism: Alternative
Comics and Middlebrow Aesthetics in the
Anthologies of Chris Ware
Tc LhirLccnLh issuc oí McSweeney’s Quarter|y Concern, publishcd in Lhc sum-
mcr oí :oo¡, capLurcs Lhc prccisc momcnL LhaL comics Look ovcr Lhc world.
Tc dusL jackcL (scc fig. ¸.: pagcs ¸o–¸±), an claboraLcly sLrucLurcd comic wriL-
Lcn and drawn by gucsL cdiLor Chris Warc, chroniclcs Lhc LribulaLions oí a
loncly carLoonisL who, undcr prcssurc Lo mccL a looming dcadlinc, dccidcs
his comic sLrip “docsn’L nccd a punchlinc aL all! I mcan . . . |ìje docsn’L havc a
punchlinc, rìght? Maybc I should jusL stop, lcL iL cnd whcrc iL is. . . .” Tanks Lo
a Limcly divinc inLcrvcnLion, Lhc carLoonisL íollows Lhrough on his idca and
soon his rcadcrs arc praising Lhc sLrip íor iLs liíclikc rhyLhms and iLs rcalisLic
lack oí rcsoluLion. “Who woulda LhoughL,” Lhc carLoonisL muscs, “LhaL in lcss
Lhan one week comic sLrips would supplanL painLing, sculpLurc, and movics
as Lhc world’s dominanL arLíorm`” In shorL ordcr, Lhc carLoonisL is living in
palaLial surroundings, bclovcd by an adoring public and houndcd by mobs
oí ícmalc admircrs, all bccausc hc has inLroduccd rcalism inLo his sLrip, now
invcnLivcly LiLlcd “Iiíc oí Lhc ScaLcd CarLoonisL” (scc fig. ¸.±).
Whilc Warc prcscnLs Lhcsc dcvclopmcnLs wiLh considcrablc irony (Lhc
scaLcd carLoonisL, dissaLisficd wiLh his ovcrnighL succcss, pondcrs painLing
sLill-liíc waLcrcolors unLil hc rcmcmbcrs LhaL non-scqucnLial arL no longcr
holds any valuc in Lhis parallcl acsLhcLic univcrsc), Lhcy arc closcly maLchcd
Lo Lhc projccL oí Lhc anLhology Lhcy cnvclop. By dcdicaLing an issuc oí Lhc
influcnLial, innovaLivc liLcrary quarLcrly Lo comics, Warc and McSweeney’s
íoundcr Davc Fggcrs advancc Lhc idca LhaL comics arc “incrcasingly rccog-
nizcd as Lhc cuLLing cdgc oí visual and liLcrary culLurc”—pcrhaps noL quiLc
Lhc world’s dominanL arL íorm, buL closing in íasL.
And whilc Lhc comics
asscmblcd wiLhin McSweeney’s ±¸ display a varicLy oí sLylcs írom sardonic
humor Lo groLcsquc horror, a majoriLy oí picccs sLrivc íor somc íorm oí rcal-
ism, ranging írom documcnLary journalism Lo psychological characLcr sLudy
Lo conícssional sclí-rcvclaLion. A laLcr volumc also cdiLcd by Warc, Te Pest
Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,, is cvcn morc hcavily wcighLcd Loward auLobiography
and rcalisLic ficLion. Warc may jokingly cxaggcraLc Lhc culLural impacL oí rcal-
isLic comics on his dusL jackcL, buL his anLhologics—cspccially Lhc inLroduc-
Lory cssays LhaL ouLlinc his sclccLion criLcria and his vision oí Lhc mcdium oí
comics—promoLc rcalism Lo Lhc cxclusion oí many oLhcr modcs oí comics
wriLing. In so doing, Lhcy also susLain somc oí Lhc hicrarchics oí liLcrary and
arLisLic valuc LhaL havc long marginalizcd comics. Warc’s íasLidious avoid-
ancc oí popular gcnrcs and his privilcging oí convcnLionally “liLcrary” modcs
oí wriLing pcrpcLuaLc LradiLional, arbiLrary divisions bcLwccn high and low
culLurc cvcn as hc sccks Lo posiLion comics bcLwccn Lhc Lwo. Warc’s ground-
brcaking anLhologics arc kcy parLicipanLs in Lhc consLrucLion oí comics’ in-
crcasing culLural lcgiLimacy, ycL Lhcy consisLcnLly rciníorcc many oí Lhc samc
assumpLions and valucs—íavoring Lhc liLcrary, Lhc LcxLual, Lhc rcalisLic—
LhaL dcnicd comics such lcgiLimacy in Lhc firsL placc.
Warc’s prcícrcncc íor Lhc rcalisLic can bc Lraccd Lo his rooLs in Lhc alLcrna-
Livc comics movcmcnL oí Lhc ±µ8os and ±µµos. Tis movcmcnL, as noLcd by
Charlcs HaLficld in Lhc cponymous A|ternatìve Comìcs (:oo¸), was inspircd
by Lhc undcrground comix oí Lhc ±µ6os and ±µ,os and nourishcd by Lhc
comic book spccialLy markcL LhaL cmcrgcd in Lhc laLc ±µ,os. Unlikc ciLhcr
Lhc undcrgrounds or Lhc mainsLrcam supcrhcro comics íavorcd by Lhc dirccL
markcL, howcvcr, alLcrnaLivc comics rcnounccd íamiliar gcnrcs in íavor oí
íormal cxpcrimcnLaLion, graphic and gcncric divcrsiLy, and Lhc bclicí LhaL
comics could pursuc Lhc highcsL arLisLic ambiLions.
AspiraLions Lo rcalism
havc always bccn an imporLanL parL oí Lhosc ambiLions. HaLficld ciLcs “Lhc
cxploraLion oí scarchingly pcrsonal and aL Limcs boldly poliLical Lhcmcs” as
onc oí Lhc disLincLivc ícaLurcs oí Lhc movcmcnL and adds, “AuLobiography,
Pages 30–31:
Fig. 3.2. Chris Ware,
“God,” McSweeney’s
Quarterly Concern 13 (San
Francisco, McSweeney’s,
2004), dust jacket.
Fig. 3.1. How realism
saved comics. Chris Ware,
“God,” detail. McSweeney’s
Quarterly Concern 13 (San
Francisco, McSweeney’s,
2004), dust jacket.
cspccially, has bccn ccnLral Lo alLcrnaLivc comics.”
Hc Lraccs Lhis inLcrcsL in
auLobiography Lo Lhc work oí Harvcy Pckar, who “csLablishcd a ncw modc
in comics: Lhc quoLidian auLobiographical scrics, íocuscd on Lhc cvcnLs and
LcxLurcs oí cvcryday cxisLcncc.”
1oscph WiLck obscrvcs LhaL Lhis cmphasis
on Lhc quoLidian disLinguishcs Pckar’s comics írom Lhcir prcdcccssors in Lhc
undcrgrounds, hc suggcsLs Pckar’s sLylc “is closcr Lo Lhc rcalisLs oí prosc liL-
craLurc Lhan Lo anyLhing LhaL has appcarcd in comic books bcíorc.”
WiLck’s claim LhaL Mark Twain, SLcphcn Cranc, Frank Norris, and oLhcr
“masLcrs oí Amcrican rcalism” consLiLuLc “Lhc wcllsprings oí [Pckar’s] homc-
grown acsLhcLic” should indicaLc Lhc cxLcnL Lo which comics arLisLs and
criLics alikc havc íramcd Lhc rcalism oí Lhc alLcrnaLivc comics movcmcnL
in liLcrary raLhcr Lhan visual Lcrms.
Indccd, WiLck acknowlcdgcs LhaL Lhc
arLwork in Pckar’s comics is oíLcn “crudc,” unsophisLicaLcd, noL “convcnLion-
ally ‘rcalisLic’”—wiLh Lhc sLylisLic dcscripLor placcd in quoLcs, as ií Lo signal
LhaL Lhc comic’s rcalism lics in arcas oLhcr Lhan visual convcnLion.
Tis dc-
scripLion highlighLs a Lcnsion wiLhin rcalism iLsclí, bcLwccn iLs abiliLy Lo rc-
crcaLc Lhc scmblancc oí rcaliLy and iLs inLcrcsL in cxposing oLhcr LruLhs LhaL lic
bcyond mcrc appcarancc. W.1.T. MiLchcll idcnLifics Lhis Lcnsion as a conLrasL
bcLwccn illusionism, Lhc “simulaLion oí Lhc prcscncc oí objccLs, spaccs, and
acLions,” and rcalism, Lhc “capaciLy oí picLurcs Lo show Lhc LruLh abouL Lhings
[. . .] offcring a LransparcnL window onLo rcaliLy, an cmbodimcnL oí a socially
auLhorizcd and crcdiblc ‘cycwiLncss’ pcrspccLivc.”
MiLchcll’s usc oí “rcal-
ism” muddics Lhc disLincLion, howcvcr, as both “illusionism” and “rcalism”
arc imporLanL clcmcnLs oí Lhc rcalisL sLylc in liLcraLurc and Lhc visual arLs.
According Lo arL hisLorian Iinda Nochlin, Lhis sLylc sccks “Lo givc a LruLhíul,
objccLivc and imparLial rcprcscnLaLion oí Lhc rcal world, bascd on mcLiculous
obscrvaLion oí conLcmporary liíc.”
Nochlin disLinguishcs bcLwccn rcalism’s
LradiLions oí íaiLhíul simulaLion and honcsL obscrvaLion, characLcrizing Lhcm
as, rcspccLivcly, verìsìmì|ìtude and ob¡ectìvìty, sinccriLy, or auLhcnLiciLy.
many crcaLors and criLics oí alLcrnaLivc comics, howcvcr, auLhcnLiciLy oí ob-
scrvaLion Lakcs prcccdcncc ovcr vcrisimiliLudc in graphic rcprcscnLaLion—
and, pcrhaps bccausc comics arc a visual mcdium, Lhcy Lcnd Lo associaLc il-
lusionism cxclusivcly wiLh visual rcprcscnLaLion, prcícrring Lo cvaluaLc and
praisc Lhcir works’ rcalism in prcdominanLly narraLivc and liLcrary Lcrms.
Warc, onc oí Lhc íorcmosL figurcs Lo cmcrgc írom Lhc alLcrnaLivc comics
movcmcnL, rccapiLulaLcs Lhis acsLhcLic in his anLhologics, mosL noLably in
Lhc inLroducLion Lo Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,. AlLhough hc cxalLs comics íor
Lhcir capaciLy íor mimcLic rcprcscnLaLion, which hc conLrasLs againsL Lhc risc
oí conccpLualism in Lhc LwcnLicLh-ccnLury visual arLs, Warc gcncrally íavors
narraLivc auLhcnLiciLy ovcr visual vcrisimiliLudc. Hc says Lhc qualiLics hc is
“rcgularly looking íor írom arL and liLcraLurc” ulLimaLcly boil down Lo “Lclling
Lhc LruLh”, hc dcícnds Lhc “prcpondcrancc oí auLobiographical work” in con-
Lcmporary comics as “a ncccssiLy [. . .] boLh íor Lhc arLisLs and Lhc mcdium” ií
Lhcy arc Lo lcarn “how Lo cxprcss rcal human cmoLion”, hc argucs LhaL auLo-
biographic sclí-cxprcssion “is a ncccssary sLcp Lowards undcrsLanding whaL
communicaLcs and works in a mcdium”, and hc claims Lhc conLribuLors Lo
his volumc havc all dcvclopcd individual sLylcs “wiLh Lhc aim oí gcLLing aL
somcLhing ncw or, morc prcciscly, rcal.”
To accommodaLc Lhc cxpcrimcnLal,
dccidcdly non-illusionisLic work oí Cary PanLcr, C. F. (ChrisLophcr Forgucs),
and Lhc Papcr Rad collccLivc, Warc suggcsLs Lhcsc arLisLs allow íor “vcry
sLrangc ycL oddly rcal associaLions and ícclings.”
WiLh a sufficicnLly flcxiblc dcfiniLion, Lhc rcalisL labcl can bc madc Lo fiL
any arLisL, and Warc incviLably bcsLows iL as a Lcrm oí high praisc. Howcvcr,
Lhis labcl masks a scrics oí uncriLical and mislcading clisions: Pest Amerìcan
Comìcs .oo, conflaLcs mimcLic rcprcscnLaLion wiLh quoLidian rcalism, quoLid-
ian rcalism wiLh auLobiography, and boLh modcs oí wriLing wiLh “Lclling Lhc
LruLh.” AuLobiography poscs a parLicular challcngc in Lhis rcgard, whilc iL may
appcar Lo offcr Lhc mosL honcsL and auLhcnLic rcprcscnLaLions, in pracLicc
iL can also provc Lhc mosL dcccpLivc. As HaLficld cauLions, auLobiographics
dcpcnd as much on íabricaLion as on íacL, and “whaL passcs íor írankncss
in comics musL bc a maLLcr oí boLh subjccLivc vision and graphic arLificc, a
shoLgun wcdding oí Lhc unLrusLworLhy and Lhc unrcal.”
Nor is Lhis cquivo-
caLion unknown Lo comics arLisLs. HaLficld ciLcs comics by Danicl Clowcs,
R. Crumb, CilbcrL Hcrnandcz, and Harvcy Pckar LhaL subvcrL, cxploiL, or
ridiculc Lhis incviLablc slippagc bcLwccn LruLh and arLificc, Warc’s own “Cor-
rigcnda” Lo Lhc scmi-auLobiographical 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on
Farth acknowlcdgcs “Lhc chasm which gapcs bcLwccn Lhc ridiculous, arLlcss,
dumbíoundcdly mcaninglcss coincidcncc oí ‘rcal’ liíc and my wcak ficLion—
noL Lo mcnLion my inabiliLy aL kniLLing Lhcm LogcLhcr.”
YcL his anLhologics
cquaLc auLobiography, honcsLy, and rcalism wiLhouL qucsLion.
Hc insLcad rcscrvcs his skcpLicism íor visual vcrisimiliLudc and illusion-
ism. In his inLroducLion Lo McSweeney’s ±¸, Warc claims, “Lhc morc dcLailcd
and rcfincd a carLoon, Lhc lcss iL sccms Lo ‘work,’ and Lhc morc rcsisLanL Lo
rcading iL bccomcs.”
Warc claboraLcs on Lhis judgmcnL in commcnLs Lo Dan-
icl Racburn: “FundamcnLally you’rc bcLLcr off using idcograms raLhcr Lhan
rcalisLic drawings. [. . .] Tcrc’s a vulgariLy Lo showing somcLhing as you rcally
scc iL and cxpcricncc iL. IL scLs up an odd wall LhaL blocks Lhc rcadcr’s cmpa-
Whilc Lhcsc commcnLs rcvcal much abouL Warc’s arLisLic dccisions in
his own comics, Lhc McSweeney’s inLroducLion cxLrapolaLcs his sLylisLic prcí-
crcncc íor simplificd icons and symbols inLo a gcncral rcnunciaLion oí rcalis-
Lic arL. Racburn makcs Lhis rcnunciaLion cxpliciL wiLh his own gloss on Warc’s
commcnLs, adding, “Rcalism is finc íor Lclling Lalcs abouL juL-jawcd good guys
in LighLs who sock dasLards, buL iL is Loo cxpliciL íor anyLhing cmoLional. IL
bullics Lhc rcadcrs and Lhcir cmoLions, Lurning scnLimcnL inLo scnLimcnLal-
iLy. 1usL as Lhc old saw holds LhaL in wriLing ficLion you should show, noL Lcll,
in comics Lo show Loo much is Lo ‘Lcll’ Loo much.”
AlLhough Racburn cschcws “rcalism” as a wholc, hc only LargcLs rcalism
in arL, conLrasLing iL wiLh Lhc liLcrary varicLy, wriLcrs oí ficLion arc supposcd
Lo íavor dramaLizaLion and dcLail ovcr cxposiLion and didacLicism, buL com-
ics arLisLs musL avoid ovcrburdcning Lhcir imagcs lcsL Lhc imagcs Lhcmsclvcs
bccomc didacLic. AcLing as Warc’s inLcrlocuLor, Racburn claims LhaL rcalisLic
drawing and wriLing arc anLiLhcLical, associaLing rcalisLic picLurcs cxclusivcly
wiLh Lhc supcrhcro advcnLurcs hc and Warc dccry. Ironically, somc supcr-
hcro boosLcrs makc Lhc samc associaLion, Lhough wiLh approval raLhcr Lhan
scorn, in Te Sì|ver Age oj Comìc Pook Art (:oo¸), Arlcn Schumcr rcscrvcs his
highcsL praisc íor Lhc naLuralisLic figurc drawing oí Ncal Adams and his imi-
WhcLhcr laudaLory or dismissivc, such argumcnLs Lcnd Lo ovcrlook
Lhc idcalizcd and cxaggcraLcd anaLomics, ouLrc scLLings, and hcroic subjccLs
LhaL would morc Lhan disqualiíy such comics írom rcalism in Lhc visual arLs.

Tc rcalism Racburn dcridcs is Lhc illusionisLic LradiLion oí Ncal Adams and
Alcx Ross, noL Lhc social obscrvaLion oí Alison Bcchdcl or 1oc Sacco. Whilc
Lhcsc LradiLions may bc scparaLcd by Lhcir cmphasis on diffcrcnL componcnLs
oí rcalism, Lhc dcLcrmining íacLor íor Racburn sccms Lo bc Lhcir occupaLion
oí diffcrcnL gcnrcs—supcrhcrocs vcrsus auLobiography, rcalisLic ficLion, and
rcporLagc—LhaL aspirc Lo diffcrcnL lcvcls oí auLhcnLiciLy and havc LradiLion-
ally commandcd radically diffcrcnL kinds oí culLural capiLal.
Warc, Loo, misscs no opporLuniLy Lo disLancc Lhc sclccLions in his anLholo-
gics írom supcrhcrocs and oLhcr popular gcnrcs LradiLionally associaLcd wiLh
comics. Tis is a classic rhcLorical sLraLcgy oí Lhc alLcrnaLivc comics movc-
mcnL, which has long dcfincd iLsclí againsL Lhc íanLasy, acLion, humor, and
supcrhcro gcnrcs LhaL dominaLcd Lhc NorLh Amcrican comics markcL aL Lhc
Limc oí Lhc movcmcnL’s cmcrgcncc in Lhc carly ±µ8os. HaLficld wriLcs, “Rcjcc-
Lion oí Lhc corporaLisL ‘mainsLrcam’ givcs Lhc posL-undcrground alLcrnaLivc
sccnc cvcryLhing: iLs raison d’cLrc, iLs corc rcadcrship, and iLs problcmaLic,
marginal, and sclí-marginalizing idcnLiLy.”
WiLck incorporaLcs Lhis opposi-
Lional sLancc inLo his own argumcnLs, wiLh many oí his claims íor Lhc valuc
oí nonficLion comics prcdicaLcd on Lhcir cvidcnL dcparLurc írom “brighLly
colorcd brcakncck fighL sccncs bcLwccn cosmos-spanning powcr figurcs wiLh
Lhc íaLc oí Lhc univcrsc aL sLakc”, Lhc hypcrbolic dcscripLion rc-crcaLcs many
alLcrnaLivc comics arLisLs’ dcrision íor Lhc íanLasics Lhcy rcjccL.

Warc írcqucnLly incorporaLcs supcrhcro characLcrs inLo his own comics, such
as “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss” and Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary, his
anLhologics cannoL disavow Lhcm oíLcn cnough. McSweeney’s ±¸ holds Lhc
commcrcial gcnrcs aL arm’s lcngLh boLh in Warc’s comics conLribuLions (onc
oí Lhc sLrips on his dusL jackcL is callcd “AdolcsccnL Powcr FanLasy Man”,
oLhcrs pokc íun aL íormulaic ncwspapcr gag sLrips) and in his inLroducLion,
whcrc hc swcars off any rcsponsibiliLy íor Lhosc ícllow conLribuLors who rc-
íusc Lo íollow suiL: “nonc oí Lhc ‘words-only’ auLhors inviLcd Lo conLribuLc
wcrc askcd Lo wriLc abouL supcrhcrocs and Lhcir childhoods, Lhough ncarly
all oí Lhcm did.”

Warc íaccs no such cmbarrassmcnLs in Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,, which
cxcludcs supcrhcro comics noL simply íor Lhcir gcncric ícaLurcs buL also íor
Lhcir mosL common modc oí producLion. Warc claims: “Tc LradiLional, com-
mcrcially csLablishcd modc oí ‘scripLing’ a sLory and Lhcn simply illusLraLing
iL docs noL admiL Lo Lhc cndcmic poLcnLial in comics Lo liLcrally imaginc and
scc on Lhc pagc, Lo say noLhing oí plumbing arcas oí imaginaLion and mcmory
LhaL, I Lhink, would oLhcrwisc bc lcíL inacccssiblc Lo words or singlc picLurcs

UndcrsLandably, hc privilcgcs comics crcaLcd by a singlc wriLcr-arLisL,
anoLhcr kcy clcmcnL oí Lhc alLcrnaLivc cLhos LhaL valucs comics as avcnucs
íor sclí-cxprcssion by a lonc crcaLor.
Hc gocs íar bcyond Lhis prioriLizaLion,
howcvcr, whcn hc implics LhaL prosc, singlc imagcs, and cvcn comics crcaLcd
Lhrough Lhc collaboraLivc division oí labor arc all somchow lcss ablc Lo ac-
ccss ccrLain “arcas oí imaginaLion and mcmory” Lhan comics produccd by a
singlc wriLcr-arLisL. Warc cxLcnds Lhc division oí labor oí commcrcial comics
Lo cxLrcmc lcngLhs, scparaLing Lhcsc comics inLo Lhcir componcnL words and
picLurcs as a mcans oí dcnying Lhcm Lhc samc capaciLy íor cxprcssion, mcan-
ing, and dcpLh—ií noL cxcluding Lhcm írom íull considcraLion as comics.
Having dismisscd Lhc commcrcial gcnrcs, Warc also scparaLcs his choscn
Fig. 3.3. Ware satirizes
postwar intellectuals’
disdain for comics. Chris
Ware, “Comics: A Histo-
ry,” McSweeney’s Quarterly
Concern 13 (San Francisco:
McSweeney’s, 2004), 11.
milicu írom Lhc world oí finc arLs. Tis Limc, howcvcr, Lhc scparaLion is noL
cnLircly volunLary. Tc McSweeney’s inLroducLion Lallics Lhc humiliaLing judg-
mcnLs Warc’s insLrucLors aL Lhc School oí Lhc ArL InsLiLuLc oí Chicago madc
abouL his dccision Lo crcaLc comics, in Lhc comic-sLrip hisLory oí comics LhaL
runs parallcl Lo his prosc inLroducLion, and acLs aL Limcs as a visual commcn-
Lary on iL, Lhc samc pagc shows a Bcnday-doLLing Roy IichLcnsLcin Lypc who
boasLs LhaL hc uscs comics “as a symbol íor Lhc spiriLual povcrLy oí Amcrican
culLurc” (scc fig. ¸.¸).
By Lhc Limc oí his Pest Amerìcan Comìcs inLroducLion,
howcvcr, Warc sccms almosL graLcíul íor Lhis cxpulsion, LrcaLing iL as a íor-
LunaLc íall LhaL cxcmpLcd comics írom Lhc absLracLionisL and conccpLualisL
bcnL oí LwcnLicLh-ccnLury arL. In Warc’s Lclling, modcrnism and iLs succcs-
sors “all buL sLompcd ouL Lhc idca oí sLoryLclling in picLurcs,” wiLh comics Lhc
lonc holdouL, hc cvcn gocs so íar as Lo imply LhaL Lhc anLi-comics crusadc oí
Lhc laLc ±µ¡os and carly ±µ¸os was somc kind oí rcLribuLion íor daring Lo Lcll
lurid sLorics in an agc oí absLracLion.

Hc rcgards comics as a locus, ií noL a
havcn, íor mimcLic and narraLivc arL “during a pcriod LhaL arL hisLorical nay-
saycrs and doomsdaycrs somcLimcs labcl as suffcring a ‘crisis oí rcprcscnLa-
Ií Lhc acadcmy has rcjccLcd comics, iL is Lhc acadcmy’s loss.
Tc carlicr McSweeney’s inLroducLion draws subLlcr disLincLions bcLwccn
painLing and comics arL. AíLcr hc argucs LhaL cxccssivc visual dcLail hampcrs
our abiliLy Lo rcad comics, Warc sLaLcs LhaL “Lhc rcal arL rcsidcs” in “Lhc Lac-
LiliLy oí an cxpcricncc Lold in picLurcs ouLsidc Lhc boundarics oí words, and
Lhc rhythm oí how Lhcsc drawings ‘íccl’ whcn rcad”, hc íurLhcr claims Lhc
comics arLisL’s sLylc is “cxprcsscd in how Lhcir characLcrs movc, how Limc
is sculpLcd.”
AlLhough hc rclics hcavily on figuraLivc, analogic dcscripLions
borrowcd írom music and Lhc plasLic arLs, his cmphasis on rhyLhm, moLion,
and Limc suggcsLs LhaL, much likc ScoLL McCloud, Warc bclicvcs Lhc arL oí
comics inhcrcs in iLs abiliLy Lo rcprcscnL Limc Lhrough Lhc juxLaposiLion and
arrangcmcnL oí mulLiplc imagcs. Tis complicaLcs his Pest Amerìcan Comìcs
dichoLomy oí rcícrcnLialiLy and conccpLualism, indicaLing LhaL comics arc dií-
ícrcnL noL simply íor rcprcscnLing Lhc world mimcLically buL íor rcprcscnL-
ing iL Lhrough mulLiplc imagcs LhaL combinc Lo íorm a unificd narraLivc, a
major diffcrcncc oí íorm as wcll as conLcnL.
Warc, in posiLioning alLcrnaLivc
comics bcLwccn popular culLurc and Lhc finc arLs, has also raiscd, howcvcr
indirccLly, Lhc inLriguing possibiliLy LhaL comics could occupy a middlc spacc
bcLwccn rcprcscnLaLion and absLracLion—or a spacc LhaL lics ouLsidc Lhis bi-
nary cnLircly, nciLhcr bcholdcn Lo rcícrcnLialiLy nor bound Lo rcjccL iL.
UníorLunaLcly, Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo, dcvoLcs morc cncrgy Lo siLuaL-
ing alLcrnaLivc comics bcLwccn Lhc popular and Lhc cliLc and condcmning
boLh, a mancuvcr sLrikingly rcminisccnL oí Lhc posLwar middlcbrow criLics
oí mass culLurc as dcscribcd by Icslic Ficdlcr in “Tc Middlc againsL BoLh
Fnds” (±µ¸¸). Ficdlcr noLcs LhaL Lhcsc criLics wcrc as suspicious oí modcrnisL
liLcraLurc as Lhcy wcrc oí Lhc comics, lcading him Lo concludc, “Tc middlc-
brow rcacLs wiLh cqual íury Lo an arL LhaL bafflcs his undcrsLanding and Lo
onc which rcíuscs Lo aspirc Lo his lcvcl. Tc firsL rcminds him LhaL hc has noL
ycL, aíLcr all, arrìved (and, indccd, may ncvcr makc iL), Lhc sccond suggcsLs Lo
him a condiLion Lo which hc mighL casily rclapsc [. . . and] cvcn suggcsLs whaL
his sLaLc may appcar likc Lo Lhosc a noLch abovc.”
Tc middlcbrow criLics arc
noL a pcríccL maLch íor Warc: modcrnisL and posLmodcrnisL arL can hardly
bc said Lo bafflc his undcrsLanding, and hc docs noL rcjccL “Lhc inLolcrablc
noLion oí a hicrarchy oí LasLc, a hicrarchy oí valucs” as Ficdlcr mainLains Lhc
anLi-comics crusadcrs did.
QuiLc Lhc opposiLc, his anLhologics rciníorcc Lhc
samc hicrarchics and sLcrcoLypcs LhaL dcnicd comics any culLural capiLal in
Lhc pasL and causcd Warc so much gricí aL arL school.
In McSweeney’s, Warc lamcnLs LhaL “Lhc associaLions oí childhood and pu-
criliLy arc sLill hard Lo shakc” íor many carLoonisLs—buL hc hasLcns Lo add,
“NoL LhaL Lhc arL iLsclí shouldn’L bc blamcd” íor crcaLing Lhcsc associaLions,
sincc “Lhc accumulaLcd world-dump oí comics is pilcd high wiLh nonscnsc.”

BoLh his dusL jackcL sLrips and his inLroducLory hisLory oí comics porLray com-
ics as a crass, dcspiscd, cphcmcral, hopclcssly commcrcializcd mcdium, cvcn
Cod himsclí proclaims LhaL carLoonisLs “surc goL shaíLcd.”
Danicl Wordcn
has obscrvcd how Lhis scnsc oí shamc aL comics’ vulgar hisLory pcrmcaLcs
Lhc anLhology, providing a common acsLhcLic íor Lhc conLribuLors and dcfin-
ing Lhc book’s audicncc.
IL is also so common Lo Warc’s own work LhaL, in
his prcíacc, Warc’s íricnd Ira Class quips, “Comic book arLisLs oíLcn sccm Lo
Lhink oí Lhcmsclvcs as marginal figurcs. I’m surc somcwhcrc in Lhis issuc oí
McSweeney’s Chris Warc is bcmoaning how no onc pays aLLcnLion Lo comics,
how Lhcy’rc noL Lakcn scriously, how Lhcy’rc sccn as childrcn’s arL.”
pagc laLcr, Warc is doing jusL LhaL. His issuc oí McSweeney’s prcscnLs comics
as an abjccL, shamcíul arL íorm cvcn as hc casLigaLcs Lhc arL world íor vicwing
iL Lhc samc way.
Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo, is cvcn morc cquivocal in iLs simulLancous dc-
ícnsc and dcícnsivc bcliLLlcmcnL oí comics. Warc jusLifics Lhc prcpondcrancc
oí auLobiography in alLcrnaLivc comics (and in his anLhology) by announc-
ing LhaL “comics havc cnLcrcd Lhcir laLc adolcsccncc as arL/liLcraLurc” and by
dcclaring auLobiography “Lhc mosL íacilc and immcdiaLc way” íor novicc arL-
isLs Lo lcarn Lo wriLc cmoLions.
Somc conLcxL mighL hclp illuminaLc Lhcsc
curiously backhandcd argumcnLs: Warc is dcícnding auLobiographical comics
againsL a pcrccivcd slighL in a New York Tìmes rcvicw by 1ohn Hodgman, who
wriLcs, “For all Lhc admirablc cfforL Lo allow comics Lo Lcll diffcrcnL Lypcs oí
sLorics, Lhcrc is also a crccping samcncss Lo many oí Lhcsc comics: black-and-
whiLc, scmi- or wholly auLobiographical skcLchcs oí driíLing daily liíc and iLs
quicL cpiphanics [. . . and] somcLimcs Lhc cpiphanics arc so quicL as Lo bc in-
Hodgman’s criLicisms, alLhough dclivcrcd wiLh considcrablc sym-
paLhy, suggcsL somc alLcrnaLivc comics havc scLLlcd inLo a monoLony LhaL
conLravcncs Lhcir own cLhos, a movcmcnL LhaL, according Lo HaLficld, pridcs
iLsclí on gcncric divcrsiLy has rcachcd Lhc poinL whcrc “Lhc appcarancc oí
bracing ‘honcsLy’ runs Lhc risk oí hardcning inLo a sclí-scrving, rcpcLiLivc
Pcrhaps Lhc worsL sLing, howcvcr, is landcd whcn Hodgman, aíLcr sum-
marizing onc parLicularly incrL sLory by 1onaLhan BcnncLL (rcprinLcd in Pest
Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,), yawns, “Tis is whcn I Lcnd Lo rcach íor Lhc pilc oí
supcrhcro comics.”
Hodgman, Longuc firmly in chcck, rcíuscs Lo rcspccL Lhc
hicrarchics oí LasLc mainLaincd in Warc’s inLroducLions and in Lhc world oí
NorLh Amcrican alLcrnaLivc comics in gcncral, Lhc íacL LhaL Lhcsc comics do
noL ícaLurc supcrhcrocs is no longcr sufficicnL rcason íor Hodgman Lo ignorc
his íccling LhaL many (Lhough by no mcans all) oí Lhcsc cpiphanic comics arc
“kind oí boring.”
Warc’s rcsponsc is noL Lo rcíuLc Lhc chargc buL Lo rcasscrL
Lhc hicrarchy. Hc rcanimaLcs Lhc dismissals oí his arL school ycars wiLh his
claims LhaL comics havc cnLcrcd Lhcir laLc adolcsccncc—pcrhaps a marginal
improvcmcnL ovcr childhood, which Warc associaLcs wiLh supcrhcro and
humor comics—and LhaL Lhcy havc íocuscd on auLobiography ouL oí convc-
nicncc and a lack oí any bcLLcr abiliLy Lo cxprcss cmoLion. Ií Lhcsc dcícnscs
sccm paLronizing, cvcn counLcrproducLivc, aL lcasL Lhc hicrarchy oí LasLc Lhcy
mainLain placcs Warc’s alLcrnaLivc comics in Lhc middlc: Hodgman’s supcr-
hcro comics arc scnL back Lo Lhc boLLom oí Lhc pilc.
Warc’s anLhologics rciníorcc Lhis hicrarchy Lhrough Lhcir sclccLion and
caLcgorizaLion oí comics arLisLs. BoLh volumcs skcw hcavily Loward various
íorms oí liLcrary rcalism or liíc wriLing: cpiphanic ficLion, auLobiography, di-
ary comics, drcam journals. Tcsc gcnrcs accounL íor anywhcrc írom onc-
Lhird Lo onc-halí oí Lhc comics in McSweeney’s ±¸ (dcpcnding on how bordcr
cascs likc Danicl Clowcs’s aggrcssivcly, ironically mundanc “Tc DarlingLon
Sundays” arc classificd).
Tc Lrcnd is cvcn morc pronounccd in Pest Amerì-
can Comìcs .oo,, wiLh Lhc abscncc oí hisLorical comics arLisLs likc Rodolphc
Topffcr, Ccorgc Hcrriman, or Charlcs Schulz (all ícaLurcd in McSweeney’s),
wcll ovcr halí oí Lhc arLisLs havc produccd auLobiographic or rcalisLic comics,
and auLobiographics alonc accounL íor morc Lhan a Lhird oí Lhc collccLion.
Warc íurLhcr calls aLLcnLion Lo Lhis narrow rangc by grouping his sclccLions
LogcLhcr by gcnrc and sLylc, cxaccrbaLing Lhc imprcssion LhaL his collccLions
arc govcrncd by only a ícw modcs oí wriLing.
Nowhcrc is Warc’s Lcndcncy Lo promoLc auLobiographical comics—and Lo
pigconholc alLcrnaLivc comics arLisLs in a handíul oí gcnrcs—morc appar-
cnL Lhan in his handling oí womcn arLisLs. Oí Lhc LhirLy-Lwo comics arLisLs
includcd in Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,, jusL ninc arc womcn. (Two arc Lhc
wiíc and daughLcr oí undcrground comix lcgcnd R. Crumb.) McSweeney’s ±¸
is cvcn lcss inclusivc, wiLh womcn accounLing íor only Lhrcc ouL oí LhirLy-
scvcn arLisLs. In rcsponsc Lo complainLs abouL Lhis lack oí rcprcscnLaLion,
Warc wraps up his Pest Amerìcan Comìcs inLroducLion wiLh a raLhcr prickly
dcícnsc oí his sclccLion proccss, sLaLing, “I am noL oí Lhc cuL oí Lhc cloLh Lo
chcck an arLisL’s gcniLalia aL Lhc door,” and dismissing “Lhosc who sLill íccl
compcllcd Lo Lally poinLs íor onc or anoLhcr chromosomc”—Lypical rcvcrsals
LhaL scck Lo shiíL Lhc blamc onLo anyonc who wanLs Lo addrcss issucs oí gcn-
dcr cxclusion, bascd on Lhc old íallacy LhaL acknowlcdging gcndcr diffcrcncc
is iLsclí a íorm oí discriminaLion. Hc adds, “Nor in Lhc casc oí Lhis book did I
go ouL in scarch oí a couplc oí hcrmaphrodiLcs Lo cvcn ouL Lhc scorc,” íurLhcr
Lrivializing any objccLions Lo Lhc scarciLy oí womcn in his collccLions. Warc
coníronLs chargcs oí cxclusion morc dirccLly whcn hc says hc chosc Lo includc
“work LhaL [hc] íound Lo bc Lhc mosL inLcrcsLing, honcsL, and rcvcaling Lo bc
publishcd in Lhc pasL ycar, and LhaL collccLion, as iL Lurncd ouL, includcd com-
ics írom Lhc pcns oí boLh scxcs.”
Tc dcLachcd posLurc and passivc languagc
(“as iL Lurncd ouL”) imply LhaL Warc and Lhcn scrics cdiLor Annc FlizabcLh
Moorc wcrc Lruly gcndcr blind in Lhcir sclccLions and plcasanLly surpriscd
wiLh Lhc cquiLablc rcsulL.
A look aL Lhc conLcnLs oí Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo, Lclls anoLhcr sLory. Oí
Lhc ninc womcn Warc includcd, cighL arc groupcd LogcLhcr, consccuLivcly,
in Lhc auLobiography sccLion, cvcn Lhough Iynda Barry’s sLrip Frnìe Pook’s
Comeek is noL auLobiographical. Tc ninLh woman, Miriam KaLin, also works
in auLobiography buL is wcdgcd bcLwccn Lwo oLhcr 1cwish comics arLisLs,
Sammy Harkham and Bcn KaLchor, in a diffcrcnL buL cqually clausLropho-
bic caLcgory. Tc sclccLions barcly acknowlcdgc LhaL womcn crcaLc comics in
oLhcr gcnrcs bcyond auLobiography. Moorc’s appcndcd lisL oí Lhc “±oo Dis-
Linguishcd Comics” publishcd during Lhc cligibiliLy pcriod includcs hisLory,
biography, íanLasy, ficLion, and cxpcrimcnLal comics by womcn such as An-
dricc Arp, Mcgan Kclso, Iinda Mcdlcy, Danica Novgorodoff, and Bccca Tay-
lor, among scvcral oLhcrs, ycL nonc oí Lhcm madc Lhc cuL in a collccLion LhaL
ncvcrLhclcss has room íor íour David HcaLlcy comics, Lhrcc Ivan BruncLLi
sLrips, and Lhc cnLirc Crumb íamily.
Whilc Lhc small numbcr oí womcn may
rcflccL Lhc rclaLivc pauciLy oí ícmalc crcaLors in NorLh Amcrican comics as a
wholc, Lhis sLark gcndcr scgrcgaLion is Warc’s handiwork—mosL likcly an un-
inLcndcd conscqucncc oí his disproporLionaLc cmphasis on auLobiography,
which rcmains Lhc gcnrc oí comics wiLh Lhc mosL promincnL and prcvalcnL
work by womcn. Warc and Moorc’s osLcnsibly gcndcr-blind sclccLion proccss
only pcrpcLuaLcs Lhis ghcLLoizaLion. Tc parLiLioning nccd noL bc malicious
or dclibcraLc, mcrcly Lhc mosL cxLrcmc cxamplc oí a íorcshorLcncd vision oí
comics LhaL íocuscs on “honcsL and rcvcaling” work abovc all clsc—and na-
ïvcly cquaLcs Lhosc characLcrisLics wiLh Lhcir mosL obvious íorms oí cxprcs-
sion in auLobiography and quoLidian rcalism.
Warc offcrs a diffcrcnL cxplanaLion oí his acsLhcLic prcícrcnccs in Pest
Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,. ConLrasLing Lhc rcccnL boom in comics wiLh Lhc ris-
ing populariLy oí prosc ficLion in “an incrcasingly urban and indusLrial ninc-
LccnLh ccnLury,” hc conLcnds LhaL in Lhc pasL, “as gcography, communicaLion,
and socicLy bccamc morc LighL-kniL, individual pcrccpLions and cxprcssion
bcgan Lo sLandardizc.”
Warc summarizcs a complcx buL widcly acccpLcd ar-
gumcnL LhaL Lhc Lcchnological and social innovaLions oí modcrniLy and Lhc
sccond indusLrial rcvoluLion insLiLuLcd univcrsalizcd, cvcr-shrinking scalcs
oí Limc and spacc, providing Lhc world, íor Lhc firsL Limc, wiLh a common
íramc oí rcícrcncc.
Warc Lhcn makcs his boldcsL claim whcn hc asscrLs LhaL
Lhis proccss oí univcrsalizaLion “is morc or lcss cxacLly Lhc invcrsc oí whaL’s
bccn happcning in comics íor Lhc lasL ícw ycars [. . . and] cvcn a casual flip-
Lhrough oí Lhc pagcs oí Lhis book will dcmonsLraLc a highly individual ap-
proach by cach and cvcry arLisL.”
Hc posiLions alLcrnaLivc comics as running
counLcr Lo modcrniLy iLsclí.
Warc’s Lhcsis is admirablc íor iLs ambiLion, iLs scopc, and iLs ncaL cncap-
sulaLion oí Lhc changcs wroughL by modcrniLy, buL iL also prompLs a ícw im-
mcdiaLc objccLions. FirsL, modcrniLy is hardly as cxclusivcly homogcnizing
as Warc suggcsLs, Lhc samc pcriod in Lhc laLc nincLccnLh and carly LwcnLi-
cLh ccnLurics LhaL saw Lhc aLLcmpLcd rcgularizaLion oí Limc and spacc also
produccd modcrnism’s highly pcrsonalizcd, idiosyncraLic, íragmcnLcd modcs
oí pcrccpLion and arLisLic rcprcscnLaLion.
Sccond, and morc imporLanL Lo
undcrsLanding Warc’s acsLhcLic criLcria, his claim LhaL “cach and cvcry arL-
isL” in his anLhology has a “highly individual approach” is bclicd by Lhc com-
paraLivcly narrow rangc oí gcnrcs and arL sLylcs hc has sclccLcd íor inclusion.
AlLhough plcnLy oí cxccpLions cxisL, Loo many oí Lhc Pest Amerìcan Comìcs
conLribuLors prcscnL diarics, auLobiographics, or quoLidian rcalisLic ficLion,
or draw in Lhc samc loosc, dclibcraLcly unpolishcd do-iL-yoursclí acsLhcLic,
íor Warc’s claim oí univcrsal individualiLy Lo bc morc Lhan hypcrbolc.
majoriLy oí his conLribuLors work wiLhin a scL oí gcncric and sLylisLic convcn-
Lions as wcll dcfincd as Lhc commcrcial narraLivc Lcchniqucs hc rcjccLs.
Hc may ncvcrLhclcss bc onLo somcLhing whcn hc locaLcs his conLribu-
Lors wiLhin an acsLhcLic oí Lhc individual. Somc oí Lhc sclccLions, such as
Sammy Harkham’s imaginaLion oí liíc in a nincLccnLh-ccnLury shLcLl or Dan
ZcLLwoch’s rccord oí Lhc ±µ¸, Iouisvillc flood, skcLch cnLirc communiLics
whilc oLhcrs, likc Lhc írcc-associaLivc cxpcrimcnLs oí C. F. and Papcr Rad,
abandon rcalisLic narraLivc cnLircly. MosL oí Lhc sLorics in Pest Amerìcan
Comìcs .oo,, howcvcr, arc sLorics oí individual dilcmmas, individual cpipha-
nics (or Lhc lack Lhcrcoí), individual arLisLs or Lhcir surrogaLcs losL in Lhcir
own individual pcrccpLions. Warc is noL incorrccL Lo placc Lhis cmphasis on
individual cxpcricncc in opposiLion Lo Lhc morc social íocus oí nincLccnLh-
ccnLury ficLion, buL hc sccms unawarc LhaL iL is hardly limiLcd Lo comics.
ChrisLophcr Iasch bcmoancd Lhc populariLy oí conícssional liLcraLurc in Te
Cu|ture oj Narcìssìsm (±µ,8), cxcoriaLing iL íor iLs sclí-indulgcncc.
porary rcalisLic ficLion has prompLcd similar criLiqucs: Ccorgc Packcr noLcs,
“RcccnL Amcrican liLcraLurc rcflccLs Lhis Lriumph oí privaLc liíc. Tc wriLing
LhaL has had Lhc grcaLcsL influcncc in Lhc pasL Lwo dccadcs [. . .] is a brcak-
íasL-Lablc rcalism, íocuscd inward on mariLal complainLs, childhood Lroublcs,
alcohol, scx, gcncral sclí-loaLhing and dissaLisíacLion.”
By way oí cxamplc,
Packcr ciLcs Warc and Moorc’s sisLcr scrics, Pest Amerìcan Short Storìes, had
hc wriLLcn Lhis passagc scvcn ycars laLcr, hc could jusL as casily havc ciLcd
Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,. Tc sLorics Warc and Moorc havc sclccLcd do cul-
LivaLc an individual approach, noL in Lhcir sharcd sLylcs buL Lhrough Lhcir
common rcLrcaL inLo inLcrior liíc, and Warc’s inLroducLion docs hinL aL Lhc
privaLizing acsLhcLic aL work in Lhcsc comics cvcn ií hc docs noL acknowlcdgc
LhaL such an acsLhcLic cxisLs. Tis undcrcuLs many oí his claims íor comics’
rcvoluLionary brcak írom prcvailing acsLhcLic sLandards—íor whilc Lhcy may
challcngc Lhc posLwar visual arLs’ íocus on absLracLion and conccpLualism,
his sclccLions íall pcríccLly in linc wiLh posLwar Amcrican liLcraLurc’s LasLc
íor Lhc conícssional and quoLidian. Warc has simply cxchangcd onc scL oí
canonical sLandards íor anoLhcr.
Hc is hardly Lhc only wriLcr Lo imposc Lhc liLcrary world’s prcícrcnccs íor
rcalism and auLobiography onLo comics. Tc pracLicc is pcrhaps bcsL cxcmpli-
ficd by Charlcs McCraLh’s New York Tìmes Magazìne arLiclc on graphic novcls.
Publishcd almosL simulLancously wiLh McSweeney’s ±¸, Lhc arLiclc boLh rccog-
nizcs and cnablcs comics’ ncwíound rcspccLabiliLy, ycL iL also conflaLcs a sin-
glc modc oí wriLing wiLh an cnLirc mcdium as McCraLh cvaluaLcs Lhc graphic
novcl in Lhc narrowcsL oí liLcrary Lcrms. AíLcr quickly dismissing popular
gcnrc ficLion írom considcraLion, McCraLh asscrLs LhaL Lhc “bcLLcr” graphic
novcls—“Lhc comic book[s] wiLh a brain”—inhabiL “a placc oí longing, loss,
scxual írusLraLion, lonclincss and alicnaLion—a landscapc vcry similar, in
oLhcr words, Lo LhaL oí so much prosc ficLion.”
Ignoring Lhc divcrsiLy oí his
own inLcrvicwccs, who rangc írom comics journalisL 1oc Sacco Lo supcrhcro
auLcur Alan Moorc, McCraLh cclcbraLcs anomic alLcrnaLivc comics prcciscly
bccausc Lhcy coníorm Lo Lhc gcncric prcícrcnccs oí conLcmporary liLcrary fic-
Lion—prcícrcnccs íor rcalism, inLcrioriLy, sclí-rcflccLion, and, abovc all, au-
Lobiography. Hc also rcduccs all auLobiographical and scmi-auLobiographical
comics Lo a singlc “ur-narraLivc, which upon cxaminaLion provcs Lo bc, wiLh
small variaLions, Lhc rcal liíc sLory oí almosL cvcryonc who gocs inLo Lhis linc
oí work.”
Tis is a sLory oí obscssion, social osLracism, “usually cxccssivc
masLurbaLion,” “ragc and dcprcssion and LhwarLcd cncrgy,” a sLory so íormu-
laic LhaL by arLiclc’s cnd McCraLh has boilcd iL down Lo íormula Lwicc morc
and uscd iL Lo sum up Lhc livcs oí Danicl Clowcs and Chris Warc: “brokcn
homc, comics obscssion, íricndlcss, daLclcss adolcsccncc.”
Whilc lauding
Lhcsc sLorics as Lhc mosL liLcraLc, arLisLic, inLclligcnL sLylc oí comics, McCraLh
confincs Lhcm Lo a singlc ploLlinc as prcdicLablc and LriLc as anyLhing pro-
duccd by Lhc supcrhcro íacLorics oí DC or Marvcl Comics. His arLiclc cxcccds
cvcn Warc’s Pest Amerìcan Comìcs inLroducLion in iLs pcnchanL íor rciníorcing
Lhc valuc judgmcnLs oí Lhc samc culLural csLablishmcnL hc claims graphic
novcls arc supplanLing, bcginning in Lhc sccond paragraph whcn hc sLaLcs, “Ií
Lhc highbrows arc righL, [comics arc] a íorm pcríccLly suiLcd Lo our dumbcd-
down culLurc and collccLivc aLLcnLion dcficiL.”
Ironically, Lhosc judgmcnLs no longcr hold Lhc samc sway ovcr much oí
Lhc liLcrary world. AuLhors oí considcrablc skill and acclaim wcrc challcng-
ing Lhc privilcgcd posiLion oí mcmoir, auLobiography, and rcalisLic, cpiphanic
ficLion wcll bcíorc McCraLh and Warc aLLcmpLcd Lo LranslaLc LhaL privilcgc
ovcr Lo comics. Colson WhiLchcad dissccLcd Lhc íormulaic rcpcLiLions, pan-
dcring mcLaphors, and always-muLcd cpiphanics oí Lhc “Wcll-CraíLcd ShorL
SLory” in a :oo: New York Tìmes book rcvicw, jusL a ícw wccks carlicr Mi-
chacl Chabon, wriLing Lhc inLroducLion Lo a volumc oí McSweeney’s dcvoLcd
Lo popular gcnrc ficLion, dcscribcd his cxhausLion wiLh “Lhc conLcmporary,
quoLidian, ploLlcss, momcnL-oí-LruLh rcvclaLory sLory” in bruLally Darwin-
ian Lcrms, lamcnLing Lhc gcncric dominancc oí “Lhc momcnL-oí-LruLh sLory
LhaL, likc homo sapicns, appcarcd rclaLivcly laLc on Lhc sccnc buL has workcd
vcry quickly Lo wipc ouL iLs rivals.”
Chabon and WhiLchcad boLh obscrvc
LhaL quoLidian rcalism is a gcnrc likc any oLhcr, wiLh as much poLcnLial íor
rigid íormulas and Lircd convcnLions as any oí Lhc popular gcnrcs Warc and
McCraLh dismiss. Ií liLcrary ficLion is, in íacL, on Lhc wanc, as McCraLh spcc-
ulaLcs in his firsL paragraph, alrcady on iLs way Lo bccoming a nichc gcnrc
íor a shrinking audicncc, iL sccms counLcrinLuiLivc LhaL hc and Warc should
promoLc comics LhaL adopL Lhc sLandards and Lhc gcnrcs LhaL rcign ovcr iLs
For all LhaL Warc posiLions himsclí, in comics and in prinL, againsL arL in-
sLrucLors, book rcvicwcrs, and oLhcr culLural gaLckccpcrs, his anLhologics arc
lcss inLcrcsLcd in cxploding Lhc gaLckccpcrs’ hicrarchics oí LasLc Lhan Lhcy arc
in asccnding wiLhin Lhosc hicrarchics, boLh by duplicaLing Lhc convcnLions
oí morc lcgiLimizcd arL íorms and by disLancing Lhcmsclvcs írom Lhc kinds
oí comics LhaL oncc carncd Lhc highbrows’ scorn. Warc siLuaLcs Lhc alLcrna-
Livc comics in his anLhologics as a ncw middlcbrow, flccing írom Lhc dcmoLic
cxccsscs oí supcrhcrocs and íunny animals whilc razzing Lhc ossificd convcn-
Lions oí Lhc visual arLs (and, simulLancously, rccrcaLing Lhc ossificd convcn-
Lions oí liLcrary ficLion). Iikc Ficdlcr’s middlcbrow, Warc’s anLhologics rail
againsL boLh high and low culLurc, buL Lhcy do so in Lhc inLcrcsL oí rccycling
raLhcr Lhan dcnying Lhc culLurc’s valuc judgmcnLs. Tcy also advocaLc limiLcd
rangcs oí acsLhcLic ambiLion and gcncric producLion íor maLurc, sophisLi-
caLcd, culLurally lcgiLimaLcd comics.
WiLh Lhcir clausLrophobic caLcgorics,
Lhcir rccirculaLcd hicrarchics, and Lhcir rcnunciaLion oí boLh Lhc finc arLs and
popular culLurc in íavor oí a homogcnous and dcrivaLivc middlc ground, Pest
Amerìcan Comìcs .oo, and McSweeney’s ±¸ do noL rcflccL Lhc íull divcrsiLy and
poLcnLial oí comics, Lhcy only affirm LhaL Warc’s vision oí alLcrnaLivc comics
no longcr offcrs much oí an alLcrnaLivc.
1. Chris Ware, “God,” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2004),
dust jacket.
2. Daniel Worden, “The Shameful Art: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Comics, and the Politics of
Affect,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 892.
3. Thierry Groensteen discusses the assumptions that have delegitimized comics, including, no-
tably, fears of “the corrupting power of the image,” suspicion of fantasy or escapism, especially when
it is presented visually, and a mistrust of comics’ hybrid nature, which violates Western culture’s
long-standing separation of text and image. Thierry Groensteen, “Why Are Comics Still in Search
of Cultural Legitimization?” trans. Shirley Smolderen, in Comics & Culture, ed. Anne Magnussen and
Hans-Christian Christiansen (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2000), 35–36.
4. Charles Hatfield, Alternative Comics (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), ix–x.
5. Ibid., x.
6. Ibid., 109.
7. Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), 128, 132.
8. Ibid., 132.
9. Ibid., 126.
10. W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 325.
11. Linda Nochlin, Realism (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971), 13.
12. Ibid., 19–21, 31–40. Nochlin also argues that realism, contrary to its claims of objectivity, does
not and cannot offer a transparent window onto reality (14–15).
13. Chris Ware, “Introduction,” in The Best American Comics 2007 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
2007), xvii–xviii, xxi.
14. Ibid., xxi.
15. Hatfield, Alternative Comics, 114.
16. Chris Ware, “Corrigenda,” in Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon,
2000), endpapers.
17. Ware, “Introduction,” McSweeney’s 11 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2003).
18. Chris Ware, quoted in Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004),
18. Ware is far from the only comics artist to claim that iconically simplified art increases reader
empathy and identification; Scott McCloud makes a similar argument in chapter 2 of Understanding
Comics (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink, 1993); and Art Spiegelman describes Maus in similar terms
in Joshua Brown, “Of Mice and Memory,” Oral History Review 16.1 (1988): 91–109. However, some
scholars have challenged this association, arguing that iconic style does not determine reader involve-
ment: see Jonathan Frome, “Identification in Comics,” The Comics Journal 211 (1999): 82–86.
19. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 19.
20. Schumer also makes the questionable argument that Adams’s expressive anatomical realism
was a necessary precursor for superhero comics to tackle more complex and realistic subjects, quite
the opposite of Ware’s and Raeburn’s separation of the two. Arlen Schumer, The Silver Age of Comic
Book Art (Portland, OR: Collector’s Press, 2003).
21. Charles Hatfield, review of The Silver Age of Comic Art, International Journal of Comic Art 6.1
(2004): 352.
22. Hatfield, Alternative Comics, 111.
23. Witek, Comic Books as History, 127.
24. Ware, McSweeney’s 12 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2003).
25. Ware, Best American, xix.
26. Hatfield, Alternative Comics, 16, 18.
27. Ware’s logic cannot support his own preferences: if he applied this principle across all genres
of comics, then the work of critically reviled superhero writer-artists such as Todd MacFarlane and
Rob Liefeld would possess more of comics’ “endemic potential” than that of alternative comics pio-
neer Harvey Pekar, who never illustrates his own scripts and always collaborates with an artist.
28. Ware, McSweeney’s 11.
29. Ware, Best American, xix–xx.
30. Ibid., xxii.
31. Ware, McSweeney’s 11.
32. The Best American introduction does note that the pre-modernist narrative art of altarpieces
and tapestries was frequently sequential. Ware, Best American, xix.
33. Leslie Fiedler, “The Middle against Both Ends,” Encounter (August 1955), rpt. in The Collected
Essays of Leslie Fiedler, vol. 2 (New York: Stein and Day, 1971), 428.
34. Ibid., 428.
35. Ware, McSweeney’s 11.
36. Ibid., dust jacket.
37. Worden, “The Shameful Art,” 893–94.
38. Ira Glass, “Preface,” in McSweeney’s 7 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2001).
39. Ware, Best American, xviii.
40. John Hodgman, “Comics Chronicle,” New York Times Book Review, June 4, 2006, 18. Ware
does not cite Hodgman by name, but he refers to “a June 2006 roundup of various recent comics”
and quotes Hodgman’s review. He also neglects to mention that Hodgman praises several comics in
the epiphanic style, including two by C. Tyler and Kevin Huizenga that are excerpted in Best American
Comics 2007.
41. Hatfield, Alternative Comics, 114.
42. Hodgman, “Comics Chronicle,” 18.
43. Ibid.
44. Worden notes that the anthology’s thematic range is also “remarkably homogenous,” with
most of the selections drawing on “a common tradition in comics that centers on intimacy, shame,
and masculine melancholia.” Worden, “The Shameful Art,” 892, 893.
45. Ware, Best American, xxiii.
46. David Foster Wallace explains the selection process for the Best American series in his “In-
troduction” to The Best American Essays 2007, ed. David Foster Wallace (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
2007). The series editor—in the case of Best American Comics 2007, Anne Elizabeth Moore—culls
the submissions down to roughly 100 finalists. The guest editor—in this case, Ware—chooses which
pieces will be published in the anthology.
47. Anne Elizabeth Moore, “100 Distinguished Comics from August 31, 2005, to September 1,
2006,” in Ware, Best American, 328–30.
48. Ware, Best American, xx, xxi.
49. See, for example, Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918 (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1983), 11–15; and David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge,
UK: Blackwell, 1990), 260–83.
50. Ware, Best American, xxi.
51. See Kern, The Culture of Time and Space; and Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity. Brad Prager
has observed that Ware himself works in a modernist mode. Brad Prager, “Modernism in the Con-
temporary Graphic Novel: Chris Ware and the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” International Journal
of Comic Art. 5.1 (2003): 195–213.
52. Dave Eggers identifies many of the hallmarks of this style, currently ascendant in alternative
comics, in his catalogue for a 2008 gallery show of such works. He cites their lighthearted tone,
scrawled writing, uncorrected spelling, “casual, even sloppy” drawings, “loose draftsmanship,” and
their “intimate and disarming” ethos. Unfortunately, he declines to give a name to this affected unaf-
fectedness, choosing (in a fitting example of the style) to title his exhibition and catalogue “Lots of
Things Like This.” Dave Eggers, “Lots of Things Like This,” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 27 (San
Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008), n.p.
53. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Norton, 1978), 16–21. Hatfield has
observed how Lasch’s arguments underwrite many common critiques of autobiographical comics.
Hatfield, Alternative Comics, 129–30.
54. George Packer, Blood of the Liberals (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 390.
55. Charles McGrath, “Not Funnies,” New York Times Magazine, July 11, 2004, 30.
56. Ibid., 30.
57. Ibid., 30, 33.
58. Ibid., 24.
59. Colson Whitehead, “The End of the Affair,” New York Times Book Review, March 3, 2002, 8;
Michael Chabon, “The Editor’s Notebook,” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 10 (San Francisco: Mc-
Sweeney’s, 2002), 7.
60. Other anthologists do not prescribe Ware’s realist aesthetic; The Best American Comics 2008
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), assembled by Ware’s friend Lynda Barry and new series editors
Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, displays a very different mix of styles and a marked predilection for
humor, fable, and fantasy.
4 5
Chris Ware’s Failures
Why boLhcr Laking Lhc Limc Lo rcad Lhis` Arcn’L Lhcrc bcLLcr Lhings you could
bc spcnding your moncy on` Isn’L Lhcrc somcLhing worLhwhilc you could bc
doing righL now` Tis is Lhc immcdiaLc rcacLion wc mighL cxpccL írom Chris
Warc aL Lhc LhoughL oí a criLical volumc oí cssays dcvoLcd Lo his work. Indccd,
hc had much Lhc samc rcacLion whcn firsL iníormcd abouL Lhc :oo, Modcrn
Ianguagc AssociaLion roundLablc on his comics LhaL scrvcd as Lhc origin oí
Lhis prcscnL collccLion: “I musL say, I’m noL surc whcLhcr Lo bc plcascd or
Lcrrificd LhaL my sLuff would íall undcr Lhc scruLiny oí pcoplc who arc clcarly
cducaLcd cnough Lo know bcLLcr. I’d imaginc LhaL your roundLablc will quickly
dissolvc inLo Lopics oí much morc prcssing inLcrcsL, or LhaL you’ll aL lcasL bc
ablc Lo adjourn carly íor a placc in linc aL lunch, cLc.”
Warc’s rcadcrs and íans havc comc Lo cxpccL Lhis characLcrisLic sclí-
abncgaLion in all oí his public pcríormanccs and publicaLions, an insisLcnL
rhcLoric oí íailurc LhaL imbucs cvcryLhing írom Warc’s inLcrvicws and criLical
wriLings Lo Lhc layouL and packaging oí his hardbound, book-lcngLh publica-
Lions. Warc arLíully cdiLs Lhc lcasL flaLLcring porLions oí rcvicws on Lhc inscL
pagcs oí papcrback cdiLions oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan, iníorming his rcadcrs LhaL Lhc
volumc Lhcy hold is boLh “wcighcd down by iLs ambiLion” and “ncarly impos-
siblc Lo rcad.”
Warc’s sclí-wriLLcn caLaloguc íor his :oo, solo cxhibiLion aL
Omaha’s Shcldon Mcmorial Callcry appcarcd undcr Lhc LiLlc “Apologics, FLc.”
and lamcnLcd Lhc collccLion’s “uncrringly incxprcssivc” conLcnLs (scc plaLc
Tc cxLcrior band oí Warc’s hardcovcr Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary Fìna| Re-
port to Shareho|ders and Saturday Ajternoon Raìny Lay Fun Pook (Lhc LiLlc iLsclí
dcvaluing Lhc conLcnLs oí Lhc book Lo Lhc rcalm oí Lhc sub-liLcrary) is graccd
wiLh a prolix apologia promising LhaL rcadcrs will bc “gravcly disappoinLcd
by Lhc conLcnLs oí Lhis volumc” and offcring a long lisL oí oLhcr íuncLions
Lhc discardcd book mighL scrvc: “A DisappoinLmcnL * A Uscd Book * Trash
* A CuLLing Board * Food íor InsccLs and RodcnLs * A Wcapon * Fucl * ALLic
InsulaLion * Tc Focus oí an Angry Rcvicw * Rccyclcd Wood Pulp in Lhc Papcr
oí a BcLLcr Book * SomcLhing Lo ForgcL abouL on Lhc Floor oí Your Car * A Tax
ShclLcr íor Lhc Publishcrs.”
Fvcn Lhc vcry barcodcs oí Warc’s works rarcly ap-
pcar wiLhouL a sclí-flagcllanL quip or rcmindcr Lo Lhc book’s purchascrs LhaL
Lhcir Limc and moncy could bc bcLLcr invcsLcd clscwhcrc.
BoLh casual and scholarly rcadcrs oí Warc havc puzzlcd ovcr Lhc prcva-
lcncc oí such cxprcssions oí insufficicncy and usclcssncss, cxamplcs oí which
arc lcgion in his work and pcrmcaLc his cnLirc carccr, írom Warc’s disavowals
oí his carlicsL sLrips Lo Lhc laLcsL volumc in his ongoing scrializaLion oí Te
4 6 DAV I D M. B AL L
ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary. Tis rhcLoric oí íailurc appcars boLh paraLcxLually—in
placcs such as dusL jackcLs, publicaLion iníormaLion, and auLhor biographics
LhaL cusLomarily codiíy and rciníorcc Lhc LcxL’s valuc as a signiíying Lool—as
wcll as narraLivcly, in sLorics LhaL rouLincly rcvolvc around Lhcmcs oí anomic,
humiliaLion, and dcspair.
For somc, Lhis abncgaLion is noLhing morc Lhan
Lhc ouLward maniícsLaLion oí a sclí-cffacing auLhor, parL and parccl oí comics
arLisLs’ carcíully consLrucLcd pcrsonac as ncglccLcd ouLsidcrs in a harsh and
uncaring world.
For oLhcrs, Lhis unrclcnLing rcLurn Lo narraLivcs oí íuLiliLy
and human suffcring rcvcals a morbid íascinaLion wiLh sLorics oí loss and
mcaninglcssncss. Douglas Wolk summarizcd Lhis vicw in his Readìng Comìcs
wiLh a chapLcr LiLlcd “Why Docs Chris Warc HaLc Fun`” Tcrc hc wriLcs LhaL
Warc’s comics “havc an cmoLional rangc oí onc noLc [. . .] íorc[ing] his rcadcrs
Lo waLch his characLcrs sickcn and dic slowly, LormcnL (and bc humiliaLcd in
Lurn by) Lhcir brokcn íamilics, and lcad livcs oí íailurc and lonclincss.”
rhcLoric oí íailurc, according Lo Lhis unrcflccLivc criLiquc, Lhinly masks Lhc
bravura prcLcnsions oí a graphic gcnius, acLing as a kind oí íalsc conscious-
ncss bchind which hc can shicld his gcnrc-dcíying approach Lo graphic narra-
Livc. Whilc all oí Lhcsc cxplanaLions rcflccL ccrLain LruLhs abouL Warc—hc is
in íacL cxcccdingly modcsL, docs íocus his crcaLivc cncrgics inLo a worldvicw
indclibly inflccLcd wiLh angsL and cxisLcnLial Lcrror, and írcqucnLly docs dis-
avow Lhc scopc oí his ambiLions bchind sclí-cffacing rcmarks—aL Lhc samc
Limc Lhcsc rcadings (Wolk’s mosL promincnL among Lhcm) unncccssarily
rcsLricL Lhc inLcrprcLivc possibiliLics oí Warc’s LcxLs Lo mcrc pcrsonal (and
by implicaLion, pcrvcrsc) prcdilccLions. In doing so, Lhcy obscurc a broadcr
liLcrary undcrsLanding oí Lhc work oí Warc’s rhcLoric oí íailurc and Lhc rolc iL
plays in his aLLcmpLs noL only Lo wriLc comics wiLh Lhc LcxLurc and sophisLi-
caLion oí liLcrary ficLion, buL Lo havc Lhcm LrcaLcd as such.
In Lhis cssay, I arguc LhaL Lhc rhcLoric oí íailurc is onc oí Lhc mcans by
which Warc ncgoLiaLcs his aLLcmpLs Lo placc comics in Lhc liLcrary canon. In
doing so, hc is rcinhabiLing a much oldcr Amcrican liLcrary LradiLion, onc LhaL
bcgins as carly as Lhc mid-nincLccnLh ccnLury. Amcrican auLhors havc long
culLivaLcd a sclí-conscious rhcLoric oí íailurc as a waLchword íor liLcrary suc-
ccss, cffccLivcly Lransvaluing Lhc mcanings oí succcss and íailurc in rcícrcncc
Lo Lhcir own wriLing. Tis rcprcscnLcd an cfforL, among oLhcr objccLivcs, Lo
csLablish a conccpL oí liLcrary prcsLigc in an cra oí Lhc bcsLsclling novcl. By
spurning commcrcial succcss and romanLicizing Lhc ncglccLcd arLisL, Amcri-
can auLhors bcgan Lo classiíy Lhc liLcrary iLsclí in opposiLion Lo mass culLurc,
a dcfiniLion adopLcd and amplificd by subscqucnL gcncraLions oí rcadcrs,
criLics, and liLcrary LhcorisLs. In Amcrican liLcraLurc, Hcrman Mclvillc scrvcs
as Lhc archcLypc íor Lhis rhcLoric, wriLing in his íamous rcvicw cssay “Haw-
Lhornc and His Mosscs” LhaL “iL is bcLLcr Lo íail in originaliLy, Lhan Lo succccd
in imiLaLion. Hc who has ncvcr íailcd somcwhcrc, LhaL man can noL bc grcaL.
Failurc is Lhc Lruc LcsL oí grcaLncss. And ií iL bc said, LhaL conLinual succcss
is a prooí LhaL a man wiscly knows his powcrs,—iL is only Lo bc addcd, LhaL,
in LhaL casc, hc knows Lhcm Lo bc small.”
WriLing in a Limc oí cxpanding liL-
cracy, cspccially among ncwly lcisurcd and monicd womcn rcadcrs wiLhin a
broadcning Amcrican middlc class, Amcrican auLhors íor Lhc firsL Limc had Lo
disLinguish Lhcir aspiraLions írom a growing mass audicncc aL Lhc samc Limc
LhaL Lhcy noncLhclcss soughL cconomic viabiliLy and susLainablc rcadcrships.
IL was Lhc conflicLcd dcsirc Lo boLh capLurc and rcnouncc Lhis mass audicncc
LhaL firsL gavc birLh Lo a rhcLoric oí íailurc-as-succcss among Amcrican wriL-
crs, whaL would bccomc a guiding and lasLing paradox oí cclcbraLcd liLcrary
íailurc. Wc can wiLncss Lhis samc rhcLoric in NaLhanicl HawLhornc’s sLrangc
boasL Lo bc “Lhc obscurcsL man in Amcrican lcLLcrs” and his corrcsponding
disparagcmcnL oí Lhc “d——d mob oí scribbling womcn [among whom] I
should havc no chancc oí succcss whilc Lhc public LasLc is occupicd wiLh Lhcir
Lrash—and should bc ashamcd oí mysclí ií I did succccd.”
In Lhcir conspicu-
ous division oí populariLy írom liLcrary valuc and cclcbraLion oí íailurc as
an cxclusivc provincc oí (malc) liLcrary wriLcrs, auLhors such as Mclvillc and
HawLhornc inauguraLcd a discoursc LhaL would bc claboraLcd LhroughouL Lhc
Amcrican liLcrary canon among boLh auLhors and criLics.
Chris Warc, I arguc, rccognizcs Lhis liLcrary hisLorical LrajccLory—hc illus-
LraLcs and ciLcs írom “HawLhornc and His Mosscs” in his :oo6 covcr illusLra-
Lion oí Lhc “WriLcrs on WriLcrs” spccial issuc oí vìrgìnìa Quarter|y Revìew—
using Lhis canonical dividc bcLwccn liLcrary valuc and populariLy Lo navigaLc
his own ambivalcnccs abouL comics’ sLaLus as high arL. On onc lcvcl, Warc is
kccn Lo csLablish comics as a mcdium LhaL can boLh cmbody Lhc psychologi-
cal complcxiLy and cpisLcmological difficulLy oí liLcrary LcxLs and culLivaLc
LhoughLíul and disccrning adulL rcadcrs. YcL, Warc is also aLLcnLivc Lo Lhc íacL
LhaL his choscn mcdium rcmains closcly bound Lo Lhc cxpccLaLions and audi-
cncc oí adolcsccnL liLcraLurc, a popular culLural íoundaLion LhaL Lhc rhcLoric
oí íailurc would convcnLionally disown. Warc’s own rhcLoric oí íailurc musL
Lhcn ncgoLiaLc comics’ risc Lo Lhc sLaLus oí “graphic narraLivc” whilc noL ab-
juring Lhcir mass-culLural appcal, calling inLo qucsLion Lhc popular/prcsLi-
gious dividc LhaL conLinucs Lo vcx boLh liLcrary scholarship and comics Lhc-
“Ií onc wanLs Lo Lcll sLorics LhaL havc Lhc richncss oí liíc,” Warc sLaLcs,
“[comics’] vocabulary is cxLrcmcly limiLcd. IL’s likc Lrying Lo usc limcricks Lo
makc liLcraLurc.”
In cqual Lurns cmbracing and rcpudiaLing Lhc mass cul-
Lural íoundaLions oí comics, boLh acccding Lo and having scrious misgivings
ovcr comics’ risc Lo Lhc sLaLus oí liLcraLurc, Warc’s rhcLoric oí íailurc maps his
characLcrisLic ambivalcncc Loward Lhc vcry noLion oí “graphic liLcraLurc.”
High and Low in the Comics Library
In Lhc Dcccmbcr ±µµ, issuc oí Lhc Comìcs 1ourna|—íour ycars aíLcr Lhc firsL
numbcr oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary was publishcd, buL wcll bcíorc hc had
cmcrgcd as a figurc ouLsidc Lhc considcraLion oí Lhc comics communiLy—
Chris Warc dcsigncd a covcr and appcarcd in a long-íorm inLcrvicw in Lhc
pagcs oí a pcriodical cxpliciLly íoundcd Lo promoLc comics as high-arL culLural
Lrcasurcs. On Lhc covcr, Warc dcpicLs a “youLh library” housing only comics
and populaLcd by somc oí Lhcir mosL rccognizablc crcaLions: Charlcs SchulLz’s
Charlic Brown, Rudolph Dirks’s Hans KaLzcnjammcr, Richard OuLcaulL’s Ycl-
low Kid, and, in Lhc lcíL íorcground, his own 1immy Corrigan (scc fig. ¡.±).
Displaying his characLcrisLically cncyclopcdic rcgard íor comics hisLory and
inscribing himsclí wiLhin Lhis cxalLcd gcncalogy oí comics icons, Warc aL Lhc
samc Limc ruLhlcssly parodics comics as a mcdium, displaying a laughablc
Laxonomy on Lhc library’s shclvcs undcr Lhc caLcgory oí “ArL.” SLrucLurcd
likc a nincLccnLh-ccnLury laddcr oí progrcss, Warc dividcs graphic narra-
Fig. 4.1. Ware’s comically
futile comics library. Chris
Ware, The Comics Journal
200 (1997), cover image.
Livc inLo Lhc dcsccnding gcnrcs oí “FxpcrimcnLal” (Lhc appropriaLcly shapcd
Lonut Comìcs), “RomanLic” (Potentìa| Movìe Scrìpt Comìcs), “Conícssional” (!
Hate Myse|j Comìcs), “SaLirical” (Superheroes Sure are Lumb Comìcs), “PoliLical”
(Lìd You Know Pad Stuff ìs Happenìng A|| the Tìme? Comìcs and war ìs not Cood
Comìcs), “ScaLological” (Pìcyc|e Seat Snìffing Comìcs), and finally Lhc joinL caL-
cgory oí “Pornographic and CriLicism” (sharcd by Lhc visually mirrorcd Fros
Comìcs and Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| iLsclí). In parL, Lhis corrcsponds wiLh Lhc jour-
nal’s rcpuLaLion íor scaLhing rcvicws oí mainsLrcam comics producLion and
iLs aspiraLions Lo havc a small cadrc oí comics arLisLs rccognizcd as worLhy
oí Lhc rcgard givcn Lo finc arLisLs and liLcrary auLhors. YcL Warc docs noL
sparc himsclí írom Lhis wiLhcring criLiquc, caricaLuring himsclí on Lhc cov-
crs oí Lhrcc succcssivc volumcs in Lhc “Conícssional” row: ! Hate Myse|j Com-
ìcs, ! Mìght 1erk Off Now and Ten Comìcs, and MF| Comìcs. Fvcn amidsL Lhc
paLcnLly uninspiring conLcnL oí Lhis library, Warc noncLhclcss prcvcnLs any
rcading írom Laking placc, Lhc spccLaclc oí Nancy’s visiblc undcrwcar rcndcr-
ing Lhc LhoughL bubblcs oí Lhc asscmblcd “youLh” opaqucly black. IL sccms
LhaL Lhc adolcsccnL urgc and Lhc pruricnL gazc LhaL dominaLcs Lhc boLLom
rung oí his comics laddcr oí progrcss win Lhc day ovcr whaLcvcr morc noblc
moLivcs mighL animaLc Lhc wcll-mcaning rcadcrs in Warc’s “youLh library.”
Try Lhough Lhcy mighL, Lhc allcgorical cmbodimcnLs oí Lhc comics rcadcr arc
unablc Lo clcvaLc Lhcmsclvcs Lo Lhc rcalm oí Lhc liLcrary.
Wryly saLirizing Lhc sLaLcd mission oí Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| Lo promoLc “Lhc
bcsL Lhc arL íorm has Lo offcr, parLicularly Lhosc comics which arc íulfilling
rcading maLcrial íor adulLs,” Lhc accompanying LcxL scrvcs as Lhc sccond halí
oí Lhis dipLych oí comics ambivalcncc:
The Comics Journal - The magazine of news, reviews, and mean-spirited back-stabbing.
Published by the Fantagrafics [sic] Co. who shrewdly employ it as a promotional organ
for the promulgation of their own products & periodicals. The critical companion for
those connoisseurs of the cartoon art who are otherwise too mentally incompetent to
judge whether something is of quality themselves. Celebrating a decade and a half of
• Muscular Weightlifters in stretchpants & capes
• Monsters, aliens, spaceships, and robot girls with tits
• Cute animals that drive cars and talk to each other.
It’s a big party and everyone’s invited! Featuring lengthy discussions with artisans
who make their livings drawing weird-looking bald kids.
Marvel at the survival of a children’s literature stuck in the twilight of puberty for
over one hundred years and join in a spirited roundtable positing its future as a mature
medium capable of worldly accomplishments, derring-do, and a host of other thrilling
stations. All spiffed up with fancy covers, heartfelt tributes, and inarticulate spite, this
issue will be the one to keep for weeks to come.
Tcrc arc nonc involvcd in Lhc producLion, Lransmission, and consumpLion
oí Lhc magazinc—cdiLors, subscribcrs, rcadcrs, cvcn Warc himsclí—who rc-
main unscaLhcd by Lhis uproarious scnd-up oí sclí-promoLion.
AL Lhc Limc,
FanLagraphics scrvcd as boLh Lhc publishcr oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary and
Lhc Comìcs 1ourna|, and Warc’s inLcrvicwcr, Cary CroLh (picLurcd aL Lhc boL-
Lom oí Lhc composiLion as SchulLz’s Iucy siLLing bchind hcr iconic lcmon-
adc-sLand-cum-psychiaLrisL’s-couch), was boLh Lhc magazinc’s cdiLor and
5 0 DAV I D M. B AL L
Warc’s. Whilc Lhc covcr imagc rcprcscnLs a lcnding library LhaL Lransccnds
Lhc rcalm oí Lhc commodiLy, howcvcr parodically, Lhc LcxL rcinLroduccs Lhc
mass-markcL milicu in which comics rcmain cnsconccd. DcspiLc Warc’s and
Lhc journal’s maniícsL dcsirc Lo clcvaLc comics Lo Lhc sLaLus oí Lhc liLcrary, Lhc
covcr complicaLcs an casy ncgaLion oí comics’ convcnLional associaLions wiLh
Lhc mass rcadcrship in which iL firsL cmcrgcd in Amcrica, bcginning wiLh
Lhc ncwspapcr circulaLion wars oí Lhc laLc nincLccnLh and carly LwcnLicLh
ccnLury (“Tc Ycllow Kid” bcing aL Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhcsc ncwspapcr wars) and
cxLcnding Lhrough Lhc hcgcmony oí supcrhcro gcnrc comics sincc Lhc laLc
Warc rcminds us LhaL Lhc asccndanL “alLcrnaLivc” comics and graphic
novcls so vigorously promoLcd in Lhc pagcs oí Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| arc cqually
implicaLcd in, and susccpLiblc Lo, Lhc influcnccs oí mass culLurc.
Tc ironics oí commodificaLion arc cvcn prcscnL in Lhc pagcs oí Lhc journal
iLsclí whcrc, in Lhc modc oí Lhc íaux advcrLiscmcnLs íor commcrcial goods in
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary LhaL íalscly promisc consumcr bliss, Warc dcsigncd
a pagc sclling a írccsLanding cardboard display íor his ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary
volumcs. Originally consLrucLcd íor usc in rcLail sLorcs, Lhc display has “gra-
cious pockcLs [LhaL] hug cach issuc oí Lhc scrics wiLh Lhc samc carc a proud
ícmalc marmoscL would givc Lo a ncw liLLcr,” Lhc advcrLiscmcnL promising
LhaL “Lhis garganLuan monsLrosiLy will surcly fill LhaL prcviously undcfincd
void in your unsaLuraLcd cxisLcncc. HAPPINFSS IS ONIY s±¸o.oo AWAY!”

An advcrLiscmcnL íor an advcrLiscmcnL, a promoLion íor Lhc promoLional or-
gan, Lhc floor display LransacLs Lhc vcry “promulgaLion oí Lhcir own producLs
and pcriodicals” so vchcmcnLly mockcd in Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| covcr.
Tis kccnly pcrccivcd ambivalcncc íor commcrcial succcss, couplcd wiLh
Warc’s paincd awarcncss oí Lhc comics as a mcdium incradicably bound Lo Lhc
commcrcial, could bc undcrsLood as Lhc guiding moLií oí his cnLirc ocuvrc.
In Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| inLcrvicw, Warc consisLcnLly parrics CroLh’s insisLcnL
dcnigraLion oí Lhc “mcdia baLh” and “pop culLurc pap” oí his and Warc’s child-
hoods, highlighLing Lhc imporLancc oí mass-culLural rcsourccs in liLcrary au-
Lhors such as FlaubcrL and TolsLoy and poinLing Loward Lhc origins oí Lhc
novcl and Lhc now-canonizcd Amcrican musical LradiLions oí jazz, ragLimc,
and Lhc blucs írom wiLhin a popular-culLural íramc.
Indccd, Lhc vcry omni-
prcscncc oí Lhc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary—Lhc namc Warc has givcn noL only Lo
Lhc ficLiLious produccr oí his comics, buL now LhaL hc sclí-publishcs his own
work, Lhc acLual namc LhaL appcars in his Iibrary oí Congrcss daLa—rcminds
Warc’s rcadcrs LhaL his LcxLs arc also commodiLics: boughL, sold, cxchangcd,
apprcciaLing or dcprcciaLing in valuc irrcspccLivc oí Lhcir íorm or conLcnL.
Warc’s publicaLions simulLancously scck Lo íascinaLc and iníuriaLc collccLors
wiLh Lhcir variablc sizcs, cdiLions, scrializcd iLcraLions, and cuL-ouL dioramas
LhaL cncouragc rcadcrs Lo alLcrnaLcly dcsLroy and prcscrvc (or, in doing boLh,
purchasc mulLiplc copics oí) Lhc LcxL and subscqucnLly showcasc Lhcm in
Lhcir own pcrsonal floor display.
In his novcl-in-progrcss “RusLy Brown,” Warc’s cxploraLion oí main char-
acLcrs who arc aL Lhc samc Limc íanaLical, ií piLiablc, comics collccLors only
cxLcnds whaL has bccn a long-running mcLaLcxLual mcdiLaLion on comics’
sLaLus as mass-markcL maLcricl. In Lhc childhood sccncs LhaL consLiLuLc a
largc porLion oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±6, RusLy carrics wiLh him a Supcr-
girl acLion figurc LhaL scrvcs as boLh a sccuriLy blankcL and croLic ícLish. Tc
doll cnsurcs RusLy will bc Lhc LargcL oí Lhc oLhcr childrcn’s abusc whilc also
anLicipaLing his laLcr mania íor collccLing and prcscrving Lhc losL LoLcms oí
his LraumaLizcd childhood. Whilc such LoLcms rclivc Lhcsc carly íailurcs, Lhcy
also rcmind Warc’s rcadcrs oí Lhc mass-markcL supcrhcro comics LhaL sLand
as uncomíorLablc íorcbcars Lo his own work, much in Lhc samc way 1immy’s
Supcrman swcaLshirL haunLs Lhc sccond halí oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
is Lhus boLh Lhc agcnL oí RusLy’s prccipiLous dcclinc in adulLhood—in Te
ACMF Report hc is playing wiLh his collccLiblcs, oíLcn wrcLchcdly nakcd and
in Lcars, amidsL a rapidly dcLcrioraLing homc liíc—and a rcmindcr oí comics’
Lics Lo commcrcial cxchangc.
In a miniaLurc scrics LiLlcd “Tc AdvcnLurcs
oí Lhc C. I. 1im AcLion Club,” whcrc RusLy publishcs a íanzinc in ordcr Lo
dcíraud his íricnd and ícllow collccLor Chalky WhiLc ouL oí his collccLiblcs,
RusLy íalscly assurcs Chalky, “You know I’m noL in iL íor Lhc money . . . I’m
morc inLcrcsLcd in Lhc arLisLry oí Lhc piccc.”

Hcrc Lhc high-arL poLcnLiali-
Lics oí Lhc comics mcdium so clcarly prizcd by Warc scrvc mcrcly as abjccL
cxchangc, RusLy’s acL oí auLhorship scrving as noLhing morc Lhan a Lhin vcil
íor commcrcial acLiviLy.
Truc Lo íorm, Warc boLh cvinccs and pcríorms Lhis dialccLic bcLwccn arL-
isLry and commcrcc in his own rolc as auLhor. In Te ACMF Report, Warc has
onc oí his ficLional pcrsonac, Ccorgc Wilson—an alias Warc rcscrvcs íor his
sclí-dcscribcd “crass hackcry which I íccl was alLcrcd cnough írom my origi-
nal ‘idca’ (ií Lhcrc was onc) LhaL I don’L wanL my namc on iL”—pcn a íaux
scholarly hisLory oí Lhc ACMF NovclLy Company.
Buricd in iLs íooLnoLcs is a
mcdiLaLion on Warc’s own namc LhaL sLaLcs: “Tough somc rcscarchcrs havc
suggcsLcd ‘Warc’ Lo possibly bc a surnamc, Lhc word liLcrally mcans ‘commod-
iLy’ in Fnglish, and, I bclicvc, Lhc IcLLcrcr [a figurc Wilson posiLs as Lhc ‘Lruc’
auLhor and guiding íoundcr oí ACMF] also inLcndcd iL Lo bc rcad as such.”

Down Lo Lhc mulLiplc rcsonanccs oí his namc, Warc rcpcaLcdly rcminds us
LhaL Lhc spccLcr oí Lhc commodiLy inhcrcs in his comics dcspiLc Lhcir high-arL
and liLcrary aspiraLions.
Vicwcd broadly, Warc aligns Lhis mass-markcL/high-arL Lcnsion wiLhin Lhc
comics mcdium Lo Lhc rhcLoric oí succcss and íailurc, rcspccLivcly. Tc figurc
oí Ccorgc Wilson, boLh as a commcrcial hack and a haplcss rcscarchcr oí Lhc
ACMF NovclLy Company, is onc such gcsLurc. Wilson’s cxhausLivc and laugh-
ably incpL cfforL in Lhc inLroducLion Lo Te ACMF Report (hc suffcrs írom
ncrvous cxhausLion in Lhc waiLing room oí Lhc company’s hcadquarLcrs) can
Lhus bc rcad as onc such noblc íailurc. Wilson’s íailcd inLroducLion is also a
laycrcd homagc Lo oLhcr cclcbraLcd liLcrary íailurcs. In corrcspondcncc, Warc
has callcd Wilson Lhc “Ishmacl characLcr” oí Te ACMF Report, a rcícrcncc
Lo Lhc cxcccdingly mcdiLaLivc and scholarly narraLor oí Hcrman Mclvillc’s

Charlcs KinboLc, Lhc brillianLly mad and obscssivc liLcrary criLic
in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pa|e Fìre, is anoLhcr cxpliciL liLcrary rcícrcncc cvokcd
in Wilson’s labyrinLhinc inLroducLion.

BoLh Ishmacl and KinboLc scrvc as
figurcs oí Lhc admirably íoolish mcLaLcxLual narraLor, characLcrs whosc lovc
íor lcLLcrs boLh susLains and dcsLroys Lhcm. Wilson’s íailcd aLLcmpLs Lo Lcll
Lhc sLory oí ACMF can Lhus bc sccn as a liLcrary hcroic acL oí rcading, how-
cvcr quixoLic, a similar cxcgcLical Lask askcd oí Warc’s own rcadcrs as Lhcy
sLrain Lhcir cycs Lo navigaLc Lhc sinuous and dcmanding inLroducLion. Fail-
urc is similarly Lhc hallmark oí all Warc’s mosL iconic characLcrs—Quimby
Lhc Mousc’s violcnLly ambivalcnL lovcs, 1immy Corrigan’s pcrpcLual social
awkwardncsscs, RusLy Brown’s unrcmiLLing loscrdom—who dcspiLc Lhcsc
maniícsL íailings arc noncLhclcss drawn Lo cngagc rcadcrs’ sympaLhics.
Tc flip sidc oí Lhis cclcbraLion oí, and sclí-idcnLificaLion wiLh, hcroic íail-
urc is Lhc Lhoroughgoing disavowal oí succcss. Iikc Lhc rhcLoric oí íailurc,
Lhis liLcrary suspicion oí succcss has an cqually long hisLory in Amcrican lcL-
Lcrs, onc origin oí which is Ralph Waldo Fmcrson’s lccLurc “Succcss,” firsL
dclivcrcd undcr LhaL LiLlc in ±8¸±. AlmosL cxacLly conLcmporancous wiLh
Mclvillc’s cclcbraLion oí íailurc, Fmcrson wriLcs: “Rìen ne reussìt mìeux que |e
succès. [NoLhing succccds likc succcss.] And wc Amcricans arc LainLcd wiLh
Lhis insaniLy, as our bankrupLcics and our rccklcss poliLics may show. Wc arc
grcaL by cxclusion, grasping, and cgoLism. Our succcss Lakcs írom all whaL
iL givcs Lo onc. ‘Tis a haggard, malignanL, carcworn running íor luck.’”

íailurc was Lhc LouchsLonc íor an cmcrging liLcrary cliLc in Amcrica in Lhc
mid-nincLccnLh ccnLury—a movc mirrorcd by Lhc conLcmporary gcncra-
Lion oí comics arLisLs championcd by Warc who aspirc Lo wriLc graphic nar-
raLivcs wiLh Lhc cmoLional and cpisLcmological dcpLh oí liLcraLurc—succcss
rcprcscnLs Lhc grasping, acquisiLivc disposiLion LhaL has cqually dcfincd Lhc
Amcrican characLcr írom iLs carlicsL hisLory.
Warc rcndcrs a sLarkly liLcral
rcprcscnLaLion oí Lhis suspicion oí succcss in his advcrLiscmcnL íor “Succcss
Brand SnorL” in Lhc opcning pagcs oí Te ACMF Report (scc fig. ¡.:). Hcrc
Warc parodics Lhc rough masculiniLy oí cigarcLLc and alcohol advcrLiscmcnLs
LhaL cquaLc sclí-poisoning wiLh ruggcd individualism, narraLing mail piloLs’
usc oí mcLhamphcLaminc on Lhc job (wiLh prcdicLably disasLrous rcsulLs) Lo
“do Lhc work oí Lcn mcn, and sLill íccl grcaL whcn I gcL off oí work aL cighL.”

YcL iL is noL drug culLurc LhaL is Lhc LargcL oí Warc’s saLirc so much as Lhc
idca oí succcss iLsclí, rclcnLlcss commcrcial acLiviLy as opposcd Lo inLcllccLual
and liLcrary scnsibiliLics, which is hcrc and clscwhcrc conflaLcd wiLh rccklcss
consumpLion and figurcd as a dangcrous and dcbiliLaLing addicLion. “SLarL
snorLing Success Loday,” Lhc advcrLiscmcnL promiscs, “and scc íor yoursclí. So
smooLhc. So surc. So . . . Success.”

UndcrsLanding Lhis largcr liLcrary hisLorical LrcaLmcnL oí cclcbraLcd íail-
urcs, whcrc succcss is vicwcd as anLiLhcLical Lo arLisLic aims, allows us Lo
bcLLcr undcrsLand Lhc counLcrinLuiLivc LhrusL oí Chris Warc’s omniprcs-
cnL rhcLoric oí íailurc. In Lhc samc ±µµ, Comìcs 1ourna| inLcrvicw wiLh Cary
CroLh, Warc sLaLcs: “You havc Lo havc high sLandards. [. . .] You havc Lo bc
sclí-criLical. [. . .] IL’s an honcsL íccling oí íailurc mosL oí Lhc Limc. BuL iL’s
abouL Lhc only way you can kccp a clcar vicw oí Lhings.”
RaLhcr Lhan scnsc-
lcss sclí-dcprccaLion or morbid íascinaLion, íailurc bccomcs a kind oí arLisLic
vision, parL oí a largcr LradiLion oí Amcrican auLhors’ pcrsisLcnL invocaLions
oí Lhc rhcLoric oí íailurc Lo convcy Lhcir highcsL aspiraLions íor liLcrary suc-
ccss. From Hcrman Mclvillc’s claim LhaL “íailurc is Lhc Lruc LcsL oí grcaLncss”
Lo Hcnry Adams’s sclí-idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc “morLiíying íailurc in [his] long
cducaLion” and William Faulkncr’s cagcrncss Lo bc judgcd by his “splcndid
íailurc Lo do Lhc impossiblc,” such rhcLorical gcsLurcs havc occupicd Lhc ccn-
Lcr oí canonical claims Lo Amcrican auLhorship and auLhoriLy.
Tis rhcLoric
is parLicularly rccognizablc in Warc and his pccr comics arLisLs prcciscly as
Lhcy aspirc Lo liLcrary sophisLicaLion, rccapiLulaLing a movc madc by Amcri-
can novclisLs and cssayisLs bcíorc Lhcm.
Tus cvcn dcspiLc Warc’s criLical
Fig. 4.2. An advertise-
ment for “Success Brand
Snort.” Chris Ware, The
ACME Novelty Library Final
Report to Shareholders and
Saturday Afternoon Rainy
Day Fun Book (New York:
Pantheon, 2005), 2.
Pages 54–55:
Fig. 4.3. Chris Ware,
“Writers on Writers,”
special issue of Virginia
Quarterly Review (2006):
cover image.
5 6 DAV I D M. B AL L
succcsscs and sLrong salcs figurcs, dcspiLc his insisLcncc on Lhc mass-culLural
and incxorably commcrcial naLurc oí Lhc comics mcdium, Lhc rhcLoric oí íail-
urc conLinucs Lo hold sway ovcr his noLion oí Lhc possibiliLy oí a “graphic
Misadventures in Literary History
Chris Warc offcrs onc oí Lhc mosL visiblc rcprcscnLaLions and cmbodimcnLs
oí Lhis liLcrary rhcLoric oí íailurc in his :oo6 covcr illusLraLion Lo Lhc vìr-
gìnìa Quarter|y Revìew’s spccial issuc LiLlcd “WriLcrs on WriLcrs” (scc fig. ¡.¸).

Conccivcd as a sLudy in liLcrary influcncc, wiLh conLribuLions írom conLcm-
porary wriLcrs who wcrc askcd Lo incorporaLc liLcrary íorcbcars as characLcrs
in Lhcir sLorics, Lhc issuc is adorncd wiLh Warc’s wraparound covcr LhaL oí-
ícrs a comically bricí hisLory oí liLcrary influcncc írom Lhc prchisLoric cra Lo
1amcs 1oycc. In Lhc manncr oí his Lhumbnail hisLorics oí comics and finc
arL, “WriLcrs on WriLcrs” is aL oncc cncyclopcdic and parodic, dcmonsLraL-
ing a commanding knowlcdgc oí iLs subjccL and a paLcnL dcsirc Lo hold LhaL
samc subjccL Lo a playíul ridiculc.
IL is also a caLaloguc oí liLcraLurc as a
coníronLaLion wiLh íailurc: Lhc auLhors oí Lhc gospcls dcbaLing Lhc accuracy
oí Lhcir LranscripLions oí 1csus’s words, a blind MilLon wiLh a rccalciLranL
amanucnsis, Dickcns conLcnding wiLh a dcadlinc, and DosLocvsky in chains
(scc fig. ¡.¡). All oí Lhcsc íailurcs aL Lhc samc Limc anLicipaLc subscqucnL liL-
crary achicvcmcnL, bc iL Lhc long cxcgcLical LradiLion gcncraLcd by Lhc gos-
pcls’ inLcrnal inconsisLcncics, MilLon’s scminal pocLic achicvcmcnLs such as
Paradìse Lost subscqucnL Lo his blindncss, Dickcns’s innovaLions in prosc fic-
Lion and prodigious ouLpuL as a rcsulL oí his scrial dcmands, or DosLocvsky’s
Lowcring novcls composcd aíLcr his cxilc Lo Sibcria. DispuLc, misundcrsLand-
ing, and suffcring arc rcprcscnLcd LhroughouL as Lhc prccondiLions oí liLcrary
AnoLhcr oí Warc’s allcgorics oí auLhorship confirms his LrcaLmcnL oí íailurc
as a gcncraLivc dcvicc íor liLcraLurc: his Supcrhcro/Cod figurc LhaL appcars in
a silcnL, cyclical narraLivc LhaL wraps LhroughouL Te ACMF Report.
sibly Lhc narraLivc oí an unrcdccmcd cgoLisL, onc who dcsLroys cvcryLhing
hc Louchcs (in onc cpisodc hc Lcars Lhc íusclagc off a planc in flighL Lo “savc”
a young girl as his consorL), Lhis figurc also cvinccs Lwo disLincL momcnLs oí
auLhorial crcaLiviLy. Tc firsL comcs in prison, whcrc hc scraLchcs ouL, wiLh
a nail, his cnLirc narraLivc in miniaLurc on Lhc prison walls. IL is a consum-
maLc Warcian momcnL, cndlcssly rcícrring Lo his own acL oí auLhorship as
hc Lurns Lhc narraLivc mirror oí his own comics in upon iLsclí, onc insLigaLcd
(likc DosLocvsky in chains, or Dickcns chaincd Lo his dcsk) by Lhc auLhor’s
abjccLion. Tc sccond acL oí crcaLion happcns aL Lhc vcry bcginning oí Lhc
narraLivc’s cyclc whcn his proLagonisL, doomcd by immorLaliLy Lo ouLlivc Lhc
human rclaLions in his liíc (and, by Lhc logic oí Lhc narraLivc, having ingcsLcd
biLc by biLc Lhc cnLirc univcrsc hc had prcviously crcaLcd), idly punchcs holcs
in Lhc surrounding blackncss LhaL bccomc Lhc sLars oí a ncw world. BoLh acLs
oí crcaLion arc Lhc conscqucncc oí íailurc and iLs aLLcndanL suffcring.
Tcy also, in Lhcir rcwriLing oí alrcady-wriLLcn narraLivcs, spcak Lo a largcr
sLrugglc aLLcndanL on cvcry oLhcr auLhor figurcd in “WriLcrs on WriLcrs”:
Lhcy arc all Lcllcrs oí Lwicc-Lold Lalcs, all haunLcd by anLcrioriLy. Curscd by
rcpcLiLion, liLcrally consuming Lhc world hc crcaLcs, Lhc wriLcr pcrpcLually
conLcnds wiLh an alrcady-wriLLcn univcrsc.
In rcwriLing liLcrary hisLory as a
romancc oí íailurc, a íailurc cach auLhor is doomcd Lo rcpcaL íor Lhcmsclvcs,
Warc wriLcs his own íascinaLion wiLh íailurc inLo a longcr LrajccLory cxLcnd-
ing írom Crcck anLiquiLy Lo liLcrary modcrnism. YcL Lhis dcfining íailurc in
Lhc urgc Lo crcaLc ancw is also always a noblc íailurc, csLablishing a íraLcrniLy
oí csLccmcd auLhors who sLrugglc hcroically againsL Lhc dcmands oí Lhcir arL
and Lhc mass culLurc LhaL cxcrLs iLs prcssurcs upon Lhcm. Whcn Lhcy arcn’L
confincd Lo Lhcir rcspccLivc garrcLs, in chains, or condcmncd Lo hcll—Lhosc
rcmaining auLhors noL shown aL work ovcr Lhcir dcsks arc írcqucnLly bcdrid-
dcn (Lhc blind MilLon, Lhc mad CcrvanLcs, Lhc opium-addlcd Colcridgc)—
Lhcy arc subjccL Lo Lhc cqually confining prcssurcs oí Lhc liLcrary markcLplacc.
PlaLo cxhausLcd by prcscnLing his Dialogucs as panLomimc shows, Virgil bc-
holdcn Lo his impcrial paLrons, Shakcspcarc cxaspcraLcd wiLh his acLors íor
misscd lincs, Dickcns hcld capLivc by his scrial dcadlincs—cach spccLcr oí Lhc
liLcrary markcLplacc Lakcs shapc alongsidc Lhcsc morc convcnLional imagcs
oí suffcring aLLcndanL upon Lhc acL oí wriLing.
YcL Lhc vcry inLrusion oí Lhc
markcLplacc in Lhis mock liLcrary hisLory poinLs Loward Warc’s acknowlcdg-
mcnL oí iLs dialccLical íorcc and Lhc gcncraLivc rolc iL has in Lhc producLion
oí arL, his scnsc oí Lhc liLcrary ncvcr wholly unbound írom Lhc íorccs oí cco-
nomic cxchangc.
Indccd, whaL holds Lruc íor liLcraLurc in Warc’s Lhumbnail hisLory also
holds Lruc íor Lhc hisLory oí comics, as cvidcnccd by an analogous compo-
Fig. 4.4. An excerpt from
Ware’s condensed history
of literary history and
influence. Chris Ware,
“Writers on Writers,” de-
tail, special issue of Virginia
Quarterly Review (2006):
cover image.
5 8 DAV I D M. B AL L
siLion firsL complcLcd íor his :oo¡ McSweeney’s comics anLhology. From a
prchisLoric cavc arLisL clubbcd Lo dcaLh íor missing a dcadlinc Lo Rodolphc
Topffcr’s ouLragc aL Lhc piracy oí Amcrican copyrighL law, Warc’s comics his-
Lory documcnLs Lhc mcdium’s dcvclopmcnL amidsL sLulLiíying markcL prcs-
surcs. All Lhrcc cpisodcs also picLurc Lhc comics arLisL in Warc’s habiLual posc:
clcnchcd miscrably ovcr his cascl, his liíc doomcd “Lo dccadcs oí grinding
isolaLion, solipsism and uLLcr social disrcgard,” as Warc wriLcs on a íacing
pagc oí Te ACMF Report LiLlcd “Ruin: Your Iiíc Draw: CarLoons!”
Warc pic-
Lurcd Lhis samc miscrablc carLoonisL on Lhc covcr oí his cxhibiLion caLaloguc
0n!nked surroundcd by caricaLurcs oí happy crcaLors in oLhcr mcdia (sculp-
Lurc, LhcaLcr, song, balloon animal arLisLry), singling ouL Lhc comics crcaLor
íor cspccial suffcring.
Tcsc narraLivcs oí misrccogniLion, abjccLion, and
abandonmcnL imaginc a hisLory whosc progrcss is rcpcaLcdly LhwarLcd by an
uncaring or unimaginaLivc audicncc, onc inLcnL on rcducing Lhc mcdium Lo
iLs lowcsL common dcnominaLor. Warc picLurcs various “chccrlcadcrs íor Lhc
causc” who dcmcan Lhc mcdium in Lhcir praisc: a proícssor avcrs, “I uscd Lo
|ove Lo rcad Lhcm as a boy!”, a Roy IichLcnsLcin sLand-in opincs, “I usc Lhcm
as a symbol íor Lhc spiriLual povcrLy oí Amcrican culLurc”, and a librarian
gushcs, “I Lhink Lhcy’rc wondcríul, bccausc Lhcy gcL pcoplc inLcrcsLcd in rea|
rcading!” (scc fig. ¸.¸). To an cnLhuscd rcadcr who sLaLcs, “Comics arc now,
likc, a rcspccLcd languagc, wiLh an acsLhcLic grounding all Lhcir own| [. . .]
Tcy addrcss Lopics likc Lhc holocausL, spiriLualiLy, noLions oí idcnLiLy, and
scx! P|us Lhcy win PuliLzcr Prizcs . . . and Harvey Awards!” Warc imagincs
noLhing buL LhoughLlcss disrcgard: “Don’L cvcr boLhcr mc agaìn| I’m Lrying Lo
gcL Lo Lhc Lop lcvcl oí my Superman vidco gamc!”
WhaL hcld Lruc íor Warc’s
comics rcadcrs in his lcnding library on Lhc covcr oí Lhc Comìcs 1ourna| applics
Lo comics arLisLs Lhcmsclvcs in Lhis laLcr hisLory. Tc work oí comics-as-liL-
craLurc is rcpcaLcdly confincd Lo and consLiLuLcd by Lhc rcaliLy oí comics-as-
commodiLics. YcL Lhis is cqually Lruc íor liLcraLurc and finc arL, an cmcrging
comics avanL-gardc sharcs wiLh Lhcsc oLhcr convcnLionally privilcgcd mcdia
Lhc dcsirc Lo Lransccnd Lhc commcrcial, and Lhc íailurc Lo complcLcly do so.
Tcsc íailurcs Lakcn LogcLhcr—Lhc íailurc Lo Lransccnd mass culLurc, Lhc íail-
urc Lo producc LcxLs libcraLcd írom Lhc wcighL oí prcvious auLhors, Lhc íailurc
oí a mcdium doomcd Lo misrccogniLion and ncglccL—arc all inLcgral parLs oí
Chris Warc’s scnsc oí Lhc liLcrary.
Tc rcward oí rcading Warc’s rhcLoric oí íailurc rcmains Lhc abiliLy Lo pcr-
ccivc his work as an cxLcnsion oí a long liLcrary LradiLion and as a Lhcoriza-
Lion oí LhaL LradiLion’s ambivalcnccs and anxicLics. Iocally, Lhis allows us Lo
scc Quimby’s vaudcvillian violcncc as an cngagcmcnL wiLh carly LwcnLicLh-
ccnLury Amcrican popular culLurc, 1immy Corrigan’s ignoblc íailurcs as parL
oí a LradiLion oí Amcrican auLhors’ liLcrary loscrs írom Mclvillc Lo Nabokov,
and RusLy Brown’s ruincd liíc as homologous Lo Lhc auLhor’s own qucsL íor
liLcrary prcsLigc. Sccn morc globally, rcmaining aLLcnLivc Lo Warc’s rhcLoric
oí íailurc allows us Lo apprcciaLc his work wiLhin a broadcr liLcrary conLcxL.
In a conLcmporary momcnL in which graphic narraLivcs arc aspiring Lo Lhc
canonical sLaLus oí liLcraLurc, Warc posiLs LhaL Lhc hisLory oí comics as a
mass-culLural mcdium rcflccLs similar LranslaLions undcrgonc by Lhc liLcrary
canon. Chris Warc’s “íailurcs” arc onc mcchanism oí Lhis LranslaLion oí com-
ics inLo liLcraLurc.
1. Chris Ware, e-mail to the author, September 1, 2007.
2. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, paperback ed. (New York: Pantheon,
2006), endpapers.
3. Chris Ware, “Apologies, Etc.” (Omaha: Sheldon Memorial Gallery, 2007), n.p.
4. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy
Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005), front cover.
5. For an analysis of the signifying role of paratexts, see Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of
Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
6. For an analogous moment, one among many, see Art Spiegelman’s claim that “[by being] forged
in a crucible of humiliation and trauma, cartoonists are made, not born. . . . The young misfit must
escape into fantasy and/or develop a rarefied sense of humor to survive.” Art Spiegelman, Breakdowns:
Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (New York: Pantheon, 2008), n.p.
7. Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge: Da
Capo, 2007), 347.
8. Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” in The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, vol.
9 of The Writings of Herman Melville, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle,
13 vols. to date (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library,
1968–present), 247–48.
9. Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Preface,” in Twice-Told Tales, vol. 9 of The Centenary Edition of the Works
of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. William Charvat et al., 23 vols. to date (Columbus: Ohio State University
Press, 1962–present), 3; Hawthorne, January 19, 1855, letter to George D. Ticknor in The Letters,
1853–1856, vol. 17 of The Centenary Edition, 304. For analogous moments of such an insistence on the
separation of prestige from popularity in the writers of the American Renaissance see, for example,
Melville’s October 6, 1849, letter to Lemuel Shaw and June 1, 1851, letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne
in Correspondence, vol. 14 of The Writings of Herman Melville, 138–39, 190–94; and Henry David Thor-
eau’s October 28, 1853, journal entry on his receipt of the 706 unsold copies of A Week on the Concord
and Merrimack Rivers in The Journals of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen
(Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1984), 459–60. The irony of Hawthorne’s declaration in his 1851
preface that no author would dispute his claim as “the obscurest man of letters in America” is that his
contemporaries were in fact eager to make such a claim, each distancing himself from a suspect popu-
larity and cultivating instead a chorus of male prestige in an era of the women’s bestselling novel.
10. An outline of this theoretical genealogy would include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer,
Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (1944; rpt., New York: Continuum, 2002); Clem-
ent Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon, 1961);
Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, trans. C. Lenhardt (1970;
rpt., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984); Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael
Shaw (1974; rpt., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Andreas Huyssen, After the Great
Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). This
putative divide between high art and mass culture has increasing come under critical scrutiny, one
important example being Michael North’s Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999). Comics theorists, in their seemingly endless debates about the rela-
tive value and role of early newspaper comics, the superhero genre, and large publishing houses like
DC and Marvel vis-à-vis independent and alternative comics, have widely ignored these analogous
debates in conventional literary scholarship.
11. Chris Ware qtd. in Chip Kidd, “Please Don’t Hate Him,” Print 51.3 (1997): 43.
12. Mission Statement of the Comics Journal, February 25, 2009. (accessed
October 25, 2008).
13. Chris Ware, cover illustration for the Comics Journal 200 (1997).
14. Ibid.
15. For an analysis of Ware’s editorial role in republishing early twentieth-century comics artists
like George Herriman and Frank King, see Jeet Heer’s essay in this volume.
16. Here, and throughout his oeuvre more generally, Ware’s cultivation of a coterie audience, am-
6 0 DAV I D M. B AL L
bivalence toward mass culture, and relentless citationality can be regarded as an extension of literary
modernist aims and anxieties within contemporary graphic narratives. For a more in-depth look at
these literary historical stakes, see my “Comics against Themselves: Chris Ware’s Graphic Narratives
as Literature” in Contemporary American Comics: Creators and Their Contexts, ed. James Lyons and Paul
Williams (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, forthcoming).
17. Chris Ware, advertisement, Comics Journal 200 (1997): 103. True to form, Ware adorns even
this display with the rhetoric of failure, noting in his instructions to the comics retailer the “many
wonderful features is [sic] has to offer, such as weakness of structure, flammability, and recyclability.”
See For an analysis of this display, see Martha Kuhlman’s essay in this
18. Chris Ware and Gary Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” Comics Journal 200
(1997): 119–71.
19. For an analysis of Ware’s ambivalence toward superhero comics, see Jacob Brogan’s essay in
this volume.
20. See Ware, The ACME Report, 2, 15, 63, 69, 85, 87, 90, 95, 101. The focus on Rusty’s and Chalky’s
collectibles, as opposed to Jimmy’s disavowed comic collection in Jimmy Corrigan, itself represents a
further remove of comics into the realm of the commodity.
21. Ibid., 2.
22. Chris Ware, February 2004, qtd. in (ac-
cessed October 25, 2008). The attribution to Wilson can be found in his “Special Note to Librarians.”
See Ware, The ACME Report, 68.
23. Ware, The ACME Report, 19.
24. Chris Ware, e-mail to the author, January 25, 2009.
25. Ware discusses Pale Fire explicitly in his essay on Richard McGuire. Chris Ware, “Richard
McGuire and ‘Here:’ A Grateful Appreciation,” Comic Art 8 (fall 2006): 6.
26. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Success,” in Society and Solitude, vol. 7 of The Collected Works of Ralph
Waldo Emerson, ed. Ronald A. Bosco and Douglas Emory Wilson, 7 vols. to date (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1971–present), 146.
27. For a fascinating history of success and failure in nineteenth-century America, especially with
regard to economic history and bankruptcy law, see Scott Sandage, Born Losers: A History of Failure in
America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).
28. Ware, The ACME Report, 2.
29. Ibid.
30. Comics Journal 200 (1997): 124–25.
31. Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” 247–48; Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams,
ed. Ernest Samuels (1918; rpt., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973), 164; William Faulkner, Lion in the
Garden, ed. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), 238.
32. Daniel Worden in his “The Shameful Art: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Comics, and the
Politics of Affect,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006), makes an analogous claim for Ware’s turn as edi-
tor, stating “that the intersection of intimacy, shame, and gender melancholy provides an avenue for
this anthology to make a case for the artistic merit of comics” (894). Indeed, authorship is exclusively
gendered male in the “Writers on Writers” composition discussed below (with the one exception of
a tea-sipping and giggling Jane Austen), a bias perpetuated in many places throughout Ware’s oeuvre.
See, for example, his 826 Valencia mural depicting male desire as creative force, reprinted in Chris
Ware, Quimby the Mouse (New York: Pantheon, 2003), back cover. For a critique of this impulse in
Ware’s editorial work, see Marc Singer’s essay in this volume.
33. Chris Ware, cover illustration, Virginia Quarterly Review, Special Issue: Writers on Writers
34. For these parallel thumbnail histories, see Ware, The ACME Report, 6–9, 24. For a more thor-
ough analysis of Ware’s “Our History of Art,” see Katherine Roeder’s essay in this volume.
35. This storyline can be traced by reading pages 1, 3, 44–55, 57, 60, 76–77, 96, 100–1, 104, and
the endpapers of Ware’s The ACME Report in succession.
36. The oedipal narrative in Harold Bloom’s account of misprison, which privileges the primal
struggle between “strong poets [who] make [poetic] history by misreading one another, so as to clear
imaginative spaces for themselves,” has dominated critical discussion of influence and anteriority in
literary history. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997), 5. A systemic, and to my mind more persuasive, account of this tension lo-
cated in a reading of language rather than the author’s psychobiography can be found in Paul de Man,
“Literary History and Literary Modernity,” in Blindness and Insight, 2nd ed. (1971; rpt., Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 142–65. Fittingly, such claims about language and the literary
writ large as citation are themselves not unique. Compare Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Quotation and
Originality,” in Letters and Social Aims, vol. 8 of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. E. W.
Emerson, 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903–04); and Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influ-
ence,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2007): 59–71.
37. The flip side of this coin is equally telling: scenes of pleasure (Chaucer’s guilt-ridden masturba-
tion, Flaubert’s pederasty) are shown to be moments of self-satisfaction or willed expropriation.
38. Ware, The ACME Report, 25.
39. Chris Ware, ed., UnInked: Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Works by Five Cartoonists (Phoenix:
Phoenix Art Museum, 2007), front cover.
40. Ware, The ACME Report, 24.
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Artistic Intersections
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6 5
Chris Ware and the Burden of Art History
As Lhc rccipicnL oí significanL accoladcs írom Lhc finc arL csLablishmcnL, Chris
Warc is in rarc company in Lhc comics ficld.
In :oo:, Warc bccamc Lhc firsL
comic arLisL cvcr Lo bc inviLcd Lo cxhibiL aL Lhc WhiLncy Muscum oí Amcrican
ArL’s Bicnnial.
Hc was Lhc subjccL oí solo cxhibiLions aL Lhc Muscum oí Con-
Lcmporary ArL in Chicago in :oo6 and Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Ncbraska’s Shcldon
Mcmorial ArL Callcry in :oo,. Hc has gallcry rcprcscnLaLion and, in :oo,, was
askcd Lo curaLc a show íor Lhc Phocnix Muscum oí ArL.
YcL a closc rcading
oí “Our HisLory oí ArL,” a scqucncc LhaL appcars among Lhc opcning pagcs oí
Te ACMF Report, suggcsLs his complicaLcd and conLcnLious rclaLionship Lo
his arL hisLorical rooLs.
FirsL produccd íor Lhc WhiLncy Bicnnial as Te whìt-
ney Prevarìcator, Lhc work’s original LiLlc is iLsclí a provocaLion. Docs Warc bc-
licvc himsclí Lo bc Lhc sham arLisL, misLakcnly includcd in Lhc cxhibiLion, or
docs Lhc WhiLncy Bicnnial iLsclí, sLanding in íor Lhc grcaLcr arL world csLab-
lishmcnL, propagaLc Lhc grcaLcr íraud` Chris Warc paradoxically sLakcs ouL
an ouLsidcr posiLion in rclaLion Lo Lhc arL world, whcn iL is cvidcnL LhaL his arL
hisLorical rcícrcnccs arc wcll iníormcd and his work is incrcasingly cxhibiLcd
in prcsLigious gallcrics and muscums. Tis cssay dcscribcs Lhis ambivalcncc
as iL is ovcrLly LhcmaLizcd in his work and cxplorcs how his advocacy íor a
grcaLcr awarcncss oí comics iníorms his criLiquc oí LradiLional arL hisLorics.
“Our HisLory oí ArL” is a scrics oí cpisodcs sprcading across íour pagcs in
Te ACMF Report, spanning írom Lhc PalcoliLhic Lo Lhc ConLcmporary Agc
(scc plaLc ,). Tc usc oí a pcrsonal pronoun in Lhc LiLlc raiscs Lhc qucsLion oí
whosc hisLory is bcing Lold, implying LhaL all hisLorics arc ulLimaLcly sLorics
iníormcd by Lhc spccific inLcrcsLs and prcjudiccs oí Lhcir Lcllcrs. WiLhin Lhis
small buL dcnsc spacc, Warc qucsLions Lhc validiLy oí cxisLing arL hisLorical
modcls by juxLaposing hisLory, íalsc hisLory, and counLcr-narraLivcs. FurLhcr
cxaminaLion oí Lhc íormal dcsign and conLcnL oí Lhcsc pagcs rcvcals a cri-
Liquc oí Lhc cvoluLionary modcl oí arL hisLory as wcll as aLLcmpLs Lo inscrL
comics inLo LhaL dominanL narraLivc. Warc rcpcaLcdly cmploys classic arLisLic
Lropcs wiLhin Lhcsc pancls, including Lhc alicnaLcd and insccurc arLisL, Lhc
modcrnisL grid, Lhc primal siLc oí Lhc drawing Lablc, and Lhc Lcrror oí Lhc
blank canvas. Hc uscs rcpcLiLion and paLLcrn Lo poinL Loward Lhc cyclical na-
Lurc oí hisLory and arL movcmcnLs.
Warc íorcgrounds his arL hisLorical flucncy in Lhcsc pancls whilc simulLa-
ncously disavowing iL. Tcllingly, his mosL incisivc criLicism is oí high arL’s Lcn-
dcncy Lo prcLLiíy ugly LruLhs, Lhough hc also lcvcls Lhis criLicism aL himsclí.
Hc accomplishcs Lhis wiLh a small comic wiLhin a comic, Lhc rcd-hucd “CiLy oí
Cold.” On Lhc pagc dcvoLcd Lo Lhc FnlighLcnmcnL, Lhc mini-comic rccounLs
Lhc slavc Lradc, rcminding vicwcrs LhaL many grcaL works oí arL wcrc Lhc cul-
Lural byproducLs oí dcvasLaLing social and financial sysLcms. In Warc’s own
work, Lhc abundancc oí dccoraLion and visually harmonious dcsign clcmcnLs
hold Lhc poLcnLial Lo disLracL írom Lhc discordanL and cmoLionally wrcnching
conLcnL oí Lhc narraLivc, a dcfining characLcrisLic LhroughouL his ocuvrc. Tc
“CiLy oí Cold” scgmcnLs makc visiblc an acsLhcLicizing oí hisLorical opprcs-
sion and violcncc LhaL Lakcs placc noL only wiLhin Lhc LradiLional LrajccLory
oí arL hisLory, buL also in Lhc hisLory oí carLooning and wiLhin “Our HisLory
oí ArL” iLsclí.
WriLing in Lhc Lhird pcrson in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±,, Warc addrcsscs
his uncasc wiLh Lhc arL hisLorical csLablishmcnL dirccLly: “Tough admiLLcdly
Lraincd as an ‘arLisL,’ hc ncvcr íclL cnLircly aL homc in Lhc gcncrally approvcd
scLLing, íashion and didacLic charLcr oí LhaL parLicular indusLry.”
his discomíorL wiLh Lhc world oí “high arL,” his knowlcdgc oí arL hisLory is
vasL and omniprcscnL. IL is on display in his íooLnoLcd apprcciaLion oí Philip
CusLon in McSweeney’s Quarter|y Concern ±¸ and in Lhc rcícrcnccs Lo PicLcr
Brucgcl Lhc Fldcr and Masaccio íound in his skcLchbooks, scaLLcrcd among
Lhc drawings oí sLrangcrs, buildings, and cvcryday objccLs.
Tcrc is a Lcnsion
bcLwccn Warc’s proícsscd insccuriLy abouL Lhc arL world and his íamiliariLy
and casc wiLh iLs convcnLions. His disavowals oí arL hisLory and iLs criLical ap-
paraLus arc incisivc bccausc Lhcy arc groundcd in íamiliariLy, whilc Lhc criLi-
cisms hc lcvcls scrvc Lo draw aLLcnLion Lo conLradicLions and complicaLions
wiLhin his own work.
Warc’s discomíorL wiLh Lhc high arL acadcmy daLcs back Lo his ncgaLivc
cxpcricnccs aL arL school. In his book-lcngLh monograph on him, Danicl Rac-
burn dcscribcs how Warc was discouragcd and mockcd by insLrucLors aL Lhc
School oí Lhc ArL InsLiLuLc oí Chicago.
Civcn Warc’s dissaLisíacLion wiLh his
own arL cducaLion, iL comcs as no surprisc LhaL Lhc high school arL Lcachcr
hc dcpicLs in his scrializcd novcl-in-progrcss “RusLy Brown” is laughablc and
incffccLual. Howcvcr, Lhc arLisL rcminds us LhaL all his criLicism is ulLimaLcly
sclí-dirccLcd by naming Lhc írusLraLcd arL Lcachcr “Mr. Warc” and giving him
an appcarancc rcmarkably similar Lo oLhcr sclí-porLraiLs by Lhc arLisL. Pudgy,
balding, and middlc-agcd, Mr. Warc is inLroduccd Lo rcadcrs oí Te ACMF
Nove|ty Lìbrary ±, siLLing in his classroom drawing a rudc caricaLurc oí a ícl-
low Lcachcr, who happcns Lo bc RusLy Brown’s íaLhcr. Mr. Warc’s inLcracLions
wiLh sLudcnLs rcvcal an unsaLisficd and cmoLionally sLunLcd man. Hc is a írus-
LraLcd arLisL whosc crcaLivc ouLpuL consisLs oí mcan-spiriLcd carLoons abouL
his collcagucs and highly dcrivaLivc painLings. Mr. Warc’s arLwork, which can
bc sccn in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±6, rcscmblcs a pop arL pasLichc oí Roy
IichLcnsLcin, Fd Ruscha, and comics iconography.
Tc painLings arc accom-
panicd by a painíully prcLcnLious LrcaLisc, íull oí jargon and criLic-spcak. YcL,
whcn Mr. Warc draws Lhc rcadcr’s aLLcnLion Lo his Limc-consuming Lcchniquc
by noLing, “Whcrc IichLcnsLcin cmploys a mcchanical Lcchniquc Lo makc his
‘doLs,’ minc arc all donc by hand—cach row Lakcs abouL onc Lo fivc hours Lo
complcLc . . . look closcly and you’ll scc!,” onc can’L hclp buL bc rcmindcd oí
Lhc labor-inLcnsivc qualiLy oí Chris Warc’s own work.
As always, Warc’s criLi-
cal cyc is unsparing. Hc managcs Lo skcwcr arLisLs, carLoonisLs, arL Lcachcrs,
and himsclí wiLh Lhis singlc characLcr. A closc rcading oí Lhc classroom sccnc
in which Mr. Warc comically modcls íor his drawing class (which includcs
Chalky WhiLc’s sisLcr Alicc) suggcsLs boLh Warc’s mockcry oí arL pcdagogy as
wcll as his knowlcdgc oí arL hisLorical prcccdcnLs.
A sLill-liíc arrangcmcnL in Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhc classroom ícaLurcs a bicyclc
whccl proppcd up on a chair and flankcd by a Lall jug and a rcd applc. Tc
display rccalls Marccl Duchamp’s Pìcyc|e whee| oí ±µ±¸, Lhc pivoLal occasion
whcn Lhc arLisL affixcd a bicyclc whccl Lo a kiLchcn sLool Lo crcaLc his firsL
Duchamp’s clcvaLion oí ordinary objccLs as arL qucsLioncd Lra-
diLional arL-making pracLiccs, including Lhc sLill-liíc LradiLion, and rcdcfincd
common undcrsLanding oí Lhc arL objccL. A bullcLin board on Lhc room’s lcíL
wall posiLs Lhc samc qucsLion LhaL Duchamp’s rcadymadcs poscd ncarly a
ccnLury ago, asking “WhaL is arL`” in jaunLy ycllow and rcd Lypc. Tc applc
has cvcn morc associaLivc propcrLics, Lhc mosL obvious bcing Lhc allusion Lo
Lhc “íorbiddcn íruiL” oí Lhc Ccncsis narraLivc, fiLLing íor Mr. Warc, givcn his
inappropriaLc LhoughLs rcgarding his ícmalc sLudcnLs, cspccially ncw sLudcnL
Alicc WhiLc, whosc disLincLivc rcd swcaLcr maLchcs Lhc color oí Lhc applc. Tc
applc is also cvocaLivc oí Lhc work oí Rcnc MagriLLc, who uscd iL as a moLií
LhroughouL his carccr, as in Te Son oj Man (±µ6¡), whcrc a floaLing applc ob-
scurcs Lhc íacc oí MagriLLc’s anonymous bourgcois busincssman. IL fills Lhc
canvas in Tìs !s Not an App|e (±µ6¡), a painLing LhaL combincs imagc and LcxL
Lo draw aLLcnLion Lo Lhc insLabiliLy oí languagc, a Lhcmc which prcoccupicd
MagriLLc, as cvidcnccd by his mosL íamous painLing, Te Treachery oj !mages
(±µ:µ), also known as Cecì n’est pas une pìpe. Warc’s inLcrcsL in MagriLLc is
noL surprising, givcn his cxploraLion oí communicaLion íailurc and Lhc inad-
cquacy oí languagc in works likc 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
Warc has alludcd Lo MagriLLc on oLhcr occasions. Tc firsL volumc oí Te
ACMF Nove|ty Late Pook conLains a comic whcrcin Warc Lrics Lo rcconcilc
whaL makcs comics a disLincL mcdium. WiLhin Lhc comic, hc draws a black-
board ícaLuring a drawing oí an cyc ncxL Lo Lhc word “cyc,” wiLh an asLcrisk
noLing Lhc rcícrcncc Lo MagriLLc. Hc wriLcs, “Tcrc’s a big diffcrcncc bcLwccn
‘sccing’ and ‘rcading,’” bcíorc noLing LhaL comics arc “somcLhing LhaL is boLh
sccn and rcad simulLancously.”
MagriLLc has provcn Lo bc a uscíul arLisL íor
carLoonisLs aLLcmpLing Lo cxplain Lhc significancc oí Lhc inLcrrclaLionship oí
word and LcxL. ScoLL McCloud uscs Te Treachery oj !mages in his LcxL 0n-
derstandìng Comìcs, a landmark LrcaLisc on Lhc mcdium.
Warc’s rcícrcncc
Lo MagriLLc Lhcrcby conjurcs an alLcrnaLivc hisLory oí arL, onc in which Lhc
problcms poscd by MagriLLc arc jusL as compclling as Lhosc raiscd by Du-
Whcrcas Duchamp Look arL down a paLh away írom narraLivc, as did Pica-
sso and Pollock, MagriLLc’s inLcrcsLs align morc closcly wiLh Lhosc oí Warc.
AlLhough MagriLLc was inLcrcsLcd in visual languagc, hc also painLcd objccLs
in a rcalisL manncr, dcmonsLraLing during a pcriod dominaLcd by absLracLion
LhaL rcalism was sLill capablc oí making vicwcrs rcLhink Lhcir cxpccLaLions.
1usL as words íorm an csscnLial componcnL oí Lhc composiLion in MagriLLc’s
painLing, words arc givcn cqual visual wcighL on Warc’s pagcs, as in scvcral
insLanccs in Lhc arL class scqucncc in which Lhc passagc oí Limc is convcycd
Lhrough a solid bluc pancl wiLh whiLc lcLLcring conLaining Lhc words “shorLly”
and “anyway.”
IcLLcrcd sound cffccLs arc also uscd hcrc in sLark conLrasL
Lo Lhc archcLypal “kapow!” and “blam!” oí Coldcn Agc supcrhcro comics, in-
sLcad, Lhc arLisL injccLs Lhc pagc wiLh Lhc cvcryday sounds oí Lhc “k-chnk” oí a
door opcning, Lhc shuffling and Lidying oí papcrs, and Lhc placcmcnL oí a SLy-
roíoam coffcc cup upon a dcsk. Tc usc oí such anLi-sound cffccLs dovcLails
wiLh Mr. Warc’s painLings, in which words likc “pow” and “blam” arc couplcd
wiLh qucsLion marks, Lhcrcby dcflaLing Lhcir rhcLorical powcr. Tc inclusion
hcrc oí small audiLory dcLails works Lo quicLly convcy Lhc soundLrack oí an
uLLcrly ordinary, banal day in high school. Iikc MagriLLc, Warc is aLLuncd Lo
Lhc sLrangcncss oí ordinary liíc.
Mr. Warc himsclí modcls íor Lhc sLudcnLs, hc picks up Lhc applc and movcs
Lhrough a scrics oí poscs in a scqucncc rcminisccnL oí Fadwcard Muybridgc’s
scqucnLial phoLographs oí human locomoLion.
On Lhc adjoining pagc, in Lhc
uppcr lcíL corncr, wc scc Mr. Warc aL his mosL ridiculous: bcnL aL Lhc waisL
wiLh his rcar in Lhc air íacing his sLudcnLs (scc fig. ¸.±). RaLhcr Lhan rcading
cach pancl scqucnLially írom lcíL Lo righL, Warc dcmands LhaL Lhc rcadcr look
morc closcly in ordcr Lo undcrsLand Lhc narraLivc oí Lhc pagc. Tc LcxL lcads
us Lhrough Lhc imagc, moving firsL across Lhc uppcr Lwo-Lhirds oí Lhc pagc
and Lhcn across Lhc lowcr Lhird, which likc Lhc uppcr rcgisLcr is íurLhcr subdi-
vidcd in Lwo. Tc Lhird and largcsL pancl anchors Lhc pagc, providing a bird’s-
cyc vicw oí Lhc arL classroom. Tc lasL Lwo pancls oí Lhc uppcr rcgisLcr íorm
onc imagc, cmploying Lhc polypLych as a dcvicc in comics LhaL daLcs back
Lo Lhc carly LwcnLicLh-ccnLury comic sLrips oí Winsor McCay, showing Alicc
WhiLc and anoLhcr ícmalc sLudcnL working on Lhcir skcLchcs as snow íalls
Fig. 5.1. In this episode of
“Rusty Brown,” Chalky
White’s sister takes
drawing lessons from a
disaffected art teacher
named Mr. Ware. Chris
Ware, The ACME Novelty
Library 17 (Chicago: The
ACME Novelty Library,
2006), 35.
soíLly ouLsidc. Warc dividcs Lhc pancls aL Lhc poinL whcrc Lhc dcsk on which
Lhc womcn arc drawing should bc, so LhaL Lhc guLLcr running bcLwccn Lhc
Lwo pancls also rcads as Lhcir drawing Lablc. Tc cnLirc pagc dcmonsLraLcs
Warc’s command oí wholc-pagc dcsign as wcll as his propcnsiLy íor showing
a sccnc írom mulLiplc vicwpoinLs. Wc scc Lhc arL classroom írom a posiLion
sLanding in Lhc snow ouLsidc Lhc school, írom Mr. Warc’s conLorLcd posc as
hc pccks up Alicc’s skirL, írom Alicc’s pcrspccLivc as shc puLs pcncil Lo pagc
Lo draw Lhc figurc, and, finally, Lhc vicw Lhc sLudcnLs havc oí Lhcir Lcachcr,
oí his íacc upsidc down and looking Lhrough his lcgs whilc his Lic danglcs in
íronL oí his hcad. Tis lasL imagc is rcpcaLcd Lhrcc Limcs, bringing a syncopa-
Lion Lo Lhc pagc, as Lhc visagc oí Mr. Warc bccomcs cvcr morc absLracL and
groLcsquc, Lhc vicwcr is alcrLcd Lo Lhc Lruc naLurc oí his characLcr, his arLisLic
posLuring scrving as a mcrc íaçadc LhaL allows him Lo lccr aL prcLLy young
Warc’s aLLcnLion Lo all-ovcr pagc dcsign and his obscssivc cyc íor Lclling
dcLails rcvcals iLsclí slowly ovcr Limc. A vicwcr could bc íorgivcn íor glossing
ovcr such finc poinLs during an iniLial rcading oí Lhc comics. YcL iL is íor Lhis
rcason LhaL Warc’s arLwork is morc amcnablc Lo a muscum scLLing Lhan Lhosc
oí somc oí his collcagucs. Whcn his drawings arc isolaLcd írom Lhcir original
conLcxL and placcd on a gallcry wall, iL allows Lhc vicwcr Lhc spacc Lo dclibcr-
aLc upon Lhc inLricacics oí cach individual drawing. Danicl Racburn cxprcsscs
a common criLicism abouL cxhibiLing comics in arL insLiLuLions: “Comics do
noL bclong undcr Lhc Lrack lighLing oí SoHo anyway. Comics may bc a visual
arL, buL Lhcy arc an arL oí wriLing. FxLracLing a pagc írom a comic book and
puLLing iL bchind glass is likc cuLLing a paragraph írom a shorL sLory and íram-
ing iL.”
Racburn is corrccL Lo arguc LhaL somcLhing is losL whcn comics arc
isolaLcd írom Lhcir original rcading conLcxL, howcvcr, such sLaLcmcnLs dis-
counL Lhc visual impacL oí comic arL, dismissing iLs connccLions Lo arL hisLori-
cal anLcccdcnLs by privilcging iLs rclaLionship Lo liLcraLurc or by csLablishing
comics as a scparaLc mcdium alLogcLhcr. Comics arc noL produccd wiLh Lhc
muscum vicwcr in mind, jusL as alLarpicccs losc Lhcir liLurgical conLcxL whcn
cxhibiLcd in an arL gallcry. Howcvcr, iL is shorLsighLcd Lo Lhink LhaL Lhcrc is
noLhing Lo bc gaincd írom Lhis ncw vicwing cxpcricncc. By placing comics in
a muscum, visiLors arc cncouragcd Lo Lhink abouL how comics rclaLc Lo Lhc
broadcr hisLory oí arL and Lo makc visual connccLions across mcdiums. Warc
himsclí qucsLions Lhc placc oí comics in muscum scLLings: “RcccnLly, many
cxhibiLions and muscum shows havc prcscnLcd walls oí comic sLrip originals
as ‘arL’ Lo Lhc vicwing public as ycL onc morc prooí oí comics’ asccnding lcgiLi-
macy. [. . .] BuL docs íraming and hanging somcLhing up on Lhc wall auLomaLi-
cally makc iL arL` AcLually who carcs`”
DcspiLc Warc’s objccLions, howcvcr, arL muscums havc noncLhclcss bccn
accordcd culLural auLhoriLy in our socicLy. As a rcsulL Lhcy play a rolc, as Warc
acknowlcdgcs, in lcgiLimizing comic arL in Lhc cycs oí a largcr public. Warc’s
discomíorL wiLh Lhc arL csLablishmcnL bccomcs mosL apparcnL whcn hc
himsclí is affordcd insLiLuLional powcr, a Lrcnd cvidcnccd mosL clcarly in his
Lurn as gucsL curaLor oí an cxhibiLion LiLlcd 0n!nked. Paìntìngs, Scu|pture, and
Craphìc works by Fìve Cartoonìsts. Hc wriLcs in Lhc firsL paragraph oí Lhc cxhi-
biLion caLaloguc (which hc also cdiLcd): “Comics, wiLh rarc cxccpLion, arc a vi-
sual languagc, onc composcd oí picLurcs inLcndcd Lo bc rcad and disLribuLcd
as mass-produccd objccLs, noL scruLinizcd individually as onc mighL carcíully
pcrusc a painLing or a drawing.”
Such sLaLcmcnLs appcar Lo arguc againsL Lhc
uscíulncss oí cxhibiLions such as Lhc onc hc was askcd Lo curaLc. DcspiLc his
misgivings abouL displaying comics in muscums amidsL painLings and draw-
ings, Warc acccpLcd an inviLaLion Lo cxhibiL his work aL Lhc WhiLncy Muscum
oí ArL in :oo:.
Warc’s ambivalcncc Loward Lhc arL csLablishmcnL’s inLcrcsL in comics was
apparcnL in his conLribuLion Lo Lhc WhiLncy Bicnnial. Warc crcaLcd a posLcr
íor Lhc bicnnial LhaL calls Lo mind a íull-color ncwspapcr broadshccL. Tc Li-
Llc, Te whìtney Prevarìcator, is drawn in Lhc sLylc oí a ncwspapcr masLhcad.
According Lo Lhc hcadcr, iL is publishcd biannually and conLains “all your ía-
voriLcs . . . arL hisLorical quips and gags,” phrasing which draws aLLcnLion Lo
high arL’s procliviLy íor Laking iLsclí Loo scriously. Applying Lhc Lcrminology
oí comics Lo high arL compcls Lhc vicwcr Lo considcr how languagc and prc-
scnLaLion, bc iL a ncwspapcr broadsidc or a whiLc box gallcry spacc, shapcs
our pcrccpLion oí whaL is and is noL arL. Tc posLcr íurLhcr sLaLcs LhaL iL is “a
lighL divcrsion írom Lhc largcr problcms oí will, consciousncss, and culLural
aspiraLion,” íurLhcr rciníorcing Lhc culLurally prcscribcd rolcs oí Lhc comics
as brcczy cnLcrLainmcnL, sLanding in opposiLion Lo Lhc muscum as Lcmplc Lo
high scriousncss. Tc pagc dcsign acLs as a nod Loward comic arL hisLory and
Lhc rolc oí ncwspapcrs in Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí Lhc mcdium. AddiLionally, Lhc
broadshccL íormaL is uscíul in LhaL iL allows Warc Lo posiLion himsclí ouLsidc
oí Lhc muscum, raLhcr Lhan a parLicipanL in Lhc cxhibiLion, hc has Lakcn on
Lhc rolc oí rcporLcr.
Warc rcpcaLcdly qucsLioncd Lhc soundncss oí including his work in Lhc bi-
cnnial arL cxhibiLion, a vicw apparcnLly sharcd by PcLcr Schjcldahl, who callcd
iL “a show in which ‘arL’ is mooL cxccpL as a caLchall íor objccLs and acLivi-
Lics LhaL arcn’L clcarly somcLhing clsc or—as in Lhc skillcd buL sclí-absorbcd
comic sLrips oí Chris Warc—arc Loo cool Lo ignorc. (Iikc Lclcvision advcrLis-
crs, Lhis Bicnnial panLs aíLcr Lhc youLh markcL.)”
Warc hcads off such criLics
by conLinually offcring up his own skcpLicism abouL his posiLion in Lhc arL
world, wriLing on onc occasion LhaL “[his] work has appcarcd, incxplicably, in
Lhc WhiLncy Bicnnial oí Amcrican ArL in :oo:.”
In Te whìtney Prevarìcator, arL hisLory is Lold Lhrough a scrics oí comic
sLrips. Tc posLcr is íasLcr paccd and morc concisc Lhan Lhc vcrsion íound in
Te ACMF Report, iL lacks Lhc Lhrcc largc pancls LhaL hclp uniíy and propcl Lhc
narraLivc oí “Our HisLory oí ArL.” Fxcluding Lhc largcr pancls allows Warc Lo
confinc Lhc sLory Lo onc pagc and bcLLcr prcscrvc iLs rcscmblancc Lo Lhc com-
ics sccLion oí a Sunday ncwspapcr. Tc pancls arc givcn individual hcadcrs Lo
disLinguish Lhc sLorics oí diffcrcnL individuals and movcmcnLs. IL is a logical
organizaLion in LhaL mosL arL hisLorics arc organizcd around Lhc compcLing
narraLivcs oí individuals and groups. Tc sccLions arc also diffcrcnLiaLcd by
color choiccs, rcds, blucs, and carLh Loncs prcdominaLc. Tc color choiccs arc
inLcnLional, as Warc rcvcals whcn hc wriLcs in a LcxL pancl undcr Lhc hcadcr
“Did you know . . .” LhaL “Lhc Dark Agcs, Manncrism, & PosL-Modcrnism arc
all pretty much the same thìng| IL’s true| Tcsc ‘cool’ or ‘inLcllccLualizcd’ cras
arc sysLcmic codificaLions oí Lhc prcvious ‘warm’ or ‘cmoLional’ discovcrics
which prcccdcd Lhcm!” (8). Hcrc Warc uscs simplc words, hcavily-puncLuaLcd
wiLh cxclamaLion poinLs in Lhc rhcLorical sLylc oí “íun íacLs,” Lo convcy his ía-
miliariLy wiLh acsLhcLic Lhcory and a hisLory oí íormalism LhaL daLcs back Lo
Hcinrich Wolfflin and Alois Ricgl.
By drawing on Lhc convcnLions oí comic
sLrip dialogucs and advcrLising copy, Warc implics LhaL Lhcrc arc morc dirccL
ways oí Lalking Lo vicwcrs abouL arL, implicaLing arL insLiLuLions and criLics
íor bcing ovcrly didacLic and alicnaLing Lhcir audicnccs. So as Lo makc his
poinL visually as wcll as vcrbally, hc cmploys cool colors such as bluc Loncs Lo
indicaLc Lhc ccrcbral movcmcnLs likc posLmodcrnism, whilc warm colors and
carLh Loncs indicaLc Lhc “cmoLional” pcriods such as Lhc Rcnaissancc. Tc
cumulaLivc cffccL is Lo suggcsL Lhc comics sccLion oí Lhc Sunday ncwspapcr,
ícaLuring an array oí comics by mulLiplc auLhors. Howcvcr, Lhc sLylisLic inLcg-
riLy oí Lhc pagc givcs away Lhc íacL LhaL Lhis is Lhc producL oí a singlc arLisL
and LhaL Lhc individual sLorics Lic LogcLhcr Lo crcaLc an ovcrarching narraLivc
abouL Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí WcsLcrn arL.
Tc diffcrcnccs bcLwccn Te whìtney Prevarìcator and “Our HisLory oí ArL”
as iL appcarcd in Te ACMF Report arc noL insignificanL. Tc WhiLncy piccc
bcgins during Lhc classical cra, whilc Lhc longcr vcrsion originaLcs in Lhc Pa-
lcoliLhic. IL is noLcworLhy LhaL Warc cxpands backward Lo includc prchisLoric
arL, as scvcral comic hisLorians discuss Lhc cavc painLings aL Iascaux as bcing
Lhc firsL cxamplcs oí scqucnLial arL.

His indirccL rcícrcncc Lo comic scholar-
ship Lhcrcby locaLcs comics aL Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhc hisLory oí arL. In Lhc cxpandcd
vcrsion, Lhc sLory uníolds ovcr íour pagcs, Lhrcc oí which ícaLurc largc ccnLral
imagcs composing morc Lhan halí Lhc pagc, all oí Lhcsc imagcs bcing abscnL
in Lhc original posLcr. IasLly, Lhcrc is a íull pagc dcvoLcd Lo Lhc ciLizcn-arLisL-
consumcr oí Lhc íuLurc in Lhc sLylc oí his rccurring LiLlc, “Talcs oí Tomorrow.”
Tcsc addiLions crcaLc a morc íar-rcaching narraLivc, ambiLious in iLs scopc as
iL movcs írom prchisLory all Lhc way inLo Lhc íuLurc.
Warc uscs rcpcLiLion and symmcLry Lo uniíy Lhc cnLirc scqucncc. Tc
arLisL, íor cxamplc, appcars Lo bc Lhc samc man (Lhc arLisL is always malc)
LhroughouL Lhc scrics. His physical appcarancc rcmains consisLcnL, wiLh his
oblong íacc, buLLon nosc, worry lincs on brow and undcr cycs, and a dispro-
porLionaLcly pcar-shapcd body. Pcriod drcss is Lhc only markcr LhaL disLin-
guishcs him írom onc cpoch Lo Lhc ncxL. Tc similariLics arc mosL cvidcnL
in Lhc Lhrcc largc ccnLral pancls whcrc Lhc arLisL is shown in Lhc samc posc,
siLLing down Lo work wiLh a drawing implcmcnL in hand, íacing Lhc Lcrror
oí Lhc blank pagc. Tc firsL largc pancl shows a cavcman siLLing on an ani-
mal carcass, prcparing Lo skcLch on a sLrcLchcd animal skin. Tc sccond largc
pancl shows a Lypical scvcnLccnLh-ccnLury DuLch arLisL in his sLudio, com-
plcLc wiLh a cabincL oí curiosiLics, a sLill-liíc display, as wcll as a globc and a
wall map, all oí which invokc Lhc prospcrous DuLch Lradc which íuclcd Lhcir
acLivc arL markcL. Tc Lhird pancl shows an arLisL oí Lhc íuLurc, ouLfiLLcd in
a spacc suiL and aLLachcd Lo oxygcn Lanks. Numcrous composiLional parallcls
also Lic Lhc Lhrcc imagcs LogcLhcr. All Lhrcc mcn draw wiLh a quill pcn and ink
poL, dcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL Lhcy arc anachronisLic Lools íor boLh Lhc cavcman
and Lhc man oí Lhc íuLurc. All Lhrcc arc working in a shclLcrcd, proLccLcd arca
whilc a vicw Lo Lhc largcr world lics jusL bchind Lhcm, rciníorcing Lhc idca oí
Lhc arLisL as obscrvcr.
Tc cavc dwcllcr’s abodc looks ouL onLo a chaoLic sccnc oí violcncc and
rapc wiLh a volcano cxploding in Lhc disLancc, nonc oí which has any noLicc-
ablc cffccL on Lhc arLisL, who is uninspircd in spiLc oí all Lhc acLiviLy occur-
ring jusL ouLsidc his cavc. Tc scvcnLccnLh ccnLury appcarcd Lo bc a saícr
Limc, and Lhc vicw ouL Lhc arLisL’s windows shows mcrchanLs wandcring Lhc
sLrccLs. Tc only dangcr Lo bc sccn is a man sLcpping inLo a puddlc and a
banana pccl lying ominously in Lhc allcyway, waiLing íor somconc Lo Lakc a
íall. Tc inclusion oí Lhc banana pccl, LhaL sLaplc oí vaudcvillc rouLincs and
gag carLoons, inLcrjccLs a comic scnsibiliLy inLo Lhc narraLivc by rcminding
vicwcrs LhaL slapsLick humor, likc Lhc acsLhcLic impulsc, is cvcr prcscnL. To
Lhc righL is a waLcr vicw, and a sailing ship is sccn in Lhc disLancc, gcsLuring
Loward Lhc dangcrs oí liíc aL sca and rciníorcing Lhc imporLancc oí Lradc and
commcrcc Lo Lhc pcriod’s arL markcL. Tc firsL sccnc shows many pcoplc in
Lhc background, ícwcr pcoplc arc dcpicLcd in Lhc sccond sccnc and no oLhcr
humans can bc sccn ouL Lhc window oí Lhc Lhird largc pancl, indicaLing Lhc
incrcasing isolaLion oí modcrn liíc. Human prcscncc is mcrcly suggcsLcd by
Lhc lighLs in disLanL buildings and aircraíL floaLing by. Billboards command
vicwcrs Lo caL, buy, and waLch, suggcsLing LhaL Lhc acL oí vicwing, whcLhcr
iL bc dirccLcd aL Lclcvision or culLural arLiíacLs in a muscum, is jusL anoLhcr
íorm oí consumpLion. Wc waLch as Lhc arLisLs’ physical condiLions improvc
ovcr Limc: Lhc cavcman works amidsL animal carcasscs, applc corcs, and cx-
crcmcnL, whilc Lhc scvcnLccnLh-ccnLury DuLchman has írcsh brcad, a jug oí
winc, and a chambcr poL aL his disposal. IasLly, Lhc man oí Lhc íuLurc is con-
nccLcd Lo a scrics oí Lubcs LhaL cvidcnLly managc his physical nccds íor him.
And ycL, rcgardlcss oí Lhcir crcaLurc comíorLs, all Lhrcc mcn arc crcaLivcly
blockcd, suggcsLing Lhc Limclcss anxicLy oí Lhc blank pagc.
Warc privilcgcs Lhc acL oí drawing, as opposcd Lo painLing, as Lhc primal
siLc íor Lhc crcaLivc impulsc. Oncc again, his uníailing cyc íor small dcLails is
on display, as in Lhc skull LhaL acLs as an inkpoL in Lhc firsL largc pancl and is
rcpcaLcd in Lhc sccond, whcrc iL can bc íound on Lhc Lop lcvcl oí Lhc arLisL’s
cabincL oí curiosiLics, waiLing Lo bc Lakcn ouL and uscd in a mcmcnLo mori
sLill liíc. OLhcr dcLails íorm a connccLivc Lhrcad Lhrough Lhc composiLion,
íor cxamplc, a Crcck arLisL chiscls a woman in marblc, Lhc samc sculpLurc
laLcr appcars as a modcl íor Mr. Manncrism (Lhough by Lhcn hcr arms havc
brokcn off, à la Lhc Vcnus dc Milo). A miniaLurc vcrsion oí Lhc sLaLuc appcars
in Lhc DuLch arLisL’s wunderkammer. IaLcr, in Lhc modcrnisL arL scqucncc,
arLisLs arc shown working írom livc modcls who arc poscd in Lhc samc posi-
Lion as Lhc sLaLuc. Visual rcpcLiLion lcnds uniLy Lo Lhc ovcrall pagc dcsign. IL
also cmphasizcs Lhc conLinuing imporLancc oí hisLory Lo arL by alluding Lo
Lhc íacL LhaL Rcnaissancc arL and Manncrism wcrc hcavily indcbLcd Lo Lhc
rc-discovcry oí anLiquiLics írom Lhc Classical cra.
As wiLh any hisLory, Warc’s own inLcrcsLs and procliviLics color Lhc narra-
Livc. As prcviously indicaLcd, drawing prcdominaLcs as Lhc mcdium oí choicc.
Tc archcLypal carLoonisL Rodolphc Topffcr cvcn makcs an appcarancc in Lhc
sLrip LiLlcd “Nobody Iikcs Mc,” whcrc in an aLLcmpL Lo imprcss CocLhc hc
dccidcs Lo “combinc Lwo disparaLc ficlds oí civilizaLion inLo onc . . . LhaL sorL
oí Lrick is all Lhc ragc aL Lhc momcnL . . . lcsscc now . . . aha! ! know . . . I’ll mix
up arL and liLcraLurc . . . Tat’|| gcL his goaL!” (,). Tus Warc is ablc Lo inLcrjccL
a kcy figurc írom Lhc hisLory oí comic arL inLo Lhc narraLivc. Whilc Topffcr
is bcginning Lo rcccivc morc rccogniLion, as cvidcnccd by Lhc Lwo rcccnL vol-
umcs dcvoLcd Lo him publishcd by David Kunzlc and rcvicwcd by Warc íor
Pookjorum, Lhc arLisL is noLiccably abscnL írom any major arL hisLory survcy

Warc’s pcrsonal canon oí arL hisLorical anLcccdcnLs is idiosyncraLic and
divcrsc, ranging írom William HogarLh Lo Rcnc MagriLLc and Philip CusLon,
ycL Lhc influcncc cach has on his arLisLic producLion is cvidcnL. FighLccnLh-
ccnLury BriLish arLisL William HogarLh is an obvious choicc íor a carLoonisL,
givcn his background as a saLirisL and his innovaLivc usc oí Lhc prinL mcdium
Lo crcaLc scqucnLial narraLivcs. According Lo 1ohn Carlin, Warc kccps an im-
agc írom HogarLh’s Te Ana|ysìs oj Peauty aL homc on a wall ncar his drawing

Te Ana|ysìs oj Peauty was an illusLraLcd LrcaLisc on acsLhcLic Lhcory
in which HogarLh dcscribcd six principlcs LhaL individually conLribuLc Lo an
objccL’s bcauLy: fiLncss, varicLy, rcgulariLy, simpliciLy, inLricacy, and quanLiLy.
Such qualiLics pcrmcaLc Warc’s arLwork, írom Lhc disarmingly simplc figurc
dcsigns Lo Lhc inLricaLcly dcLailcd pagc composiLions ícaLuring various shapcs
and íorms Lo lcnd Lhc pagc visual inLcrcsL, combincd wiLh Lhc rcpcLiLivc usc
oí parLicular imagcs which work Lo uniíy Lhc ovcrall pagc (scc fig. ¸.:). Tc
cngravcd plaLcs accompanying Te Ana|ysìs oj Peauty arc similar Lo dcsigns by
Warc in LhaL Lhcy arc dcnsc, dcLailcd works LhaL dcmand closc looking and
rcward carcíul considcraLion. PlaLc ± ícaLurcs a largc ccnLral sccnc in which
a man in conLcmporary drcss sLands in a courLyard conLcmplaLing ancicnL
Fig. 5.2. In the first plate
from William Hogarth’s
influential treatise on
aesthetics, Hogarth re-
duces the human form to
its essential recognizable
components. William
Hogarth, The Analysis of
Beauty, Plate I (London: J.
Reeves, 1753).
sLaLuary. Smallcr pancls dcpicLing a rangc oí drawing Lcchniqucs bordcr Lhc
imagc. As ií Lhcy wcrc cxLracLcd írom a drawing manual, Lhc small pancls
conLain cvcryLhing írom simplc linc drawings Lo complcx porLraiLs rcndcrcd
Lhrcc-dimcnsional by shading and modcling. Tc composiLion mirrors LhaL oí
“Our HisLory oí ArL,” which includcs smallcr pancls oí varying sizcs LhaL sur-
round a largc, ccnLral imagc.
NoL only do Warc’s acsLhcLic inLcrcsLs dovcLail wiLh Lhosc ouLlincd by
HogarLh, Lhc carlicr arLisL also sharcs Warc’s conLcmpL íor arL csLablish-
mcnL’s cliLisL Lcndcncics. His LrcaLisc was dubbcd a “war on connoisscurs”
bccausc iL was purposcíully dcvoid oí prcLcnLious languagc and jargon. Ho-
garLh dcsigncd Lhc work Lo appcal Lo Lhc cmcrging markcL oí middlc-class arL
paLrons: “HogarLh Look sLrong cxccpLion Lo Lhc acadcmic vicw LhaL a sLudy oí
Lhc works oí Lhc masLcrs could bc a subsLiLuLc íor a sLudy oí naLurc. His criLi-
cism oí Lhc connoisscurs was LhaL Lhcy wcrc Loo conccrncd wiLh ‘manncrs,’
and Lhus wiLh a manncrcd vicw oí naLurc, whilsL hc was conccrncd wiLh a ‘di-
rccL’ vicw oí naLurc, hc dcplorcd arLificialiLy and cusLom.”

Warc is similarly
disLrusLíul oí Lhc currcnL arL csLablishmcnL and iLs insisLcncc on mainLaining
hicrarchics oí LasLc, cspccially Lhosc LhaL rclcgaLc comics as a mcdium Lo a
sub-arLisLic lcvcl.
Warc’s disLasLc íor conLcmporary arL is cvidcnL in “RcducLio ad absurdum”
(RcducLion Lo Lhc absurd), whosc vcry LiLlc suggcsLs Warc’s bclicí LhaL mod-
crn arL has losL iLs way, bccoming incrcasingly rcmovcd írom Lhc projccL oí
rcvcaling naLurc and boggcd down by LhcorcLicians. Tc bicyclc whccl LhaL
was íound in Mr. Warc’s arL class rc-suríaccs in Lhc íourLh pancl oí Lhis mini-
comic. A Duchamp sLand-in puffs on a pipc (channcling MagriLLc) whilc dc-
claring, “I’m going Lo sLop making ‘arL’ complcLcly and jusL occasionally scrcw
sLuff LogcLhcr, sincc noLhing much maLLcrs, anyway” (8). Tc WhiLncy posLcr
similarly cnds on a cynical noLc. Tc boLLom pancl conLains a comic sLrip
callcd “Tcy Iovc Mc,” which opcns by posiLioning Lhc vicwcr on Lhc ouLsidc
looking inLo a brighLly liL gallcry spacc. Tc cxLcrior sccnc is significanL, Warc
oncc morc posiLions himsclí as an ouLsidcr casLing a criLical cyc on arL world
dcalings. Tc ncxL pancl is an inLcrior shoL oí a man on a ccll phonc aL Lhc
“Tony Baloni Finc ArL” Callcry chaLLing up a poLcnLial cusLomcr. His iniLial
appcal Lo his clicnL could jusL as casily bc Lhc comc-on oí a drug dcalcr—“I
goL somc ncw sLuff I Lhink you mighL bc inLcrcsLcd in . . . yeah, rcal crazy shiL,
ycah,” (8)—whilc Lhc namc oí Lhc gallcry (Tony Baloni, which rhymcs wiLh
phony baloncy, also calls Lo mind Lhc word “Lony” as in “posh” and “baloncy”
as in “hogwash,” implying an arL gallcry dcaling in posh hogwash) also signals
Lo Lhc vicwcr LhaL his inLcnLions may noL bc cnLircly purc.
Tc arL dcalcr
piLchcs his hoL young arLisL as a commodiLy, offcring his clicnL Lhc poLcnLial
Lo gcL “in on Lhc ground floor” (8). Tc íollowing pancl, which appcars only in
“Our HisLory oí ArL,” is callcd “PosL modcrn PosL morLcm” and iL is anoLhcr
damning commcnL on conLcmporary arL and Lhcory. InsLcad oí working aL a
drawing Lablc or cascl, Lhc arLisL is aL his lapLop, muddlcd by Lhc Lhcorics oí
Iacan and “Daridas (sp`)” (8). Oí coursc, Warc himsclí uscs a compuLcr Lo
color his drawings, dcmonsLraLing ycL again his abiliLy Lo dirccL criLicism aL
himsclí as wcll as oLhcrs.
DcspiLc Lhc digs aL modcrnisL and posLmodcrnisL arL and Lhcory, Chris
Warc has cxprcsscd cnLhusiasm abouL Philip CusLon, Lhc absLracL arLisL who
rcLurncd Lo figuraLion in Lhc mid-±µ6os. Tc flcshy, moLLlcd, raw íorms LhaL
fill CusLon’s canvas havc liLLlc in common wiLh Lhc prccisc gcomcLric íorms
and flaL arcas oí color LhaL prcdominaLc in Warc’s finishcd work. Howcvcr,
Warc’s publishcd skcLchcs rcvcal LhaL hc is jusL as comíorLablc working wiLh
a írccr, looscr drawing sLylc. Iikc HogarLh, CusLon was noL always apprcci-
aLcd in his own Limc, and arL criLics such as HilLon Kramcr aLLackcd him íor
using rccognizablc subjccL maLLcr.
Warc’s apprcciaLion oí Philip CusLon in
McSweeney’s ±¸ is boLh an odc Lo CusLon’s rcclamaLion oí figuraLion and a
rcjccLion oí Lhc Lypc oí arL criLicism propagaLcd by ClcmcnL Crccnbcrg and
his íollowcrs, which dismisscd any work dcviaLing írom Lhc goal oí aLLaining
acsLhcLic “puriLy” Lhrough mcdium spccificiLy—criLicism LhaL would by iLs
own sLandards dcvaluc Lhc narraLivc arL íound in comics. Tough CusLon’s
criLical rcpuLaLion has sincc bccn rcsusciLaLcd, and Crccnbcrgian modcrnism
is no longcr asccndanL, Warc sLill íccls Lhc nccd Lo makc Lhc argumcnL íor
CusLon’s imporLancc.
Closc cxaminaLion oí Warc’s arL and wriLing rcvcals skcpLicism Loward
boLh arL criLicism and arL muscums, which work in collusion Lo lcgiLimaLc
arL hisLorical narraLivcs. In his :oo: LcxL Storìes oj Art, arL hisLorian 1amcs
Flkins bcgins by rclaying a classroom cxcrcisc: hc asks his sLudcnLs Lo pro-
ducc a map oí arL hisLory as iL appcars Lo Lhcm. Hc dcscribcs somc oí Lhc
morc invcnLivc cfforLs bcíorc conccding LhaL, “nccdlcss Lo say, drawings likc
Lhcsc can’L íully dcscribc Lhc shapc oí hisLory. Tcy arc Loo simplc, and bc-
sidcs, mosL oí us don’L normally Lhink in diagrams. Drawings and diagrams
arc uníashionablc in arL hisLory, bccausc Lhcy arc Loo ncaL Lo rcprcscnL Lhc
rcal LruLh.”

Warc’s “Our HisLory oí ArL” is in many ways a similar projccL. Hc
uscs simplc íorms and diagrams Lo convcy complcx idcas abouL how hisLory
is shapcd and whom iL bcncfiLs. Flkins acknowlcdgcs, “Tc cxcrcisc is simplc
buL iL isn’L simplcmindcd: iL can hclp dislodgc Lhc wcighL oí pcdagogy and
uncovcr a scnsc oí arL hisLory LhaL is closcr Lo Lhc way Lhc pasL is imagincd,
íclL, and uscd [. . .] OLhcrwisc arL hisLory is jusL a paradc, dcsigncd by oLhcr
pcoplc, cndlcssly passing you by.”
By inscrLing comic arL inLo Lhc narraLivc,
Warc qucsLions Lhc ways in which acadcmic scholarship conLinucs Lo privi-
lcgc ccrLain íorms oí arL-making aL Lhc cxpcnsc oí oLhcrs. Warc is uniqucly
posiLioncd Lo do so, having bccn wclcomcd inLo Lhc vcry insLiLuLions LhaL his
work criLiqucs. Hc has íound mulLiplc avcnucs Lo accomplish Lhis Lask: by
curaLing his own cxhibiLions, by publishing book rcvicws and arLiclcs abouL
Lhc undcrapprcciaLcd arLisLs who wcrc mcaningíul íor him, and by crcaLing
comics likc “Our HisLory oí ArL,” Warc conLinucs Lo rcwriLc arL hisLory.
1. Roxana Marconi, Comic Abstraction: Image Breaking, Image Making (New York: Museum of Mod-
ern Art; London: Thames & Hudson, 2007). Contemporary art museums are becoming more inter-
ested in comic art as evidenced by the Museum of Modern Art’s 2007 exhibition, Comic Abstraction.
However, by their emphasis on artists who appropriated comic art forms as a means of cultural
critique, while simultaneously excluding any practicing cartoonists, the MoMA exhibition reinforced,
rather than surmounted, the high-low divide.
2. Lawrence Rinder, Whitney Biennial 2002 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art,
3. Chris Ware, ed. UnInked: Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Works by Five Cartoonists (Phoenix:
Phoenix Art Museum, 2007).
4. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy
Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005). All further references to this text will be indicated in
5. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 17 (Chicago: The ACME Novelty Library, 2006), copy-
right page.
6. Chris Ware, “Philip Guston: A Cartoonist’s Appreciation,” McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13
(San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2004), 85–91; Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook (Montreal:
Drawn & Quarterly, 2003), 115; Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook, Volume Two (Montreal:
Drawn & Quarterly, 2007) 83.
7. Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 12.
8. Mr. Ware’s pop art paintings can be found in Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 16 (Chicago:
The ACME Novelty Library, 2005), 36–37.
9. Ibid., 37.
10. Duchamp would later distinguish between untouched objects, which were deemed ready-
mades, and common objects which he altered slightly, as in this example where he fused the wheel to
the kitchen stool. Such altered objects were referred to as “assisted readymades.”
11. Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook, 40.
12. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink, 1993), 24–25.
13. For discussion on how text reads as image in Ware’s work see Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The
Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strategies,” in The Language of Comics: Word
and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina Gibbons (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001),
14. Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 17, 32. Muybridge also appears in Ware, “A Short History of
Cartooning,” in The ACME Report, 24, and his exhibit at the World’s Columbian Fair shows up in Jimmy
Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 278.
15. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 17.
16. Ware, “Preface,” UnInked, i.
17. Ibid.
18. Peter Schjeldahl, “Do It Yourself: Biennial Follies at the Whitney,” New Yorker, March 25, 2002,
19. Ware, UnInked, editor’s biography.
20. Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art,
trans. Marie D. Hottinger (1915; rpt., New York: Dover, 1932); Alois Riegl, Problems of Style: Founda-
tions for a History of Ornament, trans. Evelyn Kain (1893; rpt., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1992).
21. Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art (Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse, 1985), 101.
22. The other changes to the Whitney Prevaricator include the addition of a strip called “Post Mod-
ern Post Mortem” as well as a sixth installment of the red-hued “City of Gold” strip and a sequence
called “I Love Myself,” which follows “They Love Me.”
23. David Kunzle, Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer (Jackson: University Press of Missis-
sippi, 2007); David Kunzle, Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips (Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 2007); Chris Ware, “Strip Mind,” Bookforum 15.1 (2008): 45, 58.
24. John Carlin, “The Real Comic Book Heroes,” TATE Etc. 9 (2007).
tateetc/issue9/realcomicbookheroes.htm (accessed February 25, 2009).
25. Richard Woodfield, “Introductory Note,” in Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth (1753; rpt.,
New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1974), i.
26. Tony Baloni Fine Art might also reference the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which established its
reputation by championing Keith Haring, an artist who regularly incorporated graffiti and comics into
his work.
27. Hilton Kramer, “A Mandarin Pretending to be a Stumblebum,” New York Times, October 25,
1970, D27.
28. Peter Schjeldahl, the same critic who was so disparaging of Ware’s inclusion in the Whitney
Biennial, was among those who revised their opinion of Guston. Schjeldahl writes, “Reliving it, I
understand both why it took me more than a decade to come around to late Guston and why I now
regard that work as the most important American painting of its time.” See “The Junkman’s Son: A
Philip Guston Retrospective,” New Yorker, November 3, 2003, 102.
29. James Elkins, Stories of Art (New York: Routledge, 2002), 11. Elkins has been a professor in the
Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since
1989. Chris Ware attended the Art Institute from 1991 to 1993.
30. Elkins, Stories of Art, 11.
7 8
In the Comics Workshop:
Chris Ware and the Oubapo
In ordcr Lo dclvc inLo Lhc complcxiLy oí Chris Warc’s work, I would likc Lo
bcgin by pausing Lo considcr a composiLion by Lhc DuLch arLisL 1oosL SwarLc
bccausc iL dcmonsLraLcs somcLhing íundamcnLal abouL Warc’s sLrucLural ap-
proach Lo Lhc mcdium oí comics. Tis composiLion, LiLlcd Te Comìx Factory,
appcarcd in Dcccmbcr ±µ8o as Lhc covcr oí Lhc sccond issuc oí RAw maga-
zinc, Lhc indcpcndcnL and avanL-gardc publicaLion cdiLcd by ArL Spicgclman
and Françoisc Mouly.
Tc covcr is significanL noL only bccausc Warc’s work
would appcar in RAw Lcn ycars laLcr, Lhus bringing him inLo Lhc íold oí oLhcr
cxpcrimcnLal and inLcrnaLional comics arLisLs, buL also bccausc Lhis parLicu-
lar imagc had a lasLing influcncc on Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí his own uniquc acs-
By rcprcscnLing Lhc comic sLrip as an claboraLc LhcaLcr scL wiLh Lhc
characLcrs waiLing íor Lhcir cuc, puLLing on makcup, and lcarning Lhcir lincs,
SwarLc’s covcr cxposcs Lhc mcchanisms bchind Lhc íorm, and alludcs Lo pro-
ccsscs LhaL arLisLs Lypically conccal (scc plaLc 8). Tc dcpicLion oí Lhc comic
sLrip as a consLrucLcd mcdium inviLcs Lhc vicwcr Lo pry iL aparL by posing
somc basic qucsLions: How is iL puL LogcLhcr` According Lo whaL rulcs` And
whaL happcns backsLagc LhaL wc do noL gcL Lo scc`
Warc’s íocus on Lhc íormal propcrLics oí Lhc mcdium suggcsLs his affini-
Lics wiLh arLisLs in Lhc widcr ficld oí Frcnch and Bclgian comics, alLhough
Lhcsc connccLions havc bccn largcly unrccognizcd dcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL hc
is rclaLivcly wcll known among comics scholars and carLoonisLs írom Lhcsc
To shcd somc lighL on Lhcsc maLLcrs in a comparaLivc conLcxL, I
will discuss Warc’s comics írom a pcrspccLivc iníormcd by Lhc Frcnch liLcrary
LradiLion, spccifically, Oulipo (L’Ouvroìr de Lìtterature Potentìe||e) and Oubapo
(L’Ouvroìr de Pande Lessìnee Potentìe||e), which sLand íor Lhc Workshop oí Po-
LcnLial IiLcraLurc and Lhc Workshop oí PoLcnLial Comics, rcspccLivcly. For
boLh Warc and Oubapo, Lhc conccpL oí Lhc workshop or íacLory bccomcs a
kcy Lropc as Lhcy sclí-consciously crcaLc an avanL-gardc íorm oí comics.
By indicaLing parallcls bcLwccn Warc’s work in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary
scrics, 1ìmmy Corrìgan, and Oubapo works, I show how íormal cxpcrimcnLa-
Lion in Lhc mcdium and abouL Lhc mcdium offcrs anoLhcr poinL oí cnLry inLo
Lhc labyrinLh oí Warc’s graphic narraLivcs. Warc and Lhc Frcnch arLisLs I dis-
cuss dclibcraLcly íorcground Lhc íormal consLrainLs and possibiliLics oí Lhcir
choscn mcdium by posiLing comics as a kind oí gamc, impliciLly and cxplic-
iLly. Morcovcr, Lhcir works sharc an ironic cdgc and spccifically criLiquc mass-
manuíacLurcd comics and consumcrism morc gcncrally.
I am noL suggcsL-
ing a dirccL linc oí influcncc bcLwccn Oubapo and Warc, in íacL, Lhc Frcnch
group ulLimaLcly claims Warc as an “anLicipaLory plagiarisL” raLhcr Lhan Lhc
NoncLhclcss, Lhcrc arc a numbcr oí inLriguing similariLics undcrly-
ing Lhcir rcspccLivc arLisLic projccLs, parLicularly in Lhcir common cmphascs
on craíLsmanship and arLisLic inLcgriLy.
Into the Comix Factory
Oubapo has iLs origins in Oulipo, an organizaLion íoundcd in ±µ6o by wriLcr
and maLhcmaLician Raymond Qucncau, scicnLisL François Ic Iionnais, and
Tc basic prcmisc oí Oulipo is LhaL by subjccLing liLcraLurc Lo dií-
ícrcnL Lypcs oí consLrainLs and possibiliLics, Lhc auLhor is ablc Lo usc Lhcsc
gcncraLivc dcviccs Lo crcaLc ncw liLcrary íorms. In Lhcir cmbracc oí inLcr-
sccLions bcLwccn maLhcmaLics, puzzlcs, and liLcraLurc, Lhc group cvcnLually
cxpandcd Lo includc such wriLcrs as ILalo Calvino, Ccorgcs Pcrcc, and 1acqucs
Roubaud. Tc pracLiLioncrs oí Oulipo saw Lhcmsclvcs as workcrs Linkcring in
a íacLory oí languagc, much likc SwarLc’s sLagc scL, inLroducing an air oí play
and mischicí inLo Lhc liLcrary cnLcrprisc. As Ccorgcs Pcrcc puLs iL, “liLcrary
hisLory sccms dclibcraLcly Lo ignorc wriLing as pracLicc, as work, as play,” all
conccrns Oulipo would dirccLly addrcss.
To ciLc jusL Lwo íamous cxamplcs
oí Oulipo LcxLs, Qucncau’s One Hundred Trì||ìon Poems (Cent mì||e mì||ìards de
poèmes) consisLs oí Lcn sonncLs whosc individual lincs can bc inLcrminglcd Lo
producc ±o
possiblc pocms and Ccorgcs Pcrcc’s lipogram novcl, A voìd (La
Lìsparìtìon), incrcdibly managcs Lo avoid using Lhc lcLLcr “c.”
Oubapo, íoundcd in ±µµ: aL Lhc insLigaLion oí comics LhcorisL Ticrry
CrocnsLccn, Lakcs Lhc conccpL oí Lhc consLrainL and applics iL Lo Lhc mcdium
oí comics.
From Lhc bcginning, Lhc group had liLcrary connccLions, Lwo in-
LroducLory cssays Lo Lhc firsL Oubapo journal wcrc wriLLcn by Oulipo mcm-
Morcovcr, adopLing Oulipo mcLhods was a sLraLcgic bid íor arLisLic
crcdibiliLy and aligncd Lhc movcmcnL wiLh Lhc avanL-gardc in ordcr Lo makc a
conscious brcak írom Lhc public pcrccpLion oí mass-markcL comics and com-
ics as solcly “cnLcrLainmcnL íor childrcn.”
IL is also significanL LhaL Oubapo
ariscs in Lhc indcpcndcnL Parisian publishing housc I’AssociaLion, which, as
comics hisLorian BarL BcaLy noLcs, “radically rcsLrucLurcd Lhc popular conccp-
Lion oí Lhc comic book” in Francc by “[brcaking] wiLh boLh Lhc corporaLc and
gcncric modcl oí comics producLion in Lhc ±µµos.”
Tcsc books immcdiaLcly
lookcd diffcrcnL írom Lhc coloríul, largc íormaL comics oí Lhc TinLin/AsLcrix
varicLy, which I’AssociaLion mcmbcr 1can-ChrisLophc Mcnu dcrisivcly rcícrs
Lo as “¡8CC” (¡8 pagc albums wiLh a cardboard covcr).
InsLcad, Lhc publishcr
prinLs on hcavy papcr, íavors black and whiLc comics conccrning morc com-
plcx and sophisLicaLcd Lhcmcs, and uscs simplc, clcganL covcrs noL unlikc
rcspccLcd Frcnch liLcrary publishcrs such as Callimard.
Oubapo includcs
1can-ChrisLophc Mcnu, 1ochcn Ccrncr, Icwis Trondhcim, François Ayrolcs,
and ÉLicnnc IccroarL (among oLhcrs), and I’AssociaLion has publishcd íour
volumcs oí Lhcir journal, Oupus, in addiLion Lo scvcral íull-lcngLh works and
sLand-alonc projccLs.
Civcn LhaL Lhc mission oí I’AssociaLion is Lo csLablish an avanL-gardc
pcdigrcc íor comics, similar Lo RAw magazinc, Oubapo is an idcal incubaLor
íor cxpcrimcnLs in comics. Tcy opLcd íor Lhc
word ouvroìr, írom Lhc íull vcrsion oí Lhc namc
(L’Ouvroìr de Pande Lessìnee Potentìe||e), which
sounds much morc anLiquc Lhan Lhc morc
convcnLional ate|ìer and has Lhc connoLaLion
oí a womcn’s scwing circlc or a workroom in
a convcnL.
Tis is a somcwhaL saLirical ap-
propriaLion, sincc Lhcrc is only onc woman in
Lhc group (Annc Baraou), and Oubapo works
Lcnd Lo display a ribald scnsc oí humor. Tc
group rcLains, howcvcr, a scnsc oí collccLivc
cnLcrprisc in iLs cxploraLions oí Lhc comics
mcdium. Mcnu, Lhc mosL ouLspokcn LhcorcLi-
cian oí Lhc group, argucs LhaL “comics alrcady
arc a kind oí consLrainL, which is why Oubapo
is noL so diffcrcnL írom Lhc comics LhaL wc [in
I’AssociaLion] makc.”
As is Lhc casc wiLh Ou-
lipo, Lhcir goal is Lo “LwisL or subvcrL Lhc codcs
oí Lhc LradiLional bande dessìnee.”
Turning now Lo Warc, wc can alrcady disccrn
a numbcr oí compclling inLcrsccLions bcLwccn
his projccLs, Lhc mission oí I’AssociaLion, gcn-
crally, and LhaL oí Oubapo, spccifically.
oí all, Warc also disLanccs his work írom main-
sLrcam comics—mosL noLably in Lhc Amcrican
conLcxL, supcrhcro comic books—cvcn whilc hc uscs Lhis maLcrial íor his
own saLirical purposcs.
As an cdiLor íor Lhc comics issuc oí McSweeney’s
and Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,, Warc is a kcy mcmbcr oí a ncw gcncraLion oí
alLcrnaLivc comics arLisLs including Bcn KaLchor, ScLh, Adrian Tominc, Ivan
BruncLLi, and Danicl Clowcs.

AlLhough Lhcsc arLisLs work in a divcrsc rangc
oí sLylcs and subjccLs, Lhcy sharc an inLcrcsL in bringing a lcvcl oí arLisLic sc-
riousncss Lo Lhc mcdium. AddiLionally, as wiLh publicaLions by I’AssociaLion,
Lhcrc is an cmphasis on craíLsmanship in Warc’s irrcgularly sizcd issucs oí
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary, which span a varicLy oí dimcnsions and rcquirc
cxLraordinary ícaLs oí prinLing.
In íacL, Lhc cnLirc ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary
projccL can bc undcrsLood as an cxpansion oí SwarLc’s Comìx Factory or Lhc
noLion oí Lhc Oubapo workshop. Tis connccLion is cspccially apparcnL in Lhc
“ACMF NovclLy Iibrary FrccsLanding Cardboard Display,” inLcndcd Lo hold
Lhc variously sizcd issucs oí Lhis comic. Tc cardboard íacLory rcprcscnLcd
hcrc is charmingly whimsical and ycL unscLLlingly grim, busLling wiLh gcars,
pullcys, and convcyors.

In Lhc uppcr sLory, micc lasso word “balloons” LhaL
floaL bcncaLh Lhc cciling, sLamp Lhcm onLo Lhc pancls, and add LcxL according
Lo Lhc insLrucLions oí a rodcnL-íorcman. Mcanwhilc, anoLhcr sLrcam oí micc
arc unccrcmoniously cxccuLcd, dumpcd inLo carLs, Lhcn nailcd onLo pancls
and asscmblcd inLo pagcs—a crucl sccnario maskcd by chccríul colors and an
aLLracLivc display.
Warc rcvisiLs Lhc Lropc oí Lhc íacLory in Te ACMF Report in a slyly sclí-
rcícrcnLial hisLory oí Lhc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary Company. Tc auLhor oí Lhis
documcnL, Ccorgc Wilson, an cxccssivcly pompous rcscarchcr, promiscs Lo
Fig. 6.1. The offices at
L’Association, Paris. Chris
Ware, The ACME Nov-
elty Datebook: Volume Two
(Montreal: Drawn & Quar-
terly, 2008), 78.
dclivcr “Lhc firsL, and probably only Lruc hisLory oí Lhc Company, írom iLs
surprising bcginning wiLh Lhc Original IcLLcrcr, Lhrough Lhc culLural rcvolu-
Lion, up Lo Lhc prcscnL day’s CFO and Chicí DraughLsman, F. C. Warc.”

cmphasis on Lhc “IcLLcrcr” is noLcworLhy, sincc Warc docs, in íacL, draw all oí
his íonLs by hand and has won numcrous awards íor his lcLLcring.

As Dan-
icl Racburn rclaLcs, Warc “pcríormcd Lhc cxcrciscs írom old hand-lcLLcring
manuals and copicd íruiL, cigar and cosmcLics labcls in ordcr Lo aLLain a pro-
ficicncy, Lhcn a flucncy, in Lhc incrcasingly anLiquc arL oí hand-lcLLcring.”
a sharp saLirc oí mass-produccd comics, Warc dcvclops an cxquisiLc conLrasL
bcLwccn Lhc soliLary and painsLaking work oí Lhc individual lcLLcrcr and Lhc
massivc, burcaucraLic cdificc dcpicLcd in Lhc comic. An imprcssivc Lwo-pagc
sprcad offcrs Lhc vicwcr a cuLaway vicw oí Lhc company rcndcrcd in black
and whiLc, which is compriscd oí rooms oí draughLsmcn, LhirLy sLorcrooms
oí comics, a prinLing machinc, an arL gallcry, numcrous duLiíul sccrcLarics,
a Lcnnis courL, and an inLimidaLing waiLing room (whcrc Lhc uníorLunaLc
rcscarchcr has paccd íor hours, unablc Lo gain admiLLancc Lo Lhc sccrcLs in-
Tis rcprcscnLaLion rciníorccs Lhc impacL oí Lhc “hisLory” as a wry,
sclí-rcflcxivc gcsLurc bccausc Lhc rcscarchcr is ulLimaLcly cxcludcd írom Lhc
“sccrcL” comics cxpcrimcnLs wiLhin, alLhough Lhc rcadcr has acccss Lo Lhcm
in Lhc pagcs oí Lhc book. BuL how Lhcsc cxpcrimcnLs “work,” or whaL Lhcy
mighL mcan, is anoLhcr qucsLion cnLircly.
The Mechanism of the Constraint
In ±µµ,, 1can-ChrisLophc Mcnu dcclarcd Warc an honorary mcmbcr oí Ou-
bapo on Lhc sLrcngLh oí his cxpcrimcnLal work in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary:
“Warc cmphasizcs Lhc possibiliLics oí Lhc mcdium wiLh as much brio as play-
íulncss. In a scnsc, hc is an Oubapicn who, againsL all cxpccLaLions, docs noL
know iL, bccausc consLrainLs (narraLivc or íormal) sccm always vcry prcscnL
in Lhc íuncLioning oí Warc’s work.”
1an BacLcns, a rcnowncd Bclgian criLic,
has also drawn aLLcnLion Lo Lhc imporLancc oí consLrainLs in Warc’s comics
and dcscribcs his work as a íorm oí “mulLi-laycrcd poly-scqucnLial wriLing
and rcading in which Lhc rcadcr has no righL Lo play írccly wiLh Lhc auLhor’s
arrangcmcnL oí maLcrial, buL musL scrupulously íollow iL Lo slowly discovcr
Lhc myriad rclaLionships on Lhc pagc iLsclí.”

To undcrsLand how Lhcsc rc-
laLionships arc sLrucLurcd, wc nccd Lo undcrsLand Lhc principlc oí Lhc con-
sLrainL and how iL applics Lo Lhc cxpcrimcnLal aspccL oí Warc’s comics.
Tc innovaLion oí Oulipo is LhaL by invcnLing spccific rulcs and limiLa-
Lions, or consLrainLs, pracLiLioncrs could opcn up ncw visLas in languagc and
liLcraLurc. As Marccl Bcnabou wriLcs, Lhc consLrainL “íorccs Lhc sysLcm ouL oí
iLs rouLinc íuncLioning, Lhcrcby compclling iL Lo rcvcal iLs hiddcn rcsourccs.”

Onc can makc a parallcl claim íor comics as wcll, alLhough Lhc íundamcnLal
building blocks oí Lhc mcdium arc diffcrcnL. For Oulipo, consLrainLs opcraLc
aL Lhc lcvcl oí an individual lcLLcr (likc Lhc lipogram novcl, A voìd), a word, a
linc (in Qucncau’s sonncLs), or a largcr scmanLic uniL such as a sLanza, para-
graph, or chapLcr. Sincc onc oí Lhc dcfining ícaLurcs oí comics is scqucnLial-
iLy, individual pancls on Lhc comics pagc can bc rcconccivcd as picccs oí a
puzzlc LhaL Lhc arLisL can manipulaLc, Lhus, rcshuffling Lhc pancls according
Lo spccific paLLcrns is onc mcLhod oí crcaLing Oubapo consLrainLs.
Tc oLhcr
main diffcrcncc írom Oulipo is LhaL wc musL considcr Lhc inLcrplay bcLwccn
words and imagcs in comics, Lhcsc Lwo scmanLic Lracks can work in accord
wiLh cach oLhcr, or, as is oíLcn Lhc casc in Oubapo cxpcrimcnLs, Lhcy arc dc-
libcraLcly conLrasLcd Lo crcaLc ironic or jarring cffccLs.
In CrocnsLccn’s inLroducLory cssay Lo Oupus ±, Lhc firsL work Lo discuss Lhc
opcraLions oí Oubapo in dcLail, hc idcnLifics Lwo classcs oí consLrainLs: onc is
generatìve, LhaL is Lo say, a comic is crcaLcd írom scraLch bascd upon spccific
limiLaLions, Lhc sccond is transjormatìve and alLcrs cxisLing maLcrial accord-
ing Lo a givcn rulc.
WiLhin Lhc gcncraLivc caLcgory, ìconìc restrìctìon rcícrs
Lo comics LhaL supprcss onc inLcgral clcmcnL in ordcr Lo producc Lhc graphic
cquivalcnL oí a lipogram. Ayrolcs dcíLly cmploys Lhis rulc Lo humorous cffccL.
Tc firsL cpisodc oí his comic “Faux TriniLy” (FcinLc TriniLc) consisLs cnLircly
oí a simplc Lhrcc-by-Lhrcc grid oí pancls, cach wiLh onc word balloon oricnLcd
in a diffcrcnL dirccLion dcpcnding upon Lhc spcakcr. Tc cxcrcisc includcs Lhc
capLion: “To counLcrbalancc Lhc numcrous cxamplcs oí muLc comics, Fran-
çois Ayrolcs proposcs a blind comic, ‘in anLicipaLion oí comics wiLhouL words
or picLurcs,’ hc cxplains.”
Ayrolcs’s highly sclí-rcícrcnLial cxamplc oí iconic
rcsLricLion cxcludcs whaL wc normally cxpccL Lo find in comics: imagcs. In-
sLcad, Lhc comic is rcduccd Lo a scrics oí word balloons LhaL arc poinLcd in dií-
ícrcnL dirccLions, dcpcnding on Lhc spcakcr: “Papa! Papa!” “WhaL is iL, boy`”
“Docs Cod cxisL`” “Ask your moLhcr” “Mama, Mama!” “Ycs, whaL is iL`” “Docs
Cod cxisL, mama`” “I don’L know, dcar.” A spccch balloon dirccLcd írom Lhc
hcavcns concludcs Lhc mcLaphysical discussion: “WhaL abouL mc` No onc is
asking mc`”
Mcnu ciLcs an cxamplc oí iconic rcsLricLion in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary
LhaL is a comic composcd oí a six-by-six grid oí idcnLically sizcd pancls wiLh
Lhc samc bluc lamp sLand in Lhc ccnLcr.
Tc comic ncvcr dirccLly rcprcscnLs
Lhc spcakcrs, insLcad, Lhc dialoguc Lakcs placc ouLsidc oí Lhc íramc and Lhc
lamp bccomcs a symbol oí Lhc LumulLuous changcs LhaL onc íamily cxpcri-
cnccs ovcr a numbcr oí gcncraLions as Lhcy movc írom housc Lo housc, and
Lhc childrcn movc inLo Lhcir own aparLmcnL.
Warc uscs iconic rcsLricLion
Lo connoLc loss and alicnaLion, cspccially in a numbcr oí comics, collccLcd
in Quìmby the Mouse, LhaL conccrn Warc’s ailing grandmoLhcr. Only cmpLy
inLcriors arc rcprcscnLcd whilc Lhc dialogucs bcLwccn Warc and his grand-
moLhcr, or Warc’s own narraLion, arc dicgcLic.
In 1ìmmy Corrìgan, Warc uscs
Lhis samc Lcchniquc Lo conccal Lhc íaccs oí ícmalc characLcrs (wiLh a ícw cx-
ccpLions), in ordcr Lo convcy 1immy’s lack oí rapporL wiLh womcn.
Ayrolcs uscs Lhc dcvicc Lo playíully qucsLion Lhc cxisLcncc oí Cod, Warc,
whosc dirccL inspiraLion in Lhis casc is Richard McCuirc’s comic sLrip “Hcrc,”
uscs Lhis abscncc Lo cmphasizc his characLcrs’ scnsc oí loss, alicnaLion, and
Out of Sequence
Pcrhaps mosL inLriguing arc Lhc consLrainLs LhaL disrupL scqucnLialiLy, sincc
Lhcsc rulcs radically Lransíorm our basic pcrccpLion oí Lhc ground rulcs oí
Lhc comics mcdium. Two íurLhcr subcaLcgorics undcr Lhc gcncral rubric oí
gcncraLivc cxpcrimcnLs arc mulLilincariLy (|a p|urì|ecturabì|ìte) and random
scqucncc (|a consecutìon a|eatoìre), boLh oí which arc applicablc Lo Oubapo’s
and Warc’s comics. CrocnsLccn dcscribcs “acrosLic” sLrips, which can bc rcad
as onc vcrLical sLrip in connccLion wiLh scvcral horizonLal oncs, morc com-
plcx vcrsions oí Lhis modcl, rcalizcd íor Lhc Oubapo projccL Oubapo vacatìons
(Les vacances de Oubapo), can bc rcad boLh lcíL Lo righL and Lop Lo boLLom,
in a grid.
Duc Lo Lhc cxigcncics oí Lhc consLrainL, howcvcr, Lhc narraLivc
possibiliLics oí Lhcsc cxpcrimcnLs arc rclaLivcly limiLcd. Iongcr, morc clabo-
raLc projccLs includc IccroarL’s vìcìous Cìrc|e (Cerc|e vìcìeux), which is a LhirLy-
pagc palindromc comic abouL a mad scicnLisL and his assisLanL who consLrucL
a Limc machinc in Lhcir laboraLory. FxacLly halíway Lhrough Lhc book, onc
uniquc pancl signals Lhc shiíL Lo a narraLivc scqucncc LhaL is Lhc mirror oppo-
siLc oí Lhc prcccding sccLion.
AL Lhc íarLhcsL cnd oí scqucnLial cxpcrimcn-
LaLion is Lhc Oubapo gamc Scroubabb|e, an cxamplc oí random sequence, in
which Lhc picccs arc individual pancls írom fivc narraLivcs in diffcrcnL sLylcs,
Lhc objccL oí Lhc gamc, as in Scrabblc, is Lo dcvisc comprchcnsiblc scqucnccs
on a grid raLhcr likc a crossword puzzlc.
Warc has bccn consisLcnLly inLcrcsLcd in comics LhaL violaLc Lhc rcadcr’s
cxpccLaLions oí scqucnLialiLy írom his carly ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary sLrips in
Lhc ±µµos Lo his mosL rcccnL producLions. In Quìmby the Mouse, a collccLion
oí sLrips írom ±µµo Lo ±µµ¸, Lhc aíorcmcnLioncd sLrips conccrning Warc’s
grandmoLhcr do noL aL all íollow a lcíL-Lo-righL, Lop-Lo-boLLom logic, arrows
lcad around Lhc pagcs pursuing diffcrcnL LangcnLs oí LhoughL and mcmory.
OLhcr sLrips rcscmblc a rampanL asscmbly linc or Rubc Coldbcrg dcvicc gonc
wrong, again cvoking Lhc mcLaphor oí a comics íacLory. Tc íamous Oulipo
quoLc LhaL sLaLcs Oulipians arc “raLs who musL build Lhc labyrinLh írom which
Lhcy proposc Lo cscapc” sccms cspccially applicablc Lo Quimby’s anLics.
onc sLrip, Quimby is suckcd up inLo a pipc, dcposiLcd in a car, dumpcd onLo a
convcycr bclL, asscmblcd and disasscmblcd, and hiL rcpcaLcdly by a mallcL, iL
is difficulL Lo disccrn, in Lhc midsL oí Lhis chaos, in which dirccLion Quimby is
Tomas BrcdchoíL, Isaac CaLcs, and oLhcr criLics havc drawn aLLcnLion Lo
how Warc’s comics do noL íollow lcíL-Lo-righL, Lop-Lo-boLLom convcnLions oí
Lhc WcsLcrn rcadcr, onc can approach Lhc mulLilincar pagcs in 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan írom scvcral dirccLions.
Whcn rcad in conjuncLion wiLh Oubapo, iL
sccms significanL LhaL Lhcsc parLicular cxamplcs íuncLion as puzzlcs LhaL
musL bc solvcd ií onc is Lo undcrsLand Lhc íull inLricacics oí Lhc ploL. Rcad-
crs havc Lo makc a conccrLcd cfforL Lo rcalizc, íor insLancc, LhaL Amy and
1immy arc rclaLcd by blood Lhrough 1immy’s grcaL grandíaLhcr and his Aíri-
can Amcrican scrvanL.
AnoLhcr maniícsLaLion oí mulLilincar comics, “Oncc
Upon a Timc,” publishcd in Spicgclman and Mouly’s firsL Lìtt|e Lìt. Fo|k|ore
8 Faìry Ta|e Funnìes collccLion, prcscnLs íour variaLions on Lhc sLory oí an
uníorLunaLc írog who íalls in lovc wiLh a princcss.
Nonc oí Lhcsc cndings
can rcally bc consLrucd as “happy”: in onc, Lhc wolí sLcals írog’s banjo, in Lhc
sccond, Lhc wolí brings Lhc banjo Lo Lhc grandmoLhcr’s anLiquc sLorc, Lhc
Lhird sLory cnds wiLh Lhc wolí sclling Lhc írog’s banjo, and in Lhc íourLh sLory
Lhc princcss rcgrcLs LhaL shc marricd Lhc wolí raLhcr Lhan Lhc írog. Fach sLory
is oricnLcd aL a nincLy-dcgrcc anglc írom Lhc ncxL such LhaL Lhc rcadcr musL
roLaLc Lhc book Lo gcL Lhc íull cffccL.
Lìtt|e Lìt also conLains Lhc random-scqucncc consLrainL in a childrcn’s gamc
dcviscd by Warc callcd “Fairy Talc Road Ragc,” which includcs a gamc board,
“chiLs” in cighL colors, íour “sLoryboards,” íour playing picccs, and a dic, all oí
which can bc cuL ouL and asscmblcd by Lhc diligcnL child. IL’s noLablc LhaL Lhc
gamc board is missing a spacc íor a “happy cnding”, insLcad, Lhc playcrs ac-
cumulaLc colorcd chiLs on Lhcir sLory board, which looks likc a bingo-card vcr-
sion oí “Mad Iibs” (cach spacc is a spccific grammaLical caLcgory or aLLribuLc),
unLil Lhcy havc complcLcd a cohcrcnL sLorylinc. Oí Lhc cighL possiblc dcnouc-
mcnLs, only Lwo arc posiLivc: “acquircd supcrpowcrs” and “livcd happily cvcr
aíLcr.” IL is up Lo Lhc child Lo supply Lhc “moral oí Lhc sLory.” Warc includcs Lhc
íollowing disclaimcr aL Lhc cnd oí scvcral dcLailcd paragraphs oí insLrucLions
in minuLc Lypc: “No insurancc is madc againsL poLcnLial alLcraLion in moral
consLiLuLion, world ouLlook, or LcmpcramcnL, nor is any child guaranLccd a
‘good Limc,’ or cvcn mild amuscmcnL.”
As is Lhc casc wiLh his vcrsions oí Lhc
comics íacLory, Warc manipulaLcs Lhc ironic dissonancc bcLwccn Lhc playíul
sLrucLural gamcs wiLh comics íorm and Lhc mclancholy conLcnL oí Lhc sLory.
Tis is cspccially Lruc whcn wc considcr how boLh Oubapo and Warc dclibcr-
aLcly conLrasL Lhc LcxL wiLh Lhc corrcsponding imagcs.
Pastiche and Détournement
Undcr Lhc gcncral class oí “LransíormaLivc” cxpcrimcnLs LhaL CrocnsLccn dc-
scribcs, Lhc mosL obvious is verba| substìtutìon, in which Lhc original LcxL oí
an cxisLing comic is subvcrsivcly alLcrcd. Oubapo mcmbcr François Ayrolcs
Lransíorms scvcn pagcs írom Te :¸ !s Leavìng (:¸ est au depart), by 1can Cra-
Lon, by subsLiLuLing Lhc original LcxL wiLh “a hisLorical dialoguc on Lhc onLol-
ogy oí Lhc bande dessìnee.”
A young man jaunLily slidcs down Lhc banisLcr Lo
rcgalc his parcnLs wiLh a song, buL Lhc scdaLc couplc is only annoycd by his
cxubcrancc (scc fig. 6.¸). Rcad wiLh Lhc LcxLual subsLiLuLions, howcvcr, Lhis
bourgcois sccnc bccomcs a sLaLcmcnL abouL comics as an arL íorm. In Lhc
Frcnch conLcxL, Ayrolcs’s Oubapo cxpcrimcnL rccalls Lhc LacLic oí detourne-
ment, which appropriaLcs imagcs írom advcrLising and popular culLurc and
Lransíorms Lhcm inLo subvcrsivc mcssagcs. Fmploycd by Lhc SiLuaLionisLs
in Lhc ±µ6os, dcLourncmcnL in Lhc íorm oí vcrbal subsLiLuLion in comics was
írcqucnLly uscd as a criLiquc oí consumcr culLurc.

Mcnu ciLcs onc oí Warc’s carly sLrips írom RAw, “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLo-
rics / I Cucss” Lo supporL his claim LhaL Warc is Oubapicn, sLaLing LhaL Lhc
comic also opcraLcs on Lhc principlc oí vcrbal subsLiLuLion.
AlLhough Warc’s
comic is diffcrcnL in LhaL hc crcaLcs a pasLichc oí an oldcr comic raLhcr Lhan
appropriaLing an cxisLing sLrip, Lhc claim is worLh rcvisiLing.
Warc combincs
uncomíorLablc rccollccLions oí his grandíaLhcr and sLcpíaLhcr’s racism and a
mcmory oí a slumbcr parLy aL Lhc housc oí a black íricnd. AL firsL, Lhis sLory
appcars cnLircly scparaLc írom Lhc accompanying imagcs LhaL narraLc a baLLlc
bcLwccn a mad scicnLisL and a supcrhcro in a sLylc rcminisccnL oí “goldcn
agc” comics, howcvcr, Lhc LcxLual and visual Lracks occasionally coincidc (scc
plaLc :). On Lhc Lhird pagc, íor cxamplc, a young rcporLcr clcarly modclcd on
Iois Ianc looks pcrplcxcd and Lhc spccch balloon abovc hcr rcads: “I said LhaL
I LhoughL LhaL cvcryonc was ‘colorcd,’ buL hc said LhaL I didn’L undcrsLand.”
Tc lasL pancl oí Lhc comic dcpicLs Lhc supcrhcro saving Lhc woman rcporLcr,
which concludcs boLh Lhc advcnLurc sLory and Warc’s auLobiographical narra-
Livc wiLh Lhc capLion “IL was jusL my mom and mc, anyway.” By cxploiLing Lhc
discrcpancy bcLwccn Lhc supcrhcro sLory and Lhc auLobiographical cpisodc,
Lhc comic cxposcs Lhc sLrucLural dividc bcLwccn word and imagc, oncc again
subvcrLing Lhc rcadcr’s cxpccLaLions Lo ironic cffccL.
Tis Lcnsion bcLwccn íorm and conLcnL pcrvadcs Lhc advcrLising in Te
ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary scrics as wcll, which aL firsL glancc sccms Lo promisc
wcalLh, íamc, and happincss, buL in íacL providcs no such consolaLion dcspiLc
Lhc appcarancc oí Scars CaLalog cnLrics, coupons, or sclí-hclp offcrs. Onc no-
Licc rcprinLcd in Te ACMF Report advcrLiscs simply Lhc “ncw Lhing”: “írcsh
írom Lhc mysLcrious plasLic assholc oí ‘popular culLurc.’ All shiny and rcady
íor you Lo puL in your homc, vidco casscLLc playcr, or mouLh. Wow! [. . .] Somc
pcoplc Lhink LhaL Lhis is whaL iL’s all abouL, anyway. Maybc you could cvcn
spcnd your liíc making Lhis sLuff, Lhc sLuff LhaL pcoplc sccm Lo wanL. WhaL
could bc bcLLcr` Happincss awaiLs.”
Iikc Lhc Frcnch cxamplcs oí dcLournc-
mcnL íound in SiLuaLionism and Oubapo, bcncaLh Lhc rcassuring íonLs and
clip-arL-sLylc graphics lurk incisivc criLiqucs oí consumcrism, Lhc bourgcois
íamily, sclí-hclp, Amcrican íorcign policy, and racc rclaLions—Lo namc jusL
a ícw rccurring subjccLs—íor anyonc who Lakcs Lhc Limc Lo rcad Lhc small
The Writerly Text, or Art as Technique
In a convcrsaLion wiLh Racburn, Warc commcnLs, “I rarcly cvcr did a comic
jusL íor Lhc sakc oí cxpcrimcnLaLion,” and iL would bc anachronisLic Lo sug-
gcsL LhaL Oubapo consLiLuLcs an influcncc upon Warc’s work sincc his carlicsL
comics prcdaLc Lhc íormaLion oí Lhc group in ±µµ¸.
AL bcsL, Oubapo can only
Fig. 6.3. A domestic scene
is transformed into a
cheer for comics: “Long
live sequential narration!
Comics! Comics! Ouch!
Baaah! . . . A book with
writing!” Image courtesy
of @ 2003 François Ay-
roles and L’Association.
François Ayroles, “Le 9
est au Départ,” Oupus 2
(2003): 43.
appropriaLc Warc Lhrough Lhc playíul LiLlc oí “anLicipaLory plagiarisL.” Morc-
ovcr, Lhc wry wiL oí Oubapo sccms íar rcmovcd írom Lhc quicL anguish oí
1ìmmy Corrìgan or Quìmby the Mouse. Somc havc rcproachcd Lhc work oí Ou-
bapo íor bcing Loo “gimmicky,” and cvcn Oubapo mcmbcrs admiL LhaL con-
sLrainLs arc aL bcsL a sourcc oí inspiraLion raLhcr Lhan a sLraighLjackcL.
offcr, a mcmbcr oí Lhc group, cxplains his aLLiLudc Loward Oubapo as íollows:
“Trough a consLrainL, onc can discovcr and rcproducc a plcasing acsLhcLic
wiLhouL iLs sysLcmaLic applicaLion.”
UlLimaLcly, whaL is illuminaLing abouL
juxLaposing Oubapo Lo Warc’s comics is Lhc way in which Lhcsc comparisons
rcvcal how Warc’s work is íoundcd upon a rangc oí íormal mcchanisms and
consLrainLs (cvcn ií Lhcsc mcchanisms arc lcss ovcrL or dclibcraLc), much likc
Lhc machincry in SwarLc’s Comìx Factory.
Tc purposc oí Oubapo, according Lo CrocnsLccn, is Lo “inviLc a morc vigi-
lanL kind oí rcading, a rcading LhaL would bc morc invcsLigaLivc and morc
rcflcxivc [. . .] Oubapo pagcs rcquirc Lhc acLivc parLicipaLion oí Lhc rcadcr.”

In Lhis rcspccL, Oubapo corrcsponds Lo whaL Roland BarLhcs would Lcrm a
“wriLcrly” LcxL, as opposcd Lo a “rcadcrly” onc, Lhc íormcr dcmands an acLivc
rcadcr who “produccs” Lhc LcxL, whilc Lhc laLLcr only rciníorccs passiviLy and
consumpLion. “Rcading is noL a parasiLical acL,” wriLcs BarLhcs, “iL is a íorm
oí work.”
Warc’s dcscripLion oí comics rcccpLion is noL íar írom Lhis noLion
oí a wriLcrly LcxL: “IL’s noL in any way a passivc mcdium. Tc maLcrial is incrL
unlcss you’rc rcgarding iL. A film can bc a vcry poLcnL, cmoLional, LhoughL-
provoking cxpcricncc, or you can jusL siL Lhcrc wiLh your mouLh opcn and
waLch cars cxplodc ií you wanL Lo [buL] iL Lakcs a ccrLain amounL oí cfforL Lo
rcad cvcn Lhc mosL vacuous comic sLrip. IL docsn’L do anyLhing unlcss you’rc
rcading iL. IL involvcs Lhc rcadcr in a similar way LhaL liLcraLurc docs.”

By Lhinking oí Warc’s work as a íacLory íor comics cxpcrimcnLs, wc gain
anoLhcr lcvcl oí apprcciaLion íor whaL hc sccks Lo accomplish in rcinvcnLing
Lhc mcdium. Rcadcrs musL slow down and rcad his comics wiLh a dcgrcc oí aL-
LcnLivcncss normally rcscrvcd íor liLcraLurc ií Lhcy arc Lo grasp Lhc paLLcrns
and gamcs LhaL bind Lhc narraLivc LogcLhcr Lhrough an claboraLc inLcrlacing
oí íorms.

Spicgclman, whosc long-sLanding inLcrcsL in cxpcrimcnLal comics
lcd Lo Lhc crcaLion oí RAw magazinc, quoLcs VicLor Shklovsky in his inLroduc-
Lion Lo Preakdowns, a rcissuc oí his comics írom Lhc ±µ,os: “Tc Lcchniquc oí
arL is Lo makc objccLs ‘uníamiliar,’ Lo makc íorms difficulL. Bccausc Lhc pro-
ccss oí pcrccpLion is an acsLhcLic cnd in iLsclí and musL bc prolongcd, arL is a
way oí cxpcricncing Lhc arLíulncss oí an objccL.”

For Warc, Spicgclman, and
Oubapo arLisLs, LcsLing Lhc limiLs oí Lhc mcdium is a way oí boLh conLinuing
an avanL-gardc LradiLion and asscrLing LhaL comics arc a vibranL íorm oí arL.
Special thanks to Cécile Daheny and Geert Mesters for their helpful comments. Unless indicated
otherwise, all translations from the French are mine.
1. See Read Yourself RAW, ed. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly (New York: Pantheon, 1987),
31. The original cover was for RAW 1.2, RAW Books, 1980.
2. Chris Ware published his first strip in RAW 2.2 in 1990, followed by “Thrilling Adventure Sto-
ries / I Guess” in RAW 2.3 in 1991. For a detailed history of RAW magazine, see Bill Kartalopoulos’s “A
RAW History: The Magazine,” Indy Magazine (winter 2005).
raw_02/index.html (accessed January 21, 2009).
In an interview with Todd Hignite, Ware specifically mentions Joost Swarte’s artwork as having
special importance for him: “I should mention that Joost Swarte’s amazing cover of RAW [2.2] taught
me everything I know about coloring using printing tints, and it was only years later that I found out
that Françoise had colored it herself.” Todd Hignite, In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 256. Moreover, Ware especially admires the “conceptual”
quality of Swarte’s comics; see his interview with Gary Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Com-
ics,” Comics Journal 200 (1997): 131.
3. For an overview of Ware’s place in American comics, see Jeet Heer’s essay in this volume. Ware
has received significant acclaim from French critics, winning both the Alph Art award for the best
graphic novel and the critics’ prize for Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth at the famed comics
festival in Angoulême in 2003. See the translation of his interview with Gary Groth, “Chris Ware: Le
plus astucieux dessinateur de la planète” Bang! 2 (2003): 10. See also Benoît Peeters’s documentary,
“Chris Ware, un art de mémoire,” Arte television, 2005. Available on Youtube (accessed January 21,
4. For an analysis of Ware’s ambivalence toward comics’ mass-cultural associations, see David
Ball’s essay in this volume.
5. Jean-Pierre Mercier, “Confidences oubapiennes,” 9e Art 10 (2004): 80. Gilles Clement, one of
the Oubapo theorists, comments: “The number of oubapiens by anticipation proves that, by their
very structure, comics have led a good number of people to push the limits of the intrinsic constraints
of comics to make something different [Le nombre d’oubapiens par anticipation prouve que, par ses
structures même, la bande dessinée a amené beaucoup de gens à pousser à l’extrême une des contraintes
intrinsèques de la bande dessinée pour en faire autre chose]” (ibid., 80).
6. The initial group also includes Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, Jacques Duchateau, Latis, Jean Les-
cure, Jean Queval, and Albert-Marie Schmidt. See Hervé Le Tellier, Esthétique de L’Oulipo (Bordeaux:
Le Castor Astral, 2006), 7–8.
7. Georges Perec, qtd. in Warren Motte, ed. and trans., Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature
(Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1998), 5.
8. See Raymond Queneau’s exponential sonnet in the Oulipo Compendium, ed. Harry Mathews
and Alastair Brotchie (London: Atlas, 1998), 14–33; and Georges Perec, A Void, trans. Gilbert Adair
(Jaffrey, NH: David Godine, 2005). As of the writing of this essay, Oulipo is still an active group and
published a selection of works under the title “The State of Constraint: New Work from Oulipo” in
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 22:1 (2006).
9. According to Jean-Christophe Menu, the idea of Oubapo was first raised in 1987 in Cerisy-la-
Salle, the same place where Oulipo began, when Thierry Groensteen and Lewis Trondheim met at a
“workshop of Oulipo comics” (atelier de bandes dessinées oulipiennes) that Groensteen had organized.
But the group did not become official until 1992. See the interview conducted by Jean-Pierre Mer-
cier with Oubapo members, “Confidences oubapiennes,” 9e Art 10 (2004): 76–80. There is also an
American section of Oubapo, although they do not have a journal. They do, however, have a Web site
that cites many of the French examples and offers a place for American cartoonists to experiment as
well. For example, Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story is inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Exercises
de style. See (accessed January 23, 2009).
10. Marcel Bénabou, “Oulipo: Présentation,” and Noël Arnaud, “La potentialité absolue,” in Oupus
1 (1997): 3–7.
11. Jean-Christophe Menu, “Ouvre-Boîte-Po,” Oupus 1 (1997): 9.
12. Bart Beaty, Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2007), 9–10.
13. Jean-Christophe Menu, “Plates-bandes (extension 1),” l’Éprouvette 1 (2006): 197–98.
14. Beaty, Unpopular Culture, 30.
15. See the inaugural edition, Oupus 1, January 1997, and the deliberately non-chronological issues
that follow: Oupus 2 (2003); Oupus 3 (2000); and Oupus 4 (2005), all published by L’Association.
16. See Motte’s discussion of “ouvroir,” 9, in his Oulipo.
17. La bande dessinée est déjà une contrainte sur ce plan, c’est pourquoi l’Oubapo n’est pas si différent de
la bande dessinée que l’on fait les uns et les autres. See Mercier, “Confidences oubapiennes,” 80.
18. The purpose of Oubapo is to “tordre ou détourner les codes de la bande dessinée traditionnelle.”
Thierry Groensteen, “Un premier bouquet de contraintes,” Oupus 1 (1997): 13.
19. Ware first met the artists at L’Association in 1998 when he went to the comics festival in
Angoulême, France. But he was not familiar with the work of Oubapo specifically. Chris Ware, e-mail
to the author, January 11, 2009.
20. See Jacob Brogan’s essay in this volume.
21. For a critical view of Ware’s editorial role in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (2004) and Best
American Comics (2007), see Marc Singer’s essay in this volume.
22. L’Association wanted to publish the French edition of Jimmy Corrigan, but the editors balked
when they realized how exacting Ware can be about the colors and the printing process. See Barbara
Lambert, “Au nom du père, du fils et du croquis,” Livres Hebdo, November 15, 2002, 18–19.
23. Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 80.
24. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy
Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005), 18.
25. Ware won the Harvey Award for best lettering in 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2006. See www
26. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 19.
27. Ware, The ACME Report, 20–21.
28. Jean-Christophe Menu, “Le prodigieux travail de Chris Ware,” 9e Art: Les cahiers du Musée de
la bande dessinée 2 (1997): 53.
29. Jan Baetens, “New = Old, Old = New: Digital and Other Comics Following Scott McCloud and
Chris Ware.” (accessed January 23, 2009).
30. Marcel Bénabou, qtd. in Motte, Oulipo, 41.
31. In the context of comics, Beaty argues, sequentiality is the defining feature of the medium:
“Thus, for the modernist project of comics to be fully engaged, artists must turn to comics that ex-
plore the formal limits of that sequentiality. This is a project that has been most clearly articulated by
OuBaPo.” Beaty, Unpopular Culture, 77.
32. Groensteen, “Un premier bouquet,” 16.
33. Ibid., 13–58.
34. François Ayroles, “Feinte Trinité,” Oupus 2 (2003): 24.
35. Ware also enjoys tinkering with metaphysical humor. See his various “God” comics, especially
the cover of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13.
36. Menu, “Le prodigieux travail de Chris Ware,” 53.
37. Chris Ware, Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003), 33.
38. Ibid., 28–31.
39. In an interview with Gary Groth, Ware explains that this is a deliberate choice: “I wanted to
be sure [. . .] that the ‘empathies’ of the reader were clearly with the main character. And I felt that
anytime I showed another character’s face, that feeling or tone was ruined.” Qtd. in Groth, “Under-
standing (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” 141. It is true that grandmother’s face appears, and the mother’s
face is represented once, but these instances are rare. See Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest
Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 153, 154, 264 (grandmother), 371 (mother).
40. Interview with Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” 135–36.
41. See Oupus 3 (2000). These strips originally appeared in the newspaper Libération over the
summer of 2000.
42. Étienne Lécroart, Circle vicieux (Paris: L’Association, 2005).
43. Étienne Lecroart, François Ayroles, Jochen Gerner, Killoffer, Jean-Christophe Menu, Scrou-
babble (Paris: L’Association, 2005). Each player starts with seven pieces, as in Scrabble, and attempts
to create a viable narrative. According to the instructions on the box, “the coherence of the strips
are judged by the participants over the course of the game.” Who has “won” the game is left to the
individual discretion of the players.
44. Motte, Oulipo, 22.
45. Ware, Quimby the Mouse, 16.
46. Thomas Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s Jimmy
Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 869–90.
47. See Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, 250, 357–58. See also Isaac Cates’s essay in this volume.
48. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, eds., Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies (New York:
RAW Junior, 2000). Oubapien Lewis Trondheim contributed an excellent example of a multilinear
comic, “A-maze-ing Adventure,” in the second edition, Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids (New
York: RAW Junior, 2001), 52–53.
49. For an even more melancholy version of this story, see McSweeney’s 6, in which the frog sells
his legs to buy a diamond ring to win the love of the princess. The frog’s plans go awry, however,
when the ring is stolen by the wolf, who then marries the princess. Ware’s initial contribution was
considered too pessimistic to be included in a children’s book. See Chris Ware, “A Very Sad Story
about a Frog and a Banjo, Not at All Appropriate for Children,” We Now Know Who: McSweeney’s 6
(San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2001), 131–35.
50. Spiegelman and Mouly, Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies, endpapers.
51. François Ayroles, “Le 9 est au Départ,” Oupus 2 (2003): 43. Ayroles is mocking the tremen-
dously popular French comic Michel Vaillant, created by Jean Graton in 1957, a strip devoted to the
adventures of a F1 race-car driver. As of the writing of this essay, Graton’s son Philippe is continuing
the series. See (accessed January 23, 2009).
52. There are some examples of Situationist comics in chapter 3 of Simon Ford’s The Situationist
International: A User’s Guide (London: Black Dog, 2005), 101–30.
53. Menu, “Le prodigieux travail de Chris Ware,” 54.
54. The strip “Thrilling Adventure Stories / I Guess,” originally published in RAW 2.3, is reprinted
in Ware, Quimby the Mouse, 39–41.
55. Rocco Versaci, This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature (New York: Con-
tinuum, 2007), 74.
56. Ware, The ACME Report, 66.
57. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 11.
58. Interview with Jean-Christophe Menu conducted by Matt Wivel, Comics Journal 277 (2006):
59. À travers une contrainte, on peut découvrir une esthétique qui nous plaît, et la reproduire sans le côté
systématique de la contrainte. Mercier, “Confidences oubapiennes,” 78.
60. I am not arguing that these constraints are necessarily deployed as consciously or as deliber-
ately as they are in the case of Oubapo. Rather, it seems that Ware begins with the story and then
finds various patterns and structures for expressing his ideas.
61. Oubapo “inviter à une lecture plus vigilante, plus investigatrice et plus reflexive… les pages oubapi-
ennes nécessitent la participation active du lecteur.” Thierry Groensteen, “Ce que L’Oubapo révèle de la
bande dessinée,” 9e Art 10 (2004): 72–75.
62. Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. and intro. by Richard Howard (New York: Noonday, 1974), 10.
63. See the interview with Andrea Juno, “Chris Ware,” in Dangerous Drawings: Interviews with
Comix and Graphix Artists (New York: Juno, 1997), 53.
64. Groensteen uses the term tressage, or “braiding,” to discuss Oubapo and formally complex
comics, in “Ce que L’Oubapo révèle de la bande dessinée,” 74. For a discussion of how tressage applies
to Ware’s work, see Shawn Gilmore’s essay in this volume.
65. Art Spiegelman, Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (New York: Pantheon,
2008), n.p.
9 0
Comics and the Grammar of Diagrams
Chris Warc’s comics rouLincly includc pcculiar and inscruLablc dcviccs, cx-
Lcrnal Lo Lhc comics narraLivc, dcsigncd Lo LcsLiíy Lo Lhc inLcnsiLy oí Warc’s
auLhorial aLLcnLion: his rcadcrs cncounLcr íakc caLalog advcrLiscmcnLs and
coupons, collccLiblc Lrading cards, íold-up papcr-craíL projccLs, souvcnir cal-
cndars, cssays and indicia in painíully minuLc LcxL, and mulLi-parL diagrams
oí almosL incviLably discouraging complcxiLy. Tcsc dcviccs may scrvc as bar-
ricrs againsL Lhc casual rcadcr jusL as much as Lhcy rcward Lhosc who arc
morc scrious or morc commiLLcd. By Lhcir dcnsiLy and Lhcir mcLiculous dc-
sign, Warc’s non-narraLivc dcviccs imply LhaL a complcLc apprcciaLion oí Te
ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary or 1ìmmy Corrìgan comcs only wiLh inLcnsc rcadcrly
labor. Obviously ouLsidc Lhc sLory’s main narraLivc dicgcsis, Lhcsc ancillary
maLcrials ncvcrLhclcss oíLcn rcvisc Lhc rcadcr’s scnsc oí Lhc main LcxL.
íold-up papcr-craíL modcls in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, íor cxamplc, noL only offcr an
alLcrnaLivc consLrucLion oí narraLivc Limc, buL also poLcnLially blur Lhc linc
bcLwccn rcadcr, acLivc parLicipanL, and characLcr.
Morcovcr, 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s
diagrams, by rcvcaling Lhings Lo Lhc rcadcr LhaL arc unknown Lo Lhc poinL-oí-
vicw characLcrs, subsLanLially alLcr Lhc cmoLional Lcnor oí Lhc graphic novcl’s
conclusion, broadcning iLs scopc bcyond 1immy’s brcakdown, worry, and iso-
laLion. Warc’s mcLiculous diagrams rcvcal and obscurc Lhis iníormaLion aL Lhc
samc Limc: by sLaLioning dcLails in poinLcdly difficulL diagrams, hc disLanccs
Lhcir cffccLs and Lhcir mcaning írom a casual or prcliminary rcading oí his
comic. Tis complicaLing, liLcrary usc oí diagrams Lo laycr mcaning bcLwccn
rcadings is Lhc subjccL oí Lhis cssay’s firsL sccLion, buL Warc’s diagrams also
havc implicaLions LhaL go bcyond an inLcrprcLaLion oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan. In Lhc
cnd, Lhcy also suggcsL a íundamcnLal íormal connccLion bcLwccn comics and
diagrams LhaL comics criLics havc wriLLcn liLLlc abouL, and Lhc sccond halí oí
Lhis cssay will dcscribc Lhis connccLion and somc oí Lhc possibiliLics íor com-
ics sLoryLclling LhaL iL, in Lurn, makcs possiblc.
Diagrams in Jimmy Corrigan
Tc Lhrcc diagrams LhaL conccrn Lhc characLcrs in 1ìmmy Corrìgan all con-
ccal or obscurc iníormaLion abouL Lhosc characLcrs LhaL is rcvcalcd nowhcrc
clsc in Lhc book, buL Lhc purposc oí Lhc book’s firsL diagram is mosL diffi-
culL Lo asscss.
Tc íronL cndpapcrs, dcnsc wiLh apparaLus in characLcrisLi-
cally cyc-sLraining LcxL, conLain a daunLing diagram LhaL offcrs Lo cxplain
Lhc “ncw picLorial languagc” oí comics and carLooning and Lhc way LhaL Lhis
“languagc” is “good íor showing sLuff” and “lcaving ouL big words” (ii). In
onc largc circlc, ncar Lhc lcíL cdgc oí Lhc diagram, Warc’s rccurring characLcr
Quimby (Lhc mousc) sLrikcs Sparky (Lhc bodilcss caL hcad) wiLh a mallcL, finc
arrows lcad inLo Lhis circlc Lo annoLaLc Lhc various clcmcnLs oí Lhc simplc,
rcadily lcgiblc singlc-pancl carLoon (scc fig. ,.±). Tc Lrio oí lincs radiaLing
írom Lhc mallcL, íor cxamplc, may indicaLc sound, or brighLncss, or a mcnLal
sLaLc, anoLhcr parL oí Lhc diagram shows LhaL sincc Sparky’s cyc is an anglc
and noL a doL, wc should rcad Lhosc Lhrcc lincs as indicaLing pain or concus-
sion (shown as Lhrcc floaLing sLars). AnoLhcr scL oí boxcs shows a scrics oí
possiblc posiLions íor Lhc linc LhaL rcprcscnLs Quimby’s cycbrow and shows
LhaL Lhc currcnL anglc indicaLcs angcr (LhaL is, lincs oí hcaL coming írom his
hcad), which could arisc ciLhcr bccausc hc lovcs Sparky (a hcarL bcLwccn Lhcir
hcads) or bccausc hc docsn’L lovc Sparky (a crosscd-ouL hcarL). OLhcr parLs
oí Lhc diagram siLuaLc Lhis momcnL in Lhc hisLory oí Lhc cosmos, locaLc Lhc
drawing sLylc bcLwccn morc rcalisLic picLurcs and languagc, suggcsL Lhc way
LhaL sound (and Lhcrcby nosLalgia) can bc inícrrcd írom Lhc imagc, and show
LhaL Lhc anLhropomorphic crcaLurcs arc a hybrid oí human and animal íorms.
Fach oí Lhc sub-diagrams in Lhis Lhoroughly annoLaLcd carLoon consisLs oí
dcnscly packcd pancls íull oí prcciscly Lhc sorLs oí carLoon icons Lhc diagram
is osLcnsibly dcsigncd Lo clucidaLc. Tus, only Lhosc rcadcrs who arc alrcady
convcrsanL wiLh iLs idiom oí symbols will bc ablc Lo inLcrprcL iLs cxplana-
Lions, which arc in Lurn morc complicaLcd Lhan Lhc singlc slapsLick pancl Lhcy
proposc Lo cxplain.
In somc ways, Lhis imagc is Warc’s cquivalcnL íor Lhc Pìoneer spacccraíL
plaquc: a dcnsc, hcavily cncrypLcd diagram, in which much oí Lhc diagram’s
work is dcdicaLcd Lo cxplicaLing iLs own sysLcm oí codcs. A porLion oí Lhc
diagram cvcn sccms Lo Lakc issuc wiLh ScoLL McCloud’s oíLcn-rcpcaLcd dcfini-
Lion oí comics as juxLaposcd scqucnLial imagcs.
Tc singlc-pancl carLoon in
Lhc largc circlc, aíLcr all, would noL counL as “comics” by McCloud’s dcfiniLion,
sincc Lhcrc arc no oLhcr imagcs in scqucncc wiLh iL. In Lhc uppcr lcíL corncr oí
Warc’s diagram, a scL oí pancls aLLachcd Lo Lhc moLion-linc arc bchind Quim-
by’s mallcL sccm Lo asscrL LhaL Lhis singlc pancl, cncoding movcmcnL as iL
docs, is cquivalcnL in iLs dcnoLaLion wiLh a Lwo-pancl scqucncc (which is also
picLurcd). Tc moLion linc and acLion lincs arc cquivalcnL, Warc suggcsLs, Lo
Lhc imagincd Limc clapsing in Lhc guLLcr bcLwccn scparaLc pancls. Morcovcr,
Lhc diagram asscrLs, a singlc-pancl carLoon LhaL uscs symbols insLcad oí sc-
rial imagcs is closcr in iLs mcLhods Lo rcading, making morc usc oí Lhc mind
Lhan Lhc cyc and Lhc hcarL. Tc Lwo-pancl scqucncc, by conLrasL, is morc akin
Lo LhcaLcr and privilcgcs Lhc cyc insLcad oí Lhc mind.
In shorL, Warc’s diagram sccms Lo bc arguing íor a scnsc oí Lhc comics
mcdium LhaL is much ncarcr Lo languagc and linguisLic conccrns Lhan Mc-
Cloud’s: onc LhaL givcs as much crcdiL Lo comics’ claboraLc sysLcm oí signs
as iL docs Lo Lhc basic grammar oí visual scqucnccs. Tis rcviscd dcfiniLion
mighL also allow íor morc varicLy in Lhc naLurc oí visual juxLaposiLion Lhan
mcrc narraLivc scqucncc, sincc scvcral oí Lhc scrics oí pancls in Lhis diagram
arcn’L scqucnLial: oíLcn Lhcy prcscnL arrays or rangcs oí possibiliLics, írom
which a singlc cxamplc is sclccLcd.
SomcLimcs pancls arc scL in scqucncc bc-
causc onc analyzcs or dcLcrmincs iLs ncighbor. Tc rclaLions may bc associa-
Livc, analyLic, or mcLonymic, Lhcy nccd noL Lcll a sLory. Tc Quimby-Sparky
diagram Lhus prcparcs Lhc rcadcr íor a comics grammar cvcn morc challcng-
ing Lhan Lhc onc 1ìmmy Corrìgan Lypically cmploys. Tc irony oí Lhis dcnsc,
compacL, and complicaLcd cxplanaLion oí Lhc way Lo undcrsLand a comic is,
oí coursc, LhaL Lhc rcadcr musL alrcady know comics shorLhand in ordcr Lo bc
ablc Lo rcad iL in Lhc firsL placc: iL cxcludcs Lhc unpracLiccd rcadcr iL prcLcnds
Lo insLrucL. ScL ncxL Lo a prosc cssay LhaL asscrLs comics’ cxLrcmc popular-
iLy wiLh “dumb pcoplc,” Lhc diagram offcrs Lo mock or írusLraLc cvcn Warc’s
morc cxpcrL rcadcrs.
Tis diagram in Lhc cndpapcrs oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan is hardly Lhc mosL com-
plicaLcd or obscurc oí Warc’s diagrams. Warc’s dcsign íor Lhc sLorcíronL oí 8:6
Valcncia prcscnLs an abbrcviaLcd hisLory oí human dcsircs and achicvcmcnLs
in morc Lhan Lwo hundrcd picLographs and pancls,
many oí his carly Quìmby
the Mouse sLrips Loy wiLh diagrammaLic dcviccs,
and a hugc Lwo-pancl dia-
gram in Te ACMF Report maps ouL íour quadranLs oí virLucs and viccs, Lcm-
pcramcnLs and íacial cxprcssions, scasons, ficlds oí cndcavor, and so íorLh.

MosL oí Lhc diagrams in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, by conLrasL, sccm quiLc dclibcraLc in
Lhcir rclaLion Lo Lhc narraLivc, rcvcaling iníormaLion abouL Lhc inLcrconncc-
Lion oí Lhc characLcrs LhaL is availablc Lo no onc wiLhin Lhc sLory.
Tc Lhrcc major diagrams LhaL involvc Lhc characLcrs and Lhcir hisLorics
offcr supplcmcnLs, cxplanaLions, and complicaLions hiddcn in Lhc main
sLory. Somc oí Lhcsc dcLails arc quiLc disLanL írom Lhc ccnLral narraLivc: Lhc
largc íold-ouL map-diagram írom Lhc inLcrior oí Lhc dusL jackcL (pp. iii–iv oí
Lhc papcrback) shows Lhc dcaLh oí 1immy’s paLcrnal grandmoLhcr and Lhc
immigraLion írom Ircland oí 1immy’s grcaL-grcaL-grandíaLhcr, a physician
also namcd “1. Corrigan,” as wcll as Lhc capLurc, LransporLaLion, and salc oí
Amy’s anccsLors as slavcs in Lhc pcriod bcíorc Lhc Civil War. IL also rcvcals
LhaL 1immy is lying whcn hc Lclls his adopLcd halí-sisLcr Amy LhaL hc “sorLa
sLoppcd rcading” comics “whcn [hc] grcw up” (¸:µ): in íacL, hc noL only bags
and boxcs currcnL issucs oí Superman, as Lhc map-diagram rcvcals, buL hc also
caLalogucs his collccLion. 1immy’s kiLchcn closcL is dcvoLcd Lo long boxcs, Lhc
spccialLy hardwarc oí comics sLoragc (scc plaLc ±).
All Lhcsc dcLails cxpand Lhc ficLional world oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan (puLLing
rooLs inLo locaLions íar írom Chicago and Waukosha), and in LhaL scnsc Lhcy
offcr a rcward íor Lhc rcadcr’s invcsLigaLion and cycsLrain, cvcn ií Lhcir rcv-
claLions only obliqucly affccL Lhc graphic novcl’s ploL. Truc, Lhc diagram sug-
gcsLs, morc Lhan Lhc main “LcxL” oí Lhc novcl mighL, LhaL 1ìmmy Corrìgan rcp-
rcscnLs onc scgmcnL oí a long hisLorical scqucncc oí Lragic and loncly charac-
Lcrs appcaring and disappcaring on a much largcr sLagc. Tcrc is somcLhing
írusLraLing, howcvcr, abouL Lhc insisLcnL LrivialiLy oí somc oí Lhcsc daLa: a
floor plan oí 1immy’s aparLmcnL, a six-sLcp dcscripLion oí his comics sLoragc
proccss, íour Liny ìn flagrante de|ìcto pancls oí Lhc bachclor William Corrigan
philandcring his way Lhrough Chicago. Tis claboraLc diagram cnrichcs Lhc
world oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan mainly by suggcsLing LhaL Lhc paincd minuLiac oí
Lhc main dicgcsis arc supporLcd by Lhousands oí similarly awkward momcnLs
LhaL Lhc graphic novcl ncvcr shows us.
A sccond diagram (¸8–¸µ), discusscd aL lcngLh in Tomas BrcdchoíL’s ar-
Liclc on “comics archiLccLurc” in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, rcvcals Lhrough a scrics oí
shiíLs in chronology and pcrspccLivc LhaL Lhc windows in 1immy’s Chicago
aparLmcnL wcrc originally insLallcd by 1immy’s grcaL-grandíaLhcr William,
Fig. 7.1. Ware’s key to the
“New Pictorial Language”
explains something simple
in a very complicated way.
Chris Ware, Jimmy Cor-
rigan: The Smartest Kid on
Earth (New York: Panthe-
on, 2000), endpapers.
who laLcr cmcrgcs as an imporLanL characLcr in Lhc nincLccnLh-ccnLury scc-
Lions oí Lhc book.
Tis apparcnLly Lrivial coincidcncc, placcd as iL is among
1immy’s ícvcrcd and worricd íanLasics abouL mccLing his íaLhcr íor Lhc firsL
Limc, sccms almosL rcassuring: iL asscrLs a connccLion Lhrough his malc íorc-
bcars, a connccLion LhaL liLcrally shclLcrs him cvcn Lhough hc is unawarc oí
Tc diagram also Lclls us, howcvcr, LhaL 1immy’s íaLhcr isn’L long íor Lhis
world: in a scrics oí small, bluc, righL-Lo-lcíL-rcading pancls aL Lhc boLLom
oí Lhc diagram’s firsL pagc, Lhc íaLhcr’s prcscnL momcnL is immcdiaLcly suc-
cccdcd by a hcadsLonc and a gravc. For Lhc carcíul rcadcr, Lhcn, Lhis diagram
Lclcgraphs 1immy’s íaLhcr’s dcaLh morc Lhan Lhrcc hundrcd pagcs bcíorc iL
happcns. Tis kind oí cxLcnsion oí Lhc rcadcr’s awarcncss is noL possiblc in
Lhc main narraLivc íramc, LcLhcrcd as Lhc comic is (aL Lhis poinL) Lo 1immy’s
poinL oí vicw. To csLablish an cxLcrnal or auLhorial pcrspccLivc, Warc in-
scrLs a diagram: sincc Lhc diagram uscs Lhc spacc oí Lhc pagc Lo convcy in-
íormaLion insLcad oí a vicwpoinL on Lhc sLory, iL naLurally suggcsLs a morc
absLracLcd, morc objccLivc posiLion LhaL allows, íor cxamplc, gcncraLions Lo
bc comprcsscd inLo a bricí spacc. By prcscnLing an alLcrnaLivc Lo Lhc sLcady
scqucnLial march oí comics narraLivc, Warc’s diagrams allow Lhc sorL oí rcL-
rospccLivc or omniscicnL vicw oí Lhc sLory’s cvcnLs LhaL oLhcr auLhors mighL
rcscrvc íor capLions in Lhc voicc oí a Lhird-pcrson narraLor.
Tc final and mosL Lclling oí Lhc diagrams in 1ìmmy Corrìgan also uscs Lhis
sLraLcgy, covcring scvcral gcncraLions in a small porLion oí Lhc pagc. Tis
Lwo-pagc diagram appcars ncar Lhc cnd oí Lhc book, immcdiaLcly aíLcr iLs cli-
max, whcn Amy pushcs 1immy away aíLcr hcaring Lhc ncws oí Lhcir íaLhcr’s
dcaLh (¸¸,–¸8) (scc plaLcs µ and ±o). AL firsL glancc, Lhc ausLcrc, diagram-
maLic, and opcn usc oí spacc on Lhcsc pagcs sccms likc a íairly cold scqucl Lo
Amy’s unhcard words oí apology as shc rcalizcs LhaL 1immy has disappcarcd.
Tc diagram, howcvcr, cncodcs cnough iníormaLion abouL Amy’s anccsLry
(and 1immy’s) LhaL rcading iL carcíully íorccs a rcvision in boLh Lhc mcaning
oí Lhc book’s conclusion and Lhc undcrlying connccLions bcLwccn Lhc book’s
Lwo chronologically scparaLc sLorics. Tc diagram Lraccs Amy’s anccsLry
back Lhrough Lhc iníormaLion barricr—unbrcachablc íor Lhc characLcrs—oí
hcr adopLion. In snapshoLs oí Lhrcc gcncraLions, Lhc diagram shows Amy’s
moLhcr giving hcr up íor adopLion in ±µ6¡, dcposiLs Amy’s maLcrnal grandía-
Lhcr in a World War II soldicr’s gravc, and rcvcals LhaL hcr moLhcr’s íaLhcr’s
moLhcr was Lhc daughLcr oí 1immy’s grcaL-grandíaLhcr, Lhc looming, abusivc
íaLhcr in Lhc hisLorical flashback sccLions oí Lhc graphic novcl. 1immy’s grcaL-
grandíaLhcr fircs May, Lhc Aírican Amcrican maid who is Amy’s grcaL-grcaL-
grandmoLhcr, whcn May is prcgnanL wiLh his illcgiLimaLc child. In a Lypical
Lurn oí Warc’s liLLlc Lragcdics, in íacL, hc fircs hcr íor offcring a biL oí kindncss
Loward his son bchind his back (:¡¸), shc rcLurns in winLcr, a ícw monLhs
laLcr, “wcighcd down by somc burdcn, conccalcd aL Lhc waisL oí hcr coaL,” buL
runs off inLo Lhc snow aíLcr 1amcs sccs hcr, offcring no cxplanaLion (:¸o).
Tis diagram is Lhc only confirmaLion offcrcd in Lhc book LhaL Lhis “bur-
dcn” is William Corrigan’s unborn child (and 1amcs’s ncvcr-known halí-
sisLcr). Tc íacL oí Amy and 1immy’s consanguiniLy—and, morcovcr, hcr
vcry closc blood rclaLion Lo liLLlc 1amcs, who is now Lhc old man shc calls
“Cranpa”—makcs 1immy’s panickcd rcLrcaL on Lhc prcvious pagcs a Lragcdy
oí possiblc connccLions unrcalizcd. WiLhouL Lhc iníormaLion in Lhis diagram,
1immy’s Tanksgiving rcLurn Lo his moLhcr and his work cubiclc sccms likc a
sad rcLurn Lo his own sLaLus quo, onc in a scrics oí misscd opporLuniLics íor
Lhc maladroiL proLagonisL, wiLh Lhc iníormaLion in Lhis diagram, howcvcr,
1immy’s disappcarancc is a Lragic íailurc oí íamily rcconciliaLion íor Amy as
Tcrc arc scvcral rcasons why Warc mighL bury Lhis connccLion bcLwccn
Amy and hcr adopLcd íamily in a diagram (and, íor LhaL maLLcr, in small and
visually obscurc dcLails in Lhc diagram), and I’d likc Lo arguc LhaL Lhc cffccL hc
achicvcs wiLh Lhis choicc is acLually quiLc subLlc. Warc mighL havc simply sc-
crcLcd Lhc iníormaLion hcrc likc an FasLcr cgg íor Lhc mosL diligcnL rcadcr, Lo
rcward morc carcíul scruLiny wiLh a morc poignanL cnding. Tis would makc
a nicc parablc abouL rcadcrly carc íor sLudcnLs in a liLcraLurc class, buL iL’s
hard Lo comc away írom Warc’s work wiLh a scnsc LhaL hc imagincs rcward-
ing his íans. (Tc hardcovcr 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s dusL jackcL, aíLcr all, LouLs iL as
“a bold cxpcrimcnL in rcadcr Lolcrancc.”) Warc mighL insLcad rcsorL Lo Lhc
diagram hcrc, as in Lhc carly diagram abouL 1immy’s window, bccausc Lhcsc
íacLs can only bc rclaLcd ouLsidc oí Lhc narraLivc dicgcsis. Sincc 1ìmmy Corrì-
gan is anchorcd so closcly in a ícw characLcrs’ poinLs oí vicw (mosLly 1immy’s
and 1amcs’s), iníormaLion known Lo nonc oí Lhcsc characLcrs can only appcar
ouLsidc oí Lhc visual narraLivc. FurLhcrmorc, and pcrhaps morc inLcrcsLing,
iL’s possiblc LhaL Lhc cvcnLual rcvclaLion rclics on a proccss oí scruLiny or
invcsLigaLion in ordcr íor iLs cmoLional impacL Lo íccl carncd or gcnuinc: ií
Amy’s íamily hisLory wcrc simply dclivcrcd, insLcad oí bcing somcLhing Lhc
rcadcr musL hunL íor, or cncounLcr on a sccond or Lhird rcading, Lhc coinci-
dcncc oí Lhc characLcrs’ kinship mighL sccm considcrably conLrivcd. As iL is,
and wiLh Lhc prcccdcnL oí Lhc oLhcr diagram csLablishing hisLorical coinci-
dcnccs, Lhc unlikcly connccLion bcLwccn Lhcsc Lwo characLcrs íccls morc likc
a sccrcL Lhan a ficLion.
Comics, Diagrams, and Information Design
Warc’s pcrsisLcnL inLcrcsL in diagrams also rcachcs bcyond Lhc immcdiaLc
narraLivc nccds oí his graphic novcl. Warc is clcarly curious abouL Lhc pos-
sibiliLics crcaLcd by imporLing allicd mcdia inLo his comics, or by lcarning
írom Lhc dcviccs oí rclaLcd mcdia. As wc will scc, Lhc common grammar oí
comics and diagrams—Lhcir sharcd rcliancc on juxLaposiLions or conLinuiLics
in Lwo-dimcnsional spacc Lo indicaLc connccLions oí mcaning—csLablishcs a
numbcr oí non-narraLivc possibiliLics wiLh which Warc and oLhcr carLoonisLs
occasionally cxpcrimcnL.
Tc arL oí Lhc diagram is onc oí a numbcr oí ways in which Warc’s comics
Lcchniquc is iníormcd by disciplincs or mcdia LhaL arcn’L oíLcn considcrcd
by liLcrary criLics. Ccnc Kanncnbcrg has wriLLcn comprchcnsivcly on Warc’s
inLcrcsL in Lypography and Lypc dcsign, íor cxamplc,
and Warc is also clcarly
inLcrcsLcd in music and in archiLccLurc.
In 1ìmmy Corrìgan in parLicular,
Warc also rcpcaLcdly invokcs Lhc carly, prc-cincmaLic Lcchnology oí moving
picLurcs. Iikc comics, and likc Warc’s scvcral diagrams, Lhcsc carly dcviccs—
Lhc zocLropc, magic lanLcrn slidcs, and Lhc zoopraxiscopc oí Lhc carly pho-
Lographcr Fadwcard Muybridgc, all oí which appcar in 1ìmmy Corrìgan—rcly
on scqucnLial imagcs Lo dcpicL cvcnLs in scrics.
WiLhin Lhc graphic novcl,
oí coursc, all oí Lhcsc moving-picLurc imagcs arc also comics: unlcss wc rc-
movc, cuL aparL, and build Warc’s modcl zocLropc, Lhc Lwclvc imagcs oí a
cruLch-walking roboL can only bc rcad as a comic, wiLh iLs imagcs hclpíully
moving írom lcíL Lo righL along Lhc Lop oí Lhc pagc.
McCloud has poinLcd
Lo Lhc similariLy bcLwccn Lhcsc Lwo mcdiums’ ways oí rcprcscnLing moLion,
claiming LhaL “bcíorc iL’s projccLcd, film is jusL a [ . . . ] vcry slow comic,”
prinLcd on cclluloid insLcad oí on papcr.
Warc’s various invocaLions oí carly
moLion-picLurc Lcchnology, rcprcscnLcd as comics (wiLh minimal changcs
írom pancl Lo pancl, in Lhc casc oí Lhc zocLropc), Lhus also dirccL us Lo rc-
cxaminc Lhc “vcry slow” scqucnccs LhaL arc ubiquiLous in 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
IL’s casy Lo dcscribc Lhcsc slow, momcnL-Lo-momcnL scqucnccs—1immy’s
íaLhcr awkwardly kccping 1immy company in a docLor’s officc, íor cxamplc
(±:¸)—as sLaLic, buL Lhc rcpcLiLion oí imagcs also hcighLcns our aLLcnLion Lo
slighL variaLions oí moLion, body languagc, and íacial cxprcssion.
Iikc Lhcsc
cvocaLions oí carly moLion-picLurc Lcchnology, Warc’s diagrams urgc us Lo rc-
cxaminc Lhc mcLhods oí Lhc main comic as wcll as Lhc íundamcnLal proximiLy
oí Lhc rclaLcd mcdia. NavigaLing Warc’s dcnsc and dclibcraLcly obscurc dia-
grams should prcparc Lhc rcadcr Lo rcad diagram-likc dcviccs on his comics
pagcs as wcll as Lhc sLrucLural or grammaLical similariLy bcLwccn comics and
diagrams in Lhcir íoundaLions.
Warc’s scnsc oí Lhc comics mcdium is clcarly rclaLcd Lo Lhc visual workings
oí diagrams, and in Lhc cnd his work asscrLs a basic connccLion bcLwccn Lhc
grammar oí comics sLoryLclling and Lhc grammar oí iníormaLion display LhaL
may opcn up inLcrcsLing ncw possibiliLics íor comics. As iL happcns, Warc’s
comics arc akin Lo diagrams in a numbcr oí ways, somc oí which (Lhough
noL Lrivial) arc morc sLraighLíorward Lhan Lhc íundamcnLal similariLy oí Lhcir
“grammars.” Tc firsL oí Lhcsc is Lhc flaL, simplificd carLooning sLylc LhaL
characLcrizcs mosL oí Warc’s maLurc work, in which many objccLs and cvcn
characLcrs ncarly rcscmblc picLographs or idcograms.
Dcscribing his own roughcr buL similarly simplificd visual work, ArL
Spicgclman rcpcaLcdly comparcs Lhis drawing sLylc Lo diagrams. Spicgclman
similarly asscrLs, íor cxamplc, LhaL Lìck Tracy’s ChcsLcr Could “undcrsLood
bcLLcr Lhan anyonc LhaL comic sLrip drawing isn’L rcally drawing aL all, buL
raLhcr a kind oí diagramming.”
In an cssay on his carly onc-pagc piccc “Don’L
CcL Around Much Anymorc,” Spicgclman asscrLs, “All comic-sLrip drawings
musL íuncLion as diagrams, simplificd picLurc-words LhaL indicaLc morc Lhan
Lhcy show.”
Hcrc, Spicgclman rcícrs Lo morc Lhan Could’s in-pancl LcxL la-
bcls (c.g., “Two-way TV wrisLwaLch”) or Lhcir rclaLion Lo Lhc spccch balloon
and oLhcr graphic dcviccs: hc uscs Lhc idca oí a diagram Lo dcscribc Lhc car-
Looning sLylc LhaL ScoLL McCloud calls “iconic.” Iconic drawings arc simplificd
Lo Lhc poinL oí bcing almosL purc symbol, wiLh incsscnLial or non-scmanLic
visual clcmcnLs absLracLcd away. McCloud sccs Lhcsc iconic drawings as bc-
ing “morc likc words,” in LhaL Lhcir proccss oí significaLion is diminishingly
a maLLcr oí rcscmbling Lhc Lhing Lhcy rcprcscnL, incrcasingly a maLLcr oí ac-
ccpLcd symbolic convcnLions.
Warc, Loo, dcscribcs a dcsirc íor his drawings Lo “rcad likc words”—íor
Lhcm Lo Lriggcr mcaning as immcdiaLcly as a prinLcd word will íor a liLcraLc
rcadcr, “so LhaL whcn you scc Lhcm you can’L makc yoursclí noL rcad Lhcm.”

As a modcl oí Lhc immcdiaLc picLorial lcgibiliLy LhaL Warc dcsircs, Danicl Rac-
burn, íollowing Spicgclman, ciLcs Frnic Bushmillcr’s Nancy: “IL Lakcs morc cí-
íorL noL Lo rcad Nancy Lhan iL docs Lo rcad iL.”
Tc uniíormiLy oí Warc’s linc,
Lhc opcnncss oí his visual íorms, his flaL ficlds oí color, and Lhc simplificaLion
oí organic background clcmcnLs likc Lrccs and bushcs unLil Lhcy rcscmblc
symbols on an archiLccL’s plan: all oí Lhcsc clcmcnLs oí Warc’s sLylc arc cngi-
nccrcd Lo approach Lhis Bushmillcr-likc (or Could-likc) immcdiacy, a kind oí
sLylisLic Lransparcncy.
And ycL, Warc’s comics arc, as a gcncral rulc, anyLhing buL casy Lo rcad.
Along wiLh Lhis sccmingly LransparcnL carLooning, Warc aL Limcs dclivcrs
dcnsc LcxL, complicaLcd pagc layouLs, and ccnLral characLcrs whosc main aL-
LribuLcs arc cmoLional paralysis or painíul awkwardncss. McCloud argucs
LhaL Lhc iconic sLylc oí drawing somchow cnablcs rcadcr “idcnLificaLion” wiLh
Lhc characLcrs, and alLhough McCloud’s asscrLion hcrc is among his mosL du-
bious, Lhcrc is onc clcmcnL oí LruLh bchind iL: sincc Lhis iconic or diagram-
maLic drawing privilcgcs Lhc scmanLically chargcd parLs oí a drawing, iconic
drawings oí characLcrs’ íaccs arc (or can bc) casicr Lo rcad íor Lhcir cmoLional

Ií wc consLruc Lhings likc cycbrow posiLion or Lhc linc crcaLcd
by Lhc mouLh as cmoLional significrs—as Lhcy do sccm Lo bc—Lhcn Lhc rc-
ducLion oí a carLoon íacc Lo Lhcsc significanL lincs makcs Lhc characLcr’s in-
Lcrnal sLaLc rcad, idcally, as clcarly as a word, lcgiblc in cvcry pancl whcrc wc
scc his íacc.

IL’s hard Lo imaginc a proLagonisL morc closcd off Lo cmoLional
connccLion Lhan 1immy, buL Lhc rcpcaLcd, virLually unchanging icon oí his
worricd íacc Lclcgraphs his cmoLions wiLh cxcruciaLing clariLy. AlLhough Lhc
womcn in 1ìmmy Corrìgan arc drawn jusL as iconically, Warc Lakcs pains Lo ob-
scurc Lhcir íaccs (oLhcr Lhan Amy’s) in ncarly cvcry pancl, prcsumably Lo limiL
Lhc lcgibiliLy oí Lhcir inLcrior sLaLcs. 1immy’s moLhcr, íor cxamplc, is visiblc
many Limcs bcíorc wc scc hcr íacc, Liny and aL Lhc boLLom oí Lhc pancl, aL Lhc
cnd oí Lhcir Tanksgiving dinncr (¸,±), cvcn in 1amcs’s drcam oí imprcssing
Lhc rcd-haircd girl, wc only scc Lhc sidc oí hcr bonncL (:¡6).

WhaLcvcr Warc is aiming aL wiLh his diagrammaLic, iconic drawing, Lhcn,
iL isn’L mcrcly Lhc rcadcr’s idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc characLcrs or any casc oí
acccss Lo Lhc characLcr’s inLcrioriLy. InsLcad, iL sccms Lo bc an appcal Lo Lhc
possibiliLy LhaL drawings mighL approach Lhc scmioLic dirccLncss oí languagc,
cvcn Lhough Lhc Lwo kinds oí mark-making parLicipaLc in disLincL kinds oí
significaLion. Whcrcas words arc, wiLh Lhc possiblc cxccpLion oí onomaLo-
pocia, always arbiLrary significrs, cvcn vcry iconic drawings rcly on naLural
(non-arbiLrary) significaLion: Lhcy visually rcscmblc Lhc Lhings Lhcy signiíy.

And ycL, ií iconic or diagrammaLic drawing approachcs ccrLain languagc-likc
qualiLics oí significaLion—iLs “common nouns” rcícrring Lo gcncral Lypcs
raLhcr Lhan Lo spccific individuals, iLs simplificaLion, as Spicgclman suggcsLs,
indicaLing LcxLurc or subLcxL iL docs noL show—Lhcn iconic drawings would
sccm Lo bc Lhc naLural vocabulary oí boLh Lhc diagram and Lhc carLooncd
liLcrary comic.
Howcvcr, Lhis iconic vocabulary is Lhcn acLivaLcd by Lhc grammar oí vi-
sual juxLaposiLion LhaL is gcncrally undcrsLood Lo bc ccnLral Lo comics as a
mcdium. Warc’s inLcrcsL in diagrams clcarly gocs bcyond Lhcir picLographic
idiom. Tc way LhaL diagrams rclaLc and manipulaLc Lhcir symbols is also a
largc parL oí Warc’s “comics pocLics,” buL Lhis is an aspccL oí Warc’s work
(and an aspccL oí Lhc comics mcdium) LhaL has rcccivcd liLLlc aLLcnLion. Tc
prccmincnL LhcorisL oí Lhc diagram is probably Fdward TuíLc, Lhc auLhor oí
scvcral landmark books on iníormaLion dcsign. TuíLc’s work, dirccLcd Loward
sLaLisLicians and graphic dcsigncrs, primarily advocaLcs grcaLcr clariLy and
“inLcgriLy” in iníormaLion displays, offcring sLraLcgics íor rcvising cluLLcrcd,
dcccpLivc, or oLhcrwisc incffccLivc diagrams and íor maximizing a charL’s
“daLa-Lo-ink raLio.”
Civcn LhaL Lhcsc arc TuíLc’s goals, wc should cxpccL him
Lo offcr rclaLivcly liLLlc abouL Lhc poLcnLial liLcrary uscs oí diagrams or abouL
ways LhaL comics likc Warc’s mighL dclibcraLcly cxploiL complcxiLy or cluLLcr.
In Lhc coursc oí disLinguishing clcar iníormaLion dcsign írom “charLjunk,”
howcvcr, TuíLc docs offcr a numbcr oí insighLs inLo Lhc languagc oí graphics
LhaL can hclp us Lo scc how Warc’s comics work. For cxamplc, TuíLc advocaLcs
againsL high-conLrasL juxLaposiLions oí color or cqual-widLh bands oí black
and whiLc bccausc oí Lhc “aíLcr-imagcs and vibraLion,”

or Lhc “shimmcr” and
“moirc vibraLion,”
LhaL Lhcsc graphic clcmcnLs can causc. Warc uscs boLh
oí Lhcsc discomíorLing cffccLs dclibcraLcly in 1ìmmy Corrìgan. High-conLrasL
rcd and grccn vibraLc, íor cxamplc, in Lhc pancl during 1immy’s visiL Lo Lhc
docLor’s officc whcn hc muLLcrs, “Uh . . . I gucss” (±±:).
And Lhc opLical dis-
comíorL oí TuíLc’s black-and-whiLc “shimmcr” is visiblc on ncarly cvcry pagc
oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan, in Lhc Loo-narrow whiLc guLLcrs bcLwccn his Lhick, cvcn
pancl bordcrs. In boLh oí Lhcsc cascs, Warc flouLs Lhc “rulcs” oí graphic dcsign
dclibcraLcly in ordcr Lo raLchcL up Lhc visual discomíorL LhaL accompanics
1immy’s cvcr-mounLing anxicLy.
AlLhough hc is conccrncd wiLh clariLy morc Lhan wiLh arL, TuíLc’s cxamplcs
oí wcll-dcsigncd diagrams do occasionally rcscmblc comics. In a chapLcr on
“MulLiplcs in Spacc and Timc,” íor cxamplc, hc prcscnLs a scL oí Muybridgc’s
moLion-analysis phoLographs on Lhc samc pagc as Huygcns’s Limc-scrics
drawing oí SaLurn’s orbiLal paLh and a scL oí maps showing conLincnLal driíL.
As Warc’s inLcrcsL in Muybridgc rcminds us, cach oí Lhcsc Limc-scrics dia-
grams rcads, scqucnLially, likc a comic.
Diagrams oí Lhc movcmcnL oí a sca-
horsc or a gccko also usc simplificd imagcs (carLoons) in scqucncc Lhrough-
ouL Lhc Limc-scrics sccLion oí TuíLc’s chapLcr on “Craphical Fxccllcncc.”
Lably, TuíLc LrcaLs Lhcsc comics or proLo-comics as ií Lhcy arc inLcrchangcablc
wiLh Lhc oLhcr, morc charL-likc diagrams in Lhcsc chapLcrs. Hc also analyzcs a
numbcr oí comics or comics-likc diagrams in a chapLcr oí vìsua| Fxp|anatìons
LhaL dcals wiLh Lhc diagrams uscd Lo cxplain magic Lricks. Bccausc slcighL oí
hand rcquircs scvcral sLagcs oí movcmcnL, Lhcsc diagrams Lypically includc
mulLiplc imagcs oí Lhc samc discmbodicd hands, rcvcaling or suggcsLing Lhc
gcsLurcs and manipulaLions LhaL makc Lhc Lrick work. Ncarly all oí Lhcsc dia-
grams combinc drawings wiLh words, and Lhcy oíLcn also havc rccoursc Lo
oLhcr carLooning shorLhand: moLion lincs, impacL lincs, and ghosLcd ovcrlap-
ping imagcs. As TuíLc poinLs ouL, Lhcsc arc “dcvicc[s] oíLcn uscd in comics.”

Tc íacL LhaL TuíLc docs noL sccm Lo disLinguish bcLwccn cxplanaLory comics
and cxplanaLory diagrams could providc his mosL provocaLivc conLribuLion
Lo Lhc sLudy oí comics, cvcn ií Lhis conLribuLion is ncvcr arLiculaLcd in Lhosc
IL’s naLural íor comics or comics-likc scqucnccs such as Muybridgc’s phoLo-
graphs Lo appcar in discussions oí Lhc diagrammaLic rcprcscnLaLion oí cvcnLs
uníolding ovcr Limc or dcpicLions oí Limc-scrics daLa. Ií a singlc dimcnsion oí
iníormaLion (daLa abouL a singlc variablc) is ploLLcd ovcr Limc, a sLraighLíor-
ward Lwo-dimcnsional graph is Lhc obvious choicc. Ií morc Lhan onc variablc
musL bc corrclaLcd ovcr a rclaLivcly small numbcr oí Limc samplcs, Limc-slicc
diagrams íor Lhc daLa—onc graph pcr samplcd momcnL—can csscnLially bc
rcad as a comic wiLh graphs or charLs íor scqucnLial “pancls.”
BuL íor dia-
grams and charLs, Lhc mcasurcd progrcss oí Limc is only onc oí many diffcr-
cnL sorLs oí daLa LhaL Lhc Lwo dimcnsions oí Lhc pagc can dcscribc. A charL
could ploL inflaLion againsL uncmploymcnL, LcmpcraLurc againsL conducLiv-
iLy, aLomic numbcr againsL aLomic volumc, or ycars in Chicago againsL LhaL
Chicagoan’s avcragc monLhly phonc bill.
Diagrams usc spaLial proximiLy Lo dcnoLc a widc rangc oí connccLions—
linkagcs oí mcaning, and noL ncccssarily oí Limc. Sincc comics is a narraLivc
mcdium, iL incviLably uscs Lhc dcvicc oí graphic juxLaposiLion mainly íor nar-
raLivc cnds. Ií comics is such a ncar cousin Lo Lhc diagram, howcvcr, and ií dia-
grams can borrow Lhc graphic idiom oí comics Lo cxplain Lhc movcmcnLs oí a
scahorsc or a slcighL oí hand, Lhcn Lhcrc can bc liLLlc rcason íor comics noL Lo
borrow írom Lhc widcr rangc oí graphic scmanLics allowcd Lo Lhc diagram. In
parLicular, boLh Chris Warc’s diagrams and Fdward TuíLc’s appropriaLion oí
scqucnLial arL should rcmind us oí Lhc valuablc possibiliLy íor liLcrary comics
oí diagram-likc non-chronological juxLaposiLions, scqucnccs oí imagcs LhaL
arc rclaLcd in ways LhaL havc lcss Lo do wiLh Limc Lhan wiLh oLhcr inLcrrcla-
Lions oí mcaning: mcLaphor, opLions and poLcnLialiLics, LhcmaLic synopsis,
spaLial rclaLionships, and many oLhcr unplumbcd possibiliLics.
Wc nccd noL look íar Lo find graphic juxLaposiLions in Warc’s work LhaL
dcpicL rclaLionships oLhcr Lhan chronological scqucncc. Tc scvcral “LiLlc
pagc” cmbcllishmcnLs in Lhc carly pagcs oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan, íor cxamplc, oí-
ícr juxLaposiLions LhaL arc morc mcLaphorical or mcLaLcxLual Lhan narraLivc.
An carly pagc in Lhc graphic novcl offcrs a Lwclvc-pancl grid oí possiblc íaccs
íor 1immy’s íaLhcr (:8), juxLaposcd likc Lhc possiblc posiLions oí Quimby’s
cycbrow in Lhc cndpapcrs diagram. FurLhcrmorc, in somc Lwo-pagc sprcads
in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8, spaLial juxLaposiLion scrvcs morc LhcmaLic
or symbolic purposcs. Onc common layouL in Lhis issuc has six sccLions oí
LcxL and pancls arraycd around a singlc ccnLral pancl LhaL crosscs Lhc gap
bcLwccn pagcs. Tcsc ccnLral imagcs arc somcLimcs snapshoLs oí Lhc charac-
Lcrs aL roughly Lhc samc pcriod in Lhc sLory, buL Lhcy arc somcLimcs imagcs
oí an cmpLy room, íor cxamplc, or an orchid blossom—Lhc laLLcr suggcsLing
an claboraLc group oí LhcmaLic connccLions bcLwccn Lhc proLagonisL’s bro-
kcn rclaLionship, hcr laLcr carccr as a florisL, and Lhc cmoLional aíLcrmaLh oí
hcr dccision Lo havc an aborLion. Tc orchid also cchocs (in iLs appcarancc
and iLs placcmcnL on Lhc pagc) Lwo similarly symmcLrical gynccological im-
agcs írom pornographic vidco and a sLudcnL painLing on Lhc prcccding pagcs,
making Lhc naLurally scxual aspccL oí Lhc flowcr much morc cxpliciL. Whilc
Lhcsc ccnLral LhcmaLic pancls arc noL among Warc’s mosL aggrcssivcly cxpcri-
mcnLal mancuvcrs, Lhcy do clcarly parLicipaLc in Lhc grammar oí diagrams,
by which spaLial proximiLy or arrangcmcnL may indicaLc rclaLionships oLhcr
Lhan chronological scqucncc.
A numbcr oí oLhcr carLoonisLs havc also cxploiLcd Lhc diagrammaLic po-
LcnLial oí Lhc comics pagc. CarLoonisLs as diffcrcnL as Dan ZcLLwoch and Posy
Simmonds find iL uscíul Lo includc a non-narraLivc, labclcd illusLraLion inLo
an oLhcrwisc scqucnLial scrics oí pancls or pagcs.
PcLcr Blcgvad’s playíully
1 0 0 I S AAC CAT E S
cxpcrimcnLal Levìathan írcqucnLly mixcs scqucnLial imagcs wiLh juxLaposi-
Lions moLivaLcd by lcss chronological conccrns: alLcrnaLivc opLions, graphs
or allcgorical maps, and cvcn in onc casc a sLaLisLical graphic borrowcd írom
TuíLc’s Te vìsua| Lìsp|ay oj Quantìtatìve !njormatìon.
In Paul Karasik and
David Mazzucchclli’s comics adapLaLion oí Paul AusLcr’s Cìty oj C|ass, Lhc
pancls LhaL accompany PcLcr SLillman’s monologuc and Lhc oLhcr cxLcndcd
spccchcs arc scqucnLial in Lhc scnsc LhaL Lhcy íollow Lhc ordcr oí Lhc LcxL, buL
Lhcir rclaLionship Lo Lhc LcxL and Lo cach oLhcr owcs morc Lo a mcLaphorical
principlc oí juxLaposiLion.
In all oí Lhcsc cascs, Lhc diagrammaLic poLcnLial
oí comics (cvcn ií iL is noL acknowlcdgcd in Lhosc Lcrms) allows Lhc picLorial
spacc oí Lhc pagc Lo pull away írom sLricL, camcra-likc sLoryLclling, inLo Lhc
picLorial cquivalcnL oí synopsis, analysis, or cxplanaLion.
AíLcr Warc, Lhc conLcmporary carLoonisL mosL inLcrcsLcd in Lhc pocLics or
poLcnLial oí Lhc diagram is probably Kcvin Huizcnga, whosc work had unLil
rcccnLly only appcarcd in anLhologics and sclí-publishcd mini-comics. Huiz-
cnga’s comics, oíLcn moLivaLcd by largc and absLracL inLcllccLual qucsLions,
consisLcnLly LrcaL diagrams as onc oí many opLions íor convcying Lhcsc idcas.
In Lhc firsL issuc oí Canges, íor cxamplc, Huizcnga’s cponymous proLagonisL
Clcnn Cangcs conLcmplaLcs Lhc possibiliLy LhaL, givcn infiniLc Limc and a fi-
niLc amounL oí maLLcr in Lhc univcrsc, infiniLc combinaLions—likc Lhc books
in Borgcs’s Iibrary oí Babcl—would cvcnLually bring abouL cvcry possiblc
univcrsc. Whilc Clcnn is losL in Lhcsc LhoughLs, Lhc comic’s dicgcLic imagcry
disappcars in íavor oí diagrams, which labcl somc oí Lhc pcrmuLaLions oí Lhc
many univcrscs wiLh “samc sLory, cxccpL in Frcnch,” “scnLicnL squid,” and
“univcrsal bliss” (scc fig. ,.:).
In a diffcrcnL sLory laLcr in Lhc samc collcc-
Lion, as Clcnn waLchcs his wiíc slccping, hc imagincs all Lhc pcoplc ovcr Lhc
ccnLurics who havc also lain awakc waLching Lhcir bclovcds, and his LhoughLs
dissolvc inLo a mandala oí paircd hcads on pillows, suggcsLing Lhc infiniLc
numbcrs oí Lhcsc human slccpcrs.
Tc firsL oí Lhcsc cxamplcs is dcfiniLcly
a diagram, Lhc sccond, a carLoon illusLraLion oí Clcnn’s prcoccupaLion. And
ycL Lhcy arc ncarly Lhc samc imagc: circular rcpcLiLion implying infiniLc rccur-
sion, diminishingly small uniLs, oí which Clcnn himsclí is parL oí only onc.
ProximiLy in Lhcsc imagcs implics a rclaLionship oí comparison, morc Lhan
causaLion, and Lhcir rclaLionship Lo Lhc main world oí Huizcnga’s comic is
nciLhcr cnLircly dicgcLic (Clcnn docsn’L liLcrally scc Lhcsc Lhings) nor cnLircly
non-dicgcLic (Lhcy arc illusLraLions oí whaL Clcnn’s inLcrnal monologuc dc-
scribcs). In a comic markcd by graphical simpliciLy, Lhcsc diagram-likc com-
ics arc crucial Lo illuminaLing Huizcnga’s idcas. IL’s difficulL Lo imaginc Lhcsc
idcas convcycd visually wiLhouL rccoursc Lo a diagram. Iikc Warc’s diagrams,
as TuíLc would suggcsL, Lhcy cncodc iníormaLion dcnscly, also likc Warc’s
diagrams, Lhcy offcr an alLcrnaLivc Lo sLricLly dicgcLic imagcry and iLs limiLcd
cxplanaLory pcrspccLivc.
Chris Warc’s diagrams arc, Lhus, morc Lhan mcrcly anoLhcr complicaLion
in a complcx graphic novcl and morc Lhan mcrcly anoLhcr cxcursion inLo Lhc
rcalm oí non-dicgcLic cphcmcra. As wc havc sccn, Warc uscs Lhcsc diagrams
Lo conccal and Lo rcvcal iníormaLion LhaL alLcrs Lhc cmoLional Lcnor oí 1ìmmy
Corrìgan. Formally, by invoking Lhc non-narraLivc aspccLs oí Lhc diagram—
iLs capaciLy Lo usc juxLaposiLion íor non-Lcmporal rclaLionships oí mcaning—
Warc’s diagrams suggcsL ncw possibiliLics oí mcLaphor, mcLa-narraLivc, and
Fig. 7.2. Two diagrammatic
visions of infinity from
Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges.
Image courtesy of Kevin
Huizenga. Kevin Huizenga,
Ganges 1 (Seattle: Fanta-
graphics, 2006), n.p.
1 0 2 I S AAC CAT E S
oLhcr morc “pocLic” dcviccs íor Lhc sLill-dcvcloping languagc oí comics. IL’s a
LcsLamcnL Lo Lhc pliabiliLy oí Lhis sLrangc hybrid mcdium LhaL iL can so cas-
ily absorb Lhc Lcchniqucs oí oLhcr mcdia (film, LhcaLcr, painLing, prosc), buL
Lhc closc rclaLionship bcLwccn comics and diagrams is as íundamcnLal as Lhc
spccch balloon. Warc’s diagrams, finally, hclp Lo rcmind us oí Lhis affiniLy, Lhc
basic connccLion bcLwccn comics’ scqucnLial imagcs and Lhc Limc-scrics in a
charL, and Lo dcmonsLraLc Lhc poLcnLial íor íormal invcnLion LhaL Lhis affin-
iLy implics. Tc diagrams in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, in parLicular, show noL only Lhc
sccrcL inLcrrclaLions oí his main characLcrs, buL also Lhc capaciLy oí comics aL
oncc Lo conccal and Lo rcvcal, Lo mcan in mulLiplc ways simulLancously.
I owe several of this essay’s points (large and small) to conversations with my friend and frequent
collaborator Mike Wenthe, who always deserves my grateful acknowledgment. I am also indebted to
Kevin Huizenga, not only for granting permission to reproduce his work in this collection, but also for
a conversation at the Small Press Expo that sparked my interest in the connection between comics
and diagrams. Two of my former students, Shawn Cheng and Lindsay Nordell, significantly added to
my understanding of Ware’s graphic design in essays they wrote when Jimmy Corrigan was hot off the
presses. I would also like to thank the editors of this collection and my co-panelists at the 2007 MLA
Convention, whose clear sight and energy saw the work into publication.
1. Here, I am not using the term diegesis in contrast to mimesis in the Aristotelian sense—that is,
not to invoke a question of telling versus showing. (The visual aspect of a comic is straightforward
mimesis or imitation, in the Aristotelian sense. As Aristotle uses these terms, the only diegetic ele-
ment of a comic would be its narrative captions.) Rather, I mean diegesis in the sense that film scholars
use the term, as distinct from the non-diegetic elements of a film: the soundtrack, the subtitles, and so
forth, which are available to the viewer but outside the world of the film and its characters. Borrow-
ing this terminology from film studies, the ordinary non-diegetic elements of a comic include labels,
narrative captions, and, to an extent, sound effects or speech balloons (which denote diegetic sounds
but in forms that the characters do not perceive).
2. See Thomas A. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006) 869–90.
3. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), iii–iv. Fur-
ther citations of this text will appear parenthetically in the body of the essay.
4. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink, 1993),
5. McCloud famously categorizes panel-to-panel transitions into six types, all of which are narra-
tive in nature except for the “non-sequitur” type. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 70–73.
6. This complicated narrative diagram also appears as the back cover of Chris Ware, Quimby the
Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003).
7. See, for example, Ware, Quimby, 10.
8. In this case, the diagram may be more an expression of Ware’s effort and attention than a
narrative or explanatory device: much of the graphic effort in the image goes to elements (like the
manifold radiating lines) that carry little meaning. This profusion of effort for a few small jokes (for
example, comparing the artist’s conducting, painting, and theater with God’s rock guitar, advertising,
and pornography) is in keeping with the aesthetic of surplus detail and information that animates The
ACME Report.
9. Thomas A. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 885.
10. Of course, this is also the section of the book in which a gargantuan Superman—often, in
Ware’s comics, a figure for the abandoning or abusive father—crushes Jimmy’s house (an imagined
house in which he’s tucking in his imaginary son, Billy).
11. Bredehoft focuses on the diagram’s capacity to represent other, non-linear ways of construing
time or narrative. He makes much of the “circularity” of this diagram, which begins and ends with the
same view through the apartment window, altered by the progress of decades. Bredehoft, “Comics
Architecture,” 879.
12. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strate-
gies,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 174–83. See also Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2004), 18–21.
13. See Raeburn, Chris Ware, 23–26. Ware reacts to Goethe’s assertion that architecture is “fro-
zen music” by writing, “This is, I think, the aesthetic key to the development of cartoons as an art
form.” Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003), 190.
14. William Corrigan glazes the windows in the “Zoopraxographical Hall” at the Chicago World’s
Columbian Exposition “for an Englishman” (254); though Muybridge isn’t mentioned by name, it must
be his exhibit. The magic lantern slides tell a story with projected serial images on 136–38, and the
fold-up zoetrope is on 22–23.
15. As Bredehoft points out, the structure of the zoetrope prevents it from telling an extended
narrative, or indeed any narrative that “escapes the essential circularity of its mechanism.” Every set
of zoetrope images must return frequently to its original position and go through the same motions
again. Bredehoft extends this claim, too, suggesting that this device “raises the question of how the
particular architecture of comics does and does not constrain comics narratives in terms of time and
sequence.” Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture,” 871. In some ways, diagrams raise the same question,
but they also offer alternative answers that can expand the ways a comic describes or construes
16. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 8.
17. For an analysis of Ware’s use of slowness in his comics, see Georgiana Banita’s essay in this
18. Art Spiegelman, “Comix: An Idiosyncratic Historical and Aesthetic Overview,” in Art
Spiegelman: Comix, Essays, Graphics, & Scraps: From Maus to Now to “Maus” to Now (Palermo: Sellerio
Editore—La Centrale dell’Arte, 1998), 77.
19. Spiegelman, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore: A Guided Tour,” in Art Spiegelman, 8.
20. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 49. Unlike words, however, cartoon drawings remain natural
rather than arbitrary symbols. Even McCloud’s highly abstracted stick-figure face resembles a human
face in important ways; a cartoon drawing of a tree will look like a (perhaps highly generalized) tree,
rather than being an unrelated set of marks (T-R-E-E) or sounds (el arból).
22. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, 20.
22. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 20, quoting Spiegelman, “Comix,” 74. Spiegelman, in turn, attributes this
observation to the cartoonist Wally Wood, though he supplies no source for the anecdote.
23. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 41–43. For a thorough dismantling of McCloud’s theory, see
Jonathan Frome, “Identification in Comics,” Comics Journal (April 1999): 82–86. Frome perceptively
points out, for example, that a flat character or a cruel villain, drawn in the same style as an interest-
ing, sympathetic protagonist, would not encourage the same sort of reader identification; Charlie
Brown encourages more identification than “a nameless boy with no story context” because readers
are led to identify with fictional characters by story and personality, not because of the way they’re
drawn (ibid., 82). The cats in Maus are drawn just as “iconically” as the mice, but the Nazis are rarely
individualized enough to merit a reader’s sympathy. Personally, I find it incredible that McCloud’s as-
sertions about reader identification have survived in our critical discourse for as long as they have.
24. For a report on the psychology of facial expressions, see Malcolm Gladwell, “The Naked
Face,” New Yorker, August 5, 2002, 38–49.
25. The full-face view of James’s deceased mother in his keepsake photo (145, 264) is thus all the
more haunting.
26. The distinction between arbitrary and natural signifiers hearkens back to the linguistic theory
of Ferdinand de Saussure. According to Saussurian linguistics, ordinary linguistic signs (words) do not
resemble the things they represent; the connection between sign and signified is therefore arbitrary.
1 0 4 I S AAC CAT E S
Even the most “iconic” drawing of a face or a teacup resembles the object it represents; some stan-
dard comics iconography (like the thought balloon) begins to drift into arbitrary signification, but the
drawings themselves remain natural and not arbitrary signs. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General
Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966).
27. It’s worth remembering, however, that complex and nuanced effects are also possible in com-
ics that take up a much more particularized, much less iconic drawing style. Eddie Campbell’s pen-
and-ink cartooning, for example, relies on sketchy, impressionistic renderings of appearance, rather
than static iconic forms.
28. In particular, see Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd ed. (Cheshire,
CT: Graphics Press, 2001).
29. Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 1990) 82.
30. Tufte, Visual Display, 107–8.
31. Raeburn also mentions the vibrational effect of color in this panel. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 71.
32. In Understanding Comics, McCloud also conjures up Muybridge’s time-series photographs (and
other technologies of the moving image) in a discussion of the ways in which comics depict movement
33. Tufte, Visual Display, 36.
34. Edward Tufte, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (Cheshire, CT:
Graphics Press, 1997), 61.
35. Several of these appear in Tufte, Visual Explanations, 105–9. See also Tufte, Visual Display, 42.
36. Tufte, Visual Display, 48, 49, 103, 129.
37. See, for example, Dan Zettwoch’s character model-sheet diagrams in “Storm of the Hillsmen,”
in Kramers Ergot 7 (Oakland, CA: Buenaventura, 2008), 40, or his multiple cutaways and instruc-
tional illustrations of the haunted-house illusion in “Cross Fader,” in Kramers Ergot 6 (Oakland, CA:
Buenaventura and Avodah Books, 2006), 6–13. Posy Simmonds illustrates Gemma Bovery’s fantasy
of a life with her young French lover (and a job as a professional interior designer) with an elaborate
allegorical diagram-cum-frontispiece: Gemma Bovery (New York: Pantheon, 1999), 70.
38. Peter Blegvad, The Book of Leviathan (Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2000), 26–27, 156.
39. Paul Auster, Paul Karasik, and David Mazzucchelli, Paul Auster’s City of Glass (New York: Avon,
1994), 15–23, 27–29, 38–45, etc.
40. Kevin Huizenga, Ganges 1 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2006), 3.
41. Ibid., 28. Further impressive diagram-comics happen in Huizenga’s self-published “Gloriana”
(Super Monster 14), which was republished as Or Else 2 (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005).
Plate 1. This map, on the inside cover of the hardbound edition of Jimmy Corrigan, charts transatlantic connections between Irish
immigration and the Middle Passage. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), reverse cover jacket.
Plate 2. Ware appropriates the early superhero style of comics to relate an autobiographical
anecdote from his early childhood. Chris Ware, “Thrilling Adventure Stories / I Guess,” RAW
2.3 (1991): 81.
Plate 3. Jordan Lint reminisces about his college days. Chris Ware, “May 15
1989: Jordon Lint to the age of 35,” Virginia Quarterly Review
84.4 (2008): 183.
Plate 4. Chris Ware’s solo exhibition at the Sheldon Art Memorial Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska. Chris Ware, Exhibition Catalogue, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, February 16–April 29, 2007.
Plate 5. This Gasoline Alley Sunday page by Frank King shows the main characters Walt and Skeezix amid an autumn scene. Chicago Tribune,
December 4, 1927. Reprinted with permission from Sundays with Walt and Skeezix (Sunday Press Books, 2007).
Plate 6. Chris Ware’s “Rusty Brown” composition echoes King’s bird’s-eye view of a father and son walking through the woods on a fall
day. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005),
Plate 7. The opening page of “Our History of Art” charts the dawn of the aesthetic impulse from cave art through to the Renaissance.
Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005),
Plate 8. “The Comix Factory,” by Joost Swarte, represents comics as a constructed medium. Image courtesy of Joost Swarte. Joost Swarte,
Read Yourself RAW, ed. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly (New York: Pantheon, 1987), 31.
Plate 9. A two-page diagram reveals Amy’s otherwise unknowable ancestry. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 357.
Plate 10. Second page of Amy’s ancestry. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 358.
Plate 11. Residents of an early twentieth-century apartment building are comforted by their dreams in “Building Stories.” Chris Ware, The
ACME Novelty Library 18 (Chicago: The ACME Novelty Library, 2007), 23.
Plate 12. Residents of the same apartment building, now in the late twentieth century, fantasize about the past in “Building Stories.” Chris
Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 18 (Chicago: The ACME Novelty Library, 2007), 25.
Plate 13. Now silenced and empty, the building is conspicuously out of step with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Chris Ware,
“Building Stories: Epilogue,” New York Times Magazine, April 16, 2006, 37.
Plate 14. Jim Crow Magic Lantern slide. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 70.
Plate 15. Amy Corrigan’s racial imagining. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 293.
Plate 17. Ware exploits moment-to-moment panel transitions in order to create the dilated sense of time that is central to his
ordinariness aesthetic. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 13,” New York Times Magazine, December 18, 2005, 35.
Plate 16. Slow motion, subjective time. Exceedingly brief time spans are expanded over multiple panels. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The
Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 5.
Plate 18. The protagonist’s confession of a “life-injury” is acknowledged and then transformed by other significant moments related to her
sexual being and the plumber’s familial loss. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 22,” New York Times Magazine, February 19, 2006, 43.

Plate 19. Memory as an interaction of text, image, and reading experience. Chris Ware, “Paper Dolls [detail],” Chicago Reader,
March 21, 2003.

Plate 20. Memory as a comic strip within a comic strip. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 5,” New York Times Magazine, October 16, 2006,
The Urban Landscape
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1 0 7
On Modernism’s Ruins: The Architecture of
“Building Stories” and Lost Buildings
In the ruins of great buildings the idea of the plan speaks more impressively than in
lesser buildings, however well preserved.
—Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama
In a Lwo-pagc scqucncc oí Chris Warc’s “Building SLorics,” archiLccLurc boLh
cvidcnccs and wiLhsLands Lhc passagc oí Limc.
BoLh pagcs dcpicL Lhc samc
Chicago aparLmcnL building in palc ycllow morning lighL, onc in Lhc carly, Lhc
oLhcr in Lhc laLc LwcnLicLh ccnLury. On Lhc firsL pagc, Lhc aparLmcnL build-
ing has dccoraLivc molding around iLs rooí and curLaincd windows (scc plaLc
±±). A horsc-drawn wagon carrying milk passcs undcrncaLh Lhc firsL-floor
bcdroom window. Warc narraLcs Lhc sccnc in cursivc lcLLcring: “A young boy,
fingcrs idly wandcring bcncaLh his quilL, drcams oí Lhc íuLurc, and how hc
mighL win Lhc hcarL—and Lhc body—oí Lhc girl downsLairs” (:¸). Tc lcL-
Lcring complcmcnLs Lhc conLcnL, cursivc lcnds Lhc narraLivc voicc inLimacy
and scnLimcnLaliLy, as ií Lhcsc omniscicnL rcmarks could also bc íound in a
diary, carcíully scripLcd by hand. Abovc Lhis LcxL, Lhcrc is a scrics oí inscL
circular pancls which dcpicL Lhc boy’s íanLasy romancc, hc bccomcs a piloL,
flics around Lhc world, wriLcs “I lovc you” in Lhc sky, marrics his downsLairs
ncighbor, Lhcn Lakcs hcr upsLairs Lo his childhood bcdroom, sLill dccoraLcd
wiLh a modcl biplanc hanging írom Lhc cciling by a hook. In Lhc lowcr porLion
oí Lhc pagc, Warc íocuscs on Lhc objccL oí Lhc boy’s íanLasy: “Mcanwhilc, Lhis
samc girl is awakcncd by Lhc josLling oí closcly-packcd milk boLLlcs, a gcnLlc
sound shc’s lovcd all hcr liíc” (:¸). Warc cndows Lhc sccnc wiLh nosLalgia íor
Lhis carlicr indusLrial cra, consLiLuLcd by horsc-drawn milk carLs and hcroic
biplanc aviaLion. Tc characLcrs arc comíorLcd by Lhcir Lurn-oí-Lhc-ccnLury
urban surroundings and íanLasizc abouL Lhc íuLurc.
Tc ncxL pagc Lakcs placc in laLc LwcnLicLh-ccnLury Chicago, and Lhc build-
ing has bccn sLrippcd oí iLs rooí ornamcnL and curLains (scc plaLc ±:). Warc
again narraLcs his characLcrs’ íanLasics: “Tc samc morning, many dccadcs
laLcr: A young woman, hcr mind gonc idlc ovcr Lhc ovcrwhclming rcaliLy oí
hcr lonclincss, muscs as Lo Lhc original usc oí a hook, worming iLs way ouL
oí Lhc cciling dirccLly abovc hcr hcad” (:¸). Tc “young woman” is Lhc ícmalc
proLagonisL oí “Building SLorics,” an cmploycc oí a local flowcr shop who has
a prosLhcLic lcg. In a scrics oí inscL pancls, shc imagincs Lhc hook supporLing
a curLain dividing Lhc bcdroom, a hanging planLcr, a cloLhcslinc, and finally a
Loy spaccship in a boy’s bcdroom, Lhc closcsL maLch Lo Lhc prcvious imagc oí
Lhc boy’s modcl biplanc. On Lhc sLrccL lcvcl, a bluc Lwo-door car has rcplaccd
Lhc horsc-drawn carriagc, and Lhc girl who livcd on Lhc firsL floor, now an
cldcrly landlady, lics in bcd imagining, in anoLhcr inscL pancl, LhaL Lhc “klink-
Link oí a boLLlc, smashing on Lhc pavcmcnL bclow” is Lhc sound oí Lhc prcvi-
ous pancl’s milkman (:¸). In Lhc carlicr pagc, íanLasy liíc grapplcs wiLh Lhc
íuLurc, and Lhc prcscnL is comíorLing. In Lhc conLcmporary scLLing, howcvcr,
Warc’s characLcrs only mcdiLaLc on Lhc pasL. “Building SLorics” conLrasLs Lhc
possibiliLics cmbcddcd wiLhin archiLccLural spacc in Lhc carly LwcnLicLh ccn-
Lury wiLh Lhc archival íanLasics abouL Lhc samc spacc LhaL providc comíorL in
laLc LwcnLicLh-ccnLury Amcrica.
Warc’s inLcrcsL in archiLccLurc is íurLhcr dcvclopcd in Lost Puì|dìngs, an
“on-sLagc radio & picLurc collaboraLion” wiLh NaLional Public Radio hosL Ira
Lost Puì|dìngs is abouL Tim Samuclson, Lhc CulLural HisLorian oí Lhc
CiLy oí Chicago, his mcnLor, Lhc phoLographcr and urban prcscrvaLionisL Rich-
ard Nickcl, and Lhcir lovc oí Iouis Sullivan’s Lurn-oí-Lhc-ccnLury Amcrican
archiLccLurc. Tc work was originally pcríormcd as a slidcshow, combining
Warc’s drawings, Ira Class’s inLcrvicw wiLh Samuclson, and a musical sound-
Lrack. IL has sincc bccn publishcd as a book and DVD scL.
In Lhis projccL,
Warc’s illusLraLcd slidcs mimic boLh comics and archiLccLural sLrucLurc—likc
comics Lhcy procccd scqucnLially and occupy a small parL oí a largc scrccn,
and likc archiLccLural sLrucLurc Lhcy consLrucL paLLcrns and sLrucLurcs on Lhc
scrccn, manipulaLing and concrcLizing spacc. Warc commcnLs LhaL onc oí Lhc
Lhings LhaL drcw him Lo Lhc projccL was iLs cmphasis on Iouis Sullivan’s carly
modcrnisL archiLccLurc, which “sccmcd Lo bc írozcn |ìje.”
As a íorm, comics
rcly on dialccLical rclaLionships bcLwccn Lhc íragmcnL and Lhc wholc, cach
pancl is boLh discrccL and bound Lo iLs prcdcccssors and anLcccdcnLs.
Warc’s phrasc “írozcn liíc” suggcsLs an analogous íragmcnLaLion, a ncccs-
sary cpisodic momcnL LhaL can bc obscrvcd in and oí iLsclí, ycL also placcd in
a Lcmporal conLinuum. As I will arguc, Warc manipulaLcs Lhis rclaLionship in
complcx ways LhaL map oLhcr conccpLs—Lhc rclaLionship oí Lhc acsLhcLic Lo
Lhc vcrnacular, mclancholy Lo plcasurc, soliLudc Lo bclonging, and hisLory Lo
Lhc prcscnL—onLo Lhc íormal sLrucLurc oí comics and Lhc slidcshow. In so
doing, Warc’s comics and slidcshow cmphasizc Lhc collccLivc visions, hopcs,
and drcams cmbcddcd in íragmcnLcd cvcryday liíc. For Warc, archiLccLurc is
analogous Lo comics. Tis is madc clcar in Te ACMF Nove|ty Latebook, whcrc
Warc quoLcs CocLhc’s claim LhaL “archiLccLurc is írozcn music” and Lhcn adds
his own LhoughL LhaL “Lhis is, I Lhink, Lhc acsLhcLic kcy Lo Lhc dcvclopmcnL
oí carLoons as an arL íorm.”
Dccaying and dilapidaLcd archiLccLurc rcsonaLcs
as loss, as cvidcncc oí Lhc irrcvcrsiblc passagc oí Limc, ycL archiLccLural ruins
cmanaLc pasL grandcur. Warc’s comics, Lhcn, íocus on ruins and Lhc mclan-
choly Lhcy cliciL in an aLLcmpL Lo rcndcr Lhc irrcvcrsiblc passagc oí Limc inLo
an acsLhcLic objccL. In boLh “Building SLorics” and Lost Puì|dìngs, mclancholy
is rcmadc inLo Lhc imaginaLion oí Lhc ruin as wholc Lhrough an cngagcmcnL
wiLh Lhc builL cnvironmcnL.
Chris Warc’s works arc oíLcn populaLcd wiLh mclancholic, dcspondcnL,
shamcd figurcs, unhappy and ill aL casc wiLh conLcmporary liíc. In his rcading
oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth, Brad Pragcr argucs LhaL Warc
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 0 9
bclongs Lo Lhc modcrnisL canon, alongsidc figurcs likc WalLcr Bcnjamin, Sig-
mund Frcud, and Franz Kaíka, prcciscly bccausc hc “is commiLLcd Lo dcpicL-
ing Lhc unhappy armor oí cvcryday liíc and Lclling Lhc impossiblc sLory oí in-
dividual origins in Lhc agc oí mcchanical rcproducLion.”
Douglas Wolk claims
LhaL Warc’s fixaLion on mclancholy givcs his comics “an cmoLional rangc oí
onc noLc,” in parL bccausc “morc Lhan any oLhcr conLcmporary carLoonisL cx-
ccpL pcrhaps RobcrL Crumb, Warc is aL homc in Lhc gallcry-arL world, which
prcícrs iLs maniícsLaLions oí plcasurc-in-looking ironizcd—or, aL lcasL, hcld
aL arm’s lcngLh.”
Unlikc Pragcr, Wolk is impaLicnL wiLh Warc’s íocus on alicn-
aLion and argucs LhaL Lhc alicnaLion prcvalcnL in works likc “Building SLorics”
cvidcnccs Warc’s connccLion Lo Lhc cliLc arL world. Wolk’s populism, Lhough,
misscs ouL on Lhc vcry possibiliLics oí ncgaLivc criLiquc LhaL Pragcr cmpha-
sizcs. Pragcr locaLcs in Warc’s work a sLrong Lcndcncy Lo dcmysLiíy indusLrial
Amcrica as an arLificial landscapc, void oí lcgiLimaLc plcasurcs and íraughL
wiLh psychic Lcnsion.
As Lhc abovc cxamplc írom “Building SLorics” dcmonsLraLcs, onc oí Lhc
major ways in which Warc sLagcs Lhis criLiquc is by juxLaposing Lhc pasL wiLh
Lhc prcscnL, bcsL cxcmplificd by his rccurring comparison oí Lurn-oí-Lhc-
ccnLury Lo conLcmporary Chicago. Tis cmphasis on Lhc pasL’s rclaLionship
Lo Lhc prcscnL bcars a sLriking similariLy Lo Bcnjamin’s “Angcl oí HisLory,” a
figurc arLiculaLcd in his “Tcscs on Lhc Philosophy oí HisLory” Lo allcgorizc
Lhc inabiliLy Lo know Lhc pasL whcn our own posiLion in Lhc prcscnL is con-
sLanLly in flux. Bcnjamin dcscribcs an angcl “Lurncd Loward Lhc pasL. Whcrc
wc pcrccivc a chain oí cvcnLs, hc sccs onc singlc caLasLrophc which kccps pil-
ing wrcckagc upon wrcckagc and hurls iL in íronL oí his íccL. Tc angcl would
likc Lo sLay, awakcn Lhc dcad, and makc wholc whaL has bccn smashcd” ycL is
blown íorward by Lhc winds oí “progrcss.”
Warc’s inLcrcsL in nosLalgia, child-
hood plcasurcs, and íorgoLLcn arLiíacLs íuncLions in a similar way. Warc’s
dcpicLions oí archiLccLurc arc noL curaLorial in naLurc buL, likc Bcnjamin’s
“Angcl oí HisLory,” sLrivc Lo makc Lhc pasL LoLal. ArchiLccLurc is a vchiclc Lo
convcy boLh Lhc affccLivc possibiliLics oí cxpcricncing Lhc pasL as a wholc and
Lhc pcrpcLual írusLraLion oí Lhc inabiliLy Lo rcconsLrucL modcrniLy’s ruins
scamlcssly. Warc’s íocus on modcrniLy’s ruins is an aLLcmpL, howcvcr impos-
siblc, Lo iníusc cvcryday liíc wiLh hisLory.
In boLh “Building SLorics” and Lost Puì|dìngs, archiLccLurc’s valuc hingcs
upon iLs sLaLus as boLh íragmcnL and wholc, ruin and complcLc sLrucLurc.
In “On Lhc Muscum’s Ruins,” Douglas Crimp argucs LhaL posLmodcrn arL
cmcrgcs írom a criLiquc oí whaL WalLcr Bcnjamin Lcrmcd “aura,” Lhc Lraccs oí
originaliLy, crcaLivc gcnius, and Lhc arLisL’s prcscncc in a work oí arL. Crimp
wriLcs, “Trough rcproducLivc Lcchnology posLmodcrnisL arL dispcnscs wiLh
Lhc aura. Tc íanLasy oí a crcaLing subjccL givcs way Lo Lhc írank confisca-
Lion, quoLaLion, cxccrpLaLion, accumulaLion, and rcpcLiLion oí alrcady cxisL-
ing imagcs. NoLions oí originaliLy, auLhcnLiciLy, and prcscncc, csscnLial Lo Lhc
ordcrcd discoursc oí Lhc muscum, arc undcrmincd.”
Crimp’s asscrLion LhaL
posLmodcrnism crcaLcs works oí arL LhaL arc bound Lo a culLural ncLwork
raLhcr Lhan Lo auLonomous valuc claboraLcs upon WalLcr Bcnjamin’s íamous
argumcnL, in “Tc Work oí ArL in Lhc Agc oí Mcchanical RcproducLion,” LhaL
phoLography and film changc Lhc Lcrms oí arL, rcndcring conccpLs oí “aura”
and “auLhcnLiciLy” obsolcLc in Lhc íacc oí rcproducibiliLy.
Tis shiíL in acsLhcLics írom aura Lo rcproducibiliLy has progrcsscd un-
cvcnly, and Lhis uncvcnncss is cspccially cvidcnL in Lhc ways in which Warc’s
work has bccn incorporaLcd inLo muscum discoursc. For cxamplc, Danicl
Racburn’s monograph íocuscs on Warc as arLisL, wiLh much aLLcnLion paid
Lo original linc drawings, onc-oí-a-kind modcls, and arLisLic proccss.
Kanncnbcrg 1r. also claims a kind oí acsLhcLic aura íor Warc’s work whcn
hc wriLcs LhaL Warc’s Quìmby the Mouse “sLrip collccLions rccall sonncL sc-
qucnccs, in LhaL cach pagc is a singlc uniL and Lhc aggrcgaLc wholc is morc
conccrncd wiLh communicaLing mood and íccling Lhan in prcscnLing narra-
Kanncnbcrg’s cmphasis on Warc’s arL as a wholc objccL and an cxprcs-
sion oí a singular vision ignorcs Lhc vcry condiLions oí boLh comics as a mc-
chanically rcproduciblc íorm and modcrn arL. Tc abovc-mcnLioncd Lwo-pagc
scqucncc in “Building SLorics” cmbcds ciLaLion wiLhin iLs vcry sLrucLurc by rc-
producing Lhc samc aparLmcnL building in diffcrcnL hisLorical momcnLs. For
Lhc characLcrs in Lhc prcscnL-day narraLivc as wcll as Lhc rcadcr, cnjoymcnL
cmcrgcs írom Lhc imaginaLion, rcpcLiLion, and ciLaLion oí Lhc pasL. Warc’s
comics, Lhcn, ccrLainly cmploy dcviccs oíLcn aLLribuLcd Lo posLmodcrnism.
UlLimaLcly, Lhough, Lhc comics’ íocus on Lhc impossiblc ícaL oí brcaLhing liíc
inLo hisLory mcans LhaL Warc is lcss inLcrcsLcd in criLiquing aura and auLhcn-
LiciLy Lhan in charLing aura as a hisLorical phcnomcnon. IiLcrary criLic 1arcd
Cardncr argucs LhaL “Lhc comic íorm is idcally suiLcd Lo carrying on Lhc viLal
work Bcnjamin callcd íor gcncraLions carlicr: making Lhc prcscnL awarc oí
iLs own ‘archivc,’ Lhc pasL LhaL iL is always in Lhc proccss oí bccoming.”
Warc’s “Building SLorics” dcmonsLraLcs, Lhis archival work cnLails noL jusL
arLisLic producLion buL Lhc vcry Lypcs oí borrowing, ciLaLion, and conLcxLu-
alizaLion cmblcmaLic oí posLmodcrn arL. Warc laLchcs onLo ncglccLcd and
ruincd arLiíacLs írom modcrnism LhaL bring Lo lighL paradoxically novcl ycL
dcrivaLivc acsLhcLic plcasurcs. TaL is, Warc’s work is bcsL vicwcd as a caLalog
oí modcrnism’s ruins, an archivc LhaL illuminaLcs ncglccLcd, losL, and íorgoL-
Lcn possibiliLics, as cvidcnL in Lhc hisLorical imaginings in “Building SLorics”
and Lost Puì|dìngs.
Warc’s acsLhcLic rclaLionship Lo public spacc rccalls anoLhcr oí WalLcr
Bcnjamin’s subjccLs, Lhc modcrnisL figurc oí Lhc flàneur, an acsLhcLc who
finds cnjoymcnL in wandcring Lhrough and obscrving urban spacc. Warc’s
inLcgraLion oí a modcrnisL acsLhcLic inLo a posLmodcrn rcíashioning oí Lra-
diLional arLisLic caLcgorics crcaLcs a spacc íor Lhc rcoricnLaLion oí arL Loward
cmcrging mcdia and culLural íormaLions. In his discussion oí modcrnism and
posLmodcrnism, arL hisLorian T. 1. Clark rcmarks LhaL, in ordcr Lo rcspond
Lo raLhcr Lhan mimic our visual agc, conLcmporary arL musL sLrikc aL “Lhc
íounding assumpLion, Lhc Lruc sLrucLurc oí drcam-visualizaLion.”
As Clark
poinLs ouL, onc oí Lhcsc íounding assumpLions is Lhc bclicí LhaL rcaliLy iLsclí
is now cnLircly composcd oí imagcs. Onc oí Lhc implicaLions oí Lhis bclicí
is LhaL Lhc world iLsclí is cnLircly consLrucLcd and LhaL in Lhis agc oí ncw
mcdia and digiLizaLion, wc arc aL Lhc cnd oí hisLory.
AL firsL glancc, comics
sccm Lo bc a parL oí Lhis posLmodcrn imagc-world, owing Lo iLs Lwo dominanL
polcs oí “conLinuiLy”-obscsscd supcrhcro maLcrial and indcpcndcnL, arL com-
ics LhaL Lcnd Lo bc auLobiographical in naLurc. Tc comics mcdium, in boLh
cascs, is sclí-conLaincd and sclí-rcícrcnLial. In conLrasL, Warc’s graphic nar-
raLivcs challcngc Lhc apparcnL scamlcssncss oí Lhc íorm by íocusing on Lhc
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 1 1
acsLhcLics oí mclancholy and íragmcnLaLion, cxposing Lhc conLingcncy and
impcrmancncc oí modcrn Amcrica. In iLs prcscnL íorm, “Building SLorics” is
iLsclí a íragmcnLcd work, publishcd in scrial insLallmcnLs oí Te ACMF Nov-
e|ty Lìbrary and oLhcr pcriodicals. Warc Lhrivcs on Lhc incomplcLc ycL con-
Linually sLrivcs Loward somc LoLaliLy. In so doing, his work locaLcs rcncwcd
possibiliLics íor plcasurc, LhoughL, and work írom wiLhin hisLory raLhcr Lhan
ouLsidc oí iL.
Warc’s ongoing “Building SLorics,” cspccially Lhc scgmcnL publishcd in
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8, rcprcscnLs cvcryday liíc in Lhc laLc LwcnLicLh
ccnLury as inhcrcnLly and irrcdccmably íragmcnLcd. Whilc Lhc aparLmcnL
building is “sadly ignoranL oí Lhc rcjuvcnaLing powcrs oí rcnovaLion (or cvcn
rcsLoraLion),” Lhc ícmalc proLagonisL is painíully sclí-conscious: “‘Proken’ sim-
ply isn’L a sLrong cnough word íor whaL somconc can do Lo your hcarL . . . iL’s
morc likc ‘annihilaLcd’ or ‘punchcd ouL’ . . . buL no word capLurcs Lhc undcni-
ablc, obliLcraLcd cmpLincss LhaL having a ‘brokcn hcarL’ íccls likc . . . iL’s as ií I
had a holc in mc LhaL I dcspcraLcly wanLcd Lo fill, Lo Lurn mysclí insidc ouL likc
a dirLy shirL Lhrown on Lhc floor, Lo pull mysclí backwards Lhrough Lhc slccvc
. . . anythìng . . . jusL Lo fill Lhc void” (µ, ¡¸). Tc building’s lack oí awarcncss
and Lhc proLagonisL’s “void” boLh rcsulL in ruinaLion, and Warc’s dcpicLion oí
Lhc proLagonisL as onLologically incomplcLc implics LhaL ruinaLion is duc lcss
Lo a lack oí mainLcnancc Lhan Lo Lhc mcrc and incviLablc passagc oí Limc. Tc
final Lwo-pagc sprcad in Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8 rcLurns Lo Lhc building,
prcscnLing firsL iLs íaçadc and Lhcn, on Lhc íacing pagc, iLs inLcrior rooms
wiLh Lhc íaçadc rcmovcd (¸±–¸:). Unlikc Lhc ícmalc proLagonisL, Lhc building
is noL consLiLuLcd as a “void” hcrc buL as a rcposiLory oí sccrcLs, dcpLh, and
bclonging. Tc narraLivc voicc asks, “who hasn’t trìed whcn passing a build-
ing, or a homc, aL nighL Lo pccr pasL halí-closcd shadcs and blinds hoping Lo
caLch a glimpsc inLo Lhc privaLc livcs oí iLs inhabiLanLs`” (¸±). Tis invokcd
curiosiLy is ovcrlaid wiLh Lhc allurc oí “unspcakablc sccrcLs.” Tc building iL-
sclí, Lhcn, is poiscd Lo fill Lhc proLagonisL’s own “void.”
Warc’s “Building SLorics” gcsLurcs Lo a possiblc way ouL oí mclancholy
Lhrough Lhc sharcd cxpcricncc oí living in Lhc builL cnvironmcnL and iLs po-
LcnLial Lo rcndcr Lhc privaLc sphcrc public. NaLhalic op dc Bccck rcmarks LhaL
Warc’s “Building SLorics” “[urgcs] an illuminaLcd awarcncss oí looking, Lhink-
ing, cxpcricncing, and giving cnhanccd aLLcnLion Lo Lhc objccLs wc producc
and consumc.”
Tis “illuminaLcd awarcncss” rcmains painíully unrcalizcd
by Lhc proLagonisL in Lhc cxisLing “Building SLorics,” and Lhc scnsc oí mcl-
ancholy, oí inLcrnalizcd loss, is liLcralizcd by Lhc ícmalc proLagonisL’s pros-
LhcLic lcg.
Shc rcmains unablc Lo cxpcricncc hcr building as a sLabilizing and
grounding clcmcnL in hcr sccmingly cmpLy liíc, ycL Warc’s uscs oí archiLcc-
Lurc conLain a promisc oí a richcr liíc. Similarly, Lhc collaboraLivc slidcshow
projccL Lost Puì|dìngs makcs clcar LhaL Warc’s goal is noL simply Lo dramaLizc
Lhc cmcrgcncc oí a morc cngagcd cxpcricncc oí cvcryday liíc wiLhin Lhc nar-
raLivc íramc, buL also Lo rcalizc LhaL cxpcricncc in Lhc rcadcr or vicwcr. Ií
Warc’s usc oí archiLccLurc is mcanL Lo “halL Lhc flow oí narraLivc Limc,” as
Tomas BrcdchoíL argucs, Lhcn iL docs so Lo iníusc narraLivc wiLh hisLory,
wiLh conLcxL LhaL dcsLroys Lhc narraLivc’s auLonomy and íorgcs connccLions
Lo Lhc cxpcricncc oí Lhc vicwcr.
Whilc “Building SLorics” gcsLurcs Lo an un-
rcalizcd connccLion bcLwccn subjccLs and hisLory, mcdiaLcd by Lhc builL cn-
vironmcnL, Lost Puì|dìngs offcrs a casc sLudy oí whaL a richcr livcd cxpcricncc
mighL cnLail.
Tis richcr livcd cxpcricncc cmcrgcs, in parL, írom Lhc íormal complcxi-
Lics oí Lhc slidcshow. Tc imagcs in Lost Puì|dìngs somcLimcs illusLraLc Class
and Samuclson’s rcmarks and somcLimcs dcparL írom Lhc audio Lo dcpicL a
scparaLc sccnc. In Lhc slidcshow’s audio Lrack, Samuclson narraLcs his child-
hood lovc oí Iouis Sullivan’s archiLccLurc, his involvcmcnL wiLh Richard
Nickcl’s aLLcmpLs Lo prcscrvc Sullivan buildings and dccoraLions, and Nickcl’s
Lragic dcaLh during a collapsc insidc oí Lhc Chicago SLock Fxchangc Building’s
wrcckagc. Nickcl’s dcaLh parallcls Lhc loss oí Sullivan’s archiLccLurc, boLh Lhc
phoLographcr/urban prcscrvaLionisL and Lhc archiLccLurc hc dicd prcscrving
arc rcprcscnLcd by illusLraLions drawn írom Nickcl’s phoLographs. Tis Lracc
oí Lhc rcal, mcdiaLcd Lhrough Warc’s mcLiculous, sLraighL-cdgcd drawings,
rcndcrs Nickcl’s projccL and Lhc archiLccLurc as boLh rcal and imaginary, ob-
jccLivc and subjccLivc.
In his narraLion, Ira Class discusscs Lhc mclancholic prcdicamcnL oí Nick-
cl’s and Samuclson’s lovc oí Sullivan’s oncc undcrapprcciaLcd and now ccl-
cbraLcd archiLccLurc: “Ií you lovc somcLhing Lhc world docsn’L puL any valuc
on, you’rc prcLLy much scLLing yoursclí up íor a liíc íull oí hcarLbrcak. Onc
building aíLcr anoLhcr LhaL Tim lovcd, buildings whcrc hc had rooLcd around
wiLh Richard, Lhcy’rc all gonc.”
Irrccovcrablc loss is a Lhcmc in many highly
acclaimcd graphic novcls, mosL noLably Alison Bcchdcl’s Fun Home, Marjanc
SaLrapi’s Persepo|ìs, and ArL Spicgclman’s Maus. As Hillary ChuLc argucs, com-
ics lcnd Lhcmsclvcs Lo Lhc LrcaLmcnL oí Lrauma, loss, and mclancholy bccausc
Lhcy Lcnd Lo “rcíusc Lo show [Lrauma] Lhrough Lhc lcns oí unspcakabiliLy or
invisibiliLy, insLcad rcgisLcring iLs difficulLy Lhrough invcnLivc (and various)
LcxLual pracLicc.”
Comics aim Lo work Lhrough LraumaLic loss, and Lost Puì|d-
ìngs docs Lhis by bringing Lhc vcry “losL buildings” rcícrrcd Lo in iLs LiLlc back
inLo Lcmporary cxisLcncc. During Lhc slidcshow, which was firsL shown dur-
ing livc pcríormanccs oí Lhc Tìs Amerìcan Lìje radio show in largc LhcaLcrs,
Lhc audicncc cxpcricnccs Lhc prcscncc oí buildings now abscnL írom conLcm-
porary Chicago. Tc DVD’s opcning scqucncc makcs a poinL oí Lhis original
conLcxL. On a black scrccn, simplc whiLc lcLLcrs rcad: “Tis was dcsigncd as a
slidcshow, noL a movic. / IL was originally prcscnLcd on a darkcncd sLagc. Tc
audio porLion was rcad and mixcd wiLh music and quoLcs, livc, in dim lighL,
downsLagc lcíL. Tc slidcs wcrc advanccd manually. / PicLurcs oí buildings
wcrc Lall as buildings. Fvcn Lhc smallcsL imagcs wcrc prcLLy big—Lhrcc íccL
high. TaL’s onc mcLcr, ií you’rc waLching Lhis in Furopc. / Tcrc arc sccLions
whcrc Lhc scrccn gocs black. During Lhosc sccLions, Lhc audicncc waLchcd
Lhc audio bc mixcd, in Lhc low lighL.”

As Lhc narraLor and mixcr, Ira Class,
along wiLh Lhc slidc projccLionisL, lcnds a scnsc oí immcdiacy and prcscncc
Lo Lhc slidcshow. IL is noLablc hcrc LhaL Lhc Lcchnologics uscd—audio mix-
ing and slidc projccLion—do noL nccd Lo bc opcraLcd in pcrson. As on Lhc
DVD, Lhcy can casily bc rccordcd and playcd in sync wiLhouL on-sLagc mixing.
Tc insisLcncc on Lhc slidcshow’s original conLcxL on Lhc DVD as wcll as Lhc
choicc Lo pcríorm Lhc voiccovcr narraLion livc poinLs Lo Lost Puì|dìngs’ uLo-
pian promisc: hisLory can bc incorporaLcd inLo livcd cxpcricncc. Tis prom-
isc, Lhough, can ncvcr bc íully rcalizcd. Tc DVD will ncvcr Lruly rcplicaLc Lhc
cxpcricncc oí Lhc livc slidcshow, jusL as Lhc imagc oí a building projccLcd on a
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 1 3
gianL scrccn can ncvcr maLch Lhc cxpcricncc oí walking around and Lhrough
Lhc building iLsclí. As cxpcricnccd on DVD, Lhc slidcshow calls aLLcnLion Lo
iLsclí as a ruin oí an carlicr pcríormancc, subjccL Lo Lhc samc crosion oí prcs-
cncc and cxpcricncc as Sullivan’s archiLccLurc.
Lost Puì|dìngs is, oí coursc, a dcparLurc írom Warc’s Lypical mcdium oí
choicc. Tc slidcshow offcrs possibiliLics LhaL arc, significanLly, amplifica-
Lions oí Lhc inLimacy, hisLory, and rcadcrly parLicipaLion cnLailcd in Lhc com-
ics íorm. In Lhc laLc LwcnLicLh ccnLury, as curaLor Darsic Alcxandcr argucs,
Lhc slidcshow bccamc a way íor arLisLs such as Nan Coldin and 1ack SmiLh Lo
“sLrucLurc Lhcir works around issucs oí subjccLiviLy LhaL oíLcn involvcd cmo-
Lional, psychological, or social dilcmmas.”
Slidc projccLion carrics wiLh iL
associaLions oí íamily and communiLy bclonging, such as Lhc vacaLion slidc-
show shown by a íamily Lo íricnds and rclaLivcs. Lost Puì|dìngs rcdirccLs Lhcsc
inLimaLc and nosLalgic connoLaLions Lo Lhc builL cnvironmcnL. InsLcad oí íccl-
ing affccLion íor, and warm rccollccLions oí, vacaLions and íamily bclonging,
Lhc audicncc cngagcs wiLh archiLccLurc as a scnLimcnLal objccL. FurLhcrmorc,
Lhc Lcchnology oí slidc projccLion sccms obsolcLc in Lhc LwcnLy-firsL ccnLury,
adding Lo Lhc nosLalgia oí Lhc projccL. By using Lhis oldcr íorm, and cvcn
morc so by insisLing on iLs prioriLy cvcn in Lhc digiLal rccording oí Lhc analog
slidcshow, Lost Puì|dìngs makcs Lhc obsolcLc proximaLc and rcanimaLcs Lhc
In Lost Puì|dìngs, Warc manipulaLcs Lhc scrccn in a similar íashion Lo Lhc
way hc sLrucLurcs a comics pagc.

As Warc sLaLcs on Lhc DVD’s commcnLary
Lrack, hc uscd “corncrs oí Lhc scrccn Lo sLand íor ccrLain parLs oí Lhc sLory
[. . .] visually, I could puL Lhosc similar parLs oí Lhc sLory in Lhc samc parL
oí Lhc scrccn so LhaL Lhcrc could bc somc sorL oí visual connccLion.”

slidcshow iLsclí, as a mcdium, offcrs a parallcl Lo comics in LhaL Warc has a
scL íramc, likc a blank pagc or cvcn a pagc wiLh a morc convcnLional grid oí
pancls. Warc also rcmarks on Lhc DVD commcnLary Lrack LhaL Lhc slidcshow
imagcs wcrc írusLraLing bccausc Lhcy would noL bc prcscrvcd in prinL: “Somc
oí Lhcsc drawings, cspccially Lhc largcr oncs, would only bc up on scrccn íor
a couplc oí scconds or so. And I’vc ncvcr had LhaL íccling bcíorc, Lhinking,
oh, I’m spcnding all oí Lhis Limc on a drawing, and iL’s jusL going Lo cnd up
vanishing aíLcr a sccond and a halí.”

Tc quickly vanishing imagcs paral-
lcl Lhc “losL buildings” Lhcmsclvcs, cvoking boLh immcdiaLc cxpcricncc and
iLs cphcmcraliLy. Tc slidcshow’s pacing is analogous Lo Lhc LcmporaliLy oí
comics Lhcmsclvcs, which, according Lo ArL Spicgclman, arc “a paradc oí pasL
momcnLs always prcscnLing a prcscnL LhaL is pasL.”
Lost Puì|dìngs, Lhcn, cx-
pands upon a íormal characLcrisLic oí comics by rcndcring Lhc imagc in Limc
as wcll as spacc.
Iouis Sullivan himsclí dcscribcd his work as acsLhcLic bccausc oí iLs rooLs
in childhood cxpcricncc. In his ±8µ: cssay “OrnamcnL in ArchiLccLurc,” Sul-
livan rcmarks LhaL in ordcr Lo cngagc in arLisLic work, Lo crcaLc organic íorms,
onc musL “Lurn again Lo NaLurc, and hcarkcning Lo hcr mclodious voicc, lcarn,
as childrcn lcarn, Lhc acccnL oí iLs rhyLhmic cadcnccs.”
Lost Puì|dìngs also
links organic íorm Lo childhood, using nosLalgia and youLhíul whimsy Lo dra-
maLizc a scnLimcnLal connccLion Lo archiLccLurc. Tc slidcshow bcgins wiLh
Tim Samuclson’s rccollccLion oí daydrcaming in his clcmcnLary school class-
room. As Lhc Lcachcr wriLcs on Lhc chalkboard, Samuclson imagincs whaL
Lhc room musL havc lookcd likc carlicr in Lhc ccnLury, “whcn Lhc woodwork
was sLill [prisLinc], insLcad oí bcing rcally dark brown wiLh all oí Lhis accu-
mulaLcd shcllac LhaL had Lurncd color ovcr Lhc ycars, whcn iL was a bcauLiíul
goldcn oak color and Lhc brown wainscoLing and Lhc lighL fixLurcs wiLh big
glass globcs hanging írom Lhc cciling.”
Warc’s slidcs firsL dcpicL Lhc young
Samuclson, slouchcd aL his dcsk, in small pancls on Lhc boLLom righL oí Lhc
scrccn, and Lhcn show an cnlargcd drawing oí Lhc classroom, wiLh inscL pan-
cls rcprcscnLing Samuclson’s imagincd original wood, moldings, and lighLing.
Samuclson Lhcn mcnLions LhaL his childhood daydrcam cvcn cxLcndcd Lo Lhc
wall clock, rcmarking LhaL hc “wanLcd Lo gcL rid oí Lhc clccLric clocks and puL
Lhc wind-up school clocks [back up. . . . I likcd] Lhc wholc idca oí having a
clock LhaL you could wind and hcar Lhc passagc oí Limc go Lick Lock, Lick Lock,
Lick Lock.”

WiLh Lhis sLaLcmcnL, Warc prcscnLs a scrics oí slidcs in Lhc samc
pancl on Lhc scrccn, dcpicLing a clock bcing wound and Licking, which slowly
appcars and rcappcars in a dcsccnding diagonal down Lhc scrccn. For Samu-
clson, as íor Warc, hisLory is prcscnL Lhrough objccLs, and Lhc passagc oí Limc
cnLails a rcgrcLíul dcclinc in Lhc valuc ascribcd Lo Lhosc objccLs. Comics and
Lhc slidcshow allow íor Lhcir rcanimaLion.
Warc’s slidcshow íurLhcr cmphasizcs Samuclson’s drcamlikc approach Lo
archiLccLurc whcn young Samuclson gocs Lo scc a Mr. Magoo film in Sulli-
van’s Carrick TcaLrc, jusL prior Lo iLs dcmoliLion. In Lhis scqucncc, Lhc slidc-
show dcparLs írom Lhc audio Lrack. Warc’s cursivc scripL narraLcs Tim Samu-
clson’s LhoughLs: “I rcmcmbcr Lhc firsL Limc I goL Lo scc Lhc TcaLrc. / I Lold
my moLhcr I wanLcd Lo scc a movic showing Lhcrc . . . / . . . somc dumb kid’s
carLoon . . . / . . . buL whaL I rea||y wanLcd Lo scc was Lhc building. / I spcnL
Lhc wholc Limc looking up aL Lhc archcs, aL Lhc ornamcnL, / illuminaLcd by
Lhc flickcring lighL oí Lhc film. / IL was wondcríul.”
As Lhcsc cursivc words
appcar on Lhc scrccn, connoLing Lhc samc inLimacy as Lhcy do in “Building
SLorics,” pancls dcpicL Lhc young Samuclson going Lo and cvcnLually siLLing in
Lhc LhcaLcr. Tc slidcshow Lhcn illuminaLcs sccLions oí Lhc Carrick TcaLrc’s
dccoraLivc cciling, whilc undcrncaLh Lhcsc imagcs is a lowcr Licr oí pancls
LhaL shows Lhc young Samuclson walking along a busy ciLy sLrccL, looking
up aL Lhc buildings. Tc oLhcr pcdcsLrians arc in black ouLlinc, and Samucl-
son is in íull color. Samuclson is clcarly privilcgcd in Lhcsc illusLraLions as an
isolaLcd individual who is ablc Lo makc Lhc quoLidian cxpcricnccs oí siLLing
in a movic LhcaLcr and walking down a ciLy sLrccL inLo momcnLs oí acsLhcLic
Tc disjuncLurc and soliLudc cmphasizcd LhroughouL Lhc LhcaLcr scqucncc
by Lhc boLLom pancls íollows noL only írom Samuclson’s and Warc’s idca oí
mclancholic acsLhcLicism buL also írom Sullivan’s own social vision. As archi-
LccLural hisLorian William 1ordy rcmarks, Sullivan LhoughL in boLh hypcr-
individualisL and collccLivisL Lcrms, wiLh no middlc connccLions bcLwccn Lhc
Lwo: “[Sullivan’s] Lhinking jumpcd írom an idcalizaLion oí Lhc crcaLivc sclí Lo
an idcalizcd absLracLion oí socicLy. Tc void in Sullivan’s rcasoning rcflccLcd
boLh his pcrsonal soliLudc and a pcrsisLcnL lack in Amcrican culLurc. Tcrc
was no scnsc oí communiLy in bcLwccn [. . .] ornamcnLaLion on Lhc onc hand
(Lhc mark oí Lhc individual gcnius), Lhc cffccL oí Lhc wholc on Lhc oLhcr (Lhc
sign oí collccLivc afflaLus), somcLhing missing in bcLwccn.”
Lost Puì|dìngs,
Lhough, offcrs a rcsoluLion Lo Lhis dichoLomy. By involving Lhc audicncc in
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 1 5
Lhc apprcciaLion oí ruincd archiLccLurc, Lhc building iLsclí bccomcs an acL oí
imaginaLion and conLcmplaLion. Whilc occupanLs oí an acLual Sullivan build-
ing mighL Lakc iL íor granLcd in Lhc rush oí Lhcir cvcryday livcs, Lhosc who
ncvcr occupicd onc buL imaginc whaL onc would bc likc bridgc Lhc gap bc-
Lwccn individual auLonomy and collccLivc bclonging. TogcLhcr, Lhrough Lhc
LhcaLrical prcscnLaLion oí Lhc slidcshow, Lhc audicncc cxpcricnccs LhaL which
cannoL bc cxpcricnccd in soliLudc buL only as a mcmbcr oí a crowd: archiLcc-
Lurc in public spacc. Tc aLLcmpL Lo producc social bclonging Lhrough cngagc-
mcnL wiLh acsLhcLic objccLs is a crucial componcnL oí Warc’s work, and onc
LhaL adds warmLh Lo whaL mighL oLhcrwisc sccm Lo bc a cold, prccisc drawing
sLylc LhaL privilcgcs íorm ovcr cmoLion.
Warc rcarLiculaLcs Samuclson’s lovc oí Sullivan’s archiLccLurc in Lhc slidc-
show’s sLrucLurc. AL onc poinL, whcn Samuclson, as a young boy, makcs his
way inLo Iudwig Mics van dcr Rohc’s officc Lo bcg him noL Lo rcplacc Sullivan’s
Fcdcral Building, Warc’s slidcshow mimics a carLoon film. Tis shiíL, írom
largcly individual slidcs íollowing Lhc narraLion and a mcllow, conLcmplaLivc
soundLrack, Lo a jazzy film narraLivc ironically dramaLizcs Warc’s own scnsc
LhaL comics should bc disLincL írom film, jusL as Iouis Sullivan’s organic, dc-
Lailcd buildings arc disLincL írom Mics van dcr Rohc’s íormalisL sLylc. Sulli-
van’s buildings connoLc warmLh, inLimacy, and dcpLh, whilc Mics van dcr Ro-
hc’s buildings sccm by conLrasL cold, disLanL, and shallow. To dramaLizc Lhis
acsLhcLic diffcrcncc, Lhc slidcshow slips inLo Lhc lcss-Lhan-scrious modc oí a
Mr. Magoo carLoon, rcícrcncing Lhc carlicr momcnL in Lhc slidcshow whcn
Samuclson prcícrs Lo look aL Lhc ornaLc cciling oí Sullivan’s Carrick TcaLrc
Lhan waLch Lhc “dumb kid’s carLoon” projccLcd on Lhc scrccn.
As Chip Kidd
rcporLs, “Angcrcd by Lhc noLion LhaL comics arc closcly rclaLcd Lo film, Warc
argucs LhaL film is a ‘passivc mcdium’ rcquiring primarily írom iLs audicncc
Lhc abiliLy Lo siL and sLarc. Comics aL Lhcir bcsL cngagc Lhc vicwcr in a diffcr-
cnL manncr, allowing rcadcrs Lo hclp conLrol Lhc pacing ciLhcr by Laking in a
pagc aL oncc, or by rcading pancl by pancl.”
Warc’s manipulaLion oí Lhc slidc-
show’s pacing sccms Lo bc anoLhcr cxprcssion oí Lhis rcsisLancc Lo rcadcrly
passiviLy. By cmbcdding wiLhin Lhc slidcshow a filmic scqucncc, Warc sLrivcs
Lo diffcrcnLiaLc Lhc slidcshow írom film. Tc Mics van dcr Rohc scqucncc,
wiLh iLs íormal dcparLurc and upbcaL soundLrack, opposcs Lhc morc scrious
discussion oí Sullivan’s archiLccLurc. Tis porLion oí Lhc slidcshow poinLs Lo a
radical brcak bcLwccn Lhc ornaLc carly modcrnism oí Sullivan and Lhc insLi-
LuLional, íormalisL modcrnism oí Mics van dcr Rohc. FurLhcrmorc, Mics van
dcr Rohc’s archiLccLurc is casL as a sLylc LhaL pcrmcaLcs cvcry íaccL oí modcrn
liíc, cspccially wiLh Lhc slidc LhaL noLcs: “Ironically, Tim now |ìves in a Mics
van dcr Rohc building.”
In Lhc filmic scqucncc, young Samuclson is givcn a hcaring wiLh Mics van
dcr Rohc, who, wiLh his iconic cycglasscs, is drawn as Mr. Magoo, making
liLcral his supposcd inabiliLy Lo scc Lhc bcauLy oí Lhc Sullivan building hc was
prcparing Lo rcplacc. AíLcr plcading íor Lhc Sullivan building, Samuclson, in
a pcríormcd Ccrman acccnL, vcnLriloquizcs Mics van dcr Rohc’s rcsponsc:
“Somcday I hopc you look aL Lhc ncw building and scc many oí Lhc qualiLics
you admircd in Lhc old.”
InsLcad, Samuclson privilcgcs vanishcd LraiLs ovcr
ncw sLrucLurcs. As Ira Class commcnLs during Lhc slidcshow, “Whcncvcr Tim
walks in Chicago, hc sccs noL jusL Lhc buildings LhaL arc Lhcrc, hc sccs Lhc
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 1 7
buildings LhaL uscd Lo bc Lhcrc. Tc wholc skylinc is haunLcd íor him.” Samu-
clson’s “haunLcd” ciLy also illuminaLcs a morc complcx acsLhcLic sLaLcmcnL
abouL Lhc ncccssiLy Lo vicw Lhc builL cnvironmcnL as a hisLorical cnLiLy. Paral-
lcling Lhc dialccLical rclaLion in comics bcLwccn Lhc íragmcnL and Lhc wholc,
Lhc pancl and Lhc pagc, Lhc pagc and Lhc LcxL, Lost Puì|dìngs sLagcs a dialccLi-
cal rclaLionship bcLwccn livcd cxpcricncc and hisLory, individualiLy and Lhc
builL cnvironmcnL.
Lost Puì|dìngs builds an cvcn morc subLlc associaLion bcLwccn archiLcc-
Lurc and comics in iLs usc oí inscLs. In onc slidc, aíLcr Samuclson discusscs
Nickcl’s dcaLh, wc scc a largc drawing oí Lhc Fcdcral Building LhaL rcplaccd
Sullivan’s Chicago SLock Fxchangc Building. Warc illusLraLcs Lhc building, likc
many oí Lhc oLhcr largc slidcs oí archiLccLurc, hcad-on, cxhibiLing Lhc homog-
cnous pancls oí windows so cmblcmaLic oí boLh Lhc modcrn skyscrapcr and
Lhc convcnLional comics grid. Tcsc rcgimcnLcd pancls, howcvcr, arc brokcn
up by an inscL pancl, a circlc which aL oLhcr momcnLs in Lhc slidcshow is a
wrccking ball and a kind oí pccpholc inLo childhood. Tis circular inscL íca-
Lurcs, firsL, rubblc, Lhcn a piccc oí sLair sLringcr, and, finally, a hardhaL aLop
a Lablc. Tcsc imagcs arc rcpcaLcd írom an carlicr momcnL in Lhc slidcshow
abouL Richard Nickcl’s dcaLh. Tc inscL circlc, Lhcn, inLcrrupLs Lhc modcrn
building’s homogcnous sLrucLurc and scrvcs as a spacc íor mcmory and rc-
mcmbrancc, whilc also playing wiLh Lhc convcnLional comics grid. HaunLcd
by Lhc ncw building, Samuclson looks íorward Lo Lhc day whcn iL Loo will bc
dcmolishcd Lo makc way íor somcLhing diffcrcnL.
Ií Mics van dcr Rohc’s archiLccLurc is impcrsonal, Lhcn Sullivan’s buildings
arc rcmarkablc bccausc oí Lhcir abiliLy Lo producc ícclings oí warmLh and
inLimacy. Tc ornamcnLaLion oí Sullivan’s buildings is ccnLral Lo Samuclson’s
ícclings abouL Lhcm. ArchiLccLural criLic Mark Wiglcy argucs LhaL Sullivan’s
noLion oí organic íorm rclics on Lhc inLcrLwining oí ornamcnL and sLrucLurc:
“Sullivan’s call íor a rcmoval oí ornamcnL is noL a call íor Lhc cradicaLion oí or-
namcnL. On Lhc conLrary, iL is an aLLcmpL Lo raLionalizc Lhc building prcciscly
Lo bcLLcr cloLhc iL wiLh ornamcnLaLion LhaL is morc appropriaLc and morc
carcíully produccd [. . .] dcspiLc Lhc ‘íashion’ Lo considcr ornamcnL as somc-
Lhing LhaL can bc ciLhcr addcd or rcmovcd írom a building, ornamcnL can
ncvcr bc simply scparaLcd írom Lhc sLrucLurc iL cloLhcs.”
OrnamcnL, Lhcn, is
noL an addiLivc Lo Sullivan’s buildings buL an inLcgral parL oí Lhc archiLccLurc.
Lost Puì|dìngs mourns Lhc loss oí Lhcsc LoLal sLrucLurcs, dcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL
Lhcrc arc a numbcr oí Sullivan buildings LhaL havc bccn prcscrvcd in Chicago.
Tc ruinaLion oí Sullivan’s buildings, Lhough, providcs an occasion íor a morc
inLcnsc apprcciaLion oí ornamcnL noL in and oí iLsclí buL as a synccdochc
íor Lhcsc largcr ycL losL sLrucLurcs. Nickcl’s phoLographs and Warc’s drawings
documcnL Lhc crosion oí Lhc connccLion bcLwccn ornamcnL and sLrucLurc,
and Lhcy dcmand LhaL Lhc vicwcr imaginc Lhc wholc írom Lhc íragmcnL. Onc
oí Warc’s largc building imagcs dcpicLs Lhc dcmoliLion oí Sullivan’s RoLh-
schild Building (scc fig. 8.±). In LhaL imagc, wc scc a cranc lowcring a casL-iron
pancl. DccoraLivc íragmcnLs such as Lhis arc picLurcd LhroughouL Lhc slidc-
show, Lhcy arc kcy Lo Sullivan’s acsLhcLic and arc oíLcn Lhc only surviving
arLiíacLs oí Sullivan’s buildings. Tcsc íragmcnLs cmanaLc Lhc largcr archi-
LccLural íorms Lo which Lhcy oncc bclongcd, and Lhc slidcshow—a íusion oí
Warc’s largc, projccLcd imagcs and Class’s inLcrprcLaLion oí Samuclson’s acs-
Fig. 8.1. A crane lowers a
cast-iron panel from the
ruins of Louis Sullivan’s
Rothschild Building in Lost
Buildings. Lost Buildings,
produced and performed
by Ira Glass, Tim Samu-
elson, and Chris Ware,
DVD, This American Life,
WBEZ Chicago, 2004.
LhcLic inLo a sympaLhcLic, whimsical, and admirablc worldvicw—asks Lhc au-
dicncc Lo imaginc Lhc builL cnvironmcnL as hisLorical and Lhc ruin as a wholc.
Tcsc Lwo proccsscs rcly on onc anoLhcr. Trough imagining hisLory lcss as
a caLalog oí arLiíacLs or rclics buL as a livcd cxpcricncc, a rich social íabric,
onc rcconsLiLuLcs ruins as LoLal objccLs. Tis rcvival oí Lhc ruin as a wholc
objccL is lcss a proccss oí acsLhcLic isolaLion Lhan conLcxLualizaLion. Tc ruin
is rcndcrcd wholc by imagining iL in rclaLion Lo and amidsL hisLorical liíc. Iikc
Lhc impossiblc archival mission oí Bcnjamin’s “Angcl oí HisLory,” Lhough, wc
can ncvcr íully rcconsLiLuLc Lhc wholc írom Lhc ruin. Lost Puì|dìngs cmbraccs
a ncccssarily incomplcLc ycL ncvcr-cnding dcsirc Lo cxpcricncc Lhc pasL írom
Lhc unsLablc vanLagc poinL oí Lhc prcscnL.
In “Paris, CapiLal oí Lhc NincLccnLh CcnLury,” Bcnjamin rcmarks LhaL onc
oí Lhc ways in which wc imaginc possiblc íuLurcs is Lhrough rccognizing Lhc
incviLablc ruinaLion oí Lhc prcscnL. His bclovcd Parisian Arcadcs, hc wriLcs,
allow us Lo “bcgin Lo rccognizc Lhc monumcnLs oí Lhc bourgcoisic as ruins
cvcn bcíorc Lhcy havc crumblcd.”
Tc final slidc oí Lost Puì|dìngs dcpicLs Lhc
sLark, sLccl and glass officc building on Lhc siLc oí Sullivan’s Chicago SLock
Fxchangc in ruins, wiLh a wrccking ball in Lhc midsL oí iLs brokcn middlc. In
LhaL wrccking ball’s black inLcrior, Warc wriLcs “Tc Fnd,” gcsLuring Lo Lhc
incviLablc ruinaLion oí Lhc prcscnL. Tinking oí Lhcsc modcrn buildings as
also in ruins poinLs Lo Lhc ways in which Lhc qualiLics oí our own livcs, our
livcd cxpcricnccs—which íor Warc arc saLuraLcd wiLh mclancholy, uníulfillcd
longing, and isolaLion—arc Lhcmsclvcs consLrucLcd and hisLorical. Onc oí
Lhc problcms prcscnLcd by our conLcmporary momcnL is, as Frcdric 1amcson
rcmarks, “onc oí rcprcscnLaLion, also onc oí rcprcscnLabiliLy: wc know LhaL
wc arc caughL wiLhin Lhcsc morc complcx global ncLworks, bccausc wc palpa-
bly suffcr Lhc prolongaLions oí corporaLc spacc cvcrywhcrc in our daily livcs.
YcL wc havc no way oí Lhinking abouL Lhcm, oí modcling Lhcm, howcvcr ab-
sLracLly, in our mind’s cyc.”
WhaL Chris Warc’s work on and abouL archiLcc-
Lurc shows us is LhaL Lhis “modcling” oí Lhc prcscnL can only occur in rclaLion
Lo Lhc pasL. By imagining Lhc pasL and asking us Lo cxpcricncc iL in our daily
livcs, Warc’s work conLains a uLopian wish LhaL imagcs and hisLory can cnrich
cvcryday liíc. Chris Warc’s work documcnLs Lhc mclancholy rcalizaLion LhaL
ruin is incviLablc, ycL finds in Lhosc ruins a rcncwcd possibiliLy íor acsLhcLic
1. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 18 (Chicago: The ACME Novelty Library, 2007), 23, 25.
All further references to this text will be indicated in parentheses.
2. Lost Buildings, prod. and perf. Ira Glass, Tim Samuelson, and Chris Ware. DVD and book. WBEZ
Chicago, 2004.
3. I saw Lost Buildings performed live as part of This American Life’s “Lost in America” tour in
Boston, May 2003. According to the DVD booklet, the slideshow “was originally commissioned by
UCLA Live’s spoken word series at Royce Hall in Los Angeles” and was performed at a handful of
venues in 2003 and 2004. The Lost Buildings DVD was published by This American Life, the Chicago
Public Radio show hosted by Ira Glass, and it is available through This American Life’s Web site: http:// Ira Glass and Chris Ware have more recently collaborated on animated
segments for the This American Life television program on Showtime.
4. Chris Ware, “Introduction,” Lost Buildings, n.p.
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND L O S T B U I L D I NG S 1 1 9
5. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003), 190.
6. Brad Prager, “Modernism and the Contemporary Graphic Novel: Chris Ware and the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction,” International Journal of Comic Art 5.1 (2003): 211–12.
7. Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge, MA:
Da Capo, 2007), 347, 351. For an analysis of Ware’s ambivalence about his place in the art world, see
Katherine Roeder’s essay in this volume.
8. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections,
ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), 257–58.
9. Douglas Crimp, “On the Museum’s Ruins,” October 13 (1980): 56.
10. Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in his Illuminations,
11. Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 44–53.
12. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strate-
gies,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina Gibbons (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 178.
13. Jared Gardner, “Archives, Collectors, and the New Media Work of Comics,” Modern Fiction
Studies 52 (2006): 803.
14. T. J. Clark, “Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam,” October 100 (2002): 173.
15. For the “end of history” thesis, see Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
(New York: Avon, 1992).
16. Nathalie op de Beeck, “Found Objects (Jem Cohen, Ben Katchor, Walter Benjamin),” Modern
Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 827.
17. For a further analysis of the narrator’s disability in “Building Stories,” see Margaret Fink Ber-
man’s essay in this volume.
18. Thomas Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s Jimmy
Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 885.
19. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Lost Buildings are from text on screen during the
slideshow or its accompanying audio track. The Lost Buildings DVD contains both a Quicktime version
of the slideshow, which more accurately reflects the size of the screen during live performances, and
a movie version tailored to fit a television screen.
20. Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,” PMLA 123 (2008): 459.
21. Lost Buildings.
22. Darsie Alexander, “Slideshow,” in Slideshow: Projected Images in Contemporary Art, ed. Darsie
Alexander (University Park: Baltimore Museum of Art/Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005),
23. The way that Ware uses the screen in Lost Buildings seems analogous to Thierry Groensteen’s
concept of “arthology,” which describes the relations in comics between each individual panel and
the work’s structure as a whole. See Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics, trans. Bart Beaty and
Nick Nguyen (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 103–58.
24. Lost Buildings DVD Commentary.
25. Ibid.
26. Art Spiegelman, “An Afterword,” in his Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!
(New York: Pantheon, 2008), n.p.
27. Louis Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture (1892),” in Louis Sullivan: The Public Papers, ed. Rob-
ert Twombly (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 84.
28. Lost Buildings.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. William Jordy, “The Tall Buildings,” in Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament, ed. Wim de Wit
(New York: Chicago Historical Society/Saint Louis Art Museum/Norton, 1986), 149.
32. Lost Buildings.
33. Chip Kidd, “Please Don’t Hate Him,” Print 51.3 (1997): 46, 49.
34. Lost Buildings.
35. Ibid.
36. Mark Wigley, White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (Cambridge,
MA: MIT, 1995), 62–63.
37. Walter Benjamin, “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms,
Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken, 1978),
38. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 1991), 127.
1 2 1
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,”
Gentrification, and the Lives of/in Houses
In parL ± oí Chris Warc’s scrializcd comic sLrip, “Building SLorics,” rcadcrs
arc inLroduccd Lo a Lhrcc-sLory row housc in Chicago’s HumboldL Park. Warc
rcprcscnLs Lhc building as a characLcr LhaL sLrugglcs Lo inLcrprcL Lhc moLivcs
oí a woman who, ncwspapcr in hand, sLudics iL írom across Lhc sLrccL (scc
fig. µ.±). AlLhough wc can’L scc Lhc woman dirccLly (only hcr Lorso and lcgs
arc rcflccLcd in onc oí Lhc building’s windows), and dcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL wc
don’L know why shc’s scruLinizing Lhc building, Lhc mcrc íacL oí hcr prcscncc
scnds Lhc building spiraling Lhrough a wclLcr oí cmoLions. IniLially uncasy—
“‘Mind your own busincss [. . .] Co away,’” iL silcnLly urgcs Lhc woman—Lhc
building changcs iLs Lonc as iL “admiL[s] Lo a rcccnL nagging íccling oí va-
cancy” and rcalizcs LhaL Lhc woman’s prcscncc can mcan only onc Lhing: iL is
“avaì|ab|e again.” Now, íully alcrL, Lhc knowlcdgc LhaL onc oí iLs aparLmcnLs
is indccd vacanL and LhaL Lhc woman musL bc considcring rcnLing iL cnlivcns
Lhc building and iL Lrics iLs bcsL Lo woo hcr by “sLaggcr[ing] íorward írom Lhc
shadow oí a passing cloud and sLand[ing] up sLraighL in Lhc sunlighL.” In Lhc
cnd, Lhough, Lhc woman walks on, sccmingly rcjccLing Lhc building, and iL
“sink[s . . .] back inLo iLs morosc sclí-rcflccLion [. . .] spcnd[ing] Lhc rcsL oí Lhc
day wiLh curLains drawn, noL cvcn boLhcring Lo look up.”
Cullcd írom an ongoing scrics which Warc has publishcd inLcrmiLLcnLly
sincc :oo:, “Building SLorics”’ ncarly scvcn-monLh run in Lhc New York Tìmes
Magazìne rccounLs a day (ScpLcmbcr :¸, :ooo, spccifically) in Lhc liíc oí Lhc
building and iLs íour inhabiLanLs: Lhc young, singlc woman írom Lhc opcn-
ing pancl, who cvcnLually docs rcnL Lhc vacanL room, an unhappy couplc on
Lhc floor bclow, and an cldcrly landlady. AlLhough much oí “Building SLorics”
íocuscs on Lhc livcs oí Lhcsc inhabiLanLs, Warc’s pcrsonificaLion oí Lhc build-
ing suggcsLs LhaL hc is jusL as inLcrcsLcd in iLs liíc as hc is Lhc acLions oí his
characLcrs. Indccd, parLs : and ¸, which ícaLurc a ncarly idcnLical imagc oí Lhc
building and arc wholly dcvoLcd Lo iLs inLcrior monologuc and Lo csLablish-
ing iLs hisLory in Lhc ncighborhood, ccmcnL Lhc building’s characLcrizaLion as
an omniscicnL prcscncc whosc sLory íramcs and guidcs rcadcrs Lhrough Lhc
As Lhc inaugural insLallmcnL oí Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne’s “Funny
Pagcs,” “Building SLorics” providcd Warc wiLh whaL is almosL ccrLainly his
largcsL cxposurc Lo a mainsLrcam rcading audicncc Lo daLc. Civcn Lhis cxpo-
surc, and givcn Lhc high-profilc naLurc oí Lhc sLrip’s sclccLion as Lhc firsL oí
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S , ” GE NT R I F I CAT I ON, L I V E S OF / I N HOUS E S 1 2 3
Lhc magazinc’s ongoing scrics oí graphic ficLion, Warc’s raLhcr idiosyncraLic
dccision Lo íocus on Lhc liíc oí a building sccms curious aL bcsL. FurLhcr, iL
bcgs Lhc qucsLion why hc would íorcground Lhc building’s sLory ovcr Lhc livcs
oí Lhc various characLcrs LhaL also inhabiL Lhc sLrip. To undcrsLand why Warc
gocs Lo such lcngLhs Lo bring Lo liíc a characLcr as sccmingly mundanc and
sLaLic as a Lhrcc-sLory aparLmcnL building, iL is ncccssary Lo considcr Warc’s
kccn inLcrcsL in Lhc cxpcricnLial powcr oí archiLccLural spacc and Lhc build-
ing’s placc in Lhc conLcxL oí ongoing dcbaLcs abouL Chicago’s gcnLrificaLion.
A proccss by which an influx oí afflucnL, mosLly whiLc homcowncrs and
rcnLcrs movc inLo an cconomically dcprcsscd arca, gcnLrificaLion is Lhc rcsulL
oí a dcprcsscd housing markcL causcd by posLwar whiLc flighL, Lhc growLh oí
Lhc suburbs, and inncr-ciLy disinvcsLmcnL.
Sincc Lhc laLc ±µ6os, as ncw rcsi-
dcnLs bcgan Lo rcalizc LhaL urban living providcd Lhcm wiLh Lhc opporLuniLy
íor affordablc housing, Lhcy havc Lransíormcd disLricLs by dcmolishing or
complcLcly rcnovaLing dccaying inncr-ciLy ncighborhoods. HisLoric buildings
play a complcx rolc in Lhis proccss as Lhcy havc bccomc Lhc primary vchiclc
by which gcnLrificaLion Lakcs placc as wcll as a íocal poinL íor criLics and pro-
LcsLcrs who scc Lhc mainLcnancc oí unrcnovaLcd housing sLock as inLcgral Lo
rcsisLing a proccss LhaL LhrcaLcns Lo rcdcfinc Amcrican ciLics along cvcr morc
rigid cconomic lincs.
Warc’s aLLcnLion Lo Lhc inncr liíc oí Lhc row housc can bc rcad as a LribuLc
Lo aging buildings whosc prcscncc in U.S. ciLics is rapidly diminishing. Morc-
ovcr, Warc sccks Lo inculcaLc in his rcadcrs an apprcciaLion íor hisLoric build-
ings, a posiLion hc advanccs in his wriLings on archiLccLurc and buildings.
TroughouL his carccr, Warc has linkcd his work as a carLoonisL Lo Lhc arL oí
archiLccLurc and, in doing so, cxprcsscd a passion íor siLcs LhaL arc no longcr
valucd in conLcmporary urban cconomics.
In Lhis conLcxL, wc can undcr-
sLand Lhc inLimaLc porLrayal oí Lhc housc in “Building SLorics” as an impliciL
plca againsL Lhc dcmoliLion oí hisLoric buildings. By humanizing sLrucLurcs
Lypically vicwcd as a liíclcss asscmblagc oí brick, sLccl, and wood, Warc sccms
Lo bc suggcsLing LhaL raLhcr Lhan Laking such a building íor granLcd, ignor-
ing Lhc rolc iL has playcd in Lhc liíc oí Lhc ncighborhood, wc should insLcad
rccognizc iLs hisLory and cclcbraLc iLs rolc in Lhc urban cnvironmcnL.
Morc Lhan simply a pacan Lo hisLoric buildings, Lhough, “Building SLorics”
maniícsLs Warc’s bclicí LhaL closc aLLcnLion Lo Lhc affccLivc and inLangiblc
aspccLs oí buildings, Lhc psychic and cmoLional livcs Lhcy conLain, offcrs a
corrccLivc Lo LwcnLy-firsL-ccnLury Amcrican ciLics and Lhc consLanL push íor
progrcss aL any cosL. Spccifically, Warc praiscs hisLoric buildings írom Lhc laLc
nincLccnLh and carly LwcnLicLh ccnLurics íor Lhcir bcauLiíul ornamcnLaLion
and Lhc loving aLLcnLion Lo dcLail LhaL wcnL inLo Lhcir dcsign and consLruc-
Lion. Pcrhaps nowhcrc is Warc’s passion íor hisLoric buildings morc cvidcnL
Lhan in his dcvoLion Lo Lhc buildings oí Iouis Sullivan. An carly mcnLor Lo
Frank Iloyd WrighL, and considcrcd by many Lo bc Lhc íaLhcr oí modcrnism
and modcrn archiLccLurc, Sullivan dcsigncd buildings adorncd wiLh ornaLc,
inLricaLc íaçadcs LhaL havc long inspircd Warc.
WriLing in Lhc inLroducLion Lo
Lost Puì|dìngs, a DVD produccd by Tìs Amerìcan Lìje LhaL documcnLs cfforLs
Lo prcscrvc Sullivan’s surviving buildings in Chicago, Warc says hc sharcs an
arLisLic scnsibiliLy wiLh Sullivan and parLicularly apprcciaLcs his usc oí or-
namcnLaLion Lo cxprcss Lhc public naLurc oí archiLccLurc. Iauding Sullivan’s
Fig. 9.1. Ware’s text in this
scene both humanizes the
building and comments
on the action taking place
around it. Chris Ware,
“Building Stories: Part 1,”
New York Times Magazine,
September 18, 2005, 41.
1 2 4 MAT T GODB E Y
buildings as imporLanL works oí arL, Warc argucs LhaL Lhcsc buildings, morc
Lhan mosL placcs in which pcoplc livc and work, “sccmcd Lo bc írozcn liíc—
Lhc vcry íorcc and shapc oí idcas, will, and lovc iLsclí.” Warc conLinucs by
noLing LhaL Sullivan’s “‘ornamcnL,’ somcLimcs wrongly dismisscd as sccond-
ary Lo Lhc sLrucLurc, was always incxLricably imporLanL Lo cvcry building hc
dcsigncd, growing ouL oí Lhc íundamcnLal idca and shapc oí cach commis-
sion, and, in his own words, idcally admiLLing Lo Lhc ‘rcaliLy and paLhos oí
man’s íollics.’”
By conLrasL, hc finds conLcmporary archiLccLurc Lo bc “ghasLly
and anLiscpLic,” arguing LhaL “modcrn buildings [. . .] mock pcoplc. Tcy don’L
clcvaLc Lhcm or inspirc Lhcm—Lhcy jusL conLain Lhcm,” and suggcsLs LhaL
Sullivan’s scnsibiliLy is sorcly misscd in conLcmporary urban landscapcs.
Warc’s connccLion Lo Lhc livcs oí hisLoric buildings undcrscorcs and bcgins
Lo cxplain Lhc sLrip’s íocus. TroughouL iLs scvcn-monLh run, Warc crcaLcs a
íully dcvclopcd characLcr wiLh a long, rich hisLory in Lhc ncighborhood. In
parL ±, íor insLancc, a scrics oí imagcs indicaLcs Lhc building’s agc. Tus, in
Lhis opcning pancl, Lhrcc small inscLs on Lhc righL sidc, dcpicLing imagcs oí
Lhc building wiLh diffcrcnL vchiclcs in íronL—a horsc and carriagc, a Modcl
T Ford, and a conLcmporary car—cvokc Lhc building’s ycars oí scrvicc Lo
rcsidcnLs in Lhc ncighborhood. ParL : íurLhcr cmphasizcs Lhis scrvicc whcn
iL highlighLs Lhc íacL LhaL Lhc classificd ad uscd Lo advcrLisc vacanL rooms
was “composcd morc Lhan halí a ccnLury ago and prcscrvcd unalLcrcd (mi-
nus minor moncLary updaLcs) on a limp, wcll-Lhumbcd indcx card [. . . and]
has shar[cd] spacc wiLh dccadcs oí war, rcccssion and various prcsidcnLial
adminisLraLions.” ParL ¸, in Lurn, brings Lhc building’s hisLory up Lo daLc by
noLing LhaL Lhc aíorcmcnLioncd woman has, in íacL, rcnLcd Lhc vacanL aparL-
mcnL, joining Lhc gcncraLions oí rcnLcrs who havc soughL shclLcr in iLs walls,
and dcpicLing a schcmaLic oí Lhc building LhaL rccounLs in cxacLing dcLail cv-
cryLhing iL has wiLncsscd LhroughouL iLs liíc. By cschcwing a convcnLionally
lincar narraLivc and combining Lhc pasL, prcscnL, and íuLurc in a singlc íramc,
Warc rcprcscnLs Lhc liíc oí Lhc building as a cohcrcnL wholc, humanizing an
oLhcrwisc inscnLicnL objccL and imbuing iL wiLh affccLivc valuc.
Warc’s usc oí comics and oí comics’ convcnLions Lo pcrsoniíy and ampliíy
Lhc liíc oí an aging aparLmcnL building can bc rcad as a criLiquc oí gcnLri-
ficaLion and Lhc cnLirc sysLcm oí conLcmporary urban rcncwal LhaL sLrips
such siLcs oí Lhcir arLisLic and hisLorical valuc.
“Building SLorics” condcmns
Lhc crasurc oí much oí Lhc physical and culLural hisLory oí U.S. ciLics in Lhc
namc oí progrcss, rcconsidcring buildings’ sLaLus as morc Lhan mcrc com-
modiLics in a ncolibcral urban cconomy LhaL is incrcasingly dcfincd by Lhc
LcncLs oí privaLizaLion and cconomic homogcnizaLion.
Whcn Warc human-
izcs Lhc building, cmphasizing iLs scrvicc Lo Lhc ncighborhood, hc minimizcs
Lhc íacLor LhaL mosL dcfincs Lhc livcs oí buildings in conLcmporary U.S. ciL-
ics: Lhcir sLaLus as commodiLics in Lhc urban rcal-csLaLc markcL. Tis rcvcrsal
cmphasizcs Lhc row housc’s human characLcrisLics and asks us Lo scc iL noL
as an objccL buL as a pcrson wiLh a hisLory, and Lo rclaLc Lo iL on a lcvcl LhaL
Lransccnds Lypical objccL rclaLions. Warc Lhus offcrs a ncw pcrspccLivc on Lhc
dwcllings whcrc wc livc and, morc imporLanLly, shows Lhcir imporLancc in
prcscrving Lhc social and public liíc oí our ciLics. Morc spccifically, “Building
SLorics” sccms Lo suggcsL LhaL old buildings such as Lhc onc whosc liíc hc
documcnLs occupy a spccial placc in urban cconomics, scrving as rcposiLorics
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S , ” GE NT R I F I CAT I ON, L I V E S OF / I N HOUS E S 1 2 5
oí Lhc promisc oí ciLics Lo aLLracL and housc populaLions oíLcn marginalizcd
by Lhc mainsLrcam, majoriLy culLurc.
Tc implicaLions oí Lhis sLancc arc madc clcar whcn wc considcr LhaL Lhc
building’s locaLion in Lhc rapidly gcnLriíying ncighborhood oí HumboldL Park
posiLions iL as a bulwark againsL Lhis proccss and, by cxLcnsion, Lhc cconomic
homogcnizaLion oí public liíc. According Lo criminal jusLicc proícssor 1cff
Fcrrcll, as gcnLrificrs movc inLo inncr-ciLy ncighborhoods Lhcy, along wiLh
local govcrnmcnLs and dcvclopcrs, crcaLc “ncw culLural spaccs [LhaL] rcdcsign
ciLy liíc along ncw lincs oí spaLial cxclusion, and [. . .] organizc ncw íorms
oí conLrol againsL Lhosc dccmcd íorcign Lo Lhcsc spaccs.”
Fcrrcll suggcsLs
LhaL gcnLrificaLion crcaLcs cxclusivc, afflucnL ncighborhoods and communi-
Lics Lhrough a varicLy oí privaLc íorccs (ncighborhood boards, hisLoric prcs-
crvaLions sLaLuLcs, corporaLions, cLc). As a rcsulL, inncr-ciLy ncighborhoods
arc no longcr dcfincd by Lhcir abiliLy Lo scrvc basic nccds, such as shclLcr,
íood, and communiLy, buL raLhcr Lhcy bccomc “urban growLh machincs” LhaL
arc dcsigncd Lo providc profiLablc rcLurns on Lhc invcsLmcnLs oí Lhc homc-
owncrs, busincsscs, rcalLors, and privaLc dcvclopcrs who invcsL hcavily in an
arca’s rcdcvclopmcnL.
Warc ovcrLly addrcsscs Lhc issuc oí gcnLrificaLion in parL :6 whcn Tom,
an Aírican Amcrican characLcr, who only appcars oncc in Lhc sLrip, sarcas-
Lically Lhanks Lhc young whiLc woman írom Lhc opcning pancl íor making
HumboldL Park “saíc” íor NorLh Sidcrs. Tom’s commcnL alludcs Lo Lhc influx
oí wcalLhy, Lypically whiLc rcsidcnLs Lo Chicago’s hisLorically black SouLh Sidc
ncighborhoods. Morcovcr, his rcmark rcícrs Lo Lhc íacL LhaL gcnLrificaLion
LargcLs sccLions oí Lhc ciLy LhaL havc bccn codcd as black or IaLino and poor,
rcndcring Lhcm “suddcnly valuablc [. . . and] pcrvcrscly profiLablc.”
boldL Park, whcrc “Building SLorics” is scL, is an insLrucLivc cxamplc oí Lhis
proccss. In posLwar Chicago, Lhc ncighborhood bcgan Lo aLLracL largcr num-
bcrs oí PucrLo Rican íamilics who, Lhough marginalizcd wiLhin Lhc ciLy as
a wholc, “managcd Lo culLivaLc a sLrong scnsc oí communiLy builL around
a proud PucrLo Rican idcnLiLy.”
Sincc Lhc mid ±µµos, howcvcr, iL has bccn
Lransíormcd by middlc-class homcowncrs and Lhc consLrucLion oí luxury
aparLmcnLs and upscalc dcvclopmcnLs.
Cradually, young, whiLc, middlc- Lo
uppcr-middlc-class homcowncrs and íamilics havc movcd inLo Lhc arca, rais-
ing propcrLy valucs and displacing many PucrLo Rican íamilics. As a rcsulL oí
Lhcsc changcs, a riíL has íormcd bcLwccn Lhc PucrLo Rican communiLy and
Lhc ncw rcsidcnLs. During Lhc carly ±µµos, íamilics “sLarLcd hcaring rumors
írom ncighbors LhaL dcvclopcrs wcrc Laking an inLcrcsL in Lhc arca bccausc
oí iLs proximiLy Lo Chicago’s downLown, and Lo major modcs oí LransporLa-
Today, HumboldL Park has cmcrgcd as onc oí Lhc mosL conLcsLcd siLcs
in Chicago and Lhc Lcnsion bcLwccn working-class PucrLo Ricans and afflucnL
gcnLrificrs cxcmplifics currcnL dcbaLcs abouL gcnLrificaLion.
Whcn Warc locaLcs his building in HumboldL Park, hc impliciLly asks rcad-
crs Lo considcr why hc placcs a Lhinking and íccling building in Lhc midsL
oí a rapidly gcnLriíying Chicago ncighborhood. IniLially, his dccision sccms
Lo suggcsL LhaL Lhc sLrip is inLcndcd Lo cvokc Lhc issucs íacing rcsidcnLs oí
gcnLrificd ncighborhoods. Tus, whcn Lhc young woman commcnLs in parL :,
LhaL shc didn’L likc how Tom was “all in [hcr] íacc abouL LhaL ‘gcnLrificaLion’
sLuff,” Lhc sLrip raiscs racc and class Lcnsions inhcrcnL in a gcnLriíying ncigh-
1 2 6 MAT T GODB E Y
borhood. And ycL, by dcícrring rcícrcnccs Lo gcnLrificaLion unLil laLc in Lhc
sLrip, Warc appcars loaLh Lo offcr an cxpliciL opinion on Lhc issucs oí racc and
class aLLcndanL in discussions oí Lhc proccss.
InsLcad, Lhc comic providcs a
morc nuanccd rcading LhaL docs noL indicL Lhc gcnLrificaLion oí a spccific siLc,
HumboldL Park, buL spcaks Lo a conccrn íor urban landscapcs and abouL whaL
our LrcaLmcnL oí hisLoric buildings signals íor Lhc íuLurc oí U.S. ciLics.
CcnLrificaLion is jusL Lhc laLcsL maniícsLaLion oí a “pcnchanL íor dcsLroy-
ing Lhc old” in Amcrican ciLics.
As urban planncrs and poliLicians havc pro-
moLcd a “cyclc oí dcsLrucLion and rcbuilding as ‘sccond naLurc’—sclí-cvidcnL,
unqucsLionablc, and incviLablc”—Lhcy havc conLinually ignorcd Lhc inhcrcnL
valuc oí buildings LhaL sccmingly havc liLLlc Lo no pracLical or cconomic usc.

Tis mcnLaliLy has conLribuLcd Lo Lhc ongoing commodificaLion and privaLi-
zaLion oí public spaccs and has givcn risc Lo a culLurc LhaL íails Lo rccognizc
Lhc imporLancc oí placc, cmphasizing insLcad “Lhc ncxus oí producLion and
financc capiLal aL Lhc cxpcnsc oí qucsLions oí social rcproducLion.”
ingly, ciLics arc dcfincd by Lhc Lcnsion “bcLwccn Lhc noLion oí ‘placc’ vcrsus
undiffcrcnLiaLcd, dcvclopablc ‘spacc.’”

Urban gcographcrs 1amcs Iogan and
Harvcy MoloLch dcscribc Lhis samc Lcnsion as Lhc spliL bcLwccn usc valuc
and cxchangc valuc in urban spacc. In Lhc íormcr, a parLicular siLc, whcLhcr
a ncighborhood or, in Lhis casc, a building, is valucd bccausc iL “saLisí[ics] cs-
scnLial nccds oí liíc” and providcs a psychological and cmoLional íulfillmcnL,
in oLhcr words, “spacc” bccomcs “placc” whcn Lhcrc is a human connccLion
Lo a sLrucLurc, whcLhcr iL is a housc or an aparLmcnL.
“Spacc,” by conLrasL,
is simply a commodiLy whosc valuc rcsidcs in Lhc amounL oí capiLal, whcLhcr
financial or culLural, a dcvclopcr, an individual, or cvcn an cnLirc ciLy can gcL
íor iL.

Tc difficulLy oí such a sysLcm is LhaL cxchangc valuc is by dcfiniLion con-
LingcnL and LransicnL. In urban rcal csLaLc, Lhis mcans LhaL whaL is valuablc
and dcsircd Loday will bc sccmingly usclcss and unwanLcd Lomorrow, and, as
a rcsulL oí spaccs consLanLly bcing rcdcfincd and rcconLcxLualizcd, Lhc pasL
musL bc ignorcd and clidcd in ordcr Lo crcaLc condiLions ncccssary íor Lhc
rcdcvclopmcnL oí a ccrLain siLc. Tis clision is dccmcd ncccssary bccausc con-
Lcmporary ciLics rcly on succcss in global markcLs such as Lourism Lo succccd
and arc “invcsL[cd . . .] in sclling Lhcir placcs [. . .] Lhrough a narraLivc oí suc-
ccss” givcn LhaL “a ncgaLivc imagc may cncounLcr grcaLcr difficulL in aLLracL-
ing Lhc lcvcls oí invcsLmcnL rcquircd Lo rcvisc Lhc compcLiLivc posiLion oí
Lhcir cconomics.”

Morcovcr, such a markcLing campaign “succccds only Lo
Lhc cxLcnL LhaL iL can disLancc iLsclí írom Lhc immcdiaLc pasL,” whcLhcr LhaL
pasL is codificd as a working-class slum, Aírican Amcrican ghcLLo, or, as in Lhc
casc oí HumboldL Park, PucrLo Rican cnclavc.

Tc rcprcscnLaLion oí HumboldL Park in “Building SLorics” impliciLly chal-
lcngcs Lhc rhcLoric oí poliLicians and dcvclopcrs who promoLc gcnLrificaLion
as a naLurally occurring symbol oí a brighL íuLurc íor U.S. ciLics. Tc sLrip
rcsisLs a sysLcm oí rcncwal LhaL valucs buildings íor Lhcir powcr Lo gcncraLc
profiL and promoLcs a pcrspccLivc LhaL rccognizcs Lhcir social íuncLion in an
urban cconomy. Whcn Warc wriLcs in “IosL Buildings” LhaL hc is hcarLcncd
Lo scc a culLural Lurn Loward prcscrving buildings LhaL sccmingly havc liLLlc
Lo no cxchangc valuc, hc is in csscncc valuing placc ovcr spacc. “Building SLo-
rics” cnacLs a similar rcvcrsal as cxcmplificd by Lhc pcrspccLivc prcscnLcd in
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S , ” GE NT R I F I CAT I ON, L I V E S OF / I N HOUS E S 1 2 7
parL ¸’s schcmaLic dcpicLion oí Lhc building. As wc lcarn in parL :, rcnL íor Lhc
building’s aparLmcnLs has long bccn “uLLcrly ouL oí Louch wiLh local housing
priccs.” Whilc Lhis mcans LhaL Lhc building has noL maximizcd profiLs íor Lhc
cldcrly landlady who livcs in Lhc firsL-floor aparLmcnL, iL has madc iL pos-
siblc íor a “pcrpcLual paradc oí bargain-sccking applicanLs” Lo find affordablc
housing in Lhc ncighborhood. ParL ¸ diagrams how Lhc building links all Lhrcc
cras simulLancously, Lhanks Lo Lhc íacL LhaL iLs low rcnL makcs iL as acccssiblc
Lo individuals who cannoL afford highcr priccs (scc fig. µ.:).
Iaying barc Lhc social liíc oí Lhc building, Warc dccrics Lhc physical and
psychological dcsLrucLion oí urban spaccs causcd by gcnLrificaLion. Tis
sLancc is pcrhaps mosL cvidcnL in Lhc mclancholic Lonc LhaL pcrvadcs Lhc
sLrip and LhaL conLribuLcs Lo Lhc rcprcscnLaLion oí Lhc building as a characLcr
whosc íaLc is unccrLain. DcspiLc bcing íully occupicd, Lhc building is wisLíul
íor carlicr Limcs, worricd LhaL iLs low rcnL and old-íashioncd íaçadc is ouL oí
Louch wiLh changcs in Lhc ncighborhood. Warc’s mcssagc is madc cvcn morc
cxpliciL aL Lhc cnd oí Lhc sLrip wiLh Lhc building’s growing awarcncss LhaL
iLs Limc is limiLcd. ParL :µ shows Lhc building’s incrcasing anxicLy abouL Lhc
hcalLh oí iLs landlady as iL ícars shc mighL dic soon and bcgins Lo pondcr iLs
íuLurc: “Hcrc’s whcrc my conccrns bcgin. Now, Lhc long-burning lamp oí my
long-ycarning landlady sccms Lo íray, íalLcr, and fizzlc [. . .] So Lhcn, whaL`
Tc LhoughL oí such uLLcr vacancy fills mc wiLh drcad unlikc any oLhcr.”

Whilc Lhc building ícars LhaL Lhc dcaLh oí Lhc landlady porLcnds an unccrLain
íuLurc, rcadcrs know iL has rcal rcason Lo bc worricd—Lhc landlady is all LhaL
sLands bcLwccn iL and a rcal csLaLc spcculaLor or ncw owncr who would rcno-
vaLc iL, Lhus driving up priccs, or, worsc sLill, dcmolish iL.
IL is hcrc LhaL Lhc sLrip mosL clcarly cmcrgcs as a sLaLcmcnL on ciLy liíc
and urban planning, spccifically, iL íorms a powcríul argumcnL againsL cur-
rcnL Lrcnds in urban rcdcvclopmcnL and acLs as a call Lo rcdrcss Lhc damagcs
causcd by Lhc rcdcvclopmcnL oí Amcrican ciLics. Tis rcading is bolsLcrcd
whcn Lhc sLrip is rcad alongsidc Lhc work oí 1anc 1acobs and hcr ±µ6± LrcaLisc
on how Lo fix Lhc naLion’s ciLics, Te Leath and Lìje oj Creat Amerìcan Cìtìes.
1acobs dcmands LhaL ciLy planncrs and poliLicians prcscrvc aging sLrucLurcs,
wriLing LhaL ciLics “nccd old buildings so badly iL is probably impossiblc íor
vigorous sLrccLs and disLricLs Lo grow wiLhouL Lhcm [. . .] NoL muscum-piccc
old buildings, noL old buildings in an cxccllcnL sLaLc oí rchabiliLaLion [. . . buL]
a good loL oí plain, ordinary, low-valuc buildings, including somc rundown
old buildings.”
1acobs’s praisc íor old buildings mirrors Lhc scnLimcnLs
cvokcd by “Building SLorics” morc Lhan LhirLy ycars laLcr, namcly, shc rccog-
nizcs LhaL dcmolishing or rchabiliLaLing old homcs in ordcr Lo maximizc Lhcir
cconomic valuc scnds a discouraging mcssagc abouL Lhc valucs and bclicís oí
Lhc poliLicians and dcvclopcrs who arc rcshaping U.S. ciLics.
1acobs asscrLs LhaL Lhc boLLom linc has managcd Lo Lakc prcccdcnL ovcr
all oLhcr conccrns in ciLy-planning dccisions. “Pricc Lags,” shc wriLcs, “arc ías-
Lcncd on Lhc populaLion and cach sorLcd-ouL chunk oí priccd-Laggcd popu-
lacc livcs in growing suspicion and Lcnsion againsL Lhc surrounding ciLy.”

Tc Lcnsion 1acobs dcscribcs is, according Lo culLural criLic Icwis Hydc, a
íuncLion oí Lhc commodificaLion oí placcs and an all-consuming dcsirc Lo aL-
Lain maLcrial wcalLh. Rcal wcalLh, hc wriLcs, Lhc inLangiblc kind produccd
by giíLs and works oí arL, “ccascs Lo movc írccly whcn all Lhings arc counLcd
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S , ” GE NT R I F I CAT I ON, L I V E S OF / I N HOUS E S 1 2 9
and priccd. IL may accumulaLc in grcaL hcaps, buL ícwcr and ícwcr pcoplc
can afford Lo cnjoy iL.”

Similarly, 1acobs ícars LhaL ciLics bccomc sLagnanL
whcn Lhcy ccasc Lo bc ablc Lo íaciliLaLc Lhc producLion or consumpLion oí
Lhc kind oí wcalLh Hydc dcscribcs. Timc and again shc rcLurns Lo Lhc idca
LhaL Lhc ciLy is a rcíugc íor Lhosc pcoplc íor whom idcas and imaginaLion,
noL profiL and sLaLisLics, maLLcr.
Tus, 1acobs ycarns íor LradiLional urban
ncighborhoods LhaL havc scrvcd as havcns íor populaLions marginalizcd by
mainsLrcam Amcrican culLurc and LhaL, incrcasingly, havc bccn losL as homcs
and Lhc surrounding arcas arc bcing rcdcfincd as purc commodiLics.
Tc commodificaLion oí homcs has inLcnsificd as urban living has comc Lo
rcprcscnL a popular liícsLylc dccision as wcll as a sound invcsLmcnL íor afflu-
cnL rcsidcnLs anxious íor affordablc housing LhaL providcs acccss Lo incrcas-
ingly Lrcndy ncighborhoods.
Tc lasL cpisodc oí “Building SLorics” suggcsLs
Lhc hiddcn dangcrs oí Lhis proccss. AlLhough Lhc pcnulLimaLc sccnc, parL
:µ, closcs wiLh Lhc building mcrcly aíraid oí whaL Lhc dcaLh oí iLs landlady
significs, Lhc cpiloguc, which Lakcs placc fivc ycars laLcr, suggcsLs LhaL Lhcsc
ícars arc rcalizcd. In Lhis cpisodc, Lhc young woman and hcr daughLcr havc
rcLurncd Lo Lhc ncighborhood whcrc shc oncc livcd (scc plaLc ±¸). NoLing Lhc
prcscncc oí a SLarbucks and oí a ncw bouLiquc cloLhing sLorc LiLlcd, fiLLingly,
“Nichc,” shc rcalizcs how much Lhc ncighborhood has changcd. Indccd, Lhc
landscapc has Lhc look and íccl oí a corporaLc spacc LhaL is dcsigncd Lo mccL
Lhc consumpLion nccds oí an afflucnL ncw populaLion raLhcr Lhan Lhc day-Lo-
day nccds oí Lhc poor, working-class rcsidcnLs and, in Lhis casc, PucrLo Ricans
who havc long callcd iL homc.
“Building SLorics” has comc íull circlc, buL Lhc inLcrvcning fivc ycars havc
rcdcfincd whaL Lhc building symbolizcs Lo Lhc woman and, by cxLcnsion, Lo
Lhc ncighborhood aL largc. Unlikc bcíorc, whcn Lhc building’s chcap rcnL con-
noLcd Lhc possibiliLy oí a ncw liíc, now Lhc woman sLarcs aL a building LhaL
is no longcr owncd by Lhc original landlady and ícaLurcs a “For RcnL” sign,
apparcnLly Lhc sLrucLurc has bccn rcnovaLcd rcccnLly and a sign ncxL door
indicaLcs iL will soon bc bordcrcd by luxury condominiums. As Lhcsc imagcs
suggcsL, Tom was righL—Lhc ncighborhood is now saíc íor NorLh Sidcrs: boLh
Lhc SLarbucks and Lhc bouLiquc, whilc mcanL Lo mccL Lhc consumcr nccds oí
a ncw class oí rcsidcnLs, also indicaLc LhaL Lhc ncighborhood has bccn suiL-
ably gcnLrificd. ComíorLcd by whaL havc comc Lo bc common symbols oí a
gcnLrificd ncighborhood, ncw and poLcnLial rcsidcnLs can rcsL assurcd LhaL
Lhc siLc’s hisLory as a working-class, cLhnically hcLcrogcncous ncighborhood
has bccn crascd in íavor oí a ncw idcnLiLy as an upscalc cnclavc.
Morc Lcllingly, Lhc building has bccn silcnccd. Conc is Lhc characLcr wc
cncounLcrcd LhroughouL Lhc sLrip and in iLs placc is a building whosc prcs-
cncc in Lhc ncighborhood appcars Lcnuous aL bcsL and whosc links Lo Lhc
ncighborhood’s pasL havc vanishcd. Tc implicaLions oí Lhis silcncing arc, ac-
cording Lo 1acobs, immcnsc: ciLics arc no longcr ablc Lo mccL Lhc nccds oí an
cconomically divcrsc populaLion by providing an opporLuniLy íor a bcLLcr, or
diffcrcnL, liíc Lhan Lhc onc Lhcy prcviously lcd. “Hundrcds oí ordinary cn-
Lcrpriscs,” shc wriLcs, “ncccssary Lo Lhc saícLy and public liíc oí sLrccLs and
ncighborhoods, and apprcciaLcd íor Lhcir convcnicncc and pcrsonal qualiLy,
can makc ouL succcssíully in old buildings, buL arc incxorably slain by Lhc
high ovcrhcad oí ncw consLrucLion.”
Nor is 1acobs alonc in sounding a dcaLh
Fig. 9.2. Part 3’s schematic
connects the past to the
present and evokes the
building’s integral role in
the lives of its inhabitants.
Chris Ware, “Building
Stories: Part 3,” New York
Times Magazine, October
2, 2005, 39.
1 3 0 MAT T GODB E Y
kncll íor Lhc LradiLional ciLy. CounLlcss criLics and obscrvcrs havc mourncd
Lhc loss oí public liíc in urban landscapcs. WriLing in Lhc laLc ±µ,os, Phillip
Arics noLcd LhaL in posL-indusLrial Amcrican ciLics, “whaL is Lruly rcmarkablc
is LhaL Lhc social inLcrcoursc which uscd Lo bc Lhc ciLy’s main íuncLion has
now cnLircly vanishcd.”
ImpliciL in Lhcsc argumcnLs is a scnLimcnL cchocd
by Warc’s dcpicLion oí Lhc building’s loving scrvicc Lo Lhc ncighborhood: an
unmisLakablc scnsc oí loss and oí conccrn íor whaL gcnLrificaLion has visiLcd
on Lhc cxpcricncc oí cvcryday liíc íor pcoplc in Amcrica’s ciLics and Lhrough-
ouL Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs.
Warc’s vision oí Lhc ciLy rcsisLs Lhc prcvailing vicw LhaL capiLalism and
Lhc capiLalisL cLhos arc Lhc bcsL and only opLion íor progrcss. InsLcad, his
building offcrs a vision oí urban liíc whcrc Lhc possibiliLy cxisLs íor siLcs and
buildings dcfincd noL by Lhc conLinucd hypcr-commodificaLion oí spaccs and
buildings buL raLhcr by Lhcir cmoLional, subjccLivc prcscncc and Lhcir abiliLy
Lo housc populaLions marginalizcd and pcriphcralizcd wiLhin Lhc currcnL sys-
Lcm. Warc’s sLrip, alLhough iL ícaLurcs a building LhaL cvcnLually succumbs Lo
gcnLrificaLion, impliciLly criLicizcs whaL Michacl Sorkin has Lcrmcd Lhc “dc-
parLicularizing” oí Lhc conLcmporary ciLy.
Arguing LhaL urban landscapcs
Loday arc dominaLcd by Lhc sprcad oí “globalizcd capiLal, clccLronic mcans oí
producLion, and uniíorm mass culLurc” Sorkin wriLcs LhaL in conLrasL Lo Lhc
“undisciplincd diffcrcnLiaLion oí LradiLional ciLics [. . . L]hc ncw ciLy rcplaccs
Lhc anomaly and dclighL oí such placcs wiLh a univcrsal parLicular, a gcncric
urbanism inflccLcd only by appliquc.”
As a living and brcaLhing link Lo Lhc
hisLory oí Lhc ncighborhood whcrc iL is locaLcd, a sLrucLurc LhaL pcrsonifics
Lhc pcrsonaliLy and uniquc idcnLiLy oí LhaL spacc, Warc’s building rcsisLs Lhc
“gcncric urbanism” Sorkin ícars and Lhc cconomic homogcnizaLion gcnLrifi-
caLion cnLails. “Buildings SLorics” rccognizcs LhaL buildings conLain “Lhc back
and íorLh oscillaLions oí Limc and mcmory, pasL and prcscnL” and, in doing
so, providc us wiLh hopc íor Lhc íuLurc oí U.S. ciLics.
Cuarding againsL gcn-
LrificaLion, Lhc mainLcnancc and prcscrvaLion oí hisLoric buildings can íorc-
sLall Lhc LransiLion Lo a gcncrically corporaLc landscapc oí bouLiqucs and cor-
poraLc chains—whaL Sorkin calls Lhc “rcpcLiLivc minimum” LhaL now dcfincs
mosL inncr-ciLy ncighborhoods. Dcprivcd oí oldcr buildings, HumboldL Park
and ncighborhoods likc iL risk rcducing ciLics likc Chicago Lo an anonymous
cvcry-ciLy, in which urban landscapcs arc dcvoid oí Lhc cxhilaraLing public liíc
LhaL has dcfincd ciLy living íor gcncraLions.
1. Chris Hamnett, “The Blind Men and the Elephant: The Explanation of Gentrification,” Transac-
tions of the Institute of British Geographers 16 (1991): 173–89. Hamnett provides a thorough definition
of gentrification as well as an overview of the critical literature and debates surrounding it.
2. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Date Book (Amsterdam: Oog and Blik, 2003), 190. Here, Ware
includes Goethe’s dictum, “architecture is frozen music,” and argues that it is the “aesthetic key to
the development of cartoons as an art form” (190).
3. Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 96. In an interview with
Raeburn, Ware suggested that “Building Stories” is the work that is closest to him and to the way he
4. Hugh Morrison titled his 1935 biography of Sullivan, the first major biography of the architect,
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S , ” GE NT R I F I CAT I ON, L I V E S OF / I N HOUS E S 1 3 1
Louis Sullivan: Prophet of Modern Architecture. Hugh Morrison, Louis Sullivan: Prophet of Modern Architec-
ture (New York: Norton, 1998).
5. Lost Buildings, prod. and perf. Ira Glass, Tim Samuelson, and Chris Ware. DVD and book. WBEZ
Chicago, 2004.
6. Chris Ware, “You Are Here,” in Marc Trujillo: You Are Here,, 2006, (accessed July 7,
2008); Beth Nissen, “An Interview with Chris Ware,”, October 3, 2000, http://edition.cnn
.com/2000/books/news/10/03/chris.ware.qanda/ (accessed June 25, 2008).
7. Chip Kidd, “Please Don’t Hate Him,” Print 51.3 (1997): 42–49.
8. Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,” PMLA 123 (2008): 462.
Chute argues that in graphic narratives “we see [. . .] a rigorous, experimental attention to form as a
mode of political intervention” (426).
9. Neoliberalism is broadly defined as a system of practices that breaks with the Keynesian model
of state intervention and social welfare programs and seeks to bring all aspects of life under private,
market-driven control.
10. Jeff Ferrell, “Remapping the City: Public Identity, Cultural Space, and Social Justice,” Contem-
porary Justice Review 4.2 (2001): 167.
11. John R. Logan and Harvey Molotch, Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place (Berkeley:
California University Press, 1987), 13.
12. Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (London: Routledge,
1996), 6.
13. David Wilson and Dennis Grammenos, “Gentrification, Discourse, and the Body: Chicago’s
Humboldt Park,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23.2 (2005): 300.
14. Ibid., 301.
15. Marisa Alicea, “Cuando nosotros viviamos . . . : Stories of Displacement and Settlement in
Puerto Rican Chicago,” CENTRO Journal 13.2 (2001): 167–68.
16. Rachel Rinaldo, “Space of Resistance: The Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Humboldt Park,”
Cultural Critique 50 (2002): 135–74. Although Ware does not include the displacement of Puerto Rican
families in the strip, the disruption of Humboldt’s tight-knit Puerto Rican community, as documented
by Rinaldo and others, has transformed the area into a potent signifier for the gentrification of Chi-
cago’s urban neighborhoods.
17. This is not to suggest that Ware has completely avoided overtly commenting on the connec-
tion between urban space and race. In his ACME Novelty Library, in a parody of the advertisements
found in the back of comic books, he advertises “LARGE NEGRO STORAGE BOXES” that can be
purchased for $5,000,000. “Designed by famous European craftsmen,” he writes, these boxes “are
just the thing to keep unsightly Negroes out from under foot and to make sure that your city contin-
ues to run cleanly and efficiently.” Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders
and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005), 62.
18. Max Page, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1900–1940 (Chicago: Chicago University
Press, 1999), 10.
19. Ibid., 5.
20. Smith, “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy,” Antipode
34.3 (2002): 435.
21. Page, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 3.
22. Logan and Molotch, Urban Fortunes, 2.
23. Ibid.
24. Gordon MacLeod, Mike Raco, and Kevin Ward, “Negotiating the Contemporary City: Intro-
duction,” Urban Studies 40 (2003): 1659.
25. Michael Jager, “Class Definition and the Esthetics of Gentrification: Victoriana in Melbourne,”
in Gentrification of the City, ed. Neil Smith and Peter Williams (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986), 83.
26. Chris Ware, “Building Stories,”, April 9, 2006,
ages/pdf/magazine/20050918funny.pdf (accessed April 20, 2006).
27. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage, 1992), 187.
1 3 2 MAT T GODB E Y
28. Ibid., 4.
29. Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Random House,
1983), 22.
30. Writing about the need for old buildings, for instance, Jacobs notes that “the unformalized
feeders of the arts” such as studios and galleries “go into old buildings.” Further, she writes, “As for
the really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some
of them might prove to be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in
the high-overhead economy [. . .] Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old
buildings.” Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 188.
31. Ironically, Jacobs’s ideas about city life have been adopted by individuals and groups known as
New Urbanists who seek to construct versions of traditional urban neighborhoods out of inner-city
neighborhoods. According to Jacobs, such plans don’t have a “sense of the anatomy of [the] hearts” of
cities. Further still, critics have charged New Urbanists with “romanticiz[ing] her vision, bastardizing
her empirical observations of how cities work into a formula they want to impose [. . .] on cities.” Bill
Steigerwald, “City Views: Urban Studies Legend Jane Jacobs on Gentrification, the New Urbanism,
and Her Legacy,”, June 2001, (accessed
February 12, 2008).
32. David Ley, “Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification,” Urban Studies 40 (2003):
2528, 2536.
33. Herbert Schiller, Culture, Inc. : The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991), 102. Schiller writes that as “the condominium, boutique, [and] expensive
restaurant scene [. . .] flourish[es] in the downtowns of many American cities [ . . . t]he urban poor
are removed to the city’s fringes, while the most helpless and desperate roam the streets and huddle
in darkened doorways” (102).
34. Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 188.
35. Philippe Aries, “The Family and the City,” Daedalus 106.2 (1977): 233.
36. Michael Sorkin, “Introduction,” in Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End
of Public Space, ed. Michael Sorkin (New York: Noonday, 1992), viii.
37. Ibid.
38. Angela Miller, “Introduction,” in Strips, Toons, and Bluesies, ed. D. B. Dowd and Todd Hignite
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), 6.
Reading History
Fig. 10.1. “Admit One (1)
to The United States.”
Chris Ware, The ACME
Novelty Library Final Report
to Shareholders and Satur-
day Afternoon Rainy Day Fun
Book (New York: Panthe-
on, 2005), frontispiece.
1 3 5
Confronting the Intersections
of Race, Immigration, and Representation
in Chris Ware’s Comics
Chris Warc’s :oo¸ collccLion Te ACMF Report conLains somc oí Lhc mosL
íorccíul and clcarly arLiculaLcd criLiqucs oí Amcrican culLural idcnLiLy and
naLional policy in Lhc hisLory oí comics. Alongsidc his own sLrips and shorL
Lalcs, Warc incorporaLcs a dccply ironic and saLirical hodgcpodgc oí Lurn-oí-
Lhc-ccnLury ncwspapcr and magazinc advcrLs, ±µ¸os-cra caLaloguc sprcads
and prizc givcaways, in which his ACMF NovclLy Company is casL as a mcLa-
phorical sLand-in íor Lhc Amcrican naLion-sLaLc, wiLh spccial cmphasis on iLs
impcrialisLic cndcavors abroad and naLivisLic policics aL homc. In Lhis vol-
umc, Warc inLcrwcavcs boLh hisLorical and conLcmporary acsLhcLics, sLylcs,
and modcs oí rcprcscnLaLion in an cfforL Lo “cxpand Lhc possibiliLics íor Lhc
[comics] íorm, jusL Lo gcL in a liLLlc morc scnsc oí a rcal cxpcricncc.”
In so do-
ing, hc cmploys boLh visual and LcxLual comics Lropcs as a mcans Lo sharply
criLicizc Lhc LrcaLmcnL and pcrccpLion oí íorcign naLionals who immigraLc Lo
Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs. On Lhc insidc covcr oí Te ACMF Report, a spacc Lypically
rcscrvcd íor ads in LradiLional comic books, onc finds an anLiquaLcd LickcL
granLing Lhc bcarcr admiLLancc Lo “Lhc world’s grcaLcsL cnLcrLainmcnL íacil-
iLy [. . .] AMFRICA” via Lhc rcquircd “porL oí cnLry ccnLcr, CuanLanamo Bay,
Cuba” (scc fig. ±o.±).

By choosing Lo prcscnL his criLiquc oí LwcnLy-firsL-ccnLury Amcrican íor-
cign and domcsLic policy in an carly LwcnLicLh-ccnLury idiom, Warc offcrs an
inLcrcsLing hisLorical conLrasL. Tough Lhc LickcL’s visual clucs imply LhaL im-
migraLion Lo Amcrica is as casy and joyíul an cxpcricncc as a Lrip Lo an amusc-
mcnL park, Lhc LickcL’s LcxLual subjccL maLLcr urgcs rcadcrs Lo rc-cxaminc Lhc
myLhos oí hisLorically lcnicnL Amcrican immigraLion policics in lighL oí Lhc
rcccnL dcLainmcnL aL CuanLanamo Bay oí numcrous pcoplcs oí Arab dcsccnL
by Lhc Amcrican govcrnmcnL. Tc LickcL bcarcr is likcwisc providcd wiLh Lwo
waivcrs, onc rcquiring Lhc rclinquishmcnL oí “all righLs oí ciLizcnship oí your
incubaLion counLry, now and íorcvcr” and anoLhcr compclling Lhc surrcndcr
“oí all lcgal righLs, bclicís, affiliaLions, mcmbcrship in organizaLions or ían
clubs, plus íorcvcr and cvcr and cvcr your claim Lo whaL uscd Lo bc callcd duc
Whilc Lhcsc waivcrs arc clcarly parodics oí prcscnL-day Amcrican
íorcign and domcsLic policics LhaL disrcgard Lhc righLs oí “illcgal alicns” who
cross Lhc bordcr írom Mcxico and Lhc dcLainccs who arc bcing hcld indcfi-
niLcly in Cuba, Lhcy arc also rcmindcrs oí Lhc hisLorical LrcaLmcnL oí many
immigranLs Lo Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs, who wcrc mcL wiLh scorn and dcrision upon
arrival, rcíuscd propcr proLccLion undcr sLaLc and ícdcral law, and dcnicd ac-
ccss Lo ciLizcnship.
Tc íollowing blurb, which is prinLcd on Lhc LickcL iLsclí, makcs parLicularly
maniícsL Warc’s cvaluaLion oí Amcrican aLLiLudcs rcgarding immigranLs:
TIRED of waiting for your backwoods homeland to secure democracy and get all of the
neat stuff that was supposed to come along with it? [. . .] Well, why not just come VISIT
the world’s richest constitutional republic and allow all the luxurious perks of a capitalist
consciousness like self-centeredness, entitlement, and a sanguine apathy towards the rest of
the planet color your every thought, action, and romantic conquest? Really—cast aside
any sense of debt to society, begin developing your own personal mythology, and get
that “freedom feeling” RIGHT NOW [. . .] Maybe someday you’ll even be accepted as a
According Lo Warc, Amcrica—íoundcd on and íorgcd ouL oí racisL, naLivis-
Lic, capiLalisLic, and impcrialisLic policics and idcologics, a naLion LhaL has
bccn sLccpcd in noLions oí iLs own cxccpLionalism and supcrioriLy—was
ncvcr sLrucLurcd Lo supporL Lhc myLh oí racial, cLhnic, and poliLical inclu-
sion. RaLhcr, hc argucs, Amcrica has always Lakcn íor granLcd Lhc mcans by
which iL achicvcd iLs dcvclopmcnL, insisLcnLly disrcgardcd Lhc valuc oí do-
mcsLic and inLcrnaLional immigranL OLhcrs, and conLinually romanLicizcd iLs
own ccasclcss “conqucsL.” All oí Lhis has bccn madc possiblc by Lhc crcaLion
oí numcrous individual and naLional myLhologics LhaL supporL and promul-
gaLc Lhc ficLion oí Lhc Amcrican drcam. Tcsc “pcrsonal myLhologics,” Warc
argucs, musL bc dcconsLrucLcd and rc-inLcrprcLcd in ordcr Lo comc Lo any
solvcnL comprchcnsion oí Lhc pasL, prcscnL, and íuLurc.
Tough Lhis work is parLicularly maniícsL in Te ACMF Report, iL is also
a sLrucLuring moLií LhroughouL Warc’s mosL cxLcndcd projccL, Lhc graphic
novcl 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth. Warc’s novcl, which íollows
íour gcncraLions oí Corrigan mcn írom Lhcir carly days in ±8¡os Ircland Lo
posLmodcrn ±µ8os Amcrica, is a dcLailcd cxploraLion oí Lhc hisLory, LrcaL-
mcnL, and cngagcmcnL oí immigranLs across LwcnLicLh-ccnLury Amcrica. In
1ìmmy Corrìgan, as in Te ACMF Report, Warc dcconsLrucLs íamiliar hisLorics
oí immigraLion and racc rclaLions by firsL disrupLing Lhc “pcrsonal myLhol-
ogy” oí Lhc scamlcss passagc oí Lhc non-whiLc, íorcign immigranL on his way
Lo bccoming a whiLc Amcrican. Warc addiLionally brings Lo bcar Lhc rclaLion-
ship bcLwccn Aírican Amcricans, who wcrc broughL Lo Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs
againsL Lhcir will and havc ncvcr bccn íully inLcgraLcd inLo Amcrican socicLy,
and Lhosc samc whiLc immigranLs. In Lhis LcxL, Warc consLrucLs an incrcd-
ibly complcx íamily drama, in which racial, cLhnic, and naLional idcnLiLy arc
invcsLigaLcd in Landcm wiLh onc anoLhcr.
For Lhosc wcll vcrscd in comics hisLory, iL should comc as no surprisc LhaL
Warc chooscs Lo siLuaLc his criLiquc oí Amcrica around Lhc rcprcscnLaLion
and LrcaLmcnL oí immigranL OLhcrs. Comics hisLorian David Hajdu rcminds
us LhaL Richard FclLon OuLcaulL’s Hogan’s A||ey, Lhc ±8µos comic sLrip ícaLur-
ing “Lhc Ycllow Kid,” now widcly rcgardcd as Lhc firsL Amcrican comics “scn-
was set in the gutters of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and depicted the rowdy antics of
a gang of young scruffs. The Kid himself [. . .] was a crude but strangely endearing cari-
cature of the immigrant poor—barefoot, ugly, inarticulate, concerned only with base
pleasures, and disposed to violence. He rarely spoke, and then did so in a marginally
intelligible pidgin jumble of ethnic clichés. [. . .] His pals, much the same, were all vulgar
stereotypes: oil-smeared Italians throwing tomatoes; Negroes with gum-bubble lips,
snoozing or cowering in fear; scowling Middle Easterners in fezzes, waving scimitars—
comrades in egalitarian minstrelsy.
Tc cvcr-cxpanding immigranL populaLions oí major Amcrican ciLics immcdi-
aLcly Look Lo Lhc Ycllow Kid and oLhcr ncwspapcr comic sLrip characLcrs likc
him. Far írom bcing offcndcd by Lhc racial (and whaL onc mighL now call rac-
isL) caricaLurcs, Lhcy insLcad íclL as Lhough Lhcsc comics wcrc wriLLcn abouL
Lhcir cxpcricnccs and prcscnLcd in a íormaL Lhcy could all casily comprchcnd.
Tis was largcly bccausc, as Hajdu cxplains, Lhc firsL Amcrican comic books
wcrc oíLcn wriLLcn by “immigranLs and childrcn oí immigranLs, womcn,
1cws, ILalians, Ncgrocs, IaLinos, Asians, and myriad social ouLcasLs,” who un-
dcrsLood Lhcir audicnccs wcll and kncw how Lo cnLcrLain Lhcm.
Indccd, onc
oí Chris Warc’s comic íorbcars, Ccorgc Hcrriman, Lhc invcnLor oí Krazy Kat,
was a “‘colorcd Crcolc’ írom Ncw Orlcans who allowcd oLhcrs Lo misLakc him
íor Crcck.”
Chcap and rcadily acccssiblc comics offcrcd minoriLics an cscapc
írom Lhc rigors and rcaliLy oí Lhcir livcs. Comic sLrips and comic books, Lhcn,
havc always bccn aLLuncd Lo Lhc cxpcricnccs oí immigranL OLhcrs and, by cx-
Lcnsion, oí non-whiLc OLhcrs who similarly íound Lhcmsclvcs ouLsidc oí Lhc
Amcrican culLural and social mainsLrcam. Civcn LhaL Lhc firsL major Amcri-
can comic sLrip characLcr, Lhc Ycllow Kid, and Lhc firsL Amcrican supcrhcro,
Supcrman, wcrc boLh consLrucLcd as immigranLs, Lhcrc is no doubL LhaL Lhc
comics languagc was noL mcrcly conccrncd wiLh Lhc cxpcricnccs oí immi-
granLs, buL was likcwisc aLLuncd Lo Lhcir pcrccpLion and rcprcscnLaLion.
Howcvcr, modcrn rcadcrs cannoL cscapc Lhc íacL LhaL dcspiLc carlicr cí-
íorLs Lo rcndcr Lhc immigranL cxpcricncc in a way LhaL immigranLs Lhcm-
sclvcs could rccognizc and apprcciaLc, Lhc imagcs comics arLisLs cmploycd
wcrc oíLcn racisL and conLaincd crass sLcrcoLypcs. According Lo Warc’s
Longuc-in-chcck hisLory oí arL, Lhis is bccausc comic arL has “iLs sLrongcsL
rooLs [. . .] not in Lhc Acadcmic LradiLion, buL in an arcanc sysLcm oí ±µLh
ccnLury physìognomy and racìa| carìcature|”
ArL Spicgclman, in an cssay rc-
garding racial rcprcscnLaLion and Lhc comics íorm, cchocs Warc’s scnLimcnL:
“CarLoon languagc is mosLly limiLcd Lo dcploying a handíul oí rccognizablc
visual symbols and clichcs. IL makcs usc oí Lhc discrcdiLcd pscudo-scicnLific
principlcs oí physiognomy Lo porLray characLcr Lhrough a ícw physical aL-
LribuLcs and íacial cxprcssions. IL Lakcs skill Lo usc such clichcs in ways LhaL
cxpand or subvcrL Lhis impovcrishcd vocabulary.”
Spicgclman and Warc boLh look back Lo Rodolphc Topffcr, rcgardcd by
many as Lhc firsL comics arLisL, who in his LracL Fssay on Physìognomy cxplains
Lhc arL oí dcciphcring or divining Lhc moral and inLcllccLual makcup oí an
individual bascd upon a carcíul sLudy oí Lhcir íacial ícaLurcs.
Whilc Topffcr
cxprcsscs a dcgrcc oí anxicLy abouL cmploying Lhc pracLicc oí physiognomy
Lo dcLcrminc a pcrson’s acLual moral or inLcllccLual capabiliLics in any sorL oí
rcal-world conLcxL, hc is noncLhclcss an advocaLc oí Lhc “scicncc” as iL pcr-
Lains Lo Lhc cxcrcisc oí wriLing succcssíul comics. According Lo Topffcr, Lhc
comic arLisL musL firsL asccrLain Lhc mcaning oí ccrLain íacial ícaLurcs (íor
cxamplc, cycs, cars, noscs, or lips), csLablish which prccisc combinaLion oí
ícaLurcs corrcsponds Lo which spccific characLcrs, pcrsonaliLy, or Lypc, and
subscqucnLly dcLcrminc in advancc whaL prccisc conclusions rcadcrs will
rcach upon cxamining Lhosc cycs or cars or lips on a characLcr’s íacc. Topffcr’s
languagc is dcpcndcnL upon Lhc arLisL’s rcndcring a caricaLurc so succcssíully
LhaL Lhc mcaning oí Lhc imagc is fixcd wiLhin Lhc conLcxL oí Lhc comic iL-
sclí and in Lhc world ouLsidc oí Lhc comic. Topffcr’s languagc, iL sccms, only
works whcn iL has cffccLivcly prcycd upon and rcalizcd Lhc rcadcr’s insLinc-
Lual judgmcnLs and inviLcd him Lo comc Lo an immcdiaLc assumpLion abouL
Lhc Lypc oí characLcr hc is cncounLcring.
DcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL Topffcr’s comics languagc has provcn indispcnsablc
íor his own work, Warc noncLhclcss acknowlcdgcs LhaL “Lhc flavor oí cari-
caLurc LhaL Topffcr rcgularly cmploys—juLLing chin and squarish, bulbous,
proLruding nosc [. . .] íccls somcwhaL ouLmodcd Loday. Iikc Lhc clongaLcd s
in cighLccnLh-ccnLury documcnLs LhaL rcads as an j Lo modcrn cycs, Topffcr’s
archaic sLylc poLcnLially Lrips up Lhc possibiliLy íor cmpaLhy wiLh his charac-
Tis is bccausc, as Warc acknowlcdgcs, Lhc arLisL and rcadcr arc sub-
jccL Lo vcry spccific sociocconomic, racial, culLural, and hisLorical conLcxLs
which scrvc Lo ovcrdcLcrminc Lhcir cngagcmcnL wiLh Lhc imagcs. As a rcsulL,
Lhc ways in which comics arLisLs crcaLc and comics rcadcrs inLcrprcL Lhc im-
agcs havc cvcryLhing Lo do wiLh Lhcir own parLicular idcologics, idcnLiLics,
and hisLorics, which may or may noL bc in closc alignmcnL wiLh cach oLhcr.
Civcn LhaL Lhc principlcs oí comics arL arc dcpcndcnL upon boLh clichc and
physiognomic logic, iL can bc difficulL íor Lhc comics arLisL Lo find a way oí
accuraLcly rcprcscnLing racial diffcrcncc whilc sLill working wiLh and around
Lhc “impovcrishcd vocabulary” oí Lhc comics languagc.
Warc dcscribcs, in Lhc íollowing passagc, jusL how difficulL Lhis proccss can
bc íor arLisLs:
When I was in college at the University of Texas at Austin in 1989, I was doing a strip
for the student newspaper. At the bottom of the strip, I drew two characters (try-
ing to do a sort of emblematic “Mutt and Jeff” thing) where I wouldn’t show anything
but their faces floating in space. Entirely unconsciously, I designed these characters as
people or “non-animals” with black heads and big white mouths, like Mickey Mouse
without ears. Before I knew it, the Black Student Alliance was writing these nasty let-
ters to the student newspaper demanding big apologies, as well as demanding that my
strip be pulled from the paper. They were going to seek me out and set my house on
fire, that kind of thing. Suddenly, I realized that I actually had done these horrible racist
caricatures, and that I wasn’t even aware of it. I felt terrible, and when I examined it,
I realized a great part of the “visual rush” of comics is at least partially, if not almost
entirely, founded in racist caricature. If you look at many early comic strips, they’re
endemically “ethnic.” Abie the Agent is obviously a Jewish caricature. Happy Hooligan
is an Irish caricature. And black caricatures obviously go back to the minstrel days and
earlier. Even Mickey Mouse . . . what is he doing with white gloves? Gee, I wonder
where that comes from. The simplification of the face comes out of an effort to distill
a particular identity down to a few simple features, and that includes racial identity. It’s
creepy when you think about it.
As Lhc abovc anccdoLc cvidcnccs, Lhc imagcs uscd in comics arc unavoidably
loadcd wiLh a culLural mcaning LhaL is ncvcr sLaLic or fixcd, buL raLhcr dcpcn-
dcnL upon pcrsonal, hisLorical, and narraLological conLcxL. As Warc lcarncd,
Lhc succcss oí Lhc comics íorm in Lhc laLLcr halí oí Lhc LwcnLicLh ccnLury
dcpcnds upon Lhc arLisL’s abiliLy Lo “disLill a parLicular idcnLiLy”—including
racial idcnLiLy—in a simplc way wiLhouL pandcring Lo or indulging in racial
misrcprcscnLaLion and racisL caricaLurc. BuL givcn LhaL Lhc mosL basic com-
poncnLs oí Lhc comics languagc arc sLccpcd in physiognomic logic, iL bccomcs
incrcdibly difficulL Lo scparaLc LhaL which is “cmblcmaLic” in Lhc comics írom
LhaL which is racisL. Fvcn Lhough iL was noL Warc’s inLcnLion Lo producc “hor-
riblc racisL caricaLurcs,” hc unLhinkingly had, and Lhis, hc discovcrcd, had cv-
cryLhing Lo do wiLh Lhc uncasy slippagc bcLwccn Lhc languagc oí comics and
Lhc long hisLory oí racial rcprcscnLaLion boLh wiLhin and ouLsidc Lhc comics
world. Tc job oí Lhc comics arLisL, Warc suggcsLs, is Lo cnablc Lhc rcadcr Lo
noL only insLanLancously comprchcnd Lhc mcaning oí Lhc imagc iLsclí, buL Lo
undcrsLand Lhc mcaning oí LhaL imagc in Lhc conLcxL oí boLh Lhc narraLivc
and Lhc “rcal” world. Sincc his cxpcricnccs aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Tcxas, Warc
has consisLcnLly laborcd Lo makc plain Lhc rclaLionship bcLwccn Lhc comics
íorm and racial imagcry by boLh cmploying and challcnging modcs oí racial
rcprcscnLaLion wiLhin conLcmporary conLcxLs and conccpLions oí hisLory and
idcnLiLy. By appcaling Lo Lhc rcadcr’s abiliLy Lo judgc and comc Lo conclusions
abouL OLhcrs vcry quickly, Warc’s comics can alLcr Lhosc iniLial rcsponscs by
rcconLcxLualizing and rcíormulaLing convcnLionally racializcd imagcs.
In 1ìmmy Corrìgan, Warc cxpands upon Lhc physiognomic íoundaLions oí
Lhc comics íorm by rcprcscnLing racial diffcrcncc and racial caricaLurc ovcr
Lhc coursc oí Lhc ccnLury as Lwo disLincL, Lhough uncomíorLably rclaLcd phc-
nomcna. Tc prcscnL momcnL oí Lhc comic, scL in ±µ8os Illinois and Michi-
gan, is spliccd Lhrough wiLh myriad flashbacks, drcams, mcmorics, íanLasics,
and hisLorical rccords as Lhc proLagonisL, 1immy, Lravcls Lo visiL his íaLhcr,
1amcs William Corrigan, íor Lhc firsL Limc in his rcccnL mcmory. Whilc Lhcrc
íor a long wcckcnd, 1immy mccLs his adopLcd Aírican Amcrican sisLcr Amy
who, Lhc rcadcr cvcnLually lcarns, is his sccond cousin—1immy and Amy
sharc Lhc samc grcaL-grandíaLhcr, William Corrigan. TroughouL Lhc coursc
oí Lhc comic, Lhc prcscnL momcnL oí 1immy’s visiL Lo his íaLhcr is cxplicaLcd
in Landcm wiLh Lhc liíc and Limcs oí his grandíaLhcr, Lhc grandson oí Irish
immigranLs, as a young boy living in ±8µos Chicago.
Bccausc Warc is invcsLcd in addrcssing racial rcprcscnLaLion in Lhc comics
íorm, hc chooscs Lo organizc his narraLivc around Lhc cxpcricnccs oí Irish
immigranLs and Lhc dcsccndanLs oí Aírican slavcs—Lwo groups which havc
bccn viciously sLcrcoLypcd and caricaLurcd LhroughouL Lhc hisLory oí Lwcn-
LicLh-ccnLury Amcrica. As a rcsulL, Warc’s obscssivc aLLcnLion Lo hisLorical
dcLail in 1ìmmy Corrìgan rcndcrs a íar morc complicaLcd and involvcd picLurc
oí Lhc rclaLionship bcLwccn immigranLs and Aírican Amcricans Lhan mosL
LradiLional hisLorics oí Amcrican idcnLiLy, Irish Amcrican idcnLiLy, or Aírican
Amcrican idcnLiLy would cvcr likcly cvincc. To LhaL cnd, Warc’s LcxL compli-
caLcs Amcrican idcnLiLy in Lhrcc ways: by addrcssing Lhc rcal cxpcricnccs oí
non-whiLc immigranLs upon Lhcir arrival Lo Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs, by Lroubling
Lhc racial puriLy oí immigranL íamily bloodlincs, and by conflaLing Lhc cx-
pcricnccs oí slavcs and immigranLs in Lhc consLrucLion oí Lhosc bloodlincs.
FurLhcrmorc, by cxploring Lhc ways in which slavcs, immigranLs, and Lhcir
dcsccndanLs havc bccn racially and culLurally cnmcshcd in Amcrica, Warc’s
LcxL suggcsLs LhaL racc is noL only an illusion, buL a grand íalsc mcmory, Lhc
producL oí a collccLivc rcíusal Lo cngagc wiLh or conccdc a grcaLcr human
involvcmcnL which is noL racial, buL íamilial. In Lhis way, Warc’s LcxL is an
cxccllcnL cxamplc oí Lhc ways in which Lhc comics íorm can bc cmploycd Lo
challcngc LradiLional hisLorics and Lo rccasL Lhcm in morc complicaLcd ways.
Tc íamily narraLivc bcgins wiLh 1immy Corrigan’s grcaL-grcaL-grandía-
Lhcr, a physician in a small villagc in Ircland, who, along wiLh his prcgnanL
wiíc, scLs sail íor Ncw York in Lhc mid-±8¡os. Oncc Lhcrc, 1immy’s grcaL-
grcaL-grandmoLhcr givcs birLh Lo a son, William, Lhc firsL naLivc-born Amcri-
can Corrigan.
1immy’s grcaL-grcaL-grandparcnLs would noL havc bccn alonc
in making Lhis voyagc, approximaLcly ±.¸ million Irish immigranLs arrivcd on
Amcrican shorcs bcLwccn Lhc ycars oí ±8¡6 and ±8¸¸, cach cxpccLing bcLLcr
wagcs, dcccnL work, acccss Lo propcrLy, and unbridlcd culLural and rcligious
írccdom. Howcvcr, Lhc cxpcricnccs oí Lhosc who camc írom Ircland, likc Lhc
Corrigans, and írom Ccrmany, ILaly, and FasLcrn Furopc wcrc madc cxcccd-
ingly difficulL bccausc Lhcsc “Ncw ImmigranLs,” as Lhcy wcrc callcd (Lo disLin-
guish Lhcm írom Lhc prcccding wavcs oí immigraLion írom WcsLcrn Furopc),
wcrc noL considcrcd Lo bc whiLc. Duc Lo accclcraLcd lcvcls oí immigraLion Lo
Amcrican shorcs aL Lhc Limc oí 1immy’s grcaL-grcaL-grandparcnLs’ arrival, Lhc
naLion-sLaLc had bcgun Lo cnLcr a ncw sLagc in iLs dcvclopmcnL, markcd by
rampanL naLivism and accclcraLcd racism LhaL was iníuscd in, and produccd
ouL oí, Lhc ícar LhaL Lhc prcscncc oí millions oí immigranLs would íundamcn-
Lally and irrcvocably alLcr Lhc naLional, racial, and culLural characLcr oí Lhc
Amcrican. Tc Amcrican characLcr, iL was argucd, had iLs origins and basis
in Lhc whiLc, Furopcan, Anglo-Saxon LradiLion. As a rcsulL, whiLcncss, which
had hcrcLoíorc bccn conccivcd oí as a vasL monoliLhic racial idcnLiLy, was rc-
sLrucLurcd, as MaLLhcw Fryc 1acobson noLcs, inLo a “íragmcnLcd, hicrarchi-
cally arrangcd scrics oí disLincL ‘whiLc raccs.’”
Ií Lhc Irish immigranLs wcrc
Lo bc considcrcd Amcricans and ciLhcr conLinucd Lo havc childrcn amongsL
Lhcmsclvcs or “inLcr-brccd” wiLh puLaLivcly “rcal” whiLc Amcricans, Lhcy
would, wiLh Limc, mongrclizc Amcricanncss and dcsLroy whiLcncss.
Whilc such inLra-whiLc divisions would anncal wiLh Limc, Aírican Amcri-
cans íaccd a much sLccpcr barricr Lo culLural assimilaLion. As onc conLcmpo-
rary scholar puL iL, whcrcas “‘Irishmcn, Ccrmans, Frcnchmcn, cLc., comc hcrc,
scLLlc down, bccomc ciLizcns, and Lhcir offspring born and raiscd on Amcri-
can soil diffcr in no apprcciablc or pcrccpLiblc manncr írom oLhcr Amcricans
[ . . . Lhc Ncgro is] as absoluLcly and spccifically unlikc Lhc Amcrican as whcn
Lhc racc firsL Louchcd Lhc soil and firsL brcaLhcd Lhc air oí Lhc Ncw World.’”

Unlikc, hc argucs, Lhc Aírican’s dark skin which rcmains a pcrmancnL sLain,
“‘Lhc coarsc skin, big hands and íccL, Lhc broad LccLh, pug nosc cLc. oí Lhc
Irish and Ccrman laborcr pass away in a gcncraLion or Lwo,’” rcndcring Lhcm,
íor all inLcnLs and purposcs, as whiLc as Lhc Anglo-Saxon.
As wc scc hcrc,
in addiLion Lo Lhcir culLural, moral, and inLcllccLual inícrioriLy, immigranLs
and Aíricans wcrc also considcrcd Lo bc physìca||y inícrior Lo Anglo-Saxons,
who wcrc bcauLiíul noL only bccausc Lhcy wcrc whiLc, buL bccausc oí Lhcir
finc íacial ícaLurcs and sLrong, graccíul bodics. By dcgrccs, and parLicularly
in posLbcllum Amcrica, iL was argucd LhaL Lhc Irish immigranL, alrcady a Lypc
oí lowcr-ordcr whiLc man, would losc his unsccmly physical and moral char-
acLcrisLics and would appcar and bchavc morc and morc Amcrican and lcss
and lcss Irish wiLhin buL a ícw gcncraLions. Tc Aírican, on Lhc oLhcr hand,
whosc dark skin was inimical Lo whiLc bcauLy, would ncvcr bccomc whiLc,
no maLLcr how many gcncraLions passcd him by. As a comics arLisL, Warc is
dccply aLLuncd Lo Lhc ways in which racial rcprcscnLaLion has bccn hisLori-
cally aLLachcd Lo racisL pcrccpLions oí Lhc subjccL’s inícrioriLy. By cxamining
Lhc ways in which Lhc Corrigans bccamc whiLc and losL Lhcir Irish and Aírican
hcriLagcs, hc draws aLLcnLion Lo Lhc ways in which Amcricans havc hisLori-
cally obíuscaLcd blood rclaLions by filLcring Lhcm Lhrough rigid racial idcnLi-
Warc bcgins Lhis cxploraLion in a sccnc in which William Corrigan Lakcs
his son, 1amcs, Lo scc a 1im Crow magic-lanLcrn film (scc plaLc ±¡).
Tc firsL
Lwo imagcs show a woman—a pcríccL Irish caricaLurc wiLh hcr slighL pug
nosc, rcd hair, and írccklcs—placing a pic in an ovcn and scLLing iL gcnLly on
Lhc window sill. In Lhc Lhird imagc, Lhc wcll-known nincLccnLh-ccnLury min-
sLrcl 1im Crow pccks his ink-black hcad in Lhc window. His hands, donncd in
Lhc LradiLional whiLc minsLrcl glovcs, rcach íor Lhc pic, his absurdly largc lips
roundcd in anLicipaLion. In Lhc íourLh and final slidc, Lhc window has comc
down on 1im Crow’s hcad, and Lhc pic has slippcd ouL oí his grasp, hcadcd
íor Lhc floor. Tc Irishwoman’s íacc can bc sccn in Lhc uppcr-righL-hand cor-
ncr, buL raLhcr Lhan ouLragc, shc is shown laughing loudly and maliciously.
Tc slidc scrvcs a dual íuncLion in Lhis sccnc. As a hisLorical rcproducLion, iL
draws aLLcnLion Lo Lhc ways in which racisL caricaLurcs oí boLh Aírican and
Irish Amcricans wcrc uscd Lo amusc and LiLillaLc Lurn-oí-Lhc-ccnLury audi-
cnccs, indccd, aíLcr Lhc vicwing, William rcmarks Lo his son LhaL Lhc 1im
Crow slidc was his íavoriLc and chucklcs in piLy íor “poor old ‘1im Crow’” (,o).
BuL Lhis slidc also providcs Lhc rcadcr wiLh a way oí rcading racc in Lhc comic
iLsclí. Bccausc William Corrigan and his son arc vicwing Lhc slidc in Lhc nar-
raLivc, Lhc rcadcr musL makc a disLincLion bcLwccn racisL caricaLurc and ra-
cial rcprcscnLaLion, in oLhcr words, William and 1amcs arc characLcrs who
havc bccn rcndcrcd according Lo Lhc physiognomic principlcs oí Lhc comics
languagc, buL Lhcy arc noL racisL caricaLurcs. By juxLaposing Lhcsc Lwo con-
sLrucLs—Lhc imagcs on Lhc slidc and William’s rcacLion Lo Lhc imagcs on Lhc
slidc—Warc is ablc Lo commcnL on Lhc hisLory oí racial rcprcscnLaLion and
aL Lhc samc Limc work wiLhin and ouLsidc iL. WhaL is mosL significanL abouL
Lhis sccnc, howcvcr, is LhaL William Corrigan docs noL rcgisLcr any awarcncss
LhaL Lhc Irishwoman in Lhc slidc scrvcs Lhc samc íuncLion as 1im Crow—Lo
cxaggcraLc Lhc pcrccivcd unaLLracLivc physical characLcrisLics oí Lhc Irish and
pcoplcs oí Aírican dcsccnL íor Lhc amuscmcnL oí largcly whiLc Amcrican au-
dicnccs. Bccausc William docs noL conccivc oí himsclí as Irish, hc ignorcs Lhc
caricaLurc oí Lhc Irishwoman and insLcad placcs his íocus on Lhc imagc oí 1im
William’s rcíusal Lo cngagc wiLh his own cLhno-racial parLiculariLy has a
proíoundly ncgaLivc cffccL on his son, 1amcs, who is íundamcnLally unawarc
LhaL hc has Irish anccsLors. In onc cxLcndcd sccnc in Lhc novcl, 1amcs mccLs a
young ILalian immigranL, and whilc wc scnsc LhaL Lhc Lwo play wcll LogcLhcr,
1amcs is noncLhclcss dcspcraLcly aíraid LhaL anyonc should discovcr Lhcir
íricndship whilc in school. Onc day, Lhc young boy brings 1amcs a giíL oí
a small mcLal sculpLurc oí a horsc, whilc aL homc, 1amcs shows his giíL Lo
his own horsc, Lclling him: “TaL wcird ILalian kid gavc iL Lo mc. I haLc him,
Lhough. [. . .] Hc’s a liLLlc ‘wop’” (::,). 1amcs knows LhaL Lhc boy is “wcird” bc-
causc hc spcaks in Lhc Lhickly acccnLcd and brokcn Fnglish oí Lhc ncw immi-
granL. Bccausc 1amcs will only shun Lhc boy whcn Lhcy arc in school, iL sccms
LhaL 1amcs is aíraid LhaL Lhc young immigranL’s diffcrcncc will somchow bc-
comc his diffcrcncc, LhaL his idcnLiLy will bc irrcvocably alLcrcd by associaLing
wiLh Lhis young boy. Tc ncxL day, howcvcr, Lhc young ILalian boy inviLcs
all oí Lhc schoolboys ovcr Lo his housc Lo makc sculpLurcs oí Lhcir own, and
1amcs, who is now aíraid LhaL Lhc young boy will dcspisc him bccausc oí his
carlicr cffronLcry, LcnLaLivcly walks Lo Lhcir homc Lo join Lhcm.
Upon arriving aL Lhcir homc, 1amcs discovcrs LhaL cvcryLhing abouL Lhis
young boy is diffcrcnL. Tc pagcs, which arc rcndcrcd in a scpia Lonc, call Lo
mind Lhc “Old World,” and iL is obvious LhaL Lhc boy’s íamily docs noL livc
in Amcrica in a manncr apprcciably diffcrcnL Lhan Lhcy did in ILaly. Having
bccn raiscd in a homc wiLh no onc buL his íaLhcr and his scrvanL, who was
in no way an acccpLcd parL oí Lhc íamily, 1amcs is sLunncd and ovcrwhclmcd
by Lhc husLlc and busLlc and by Lhc wclcomc inviLaLion hc rcccivcs Lo bc a
parL oí Lhcir íamily íor Lhc cvcning. Tc boy cvcnLually brings 1amcs Lo his
íaLhcr’s workshop, whcrc Lhcrc arc alrcady young boys huddlcd LogcLhcr bus-
ily sculpLing. Tough Lhc cnLirc íamily is drawn wiLh dark black hair and Lhick
hcavy cycbrows, Lhc boy’s íaLhcr, wiLh his mousLachc and work apron, calls Lo
mind Pinocchio’s íaLhcr, CcppcLLo, Linkcring in his workshop. Tis is an apL
visual and liLcrary rcícrcncc, íor noL only is his sLudio íull oí handmadc Loys,
ornamcnLs, and rcligious iconography, buL 1amcs also powcríully rcsponds
Lo him as a íaLhcr figurc. During Lhis visiL, 1amcs challcngcs his íaLhcr’s au-
LhoriLy íor Lhc firsL Limc, íor noL only is hc dcnying his will by going Lo Lhis
boy’s housc bcíorc hcading homc, hc is also opcnly cavorLing wiLh a pcoplc
íor whom his íaLhcr has noLhing buL conLcmpL. 1amcs lcarns LhaL Lhc young
boy’s diffcrcncc is noL sLrangc or Lcrriblc, as hc had always assumcd, buL ía-
miliar and comíorLing. As a rcsulL oí his Limc wiLh Lhis íamily, 1amcs is ablc
Lo humanizc Lhcm, cvcn dcsiring Lo bccomc onc oí Lhcm, Lo bc convcrLcd
inLo Lhc “wop” hc, only a maLLcr oí hours bcíorc, had so violcnLly bcraLcd. Tc
boy’s íaLhcr is wcll awarc oí Lhc íacL LhaL 1amcs is in dcspcraLc nccd oí carc,
and hc assumcs hc is “un oríano,” or an orphan boy (:¡±). In somc ways, Lhis
is Lruc, comparcd Lo Lhc immigranL íamily, who havc hcld íasL Lo old cusLoms
and habiLs in Amcrica, 1amcs’s liíc is asccLic, cold, and wiLhouL any scnsc oí
AL homc LhaL nighL, 1amcs is bcaLcn and íorbiddcn Lo cvcr rcLurn, buL sLill
íanLasizcs abouL his sculpLurc, bclicving LhaL iL will imprcss a girl aL school,
sccurc him populariLy, and cradicaLc all oí his problcms. Whcn hc rcccivcs
his piccc, howcvcr, iL is missing iLs Lwo íronL lcgs, cars and Lail—Lhc lcad, Lhc
young boy Lclls him, did noL fill Lhc casL complcLcly. All oí a suddcn, 1amcs
finds himsclí aL Lhc rccciving cnd oí ridiculc, as cvcryonc, including Lhc im-
migranL boy and Lhc girl hc íancics, crowds around him, poinLing fingcrs and
laughing hysLcrically. AL onc poinL, a child in Lhc crowd calls him “liLLlc micky
lcprcchaun” and gocs on Lo ask him, “Is Lhis ycr ‘poL o’ gold’ micky`” (:¡8).
IL is, oí coursc, dccply ironic LhaL 1amcs’s iniLial rcacLion Lo Lhc immigranL
child, and Lhc words hc uscd Lo dcscribc him, arc bcing visiLcd upon him in
Lhc cnd. BuL whaL is mosL inLcrcsLing hcrc is LhaL 1amcs was cnLircly unawarc
oí his own diffcrcncc, oí his own cLhno-racial parLiculariLy. William Corrigan,
who had cxisLcd in Lhc world oí whiLc privilcgc íor somc Limc, had acLivcly
workcd Lo crasc any noLion oí LhaL parLiculariLy írom Lhc íamily mcmory,
and, as a rcsulL, 1amcs suffcrs incrcdibly íor iL. As wc scc, in Lhcir cfforLs Lo
bccomc whiLc, Lhc Corrigans musL noL only cndurc prcjudicc, buL prcLcnd,
whcn Lhcy cncounLcr iL, LhaL iL docs noL pcrLain Lo Lhcm, in oLhcr words, Lhc
Corrigan mcn musL pass as Amcricans in ordcr Lo bc considcrcd Amcricans.
Whilc William acLivcly works Lo rcprcss Lhc mcmory oí his own immigranL
pasL, hc likcwisc rcíuscs Lo rccognizc his own mixcd-racc progcny. Whcn
1amcs is a young boy, William has an affair wiLh his Aírican Amcrican maid,
May, and sircs a child. Hc cvcnLually dismisscs hcr, wiLhouL cvcr acknowl-
cdging Lhcir child as his own, and subscqucnLly abandons 1amcs aL Lhc ±8µ¸
World’s Columbian FxposiLion (:8o–8±). In Lhc sccnc immcdiaLcly íollowing
1amcs’s abandonmcnL, wc mccL Amy Corrigan—William and May’s dcsccn-
danL—as a young girl, inLcrvicwing 1amcs, now an old man, íor a school
projccL in which shc has bccn chargcd Lo dcvisc and complcLc a íamily Lrcc
(:8¸–88). Amy, wc lcarn, was adopLcd by a young woman who marricd 1im
Corrigan, Lhc íaLhcr oí 1immy, son oí 1amcs and grandson oí William. Amy’s
Lask is riddlcd wiLh irony, íor hcr grandíaLhcr, 1amcs, is also hcr grandunclc,
and hcr íaLhcr, 1im, is hcr firsL cousin oncc rcmovcd. Howcvcr, bccausc no
onc rcmcmbcrs or could possibly rccall Lhc complcxiLy oí Lhcir rclaLionship,
in parL bccausc May’s placc in Lhis gcncalogy is conspicuously rcíuscd, and
bccausc Lhcy rcad Lhc bonds Lhcy havc íorgcd as supcrficial, Lhc cmphasis is
placcd noL on Lhcir íamily rclaLionship or on aLLcmpLs Lo rccovcr Lhc pasL,
buL on Lhcir racial diffcrcnccs. DcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL Amy has bccn adopLcd by
1amcs Corrigan, bccausc shc is Aírican Amcrican, noL only do Lhc Corrigan
mcn havc difficulLy cnvisioning hcr as onc oí Lhcm, Lhcy also ncvcr suspccL
LhaL shc mighL acLually bc Lhcir blood rclaLion.
Tough iL was Amy who rcqucsLcd LhaL 1im inviLc his long-losL son,
1immy, íor Lhc Tanksgiving holiday, Lhcir firsL mccLing Lakcs placc in a hos-
piLal, whcrc Lhcir íaLhcr has bccn Lakcn aíLcr a car accidcnL. Tc nursc who
mccLs Amy suggcsLs LhaL shc waiL íor 1immy Lo rcLurn írom Lhc rcsLroom,
rcícrring Lo him as hcr “husband” (:µ¸). Bccausc Amy is Aírican Amcrican,
or, raLhcr, bccausc shc looks black, Lhc nursc auLomaLically assumcs LhaL Amy
and 1immy arc noL siblings, or rclaLcd by blood, buL raLhcr assumcs LhaL any
possiblc íamilial bond bcLwccn Lhcm musL bc mariLal. Whilc Amy is obvi-
ously disquicLcd by Lhc coníusion as shc prcparcs Lo mccL hcr broLhcr íor Lhc
firsL Limc, shc noncLhclcss siLs down and bcgins Lo anxiously imaginc his íacc
(:µ¸) (scc plaLc ±¸). In a Topffcrian sLylc, Warc rcndcrs Amy’s racial imagining
oí 1immy as a scqucncc oí whiLc íaccs, cach onc rcprcscnLing diffcrcnL mcn
posscsscd oí varying pcrsonaliLics, disposiLions, and inLclligcnccs. Tough
Amy is vcry much awarc oí Lhc poLcnLial íor physical diffcrcnccs among
whiLcs, which is why, in hcr anLicipaLion, shc cyclcs Lhrough so many diffcr-
cnL Lypcs oí mcn, hcr racial imaginaLion docs Lcnd Lo run in sLock Lypcs: Lhc
ovcrwcighL guy wiLh glasscs and bad hair, Lhc clcan-cuL young man, Lhc bald-
ing middlc-agcr.
IL is hcrc LhaL Lhc conLcxL oí racializcd imagcs bccomcs oí LanLamounL
imporLancc. Bccausc Lhc rcadcr knows whaL 1immy acLually looks likc, Amy’s
racial imagining is ironic, in somc cascs, and humorous in oLhcrs. As Amy’s
íacc íramcs hcr imaginaLivc consLrucLion oí 1immy’s whiLc malcncss, Lhc
rcadcr is aL Lhc samc Limc madc awarc oí hcr dccidcdly Aírican Amcrican
íacial ícaLurcs: hcr dark brown skin, widc nosc, íull lips, and Lhick, black hair.
BuL bccausc Amy and 1immy arc rclaLcd by blood, dcspiLc Lhc íacL LhaL Lhcir
racial diffcrcncc masks LhaL rclaLionship, Lhc rcadcr is íorccd Lo cngagc wiLh
Amy’s racial diffcrcncc in Lcrms oí Lhc hisLory oí Lhc Corrigan íamily, in Lcrms
oí a comics languagc bound by caricaLurc, and in Lcrms oí Lhc prcscnL mo-
mcnL oí Lhc narraLivc iLsclí. In Lhis way, Warc challcngcs Lhc rcadcr Lo bccomc
simulLancously awarc oí racial diffcrcncc and racial rcprcscnLaLion wiLhouL
having Lo filLcr Lhc rcadcr’s awarcncss oí LhaL diffcrcncc and rcprcscnLaLion
Lhrough racisL logic and imagcry. AíLcr Lhcir cvcning aL Lhc hospiLal, Amy
shows 1immy phoLographs oí Lhcir íamily. Whilc cxamining a phoLo oí Lhcir
íaLhcr as a young man, Amy, jokingly, rcmarks LhaL 1immy “obviously [. . .]
look[s] morc likc him Lhan ! do, Lhough” (¸:¸). As 1immy scruLinizcs Lhc pho-
Lograph, apparcnLly unawarc oí Lhc íacL LhaL Amy was calling aLLcnLion Lo hcr
racial diffcrcncc in an cfforL Lo lighLcn Lhc mood, shc Lrics oncc again Lo draw
1immy ouL, noLing, “Wc’rc pracLically rclaLcd, righL`” (¸:8). Tcrc is somc-
Lhing painíully ironic in Lhis momcnL, as Amy and 1immy cxaminc Lhcir joinL
íamily hisLory and as Lhcy aLLcmpL Lo comc Lo Lcrms wiLh Lhc oLhcr’s cxis-
Lcncc, nciLhcr onc oí Lhcm could possibly, and will ncvcr, comc Lo undcrsLand
Lhc complcxiLy oí Lhcir bcing “pracLically rclaLcd.” Tc ncxL morning, Amy
and 1immy Lravcl back Lo Lhc hospiLal, whcrc Lhcy lcarn LhaL Lhcir íaLhcr has
passcd away, lcading Amy in a momcnL oí cxLraordinary gricí Lo rcjccL 1immy
and ordcr him Lo lcavc.
Tis, Warc sccms Lo suggcsL aL Lhc cnd oí his comic, is Lhc rcal Lragcdy,
Lhc dcvclopmcnL oí Lhc Amcrican naLion-sLaLc has rcquircd noLhing lcss Lhan
Lhc absoluLc disavowal oí imporLanL and íoundaLional íamily rclaLionships
LhaL havc bccn, and íorcvcr will bc, losL Lo vicw. Racc and racial diffcrcncc,
Warc suggcsLs, wcrc inLcndcd Lo dclibcraLcly conccal íamily rclaLions, and
Lhc rccovcry oí Lhcm is aLLainablc only Lhrough difficulL acLs oí imaginaLion.
Howcvcr, bccausc Lhc rcadcr is rcquircd Lo cngagc wiLh racial diffcrcncc, ra-
cial rcprcscnLaLion, and íamily rclaLions Lhrough Warc’s blcnding oí Lhc his-
Lorics oí Irish immigranLs and Aírican slavcs, boLh oí whom sLrugglcd Lrc-
mcndously in Lhcir cfforLs Lo bc considcrcd Amcrican and Lo parLicipaLc as
ciLizcn-subjccLs, Lhc rcadcr is madc awarc oí Lhc ways in which boLh groups
camc Lo bc idcnLificd as boLh racial and naLional subjccLs. Trough a carc-
íul rcconsidcraLion oí Lhc powcríul poLcnLial oí racial imagcry, Warc likcwisc
makcs room íor cauLious cxploraLion oí racial diffcrcncc in Lhc comics íorm,
cxpanding upon Topffcr’s original cxplicaLion oí Lhc powcr oí Lhc comics lan-
guagc whilc working solidly wiLhin iL. UlLimaLcly, Warc’s projccL rcmains onc
oí Lhc mosL vibranL and compclling Amcrican considcraLions oí racc and im-
migraLion in Lhc LwcnLy-firsL ccnLury.
1. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy
Day Fun Book (New York: Pantheon, 2005); Chris Ware, qtd. in Gene Kannenberg, “The Comics of
Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strategies,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image,
ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 174. To
find the original quote, see Andrea Juno, Dangerous Drawings (New York: Juno, 1997), 93.
2. Ware, The ACME Report, i.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (New
York: Farrar, 2008), 10.
6. Ibid., 25.
7. Ibid., 14.
8. Superman, born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, is rocketed to Earth by his father, Jor-El, and
subsequently adopted by a farmer and his wife. I am, in this way, reading him as an immigrant figure.
9. Ware, The ACME Report, 8.
10. Art Spiegelman, “Drawing Blood: Outrageous Cartoons and the Art of Outrage,” Harper’s
Magazine (June 2006): 45.
11. Rodolphe Töpffer, Enter: The Comics, trans. E. Wiese (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
12. Chris Ware, “Strip Mind,” Bookforum (April/May 2008): 45.
13. Chris Ware, interview with Juno, Dangerous Drawings, 58.
14. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), dust
jacket. Much of the information concerning the Corrigan family history is included on an intricate fam-
ily tree located on the inside cover of the dust jacket. For an analysis of Ware’s use of such diagrams,
see Isaac Cates’s essay is this volume.
15. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of
Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 43.
16. Ibid., 44. See also J. H. Van Evrie, The Negro and Negro Slavery (New York: Van Evrie and Hor-
ton, 1987), 103–28.
17. Ibid.
18. Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, 70. All further references to this text will be indicated in parentheses.
1 4 6
Public and Private Histories
in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan
Chris Warc’s graphic novcl 1ìmmy Corrìgan. the Smartest Kìd on Farth rclaLcs
Lhc sLorics oí Lwo ccnLral proLagonisLs: 1immy Corrigan, lcaving Chicago Lo
mccL his íaLhcr in Waukosha, Michigan, íor Tanksgiving in Lhc ±µ8os, and
1amcs Rccd Corrigan, growing up in Chicago in Lhc ±8µos and abandoncd aL
Lhc ±8µ¸ World’s Columbian FxposiLion. Tcsc narraLivcs alLcrnaLc Lhrough-
ouL Lhc coursc oí novcl, sharing LhcmaLic, symbolic, and visual rcsonanccs
as Lhcy progrcss. Howcvcr, Lhc novcl’s narraLivc conLcnL is also shapcd by a
paraLcxLual íramcwork oí prosc and imagcs, labclcd, rcspccLivcly, “Ccncral
InsLrucLions” and “Corrigcnda,” Lhrough which wc can bcLLcr undcrsLand
Lhc inLcrrclaLion bcLwccn novcl’s main ploLlincs and Lhc graphic narraLivc
sysLcm LhaL 1ìmmy Corrìgan cmploys.
In whaL íollows, I analyzc how Lhcsc
non-narraLivc pagcs iníorm Lhc novcl’s narraLivc sLrucLurc and claim LhaL
Lhc novcl draws a sharp disLincLion bcLwccn Lhc rcalms oí public and privaLc
hisLory. Whilc Lhc characLcrs arc isolaLcd wiLhin Lhcir rcspccLivc pcrsonal
narraLivcs, a sharcd, public hisLory gocs on around Lhcm in which Lhcy arc
powcrlcss Lo inLcrvcnc. An awarcncss oí Lhc scopc oí Lhis public hisLory is
availablc only Lo Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs, who musL work Lo synLhcsizc public and
privaLc hisLory inLo a cohcsivc wholc. To undcrsLand how Lhis sysLcm works,
wc should firsL considcr Lhc significancc oí Lhc paraLcxLual maLcrial aL Lhc
novcl’s conclusion.
Offcrcd as a sorL oí glossary, Lhc “Corrigcnda” providcs a scrics oí dcfini-
Lions íor Lcrms pcrLincnL Lo Lhc novcl: crutch, finger, |one|y, peach, sìmp|eton,
cLc. Tcsc symbols and rcpcaLcd moLiís cach ícaLurc a dcfiniLion, Lhough
Lhcsc dcfiniLions ironically offcr liLLlc addiLional clarificaLion. InLcrspcrscd
wiLh Lhcsc symbolic Lcrms arc liLcrary oncs: metaphor, symbo|, exposìtìon.
Metaphor is dcfincd as a “LighLly fiLLing suiL oí mcLal, gcncrally Lin, which
cnLircly cncloscs Lhc wcarcr, boLh impcding írcc movcmcnL and prcvcnLing
cmoLional cxprcssion and/or social conLacL,” Lhus subsLiLuLing a rccurring im-
agc írom 1immy’s drcam-world, Lhc Lin-man suiL, íor a convcnLional liLcrary
Lcrm (back covcr). Similarly, symbo| is dcfincd as “somcLhing LhaL rcprcscnLs
somcLhing clsc, csp. common in bad liLcraLurc. Also, a prinLcd or wriLLcn sign
uscd Lo rcprcscnL an undcrsLood corrcsponding aspccL oí cxpcricncc, gcncr-
ally rcad, and noL apprcciaLcd as an csLhcLic íorm in and oí iLsclí.” Hcrc, wc
havc a morc dirccL claim abouL how rcprcscnLaLion wiLhin Lhc novcl works,
by cquaLing symbolism wiLh Lhc graphic rcprcscnLaLion oí cxpcricncc, Lhis
dcfiniLion hinLs aL Lhc acsLhcLic sysLcm Lhc novcl cmploys, cvcn ií iL is un-
dcrcuL by Lhc íacL LhaL symbols arc “noL apprcciaLcd as [. . .] csLhcLic íorm[s]”
Tc rcprcscnLaLional schcma aL play bccomcs clcarcr wiLh Lhc dcfiniLion oí
exposìtìon: “Tc main body oí a work, esp. LhaL which cxplicaLcs a main Lhcmc,
or inLroduccs a íundamcnLal moLií.” Tis conccpLual dcfiniLion is paircd wiLh
a graphic rcprcscnLaLion oí an acLual cxposiLion, Lhc ±8µ¸ World’s Columbian
FxposiLion, which, oí coursc, íorms a major hisLorical backdrop íor 1amcs
Corrigan’s childhood narraLivc. By making Lhc FxposiLion Lhc “main body oí
[Lhc] work,” Lhis dcfiniLion hclps brings Lo Lhc íorc Lhc mulLiplc laycrs oí sig-
nificaLion aL sLakc in Lhc novcl’s rcprcscnLaLion—aL iLs hcarL a hisLorical scL-
Ling “which cxplicaLcs a main Lhcmc,” buL which musL bc prcscnLcd Lhrough
rccurring symbols in ordcr Lo rcprcscnL cxpcricncc. By skcwing Lhc usc oí
commonplacc liLcrary Lcrms, Lhcsc dcfiniLions cxpand and clariíy Lhc rcprc-
scnLaLional sLakcs oí Lhc novcl, csLablishing a rolc íor visual signs and hisLori-
cal significrs and offcring a “corrccL” way Lo undcrsLand Lhcsc Lcrms.
Tc kcy
qucsLion Lhus bccomcs, whcn Lakcn LogcLhcr, whaL do boLh scLs oí cndpapcrs
acLually prcscribc, and whaL arc Lhc Lcrms oí LhaL prcscripLion`
I proposc LhaL wc undcrsLand Lhc novcl’s cndpapcrs as prcscripLivc rcad-
ing insLrucLions LhaL guidc rcadcrs Loward a synLhcLic inLcrprcLaLion LhaL in-
LcrrclaLcs Lhc novcl’s Lwo main narraLivcs. Tis synLhcLic apprchcnsion, avail-
ablc only Lo Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs (and wiLhhcld írom iLs characLcrs), ulLimaLcly
rcvcals Lhc disLincLion bcLwccn pcrsonal and public hisLorics in Lhc novcl,
highlighLing Lhc ironic disLancc bcLwccn Lhc characLcrs’ cxpcricnccs and Lhc
hisLorical circumsLanccs LhaL surround Lhcm. Tus, Lhough 1ìmmy Corrìgan
has Lwo main narraLivcs, Lhcsc inLcnscly insular sLorics arc scparaLcd by Lhc
impcrsonaliLy oí hisLory. Tc obvious LhcmaLic and symbolic connccLions bc-
Lwccn Lhcsc Lwo narraLivc lincs arc only apparcnL Lo Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs, noL
iLs proLagonisLs, as only Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs can braid boLh Corrigan malcs’
livcs synLhcLically LogcLhcr across Lhcir hisLorical scparaLion. Tc novcl’s
scnsc oí hisLory, cmphasizcd by Lhc iconography and hisLorical parLicular-
iLy oí Chicago, Lhus bccomcs parL oí Lhc íormal and rcprcscnLaLional schcma
uscd Lo prcscnL Lhc scparaLc Corrigan narraLivcs.
Tis prcscripLivc rcading mcLhod, in combinaLion wiLh Lhc sLrucLural and
rcprcscnLaLional sysLcms oí Lhc novcl iLsclí, rcquircs a vcrsion oí comics Lhc-
ory LhaL Lakcs us bcyond a Lypical íormal cxplanaLion íor how comics makc
mcaning: ScoLL McCloud’s oíL-ciLcd noLion oí c|osure. In 0nderstandìng Com-
ìcs, McCloud cxplains LhaL “comics pancls íracLurc boLh Limc and spacc, offcr-
ing a jaggcd, sLaccaLo rhyLhm oí unconnccLcd momcnLs. BuL closurc allows us
Lo connccL Lhcsc momcnLs and mcnLally consLrucL a conLinuous, unificd rcal-
Howcvcr, Lhc noLion oí closurc, which Lypically opcraLcs on a pancl-Lo-
pancl lcvcl, docsn’L cxplain largcr-scalc graphic narraLivc sLrucLurcs, includ-
ing Lhc visual and symbolic rcpcLiLion bcLwccn Lhc main graphic narraLivcs
oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan. To accounL íor Lhis lcvcl oí complcxiLy, Lhc mcLa-narraLivc
cndpapcrs oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan offcr a rcading mcLhod LhaL cngagcs in a íullcr
vcrsion oí comics Lhcory, onc LhaL corrcsponds Lo Ticrry CrocnsLccn’s no-
Lion oí braìdìng. As BarL BcaLy and Nick Nguycn noLc, braiding rcícrs Lo “Lhc
way pancls (morc spccifically, Lhc imagcs in Lhc pancls) can bc linkcd in scrics
(conLinuous or disconLinuous) Lhrough non-narraLivc corrcspondcnccs, bc iL
iconic or oLhcr mcans.”
Tcsc “non-narraLivc corrcspondcnccs,” which opcr-
aLc aL Lhc mcLa-narraLivc lcvcl, providc links bcLwccn Lhc individual narra-
Livcs oí gcncraLions oí Lhc Corrigan íamily and Lhc largcr, hisLorical conLcxL.
To undcrsLand how Lhis íuncLions on Lhc pagc, I will now Lurn Lo Lhc rcading
mcLhod prcscribcd by 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s firsL scL oí cndpapcrs, labclcd “Ccn-
cral InsLrucLions.” From Lhcsc prcscripLivc “insLrucLions,” wc will scc LhaL in
Lhis vcrsion oí comics Lhcory, Lhc rcadcr occupics a privilcgcd posiLion írom
which Lo synLhcLically apprchcnd Lhc wholc oí Lhc novcl’s mcaning.
“Comic Strip Apprehension”
Tc “Ccncral InsLrucLions” LhaL opcn Lhc novcl’s cndpapcrs work Lo managc
rcadcrs’ cxpccLaLions, providing a varicLy oí paraLcxLs Lo oricnL Lhc rcadcr:
an inLroducLion, a bricí hisLory oí comics and Lhcir acsLhcLic uscs, Lips on
how and whcrc Lo rcad Lhc book, and so on. Tis prcscripLivc íramc dcclarcs
LhaL comics havc a spccific rolc in rcadcrs’ livcs, LhaL Lhcrc arc spccific skills
ncccssary Lo rcad a “comic sLrip” languagc, and LhaL poLcnLial rcadcrs musL
havc an apLiLudc íor comics analysis. Combincd, Lhcsc insLrucLions acL as cau-
Lionary lcssons íor rcadcrs who “mighL noL bc suiLably cquippcd Lo susLain a
succcssíul linguisLic rclaLionship wiLh Lhc picLographic LhcaLrc [LhaL Lhc rcsL
oí Lhc book] offcrs” (i). As Lhc (mock-scrious) arLiclc “Ncw PicLorial Ianguagc
Makcs Marks” adviscs, “wiLh Lhc many rcccnL Lcchnological brcakLhroughs
in picLorial linguisLics [. . .] such hcrcLoíorc-dormanL skills oí Comic SLrip Ap-
prchcnsion (or CSA) arc bcing rcawakcncd in Lhc adulL mind, paving Lhc way
íor Lhc cxplosion oí morc complicaLcd liLcraLurc which almosL ccrLainly looms
wiLhin Lhc ncxL dccadc” (ii). Tus, Lhcsc insLrucLions prcscnL Lhc analysis oí
comics as arduous and íraughL wiLh inLcrprcLivc pcril whilc simulLancously
ouLlining a cohcrcnL rcading mcLhod.
Tc íourLh sccLion oí Lhc insLrucLions, LiLlcd “Tcchnical FxplanaLion oí
Lhc Ianguagc, Dcvcloping Skills,” noLcs LhaL “somc basic prcmiscs musL bc
rc-csLablishcd bcíorc aLLcmpLing a Lhorough apprchcnsion oí Lhc complcLc
work. Bclow arc fivc LcsL qucsLions by which you should bc ablc Lo dcLcrminc
whcLhcr your undcrsLanding oí Lhc ‘comic sLrip’ languagc is sufficicnL Lo cm-
bark.” Tc rcadcr is insLrucLcd Lo consulL Lwo consccuLivc pancls, boLh dcpicL-
ing a discmbodicd hcad on Lhc ground and a mousc wiLh a hammcr (vcrsions
oí Warc’s rccurring characLcrs, Sparky Lhc CaL and Quimby Lhc Mousc) in or-
dcr Lo answcr a scrics oí qucsLions.
Tcsc qucsLions dclibcraLcly complicaLc
Lhc simplc pancl-Lo-pancl LransiLion, dcíamiliarizing Lhc puLaLivcly simplc
acL oí rcading comics by sLrcssing Lhc problcms LhaL rcadcrs mighL cncounLcr
ií Lhcy misundcrsLand Lhc narraLivc iníormaLion and iLs implicaLions. Spccifi-
cally, Lhcsc qucsLions suggcsL LhaL rcadcr mighL noL bc ablc Lo rccognizc com-
ics as a disLincL íorm oí rcprcscnLaLion, inícr scqucnLial acLion, undcrsLand
Lcmporal succcssion, rccognizc narraLivc Limc as disLincL írom Lhc momcnL
oí pcrccpLion, or corrccLly sympaLhizc wiLh Lhc sccnc. Tcsc misprisions arc,
oí coursc, íairly unlikcly, buL Lhc almosL absurd aLLcnLion Lo Lhcir possibiliLy
highlighLs Lhc complcxiLy oí Lhc comics Lhcory Warc is abouL Lo prcscnL, a
Lhcory LhaL undcrgirds Lhc main narraLivc oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
Tc “Tcchnical FxplanaLion” rcícrs Lhc rcadcr Lo Lhc diagram on Lhc íol-
lowing pagc íor assisLancc “ií ncccssary” (scc fig. ,.± in Isaac CaLcs’s cssay in
Lhis volumc).
Tough Lhis figurc may sccm nccdlcssly complcx aL firsL glancc,
iL dirccLly coordinaLcs Lhc íormal propcrLics oí comics wiLh Lhcir narraLivc
and cmoLivc cffccLs. Danicl Racburn has dcscribcd Lhis diagram as an “almosL
algcbraic dissccLion oí Lhc comics languagc [LhaL] diagrams Lhc languagc’s
iconic, LhcaLrical, Lcmporal and musical propcrLics.”
Bcyond Lhcsc rcgisLcrs,
figurc ,.± also makcs a claim abouL rclaLionship bcLwccn Lhc sclccLion oí nar-
raLivc maLcrial and how graphic narraLivc is (or oughL Lo bc) apprchcndcd
in iLs LoLaliLy by a rcadcr. Tc mosL promincnL porLion oí Lhis figurc is Lhc
largc circlc on Lhc lcíL-hand sidc, which prcscnLs a synLhcsis oí Lhc Lwo sLaLic
pancls prcscnLcd in Lhc “Tcchnical FxplanaLion.” Tis synLhcLic pancl rccalls
McCloud’s noLion oí c|osure: iL dcpicLs Lhc acLion a rcadcr oughL Lo inícr, LhaL
Quimby Lhc Mousc did indccd bring a hammcr down on Lhc discmbodicd
hcad oí Sparky, causing him pain.
ComplicaLing Lhis rclaLivcly obvious inLcrsLiLial acLion arc Lhrcc disLincL
sccLions oí Lhc diagram. FirsL, on Lhc lowcr lcíL, Lhcrc arc fivc Licrs LhaL (írom
boLLom Lo Lop) progrcssivcly spcciíy Lhc Lcmporal rangcs írom which Lhc idcal
narraLivc cvcnL is dcrivcd, cach Licr a morc local (and lcss hisLorical) rangc.
Sccond, Lhc Lop oí Lhc diagram ouLlincs modcs oí apprchcnsion, including
how Lhc duraLion and Limc oí obscrvaLion affccL Lhc rcadcr’s pcrccpLion. Fi-
nally, Lhc righL-hand sidc oí Lhc diagram brcaks down modcs oí apprchcnd-
ing Lhc original Lwo pancls írom Lhc prcvious pagc’s “Tcchnical FxplanaLion.”
Tis parL oí Lhc diagram spccifics Lhrcc inLcrrclaLcd sysLcms oí undcrsLand-
ing comics: (±) Lhc dirccL undcrsLanding oí acLion (closurc), connccLcd Lo Lhc
mind and Lhc book, (:) Lhc rccogniLion oí scparaLc sLaLic comics pancls, as-
sociaLcd wiLh Lhc cyc and Lhc sLagc, and (¸) Lhc synLhcsis oí Lhcsc Lwo modcs,
Licd Lo Lhc hcarL and music. Tough complicaLcd, Lhcsc Lhrcc modcs and Lhcir
rcspccLivc symbols (mind/book, cyc/sLagc, hcarL/music) rclaLc dirccLly Lo Lhc
mulLilaycrcd narraLivc oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
Applying Lhc Lhrcc modcs oí apprchcnsion prcscnLcd in figurc ,.± Lo Lhc
main narraLivcs oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan, wc can scc LhaL Lhcrc is a firm disLinc-
Lion bcLwccn Lhc novcl’s pcrsonal and public hisLorics and Lhc rcadcr’s un-
dcrsLanding oí Lhcsc narraLivc lcvcls. On Lhc onc hand, 1immy and his grand-
íaLhcr 1amcs livc wiLhin Lhcir privaLc, íclL cxpcricnccs, cach consLiLuLing a
prìvate hìstory wiLhin which an individual liíc is livcd (Lhc mind and book). On
Lhc oLhcr hand, 1immy and 1amcs Corrigan also livc wiLhin a morc objccLivc,
disLanccd pub|ìc hìstory, which rcprcscnLs cvcnLs and Lhosc who cxpcricncc
Lhcm only as sLaLic objccLs (Lhc cyc and sLagc).
Finally, Lhc synLhcsis oí noL
jusL Lhcsc privaLc and public hisLorics buL oí Lhc LoLaliLy oí Lhc narraLivc’s
parLs (Lhc hcarL and music) is aLLainablc only by Lhosc ablc Lo apprchcnd cor-
rccLly, Lhosc ablc Lo undcrsLand all oí Lhcsc narraLivc parLs in propcr rcla-
Lion. WiLhin Lhc novcl, Lhcn, iLs proLagonisLs, 1amcs and 1immy, arc cxcludcd
írom apprchcnding Lhc LoLaliLy oí Lhc work as a wholc, confincd Lo Lhcir own
pcrsonal cxpcricncc oí hisLory, a synLhcLic rcading mcLhod, championcd by
Lhc novcl’s cndpapcrs, is rcscrvcd only íor Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs. To undcrsLand
Lhc novcl in iLs LoLaliLy, rcadcrs musL noL only íollow Lhc Lwo main proLago-
nisLs’ sLorics, buL also link LogcLhcr Lhcir symbolic and iconic rcsonanccs wiLh
an undcrsLanding oí Lhc hisLorical circumsLanccs LhaL bind Lhcsc ploLs Lo-
Private Experience and Public History in Jimmy Corrigan
How docs Lhis scgmcnLaLion oí hisLory maniícsL iLsclí narraLivcly` Tc pri-
vaLc cxpcricnccs oí 1amcs and 1immy Corrigan, Lhc novcl’s Lwo proLagonisLs,
arc kcpL scparaLc whcn Lhc narraLivc shiíLs iLs hisLorical íocus. AlLhough
1immy and 1amcs mccL Lwicc in Lhc novcl, Lhcy barcly spcak (±8:–86, ¸±,–:¸,
¸¸¸–¸6). Tc rcadcr knows LhaL Lhcir livcs opcraLc in Landcm: abandoncd aL a
young agc, growing up in Chicago, cvcn sharing Lhc samc sLrccL corncr as Lhc
siLc oí significanL liíc cvcnLs (including Lhc living flag scL up íor Lhc Colum-
bian FxposiLion dcdicaLory paradc and Lhc “Supcrman” LhaL 1immy sccs com-
miL suicidc). YcL in Lhcir only subsLanLivc vcrbal conLacL, 1amcs, Lhc grandía-
Lhcr, rcproachcs his son (1immy’s íaLhcr, 1amcs William) and murkily noLcs
LhaL “you can’L makc up íor losL Limc . . . you can’L makc up íor losL Limc . . .”
finally addrcssing 1immy, “You’rc a good kid, y’know`” (¸¸¸–¸6). As íar as Lhc
rcadcr knows, 1immy and his grandíaLhcr rcmain isolaLcd írom onc anoLhcr,
kcpL írom knowing Lhc sharcd connccLions bcLwccn Lhcir sLorics.
In íacL, wc only scc 1amcs Corrigan rclaLc his childhood cxpcricnccs in
onc sccnc, whcn hc rccounLs his mcmorics Lo his son’s adopLcd daughLcr,
Amy, in a bricí sccLion scL in Lhc carly ±µ,os. Amy is wriLing a íamily hisLory
íor a íourLh-gradc assignmcnL, and 1amcs rccalls: “FighLccn hundrcd and
nincLy-Lhrcc, I do bclicvc [. . .] wcll, Lhcn Lhcy Look mc Lo Lh’ orphanagc, I
supposc [. . .] can’L say as Lo how I rcally misscd him [his íaLhcr, William],
ciLhcr [. . .] Tc jaìr? Oh, I don’L know . . . somc kids burncd iL down, or somc-
Lhing . . .” (:8¸–8¡). From Lhis cxchangc, wc could inícr LhaL 1amcs’s child-
hood narraLivc has bccn rcLold during Lhis or similar convcrsaLions wiLh Amy.
Morc imporLanLly, Amy and 1immy arc rclaLcd by blood Lhrough Lhcir grcaL-
grandíaLhcr, as a diagram laLc in Lhc novcl rcad in conjuncLion wiLh an car-
licr cpisodc rcvcals (:¸o, ¸¸,–¸8), howcvcr, Lhis iníormaLion rcmains ouL oí
1immy’s purvicw. Tough Lhc rcadcr rcmains awarc oí Lhc impacL oí 1amcs’s
pcrsonal Lragcdy in Lhc midsL oí Lhc grand hisLorical cvcnL LhaL was Lhc Co-
lumbian FxposiLion, iL bccomcs clcar LhaL 1immy will ncvcr know Lhis, as any
poLcnLial rclaLionship wiLh Amy is aborLcd by cqual parLs íamily Lragcdy and
inLcrpcrsonal awkwardncss.
Tc novcl visually rcndcrs Lhis isolaLion oí privaLc cxpcricncc carly on whcn
1immy imagincs his homc pickcd up by an ovcr-sizcd Supcrman and shakcn
unLil iL crashcs Lo Lhc ground, whcrc hc cvcnLually finds himsclí looking íor
his hypoLhcLical son, Billy (¸o–¸¸). 1immy iniLially scarchcs íor his son, mov-
ing Lhrough Licrs oí pancls scL bcLwccn Lwo Lrccs, Lhc íramc oí which is visu-
ally Lransíormcd on Lhc ncxL pagc inLo a sLagc.
By Lhc cnd oí Lhis scqucncc,
1immy musL smash in Lhc discmbodicd hcad oí his son Lo casc his son’s pain,
undcr Lhc waLchíul cycs oí Lhc mousc LhcaLcr-gocrs (all vcrsions oí Quimby
Lhc Mousc), who arc scaLcd Lo ciLhcr sidc oí Lhis spccLaclc, sLanding in as
surrogaLcs íor Lhc rcadcr. Tis is a miniaLurc vcrsion how pcrsonal hisLory
opcraLcs wiLhin 1ìmmy Corrìgan: characLcrs arc on display and arc unawarc
oí bcing obscrvcd, complcLcly absorbcd by prcscnL acLion and iLs cmoLional
impacL wiLh liLLlc or no hisLorical pcrspccLivc or scnsc oí conLcxL. FurLhcr,
iL also narraLivizcs Lhc proLoLypical comics pancl írom Lhc novcl’s “Ccncral
InsLrucLions” (scc fig. ,.±). Hcrc, 1immy and Billy rcplacc Lhc mousc and caL,
wiLh 1immy íorccd Lo rccnacL Lhc smashing in oí a hcad on Lhc ground, his
inLcnsc cmoLional sccnc on display íor obscrvcrs, whosc poinL oí vicw hc can-
noL acccss.
As 1amcs’s and 1immy’s narraLivcs progrcss, rcpcaLcd (or ncar-rcpcaLcd)
imagcs, locaLions, and symbols acL as LransiLions and mcLa-narraLivc links.
Somc oí Lhcsc clcmcnLs arc visual or LhcmaLic, likc Lhc rcd bird on a Lrcc
branch which LransiLions írom Lhc narraLivc prcíacc inLo Lhc narraLivc propcr
(¡–¸). Vcrsions oí Lhc samc symbol LransiLion írom Lhc BaLLlc oí Shiloh in
±86: Lo Lhc hospiLal on Lhc FxposiLion grounds in ±8µ: in Chicago and, fi-
nally, Lo Lhc Mcdliíc Clinicarc ccnLcr in Waukosha, Michigan, in Lhc ±µ8os
(µµ–±o¡). Similarly, snow marks Lhc bcginning and cnd oí somc scgmcnLs,
and rcappcars aL Lhc conclusion oí 1immy’s narraLivc, which conLinucs inLo
Lhc non-narraLivc Lwo-pagc sprcad aL Lhc closc oí Lhc hardcovcr cdiLion oí
Lhc novcl, ícaLuring 1immy in Lhc arms oí Supcrman and Lhc accompanying
LcxL, “Tc Fnd” (¸,µ–8o). Tc irony oí Lhis comparLmcnLalizaLion comcs Lo
Lhc íorc in cach proLagonisL’s íanLasics, íor cxamplc, boLh 1amcs and 1immy
imaginc sLcaling away írom socicLy wiLh a bridc, whcrc prcsumably Lhcy can
livc ouLsidc oí socicLy (:¸±–¸¸, ¸¸±–¸¸). In parallcl, cach imagincs a liíc ouL-
sidc oí hisLory iLsclí, Lhc grandson rcpcaLing Lhc uníulfillcd íanLasics oí Lhc
grandíaLhcr. Tcsc cxLra-narraLivc connccLions cxisL Lo hclp bridgc narraLivc
scgmcnLs buL simulLancously cmphasizc Lhc isolaLion oí characLcrs wiLhin
Lhcir pcrsonal hisLorics—Lhough Lhc novcl has a sharcd symbolic rcgisLcr, iL
is availablc only Lo Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs.
Tcsc visual and LhcmaLic rcpcLiLions arc parL oí whaL Ticrry CrocnsLccn,
in Te System oj Comìcs, Lcrms braìdìng (tressage). CrocnsLccn uscs Lhis Lcrm
Lo addrcss Lhc cxLra-narraLivc and cxLra-scqucnLial connccLions LhaL can bc
consLrucLcd wiLhin graphic narraLivcs: “braiding dcploys iLsclí simulLanc-
ously in Lwo dimcnsions, rcquiring Lhcm Lo collaboraLc wiLh cach oLhcr: syn-
chronically, LhaL oí Lhc co-prcscncc oí pancls on Lhc suríacc oí Lhc samc pagc,
and diachronically, LhaL oí Lhc rcading, which rccognizcs in cach ncw Lcrm oí
a scrics a rccollccLion oí an anLcrior Lcrm” LhaL “íar írom cnding in conflicL
[. . . rcsolvcs] in a scmanLic cnrichmcnL and a dcnsificaLion oí Lhc ‘LcxL’ oí Lhc
Tis “dcnsificaLion” oí rcpcaLcd visual Lcrms rciníorccs Lhcir sym-
bolic rcsonancc, which allows Lhcm Lo opcraLc simulLancously wiLhin cach
narraLivc and bcyond any simplc lincar narraLivc sLrucLurc.
CrocnsLccn’s noLion oí braiding hclps spcciíy Lhc inLcrrclaLion oí Lcrms wc
havc sccn Lhus íar. In 1ìmmy Corrìgan, wc can rccognizc prìvate and pub|ìc his-
Lory as narraLivc modcs LhaL corrcspond Lo dìachronìc and synchronìc modcs.
Diachronic privaLc hisLorics rcmain confincd Lo Lhcir narraLivc spacc, as wc
havc sccn, buL public hisLory can opcraLc synchronically, íraming and ironi-
cally rcvcaling Lhc limiLaLions oí individual cxpcricncc. Tc sharcd public his-
Lory oí Chicago, Lhc Columbian FxposiLion, and Lhc ciLy iLsclí crcaLc íurLhcr
connccLions acccssiblc only Lo rcadcrs and Lhosc ablc Lo apprchcnd hisLory as
a largcr LoLaliLy.
The Irony of History in Jimmy Corrigan
As noLcd abovc, Lhc dcfiniLion oí exposìtìon in Lhc “Corrigcnda” ícaLurcs an
illusLraLion írom Lhc ±8µ¸ World’s Columbian FxposiLion.
Tis imagc ncarly
rcpcaLs a pancl írom an carlicr cpisodc in Lhc novcl (:±¡–±6), in which young
1amcs Corrigan and his rcd-haircd lovc inLcrcsL (callcd “Lhc McCinLy girl” by
onc oí Lhc workmcn) sncak onLo Lhc íairgrounds oí Lhc FxposiLion on Lhc day
oí his moLhcr’s íuncral in Lhc íall oí ±8µ:. Tc vicw is írom Lhc promcnadc oí
Lhc ManuíacLurcs and Iibcral ArLs Building, Lhc largcsL cxhibiLion hall oí iLs
day, oí Lhc íair’s Woodcd Island and somc oí Lhc CourL oí Honor buildings.
FmoLionally, Lhis is Lhc pcak oí 1amcs Corrigan’s pcrsonal narraLivc, Lhc nar-
raLion rcads “Hc can scc his housc. Hc can scc jusL abouL everyone’s housc. In
íacL iL sccms as ií hc can scc Lhc wholc wor|d írom up hcrc. BuL íor him Lhc
wholc world is íor LhaL momcnL Lhc singlc sLrand oí rcd hair which danccs
silcnLly around his nosc & cyclashcs” (:±6). AL Lhis momcnL, on Lop oí onc
oí Lhc FxposiLion’s bcsL vanLagc poinLs, 1amcs can íor a momcnL scc bcyond
Lhc pcrsonal Lo Lhc broadcr world LhaL cncompasscs his cxpcricncc. BuL Lhis
vision is quickly íorccloscd, his aLLcnLion rcLurning Lo Lhc singlc sLrand oí
rcd hair righL in íronL oí him. Tc juxLaposiLion bcLwccn public and privaLc
Fig. 11.1. Ware’s poster in
Jimmy Corrigan resembles
the original advertisement
for the souvenir book,
Chicago of To-Day. Chicago
of To-day: the Metropolis of
the West (Chicago: Acme
Publishing and Engraving
Co., 1891), title page.
hisLorics is mosL sLark in sccncs likc Lhcsc. Tough 1amcs Corrigan’s sLory
includcs markcrs oí Lhc grand hisLorical cvcnLs LhaL surround him, iL is lcíL Lo
Lhc rcadcr Lo rccognizc Lhc significancc oí Lhosc momcnLs and Lhus Lhc ironic
disLancc bcLwccn 1amcs’s minuLcly rcndcrcd pcrsonal Lragcdy and Lhc broad
hisLorical scLLings in which iL occurs.
1amcs’s narraLivc is pcppcrcd wiLh hisLorical dcLail, bcginning wiLh Lhc
Chicago WaLcr Towcr, onc oí Lhc ícw major buildings Lo survivc Lhc ±8,± firc,
which is immcdiaLcly íollowcd by a posLcr advcrLising “Chicago oí To-Day, Lhc
McLropolis oí Lhc WcsL” (,:). Tcsc maLcrial significrs, and many morc in Lhc
firsL pagcs oí Lhc ±8µos narraLivc, mark Lhc hisLorical spccificiLy oí Lhc nar-
raLivc. Tc posLcr, “Chicago oí To-Day,” íor cxamplc, is slighLly alLcrcd írom
advcrLiscmcnLs íor, and Lhc LiLlc pagc oí, a Chicago souvcnir book produccd
in ±8µ±, which was dcsigncd Lo promoLc Lhc ciLy íor Lhc upcoming FxposiLion
(scc fig. ±±.±). Tis posLcr and Lhc public signagc LhaL surrounds iL collccLivcly
poinL Lo Lhc widcr social, culLural, and cconomic world oí Chicago and Lhc na-
Lion iLsclí, whosc largcsL symbol was Lhc ±8µ¸ Columbian FxposiLion. BuL íor
much oí 1amcs’s narraLivc, onc oí Lhc kcy symbols oí Lhc agc, Lhc Columbian
FxposiLion, which is liLcrally blocks away írom whcrc hc livcs, has liLLlc dirccL
cffccL on him.
Tc culLural symbolism oí Lhc World’s Columbian FxposiLion cannoL bc un-
dcrsLaLcd. Dcsigncd Lo surpass Paris’s ±88µ FxposiLion Univcrscllc, aL which
Lhc Fiffcl Towcr was onc oí Lhc main aLLracLions, Lhc Columbian FxposiLion
was so namcd íor Lhc íour-hundrcdLh annivcrsary oí Columbus’s voyagc and
Lo cclcbraLc (or aL lcasL dcclarc) Lhc culLural powcr oí Lhc UniLcd SLaLcs, as a
wholc, and Chicago, spccifically. As Amcrican sLudics scholar Alan TrachLcn-
bcrg obscrvcs, Lhc FxposiLion “sccmcd Lhc íruiLion oí a naLion, a culLurc, a
wholc socicLy: Lhc cclcsLial ciLy oí man scL upon a hill íor all Lhc world Lo bc-
hold [. . . iL] sccmcd Lhc Lriumph oí Amcrica iLsclí, Lhc old rcpublican idcal.”

Morcovcr, as Arnold Icwis sLaLcs, Lhc FxposiLion occurrcd aL “a spccial mo-
mcnL in Amcrican hisLory, simulLancously a culminaLion oí scLLlcmcnL and
Lhc bcginning oí a ncw sLagc oí naLional culLurc.”
In many ways burdcncd by
iLs own ovcrL symbolism, Lhc FxposiLion was also a monumcnLal undcrLak-
ing, occupying much oí Lhc aLLcnLion oí Chicagoans íor Lhc bcLLcr parL oí Lhc
carly ±8µos and aLLracLing millions oí naLional and inLcrnaLional LourisLs.
Whcn 1amcs and his íaLhcr íormally visiL Lhc FxposiLion, wc arc prc-
scnLcd wiLh Lhc mosL susLaincd glimpsc oí Lhc cxpcricncc oí Lhc FxposiLion
as public hisLory. For a ícw bricí pagcs, 1amcs’s pcrsonal and public hisLo-
rics align as hc and his íaLhcr Lakc a Lour oí Lhc Crand Plaza, including Lhc
majcsLic vicw oí Lhc CourL oí Honor, CcnLral Basin, and Iakc Michigan in
Lhc disLancc (:,¸), Lhc AdminisLraLion Building and Lhc Columbian FounLain
sculpLurc group (:,¡), and Lhc AgriculLurc (:,¸) and Machincry Buildings on
which Lhc sLaLuary írom carlicr in Lhc narraLivc (86) is mounLcd (:,6). Tcy
bricfly visiL Lhc oLhcr disLincL parL oí Lhc FxposiLion, Lhc Midway Plaisancc,
which ícaLurcd a numbcr oí cLhnic and culLural sccncs (quiLc sLcrcoLypically)
írom around Lhc world (:,,) and small sidc aLLracLions, likc Fadwcard Muy-
bridgc’s Zoopraxographical Hall (:,8).
In Lhc Zoopraxographical Hall, íaLhcr
and son scc Muybridgc’s mosL íamous phoLographic scqucncc—Lhc gallop-
ing horsc—projccLcd by a dcvicc callcd a zoogyroscopc or zoopraxiscopc, “a
cross bcLwccn a LradiLional opLical Loy (likc Lhc phcnakisLoscopc) and a magic
Fig. 11.2. Main elevator,
Manufactures and Liberal
Arts Building. James W.
Shepp, Shepp’s World’s Fair
Photographed (Chicago:
Globe Bible Publishing Co.,
1893), 45.
Fig. 11.3. Living flag display
and vice-presidential re-
viewing stand for World’s
Columbian Exposition
dedicatory parade, Octo-
ber 20, 1892. J. F. Martin,
Martin’s World’s Fair Album-
Atlas and Family Souvenir
(Chicago: C. Ropp & Sons,
1892), 118.
Hcrc, 1amcs wiLncsscs a kcy innovaLion, scqucnccd phoLography,
a prccursor Lo film, which is graphically displaycd (íor Lhc rcadcr’s bcncfiL) in
scqucnccd comic pancls. Prcviously, hc had vicwcd a scqucncc oí imagcs oí
Lhc CrcaL Chicago Firc oí ±8,± using a magic lanLcrn, a popular lighL-box uscd
Lo projccL imagcs (±¸6–¸,), buL Lhis hisLoric ncxL sLcp in Lhc projccLion oí im-
agcs passcs by ncarly unrcmarkcd in 1amcs’s rccollccLion oí cvcnLs.
UlLimaLcly, 1amcs and his íaLhcr cnd Lhcir visiL aL Lhc ManuíacLurcs and
Iibcral ArLs Building, billcd aL Lhc Limc as Lhc largcsL building in Lhc world—
onc oí Lhc ícw picccs oí public knowlcdgc LhaL 1amcs’s narraLion noLcs (:,µ).
Tc ManuíacLurcs Building was onc oí Lhc ccnLcrpicccs oí Lhc FxposiLion and
includcd Lhc largcsL amounL oí cxhibiL spacc, scrving as Lhc siLc oí Lhc Fxpo-
siLion’s dcdicaLion on OcLobcr ::, ±8µ:, and allowing hundrcds oí Lhousands
oí pcoplc Lo sLand insidc bcíorc Lhc cxhibiLs wcrc insLallcd. Tcy asccnd Lhc
massivc clcvaLor Lo Lhc rooíLop pavilion, which parallcls Lhc Lrip 1amcs madc
wiLh Lhc rcd-haircd girl monLhs bcíorc (scc fig. ±±.:). Tis clcvaLor, Lhc firsL
LhaL mosL oí Lhc FxposiLion’s visiLors had cvcr cncounLcrcd, highlighLs Lhc
dispariLy oí scalcs bcLwccn Lhc FxposiLion and iLs comparaLivcly diminuLivc
Visually, Lhc narraLivc docs Lhc samc, rcndcring Lhc íull hcighL oí
Lhc ManuíacLurcs building (ovcr Lwo hundrcd íccL) in iLs LoLaliLy, lcaving
1amcs and his íaLhcr as mcrc spccks (:,µ–8o). 1amcs is, oí coursc, abandoncd
hcrc, imaginaLivcly rcndcrcd in onc pancl as a small child bcing Losscd írom
Lhc pavilion (:8o).
AL Lhis momcnL, aL Lhc summiL oí Lhc largcsL building in
Lhc world, aL Lhc climax oí onc oí Lhc mosL significanL culLural sccncs oí iLs
agc and a kcy momcnL oí hisLory wriL largc, 1amcs’s limiLcd cmoLional cx-
pcricncc, dcvasLaLing Lhough iL musL bc, is finally only apprcciaLcd írom Lhc
rcadcr’s disLanccd pcrspccLivc.
Tough Lhc hisLorical pcrspccLivc isolaLcs 1amcs aL Lhc cnd oí his narraLivc,
iL also links LogcLhcr synchronically a numbcr oí passagcs írom boLh 1amcs’s
and 1immy’s sLorics, cach ccnLcrcd on Lhc samc Chicago sLrccL corncr. A ícw
monLhs bcíorc bcing abandoncd, siLuaLcd bcLwccn his Lwo main Lrips Lo Lhc
FxposiLion ground, 1amcs dirccLly parLicipaLcs in hisLory iLsclí whcn hc is
choscn Lo bc parL oí Lhc living flag compriscd oí schoolchildrcn drcsscd in
rcd, whiLc, and bluc íor Lhc dcdicaLory paradc on OcLobcr :o, ±8µ: (::¸).

In Lhc novcl, Lhis cvcnL is rcndcrcd minuLcly across a ícw sccncs, highlighL-
ing Lhc cffccLs iL has on young 1amcs: bcing choscn Lo parLicipaLc, waLching
childrcn scparaLc Lhcmsclvcs by Lhc color oí Lhcir garmcnLs (Lhus brcaking a
momcnL oí supposcd uniLy inLo íacLions), waiLing íor Lhc paradc iLsclí, and
finally rcLurning homc Lo a disappoinLcd íaLhcr (::±–¸o). Tc dcdicaLion pa-
radc, noL acLually prcscnLcd on Lhc pagc, was in íacL onc oí Lhc largcsL cvcnLs
prior Lo Lhc FxposiLion, ícaLuring somc cighLy Lhousand marchcrs and fivc
hundrcd Lhousand spccLaLors and ccnLcrcd on Lhc living flags and Lhc adja-
ccnL plaLíorm íor digniLarics, including Lhcn-Vicc PrcsidcnL Icvi MorLon (scc
fig. ±±.¸).
Howcvcr, aL Lhis momcnL, Lhc novcl and 1amcs’s individual pcr-
spccLivc limiL Lhc scopc oí whaL can bc sccn, and Lhc broad, hisLorical impacL
oí Lhc momcnL is wiLhhcld visually and subsLanLivcly.
Tc samc sLrccL corncr parLicipaLcs in Lhc mosL dirccL visual rcpcLiLion in
Lhc novcl, as Lhc corncr on which Lhc living flag is scL rccurs LhroughouL boLh
narraLivcs, visually lcapírogging iLs way Lhrough hisLory. Tis singlc locaLion
scrvcs Lhc mosL narraLivc duLy LhroughouL, changing archiLccLurally as Limc
progrcsscs: in ±8,±, bcíorc and aíLcr Lhc CrcaL Firc (±¸¡–¸¸), in ±8µ: and ’µ¸
(,¸–,¸, :::–:¡), and in Lhc ±µ8os (±¸–±6, ¸,¸–,6). Tcsc archiLccLural shiíLs
rcflccL Lhc maLcrial changcs in Chicago’s archiLccLurc írom 1amcs Corrigan’s
Lo 1immy’s Limc, acLing as a rcgisLcr oí acLual hisLorical and culLural shiíLs.
HisLorically, Lhc PosL Officc corncr againsL which Lhc living flag is scL in ±8µ:
was cvcnLually rcplaccd in Lhc ±µ6os and ’,os by Lhc Chicago Fcdcral CcnLcr,
dcsigncd by Iudwig Mics van dcr Rohc (Lhrcc buildings complcLcd in ±µ6¡,
±µ,¸, and ±µ,¡), which íorm Lhc backdrop oí boLh 1amcs’s and 1immy’s cxpc-

Tis íorm oí modcrn archiLccLurc, inspircd by Mics van dcr Rohc,
dominaLcs 1immy’s Chicago landscapc, including Lhc archiLccLurc ouLsidc
1immy’s officc window, which wc scc mosL promincnLly carly and laLc in Lhc
Visual rcpcLiLion ulLimaLcly íuncLions as a mcLhod oí bringing moLiís Lo-
gcLhcr Lo uniLc Lhc novcl as a wholc. In onc oí Lhc novcl’s firsL sccncs, 1immy
wiLncsscs a man drcsscd in a Supcrman cosLumc jump írom a rooí Lo his
dcaLh (±¸–±,). Vcrsions oí Lhc Supcrman figurc rccur Lhrough 1immy’s sLory:
his moLhcr’s onc-nighL sLand (±–¸), Lhc jumpcr ouLsidc his officc, and Lhc ma-
lcvolcnL Supcrman in his íanLasy liíc (¸o–¸±). In Lhc novcl’s final scqucncc,
1immy looks ouL his officc window aL Lhc impcrsonal officc buildings across
Lhc sLrccL, now parLly obscurcd by snow, and bcgins Lo imaginc himsclí in Lhc
posiLion oí Lhc suicidal Supcrman (¸,¸–,6). A ncw coworkcr caLchcs 1immy’s
aLLcnLion and draws him back inLo pcrsonal cxpcricncc. Tc final, Lwo-pagc
sprcad oí Lhc narraLivc ícaLurcs 1immy hcld in Lhc arms oí a flying Supcr-
man, now convcrLcd inLo a savior, againsL a ficld oí snow. In a rarc momcnL
oí hopc, 1immy’s appropriaLcd biL oí sharcd public symbolism, Supcrman,
carrics him away írom Lhc narraLivc’s rcpcLiLion oí pcrsonal íailurc and disap-
poinLmcnL. AL Lhc novcl’s conclusion, 1immy sLill rcmains unawarc oí how hc
is connccLcd Lo his grandíaLhcr’s narraLivc, and Lo Amy Corrigan, bccausc his
pcrspccLivc is limiLcd by iLs inward íocus. Tis, Lhcn, is Lhc íundamcnLal irony
oí hisLory in 1ìmmy Corrìgan: only Lhc novcl’s rcadcrs can crcaLc a synLhcLic
narraLivc LhaL brings LogcLhcr pcrsonal and public hisLorics, braidcd visually
and LhcmaLically LogcLhcr inLo a comprchcnsivc hisLorical vision.
1. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000). This is true
of the hardcover edition; the paperback edition (2003) prints these pages before a two-page narrative
vignette set in 2002, which depicts Amy working in a hospital. All further references to this text are
indicated in parentheses.
2. For some observations on non-narrative material in Jimmy Corrigan, see Thomas A. Bredehoft,
“Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid
on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 869–90, especially 879–84.
3. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink, 1993),
4. Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics, trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen (Jackson: Uni-
versity Press of Mississippi, 2007), ix.
5. Versions of this iconography—Quimby standing over, preparing to destroy, or trying to hide
a disembodied head—recur throughout Ware’s “Quimby the Mouse” comics. For examples, see
Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003), 46–52, 54, 57–59, 62, 66.
6. This diagram originally appeared in Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 6 (Seattle: Fan-
tagraphics, 1995). It is one of a number of schematic diagrams Ware has produced for his works,
including the fold-out dust jacket for the hardcover edition of Jimmy Corrigan. See also the mural Ware
created for Dave Eggers’s 826 Valencia writing center, reproduced on the back cover of the collected
edition of Quimby the Mouse and in Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2004), 86–87. See Isaac Cates’s essay in this volume for a reading of these diagrams.
7. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 25.
8. Joseph Witek addresses comics’ unique ability to display history: “sequential art does what
prose inherently cannot do; it supplies a visual and immediate image of cause [. . .] followed by ef-
fect,” from which he argues that visual juxtaposition (the sequencing of panels and manner in which
visual art can display its narrative connections) offers a unique and perhaps privileged approach to
the presentation of history. Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art
Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), 26.
9. Jimmy and Amy are, in fact, distant blood relations, another piece of information reserved for
the reader, as revealed in a non-narrative sequence (360–61).
10. Compare to the two-page “Summary of our story thus far” (88–89), where a similar tree
represents the male Corrigan family tree.
11. Groensteen, The System of Comics, 147.
12. Martha Kuhlman applies the notion of tressage to her reading of Art Speigelman’s In the Shadow
of No Towers. See Martha Kuhlman, “The Traumatic Temporality of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of
No Towers,” Journal of Popular Culture 40.5 (2007): 849–66, 855.
13. Ware meticulously researched the details of the Exposition, as he recounts to Daniel Raeburn,
“I was leading up to the World’s Columbian Exposition for dozens and dozens of pages. Years, actually.
I have stacks of books and I’ve been collecting photographs, posters, reading up on it to decide what
to put in and what to leave out.” Chris Ware, qtd. in Daniel Raeburn, “The Smartest Cartoonist on
Earth,” The Imp 3 (1999): 9.
14. The Exposition’s southwest corner was bounded by Stony Island Avenue and Sixty-Seventh
Street. The Corrigan home is located at Wharton and Sixty-Sixth (though Wharton seems to be a
fictitious street). From a tree in the yard, James can see over the Exhibition fence to the Terminal
Station and administration buildings, which is consistent with a home on Sixty-Sixth Street (146).
15. Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 230.
16. Arnold Lewis, An Early Encounter with Tomorrow: Europeans, Chicago’s Loop, and the World’s
Columbian Exposition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 184.
17. “The carnival atmosphere of the Midway Plaisance confirmed by contrast the dignity of the
[Court of Honor’s] center. And, of course, the center represented America through its exhibitions,
the outlying exotic Midway stood for the rest of the world in subordinate relation.” Trachtenberg,
The Incorporation of America, 213. For more on the relationship between the Midway and the rest of
the Exposition, see Julie K. Brown, Contesting Images: Photography and the World’s Columbian Exposition
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994), especially 103–6.
18. Stanley Appelbaum, The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record (New York: Dover,
1980), 102. See also Brown, Contesting Images, 104.
19. The disparity in scales has been noted by a number of scholars: the sheer size of the buildings
“complicated the relationship between exterior art and interior function. The public was dazzled by
spectacular facades while exhibitors struggled with huge interiors of varying effectiveness.” Lewis,
An Early Encounter with Tomorrow, 180. Further, a “sense of evanescence” surrounded the Exposition,
due to its fleeting nature; see Neil Harris, “Memory and the White City,” in Grand Illusions: Chicago’s
World’s Fair of 1893, ed. Neil Harris, Wim de Wit, James Gilbert, and Robert W. Rydell (Chicago:
Chicago Historical Society, 1993), 3–32.
20. This is visually foreshadowed by a brief scene of a worker falling from the Electricity Building
21. There were two flags, inset on the corners of Chicago’s Post Office, which faced Adams
Street: the northeastern flag faced Dearborn Street, the northwestern flag faced Clark Street. The
flag presented in the novel features many fewer children than the actual historical one.
22. “The Parade: All Chicago Through the Streets—Sights along the Line of March,” Chicago Daily
Tribune, October 21, 1892, 1, 6.
23. Ware also treats the impact of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in a video project, Lost Buildings
(2004), produced in collaboration Ira Glass and Tim Samuelson for the show This American Life. The
twenty-two-minute documentary recounts Tim Samuelson’s story of meeting Mies van der Rohe
while the Chicago Federal Center was being built. See also Werner Blaser, ed., Mies van der Rohe:
Federal Center Chicago (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2004). For an analysis of Ware’s use of architecture in his
work, see Daniel Worden’s essay in this volume.
1 5 9
Autobiography with Two Heads:
Quimby the Mouse
Onc oí Lhc ccnLral LcncLs oí auLobiography criLicism is whaL Philippc Icjcunc
Lcrms “Lhc auLobiographical pacL,” Lhc “conLracL oí idcnLiLy LhaL is scalcd by
Lhc [auLhor’s] propcr namc,” cnsuring LhaL auLhor and narraLor arc onc and
Lhc samc.
AnoLhcr posiLion, howcvcr, insisLs LhaL Lhc narraLor him- or hcr-
sclí is incviLably sundcrcd, LhaL Lhcrc is an insurmounLablc gap bcLwccn Lhc
“narraLing I” who “Lclls Lhc auLobiographical narraLivc” and Lhc “narraLcd I”
who is iLs subjccL.
Tcsc arc noL muLually cxclusivc claims—Lhc firsL makcs a
quasi-juridical promisc, Lhc grcaLcsL íorcc oí which is cxLraLcxLual, a promisc
LhaL holds in spiLc oí Lhc inLcrnal inLcrprcLivc complicaLions inLroduccd by
Lhc sccond—buL Lhcy do LogcLhcr allow íor somc inLriguing qucsLions. Could
an auLhor who íclL Lhc gulí bcLwccn carlicr narraLcd cxpcricncc and Lhc prcs-
cnL momcnL oí narraLion parLicularly poignanLly, íor cxamplc, find a way Lo
makc usc oí Lhc pacL as a suLuring dcvicc` Would Lhc cffccLs oí such a dcvicc
bc limiLcd Lo Lhc social liíc oí Lhc LcxL, or would Lhcy pcrvadc iLs inLcrior` Ií
Lhc laLLcr, whaL sorLs oí rhcLorical or rcprcscnLaLional sLraLcgics mighL Lhcy
givc risc Lo, and whaL sLcps mighL Lhc auLhor Lakc in an aLLcmpL Lo ccmcnL
Lhcir hold`
Tc original rcadcrs oí Lhc maLcrial amasscd in Quìmby the Mouse (:oo¸)
mighL havc bccn quiLc surpriscd Lo lcarn LhaL iL would onc day occasion such
qucsLions. Absurd, surrcal, rcpcLiLivc, and disjoinLcd, somcLimcs sacrificing
narraLivc almosL cnLircly in íavor oí inLcnsc scruLiny oí a singlc momcnL or
mood, mosL oí Lhc sLrips—as firsL publishcd in Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Tcxas aL
AusLin’s sLudcnL ncwspapcr, Lhc Laì|y Texan, in ±µµo and ±µµ±—makc no cx-
pliciL auLobiographical claims whaLsocvcr. And as collccLcd in volumcs : and ¡
oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary (±µµ¡), Lhcy rcmain largcly cllipLical and clusivc,
ií gaining somc modicum oí Lransparcncy Lhrough Lhc proccss oí aggrcga-
BuL Lhc “rcprinLcd, rcnovaLcd, [and] rcdcsigncd” asscmblagc LhaL Warc
rclcascd as a singlc, cxpandcd volumc in :oo¸ is, morc or lcss liLcrally, a diffcr-
cnL sLory.
Tc crucial diffcrcncc ariscs írom Lhc scvcral-Lhousand-word cssay
wiLh which Warc inLroduccs Lhc book. Whilc Warc only flccLingly discusscs
Lhc comics LhaL íollow, hc cxpounds aL somc lcngLh on his siLuaLion as hc
crcaLcd Lhcm and grows ycL morc cxpansivc in rclaLing blissíul mcmorics oí
his boyhood a dccadc carlicr and his LhwarLcd aLLcmpLs Lo rcconsLiLuLc Lhcm
as a grown man a dccadc laLcr, aL Lhc Limc oí Lhc book’s publicaLion. Tcsc
auLobiographical confidcnccs corroboraLc, as wcll, Lhosc proffcrcd in a hand-
1 6 0 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
íul oí prcviously uncollccLcd mulLi-pagc sLrips Warc adds in Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhc
volumc. Tus rcposiLioncd, Lhis collccLion oí whaL Warc grudgingly dccms his
“carlicsL ‘publishablc’ work” yiclds an accounL oí pcrsonal as wcll as sLylisLic
origins (±). BuL considcrablc Lcnsion cmcrgcs bcLwccn Lhc childhood Warc
is dcspcraLc Lo rccapLurc and Lhc apprcnLicc comics hc is almosL as cagcr Lo
disavow, Lhc íormcr cxpcricncc obliqucly bound up in Lhc laLLcr arLwork. Tc
spccific gcnius oí Lhc volumc lics in Warc’s managcmcnL oí Lhcsc inLcrcalaLcd
pcrsonal hisLorics, his savvy applicaLion oí íormal sLraLcgics dcvclopcd in his
comics Lo Lhc book as a wholc. Tc rcsulL amplifics noL only Lhc auLobiograph-
ical conLcnL oí Lhc work, buL also Lhc poLcnLial oí auLobiography iLsclí.
Reading the Strips: Themes and Variations
Warc’s íascinaLion wiLh modcs oí rcprcscnLing (and complicaLing) Lcmporal
progrcss is wcll known, a logical ouLgrowLh oí his highly sclí-conscious and
LhcorcLical approach Lo Lhc comics mcdium. Tomas BrcdchoíL’s discussion
oí Lhis íaccL oí Warc’s undcrLaking in 1ìmmy Corrìgan rcads Lhc novcl as rc-
pcaLcdly dcmonsLraLing Lhc ways in which “Lhc archiLccLurc oí Lhc comics
pagc” may bc cxploiLcd Lo “challcngc our habiL oí undcrsLanding Lhc narraLivc
linc as pcrvasivcly lincar and scqucnccd in Limc.” “In a book dccply prcoc-
cupicd wiLh Lhc passing oí Limc,” hc wriLcs, Warc boLh cmploys ambiguous
layouLs LhaL “allow a singlc group oí pancls Lo bc rcad simulLancously in morc
Lhan onc lincar scqucncc” and offcrs Lhc rcadcr various cuL-ouL modcls LhaL
“cvcn ií consLrucLcd only in Lhc imaginaLion, hinL aL Lhc possibiliLy oí alLcring
or cvcn halLing Lhc flow oí narraLivc Limc-scqucncc” Lhrough our inLuiLivc
scnsc LhaL Lhrcc-dimcnsional objccLs cndurc across Lhc sLraLa oí Limc.
Quìmby, Loo, cvidcnccs Warc’s Lcmporal conccrns in a Lhoroughgoing Lraí-
ficking in aging, nosLalgia, and loss. Individual sLrips alrcady makc usc oí
Lhc rcprcscnLaLional sLraLcgics BrcdchoíL dcscribcs: an carly mcdiLaLion on
mcmory counLcrpoiscs Lhrcc sLraighLíorward vigncLLcs oí six pancls cach—
simplc, looscly slapsLick inLcracLions running lcíL Lo righL and Lop Lo boLLom,
as pcr convcnLion—Lo a íar morc convoluLcd scL oí cxcurscs on iLincranL ob-
jccLs and íugiLivc associaLions mcasuring Limc’s passagc (±o) (scc fig. ±:.±).
Indccd, Lhc sLrip’s ovcrall dcsign is considcrably dcnscr Lhan LhaL oí a simi-
larly Lhcmcd pagc BrcdchoíL dccms cmblcmaLic in 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
írom Lhc slapsLick inscLs, cach lincaLion rcquircs Lhc rcadcr Lo dcLcrminc
ancw ií Lhc conjuncLions linking a scrics oí pancls arc Lhosc oí movcmcnL
Lhrough Limc or spacc, shiíLs in pcrspccLivc or scalc, or conLiguiLics oí mcnLal
or physical associaLion. Tcmporal progrcss occurs in Lhrcc and probably íour
dirccLions and somcLimcs is indcLcrminaLc (c.g., Lhc horizonLal row aL Lhc
boLLom oí Lhc pagc). A parLicularly plcasing counLcrinLuiLivc layouL dicLaLcs
LhaL Lhc rcadcr íollow Lhc scrics oí Lhin vcrLical pancls up Lhc righL-hand sidc
oí Lhc sLrip in ordcr Lo imaginaLivcly dcsccnd Lhc sLaircasc dcpicLcd along Lhc
way. RaLhcr Lhan poinLing in any singlc dirccLion, Lhc sLrip curls inLo and ouL
oí iLsclí aL mulLiplc poinLs, cvcn as iL also boLh cncouragcs Lhc cyc upwards
Lhrough iLs baLLcry oí arrows poinLing Loward Lhc Lop oí Lhc pagc and simul-
Lancously drags Lhc cyc down Lo Lhc inky subsLraLum LhaL rcvcals all Lhc rcsL
as midnighL rcflccLion.
Warc organizcs Lhc sLrip, Lhcn, Lo cncouragc Lravcrsals in mulLiplc dircc-
Fig. 12.1. Arrows and ed-
dies. Chris Ware, Quimby
the Mouse (Seattle: Fanta-
graphics, 2003), 11.
1 6 2 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
Lions. Ií iLs ovcrarching conccrn is Lhc passagc oí Limc, and wiLh iL Lhc onscL
oí agc and írailLy, Lhc cxpcricncc oí rcading sLands poiscd Lo undcrminc LhaL
incxorablc progrcss. ForcsLalling, rcvcrsing, cvcn cddying wiLhin a pockcL oí
Lhc pasL all sccm aL lcasL as casy as scLLling inLo Lhc prcscnL momcnL. Scvcral
ncarby comics sporL similar layouLs, indccd, Lhc firsL halí oí Lhc book is domi-
naLcd by Lhis Lwo-hcadcd Quimby (somcLimcs inLroduccd as “Quimbics Lhc
Mousc”) sLruggling wiLh agc and loss. Whilc Lhc Lwo hcads appcar Lo havc bc-
gun liíc as Lwins, onc rcpcaLcdly Lircs, sickcns, rockcLs Lo old agc, or cxplodcs,
rchcarsing Lhc momcnL oí iLs dcmisc again and again, cvcn Lhough cach piccc
aLLcnuaLcs LhaL LrajccLory Lhrough Lhc vibranL display oí oLhcr Limcs.
Finally, Lhc sccond hcad disappcars íor good, and Lhc book’s laLLcr halí
largcly dcLails a singlc-hcadcd Quimby’s dysíuncLional rclaLionship wiLh
Sparky Lhc CaL, a bodilcss íclinc whom Quimby spcnds mosL oí his Limc
Lrying Lo rid himsclí oí. Howcvcr, aíLcr kicking and hiLLing iL, misplacing
iL, burying iL, barLcring iL, fishing wiLh iL, scnding iL ouL Lo sca, and oLhcr
abuscs, Quimby usually íranLically Lrics Lo rccovcr iL and rcsLorc iLs hcalLh.
Quimby’s cmoLional rcvcrsals lcavc him scurrying Lo undo Lhc cffccLs oí his
acLions, buL Sparky’s unflagging rcsilicncc ulLimaLcly qucsLions Quimby’s
agcncy morc dccply. Tis implicaLion is cxplorcd mosL cogcnLly in “I HATF
YOU,” a laLc sLrip LhaL dcpicLs Sparky surviving scvcral poinL-blank gunshoLs
unalLcrcd, insLcad popping up in Quimby’s paLh again and again (¸µ) (scc fig.
±:.:). WiLh cach rcappcarancc, Lhc sLrip’s boisLcrous dcclaraLions oí clariLy
and closurc arc íurLhcr undcrmincd. Tc “I” Quimby scLs up and aparL írom
Sparky in painL-Lhc-Lown rcd aL Lhc Lop oí Lhc pagc bccomcs, by Lhc Lhird
rung írom Lhc boLLom, his own body Lrappcd in a rchcarsal oí Lhc íailcd ro-
mancc hc is aLLcmpLing Lo quiL. Hc “íalls” íor Sparky again, inLo Lhc whiLc
spacc oí Lhc backwards F, launching Lhc impliciL word “ícll,” and sLaggcrs ouL
oí Lhc sLrip, physically and cmoLionally ovcrcomc. Quimby’s dcbiliLaLion is
íurLhcr undcrlincd in Lhc way Lhc sLrip shunLs him back and íorLh incrcas-
ingly obviously and bruLally, implying a íaLalism wholly aL odds wiLh Lhc íalsc
scnsc oí írccdom hc cnjoys aL Lhc sLarL.
Tis kind oí LrajccLory—husLling Quimby, and Lhc rcadcr’s cyc, along a
convoluLcd buL unidirccLional paLh—is cvcn morc characLcrisLic oí Lhc sccond
halí oí Lhc book Lhan Lhc circuiLous, burrowing iLincrary is oí Lhc firsL.
whilc a sLraighLíorward Lravcrsal oí Lhc wholc shcphcrds Lhc rcadcr Loward
Lhc laLLcr narraLivc modc and also rcproduccs iL, wriL largc, Warc cxploiLs Lhc
poLcnLial oí Lhc book as a volumc, boLh in Lhc scnsc oí a cohcrcnL liLcrary
Lomc and as a liLcral “quanLiLy or mass [. . . oí] maLLcr occupying spacc” Lo
cxplorc alLcrnaLivcs.
Mcasuring Lhis accomplishmcnL adcquaLcly, howcvcr,
rcquircs a íullcr dcscripLion oí iLs componcnL parLs. Ovcr and againsL Lhc dis-
crcLc and rciLcraLivc naLurc oí iLs individual sLrips, iL is possiblc Lo consLruc
a minimal narraLivc, in which Lhc sccond Quimby hcad hovcrs aL Lhc cdgc
oí dcaLh íor somc Limc and Lhcn disappcars, lcaving bchind a solo Quimby
who subscqucnLly Lakcs up wiLh Sparky (pcrhaps in compcnsaLory íashion)
bcíorc rcpcaLcdly Lrying Lo diLch hcr as wcll. Warc confirms Lhis ovcrarch-
ing scqucncc in Lhc inLroducLion, indicaLing LhaL Lhc firsL scL oí comics was
drawn in Tcxas in Lhc laLLcr parL oí ±µµo as his bclovcd grandmoLhcr dicd, Lhc
sccond ovcr Lhc íollowing six monLhs as hc cnvisioncd and Lhcn cmbarkcd
Fig. 12.2. Switchbacks
pushing constantly for-
ward. Chris Ware, Quimby
the Mouse (Seattle: Fanta-
graphics, 2003), 59.
1 6 4 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
on Lhc movc Lo Chicago, “lcaving bchind [. . .] a rclaLionship which [hc] had
complcLcly ruincd Lhrough sclfish, cgoccnLric bchavior” (±). Tc rcvclaLion oí
auLobiographical conLcnL lying bchind Lhc work is cnLircly ncw Lo Lhis cdi-
Lion. Warc providcs no such conLcxLualizing in Lhc carlicr ACMF publicaLions,
nor docs ciLhcr oí Lhcm (or Lhc inLcrvcning issuc) includc Lhc scrics oí sus-
Laincd firsL-pcrson monologucs on Lhc subjccL oí Warc’s rclaLionships wiLh
his moLhcr and grandparcnLs LhaL providc Lhc bulk oí Lhc LcxL in Lhc picccs aL
Lhc book’s ccnLcr (:8–¸±, ¸¡–¡±).
The Mature Style, and Its Stakes
Warc Lhus sccms aL pains, a dozcn ycars aíLcr Lhc íacL, Lo gloss Lhc pcrsonal
sLakcs oí comics LhaL mighL oLhcrwisc rcad simply as íormal cxpcrimcnLs and
LhcmaLic cxploraLions. Tc inLroducLion and Lhc addcd sLrips makc iL clcar
LhaL Warc adorcd his grandmoLhcr and dclighLcd in hcr company as a youLh.
Tis in Lurn csLablishcs—alLhough Warc ncvcr says as much—LhaL Lhc sc-
ncsccnL sccond Quimby hcad rcprcscnLs Warc’s grandmoLhcr: a noLional
Lwin unLil hcr agc suddcnly imposcd iLsclí. Fqually, whilc Lhc inLroducLion
dispcnscs wiLh Warc’s losL girlíricnd in a scnLcncc, shc is obviously Lhc modcl
íor Sparky. Tc poinL is noL LhaL Warc ìs Quimby, who rcmains a surrcalizcd
mousc, buL LhaL inLcrprcLivc purchasc and cohcrcncc arc boLh augmcnLcd by
rccognizing Lhcir closc affiliaLion.
WiLh Lhcsc confidcnccs, noL jusL Lhc inLroducLion buL Lhc book as a wholc
bccomcs a íorm oí auLobiography. PurisLs mighL disagrcc, poinLing ouL Lhc
ficLionalizaLions and displaccmcnLs on almosL cvcry pagc. BuL cvcn Philippc
Icjcunc, who bcgins his discussion oí Lhc auLobiographical pacL wiLh an cx-
Lrcmcly rcsLricLivc dcfiniLion oí Lhc gcnrc as Lhc rcLrospccLivc prosc narra-
Livc oí an individual liíc in which Lhc narraLor and Lhc principlc characLcr
arc idcnLical—disallowing mcmoir, pcrsonal novcl, pocLry, cssay, and sclí-
porLraiLurc, Lo say noLhing oí shorL-íorm comics—ulLimaLcly concludcs LhaL
auLobiography is insLcad a “modc oí rcading” LhaL auLhorial cxhorLaLions may
csLablish as “Lhc ulLimaLc LruLh Lo which Lhcir LcxLs aspirc.”
Whilc hc allows
Lhc cvidcncc oí inLcrvicws and ancillary cssays in íormulaLing such cxpccLa-
Lions, hc givcs pridc oí placc Lo “Lhc codcs oí publicaLion [. . .] LhaL íringc oí
Lhc prinLcd LcxL which, in rcaliLy, contro|s Lhc cnLirc rcading [. . .] cvcn includ-
ing Lhc ambiguous gamc oí prcíaccs.”
Ccrard CcncLLc has subscqucnLly dc-
fincd Lhis “íringc,” ciLing Icjcunc, as Lhc paraLcxL, among which any prcíaLory
maLcrial plays a prccmincnL rolc in dclincaLing auLhorial inLcnL.
CcncLLc givcs spccial considcraLion Lo “laLcr” prcíaccs, Lhosc wriLLcn íor
cdiLions aíLcr Lhc firsL, and hc argucs LhaL whilc such prcíaccs oíLcn spcak
Lo Lhc auLhor’s cvoluLion in Lhc inLcrval bcLwccn original and subscqucnL
publicaLion, Lhcy gcncrally comc round Lo insisLing on a lack oí íundamcnLal
Warc’s gamc is considcrably morc complcx. Fvcn as hc “scals” Lhc
work’s auLobiographical conLcnL wiLh Lhc prcíacc, hc also pushcs Lhc wholc oí
Lhc book away. Hc insisLs in ovcrsizc Lypc aL Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhc opcning pagc
LhaL Lhc work conLains no morc Lhan “immaLurc, gcncrally ill-conccivcd, and
íairly scnLimcnLal student efforts” (±) LhaL hc is rcrclcasing only ouL oí a scnsc
oí camaradcric wiLh and indcbLcdncss Lo his publishcr. IL is lcíL Lo Lhc finc
prinL Lo rcconcilc Lhc disLancc Warc íccls rcquircd Lo csLablish as a mcasurc
oí his proícssional growLh and LhaL which hc collapscs by claiming Lhc work
as auLobiography.
Whilc cxLcnsivc sclí-dcprccaLion is sLandard packaging íor mosL Warc
publicaLions, Lhc parLiculars oí his rhcLoric hcrc—his insisLcncc on holding
Lhc maLcrial aL arm’s lcngLh raLhcr Lhan rcprcscnLing iLs wcakncsscs as his
own—arc worLhy oí noLc. An obvious conLrasL is íound in Lhc mini-comic on
Lhc soíLbound 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s back covcr, in which Warc dcpicLs himsclí
plunging inLo a dumpsLcr Lo rcscuc a discardcd copy oí Lhc hardback cdiLion.
Hc Lhcn Lakcs iL homc Lo carc íor iL alongsidc all his oLhcr “childrcn”—Lhc
oLhcr copics oí Lhc book rcjccLcd by a hosLilc csLablishmcnL LhaL rcíuscs Lo
rccognizc graphic novcls as liLcraLurc.
1ìmmy Corrìgan is a vulncrablc baby
Lo bc claspcd Lo Lhc brcasL, Quìmby is morc likc an awkward and unwclcomc
Lccnagcr prcmaLurcly cngcndcrcd in Lhc auLhor’s own laLc adolcsccncc.
“Ccncral arLisLic immaLuriLy” and “Lcchnical or liLcrary inadcquacy” (±),
íurLhcr íaulLs LhaL Warc lays aL Lhc book’s íccL, arc surprising indicLmcnLs oí
work LhaL dazzlcs íor iLs sLrucLural ingcnuiLy and masLcríul craíLsmanship,
iLs cfforLlcss rcLooling oí counLlcss convcnLions írom a ccnLury oí comics his-
Lory. BuL Lhcy rcad inLo Warc’s much broadcr criLiquc oí his choscn mcdium,
his rcpcaLcd claims LhaL comics havc ycL Lo íulfill Lhcir poLcnLial as arL or
In an inLcrvicw wiLh Cary CroLh conducLcd in ±µµ,, whilc Warc
was wriLing 1ìmmy Corrìgan, Warc impugns his own work rcpcaLcdly. His sclí-
accusaLions oí immaLuriLy consLiLuLc a lciLmoLií LhroughouL Lhc cxchangc,

hc rcícrs dismissivcly Lo his carlicr “indulgcnL auLobiographical sLuff” and
rclays a ícar LhaL had hc noL lcL go oí Quimby whcn hc did hc would havc bccn
“Lrappcd doing LhaL sLupid mousc shiL unLil [hc] dicd.”
Hc spcaks admiringly
oí TolsLoy’s “wcll-roundcd” characLcrs, his “abiliLy Lo prcscnL all sidcs oí liíc
in cvcry way and Lo prcscnL cvcry circumsLancc in a way LhaL did noL sccm
ciLhcr scnLimcnLal or manipulaLivc,” and aspircs Lo his own Hcmingway-
csquc climinaLion oí “sLylc” in Lhc scrvicc oí “whaL’s acLually happcning in Lhc
sLory.” Tis hc plans Lo achicvc by sLripping írom his illusLraLions anyLhing in
cxccss oí Lhcir iconic íuncLioning as “conccpLs” or “significrs LhaL you Lakc in
rapidly and Lhcn movc on Lo Lhc ncxL onc.”
Whilc any íormal analysis oí Warc’s work csLablishcs immcdiaLcly LhaL Lhis
is hardly an cxhausLivc dcscripLion oí his visual accomplishmcnLs in 1ìmmy
Corrìgan and LhcrcaíLcr, iL docs hclp cxplain Lhc cvoluLion oí his acsLhcLic, and
wiLh iL his rcLrospccLivc dissaLisíacLion wiLh Quìmby’s dcnsc layouLs and Lhc
gcsLural richncss oí iLs carLooning, Lo say noLhing oí Lhc volumc’s rclcnLlcss
sLylisLic cxpcrimcnLaLion and surrcal libcrLics. Onc oí Warc’s mosL succincL
discussions oí his maLurc sLylc is íound in an inLcrvicw conducLcd by Rcbccca
Bcngal ninc ycars laLcr. Hcrc, Warc characLcrizcs his sLrcamlincd draíLsman-
ship as govcrncd by “Lhc rulcs oí Lypography” and ciLcs among iLs advanLagcs
LhaL iL “kccps [him] aL a scnsiblc disLancc írom Lhc sLory.” Tc movc írom Lhc
“scnLimcnLaliLy” oí Lhc juvcnilia Lo Lhc “scnsiblc disLancc” oí maLuriLy cn-
Lails boLh absLracLion and disinLcrcsLcd obscrvaLion. Warc cxplains: “I scc Lhc
black ouLlincs oí carLoons as visual approximaLions oí Lhc way wc rcmcmbcr
gcncral idcas, and I Lry Lo usc naLuralisLic color undcrncaLh Lhcm Lo simulLa-
ncously suggcsL a pcrccpLual cxpcricncc, which I Lhink is morc or lcss Lhc way
wc acLually cxpcricncc Lhc world as adu|ts, wc don’L rcally ‘scc’ anymorc aíLcr
a ccrLain agc, wc spcnd our Limc naming and caLcgorizing and idcnLiíying and
1 6 6 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
figuring ouL how cvcryLhing all fiLs LogcLhcr.”
Tc pricc oí Lhis cxLrcmcly
sophisLicaLcd accounL oí pcrccpLion and inLcllccLion is a radical dccrcasc in
Lhc visccral cxprcssion oí cmoLion. Tc conLinual adjusLmcnLs Lo Quimby’s
physical and affccLivc posLurc convcycd by minuLc variaLions in Lhc rudimcn-
Lary lincs LhaL consLrucL him givc way Lo pcrsisLcnL conccpLual dclincaLions
rccordcd by Lhc morc sLolid ouLlincs dcfining bodics in Lhc laLcr work.
Tc sLrips in Quìmby Lhcmsclvcs Lracc Lhc carly impulscs Loward Warc’s
maLurc sLylc. Tcrc arc ouLlying cxccpLions, buL Lhc gradual Lrcnd ovcr Lhc
coursc oí Lhc book is írom anLic cncrgy and conLinual caricaLural variaLion aL
Lhc sLarL Lo a morc consisLcnL, schcmaLic, and sLaLic rcprcscnLaLional vocabu-
lary ncar Lhc cnd. AL Lhc limiL, a scrics oí laLcr sLrips, including LhaL shown in
figurc ±:.:, írcqucnLly rcduccs bodily movcmcnL Lo a minimum and docs away
wiLh Quimby’s cycs and mouLh (Lhus cffacing íacial cxprcssion alLogcLhcr)
íor scvcral pancls aL a sLrcLch (¸¡–¸µ). Tc LransmuLaLion oí dialoguc Lo a
discmbodicd voiccovcr íurLhcr disLanccs Lhc rcadcr írom Lhc acLion dcpicLcd
and íurLhcr diminishcs Lhc opporLuniLy íor affccLivc idcnLificaLion wiLh Lhc
characLcrs, who bcgin Lo íccl morc likc illusLraLivc Lokcns Lhan individual
agcnLs. Warc sccms Lo commcnL sardonically on Lhis rcprcscnLaLional shiíL in
a sLrip LhaL appcars jusL aíLcr Lhis scqucncc (6±) (scc fig. ±:.¸). Quimby spoLs
Sparky in a park and hidcs bchind a Lrcc, aLLracLcd buL also chary oí involv-
ing himsclí wiLh iL again. Holding himsclí alooí, hc wandcrs off and sLumblcs
upon a small rock LhaL “sorL oí looks likc” his hcad and rcsolvcs, laughing, Lo
“carry iL around and show iL Lo pcoplc.”
Tc simplc, sclí-saLisficd conclusion,
likc Lhc casy iLincrary Loward iL, is a world away írom Lhc convoluLions oí Lhc
carlicr Quimbics sLrips. Tc possibiliLy suggcsLcd by Lhc arc oí Lhc Quimbics
and Sparky runs—LhaL a supcrnumcrary hcad could comc Lo dcfinc a parL
oí Lhc sclí—is rcplaccd hcrc by a dcícnsivc disLancing and a compcnsaLory
lighL humor. Quimby Lurns his back on Lhc wclLcr oí cmoLions sparkcd by
affccLivc cnLanglcmcnLs in íavor oí a sclí-conLaincd liLLlc jokc, his projccLion
oí his own pcrsonaliLy onLo a muLc lump oí sLonc a rclaLcd subsLiLuLion íor
Lhc volumcs oí inLcrpcrsonal mcmory bcspokcn by Lhc phoLo aL Lhc hcarL oí
figurc ±:.±.
Tc sLrip offcrs a playíul commcnLary on Warc’s movcmcnL Loward Lhc
limiLs oí visual simplificaLion and impcrsonal disLancc Lo bc íound in Lhc occa-
sional picccs hc has dcsigncd as covcrs íor McSweeney’s, Lhc vìrgìnìa Quarter|y
Revìew, and Lhc Pcnguin Candìde and íor Lhc Lhin cdgcs oí Lhc boards binding
his own ACMF Report. In Lhcsc works, Warc rcduccs Lhc human íorm Lo a
sLack (or cvcn a pair) oí circlcs—an cxLrcmc oí gcomcLric simplificaLion and
sLaLic posiLioning LhaL is lcgiblc as a parody oí Lhc comparaLivcly rcsLraincd
rcprcscnLaLional sLrcamlining oí bodics in Lhc maLurc sLylc. Tc minisculc
hcads pcrchcd aLop cnormous round Lrunks on Lhcsc covcrs undcrscorc Lhc
challcngcs Lhcy posc Lo affccLivc idcnLificaLion, pcrsonaliLics—íollowing Lhc
linc suggcsLcd by Quimby’s rock hcrc—arc simplificd Lo quips. Tc bodics,
mcanwhilc, rcscmblc figurincs or playing picccs Lo bc manipulaLcd according
Lo Lhc godlikc, Lrans-hisLorical prcLcnsions oí works whosc flccLing cpisodcs
in swccping hisLorics oí arL, liLcraLurc, and comics arc Lhcmsclvcs a playíul
cxLcnsion oí Lhc mulLigcncraLional sagas dcLailcd in Warc’s maLurc, novcl-
isLic undcrLakings. Whilc Warc acknowlcdgcs LhaL 1ìmmy Corrìgan is “scmi-
auLobiographical” and conLinucs Lo dolc clcmcnLs oí himsclí ouL Lo characLcrs
Fig. 12.3. A rock in a hard
place. Chris Ware, Quimby
the Mouse (Seattle: Fanta-
graphics, 2003), 61.
1 6 8 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
in subscqucnL works, hc sccms Lo bc graviLaLing Loward a Balzacian pcrch
wcll abovc Lhc íray.

In Lhis, hc is íulfilling a program scL ouL íor himsclí in
his skcLchbook in ±µµ±, prcsumably as hc was aLLcmpLing Lo lcavc Quimby
bchind. Warc cxhorLs himsclí, “DO STORIFS ABOUT FVFRYONF FXCFPT
YOURSFIF!” and shorLly LhcrcaíLcr skcLchcs ouL a plan: “SLarL w/ Quimby
Lhc mousc // movc ouL írom carLoon // Lo auLobiography // Lo ficLion.”
Accomplishing Lhis cvoluLion also cnLails Warc’s largcly cschcwing Lhc
íurious sLylisLic cxpcrimcnLaLion LhaL characLcrizcs Quìmby. Whilc iLs va-
ricLy oí approachcs LcsLifics Lo Warc’s masLcry oí comics hisLory, and Lhus
mighL bc rcad as Lhc mark oí a consummaLc proícssionalism, Lo Warc iL is
apprcnLicc work, a mcrc rcgisLcr oí Lhc scarch íor a Lcchniquc oí his own.

Tc prcscrvaLion oí sLylisLic mulLipliciLy in Lhc skcLchbooks publishcd as Te
ACMF Nove|ty Latebook suggcsLs LhaL Warc’s íaciliLy in Lhcsc many modcs
conLinucs Lo scrvc him as a rclcasc or disLracLion, as a lcss-mcdiaLcd rccord oí
daily cxpcricncc and rcflccLions, and as an avcnuc Lo cxplorc idcas LhaL sub-
scqucnLly appcar in his morc polishcd íorm. DcspiLc Warc’s commiLmcnL Lo
LhaL polish, hc has choscn noL Lo papcr ovcr Lhc mcssicr origins oí his work,
insLcad publishing Quìmby and Lhc skcLchbooks, rclaLcd projccLs oí rcclama-
Lion LhaL boLh dcbuLcd in :oo¸.

His moLivc íor rclcasing Lhis maLcrial could
bc complcLisL or financial, buL Lhc primary sLakc sccms Lo bc supplcmcnLing
Lhc “finishcd” or “maLurc” comics wiLh a morc raw and immcdiaLc rccord oí
sclí-cxprcssion. Tis work, in Lurn, scrvcs as a rclay poinL back Lo Warc’s carli-
csL arLisLic producLion as a child, rcícrcnccd on Lhc firsL pagcs oí boLh Quìmby
and volumc ± oí Lhc Latebook. In Lhc laLLcr, Warc imagincs visiLing his íormcr
sclí, Lhc onc hc dcscribcs in Quìmby as “crouchcd on Lhc carpcL oí [his] room,
drawing picLurcs oí grimacing musclcmcn in LighLs” (±). Warc asks his cighL-
ycar-old avaLar ií hc isn’L “worricd [his drawing is] noL good cnough, or whaL
pcoplc will Lhink oí you ií Lhcy scc iL`” (±). Tc succincL “nah” hc rcccivcs in
rcsponsc noL only scrvcs as a counLcrpoinL Lo Lhc oldcr Warc’s conccrn LhaL
Lhc skcLchbook’s conLcnLs arc “kind oí pcrsonal,” buL also sLands in markcd
counLcrpoinL Lo Lhc rclcnLlcss rhcLoric oí íailurc wiLh which Warc wraps his
books and, morc diffuscly, Lo his invcsLmcnL in a sLrcamlincd scmioLics LhaL
privilcgcs communicaLion ovcr all oLhcr goals.

Returning Home, and Digging In
Tc momcnLary sLandsLill Lo which Lhc adulL Warc is broughL by his childhood
sclí’s insouciancc—which is Lo say his obvious sclí-sufficicncy, his LoLal im-
mcrsion in Lhc acL oí drawing—bcLrays a dcgrcc oí cnvy. Warc cxplorcs Lhis
cmoLion íar morc íully in Lhc inLroducLion Lo Quìmby, yoking Lhc disLancc hc
íccls írom his íormcr acsLhcLic mcans and goals Lo a much morc Lhoroughgo-
ing cvocaLion oí a losL Limc and placc. Tc cssay íollows Warc on a rcLurn visiL
Lo Omaha, his homc unLil Lhc agc oí sixLccn and LhaL oí his grandparcnLs. AL
Lhc Limc oí his wriLing, Warc has noL livcd in Omaha íor almosL Lwo dccadcs
and has noL bccn back íor scvcn ycars, buL hc rcporLs an “unrcasonablc and
ncarly rcligious sorL oí dcvoLion Lo iLs mcmory” LhaL íorcsLalls Lhc possibil-
iLy oí living “Lhc rcsL oí [his] liíc in indiffcrcnL pcacc” (±). Warc is LorLurcd by
Lhis losL Omaha. “I drcam abouL iL almosL cvcry nighL,” hc wriLcs, “in onc oí a
limiLlcss numbcr oí invcrsions, rccombinaLions, and rcorganizaLions oí dcLail
LhaL bring back Lo liíc Lhc dcad, Lhc now old, and Lhc bulldozcd, always wiLh a
clariLy LhaL convinccs mc upon waking, íor aL lcasL a sccond or Lwo, LhaL my
liíc sincc has bccn noLhing buL a íarcc I’vc had Lo cndurc and wcar undcr somc
sorL oí impcrsonal insLiLuLional compulsion, likc a privaLc school sporLcoaL
[sìc], or papcr hospiLal slippcrs” (±). Tis is vcry closc Lo Lhc LcrriLory oí Lhc
Quimbics comics, in which mcandcring iLincrarics Lhrough richly dcLailcd
mcmorics all buL ovcrwhclm Lhc glum and sLraiLcncd prcscnL. Morc broadly,
Lhc “limiLlcss invcrsions, rccombinaLions, and rcorganizaLions” oí Lhc samc
basic maLcrial also sccm cognaLc Lo Lhc cndlcss sLylisLic and sLrucLural varia-
Lions wroughL on Lwo or Lhrcc íundamcnLal Lhcmcs and sLorylincs in Lhc
wholc oí Quìmby, and Lhis sccLhing variaLion would Lhcn sLand opposcd Lo
Lhc morc sLandardizcd, impcrsonal look oí his laLcr work.
Warc allows LhaL his propcr placc is in Lhc prcscnL—“Lhc ‘normal now’
. . . whcrc I bclong, I gucss”—buL also docs noL hidc “Lhc íccling—iL masqucr-
ading in Lhc scnsaLion oí gcnuinc convicLion—LhaL somchow, somcwhcrc”
Lhosc “mcmorics and cxpcricnccs” oí his Omaha childhood “arc all sLill rc-
ally there,” and LhaL ií hc could jusL “find somc way Lo get Lo Lhcm, whcrcvcr
iL is LhaL Lhcy arc,” hc would bc “happy again” (±). Similarly, whilc hc clcarly
is dccply invcsLcd in his currcnL modc oí carLooning, hc is noL inscnsiblc oí
whaL iL lcavcs bchind. Tc accomplishmcnL oí his inLroducLion is Lo rcposi-
Lion LhaL Lcmporal and psychological disLancc as spaLial: “Somcwhcrc (noL
jusL somcLimc) [. . .] all oí Lhcsc Lhings arc sLill there” (±). Quìmby’s conLcnLs
alrcady aLLcsL Lo a vcrsion oí Lhis convicLion. In Lhc comics crcaLcd during
Lhc pcriod oí Warc’s grandmoLhcr’s dcclinc, hcr housc (abandoncd somc
ycars bcíorc in íavor oí a rcLircmcnL íaciliLy in Tcxas) írcqucnLly appcars as
a ghosLly gray halí-Lonc imagc.
A morc sLarkly rcndcrcd Quimby rcpcaL-
cdly aLLcmpLs Lo cnLcr Lhis íadcd figurc íor Lhc pasL, buL almosL always íails
A singlc sLrip, crcaLcd ycars laLcr, docs granL Quimby íull run oí Lhc
housc, buL casLs Lhc cxpcricncc as a rccurring drcam oí íruiLlcssly scarch-
ing cvcry room íor his grandmoLhcr long aíLcr hcr dcaLh (¸¡–¸¸).
Tc final
pancls show Quimby waking up in his own bcdroom in Lhc prcscnL momcnL,
lamcnLing Lhc íacL LhaL hc has íorccd himsclí Lo Lhrow away cvcn so mundanc
a piccc oí mcmorabilia as Lhc Lin íoil LhaL proLccLcd his grandmoLhcr’s LoasLcr
Lray. Danicl Racburn poinLs ouL LhaL Lhc Lhin, Lrcmulous linc LhaL characLcr-
izcs Lhc bulk oí Lhc piccc Lhickcns and firms up inLo whaL Warc dcfincs as
his “plaLonic black linc” in Lhcsc lasL íramcs, “marking Lhc cnd oí [Quimby’s]
mcmory and Lhc sLarL oí his rcLurn Lo rcaliLy.”

Tc comparison undcrscorcs
LhaL “rcaliLy”—in Lhis piccc LhaL posLdaLcs almosL cvcryLhing clsc in Lhc book
by a dccadc—íollows Lhc dicLaLcs oí Warc’s maLurc sLylc. Tc spacc oí drcams
and mcmory, Lhcn, is convcycd by a wavcring linc LhaL, whilc noL Lhc samc as
any oí Lhosc LhaL Warc cmploys in Lhc oldcr maLcrial LhaL makcs up Lhc rcsL
oí Lhc book, likcwisc sLands opposcd Lo his conLcmporary acsLhcLic.
Warc placcs Lhis sLrip aL Lhc cxacL ccnLcr oí Lhc volumc, and Lhcrc is con-
sidcrablc íorcc Lo bc íound in Lhc noLion LhaL Lhc corc oí Lhc book mighL
bc rcad as a locus oí losL Limc. In Lhc inLroducLion, Warc íollows his sLrangc
convicLion LhaL Lhc pasL mighL sLill cxisL somcwhcrc wiLh Lhc suggcsLion LhaL
his closcsL approximaLion Lo finding such a spacc has bccn Lo rcLurn Lo Lhc
physical siLcs oí his youLh. Tis parLicular Lrip Lo Omaha, howcvcr, íor a long
whilc is singularly discnchanLing. From Lhc momcnL oí his arrival, Lhc cx-
1 7 0 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
pcricncc sLrikcs Warc as “flaL.” “Houscs and Lrccs and buildings lookcd boLh
sLrangc and oddly uníamiliar,” hc rcporLs, and whcn hc finally gcLs up Lhc
couragc Lo visiL his grandmoLhcr’s housc, sincc boughL by a BapLisL church,
hc discovcrs LhaL iL is rcpainLcd a “Longuc-scum bcigc” and marrcd by “a boxy
cindcr-block addiLion Lhcy’d aLLachcd Lo Lhc íormcr cnLry, bloLLing ouL Lhc
window Lo Lhc kiLchcn which was, Lo [Warc], Lhc ccnLcr oí Lhc housc” (:). Tc
housc—Lhc placc, Warc says, “possibly whcrc Lhc mosL ‘mc’ uscd Lo bc”—
is now as inacccssiblc and cold Lo him as iL is Lo Quimby on Lhc invariably
winLry nighLs oí Lhc comic sLrips crcaLcd a dozcn ycars bcíorc (:). To Warc’s
surprisc and dclighL, howcvcr, hc discovcrs LhaL his csLrangcmcnL írom cv-
cryLhing on Lhc land is offscL by Lhc cxLcnL Lo which hc knows Lhc land iLsclí.
Tc “curvcs oí Lhc sLrccLs and Lhc shapcs oí Lhc hills and bridgcs LhaL [hc] was
Lravclling around, ovcr, and undcr” rcvcal Lhcmsclvcs as having cngcndcrcd
“spaLial rivulcLs LhaL had paLicnLly caLcn away aL [his] mind [. . .] uniquc Lun-
ncls [. . .] Lhrough which cvcryLhing clsc in [his] mcmory [. . .] sccmcd [. . .]
Lo havc bccn pourcd [. . .] inLo [. . .] Lhc inLcsLinal, anLíarm hcad oí an Omaha
Ncbraska brain” (:).
Tc cssay making Lhcsc claims silcnLly íashions Lhc book iLsclí inLo a Lhird
sLrucLurc parallcl Lo Omaha’s Lopography and Lhc inLcrior oí Warc’s hcad. Tc
cssay, Loo, worms iLs way abouL, lcaving bchind a crisp and balanccd layouL on
Lhc book’s firsL pagc íor a picccmcal hodgcpodging inLo asymmcLrical clumps
oí availablc spacc on Lhc ncxL, and Lhcn Lunncling inLo Lhc lowcr-righL cor-
ncr oí pagc íorLy-Lwo and LhcrcaíLcr Lo Lhc lowcr lcíL oí Lhc book’s lasL pagc.
Civcn Warc’s cxLraordinary skill as a graphic dcsigncr, Lo say noLhing oí Lhc
íacL LhaL rcmoving almosL any onc oí Lhc inscL biLs oí Quimbiana on pagcs
± or : would makc room íor Lhc wholc cssay bcíorc Lhc jump, Lhis can hardly
bc an accidcnL. RaLhcr, iL suggcsLs LhaL Warc’s grasp oí whaL BrcdchoíL calls
“Lhc archiLccLurc oí Lhc comics pagc” cxLcnds in ncw íashion hcrc Lo LhaL
oí Lhc prosc pagc and Lhc book as wcll. RccasL as a spaLial volumc, Lhc book
iLsclí may bc navigaLcd in a manncr akin Lo Omaha’s undulaLing byways, Lhc
insidc oí Warc’s cranium, or—Lo add ycL anoLhcr analoguc—Lhc circuiLous
warrcns oí Lhc Quimbics sLrips. And Lhc grail oí Warc’s grandmoLhcr’s housc,
waiLing aL iLs hcarL, is likcwisc inflaLcd Lo an occupiablc spacc. Tc volumc,
Lhcn, insLanLiaLcs an anLiLhcsis Lo Lhc amusing rock LhaL Quimby finds in Lhc
laLc Sparky sLrip. Tc laLLcr is a íound objccL wiLh a supcrficial rcscmblancc
Lo Quimby’s hcad, whilc Lhc book is a builL cnvironmcnL, crcaLcd cnLircly by
Warc, wiLh laycrs oí hisLorical sLraLa LhaL LcsLiíy Lo Lhc varicgaLcd conLcnLs
oí his own hcad. Quimby plans Lo “carry [Lhc rock] around and show iL Lo
pcoplc” íor a momcnLary laugh, Lhc book will bc Lakcn up by Lhosc inLcrcsLcd
in susLaincd cxcavaLion and will rcward Lhc diligcnL wiLh a Lravcrsal oí Lhc
vcry conduiLs oí Warc’s psychc.
Reading into the Volume
Tc sLakcs oí Warc’s auLobiographical pacL only bcgin wiLh his signaLurc,
Lhcn, morc subsLanLial arc Lhc cffccLs oí Lhc onLological play implicd by Lhis
ncLwork oí analogucs. Warc fincsscs Lhc division bcLwccn narraLing and nar-
raLcd “I”s by proposing Lopographical cxpcricncc as consLiLuLivc oí Lhc sclí
and Lhcn rcconsLiLuLing LhaL cxpcricncc in and Lhrough Lhc book. Warc is noL
Quìmby any morc Lhan hc is Quimby, oí coursc, buL Lhrough Lhis largcr likc-
ncss hc inLroduccs a producLivc ncw slippagc inLo Lhc work oí auLobiography.
Ccnc Kanncnbcrg 1r. rcads “Warc’s insisLcncc on LrcaLing cach issuc oí ACMF
as a unificd dcsign spacc” as placing his ouLpuL squarcly in Lhc LradiLion oí
arLisLs’ books, quoLing 1ohanna Druckcr’s characLcrizaLion oí said works as
Lhosc LhaL arc “sclí-conscious abouL Lhc sLrucLurc and mcaning oí Lhc book
as a íorm.”
WiLh Lhc rcpublishing oí ACMF maLcrial in Quìmby, Warc gocs a
sLcp bcyond his scrupulous crcaLion and inLcgraLion oí cvcry biL oí conLcnL in
Lhc carlicr volumcs, íundamcnLally rcLhinking noL only whaL mcaning mighL
bc convcycd by Lhc book’s sLrucLurc, Lo usc Druckcr’s Lcrms, buL also whaL
prcscncc mighL bc houscd wiLhin iL. To rcsusciLaLc anoLhcr scL oí Lcrms írom
carlicr in Lhis cssay, Warc also íundamcnLally challcngcs Lhc prcsumpLions oí
a paraLcxLual íorm likc an inLroducLion. CcncLLc, Lhough hc allows íor cxccp-
Lions, sLaLcs as Lhc norm LhaL paraLcxL is “some LcxL,” buL noL “the LcxL,” siL-
Ling as iL docs on Lhc ouLsidc oí Lhc LcxL propcr, and LhaL iL is “íundamcnLally
auxiliary, hcLcronomous, dcdicaLcd Lo [. . .] scrvicc.”
By crcaLing a paraLcxL
LhaL liLcrally divcs Lo Lhc hcarL oí Lhc LcxL, Warc challcngcs iLs liminal sLaLus
and Lhcrcby hinLs aL Lhc way LhaL Lhc osLcnsibly subordinaLc inLroducLion
will ulLimaLcly pcríorm Lhc volumc’s dccpcsL work. FurLhcr, Warc harncsscs
much oí Lhc apparaLus oí his arLisLic maLuriLy—noL jusL Lhc painíully sclí-
conscious languagc, buL also Lhc “hypcrbolic cdiLorials” and complcx dcsign
Kanncnbcrg ciLcs—Lo pavc a paLh back Lo his youLh.
Onc cndpoinL oí LhaL paLh is Lhc book’s lasL pagc. Tc closing paragraphs
oí Lhc inLroducLion cmcrgc in Lhc spoL occupicd in ACMF ¡ by insLrucLions
íor consLrucLing a “NOUVFAU THÉÂTRF MACIQUF D’ACMF,” a prosccnium
arch in íacL morc gloomily labclcd “THÉÂTRF PATHÉTIQUF,” bcncaLh which
onc may placc a “Sparky la ChaLLc” hcad, a grim-íaccd “Quimby lc RaL” con-
fincd Lo a whcclchair, an “arbrc morL,” and a ícw oLhcr iLcms (68). Tc Frcnch
LranslaLion, Lhc soliLary Lrcc, and Lhc air oí paincd sLasis abouL Sparky and
Quimby rccall Samucl BcckcLL’s waìtìng jor Codot, and Lhus a hypcrbolic vcr-
sion oí Lhc cndurancc BrcdchoíL claims as Lhc Lypical íruiL oí Warc’s modcl
kiLs. As Lhc lasL pagc oí Lhc book, Lhis cnscmblc íorccasLs susLaincd pow-
crlcssncss and immobiliLy, rccalling Warc’s acLual dcspair whcn, misLakcnly
lockcd inLo Lhc School oí Lhc ArL InsLiLuLc oí Chicago ovcrnighL, hc jumpcd
ouL a window and brokc boLh his lcgs—an cpisodc LhaL Racburn glosscs as “a
pcríccL mcLaphor íor Warc’s cxpcricncc oí arL school.”
BuL as Lhc cndpoinL
oí a Lunncl LhaL wcavcs iLs way Lhrough Lhc cnLirc volumc, Lhis cxiL bcspcaks
pcrmcabiliLy and navigabiliLy, Lhc possibiliLy oí ovcrcoming solid obsLruc-
Lions and oí asscrLing Lhc íorcc oí Lhc mind ovcr Lhc body’s incapaciLics and
ovcr Lhc scqucnLial ordcr LhaL dcclarcs Lhis Lhc book’s cnd (a sLand-in, Lhcn,
íor Lhc largcr LcmporaliLics as wcll). Finally, by placing his avaLar aL Lhc cnd
oí Lhc inLroducLion’s LransiL, Warc cffccLivcly insLalls himsclí wiLhin his own
hcad. Tus siLuaLcd, Lhc whcclchair-bound Quimby noL only rcads as an ab-
jccL rcsiduum oí Warc’s laLc-juvcnilc cxpcricncc, buL also rccalls anoLhcr oí
Warc’s alLcr-cgo proLagonisLs in Quìmby: Lhc momcnLarily microscopic supcr-
hcro in “Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss” who divcs inLo Lhc mad scicn-
LisL’s brain and rcpairs Lhc íaulLy wiring hc finds Lhcrc (¡±). In Lhis rcspccL,
Quimby’s posiLioning rcwards Warc’s “nagging” bclicí, sLaLcd in Lhc inLroduc-
Lion, LhaL ií hc “could jusL find somc way oí rcconnccLing Lhc righL cablcs,
1 7 2 B E NJ AMI N WI DI S S
and wishing hard cnough, iL would all comc Lo liíc again, likc somc sorL oí
abandoncd amuscmcnL park” (±). Tc írusLraLions and limiLaLions oí young
adulLhood arc madc Lo carry wiLhin Lhcmsclvcs Lhc plcasurcs and idcnLifica-
Lions oí childhood, Lhc conLinuum oí Lhc maLurc Warc’s cxpcricncc rcgisLcrs
Lhc disLancc inhcrcnL Lo all auLobiography, buL simulLancously ovcrcomcs iL.

1. Philippe Lejeune, On Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 19.
2. This phraseology is from Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for
Interpreting Life Narratives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 59.
3. The volumes’ covers proclaim them as summer 1994 and winter 1994/5. Ware dates their
publication as between 1993 and 1995 in the preface to Quimby.
4. Chris Ware, Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003), 1. The 2003 edition is 68 pages,
while volumes 2 and 4 in The Acme Novelty Library are 24 pages each. All further references to this text
will be indicated in parentheses.
5. Thomas A. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006) 885.
6. Ibid., 876–78.
7. The first-half Quimby, in fact, undergoes a ride along a conveyor belt of this sort of construction
as early as page 16.
8. “Volume,” Oxford English Dictionary, (accessed January 20, 2009).
9. The ACME Novelty Library 2 does include Quimby’s pages 13 and 15, the first of which appears (on
the strength of the new context) to be autobiographical narration as well, and the second of which
also gains a more realist tincture from its surroundings. Neither of these, however, offers the frank
description of Ware’s devotion to his grandmother that marks the strips on 28–31 (which dilates on
her illness) and 34–35 (“Every Morning,” elaborating the force of Ware’s memories of her a decade
after her death).
10. Lejeune, On Autobiography, 4, 30, 27.
11. Ibid., 29.
12. Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1997), 221.
13. Ibid., 253, 256.
14. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000).
15. See, for example, Gary Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” Comics Journal 200
(1997): 163; and Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 17.
16. See also Raeburn, Chris Ware, 15.
17. Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” 137, 132.
18. Ibid., 153, 165. See also Raeburn, Chris Ware, 18–19.
19. Chris Ware, interview with Rebecca Bengal, P.O.V. “On Cartooning,” July 2006, http://www (accessed January 20, 2009). Both quotations
are included in Ware’s first answer (emphasis mine).
20. At times Sparky takes a feminine pronoun, but in this strip Ware sticks to “it” throughout.
Overall, Sparky’s gender ambiguity seems an inheritance (along with under-motivated murine sadism)
from Herriman’s Krazy Kat.
21. Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, “Corrigenda.”
22. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Datebook (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003), 83, 86.
23. Raeburn chronicles Ware’s self-conscious study of cartoonists from the first half of the twen-
tieth century (11–13) and quotes his admission that he “has always been a parrot” (13). Raeburn, Chris
24. One possible exception is Floyd Farland: Citizen of the Future, published as a book while Ware
was still in college, but since all but repudiated.
25. For an analysis of Ware’s rhetoric of failure, see David M. Ball’s essay in this volume.
26. Ware identifies the house explicitly as his grandmother’s in the introduction (2).
27. By the last of these, the house is actually boarded up.
28. Ware reports (in personal communication with David M. Ball) that the comic was originally
published in the Swiss magazine Hangar 21 in 2000.
29. Ware, interview with Bengal, “On Cartooning,” (first reply); Raeburn, Chris Ware, 90.
30. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Text, Image, and Visual Narrative Strate-
gies,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 191.
31. Genette, Paratexts, 7, 12.
32. Kannenberg, “The Comics of Chris Ware,” 191.
33. Raeburn, Chris Ware, 14.
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Everyday Temporalities
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1 7 7
Chris Ware and the Pursuit of Slowness
To go fast is to forget fast, to retain only the information that is useful afterwards,
as in “rapid reading.” But writing and reading which advance backwards in the
direction of the unknown thing “within” are slow. One loses one’s time seeking
time lost. —Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time
In Te Arcades Pro¡ect, WalLcr Bcnjamin givcs a vivid imprcssion oí how sLroll-
crs movcd in Lhc shopping arcadcs oí nincLccnLh-ccnLury ciLics: somc oí Lhcm,
hc noLcs, walkcd wiLh a LorLoisc on a lcad.
Tcsc flâncurs noL only culLivaLcd
slowncss dclibcraLcly, buL Lhcy cnsurcd LhaL oLhcrs Look noLc oí Lhc íacL in
ordcr Lo cxprcss Lhcir conLcmpL íor Lhc machinc agc and iLs obscssion wiLh
spccd. Bcnjamin’s imagc conjurcs up a Lypc oí pcrson almosL unLhinkablc
Loday, buL onc LhaL pcríccLly maLchcs Lhc Lcnor and rhyLhm oí Chris Warc’s
comics. Warc’s graphic novcl 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth pro-
cccds in small incrcmcnLs on Lhc micro lcvcl oí iLs individual pancls, in which
characLcrs Lakc dazzlingly small sLcps.
In a liLcral scnsc, Lhis can bc cxplaincd
by Lhc íacL LhaL 1immy Corrigan suffcrs írom a lcg wound LhaL íorccs him Lo
usc a cruLch and prcvcnLs him írom moving aL normal spccd. Tc implica-
Lion, howcvcr, cspccially in Lcrms oí Lhc LcxL’s layouL and composiLion, is LhaL
Lhc modcrn mcchanizaLion oí Limc has rcduccd our livcs Lo a scrics oí small
uniLs LhaL can no longcr bc cxpcricnccd as a wholc. Indccd, Lhc íormal gram-
mar oí Warc’s comics rcndcrs Limc conspicuous, inscribing íorms oí Lcmporal
progrcssion (or spccd) in iLs graphic rcprcscnLaLion. IL also calls aLLcnLion Lo
conLrollcd pacc as, among oLhcr Lhings, an obsLaclc Lo Lhc írcncLic Lcmporal-
iLy oí conLcmporary consumcr culLurc. In an inLcrvicw, Warc acknowlcdgcs
his inLcrcsL in “Lhc craíLsmanship and carc and humiliLy oí dcsign and arLi-
íacLs” írom carlicr cras, cxplaining his prcícrcncc as a rcacLionary rcsponsc Lo
Lhc rhyLhm oí modcrn cxpcricncc: “IL sccms [Lhcrc is] Lhis arroganL scxual-
iLy Lo Lhc modcrn world LhaL I find vcry annoying, and, I gucss, LhrcaLcning
[. . .] FvcryLhing has Lo bc cool. FvcryLhing has Lo bc scxy and íasL-paccd and
rock-and-roll and I jusL find iL kind oí offcnsivc. Tcrc sccms Lo bc a sorL oí
digniLy Lo Lhc way wc wcrc crcaLing Lhc world a hundrcd ycars ago LhaL I find
much morc comíorLing.”
Warc’s rcsponsc Lo Lhcsc rhyLhms is shapcd by Lwo
compcLing ycL rclaLcd íorms oí disrupLcd LcmporaliLy—incrcmcnLalism and
íragmcnLaLion. Whilc Lhcsc do noL íuncLion idcnLically, Lhcy convcrgc Lo gcn-
craLc narraLivc slowncss and criLiquc modcrn pracLiccs oí accclcraLion.
Fcw graphic narraLivcs rcsisL Lhis íasL-paccd, rock-and-roll acsLhcLic as cí-
íccLivcly as 1ìmmy Corrìgan. No doubL, Lhc íormal difficulLics oí Warc’s carlicr
works also prcscnL a íormidablc challcngc Lo Lhcsc assumpLions. YcL Lhc awk-
ward, labor-inLcnsivc rhyLhms oí Lhc graphic novcl dclay and rcLrack narra-
Livc dcvclopmcnL, waylaying rcadcrs wiLh consLanL inLcrrupLions and slow-
ing Lhcir progrcssion. In a bricí analysis oí Warc apLly cnLiLlcd “Why Docs
Chris Warc HaLc Fun`” Douglas Wolk rcmarks LhaL “Warc íorccs his rcadcrs
Lo waLch his characLcrs sickcn and dic slowly, LormcnL (and bc humiliaLcd in
Lurn by) Lhcir brokcn íamilics, and lcad livcs oí íailurc and lonclincss.”
own analysis íocuscs on Lhc firsL parL oí Lhis asscssmcnL—Lhc slow dccay and
dcaLh—which is kcy Lo undcrsLanding Lhc cmbarrassmcnL and isolaLion LhaL
Wolk mcnLions. A rcading oí slowncss in Warc’s comics would noL only givc
a ncw casL Lo whaL wc considcr Lo bc Lhc spccd oí comics as a mcdium, or Lhc
rhyLhm oí iLs uniquc languagc, buL also csLablish Lhc slowncss oí graphic nar-
raLivc as an csscnLial paramcLcr oí making and rcading comics. Tc proccss oí
drawing Lhc comics, as dcscribcd by Warc, cnLails “abouL an hour and a halí
oí work pcr sccond oí rcading Limc.”
Tis cxcccdingly mcLiculous crcaLivc
proccss incviLably rcsulLs in comics LhaL may indccd bc rcad vcry quickly buL
morc oíLcn Lhan noL inviLc an cqually painsLaking approach on scvcral Lcm-
poral lcvcls.
Tis cssay draws aLLcnLion Lo Lhc inLcnsivc and cxLcnsivc íorms oí Lcm-
poraliLy in graphic rcprcscnLaLion, in parLicular, Lo Lhc obscssivcly uncom-
íorLablc slowcr-Lhan-rcal Limc in which Lhc 1ìmmy Corrìgan narraLivc plays
ouL, wiLh a íocus on Lhc agonizing paLicncc and miscry oí Lhc proLagonisL’s
cmbarrassmcnL as an cxisLcnLial and proíoundly Lcmporal lciLmoLií. I sLarL
írom Lhc prcmisc LhaL narraLivc Limc shrinks or dilaLcs according Lo Lhc cmo-
Lional sLaLc oí Lhc proLagonisL, who Lhus dicLaLcs Lhc pacc oí Lhc sLory. As
Tomas BrcdchoíL has argucd, “Lhc archiLccLurc oí narraLion” is dcrivcd írom
“Lhc sLrucLural pracLicc in comics oí using spacc Lo rcprcscnL Limc.”
BrcdchoíL dcLails how narraLion in 1ìmmy Corrìgan brcaks Lhc lincariLy oí
a Limc-scqucnccd narraLivc linc (cspccially Lhrough Lhc inLrusion oí Lhrcc-
dimcnsionaliLy in Lhc novcl’s cuL-ouL gamcs), I invcsLigaLc whaL happcns noL
only whcn Lhc LcxL íormally disrupLs Limc-scqucncing, buL whcn Lhc narra-
Livc spccd oí cvcnLs is inflccLcd by paLLcrns oí consLrucLcd and conLingcnL
cmoLion. Tcrcíorc, I am lcss inLcrcsLcd in Lhc mulLiplc lcvcls crcaLcd by Lhc
composiLion oí Lhc book as a wholc Lhan in Lhc subLlcr juxLaposiLions wiLhin
individual pancls and Lhcir saLuraLion oí affccL, rcsulLing in a viscous scnsc
oí chronology. In bricí, I wanL Lo show LhaL Warc’s prcoccupaLion wiLh Lcm-
poraliLy rcvolvcs around Lhc conccpLs oí nosLalgia, rcpcLiLion, and non-hicr-
archical (or, according Lo Cillcs Dclcuzc and Fclix CuaLLari, rhizomaLic) sLruc-
Lurcs. AL Lhc samc Limc, Lhc nosLalgia and slowncss invokcd by Lhc narraLivc
arc paradoxically iníormcd by Lcchnologics oí spccd and inLcrconnccLion LhaL
Warc makcs a poinL oí criLicizing boLh ovcrLly and Lhrough Lhc subLlc pacing
oí his narraLivc ploL.
Narrative Temporality and Graphic Time
AccclcraLcd LcmporaliLy has bccomc, as Lhc Frcnch culLural LhcorisL Paul
Virilio has argucd, Lhc dcfining characLcrisLic oí our Limcs, onc LhaL is bc-
ginning Lo causc anxicLy as a rcsulL oí Lhc “gcncral imprcssion oí powcrlcss-
ncss and incohcrcncc” iL crcaLcs, along wiLh a íragmcnLaLion oí pcrccpLion
and consciousncss.
In dcvcloping his Lhcory oí “dromology” (or Lhc logic
oí spccd), Virilio cngagcs wiLh and criLicizcs Lhc impacL oí accclcraLion on
conLcmporary socicLy, in Lcrms oí our pcrccpLion oí spacc, disLancc, mobil-
iLy, and Lcchnology.
Virilio’s pcssimisLic obscrvaLions can bc placcd inLo a
longcr hisLory oí modcrnisL Lhinking abouL Lhc cncrgizing and cxhilaraLing
(as in FuLurism) or ncíarious conscqucnccs oí accclcraLion. Forcgrounding
slowncss is a ícaLurc oí much avanL-gardc work oí Lhc mid-LwcnLicLh ccn-
Lury as wcll as a markcr oí minimalisL acsLhcLics. Somc modcrnisL auLhors,
Samucl BcckcLL and CcrLrudc SLcin among Lhcm, posc challcngcs Lo clcar-cuL
disLincLions bcLwccn íasL and slow, as Lhc rcpcLiLivc ícaLurcs in Lhcir works
clcarly disLurb Lhc alLcrnaLion oí slowncss and spccd. Alain Robbc-CrillcL’s
nouvcau roman 1ea|ousy (La 1a|ousìe) offcrs a classic cxamplc oí sLrucLural
slowncss by íollowing Lhc survcillanL acLiviLics oí a husband silcnLly obscrv-
ing his wiíc’s suspccLcd affair wiLh anoLhcr man. In hcr sLudy oí Lhc Lcm-
poral and cxpcricnLial anxicLics oí modcrniLy, cspccially in connccLion wiLh
Lhc visual arLs, Frcnch philosophcr Sylvianc Agacinski diagnoscs a Lcndcncy
in modcrn culLurc Loward “an cxpcricncc oí passagc and oí Lhc passing, oí
movcmcnL and oí Lhc cphcmcral, oí flucLuaLion and oí Lhc morLal,” which rc-
nounccs convcnLional íorms oí hisLorical LcmporaliLy. To Agacinski, “modcrn
LcmporaliLy is Lhc cndlcss inLcrlacing oí Lhc irrcvcrsiblc and Lhc rcpcLiLivc.”

In Lhis scnsc, rcading Warc’s 1ìmmy Corrìgan is somcLimcs akin Lo waLching
Limc pass, whilc 1immy himsclí bccomcs whaL Agacinski innovaLivcly calls a
“passeur de temps”—a passcr oí Limc.
DcspiLc Lhis rampanL proliícraLion oí spccd in Lhc modcrn world and liL-
crary inLcrrogaLions oí Lhc phcnomcnon, narraLivc slowncss as a conccpL is
almosL complcLcly írcc oí insLiLuLionally cnLrcnchcd dcfiniLions. In íacL, iL is
impossiblc Lo probc idcas oí slowncss wiLhouL paying closc aLLcnLion Lo iLs
govcrning conccpL, LhaL oí spccd, which in Lurn has bccn a highly undcr-Lhc-
orizcd issuc oí narraLivc Lhcory. AlLhough Lhcrc arc, oí coursc, mulLiplc Lhco-
rcLical pcrspccLivcs on Lhc íuncLion oí mcLcr and rhyLhm in liLcrary LcxLs,
Lhcsc approachcs íocus primarily on Lhc LcxLual pocLics oí Lhc cadcncc, Lhc
bcaL, and Lhc pocLic “voicc” or Lonc, sccn sLrucLurally raLhcr Lhan LhcmaLi-
cally. Morcovcr, Lhcy also do noL covcr Lhc rangc oí inLcrmcdial rclaLions LhaL
can bc íound in Lhc comics gcnrc, prcmiscd as iL is on a íundamcnLal inLcrac-
Lion bcLwccn Lhc imagc and Lhc LcxL, which rcquircs a diffcrcnL pcrspccLivc
on Lhc rcading proccss.
As a dccisivc qualiLy oí any LcxL, spccd oíLcn lcads
primarily Lo qualiLaLivc asscssmcnLs oí a narraLivc’s “Loo slow” pacc. Rcscarch
on Lhc subLlcr cffccLs oí LcxLual spccd rcmains scarcc and hcLcrogcncous, ío-
cusing noL only on sLrucLural buL also, and wiLh mixcd rcsulLs, on LhcmaLic
LcmporaliLy, i.c., a LcxL’s prcoccupaLion wiLh issucs oí accclcraLion and dc-
cclcraLion. Whilc KaLhryn Humc cloqucnLly claboraLcs modcs oí LcxLual
and LhcmaLic accclcraLion in novcls, shc mcnLions “narraLivc rcLardaLion,” a
conccpL proposcd by Russian íormalisL VicLor Shklovsky, only in passing.

Shklovsky’s dcvicc oí “rcLardaLion” rcícrs Lo a scL oí digrcssions LhaL slow
down Lhc rcadcr’s pcrccpLion oí a ccrLain narraLivc progrcssion, cxcmplificd
by Lhc criLic in rcícrcncc Lo Iaurcncc SLcrnc’s Trìstram Shandy.
Tis parLicu-
lar Lhcory íorcgrounds such dccclcraLing Lcchniqucs as digrcssion, dcíamil-
iarizaLion, rcpcLiLion, and narraLivc cmbcdding, also mcnLioning characLcrs
as a mcans Lo Lhis cnd, a poinL LhaL I will rcLurn Lo in my analysis oí narraLivc
dclay LacLics in Warc’s 1ìmmy Corrìgan.
TcmporaliLy is also acknowlcdgcd as an csscnLial componcnL in comics, a
mcdium gcncrally dcfincd as “a hybrid word-and-imagc íorm in which Lwo
narraLivc Lracks, onc vcrbal and onc visual, rcgisLcr LcmporaliLy spaLially.”

As ArL Spicgclman noLcs, comics “chorcograph and shapc Limc” Lhrough Lhcir
inLcrplay oí words and imagcs, alLhough liLLlc has bccn madc so íar oí Lhc
poLcnLial diffcrcnccs bcLwccn Lhc vclociLy oí convcnLional rcading and Lhc
impcraLivc Lo boLh scc and rcad wiLhin Lhc comics gcnrc.
In Lhis parLicular
mcdium, slowncss is characLcrizcd by complcx visual and Lypographic mcans
oí manipulaLing rhyLhm by dccclcraLing Lhc avcragc Lcmpo oí a comics narra-
Livc. Tc laLLcr Lcnds Lo bc íairly brisk, ií mcrcly as a rcsulL oí Lhc word-imagc
juxLaposiLion Lraining Lhc rcadcr’s cyc Lo skip írom onc Lo anoLhcr aL a quick
Warc, on Lhc oLhcr hand, has displaycd an inLcnsc prcoccupaLion wiLh Lhc
disrupLion oí a convcnLional rcading pacc, and iLs aLLcndanL spaLial maniícs-
LaLions, in his comics. His Lcchniqucs rangc írom dividing a panoramic pagc
inLo polypLychs LhaL charL scvcral diffcrcnL uniLs oí Limc—a mcLhod Warc firsL
cncounLcrcd in Frank King’s Caso|ìne A||ey—Lo Lcmporal ovcrlaps and mcLh-
ods oí sLalling narraLivc progrcssion.
Alrcady in his carly silcnL sLrips, Warc
considcrcd Lhc implicaLions oí purcly visual sLoryLclling. On Lhc onc hand,
Lhc lack oí visual dcLail in Lhcsc sLrips sccms Lo allow Lhc rcadcr Lo Lravcrsc
Lhc narraLivc sLagcs wiLh considcrablc swiíLncss and casc. Warc cvcn sug-
gcsLs an analogy bcLwccn his comics and carly animaLion by rcícrring Lo Lwo
onc-pagc sLrips ícaLuring Quimby Lhc Mousc as “comicLoons.”
on Lhc spccd oí Warc’s Quìmby sLrips, oíLcn subdividcd inLo crunchcd-up,
barcly visiblc slivcrs, Wolk rcmarks: “Ií comics arc ‘a picLographic languagc,’
as Warc says, Lhcn Lhcy’rc mcanL Lo bc rcad jast. DominaLcd by simplc shapcs
and ‘dcad,’ fixcd-widLh lincs, Warc’s pagcs zoom along, slowcd down only by
Lricky diagrammaLic layouLs and occasional indigcsLiblc blocks oí Liny Lypc.”

On Lhc oLhcr hand, whaL Wolk íails Lo acknowlcdgc is LhaL Lhc morc íormal,
diagrammaLic aspccLs oí Lhc pancls dcmand incrcascd aLLcnLion, Lhus pos-
ing somc problcms íor ploL-drivcn rcadcrs. By rcpcaLcdly aLLcmpLing Lo visu-
ally rcvcrL Lo childhood Lhrough Lhc invocaLion oí daLcd culLural paradigms,
Quìmby also insLanLiaLcs a dcsirc Lo noL only rcinhabiL Lhc pasL buL rccon-
sLrucL iL írom scraps oí mcmory as wcll. In iLs combinaLion oí mourning and
mclancholia, Lhis mood corrcsponds Lo whaL mcdia arLisL and novclisL SvcL-
lana Boym Lcrms “rcflccLivc nosLalgia,” which “dwclls in a|gìa, in longing and
loss, Lhc impcríccL proccss oí rcmcmbrancc [. . .] lingcrs on ruins, Lhc paLina
oí Limc and hisLory, in Lhc drcams oí anoLhcr placc and anoLhcr Limc.”
Warc’s laLcr works, cspccially 1ìmmy Corrìgan, wiLh iLs subLcxL oí loncli-
ncss and morLaliLy, arc casicr Lo lingcr ovcr in a way LhaL Quìmby’s picLo-
graphic simpliciLy rcsisLs. For onc Lhing, Lhc graphic novcl is almosL cnLircly
unpaginaLcd, which flouLs csLablishcd convcnLions oí scqucnLial narraLivc.
Sccondly, iL conLains diagrams rcLclling pcrsonal hisLorics LhaL rcplicaLc Lhc
non-lincar, opcn-cndcd, associaLivc clusLcrs oí mcmory iLsclí.
NarraLivc dc-
cclcraLion is also achicvcd by placing rccurrcnL imagcs and moLiís on diffcrcnL
pagcs, Lhus scnding Lhc cyc back Lo a prcvious narraLivc sLagc and prcvcnLing
cvcnLs írom spiraling ouL oí Lhc carcíul rcadcr’s visual conLrol.
Ware’s Slowness: Thematic and Compositional Correspondences
Many oí Chris Warc’s comics show an inLcrcsL in Lhc passagc oí Limc írom Lhc
pcrspccLivc oí obsolcsccncc and nosLalgia, boLh in culLural and human Lcrms.
WhaL onc inLcrvicwcr has rcícrrcd Lo as Warc’s “asLringcnL mclancholia” is a
rccurrcnL Lropc LhaL spans mosL oí Warc’s ocuvrc as a sclí-dcscribcd aLLcmpL
Lo “Lcll somcLhing much morc slowly and blurrily, Lhc way rcal liíc Lcnds Lo
Tis mclancholic sLrcak is parLicularly visiblc in 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s
doublc journcy back in Limc. On onc lcvcl, 1immy aLLcmpLs Lo rccovcr his
abscnLcc íaLhcr and, impliciLly, LhaL parL oí his childhood LhaL was harmcd
by his abandonmcnL. On a sccond narraLivc planc, 1immy’s grandíaLhcr rc-
counLs his own miscrablc childhood in Lhc ±8µos. Morcovcr, bchind 1immy’s
inabiliLy Lo inLcracL wiLh Lhc world lics a hypcracLivc íanLasy liíc LhaL Lrans-
porLs boLh characLcr and rcadcr Loward Lhc pasL, whilc undcrmining 1immy’s
abiliLy Lo copc wiLh mundanc siLuaLions in Lhc prcscnL. MccLing his long-losL
íaLhcr rcvcals 1immy’s own sLaLus as an cmoLionally LruncaLcd figurc inhabiL-
ing a pasL oí his own dcvising, onc LhaL hc dclighLs in rcíurbishing, cvcn as hc
Lakcs imaginary swipcs aL prcscnL rcaliLics LhaL hc ncvcr darcs Lo criLicizc ouL
loud. In onc sccnc, 1immy imaginaLivcly rcvisiLs Lhc scLLing oí his own con-
ccpLion and carrics ouL a vcry ocdipal rcvcngc againsL his íaLhcr by bludgcon-
ing and cuLLing him wiLh a bccr sLcin. AnoLhcr shows 1immy’s grandíaLhcr
bcing Lhrown írom Lhc obscrvaLory oí “Lhc largcsL building in Lhc world”—a
sccnc LhaL, wc arc Lold, “only finds iLs way inLo Lhc rccurrcnL and abbrcviaLcd
symbology” oí Lhc grandíaLhcr’s drcams (:,µ–8o).
In 1ìmmy Corrìgan, howcvcr, Limc sLops and sccms Lo spill noL only back-
wards, as Lhc sLory rcvisiLs prcvious cvcnLs, buL also sidcways, as alLcrnaLivc
narraLivcs arc incorporaLcd inLo Lhc main sLory linc. From Lhis wayward Lcm-
poral flux, mcanings cmcrgc in slow moLion and undcrícd, sluggish cmoLions
crysLallizc. ImporLanLly, Lhc csscnLially sclí-dcsLrucLivc Lcnor oí 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan is causcd noL only by 1immy’s pcnchanL íor daydrcaming buL also by
Lhc impossibiliLy or rcíusal Lo look íurLhcr Lhan Lhc prcscnL. In oLhcr words,
alLhough his aLLiLudc is nosLalgic, hc also lapscs inLo dccp mclancholia, which
is lcss íocuscd on pasL joys or posscssions, insLilling a íundamcnLal passiv-
iLy and rclucLancc Lo íocus on Lhc íuLurc. 1immy’s Lragic inwardncss, Lhcn,
rcsulLs írom a scnsc oí Lcmporal immobiliLy in Lcrms oí boLh narraLivc and
characLcr, which is also rcplicaLcd composiLionally. Numcrous pagcs in Lhc
book dcpicL Lhc proLagonisL írom Lhc samc pcrspccLivc (oíLcn írom ouLsidc
Lhc building hc inhabiLs, Lhrough a window), which can rccur ovcr as many as
ninc pancls (±8). OLhcr pagcs arc organizcd around a ccnLral pancl LhaL shows
Lhc cxLcrior oí Lhc spacc whcrc Lhc ploL is uníolding, usually a pcaccíul, un-
populaLcd imagc obscurcd by darkncss or inclcmcnL wcaLhcr (±µ¸–µ6, ±µ8).
Such cxposiLory or LransiLional sLills oíLcn crop up uncxpccLcdly, i.c., on Lhc
lcíL raLhcr Lhan Lhc righL-hand sidc, so Lhcy can only bc sccn oncc Lhc pagc
has bccn Lurncd, Lhus cffccLing an abrupL Lransícr inLo anoLhcr scgmcnL oí
Lhc sLory (±µµ, ¸¸,).
Many oí Lhcsc silcnL pancls arc almosL idcnLical, rciníorcing Lhc idca oí a
pasL LhaL rccurs wiLh obscssivc pcrsisLcncc. Tc consLanL rcplay oí mcmorics,
oíLcn cncapsulaLcd in iconographical dcLail, cpiLomizcs Lhc conccpL oí dií-
ícrcncc Lhrough rcpcLiLion suggcsLcd by Cillcs Dclcuzc.

Drawing on Frcud,
Dclcuzc claims LhaL wiLh rcpcLiLion comcs noL only diffcrcncc—undcrsLood
wiLhin Lhc rcpcLiLivc paLLcrn in which iL is conccalcd—buL also rcmcmbrancc.
Tcsc Lwo ícaLurcs apLly dcscribc Lhc circular movcmcnLs in many oí Warc’s
narraLivcs and rcpcLiLivc (in- and ouL-zooming) pancls. OíLcn Lhc narraLivc
cvcnLs sccm Lo cmcrgc írom a pool oí unconscious links and mcmorics, vcry
much in kccping wiLh Dclcuzc’s dcscripLion oí rcpcLiLion as “Lhc unconscious
oí rcprcscnLaLion.”
AddiLionally, Lhc rcpcLiLion involvcd in paLLcrns oí com-
pulsivc mcmory as wcll as Lhc rccurrcncc oí ccrLain clcmcnLs oí visual sLylc
rccall Lhc pracLicc oí collccLing, Lhc csscncc oí which is an inLcrplay bcLwccn
rcpcLiLion (Lhc accumulaLion oí objccLs rclaLcd Lo onc Lhcmc) and diffcrcncc
(Lhcy arc noL idcnLical). Tc composiLion oí Lhc pancls on Lhc pagc also mim-
ics an acL oí collccLing by crcaLing an imaginary prcscnL in which Lhc narra-
Livc lcvcls communicaLc onc Lo onc raLhcr Lhan in progrcssion, all characLcrs
íollowing Lhc slow scripL oí a ficLivc conLcmporanciLy, in which Lhcy inLcracL
likc so many rccyclcd childhood icons.
In kccping wiLh his dicLum, borrowcd írom CocLhc, LhaL “archiLccLurc is
írozcn music,” Warc írcczcs his pancls in archiLccLural sLills LhaL sLall narra-
Livc progrcssion.

AL Lhc samc Limc, hc crcaLcs inncr spaccs oí Lcmporal lay-
cring wiLhin Lhc pancl iLsclí, Lhus dccpcning Lhc Lcmporal involvcmcnL wiLh
cach pancl and slowing down Lhc rcading proccss. A paradigm oí Lhis Lcch-
niquc is Lhc Lcmporal ovcrlap occasioncd by 1immy’s daydrcams as hc and his
sLcpsisLcr Amy mccL Lhc docLor Lo discuss Lhcir íaLhcr’s condiLion aíLcr his
car accidcnL. To 1immy’s consLcrnaLion, his moLhcr appcars in cighL pancls
oí his inLcrior LhoughLs, Lrying Lo gain 1immy’s sympaLhy, whilc rcícrring Lo
Amy as a “co|ored girl” and cxprcssing hcr disapproval (¸o,–8). Morc gcncr-
ally, 1immy’s sclí-absorbcd moLhcr—living in a nursing homc írom whcrc shc
inccssanLly calls hcr son aL work and aL homc—can bc considcrcd a consLanL
obsLaclc Lo narraLivc progrcssion. Tis is duc noL only Lo hcr rcpcaLcd and
oíLcn uncxpccLcd appcaranccs, buL cspccially Lo hcr íuncLion as an cmoLional
lcash íor 1immy himsclí, mcrcly divcrLing aLLcnLion írom whaLcvcr iL is LhaL
hcr son is (noL) doing. AL Lhc samc Limc, by scrving as a íramc íor Lhc novcl
as a wholc, shc can bc said Lo conLain Lhc narraLivc, which shc occasionally
inLcrrupLs, shadowing hcr son likc a malcvolcnL doppclgangcr.
NoL only arc 1immy’s Lcmporal bcarings dcsLabilizcd by Lhc cncounLcrs
wiLh his moLhcr, buL Lhc narraLivc iLsclí is Lcmporally dispcrscd and scaL-
Lcrcd in a hcLcrogcncous íashion, in Lhis scnsc, iL rcscmblcs a posLmodcrn
approach Lo íorm. In iLs sLrucLurc, ií noL in iLs LhcmaLic conccrns, 1ìmmy
Corrìgan rccalls Lhc dc-Lcmporalizcd simulLanciLy oí Lhc rhizomc-conccpL as
arLiculaLcd by Dclcuzc and CuaLLari in A Tousand P|ateaus as wcll as by hy-
pcrLcxL as a modc oí scqucnLial and parallcl diffcrcnLiaLion.

Working írom
Dclcuzc and CuaLLari, SLuarL MoulLhrop dcscribcs Lhc rhizomaLic sLrucLurc
oí discoursc as “a chaoLically disLribuLcd ncLwork [. . .] raLhcr Lhan a rcgular
hicrarchy oí Lrunk and branchcs”—noL a dcLcrminisLic chain oí bcginnings
and cnds, buL Lhc organic growLh oí an absoluLc “middlc.”

In Lhis sysLcm,
any poinL may bc connccLcd Lo any oLhcr poinL. Warc’s comics rcscmblc Lhis
modcl oí connccLiviLy in Lhc allusivc íorm oí iLs non-lincar, boundary-lcss
narraLiviLy LhaL lacks Lcmporal finiLudc and closurc. Tc mosL cxpliciL illus-
LraLions oí Lhis íragmcnLcd, non-hicrarchical LcxLualiLy can bc íound in Lhc
diagrams LhaL charL characLcrs’ íamily backgrounds and liíc sLorics in minuLc
picLorial íorms. Tcsc can bc rcad boLh írom lcíL Lo righL and vicc vcrsa, oí-
Lcn providing dirccLions in Lhc íorm oí arrows vcry much likc digiLal linking
DcspiLc Warc’s impaLicncc wiLh conLcmporary modcs oí mcchanical
rcproducLion, Lhc Lcmporal and conccpLual íramcwork oí digiLal mcdia has
clcarly sccpcd inLo Lhc íabric and sLrucLurc oí his comics.
IL is Lhus paradoxical LhaL Warc’s work should bc influcnccd by Lhc vcry
Lcchnologics hc scL ouL Lo dcnouncc Lhrough his insisLcncc on Lhc dccclcra-
Lion oí pcrccpLion. On Lhc onc hand, Lhc cnLirc corpus oí Warc’s work can
bc rcad as a criLiquc oí conLcmporary capiLalisL Lcchnology LhaL dcmands an
cvcr-growing rcliancc on spccd and Lcmporal accclcraLion, on Lhc “scxy” acs-
LhcLics oí íasL-paccd rock and roll. On Lhc oLhcr hand, Warc’s own Lcchnolo-
gics oí drawing, by mcrc dinL oí Lhcir íasLidiousncss, acquirc Lhc comprchcn-
sivcncss and connccLiviLy oí Lcchnological dcviccs which arc indccd csscnLial
Lo Lhc rcproducLion and disLribuLion oí his work. In íacL, a Wcb vcrsion oí Lhc
Corrigan íamily Lrcc is also availablc onlinc.
WhaL scLs his work aparL írom
digiLal dcsign, howcvcr, is Lhc inLracLablc maLcrialiLy oí Lhc mcdium as an ob-
jccL Lhan can bc sccn, hcld, Loycd wiLh, and finally collccLcd. WiLh 1ìmmy Cor-
rìgan, Lhc arLisL’s insisLcncc on Lhc maLcrialiLy oí Lhc book as arLiíacL as wcll
as Lhc oíLcn circular paLhs oí his narraLivcs also rcflccL his criLicism oí Lhc
incrcasing incrcmcnLalism and scrializaLion oí Lhc arLisLic world—dcspiLc
Lhc íacL LhaL many oí Warc’s oLhcr works arc mulLiply scrializcd. Warc’s insis-
Lcncc on dccclcraLion in 1ìmmy Corrìgan noL only dcícnds Lhc írccdom oí arL
írom Lcchnological LcmporaliLy, buL rcminds us oí Lhc small, un-dromological
sLcps wc Lakc in our daily livcs as wcll.
In shorL, cxhilaraLion and spccd arc noL promincnL ícaLurcs oí Chris
Warc’s ouLpuL in Lhc comics mcdium. In addiLion, raLhcr Lhan paring away
unncccssary words and cmploying Lhc kind oí Lclcgraphic sLylc LhaL would
allow rcadcrs Lo navigaLc casily Lhrough Lhc visuals, Warc is in Lhc habiL oí
pairing Lhc imagcs wiLh an cqually sophisLicaLcd, mulLi-laycrcd LcxL, Lo Lhc
poinL oí sounding vcrbosc. Hcrc is, íor cxamplc, Lhc raLhcr unlikcly mono-
loguc by 1immy’s grandíaLhcr, as hc rccalls his visiL Lo Lhc World’s Columbian
FxposiLion in ±8µ¸: “Onc’s mcmory, howcvcr, likcs Lo play Lricks, aíLcr ycars
oí cold sLoragc. Somc rccollccLions rcmain as írcsh as Lhc momcnL Lhcy wcrc
minLcd whilc oLhcrs sccm Lo crumblc inLo biLs, dusLing Lhcir ncighbours wiLh
a conLaminaLing roL oí unccrLainLy” (:,6). Such puzzling mcLaphors only
scrvc Lo íurLhcr obíuscaLc boLh Lhc mcmorics and Lhc narraLivc LhaL binds
Lhcm. “To gcL spccd,” Humc wriLcs, “wc nccd Lo íccl LhaL wc arc missing ouL
on mcaningíul LransiLions and links.”
Warc offcrs liLLlc in Lhc way oí such
subLracLing Lcchniqucs. On Lhc conLrary, whaL hc íavors is an cxccss oí narra-
Livc connccLiviLy, parLicularly in Lcrms oí iconography and oLhcr dcscripLivc
dcviccs and linkagcs LhaL sLabilizc ficLional rcaliLy and prcvcnL rcading írom
spccding along Loo quickly.
Silent Panels in Jimmy Corrigan
“1ìmmy Corrìgan’s Lhcmcs,” Tomas BrcdchoíL wriLcs in his sLudy oí archiLcc-
Lural mulLilincariLy in Warc’s work, “includc noL only Lhc passing oí Limc and
Lhc rccurrcncc or circulariLy oí cvcnLs wiLhin Lhc passagc oí Limc, buL also
cndurancc and lack oí changc as wcll.”

Tcsc ícaLurcs oíLcn LranslaLc inLo
pancls LhaL halL Lhc flow oí narraLivc Limc. AíLcr 1immy is hiL by a Lruck and
lics on Lhc ground, Lhc pagc íollowing Lhc accidcnL sccnc conLains scvcn pan-
cls oí uncqual sizcs dcpicLing barc Lrcc branchcs, a bird LhaL appcars in Lhrcc
oí Lhc pancls, a clcar sky—alLcrnaLcly bluc and gray—a hinL oí cloud, hazc,
or waLcr in Lhc boLLom pancls and noLhing clsc (scc fig. ±¸.±). Tc lasL pancl,
dcsigncd likc a posLcard, includcs Lhc words “A chill morning in April” (µµ).
1ìmmy Corrìgan conLains many such quicL momcnLs LhaL allow Warc Lo brcak
Lhc lincariLy oí a Limc-scqucnccd narraLivc. Somc rcscmblc Lhc iconography
oí sLill phoLography, oLhcrs can bc comparcd Lo prc-projccLion film, rcgisLcr-
ing only slighL modificaLions írom onc pancl Lo Lhc ncxL and slowing down
or almosL complcLcly impairing Lhc proccss oí rcading.
Tis shock oí silcncc
lcavcs Lhc rcadcr rccling on Lhc íaulL linc whcrc cvcnLs occur abrupLly, Lhus
rcproducing and pcríorming Lhc suddcn changcs LhaL Lakc placc in 1ìmmy
Fig. 13.1. The iconography
of slowness. Silent pan-
els provide moments of
narrative respite. Chris
Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The
Smartest Kid on Earth (New
York: Pantheon, 2000), 99.
Corrìgan’s narraLivc and Lhc proLagonisL’s own shock aíLcr bcing sLruck by
Lhc vchiclc. Morcovcr, whilc sLaLic, Lhcsc pancls Lravcl, as iL wcrc, across Lhc
book’s mulLiplc sccLions, puncLuaLing Lhc narraLivc and pcríorming an inLc-
graLivc íuncLion Lhrough Lhcir conspicuous rccurrcncc.
Howcvcr cffccLivc on a firsL rcading, Lhc impacL oí Lhcsc silcnL, rcpcLiLivc
pancls is unlikcly Lo cndurc whcn onc rcrcads. WhaL Lhc rcadcr cncounLcrcd
prior Lo Lhcsc pancls affccLs Lhc way Lhc visually codcd rhyLhm cffccLs arc
cxpcricnccd, and Lhc surprisc clcmcnL will íadc wiLh íamiliariLy. Humc also
rcmarks on how narraLivc accclcraLion and Lhc coníusion iL cngcndcrs wcar
Lhin on sccond rcading: “Tc spccd cffccL opcraLcs bcsL during onc’s firsL
rcading, buL loscs iLs abiliLy Lo boLhcr us as much on subscqucnL rcadings.
Tc poliLics oí using narraLivc spccd arc Lhus rclaLivcly cphcmcral.”
In gcn-
craLing narraLivc slowncss, howcvcr, Warc’s slow moLion pancls in íacL mask
a sccond rcading Laking placc concurrcnLly wiLh Lhc firsL. As MaLci Calincscu
has shown in his sLudy oí (rc)rcading pracLiccs, whcn a rcadcr cxpcricnccs
Lhc LcxL wiLh incrcascd “sLrucLural aLLcnLion,” cvcn a firsL-Limc pcrusal can
havc Lhc samc cffccL as a “sccond” rcading.
Tcsc pancls inLcnsiíy rcadcr
parLicipaLion and íocus our aLLcnLion Lo Lhc cxLcnL LhaL Lhc pausc Lhcy inLro-
ducc allows Lhc rcadcr Lo rcvisiL whaL camc bcíorc and rc-cvaluaLc hcr own
IL is also inLcrcsLing Lo noLc LhaL Lhc slow momcnLs, in íacL, covcr only
bricí pcriods oí Limc wiLh pancls in succcssion aL onc-sccond inLcrvals, or
sLrcLching ovcr long minuLcs raLhcr Lhan long days—Lhc duraLion rcsid-
ing in our subjccLivc pcrccpLion raLhcr Lhan in Lhc acLual numbcr oí pan-
cls wc arc pcrcciving.
Onc six-pancl pagc, íor insLancc, madc up oí Lwo
Licrs oí Lwo and íour pancls, rcspccLivcly, includcs íour succcssivc imagcs oí
Lhc samc rcd phonc (íramcd by a window) and a drop oí rain íalling onLo
Lhc window sill (scc plaLc ±6). Tc downward LrajccLory oí Lhc raindrop is
rcndcrcd ovcr Lhrcc pancls, cach oí which Lhus conLains a uniL oí Limc
lcss Lhan onc sccond in lcngLh. AL oLhcr Limcs Lhc duraLion oí a scqucncc
is dcLcrmincd by Warc’s cfforLs Lo “indicaLc hiddcn cmoLions by Lhc ordcr
oí cxprcssions” on Lhc characLcrs’ íaccs and in Lhcir awkward body lan-
guagc, which in Lurn dcrivcs írom cxLrcmcs oí cmbarrassmcnL or hcsi-
AíLcr his sLcpsisLcr Amy rcjccLs his offcr oí sympaLhy on hcaring LhaL
Lhcir íaLhcr has dicd, 1immy lcavcs Lhc hospiLal in slow moLion, cach pancl
marking onc sLcp hc is Laking Loward Lhc door (¸¸o). Morc Lhan a rcacLion
Lo Lhc uníorLunaLc siLuaLion, 1immy’s lumbcring movcmcnL is Lhc cxprcs-
sion oí a dccpcr dcspondcncy, whosc vcry dcpLh can only bc visualizcd by
dcsigning Lhc pancls Lo accommodaLc dcpLh oí ficld. RaLhcr Lhan inLcrrupL-
ing Lhc narraLivc, such scqucnccs cngcndcr a scnsc oí suspcnsc, dcmanding
grcaLcr rcadcr parLicipaLion Lhrough Lhcir clusivc mood and indcLcrminaLc
Rccurrcnccs wiLhin Lhc silcnL pancls, such as Lhc small rcd or gray bird car-
rying a Lwig or flowcr, siLLing on a Lrcc branch (¡, ¸, µµ, ±o:–¡, :¸±, ¸¸8), scrvc
as an clcmcnL oí conLinuiLy. DcspiLc Lhcir sLillncss, Lhcy convcy impliciL mo-
Lion írom onc pancl Lo Lhc ncxL and oíLcn mark radical Limc shiíLs írom onc
cpisodc Lo anoLhcr. Morcovcr, Lhc homogcncous color schcmc (dark browns,
blucs, grays) noL only gaugcs Lhc grimncss oí 1immy’s sLory, buL also providcs
inLcrnal visual conLinuiLy by linking pancls LhaL lack a íormal scnsc oí sc-
qucncc. In such insLanccs, Lhc links bcLwccn succcssivc pancls arc imporLanL
as Lhcy Lriggcr Lhc rcadcr’s auLomaLic rcacLion oí comparing Lhc clcmcnLs
includcd on cach pagc. In oLhcr cascs Lhc dcícrral oí significaLion írom onc
pancl Lo Lhc ncxL has no rolc in Lhc íormaLion oí narraLivc (i.c., scqucnLial)
mcaning. Tis, howcvcr, also docs noL mcan LhaL Lhc pancls arc inLcrchangc-
ablc or could csLablish írcc and íorLuiLous connccLions among Lhcmsclvcs.
RaLhcr, a blockagc occurs in whaL 1acqucs Dcrrida (a figurc mockcd by Warc
in Te ACMF Report) and subscqucnL posLsLrucLuralisLs havc Lcrmcd dìj-
To puL iL simply, Lhc Lcrm dcnoLcs Lhc posLponcmcnL oí mcaning
írom onc significr Lo Lhc ncxL along Lhc cndlcss chain oí a proccss LhaL docs
noL LcrminaLc in any onc final or csLablishcd significaLion, buL allows mcan-
ing Lo Lakc shapc írom linkagcs and dcícrrals.
Warc’s Lcchniqucs amounL Lo whaL wc could playíully call “in-diffcrancc,”
Lo Lhc poinL whcrc onc imagc is indisLinguishablc írom Lhc ncxL and Lhc nar-
raLivc progrcssion dcrivcs írom Lhc Lwo pancls’ lack oí diffcrcncc in Lhc con-
LcxL oí Lhcir spaLial alignmcnL. In oLhcr words, Warc shows LhaL narraLivc can
bc consLrucLcd noL only Lhrough an cxccss oí connccLiviLy and significaLion,
buL also by conLaining mcaning, aL Lhc risk oí dcíying Lhc íormal convcnLions
oí Lhc mcdium iLsclí. Considcr, íor cxamplc, Lhc lasL Lwo pagcs bcíorc Lhc
Fig. 13.2. A narratological
and emotional cul-de-sac.
The panels are almost visu-
ally identical, but their spa-
tial succession sets them
apart. Chris Ware, Jimmy
Corrigan: The Smartest Kid
on Earth (New York: Pan-
theon, 2000), 362.
cpiloguc, cach conLaining Lwo pancls LhaL íollow 1immy’s progrcss írom Lhc
Lrain sLaLion Lo his officc building (scc fig. ±¸.:). FmoLionally, hc is Lravcrsing
a criLical Limc: his long-losL and Lhcn rcgaincd íaLhcr is now dcad, his sLcpsis-
Lcr violcnLly pushcd him away, hc is alonc, disappoinLcd, somcwhaL bafflcd
by Lhc Lurn oí cvcnLs, ouLsidc iL is snowing hcavily and Lhick snow is carpcL-
ing Lhc ground. Tc high risc hc is hcading Loward appcars in all íour pancls.
Ií Lhc sccond pancl conLains slighL modificaLions comparcd Lo Lhc firsL, Lhc
diffcrcncc bcLwccn Lhc Lhird and íorLh pancls is so microscopic as Lo bc al-
mosL unrccognizablc (¸6±–6:). AlLhough Lhc pancls conLinuc Lo bc scparaLcd
by a guLLcr, Lhc rcadcr can no longcr projccL causaliLy inLo Lhis spacing. As
sLill, cncapsulaLcd momcnLs, Lhc pancls Lhcmsclvcs comc Lo rcscmblc a sorL
oí guLLcr inLcrposcd bcLwccn Lhc sLory and iLs cnding, prcparing Lhc rcadcr
íor iLs cmoLional impacL. Fvcn ií Lhc silcnL pancls rcvcal Lhc cxLcnL Lo which
Warc rcdcfincs Lcmporal linkagcs on Lhc micro lcvcl oí individual pagcs, on
Lhc macro lcvcl oí Lhc novcl Lhc narraLivc dcnoucmcnL is noL suspcndcd buL
mcrcly posLponcd. Paradoxically cnough, by dccclcraLing Lhc narraLivc and
dclaying iLs rcsoluLion, Warc only incrcascs iLs incviLabiliLy.
Affective Deceleration
As I mcnLioncd carlicr, Lhc duraLion oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan’s Lcmporal scqucnccs
is oíLcn dcLcrmincd by Lhc inLcnsiLy oí a parLicular mood or íccling LhaL sub-
jccLivcly inflccLs Lhc pcrccpLion oí Limc. “I rarcly cvcr did a comic jusL íor Lhc
sakc oí cxpcrimcnLaLion,” Warc wriLcs. “Fvcn whcn I did, I was always Lrying
Lo gcL aL somc kind oí íccling.”
NoL only docs Warc cxprcss slowncss by cn-
coding iL inLo Lhc composiLion oí his comic sLrips, buL hc uscs Lhcsc narraLivc
brcaking poinLs Lo dclibcraLcly provokc rcadcr anxicLy in ordcr Lo rcvcal Lhc
undcrlying causcs íor Lhis sLrcss. WhaL cmcrgcs írom boLh Lhc slowncss oí
his largcr narraLivcs and LhaL oí Lhcir individual pancls is a ícar oí slowncss
which cncroachcs upon Lhc rcadcrs Lhcmsclvcs. Whilc mcLiculous slowncss
was a shorLhand íor lcisurcly liícsLylc in Lhc Parisian arcadcs oí Lhc ninc-
LccnLh ccnLury, hcrc slowncss sccms Lo indicaLc noLhing buL Lrauma.
Tc affccLivc sLrucLurc oí Warc’s work is closcly bound up wiLh Lhc immcdi-
aLc inLimacy bcLwccn Lhc LcxL and Lhosc who inLcracL wiLh iL, boLh in wriLing
and rcading comics, as hc wriLcs in his inLroducLion Lo McSweeney’s Quarter|y
Concern ±¸, “unlikc prosc wriLing, Lhc sLrangc proccss oí wriLing wiLh picLurcs
cncouragcs associaLions and rccollccLions Lo accumulaLc liLcrally ìn jront oj
the eyes, pcoplc, placcs, and cvcnLs appcar ouL oí nowhcrc. Doors opcn inLo
rooms rcmcmbcrcd írom childhood, íaccs íorm inLo dcad rclaLivcs, and dis-
LanL lovcs appcar, almosL magically, on Lhc pagc—all dcccpLivcly managcablc,
visccral, Lhc combinaLions somcLimcs cvcn rcvclaLory.”
Tc sclí-conLaincd
visions in Lhc sLill pancls discusscd abovc arc “rcvclaLory” in LhaL Lhcy com-
municaLc a scnsc oí pcrsonal anguish or coníusion. NoL only can Lhcsc íccl-
ings, prompLcd by mcmorics and nosLalgia, producc narraLivc dclay, buL Lhcy
can also bc Lhc causc oí slowncss obLaincd by oLhcr mcans. NarraLivc dcccl-
craLion in gcncral can bc said Lo rcflccL varicd cmoLional sLaLcs, ranging írom
ícar and disLrcss Lo cmbarrassmcnL and borcdom. 1immy is rcmarkablc íor
his cxLrcmc scnsiLiviLy, a characLcrisLic LhaL Warc sLrcsscs and cvcn ampli-
fics by manipulaLing narraLivc progrcssion. IL can bc Lhc cmbarrassmcnL oí
a parLicular prcdicamcnL, such as accidcnLally spilling Lhc conLaincr oí urinc
nccdcd íor a mcdical cxaminaLion in Lhc aíLcrmaLh oí his accidcnL, or iL can
bc Lhc nursc’s inadvcrLcnL inflicLion oí cmbarrassmcnL (shc all Loo gladly
ovcrlooks his clumsincss, which provokcs his croLic íanLasics), ciLhcr by crucl
malicc or as affccLionaLc Lhcrapy. In boLh cascs Lhc slow pacc oí Lhc narraLivc
is compliciL wiLh 1immy’s own sclí-consciousncss, shyncss, and shamc.
As a rccurrcnL Lropc oí carly child dcvclopmcnL LhaL íosLcrs a scnsc oí boLh
individualiLy and rclaLionaliLy, shamc noL only has bccomc a LhcmaLic main-
sLay oí comics—cmploycd Lo grcaL cffccL in, among oLhcr works, McSweeney’s
±¸, cdiLcd by Chris Warc—buL also has bccn rcgardcd as a hcurisLic íor, in
Danicl Wordcn’s words, “how comics consLiLuLc Lhcmsclvcs as an arL íorm
LhaL pcrpcLually cffaccs iLsclí whcn claiming sLaLus as arL.”
Many oí Warc’s
works can bc rcad as pcrmuLaLions on Lhc singlc Lhcmc oí human alicnaLion
and shamc. FurLhcr variaLions on Lhcsc cmoLions sLcm írom whcLhcr 1immy
himsclí undcrgocs Lhc affccLivc cvcnL or whcLhcr Lhc rcadcr’s own mind is
LargcLcd. Tc pcrspccLivc shiíL írom proLagonisL Lo rcadcr is usually cnacLcd
by subsLiLuLing Lhc firsL pcrson íor Lhird pcrson in Lhc visual narraLion. For
insLancc, Warc shows 1immy aLLcmpLing Lo murdcr his íaLhcr wiLhouL di-
cgcLically signposLing Lhis dcviaLion írom Lhc main sLory. A mcans oí sLaving
off his cmbarrassmcnL would bc Lo inciLc himsclí Lo indignaLion, buL Lhis only
occurs in his imaginaLion. Far írom appcaring scnLimcnLal, 1ìmmy Corrìgan
Lhus dcpicLs liLLlc in Lhc way oí cmoLion—cxpliciL visual hinLs Lo affccLivc
sLaLcs arc ícw and íar bcLwccn—buL gocs a long way Loward crcaLing iL. Warc
suggcsLs LhaL Lhc spccd oí rcading in iLsclí dcLcrmincs Lhc LcxL’s affccLivc
conLcnL: “Tc mood oí a comic sLrip did noL havc Lo comc írom Lhc drawing
or Lhc words. You goL Lhc mood noL írom looking aL Lhc sLrip, or írom rcad-
ing Lhc words, buL írom Lhc acL oí rcading iL. Tc cmoLion camc írom Lhc
way Lhc sLory iLsclí was sLrucLurcd.”
In oLhcr words, affccL docs noL rcsidc
in 1immy’s dcícnsclcssncss in Lhc íacc oí Lhc uníorLunaLc cvcnLs, buL in Lhc
narraLivc inLcnsiLy crcaLcd by Lhc prolongcd display oí his rcacLions, oíLcn in
imagcs LhaL do noL ícaLurc Lhc proLagonisL buL suggcsL Lhc cmpLincss oí his
I suggcsLcd aL Lhc ouLscL LhaL bcyond Chris Warc’s Lcndcncy Lo spaLially jux-
Laposc pasL, prcscnL, and íuLurc momcnLs on a singlc pagc (or cvcn wiLhin a
singlc pancl), his highly LcxLurcd comics also cngagc in a complcx sLraLcgy
oí dcLcrmining narraLivc spccd by sLrucLural and composiLional mcans. Tc
cffccLs oí Lhcsc Lcchniqucs arc oíLcn paradoxical. Warc Loys wiLh narraLivc
cxpccLaLions oí Lcmporal movcmcnL by drawing pancls LhaL givc Lhc rcadcrs
pausc and quickcn Lhcir pulsc aL Lhc samc Limc. Tc narraLor oí Lhcsc mulLi-
ply Lcmporal sLrips is simulLancously immcrscd in Limc and asscmbling Limc.
Hc communicaLcs a pcrccpLion noL only oí Lhc pasLncss oí Lhc pasL, buL oí iLs
prcscncc. Hc addrcsscs Limc’s passagc wiLh an impliciL (and sLrucLural) nos-
Lalgia. In íacL, 1immy Corrigan’s uprooLing—írom his íamily, social ncLworks,
and cmoLional connccLions—is so proíound LhaL hc is noL cvcn awarc oí iL,
Lo Lhc poinL whcrc his nosLalgia slowly morphs inLo a pcrvasivc mclancholia.
Tc slowncss oí his cxisLcncc is LranslaLcd by Warc inLo narraLivc Lcchniqucs
oí boLh conLinuiLy (mundanc objccLs LhaL anchor him down) and disconLinu-
iLy (Lhc abscnLmindcdncss oí his rcvcrics). AL Lhc hcarL oí 1immy’s lack oí
cngagcmcnL wiLh Lhc world lics, howcvcr, an abiding ícar—oí Lhc ícmalc co-
workcr whom hc ncvcr darcs Lo woo opcnly, oí his sLcpsisLcr whom hc íanLa-
sizcs abouL, oí his abscnL íaLhcr and ovcrbcaring moLhcr—which Warc dcíLly
LranslaLcs inLo mulLiplc dcícrrals and rcpcLiLions, as his narraLivc íalLcrs and
qucsLions iLs own drivc, obsLrucLing a quick purchasc on iLs mcaning. Warc’s
usc oí slowncss Lhus provcs Lo bc lcss an cxLcrnal approach Lo narraLivc and
morc oí an inLrinsic íuncLion oí Lhc wriLing proccss, oí mcmory, oí Lhc LcxL’s
own affccLivc unconscious LhaL collccLs Lhc cmoLions oí boLh characLcrs and
rcadcrs. Considcring his vcry limiLcd narraLivc agcncy, 1immy may noL bc,
aíLcr all, a “passcr oí Limc,” dcspiLc his opcnncss Lo Limc and iLs poLcnLiali-
Lics. Abovc all, his is a consciousncss Lhrough which Limc passcs, lcaving him
Lo inch his way ouL oí cmoLional and Lcmporal capLiviLy, in a sLrugglc LhaL is
boLh hopclcss and cmpowcring.
1. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 422.
2. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000). All further
references to this text will be indicated in parentheses.
3. Chris Ware, qtd. in Andrew Arnold, “Q and A with Comicbook Master Chris Ware,” TIME,
September 1, 2000,,8599,53887,00.html (accessed Feb-
ruary 25, 2009).
4. Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge, MA:
Da Capo Press, 2007), 347. Wolk does not elaborate theoretically on Ware’s use of slowness, limiting
his interpretation to the masochistic function of prolonged embarrassment and emotional frustra-
5. Keith Phipps, “Interview with Chris Ware,” The Onion A.V. Club, December 31, 2003, http://,13849/ (accessed February 25, 2009).
6. Thomas A. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware’s
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 870–71.
7. Paul Virilio, The Original Accident, trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 4.
8. See Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1986).
9. Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Co-
lumbia University Press, 2003), 11, 12.
10. For a rare overview of this untapped field see Kathryn Hume, “Narrative Speed in Contem-
porary Fiction,” Narrative 13 (2005): 105–24; Jan Baetens and Kathryn Hume, “Speed, Rhythm, Move-
ment: A Dialogue on K. Hume’s Article ‘Narrative Speed,’” Narrative 14 (2006): 349–55.
11. Hume, “Narrative Speed,” 106.
12. Victor Shklovsky, “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary,” in Russian Formalist Criti-
cism: Four Essays, intro. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965),
13. Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,” PMLA 123 (2008): 452.
14. Art Spiegelman, “Ephemera vs. the Apocalypse,” Indy Magazine (autumn 2005), (accessed July 13, 2008).
15. See Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 13.
16. Chris Ware, Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003), 46–47.
17. Wolk, Reading Comics, 355.
18. Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic, 2001), 41. The opposite term is “re-
storative nostalgia,” which is bent on rebuilding the lost home and patching up memory gaps, a goal
more clearly exemplified by Jimmy Corrigan’s journey into the past to meet his father and reclaim a
19. For a more detailed analysis of Ware’s treatment of memory in his comics, see Peter Sattler’s
essay in this volume.
20. David Thompson, “A Fraternity of Trifles,” Eye Magazine (spring 2002), http://www.eyemaga (accessed February 25, 2009); Chris Ware cited in Aida Edemar-
iam, “The Art of Melancholy,” Guardian, October 31, 2005,
oct/31/comics (accessed February 25, 2009).
21. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1994), 5, 7, 14.
22. Ibid., 14.
23. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Date Book (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003), 190.
24. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massim (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
25. Stuart Moulthrop, “Rhizomes and Resistance: Hypertext and the Dreams of a New Cul-
ture,” in Hyper/Text/Theory, ed. George P. Landow (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994),
26. For a detailed reading of Chris Ware’s use of diagrams, see Isaac Cates’s essay in this vol-
27. See
28. Hume, “Narrative Speed in Contemporary Fiction,” 111
29. Bredehoft, “Comics Architecture,” 885.
30. This feature calls to mind Scott McCloud’s remark on the affinities between film and the
comics medium: “Before it’s projected, film is just a very very very very slow comic.” Scott McCloud,
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper, 1993), 8.
31. Hume, “Narrative Speed in Contemporary Fiction,” 107.
32. Matei Calinescu, Rereading (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 51.
33. I use the term “duration” in the sense ascribed to it by Henri Bergson, who uses it to intro-
duce a qualitative concept of time based on subjective experience. Bergson distinguishes between
the “empty time” of classical physics and the “experienced time” of consciousness, which is neither
measurable nor divisible. See Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. by T. E. Hulme
(New York: Macmillan, 1955). See also Jacques Samson, “Une vision furtive de Jimmy Corrigan,” in
Poétiques de la bande dessinée, ed. Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle and Jacques Samson (Paris: l’Harmattan,
2007), 221–33.
34. Interview with Gary Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” Comics Journal 200
(1997), 154.
35. A brief strip flippantly questions current theory debates about image potency and its use as
a compensatory alternative to failing reading skills: “Who said that the image has lost all power as
an aesthetic tool?. . . Was it Lacan, or Daridas (sp?) Or . . . was it that the image was more potent
since everyone is so rushed and semi-literate?” Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Report (New York:
Pantheon, 2005), 8.
36. See Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 1982), 3–27.
37. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, Chris Ware, 11.
38. Chris Ware, introduction to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 13 (San Francisco: McSweeney’s,
2004), 12.
39. Daniel Worden, “The Shameful Art: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Comics, and the Politics
of Affect,” Modern Fiction Studies 52 (2006): 894.
40. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, Chris Ware, 13.
1 9 1
Imagining an Idiosyncratic Belonging:
Representing Disability in Chris Ware’s
“Building Stories”
In an inLroducLion Lo his comic sLrip “Building SLorics,” wriLLcn íor Lhc !n-
dependent, Chris Warc idcnLifics iLs main characLcr as “a ¸o-ycar-old woman
who has ycL Lo find somconc wiLh whom Lo spcnd Lhc rcsL oí hcr liíc.”
is conspicuously missing írom Lhis dcscripLion, Lhough—as wcll as írom Lhc
majoriLy oí Lhc LcxL in Lhc comic sLrip iLsclí—is Lhc íacL LhaL Lhc proLagonisL
is an ampuLcc: hcr lcíL lcg cnds jusL bclow Lhc kncc, whcrc shc somcLimcs
wcars a prosLhcLic limb. Warc’s dcscripLion Lhus sLrangcly clidcs disabiliLy as
a characLcrizaLion oí Lhc proLagonisL, rclcgaLing iL Lo a dc-privilcgcd posiLion
in his accounL oí Lhc narraLivc.
Visually, howcvcr, Lhc pancls oí “Building SLorics” do anyLhing buL gloss
ovcr Lhc proLagonisL’s disabiliLy. RaLhcr, Lhcy dirccL Lhc rcadcr’s cycs Lo a
írank coníronLaLion wiLh hcr lcgs by dcpicLing hcr in closc-up shoLs írom Lhc
kncc down on ninc occasions LhroughouL Lhc comic sLrip—and oíLcn as Lhrcc
consccuLivc, idcnLical pancls. In Lhc opcning insLallmcnLs, which arc narraLcd
by Lhc aparLmcnL building iLsclí, onc mighL casily miss Lhc black linc LhaL
significs Lhc mccLing oí flcsh and prosLhcsis (in parL :, íor insLancc, whcrc
Lhc proLagonisL sLands on a sidcwalk in íronL oí Lhc building, sLaring up aL
hcr íuLurc homc). BuL in parL ,, Lhc firsL insLallmcnL narraLcd írom Lhc pro-
LagonisL’s poinL oí vicw, Warc chorcographs a vcriLablc unvciling oí hcr shorL
lcg. Having awokcn írom an croLic drcam, Lhc proLagonisL gcLs ouL oí bcd
Lo usc Lhc baLhroom, an acLion prcscnLcd in Lhrcc pancls: onc in which shc
lics sLill covcrcd by hcr blankcL, onc in which hcr long lcg cmcrgcs írom Lhc
covcrs, and finally onc in which hcr shorL lcg is rcvcalcd. AlLhough Lhc LcxL
oí Lhc proLagonisL’s laLc-nighL musings has cvcryLhing Lo do wiLh popsiclcs
sLrangcly croLicizcd by hcr drcam world and noLhing Lo do wiLh hcr bodily
variaLion, Warc dirccLs Lhc vicwcr’s aLLcnLion Lo iL unflinchingly, asscrLing iLs
prcscncc in Lhc proLagonisL’s cvcryday liíc.
From Lhc pcrspccLivc oí disabiliLy sLudics, Lhc sLrangc discrcpancy bc-
Lwccn Lhc sLriking prcscncc oí Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg in Lhc visual rcg-
isLcr oí “Building SLorics” and Lhc ncar abscncc oí any acknowlcdgmcnL oí
hcr disabiliLy in Lhc LcxLual rcgisLcr crcaLcs a pcrplcxing inLcrprcLivc siLua-
Lion. MusL bodily variaLion always signiíy, onc wondcrs` MighL Lhis disabiliLy
bc “mcrcly” Lhcrc, and Lhus noL rcally a íruiLíul objccL íor inLcrprcLaLion` In
Lhis cssay, I undcrLakc a carcíul analysis oí Lhc acsLhcLic and Lhc narraLivc
sLrucLurc oí Warc’s “Building SLorics” in ordcr Lo arguc LhaL Lhis parLicular
rcprcscnLaLion oí a woman—onc who would bc normaLivcly undcrsLood as
“disablcd”—docs maLLcr. Spccifically, Lhis parLicular rcprcscnLaLion docs
valuablc LhcorcLical work by posiLing an alLcrnaLivc undcrsLanding oí disabil-
iLy rooLcd in Lhc ordinary. Warc’s acsLhcLic oí ordinarincss is characLcrizcd
by a flair íor sLaging Lhc small momcnLs oí Lhc mundanc, dirccLing rcadcrs
Lo noLicc dcLails likc manLclpiccc clocks, rcflccLions in windows, and charac-
Lcrs’ fidgcLs. Tis ordinarincss acsLhcLic, wiLh iLs íocus on Lhc microproccsscs
oí cvcryday liíc, cnablcs a narraLivc sLrucLurc composcd oí cpisodcs whosc
mcanings cxisL in dynamic Lcnsion wiLh onc anoLhcr, rcsisLing a fixcd pro-
nounccmcnL abouL Lhc mcaning oí Lhc proLagonisL’s diffcrcncc.
TaL is, in ordcr Lo makc scnsc oí Lhc largcly unarLiculaLcd visual prcscncc
oí Lhc woman’s shorL lcg and Lo inLcrprcL Lhc momcnLs whcn iL ìs LcxLually
acknowlcdgcd, onc musL considcr Lhc ways in which LhaL momcnL’s immcdi-
aLc mcaning is shapcd and rcshapcd by oLhcr cpisodcs in Lhc comic sLrip’s
composcd cnvironmcnL. OíLcn, whcn disabiliLy sccms Lo bc a locus íor shamc
or loss, oLhcr sccncs suggcsL alLcrnaLivc ways oí knowing Lhc proLagonisL’s
body—or consLiLuLc momcnLs oí cqual or grcaLcr shamc LhaL arc noL orga-
nizcd around disabiliLy aL all. Tis narraLivc sLrucLurc crcaLcs a sLory in which
bodily diffcrcncc assumcs a spacc in Lhc woman’s liíc along wiLh a numbcr oí
oLhcr LraiLs buL noncLhclcss rcLains iLs uniqucncss. Tis gcsLurc oí rcndcr-
ing Lhc proLagonisL’s so-callcd cxLraordinary body ordinary opcns up a ncw
spacc íor Lhinking abouL disabiliLy as an cxpcricncc oí whaL I call ìdìosyncratìc
An Alternative to Identity Politics
Imagcs oí bodics arc inLcgral Lo Lhc ways in which human bcings imaginc,
know, and acL Loward onc anoLhcr, and Lhus Warc’s disabiliLy rcprcscnLaLion
is hardly “mcrcly” Lhcrc. Mcdia LhcorisL W.1.T. MiLchcll cxplains Lhc poliLics
oí such imagcs in visual culLurc, proposing LhaL Lhcy íuncLion as: “‘go-bc-
Lwccns’ in social LransacLions, as a rcpcrLoirc oí scrccn imagcs or LcmplaLcs
LhaL sLrucLurc our cncounLcrs wiLh oLhcr human bcings [. . .] SLcrcoLypcs,
caricaLurcs, classificaLory figurcs, scarch imagcs, mappings oí Lhc visiblc
body, oí Lhc social spaccs in which iL appcars would consLiLuLc Lhc íundamcn-
Lal claboraLions oí visual culLurc on which Lhc domain oí Lhc imagc—and
oí Lhc OLhcr—is consLrucLcd. As go-bcLwccns or ‘subalLcrn’ cnLiLics, Lhcsc
imagcs arc Lhc filLcrs Lhrough which wc rccognizc and oí coursc misrccog-
nizc oLhcr pcoplc.”
TaL is Lo say, all rcprcscnLaLions oí Lhc body maLLcr in
LhaL Lhcy scrvc as Lhc “go-bcLwccns,” or ways oí knowing LhaL bcar upon Lhc
rcal and quoLidian LransacLions bcLwccn pcoplc. RcccnL work in disabiliLy
sLudics has aLLcndcd Lo Lhc ways in which disablcd bodics arc mcdiaLcd by a
conLcmporary posiLioning in mcdical and rchabiliLaLivc discoursc as wcll as
a rcccnL pasL oí írcak shows, cugcnics, and insLiLuLionalizaLion.
Many oí Lhc
criLiqucs launchcd againsL objccLiíying rcprcscnLaLions oí disabiliLy opcraLc
wiLhin Lhc ficld oí idcnLiLy poliLics, sincc Lhc imagc oí Lhc disablcd figurc has
hisLorically bccn an opprcssivc mcdiaLion, discouraging any rccogniLion oí a
pcrson wiLh a complcx and flourishing liíc. Howcvcr, Lhc “disabiliLy imagc”
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 1 9 3
LhaL cmcrgcs írom “Building SLorics” rcsisLs Lhcsc normaLivc ways oí sccing
by consLrucLing a much morc complcx undcrsLanding oí a pcrson wiLh an
anomalous body, prcciscly in LhaL iL rcprcscnLs iLs proLagonisL in ways LhaL
challcngc fixcd caLcgorics oí idcnLiLy.
DisabiliLy sLudics scholars arc oíLcn cxpliciL abouL Lhcir work’s aLLcn-
danL poliLical agcnda: pcoplc wiLh ccrLain diffcrcnccs arc markcd aparL as
diffcrcnL in a normaLivc sysLcm, a sysLcm LhaL RobcrL McRucr has Lcrmcd
“compulsory ablc-bodicdncss.”
Tis disLincLion csLablishcs a binary LhaL is
undcrsLood as onc bcLwccn ablc/disablcd, normal/abnormal, wholc/brokcn,
valuablc/worLhlcss, Lhosc idcnLificd wiLh Lhc sccond Lcrm havc íaccd insLi-
LuLionalizaLion, discníranchiscmcnL, and discriminaLion. Much oí disabiliLy
scholarship’s work is inLcrcsLcd in criLiquing Lhc cpisLcmological sysLcm LhaL
produccs and pcrpcLuaLcs Lhcsc condiLions. In hcr book Fxtraordìnary Pod-
ìes, Roscmaric Carland-Tomson advocaLcs a rcsisLancc Lo normaLivc ways oí
knowing disabiliLy, looking Lo Lhc anLi-assimilaLionisL, posiLivc-idcnLiLy poli-
Lics in a numbcr oí novcls by ícminisL Aírican Amcrican wriLcrs. “I musL con-
ícss,” shc wriLcs, “LhaL my own poliLics parallcl Lhcsc black womcn’s aLLcmpLs
Lo rcndcr physical diffcrcncc as disLincLion, uncouplcd írom modcrniLy’s dc-
valuaLion oí Lhc aLypical [. . . My aim is] Lo criLiquc Lhc poliLics oí appcarancc
LhaL govcrns our inLcrprcLaLion oí physical diffcrcncc, Lo suggcsL LhaL dis-
abiliLy rcquircs accommodaLion raLhcr Lhan compcnsaLion, and Lo shiíL our
conccpLion oí disabiliLy írom paLhology Lo idcnLiLy.”
Similarly, McRucr advo-
caLcs Lhc poLcnLial oí a criLically disablcd, or whaL hc Lcrms severe, idcnLiLy
Lo rcsisL Lhc “mcrc Lolcrancc” oí compulsory ablc-bodicdncss.
Tc assump-
Lion oí a scvcrc disabiliLy idcnLiLy, hc argucs, is how Lhc disabiliLy communiLy
mighL “crip”—LhaL is, collccLivcly Lransíorm—Lhc ways in which Lhc sysLcm
oí compulsory ablc-bodicdncss uscs quccr/disablcd cxisLcncc Lo dcfinc and
pcrpcLuaLc iLsclí. Tc poliLical criLiquc launchcd by Lhcsc scholars is ccrLainly
viLal, as Lhc ways in which disabiliLy is imagincd impingcs dirccLly on Lhc
wcll-bcing oí Lhosc who livc wiLh disabiliLics.
Tc Lrcnd Loward an idcnLiLy
poliLics ccnLcrcd on disabiliLy-as-diffcrcncc, howcvcr, also has iLs dangcrs.
Icgal LhcorisL 1ancL Hallcy has Lakcn up Lhc problcm wiLh idcnLiLy poli-
Lics in hcr considcraLion oí Lhc “likc racc” argumcnLs madc by lawycrs on bc-
halí oí quccr groups or individuals. “‘IdcnLiLy poliLics,’” shc noLcs, “is usually
wagcd on assumpLions LhaL idcnLiLy inhcrcs in group mcmbcrs, LhaL group
mcmbcrship brings wiLh iL a uniíormly sharcd rangc (or cvcn a corc) oí au-
LhcnLic cxpcricncc and aLLiLudc, LhaL Lhc poliLical and lcgal inLcrcsLs oí Lhc
group arc similarly cohcrcnL, and LhaL group mcmbcrs arc Lhus ablc Lo draw
on Lhcir own cxpcricnccs Lo disccrn Lhosc inLcrcsLs and Lo csLablish Lhc au-
LhoriLy Lhcy nccd Lo spcak íor Lhc group.”
CcrLainly, Lhcsc “cohcrcnLisL as-
sumpLions” run inLo Lroublc whcn onc considcrs disabiliLy as a poliLicizcd
idcnLiLy, as iL uniLcs a widc spccLrum oí pcoplc írom Lhosc wiLh an acsLhcLic
disabiliLy, Lo Lhc culLurally Dcaí, Lo pcoplc wiLh spina bifida—whosc livcd cx-
pcricnccs vary radically and whosc poliLical nccds may bc likcwisc diffcrcnL—
and rcdcfincs Lhcm as onc kind oí bcing, wiLh onc scL oí dcmands.
poliLics, Hallcy argucs, can bccomc morc Lhan an organizaLion LhaL íaciliLaLcs
rcsisLancc Lo hcgcmony, iL Loo can inLcrpcllaLc group mcmbcrs, making Lhcm
“do Lhings Lhcy would noL oLhcrwisc do, buL also [making] Lhcm become pco-
plc Lhcy would noL oLhcrwisc bc.”
IdcnLiLy poliLics risks imposing a kind oí
scripL on Lhc pcoplc iL would includc by dclimiLing and dcfining a caLcgory
oí bcing. Hallcy’s criLiquc Lhus raiscs imporLanL issucs abouL disabiliLy as a
caLcgory oí idcnLiLy: prcdicaLing bclonging on onc’s diffcrcncc rciníorccs Lhc
radical oLhcrncss consLrucLcd by compulsory ablc-bodicdncss.
Ií disabiliLy as a poliLicizcd idcnLiLy is problcmaLic in ccrLain imporLanL
ways, how mighL onc conccpLualizc Lhc kind oí bcing parLicular Lo Warc’s
proLagonisL—íor ccrLainly, Lhc configuraLion oí hcr lcgs shapcs boLh hcr mo-
biliLy and hcr socialiLy` Two Lcrms arc cspccially uscíul hcrc: culLural LhcorisL
FlspcLh Probyn’s outsìde be|ongìng and disabiliLy sLudics’ disLincLion oí ìm-
paìrment írom disabiliLy. Probyn suggcsLs outsìde be|ongìng as an alLcrnaLivc
Lo Lhc conccpLual fixiLy oí idcnLiLy, which obligcs onc Lo Lhink in Lcrms oí
division and dcsignaLion. Bclonging, shc wriLcs, cxprcsscs a “dcsirc íor morc
Lhan whaL is, a ycarning Lo makc skin sLrcLch bcyond individual nccds and
wanLs,” and opcraLcs “noL as a subsLanLivc claim buL as a manncr oí bcing [. . .
iL is] Lhc dcsirc LhaL individuals havc Lo bclong, a Lcnacious and íragilc dcsirc
LhaL is, I Lhink, incrcasingly pcríormcd in Lhc knowlcdgc oí Lhc impossibiliLy
oí cvcr rcally and Lruly bclonging [. . .] A dcsirc LhaL cannoL bc caLcgorizcd as
good or bad, lcíL or righL—in shorL a dcsirc wiLhouL a fixcd poliLical ground
buL wiLh immcnsc poliLical possibiliLics.”
Probyn conLinucs LhaL bclonging is “always pcríormcd wiLh Lhc cxpcri-
cncc oí bcing wiLhin and inbcLwccn scLs oí social rclaLions” and LhaL Lhink-
ing bcyond idcnLiLy Lo bclonging is a maLLcr oí “gcLLing aL Lhc minuLcncss
oí movcmcnL LhaL occurs in Lhc cvcryday proccsscs oí arLiculaLion.”
rcprcscnLaLion posiLs his proLagonisL-wiLh-a-shorL-lcg as bclonging: by jux-
Laposing Lhc proLagonisL’s sLory linc wiLh Lhosc oí hcr ncighbors, Warc fixcs
our aLLcnLion on whaL Probyn calls Lhc “broughL LogcLhcr”ncss and “ongoing
inbcLwccnncss” crcaLcd by Lhc building’s sLrucLurc and by Lhc ways Lhc build-
ing’s inhabiLanLs rcgisLcr onc anoLhcr’s prcscncc (waLcr dripping írom Lhc
sccond-floor aparLmcnL’s baLhroom cciling as a rcsulL oí an ovcrflowcd LoilcL
on Lhc Lhird floor, íor insLancc, phonc calls, chancc mccLings in Lhc bascmcnL,
noiscs Lravcling Lhrough Lhin walls). Tcsc cvcnLs rcndcr Lhc boundarics bc-
Lwccn Lhc parallcl sLory lincs pcrmcablc, as do Lhc flccLing, awkward inLcrac-
Lions bcLwccn Lhc rcsidcnLs. According Lo Probyn, Lhc dcsirc oí bclonging
“oils Lhc lincs oí Lhc social [. . .] IL is Lhrough and wiLh dcsirc LhaL wc figurc
rclaLions oí proximiLy Lo oLhcrs and oLhcr íorms oí socialiLy.”
WhaL I’d likc Lo call ìdìosyncratìc be|ongìng is a conccpLion oí subjccLiviLy
LhaL conccivcs oí a pcrson as a locus íor Lhc cvcr-shiíLing flucLuaLions oí onc’s
scnsc oí bclonging (or noL bclonging) as iL is arLiculaLcd across social spacc
and across Lhc physical spacc oí onc’s “minuLcncss oí movcmcnL.” Tis bc-
longing bccomcs idiosyncraLic in acknowlcdging Lhc livcd cxpcricncc oí onc’s
bodily configuraLion, somcLhing disabiliLy scholars havc Lricd Lo isolaLc írom
“disabiliLy” as ìmpaìrment. Tis livcd cxpcricncc conLribuLcs parLicular, idio-
syncraLic arLiculaLions oí onc’s bclonging across social and physical spacc and
accounLs íor parLicular accouLrcmcnLs (cruLchcs, showcr chairs, prosLhcscs)
and pracLiccs (a ccrLain sLylc oí climbing Lhc sLairs, íor insLancc). DisabiliLy
scholars havc drawn a disLincLion bcLwccn impairmcnL as Lhc physical íacL
oí bodily variaLion and disabiliLy as Lhc limiLaLions produccd by socicLal aL-
LiLudcs Loward, and íailurcs Lo accommodaLc, Lhc impairmcnL. Susan Squicr
criLiqucs Lhis disLincLion, cauLioning LhaL onc musL noL usc iL Lo rclcgaLc im-
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 1 9 5
pairmcnL Lo a LoLally prc-social ordcr “dcvoid oí social mcaning and scparaLc
írom Lhc sclí.”
Squicr asscrLs LhaL bccausc Lhcy mobilizc characLcrs’ gcs-
Lurcs, posLurcs, and íacial cxprcssions Lo Lcll sLorics, comics arc cspccially wcll
cquippcd Lo communicaLc Lhc cmbodicd mcanings oí an impairmcnL: “comics
can convcy Lhc complcx social impacL oí a physical or mcnLal impairmcnL, as
wcll as Lhc way Lhc body rcgisLcrs social and insLiLuLional consLrainLs.”
moving bcyond disabiliLy as an idcnLiLy caLcgory íorgcd ovcr and againsL a
likcwisc fixcd ablc-bodicd normaLiviLy, onc mighL conccivc oí Lhc parLicular
bclonging LhaL is (also) shapcd by impairmcnL-spccific spaLial pracLiccs as an
ìdìosyncratìc bclonging.
IL is Lhis kind oí subjccLiviLy LhaL Warc composcs íor his proLagonisL as hc
íollows Lhc micro-gcsLurcs oí cach oí his characLcrs. Hc porLrays Lhc woman
wiLh a shorL lcg ovcr an array oí spaLial and inLcrsubjccLivc LransacLions, and
hcr shorL lcg produccs ccrLain idiosyncraLic LransacLions LhaL shapc hcr par-
Licular bclonging—whaL shc docs, how shc inLcracLs wiLh oLhcrs, whaL shc
longs íor. In “Building SLorics,” Lhc proLagonisL livcs wiLh hcr disabiliLy noL as
a mcmbcr oí a fixcd caLcgory (ncvcr do wc hcar hcr sclí-idcnLiíy as any type
oí pcrson bccausc oí hcr lcg), buL as onc whosc movcmcnLs across social and
physical spacc arc somcLimcs shapcd by hcr body’s variaLion and Lhc Lcch-
nologics LhaL shc uscs. Tis rcprcscnLaLion oí bodily variaLion as somcLhing
LhaL conLribuLcs Lo an idiosyncraLic bclonging—raLhcr Lhan somcLhing LhaL
makcs a ccrLain kind oí pcrson—is bound up wiLh Warc’s ordinarincss acs-
Chris Ware’s Aesthetic of Ordinariness and Narrative Structure
Cycling Lhrough a LwcnLy-íour-hour pcriod ovcr LhirLy wcckly onc-pagc in-
sLallmcnLs, Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne’s run oí “Building SLorics” íollows
Lhrcc sLory lincs: onc íor cach oí Lhc aparLmcnLs in a Lurn-oí-Lhc-ccnLury
Chicago building.
Tc landlady, who rcsidcs on Lhc firsL floor, is an cldcrly
woman who livcs in a world oí mcmory and rcgrcL, Lhc sccond floor houscs a
couplc in a dysíuncLional rclaLionship, and on Lhc Lhird floor livcs Lhc main
characLcr oí Lhc sLrip, a young, loncly arLisL wiLh a shorL lcg. Tc opcning
insLallmcnLs arc acsLhcLically paradigmaLic íor Lhc cnLirc sLrip, wriLLcn and
drawn in Warc’s characLcrisLic sLylc. Composcd in a non-lincar progrcssion oí
LcxL and pancls, cach insLallmcnL is colorcd largcly in muLcd, balanccd Loncs
wiLh somc vivid splashcs, drawn wiLh clcar, prccisc lincs and blocks oí un-
modulaLcd color, and rccords parLicular aLmosphcric dcLails LhaL producc an
acsLhcLic oí ordinarincss—crumbs on Lhc floor, brokcn ícncc slaLs, and mail-
ing Lapc on cardboard boxcs. In Warc’s own words, Lhc comic sLrip aims íor
“an cvcr closcr rcprcscnLaLion oí whaL iL íccls likc Lo bc alivc.”
Warc’s vcrsion oí “Lhc ordinary” is a living momcnL-by-momcnL, dwclling
on Lhc micro-gcsLurcs LhaL narraLivcs usually clidc, iL is Lhc borcd killing oí
Limc, Lhc waiLing Lo finish pccing, Lhc placing oí íccL on a coffcc Lablc wiLh a
plaLc balanccd on onc’s lap. BuL Warc’s ordinarincss oí in-bcLwccn Limc has
iLs momcnLs oí quicL lovclincss, Loo, his narraLivcs oí noLicing rccord Lhc
changing sky’s colors aL Lhc window, a bumblcbcc climbing a wall, rows oí
íramcd phoLographs in a hall. Ordinary liíc is, íor Warc, a placc whcrc pcoplc
conLinually makc cfforLs aL connccLion in unsuavc, inarLiculaLc, and ncrvous
ways: Lhc landlady dclivcrs a scaring riposLc on Lhc phonc aíLcr hcr inLcrlocu-
Lor has hung up, Lhc proLagonisL cxprcsscs hcr ícclings íor a man in a way
LhaL is ovcrcagcr and dcspcraLc, and Lhc sccond-floor man LhwarLs his íanLa-
sics oí a plcasanL convcrsaLion wiLh his parLncr by saying, “1csus, you’rc noL
going Lo wcar those panLs Loday, arc you`”
Warc’s ordinarincss is also abouL unconccaling Lhc obvious, which philoso-
phcr SLanlcy Cavcll has argucd is no small ícaL, sincc Lhc cvcryday is losL “in
cvcry impulsc Lo philosophy.” In our aLLcmpLs Lo conccivc oí, Lo noLicc, or Lo
namc Lhc ordinary, wc arc singling iL ouL and íocusing on iL, Lhus rcndcring
iL in somc scnsc cxLraordinary. In Lhcsc aLLcmpLs, wc scc Lhc flccLing naLurc
oí Lhc ordinary, Lhc way in which iL musL bc laboriously unconccalcd. Cavcll
avcrs LhaL onc musL conLinually aLLcmpL Lo grasp Lhc sLuff oí Lhc ordinary:
“Lhc world musL bc rcgaincd cvcry day, in rcpcLiLion, rcgaincd as gonc.”

Warc’s acsLhcLic Lakcs pains Lo makc prcscnL Lhc cvcryday LhaL is so obvious
iL’s hiddcn, filling his pancls wiLh íuzzy LoilcL scaL covcrs, wccds in cmpLy
loLs, and rcírigcraLor handlcs. Along wiLh iLs parLicular aLLcnLion Lo Lhis lcxi-
con oí dcLails, Warc’s acsLhcLic cxploiLs ccrLain Lcchnical aspccLs oí Lhc com-
ics mcdium in ordcr Lo crcaLc an aLmosphcrc oí ordinarincss.
As hc prcscnLs mundanc gcsLurcs, dialogucs wiLh pcLs, and Lasks likc Lak-
ing plasLic wrap off oí sliccd applcs, Warc cnlisLs a Lcchniquc LouLcd by ScoLL
McCloud as having “grcaL powcr [. . .] rclcasablc only by Lhc rcadcr’s mind”:
amplificaLion Lhrough simplificaLion.
McCloud claims LhaL comics arLisLs in-
Lcnsiíy Lhc mcanings oí Lhc objccLs and pcoplc Lhcy porLray whcn Lhcy draw
Lhcm morc schcmaLically. “By sLripping down an imagc Lo iLs csscnLial ‘mcan-
ing,’” hc wriLcs, “an arLisL can ampliíy LhaL mcaning in a way LhaL rcalisLic
arL can’L.”

Warc’s clcan-lincd sLylc makcs cvcryday objccLs and pcoplc morc
univcrsal, such LhaL rcadcrs cngagc and idcnLiíy wiLh Lhcm morc rcadily.
Warc cxplains: “In ordcr Lo work visually my comics havc Lo íall somcwhcrc
bcLwccn Lhc gcncral and Lhc spccific [. . . A]s wiLh any íorm oí wriLing, Lhc
richncss and LcxLurc oí Lhc sLory comcs írom Lhc spccifics, írom Lhc dcLails.
So I usc spccific dcLails, buL I Lry Lo draw Lhc dcLails in a gcncral way.”

acsLhcLic crcaLcs sccncs LhaL, Lhough Lhcy Lakc placc osLcnsibly somcwhcrc
on Lhc norLh sidc oí Chicago, rcadcrs can idcnLiíy wiLh rcadily and inhabiL
casily. SiLuaLing Lhc proLagonisL’s body in Lhis visual comicscapc—ccrLainly,
shc is rcndcrcd in Lhc samc clcar colors and black ouLlincs, a smooLh curvc
signaling Lhc cnd oí hcr shorL lcg—íamiliarizcs iL and rcndcrs iL ordinary. AL
Lhc samc Limc, Warc’s acsLhcLic oí ordinarincss rcprcscnLs Lhc idiosyncraLic
dcLails oí Lhc livcd cxpcricncc oí Lhis impairmcnL, along wiLh Lhosc oí Lhc rcsL
oí cvcryday liíc—a cruLch in Lhc corncr, a browning banana, Lhc sLocking cap
on Lhc cnd oí Lhc proLagonisL’s lcg, a band-aid on hcr daLc’s hand.
Warc’s acsLhcLic oí ordinarincss is achicvcd noL only in Lhc iconiciLy and
dcLail oí his sccncs, buL also in Lhc ways in which hc organizcs and juxLa-
poscs pancls in his narraLivcs. McCloud disLinguishcs bcLwccn six kinds oí
pancl-Lo-pancl LransiLions, noLing LhaL WcsLcrn comics usc uncannily simi-
lar proporLions oí cach kind whcn analyzcd. WcsLcrn comics, hc obscrvcs,
cmphasizc acLion-Lo-acLion sLoryLclling, also cmploying subjccL-Lo-subjccL
and sccnc-Lo-sccnc LransiLions. WhaL disLinguishcs Warc’s sLoryLclling sLylc
írom LhaL oí mosL WcsLcrn comics is Lhc prcdominancc oí momcnL-Lo-mo-
mcnL LransiLions, in which Lhc changc and Lhc lapsc oí Limc bcLwccn pancls
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 1 9 7
is minimal. Warc’s acLion-Lo-acLion LransiLions also íuncLion as momcnL-Lo-
momcnL LransiLions, as hc primarily rccords micro-acLions—gcsLurcs, íacial
cxprcssions, and cvcn Lhc vcry sLcps characLcrs Lakc across Lhcir rooms. For
cxamplc, in parL ±¸, a scrics oí pancls dcpicL Lhc sccond-floor man’s rcLurn Lo
Lhc aparLmcnL building (scc plaLc ±,).

Warc Lakcs Lwclvc pancls Lo rcprcscnL
Lhc cvcnL oí Lhc man’s arrival, cxiL írom his car, and approach Lo Lhc aparL-
mcnL. Warc Lhus slows Lhc pacc oí his comic sLrip such LhaL iL absorbs and
porLrays Lhc smallcr momcnLs oí Lhc ordinary, which arc glosscd ovcr and al-
lowcd Lo íall inLo Lhc guLLcr in mosL comics. By manipulaLing pancl-Lo-pancl
LransiLions in Lhis way, Warc crcaLcs a ccrLain rhyLhm oí ordinarincss, Lhc
“bcaL by bcaL” cxpcricncc rcadcrs crcaLc in Lhc acL oí rcading smallcr micro-
movcmcnLs. Tc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg bccomcs a parL oí Lhis rhyLhm oí or-
dinarincss, synchcd Lo iL, prcscnLcd noL as an alicn, unknowablc cxpcricncc,
buL as parL oí Lhc main characLcr’s cvcryday living. Placcd in Lhis flux oí or-
dinary momcnLs—oí non-cvcnLs, oí gcncralizcd dcLail, oí Limc parcclcd ouL
slowly—hcr impairmcnL is broughL Lo Lhc suríacc oí pcrccpLion as ií iL wcrc
as unrcmarkablc as any oí Lhc oLhcr dcLails in “Building SLorics.” Warc’s ordi-
narincss acsLhcLic dccply impacLs Lhc narraLivc sLrucLurc oí Lhc comic sLrip,
which crcaLcs an idiosyncraLic bclonging íor Lhc proLagonisL by rcprcscnLing
hcr quoLidian cxpcricncc oí having a shorL lcg.
In hcr discussion oí how ordinarincss is prcscnL, liLcrary LhcorisL Iau-
rcn BcrlanL argucs LhaL Lhc cvcryday uníolds noL in dramaLic cvcnLs buL in
“Lcmporal cnvironmcnLs,” a conccpL LhaL allows íor a Lcmporal dcscripLion
oí spacc “as a back-íormaLion írom pracLiccs.”
Warc narraLivcly sLrucLurcs
Lhc ordinary oí his comic sLrip as a consLcllaLion oí Lhcsc smallcr momcnLs,
cspccially on Lhc occasions whcn Lhc LcxLual rcgisLcr oí “Building SLorics”
dirccLly addrcsscs Lhc proLagonisL’s impairmcnL as a Lroublcsomc cxpcricncc.
Bccausc Lhcy arc locaLcd in an ordinary cnvironmcnL, Lhc cvcnLs in “Building
SLorics” arc whaL BcrlanL dcfincs as epìsodes: “An cnvironmcnL is madc via
spaLial pracLiccs and can absorb how Limc ordinarily passcs, how íorgcLLablc
mosL cvcnLs arc, and, ovcrall, how pcoplc’s ordinary pcrscvcraLions flucLuaLc
in paLLcrns oí aLLachmcnL and idcnLificaLion. In an ordinary cnvironmcnL,
mosL oí whaL wc call cvcnLs arc noL oí Lhc scalc oí mcmorablc impacL buL
raLhcr arc epìsodes, LhaL is, occasions LhaL makc cxpcricnccs whilc noL chang-
ing much oí anyLhing.”
In Lhcsc small momcnLs oí acknowlcdging Lhc pro-
LagonisL’s shorL lcg as rcgrcLLablc, Warc guidcs rcadcrs Lo rcgisLcr Lhc cpi-
sodc’s accompanying mixLurc oí anxicLy, shamc, and loss, whilc also scLLing
Lhc cpisodc in an ovcrall flux wiLh oLhcr pracLiccs, which insisLcnLly undcrcuL
iLs affccLivc Lcnor and drama.
In Lhc firsL insLallmcnL oí Lhc main characLcr’s LwcnLy-íour-hour sclí-
narraLivc, shc worrics LhaL shc will disLurb hcr ncighbors by gcLLing up aL
nighL. Tis conccrn sLcms írom Lhc íacL LhaL whcn shc’s moving abouL Lhc
housc aL nighL, shc uscs a cruLch. In Lhc ncxL pancl, Lhc visual iníormaLion is
onomaLopocic, showing Lhc girl in hcr undcrwcar and lcaning on hcr cruLch,
a linc oí whiLc “TAKs” Lrailing bchind hcr as shc crosscs Lhc living room. To
walk around aL nighL wiLh a cruLch, wc rcad, does mcan Lo makc noisc LhaL
could awakcn a ncighbor. Tc LcxL accompanying Lhc sccnc, howcvcr, conLrib-
uLcs iníormaLion abouL spaLial pracLiccs LhaL consLrucLs a diffcrcnL narraLivc.
“Tcn again,” Lhc proLagonisL Lhinks, “I don’L know whaL I was worricd abouL,
sincc I hcar Lhcm yclling aL cach oLhcr all Lhc Limc, anyway . . .”
Shc offcrs a
rcbuLLal Lo hcr own anxicLy abouL making poLcnLially disrupLivc noiscs—hcr
cruLch noiscs arc akin Lo (or lcss Lroublcsomc Lhan) Lhc noiscs rcsulLing írom
hcr ncighbors’ dysíuncLional rclaLionship. Tus rcassurcd, shc makcs hcr Lrck
Lo Lhc baLhroom insoucianLly, as Lhc “TAKs” arc Lransíormcd in Lhc ordinary
cnvironmcnL as unmcmorablc cpisodcs in lighL oí Lhc ncighbors’ own noisc-
making pracLiccs.
By narraLing Lhis ordinary momcnL oí wanLing Lo gcL up Lo usc Lhc rcsL-
room, scLLing up an impairmcnL-rclaLcd social rcsLricLion on such a quoLid-
ian Lask, and Lhcn inLcrposing hcr ncighbors’ own noisc-causing condiLions,
Warc diffuscs Lhc anxicLy and sclí-consciousncss oí navigaLing an aparLmcnL
aL nighL wiLh a shorL lcg. Tc ordinary cnvironmcnL oí Lhc Lhird and sccond
sLory oí Lhc aparLmcnL building whcrc Lhc proLagonisL and hcr ncighbors livc,
rcspccLivcly, is claboraLcd by Lhc spaLial pracLiccs íurnishcd via Lhc proLago-
nisL’s mcmory as wcll as Lhc comic sLrip’s oLhcr insLallmcnLs. For insLancc,
Lhc proLagonisL cxpands hcr sclí-jusLificaLion by hypoLhcsizing abouL hcr
ncighbor: “I’m prcLLy surc Lhc guy’s a drinkcr Loo . . . I hcar him coming and
going aL all hours . . .” Rcadcrs know írom prcvious insLallmcnLs, howcvcr,
LhaL hc makcs noisc aL odd hours bccausc hc works as a nighL sccuriLy guard
in an cmpLy building. Warc’s narraLivc consLrucLion, Lhcn, alLcrs Lhc proLago-
nisL’s sclí-righLcousncss Lhrough iLs rclaLion Lo oLhcr cpisodcs, and shc Lurns
ouL Lo bc raLhcr ungcncrous in hcr hypoLhcscs abouL hcr ncighbor.

Pcrhaps Lhc richcsL sccnc oí Lhc sLrip in Lcrms oí Warc’s narraLivc con-
sLrucLion oí mcaning íor Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg is íound in parL ::, in
which Lhc plumbcr, Mr. Bcll, finally arrivcs Lo fix Lhc Lhird floor’s ovcrflow-
ing LoilcL. Tc proLagonisL’s commcnLs aL Lhc ouLscL sLarL shaping Lhc sccnc’s
cnvironmcnL inLo onc oí discomíorL and uncasc: “his sour brcaLh smcllcd likc
wcL wood, wiLh a vaguc ashy sLalcncss oí cigarcLLcs, and his coaL lookcd as ií
iL’d spcnL Lhc summcr waddcd up on Lhc floor oí his car . . . cvcry movcmcnL
hc madc sccmcd cxccssivcly loud . . .” In Lhc awkward cxchangc LhaL íollows,
Lhc proLagonisL acknowlcdgcs hcr impairmcnL whcn Mr. Bcll asks hcr abouL iL
wiLhouL rcalizing—Lhc only Limc in Lhc sLrip LhaL hcr impairmcnL is vcrbally
arLiculaLcd. Tc momcnL is carcíully composcd, dividcd in small pancls LhaL
crcaLc a morc dilaLcd scnsc oí Limc, íracLurcd and drawn ouL by movcmcnLs
oí hcsiLaLion and rcLracLion. Mr. Bcll scLs down his buckcL and rcmarks LhaL
iL was rcsourccíul oí hcr Lo usc hcr cruLch Lo supporL Lhc LoilcL’s Lank floaL.
Prcoccupicd wiLh his work, hc asks, “SporLs injury`” Tc ncxL pancl shows
Lhc main characLcr sLill holding Lhc cruLch ouL, silcnL, írozcn. In Lhc íollowing
pancl, shc gaLhcrs hcrsclí, LcnLaLivcly uLLcring, “uh.” Whcn shc finally spcaks
in Lhc ncxL pancl, hcr cycbrows arc íurrowcd in apprchcnsivc discomíorL:
“NoL rcally . . . I don’L rcally play sporLs . . .” and in Lhc íollowing pancl shc
conLinucs, knocking on hcr prosLhcLic, “IL’s morc oí a, uh, liíc injury” (scc
plaLc ±8).
Warc dcpicLs Mr. Bcll’s rcsponsc as a similarly jcrky sLarL-and-sLop aL-
LcmpL aL connccLion and aL smooLhing ovcr a Loo-inLimaLc inquiry. In Lhc
ncxL pancl, Lhc sccnc sLands írozcn, wiLh Mr. Bcll poiscd ovcr Lhc LoilcL and
Lhc girl sLanding in Lhc doorway. In Lwo scparaLc pancls, Mr. Bcll looks ovcr
his shouldcr, and Lhcn bcgins apologizing. Tc spccd wiLh which Lhc pro-
LagonisL immcdiaLcly cuLs him off in Lhc ncxL pancl is slighLly jarring and
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 1 9 9
ccrLainly unsuavc: “Hcy, LhaL’s cool . . . I acLually likc iL whcn pcoplc don’L
noLicc . . . cspccially guys.” Tc sccnc conLinucs in a halLing and spccding
arrhyLhmia which slowly righLs iLsclí (only Lo bc upcndcd aL Lhc cnd oí Lhc
Mr. Bcll halLs, and chucklcs, and finally Lurns back Lo his work,
saying, “You’rc okay.” Warc cxploiLs pancl-Lo-pancl LransiLions Lo crcaLc Lhc
awkward pauscs LhaL rciníorcc Lhc hcsiLaLion signalcd by Lhc proLagonisL’s
“uh’s” and Lo convcy Mr. Bcll’s aLLcmpLs Lo navigaLc Lhc conícssion oí sorLs hc
had inadvcrLcnLly prompLcd.
Tc comic sLrip lingcrs on Lhis momcnL oí awkwardncss and candor, buL aL
Lhc samc Limc, whcn parL :: is vicwcd as a wholc, Lhc proLagonisL’s lamcnLa-
Lion oí a “liíc injury” is consisLcnLly undcrcuL. AlLhough Lhis is an affccLivcly
inLcnsc momcnL, a sccnc immcdiaLcly íollowing is apparcnLly morc shamc-
íul íor Lhc proLagonisL, and as such iL works Lo rcshapc Lhc cnvironmcnL oí
ordinarincss LhaL produccs mcaning íor Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg. Mr. Bcll
asks Lhc girl—ovcr Lhrcc pancls, wiping his íorchcad, ncrvously casLing hcr
a sidcways glancc, and scraLching his íacc—ií shc had flushcd “any, uh, kinda
jemìnìne protectìon.” Hcr rcsponsc is curious. TroughouL “Building SLorics,”
Warc pcriodically colors Lhc background oí a pancl solid ycllow Lo signiíy cx-
Lrcmc affccL (shock, ícar, cLc.). In Lhis casc, Lhc proLagonisL is shown silcnL
wiLh brighL pink chccks and a solid, hoL pink background. Tis usc oí color
is cspccially sLriking in Lhc midsL oí composiLion LhaL is primarily bluc and
brown. Hcr chccks rcmain flushcd as shc dcnics Lhc chargc, hcr ícmininc,
lcaky body is apparcnLly a grcaLcr sourcc oí shamc and cmbarrassmcnL íor
hcr Lhan hcr disabiliLy.
Tc final scrics oí pancls in Lhc insLallmcnL, sLrcLching in a bar along Lhc
boLLom oí Lhc pagc, also undcrcuLs Lhc promincncc oí Lhc “liíc injury” sccnc
as an cxprcssion oí shamc and loss. In Lhis scrics oí pancls, Lhc proLagonisL
bcgins Lo ask Mr. Bcll abouL his íamily aíLcr hc mcnLions having prcviously
livcd in hcr aparLmcnL. In Lhc firsL pancl, Lhc girl asks, “And . . . you and your
wiíc sLill livc [in Lhc suburbs]`” Tc ncxL pancl is a shoL oí Mr. Bcll conccn-
LraLing on Lhc LoilcL, and ovcr Lhc íollowing íour pancls hc confirms and Lhcn
qualifics, saying, “we|| . . . noL my wiíc . . . Shc passcd a ícw ycars back . . .”
Undcr Lhis scqucncc arc Lhrcc succcssivc pancls LhaL ccnLcr on Lhc LoilcL bowl
and Mr. Bcll’s hand as Limc sLalls bcíorc Lhc proLagonisL awkwardly apolo-
gizcs. AlmosL a mirror Lo Lhc “liíc injury” sccnc, Lhc girl has inadvcrLcnLly
happcncd upon an inLcnsc, pcrsonal dcLail in Lhc proccss oí making small
Lalk. Tc scqucncc is unrclcnLing in holding Lhc rcadcrs Lo Lhis uncomíorL-
ablc cxchangc. Tc proLagonisL Lrics Lo rccovcr írom hcr qucsLion abouL Mr.
Bcll’s wiíc by asking abouL his daughLcr, aíLcr a ícw pancls clapsc, Lhc sLrip
concludcs wiLh a bird’s-cyc vicw oí boLh oí Lhcm sLanding in Lhc baLhroom,
and Mr. Bcll rcsponding, “Shc’s gonc, Loo.” An analogy is Lhus drawn bcLwccn
Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg and Mr. Bcll’s loss oí his wiíc and daughLcr, raLhcr
Lhan posiLing disabiliLy as an extraordinarily Lragic and dramaLic loss, iL Loo is
a circumsLancc Lo improvisc living Lhrough.
As a wholc, Lhc narraLivc sLrucLurc oí Lhis insLallmcnL conLcxLualizcs Lhc
main characLcr’s impairmcnL—cvcn cxprcsscd in raLhcr paLhcLic Lcrms as a
“liíc injury” in an cxchangc markcd by discomíorL—in a scrics oí inLcracLions
LhaL carry as much or morc affccLivc wcighL. Tc oLhcr cpisodcs oí rcproduc-
Livc shamc and íamilial loss crowd around Lhc iniLial rcndcring oí impair-
mcnL, complicaLing iL as a ccrLain kind oí momcnL, rcsisLing iLs puLaLivc cx-
Lraordinarincss. Tc scnsc oí loss is a common cxpcricncc íor Lhc girl and
Mr. Bcll, Lhc ordinarincss oí Lhc cnvironmcnL in which Lhcsc inLcrpcrsonal
LransacLions Lakc placc is an ordinarincss oí characLcrs’ “cnduring LhaL liíc
oí which [onc] surcly is noL masLcr,” as BcrlanL puLs iL.
In a similarly sLruc-
Lurcd rclaLion oí samcncss bcLwccn cpisodcs, Lhc girl rcvcals hcr impairmcnL
wiLh cmbarrassmcnL, buL cmbarrassmcnL is rcpcaLcd and surpasscd wiLh
rcícrcncc Lo anoLhcr LraiL, hcr ícmininc diffcrcncc. AddiLionally, an carlicr
insLallmcnL offcrs an ouLrighL counLcrargumcnL Lo parL ::’s porLrayal oí hcr
shorL lcg as a Lragcdy (cvcn ií unrcmarkablc). In parL ,, whcn Lhc proLagonisL
discovcrs LhaL Lhc LoilcL has ovcrflowcd, iL is hcr shorL lcg LhaL has cquippcd
hcr Lo dcal wiLh Lhc siLuaLion. Shc rcmarks LhaL shc spcnL a loL oí Limc on Lhc
floor as a child and is Lhcrcíorc inLimaLc wiLh Lhc spaccs oí a homc LhaL arc
ncar Lhc floor—including Lhc knobs and pipcs oí a LoilcL’s plumbing.
“liíc injury” arLiculaLion oí Lhc proLagonisL’s impairmcnL, Lhcn, is a momcnL
whosc privilcgc is diffuscd by Lhc cpisodic consLrucLion oí Lhc comic sLrip as
wcll as by conLradicLing mcanings proposcd by oLhcr insLallmcnLs.
In oLhcr sccncs, Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg is indirccLly implicaLcd in Lhc
barrcnncss oí hcr amorous liíc, a barrcnncss LhaL is morc cxpliciLly aL Lhc
ccnLcr oí hcr sLory. Tcsc connccLions bcLwccn impairmcnL and lonclincss
arc subLlc, buL Lhcy sccm Lo bc working wiLh Lhc grain oí Lypical rcprcscnLa-
Lions oí disabiliLy. Fvcn Lhough Warc rcprcscnLs Lhc main characLcr as an
Fig. 14.1. The protagonist’s
foreshortened pros-
thetic limb with the word
“untouched” posits a
connection between her
impairment and sexual un-
attractiveness, one which
is eventually complicated.
Chris Ware, “Building
Stories: Part 21,” New York
Times Magazine, February
12, 2006, 43.
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 2 0 1
ordinary woman, and noL as radically oLhcr, Lhcsc sccncs suggcsL LhaL Lhc
main characLcr’s shorL lcg has isolaLcd hcr and prccludcd hcr írom bcing Lhc
objccL oí anoLhcr’s dcsirc. Tc uniquc composiLion oí onc such pancl in parL
:± crcaLcs a poinLcd rclaLionship (ií unarLiculaLcd) bcLwccn Lhc proLagonisL’s
impairmcnL and hcr “singlc” sLaLus. Shc is lying on hcr bcd, lingcring on a
word shc’s uscd Lo dcscribc hcr diary: “‘UnLouchcd’ Ycah, wcll, LhaL’s ccrLainly
appropriaLc . . .” Tc cnsuing LcxL claboraLcs on Lhis rucíul rcmark, shc is
rcícrring Lo Lhc íacL LhaL shc hasn’L bccn kisscd in six or scvcn ycars, Lo Lhc
poinL whcrc shc sLrugglcs Lo rcmcmbcr Lhc cxpcricncc (scc fig. ±¡.±). Tis
LcxL is juxLaposcd wiLh a sLriking, íorcshorLcncd imagc oí Lhc proLagonisL
lying on hcr bcd. Tc íooL and lcg LhaL loom largc in Lhc íorcground arc hcr
prosLhcsis and hcr shorL lcg, Lhc íramc visually íorcgrounds Lhcm in Landcm
wiLh hcr sclí-labcl as “unLouchcd.”
In a laLcr insLallaLion, shc braccs hcrsclí
aíLcr shc’s askcd a ícllow arL school alumnus, Phil, up Lo hcr aparLmcnL. Shc
Lclls hcr rcadcrs, “SLill, írom cxpcricncc, I’d lcarncd Lo cxpccL Lhc worsL . . .”
and Lhcn Lclls Phil, “I know . . . You ‘only wanL Lo bc íricnds’ . . . .”
Tc rcjcc-
Lion, íurLhcrmorc, was noL on Lhc basis oí pcrsonaliLy, muLual inLcrcsLs, or
cmoLional inLimacy, which a íricnd mighL sLill hopc Lo cnjoy, buL raLhcr was
onc oí noL bcing aLLracLcd Lo hcr “|ìke that.” Tc rcjccLion LhaL cxpcricncc has
LaughL hcr Lo cxpccL in Lhis sccnc is a rcjccLion oí hcr body as a scxually dcsir-
ablc objccL.
Hcr shorL lcg, Lhcn, is figurcd as a variaLion LhaL has dcLcrrcd mcn in Lhc
proLagonisL’s pasL írom Lhinking oí hcr in amorous Lcrms. Howcvcr, ovcr Lhc
cnLirc LrajccLory oí “Building SLorics” Lhcsc insLanccs, in which Lhc proLago-
nisL anLicipaLcs rcjccLion, arc morc complicaLcd.
Tc proLagonisL’s doubL
rcgarding Lhc dcsirabiliLy oí hcr parLicular body is, in Lhc cnd, undcrmincd
by Lhc simplc íacL LhaL Phil docs comc up Lo hcr aparLmcnL in parL :8 and is
ovcrcomc wiLh dcsirc, cvcn Lo Lhc poinL oí orgasm.
BuL LhaL “simplc íacL”
oí affirmaLion is challcngcd sincc Phil cxpcricnccs his dcsirc as cxccssivc and
shamcíul, and rcadcrs arc lcíL noL knowing whcLhcr or noL hc acLually calls
hcr again. Tc aparLmcnL building, which spcaks in Lhc insLallmcnL aíLcr Phil
has lcíL, is somcLhing oí an omnipoLcnL narraLor who is convinccd LhaL hc
won’L rcLurn.
Flscwhcrc in Lhc sLrip’s narraLivc composiLion, Lhis unccrLain
and unpromising cnd Lo Lhc climacLic Phil cpisodc is givcn counLcrargumcnL:
Lhc sccond floor inhabiLanL’s daydrcam is a lusLy vicw oí hcr posLcrior, and
Lhc cpiloguc shows Lhc proLagonisL fivc ycars laLcr, driving pasL Lhc old build-
ing wiLh a baby in Low, cooing LhaL iL’s Limc Lo pick up daddy.
In Lhc cnd, Lhc proLagonisL has “íound somconc” and cnjoys a liíc oí mo-
biliLy Lhrough Lhc ciLy aL largc. AL Lhc samc Limc, Lhough, Warc is noL com-
posing a sLraighLíorward sLory whcrc Lhc woman finds LhaL shc rcally ìs dcsir-
ablc. Whilc “Building SLorics” has a happy cnding and somc happy momcnLs,
iL is noL simply a narraLivc oí affirmaLion and growing sclí-confidcncc, buL
also onc oí baggagc and sclí-doubL. In Lhc cnd, as Lhc narraLivc wobblcs írom
shamc Lo affirmaLion and back, Warc’s sLrucLural composiLion consLrucLs a
mulLivalcnL scL oí cpisodcs in which bodily variaLion comcs Lo Lhc íorcground
in a way LhaL complicaLcs any dcfiniLivc inLcrprcLaLions. InsLcad, cach cpi-
sodc’s mcaning musL bc rcad in rclaLion Lo scvcral oLhcrs—hardly clcar-cuL,
hardly sLaLic.
AcsLhcLically, Chris Warc’s “Building SLorics” rcndcrs iLs main characLcr’s
shorL lcg as parL oí a gcncral rcalism oí Lhc builL spacc, apprchcnsiblc buL noL
cxaggcraLcd, somcLhing LhaL caLchcs Lhc gazc and, whilc noL ovcrlookcd, is
noL mclodramaLizcd ciLhcr. SLrucLurally, Loo, Warc is composing a parLicular
way oí knowing bodily variaLion. Hc LcxLually cngagcs Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL
lcg on a ícw occasions LhroughouL Lhc comic sLrip, imbuing iL wiLh a ccrLain
mcaning—loss, rcvclaLion, cLc. AL Lhc samc Limc, Warc works consciously Lo
rcgisLcr and Lhcn complicaLc Lhc mcaning oí cach momcnL by puLLing cach
inLo play wiLh a numbcr oí oLhcr momcnLs LhaL arc somcLimcs also cxpliciLly
abouL hcr lcg, somcLimcs abouL oLhcr pcoplc and oLhcr cxpcricnccs. Tus,
Warc’s clision oí Lhc proLagonisL’s shorL lcg in his dcscripLion íor Lhc !ndepen-
dent is noL unwarranLcd, Lhis is noL a sLrip abouL a disablcd woman. InsLcad,
“Building SLorics” looks írankly aL iLs Lhird-floor inhabiLanL and hcr cxpcri-
cncc in a way LhaL isn’L moralizing or hypcrvigilanL, buL conscious, aLLcnding
Lo Lhc consLcllaLion oí inLcracLions wiLh pcoplc and Lhc objccL world as wcll
as Lhc spaLial pracLiccs LhaL comprisc hcr parLicular, idiosyncraLic bclonging.
Warc offcrs a rcprcscnLaLion oí bodily variaLion LhaL is noL Lo bc inLcrprcLcd
as a radically oLhcr condiLion buL as somcLhing LhaL givcs shapc Lo a dccply
ordinary, parLicular, and cvcr-shiíLing manncr oí bcing in rclaLion wiLh Lhc
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 2 0 3
1. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: The Introduction,” The Independent Online, October 1, 2006, (accessed August 31, 2008).
2. By mutually complicating, I’m referring to how the narrative structure creates meaning for the
protagonist’s leg: each figuring of the leg in the narrative suggests a certain knowledge of it, and what
is particularly notable is how this signification’s value is deeply relative (in the Saussurean sense of the
3. W.J.T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2001), 96.
4. See, for example, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability
in American Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell,
eds., The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1997); as well as Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell, Cultural Locations of Disability (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2006).
5. See Robert McRuer, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York: New York
University Press, 2006), 1–32.
6. Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies, 137.
7. McRuer compares this “severe” category to queer theory’s “fabulous” as a category that
“would reverse the able-bodied understanding of severely disabled bodies as the most marginalized,
the most excluded from a privileged and always elusive normalcy, and would instead suggest that it is
precisely those bodies that are best positioned to refuse ‘mere toleration’ and call out the inadequa-
cies of compulsory able-bodiedness.” McRuer, Crip Theory, 31.
8. I want to make it abundantly clear that in outlining some of the limitations of identity politics
and looking to Ware’s text for an alternative, I am in no way advocating that we dispense with iden-
tity politics as we navigate the contemporary social sphere and as we engage in activism on behalf
of people with disabilities. I’m not suggesting that we should be “ability blind” in our contemporary
moment—to do so would certainly be disastrous and ignorant of important political realities. I am,
however, trying to elucidate a way of imagining bodily variation in a way that breaks radically from the
originally medicalized discourse of difference.
9. Janet Halley, “‘Like Race’ Arguments,” in What’s Left of Theory: New Work on the Politics of Literary
Theory, ed. Judith Butler, John Guillory, and Kendall Thomas (New York: Routledge, 2000), 41.
10. Regarding aesthetic disabilities, see Veena Das and Renu Addlakha’s excellent essay, “Disability
and Domestic Citizenship: Voice, Gender, and the Making of the Subject,” Public Culture 13.3 (2001):
511–32. One might argue that “the disabled” at the very least share the condition of being marked
apart as a certain human kind (what Du Bois’s Dusk of Dawn calls a “badge” in the context of African
American identity)—still, certain people with “invisible” disabilities such as chronic fatigue syndrome
or transabled people with BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder), who “need an impairment of some
sort” (, challenge even this claim.
11. Halley, “‘Like Race’ Arguments,” 43.
12. I’m using the word “difference” here in order to deploy the language commonly used in such
debates; perhaps a more appropriate way to argue this point, however, would be to warn that in-
sisting on one’s variation keeps one inscribed in the systems of domination that come with identity.
Wendy Brown has made astute arguments against the substantive claims of identity, arguing that
rather than making claims based on who one is (and thus on the white bourgeois male to whom one
would like to be equivalent), it might be productive to make claims based on what one wants, thus
reconfiguring the subject as an effect of desire rather than a “fixed and sovereign identity.” See Wendy
Brown, “Wounded Attachments,” Political Theory 21.3 (1993): 390–410.
13. Elspeth Probyn, Outside Belongings (New York: Routledge, 1996), 6, 8–9.
14. Ibid., 13, 6.
15. Ibid., 13.
16. Bill Hughes, qtd. in Susan Squier, “So Long as They Grow Out of It: Comics, the Discourse of
Developmental Normalcy, and Disability,” Journal of Medical Humanities 29 (2008): 73.
17. Squier, “So Long as They Grow Out of It,” 74.
18. “Building Stories” first ran in weekly installments of the New York Times Magazine’s “Funny
Pages” from September 2005 until April 2006. In spring 2008, Ware published The ACME Novelty
Library 18, which is a “Building Stories” story line, focusing on the protagonist’s history and thus cov-
ering a much more expansive time frame. I will be focusing mostly on the New York Times Magazine
run of “Building Stories,” but to a great degree, the aesthetic and narrative style is consistent across
the two editions.
19. Chris Ware, qtd. in Aida Edemariam, “The Art of Melancholy,” The Guardian, October 31,
2005,,,1605193,00.html (accessed August 31, 2008).
20. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 15, 11 a.m.,” New York Times Magazine, January 1, 2006,
21. Stanley Cavell, “The Uncanniness of the Ordinary,” in In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepti-
cism and Romanticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 172.
22. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink,
1993), 45.
23. Ibid., 30.
24. Chris Ware, qtd. in Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004),
25. In error, the New York Times Magazine labeled part 14 “Part 13.” I am here referring to this sec-
ond part 13, actually part 14. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 13, 9 a.m.,” New York Times Magazine,
December 18, 2005, 35.
26. Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency),” Critical Inquiry 33 (2007):
27. Ibid., 760.
28. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 7, 3 a.m.,” New York Times Magazine, October 30, 2005,
29. Ibid.
30. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 22, 5 p.m.,” New York Times Magazine, February 19, 2006,
31. Henri Lefebvre characterizes arrhythmia as follows: “Rhythms unite with one another in the
state of health, in normal (which is to say normed!) everydayness; when they are discordant, there is
suffering, a pathological state (of which arrhythmia is generally, at the same time, symptom, cause and
effect).” Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time, and Everyday Life, trans. Stuart Elder and Gerald
Moore (New York: Continuum, 2004), 16.
32. Ware, “Building Stories: Part 22, 5 p.m.”
33. Lauren Berlant, “The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy, and Politics,” in Cultural Pluralism,
Identity Politics, and the Law, ed. Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns (Ann Arbor: University of Michi-
gan Press, 1999), 81.
34. Ware, “Building Stories: Part 7, 3 a.m.”
35. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 21, 4 p.m.,” New York Times Magazine, February 12, 2006,
36. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 27, 10 p.m.,” New York Times Magazine, March 26, 2006,
37. The overlap between this and Ware’s more recent The ACME Novelty Library 18 is striking. For
instance, the book opens with the protagonist finding a pair of period-stained underpants on the floor
of the laundry room (depicted in two still frames), picking it up, and putting it in the wash. One differ-
ence between the two “Building Stories,” however, is that in The ACME Novelty Library, the protagonist
is more aware of her sexual attractiveness—she discovers that the boy she nannies has an erection
during a tickle fight (11). Although she is not surprised, she recognizes that this is an inappropriate
interaction. Indeed, she is fired because the boy desires her (14). His father says, “Jeff’s had this . . .
problem . . . in the past . . . he just gets—well, too attached to the au pairs.” At the same time, however,
Ware’s ACME narrative does recognize the ways in which disability is widely conceived as a sexually
unattractive trait, as evidenced by the father’s statement, “Well, we just hoped that in your case, you
know, he might not . . . get so, uh . . . attached.” The major difference, then, is that the protagonist
DI S AB I L I T Y I N CHR I S WAR E ’ S “ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” 2 0 5
reacts with tears and a retort that the father is an “asshole”; she has not internalized this association of
disability with sexual unattractiveness. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 18 (Chicago: The Acme
Novelty Library, 2007), 20.
38. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 28,” New York Times Magazine. April 2, 2006, 29.
39. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 29,” New York Times Magazine, April 9, 2006, 25.
40. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 25, 8 p.m.,” New York Times Magazine, March 12, 2006, 29;
“Building Stories: Epilogue: Five years later,” New York Times Magazine, April 16, 2006, 27.
2 0 6
Past Imperfect: “Building Stories”
and the Art of Memory
What is a memory? [. . .] An image which travels through time.
—Lynda Barry, What It Is
One realizes oneself only one piece at a time.
—Marcel Proust, The Fugitive
Memory Drawings
Comics havc a long hisLory oí bcing íorgoLLcn. IL sccms only appropriaLc,
Lhcn, LhaL “mcmory” has cmcrgcd as a ccnLral Lropc among carLoonisLs íor
discussing how Lhis mcdium works, boLh on Lhc pagc and in Lhc minds oí iLs
rcadcrs and crcaLors. ScoLL McCloud, íor cxamplc, has aLLribuLcd Lhc powcr
oí carLooning Lo a mimcLic similariLy bcLwccn Lhc iconography oí comic arL
and Lhc conLcnLs oí human mcmory. CarLoons, hc proposcs, closcly rcscmblc
Lhc simplificd aíLcrimagcs oí Lhc world LhaL wc carry around in our hcads,
bcginning wiLh Lhc skcLchy mcmory oí our own íacc.
ArL Spicgclman simi-
larly asscrLs LhaL mcmorics amounL Lo “carLoons [. . .] in your hcad” buL has
cxLcndcd LhaL íormal affiniLy Lo comics’ abiliLy Lo rcprcscnL Lhc “Lugs oí prcs-
cnL and pasL”: “You gcL all oí Lhc mcmorics splaycd ouL, physically, as parL oí
Lhc pagc. And LhaL allows you Lo corrclaLc mcmory and puL Lhcm LogcLhcr.”

Canadian carLoonisL ScLh cndorscs Lhcsc vicws oí carLooning and comics buL
has íollowcd Lhc mcmory Lrail sLill íurLhcr back, Lo Lhc mind oí Lhc carLoon-
isL himsclí. Mcmory, ScLh claims, scrvcs noL simply as a rcposiLory oí imagcs
and cvcnLs, iL is a mcnLal and cmoLional acLiviLy LhaL occurs alongsidc and in
counLcrpoinL Lo Lhc vcry proccss oí crcaLing comics: “Whcn I’m drawing, only
halí my mind is on Lhc work. [. . .] Tc oLhcr halí is írcc Lo wandcr. Usually,
iL’s off in a rcvcric, visiLing Lhc pasL, picking ovcr old hurLs, or rccalling LhaL
scnsc oí bcing somcwhcrc spccific. [. . .] Tcsc rcvcrics arc cxLrcmcly impor-
LanL Lo Lhc work.”
Indccd, ScLh concludcs, carLooning as a wholc mighL bcsL
bc dcscribcd as “mcmory drawing.”
BuL ií Lhcrc is a “mcmory drawing” school oí carLooning, Lhcn iLs dcan is
Chris Warc, who has donc as much as any arLisL Lo íormalizc Lhc noLion LhaL,
as hc puLs iL, “comics is abouL mcmory.”
“A carLoon,” Warc Lclls us, “is noL an
imagc Lakcn írom liíc. A carLoon is Lakcn írom mcmory. You’rc Lrying Lo dis-
Lill Lhc mcmory oí an cxpcricncc, noL Lhc cxpcricncc iLsclí.”
WiLh his cmpha-
sis on Lhc disLillaLion oí “cxpcricncc,” howcvcr, Warc boLh affirms and movcs
bcyond Lhc broadcr íuncLional insighLs oí McCloud or Spicgclman, who basi-
cally call upon mcmory Lo undcrwriLc Lhc comics íorm aL largc, cxplaining
why rcadcrs rcspond so powcríully Lo a|| carLoons. Warc posiLs mcmory as an
cxpcricncc in iLs own righL—a íorm oí scnsaLion and sLaLc oí consciousncss
LhaL musL bc acLivcly pursucd and rcfincd by Lhc comics arLisL. And in Lhis
íormulaLion, hc also vccrs away írom many acadcmic cxploraLions oí mcmory
in comics, which havc Lcndcd Lo analyzc how graphic novcls likc Maus usc Lhc
arLificialiLy oí comic arL Lo cxposc Lhc arLificc oí mcmory pcr sc, “rcvcaling
[boLh] as cqually consLrucLcd, cqually mcdiaLcd by Lhc proccsscs oí narraLion
and imaginaLion.”
Warc, I inLcnd Lo show, is lcss inLcrcsLcd in Lhcsc cpisLc-
mological issucs—in mcmory’s Lransparcncy or consLrucLcdncss, iLs accuracy
or dupliciLy—Lhan in Lhc livcd cxpcricncc oí rcmcmbcring. His íormal cx-
pcrimcnLs in comic arL, cspccially in rcccnL ycars, sLand mainly as cfforLs Lo
rcprcscnL and rc-crcaLc LhaL psychological and cmoLional phcnomcnon.
Warc has rcpcaLcdly indicaLcd LhaL his ccnLral goal as an arLisL is Lo “sLarL
wiLh a íccling” and Lhcn “Lo rc-crcaLc LhaL íccling” in Lhc mind oí his rcadcr.

In Lhc prcscnL cssay, I will cxaminc Lhis gcncral acsLhcLic goal as iL is pursucd
wiLhin spccific pagcs írom “Building SLorics”—an ongoing graphic novcl LhaL,
according Lo Warc, “írom sLarL Lo finish is abouL mcmory.”
I hopc Lo dcmon-
sLraLc LhaL, in iLs pagcs, Warc noL only analyzcs mcmory as a psychological
objccL and a ficLional subjccL, buL also dcvclops mcdium-spccific mcLhods íor
simulaLing Lhc acLiviLy oí rcmcmbcring iLsclí, making LhaL acLion palpablc in
Lhc rcading proccss. “Building SLorics” accomplishcs Lhis ícaL, firsL, by anaLo-
mizing mcmory inLo iLs componcnL parLs, Lcasing narraLivc mcmorics away
írom Lhcir visual and cpisodic counLcrparLs. IL Lhcn rcasscmblcs Lhosc picccs
wiLhin Lhc consLiLuLivc mind oí Lhc rcadcr, crcaLing cyclcs and scqucnccs LhaL
combinc pasL and prcscnL, ouLsidcs and insidcs, imagc and LcxL. Trough
Lhcsc Lcchniqucs, I bclicvc, Warc aLLcmpLs Lo capLurc and cncodc noLhing
lcss Lhan Lhc vcry phcnomcnology oí mcmory. Spccifically, I will arguc LhaL
Warc carcs lcss abouL rcprcscnLing Lhc “mcmory oí an cxpcricncc” Lhan abouL
rcproducing mcmory as an cxpcricncc—LhaL “Building SLorics” aLLcmpLs Lo
rcconsLiLuLc mcmory, coaxing iLs rcadcrs noL only Lo rcmcmbcr ícclings, buL
also Lo jee| rcmcmbcring.
Making Memories: “Paper Dolls”
To somc cxLcnL, Lhc largcr componcnLs oí my claim—namcly, LhaL mcmory
is ccnLral Lo Chris Warc’s comics, whcrc iL is íormally anaLomizcd and rc-cn-
codcd as a “íccling”—apply Lo Lhc vasL rangc oí Lhis arLisL’s work. Farly pagcs
likc “Fvcry Morning” show Warc’s carLoon surrogaLcs cxpliciLly rcminiscing
abouL losL íamily mcmbcrs and worrying abouL Lhc íading placcs Lhcy occupy
wiLhin his mind.
OLhcr sLrips, such as “Tc Daily Obscrvcr” and “Trilling
AdvcnLurc SLorics / I Cucss,” lay auLobiographical Lalcs aLop ncwspapcr sLrips
and supcrhcro comics, blcnding pcrsonal and culLural mcmory.
Warc’s land-
mark novcl 1ìmmy Corrìgan conLinucs Lhis Lhcmc and Lclls Lhc sLory oí íour
gcncraLions noL primarily as a rccord oí social or biographical connccLions (“I
don’L undcrsLand Lhings írom a social lcvcl,” Lhc auLhor insisLs, buL only “in a
pcrsonal way”), buL mainly as a scrics oí ncsLcd rccollccLions.
Tc narraLivc’s
2 0 8 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
ccnLral sccLion, íor cxamplc, scL in and around Lhc ±8µ¸ World’s Columbian
FxposiLion, aL firsL sccms Lo bc a simplc, albciL uncxpccLcd, flashback, rclaL-
ing Lhc boyhood cxpcricnccs oí 1amcs Rccd Corrigan, 1immy’s grandíaLhcr.
As LhaL hisLorical Lalc progrcsscs, howcvcr, Lhc auLhorial voicc—iniLially dis-
LanL and pocLic (“Lhc boy collapscs in Lcars onLo a sLrangc woman’s coaL”)—
slowly shiíLs inLo Lhc firsL pcrson (“aL Lhc Limc, I Lhink I undcrsLood liLLlc oí
LhaL aíLcrnoon”), cvcnLually commcnLing dirccLly on Lhc poLcncy and vcrac-
iLy oí Lhcsc ccnLury-old sccncs: “Onc’s mcmory, howcvcr, likcs Lo play Lricks,
aíLcr ycars oí cold sLoragc. Somc rccollccLions rcmain as írcsh as Lhc momcnL
Lhcy wcrc minLcd whilc oLhcrs sccm Lo crumblc inLo biLs, dusLing Lhcir ncigh-
bors wiLh a conLaminaLing roL oí unccrLainLy. Did shc rcally smì|e aL mc` I saw
hcr . . . I thought I saw hcr . . . BuL why was I always wcaring Lhis nìghtshìrt`
I cou|dn’t havc bccn drcsscd likc Lhis! I havc Lo conLinually rcmind mysclí
Lo kccp such dcLails sLraighL.”
Tc sourcc, Lhc Lonc, and cvcn Lhc Lcmporal
markcrs oí such mcmorics arc in consLanL flux, Lhc comic shiíLs back and
íorLh írom a polishcd Lhird-pcrson narraLor Lo Lhc voicc oí a prcpubcsccnL
boy and back again, cvcnLually rcLurning Lo Lhc rcLrospccLivc prcscnL. WiLhin
pagcs, as Lhc lcngLhy FxposiLion sLory comcs Lo a closc, Lhc cnLirc sccnc bc-
comcs cmbcddcd wiLhin a ncw prcscnL (circa ±µ,¡–,¸), which shows Lhc now
agcd 1amcs Corrigan Lclling Lhis childhood Lalc Lo Amy, his adopLcd grand-
daughLcr—a sccnc LhaL will, in Lurn, bccomc rcíramcd as a mcmory wiLhin
Lhc ±µ8os “prcscnL” oí Lhc novcl’s main narraLivc.
Clcarly, Warc’s work rc-
vcals a liíclong íascinaLion wiLh mcmory, iLs vagarics, and iLs pcrsisLcncc.
Morcovcr, Lhis sLudy’s morc parLicular íocus—Lhc pursuiL oí rcmcmbcring
as a je|t cxpcricncc—rcsonaLcs wiLh Warc’s mosL poLcnL sLaLcmcnLs abouL his
arLwork and iLs rclaLion Lo rcadcrs’ psychological sLaLcs. Warc, íor insLancc,
has rcpcaLcdly dcscribcd his comics as cngagcd in Lhc puzzling work oí “cn-
coding cmoLion.”
Tis is noL, hc insisLs, simply a maLLcr oí Lclling sLorics oí
cmoLional disLrcss: “You don’L wanL Lo wriLc a pocm abouL bcing dcprcsscd,
you wanL Lo wriLc a dcprcssing pocm.”
NciLhcr is iL a maLLcr oí rcprcscnL-
ing ícclings sLylisLically, wiLh slashing linc work or morosc colors. Indccd,
Warc’s visual sLylc is dcfianLly antì-cxprcssivc, or whaL hc calls “flaL,” “harsh,”
“mcchanical,” and “banal.”
Tis supcrficial coolncss and puriLy oí dcsign, hc
insisLs, brings a mcasurc oí silcncc Lo his “claLLcry” mcdium, allowing him
Lo puzzlc ouL a jorma| corrclaLc oí Lhc íccling hc is Lrying Lo rc-crcaLc as a
rcading cxpcricncc. Warc calls his mcdium, likc music, a “composiLional arL,
in LhaL you’rc composing picLurcs on a pagc, and you’rc composing cmoLion
inLo Lhc work,” aLLcmpLing Lo isolaLc Lhc “crysLallinc sLrucLurcs oí íccling”—
sLrucLurcs LhaL will rcsonaLc in Lhc rcadcr’s mind and imaginaLion as hc or
shc “pcríorms” Lhcm.
Tis conccpLion oí cmoLion is aL oncc dccply human-
isL and sLrongly modcrnisL, bridging Lhc dividc bcLwccn Lhc pcrsonal and
impcrsonal. IL insisLs LhaL ícclings arc morc Lhan broadly and inLuiLivcly uni-
vcrsal, Lhcy arc, givcn Lhc righL composiLion and cncoding, capablc oí bcing
íormalizcd and Lransícrrcd írom psychc Lo psychc. Fcclings arc cmbodicd ìn
Lhc work, and anyonc wiLh Lhc abiliLy Lo rcad Lhosc “noLcs” can rc-crcaLc iLs
cmoLional Lunc.
Morc Lhan any oí Warc’s prcvious works, “Building SLorics”—which docu-
mcnLs Lhc livcs oí íour diffcrcnL rcsidcnLs oí a singlc Chicago Lhrcc-flaL—
cxpcrimcnLs wiLh Lhc comics íorm Lo isolaLc mcmory’s own “crysLallinc
sLrucLurcs.” In íacL, Warc has dcscribcd his approach Lo “Building SLorics” as
“simply Lry[ing] Lo rcproducc [a] ‘íalsc mcmory’ on Lhc pagc” Lhrough compo-
siLions LhaL approximaLc, hc says, “Lhc way I acLually thìnk.”
And in Lcrms oí
boLh íorm and conLcnL, Lhc novcl’s mcmorics arc, quiLc liLcrally, cvcrywhcrc.
In somc passagcs, Warc crcaLcs comics ouL oí onc rcsidcnL’s diary cnLrics,
in oLhcrs, hc diagrammaLically Lraccs LhaL samc characLcr’s LhoughLs as Lhcy
wcavc in, ouL, and around mcmorics oí hcr own body. Flscwhcrc in Lhc novcl-
in-progrcss, mcmorics assumc morc physical and unconvcnLional íorms.
Somc pagcs suggcsL LhaL human acLiviLy pracLically burns iLsclí inLo walls
and floors, lcaving a mncmonic rccord oí days long pasL, whilc oLhcr sccncs
granL Lhc aparLmcnL iLs own auLobiographical voicc, which calmly rccollccLs
Lhc building’s liíc sLory. In íacL, onc oí Lhc novcl’s firsL collccLcd chapLcrs (Te
ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8) allows all Lhcsc íorms oí mcmory Lo comminglc,
placing Lhc cnLirc scqucncc insidc Lhc mind oí Lhc Lhird-floor diarisL, who
wakcs on Lhc volumc’s firsL pagcs and rcLurns Lo bcd on iLs lasL, surroundcd
by a collccLion oí youngcr sclvcs, cach driíLing off Lo slccp.
Any onc oí Lhcsc pagcs would scrvc as a noLcworLhy cxamplc oí Warc’s
craíL, cspccially Lhc morc visually cxpcrimcnLal crcaLions, which oíLcn rccon-
sLrucL Lhc flow oí mcmory Lhrough circuiLously linkcd words and imagcs. BuL
iL is onc oí Lhc osLcnsibly simplcsL “building sLorics”—a :oo¸ sLrip cnLiLlcd
“Papcr Dolls”—LhaL lays barc Warc’s ccnLral Lcchniqucs íor rcprcscnLing rc-
mcmbcring (scc plaLc ±µ).

AL firsL glancc, “Papcr Dolls” sccms Lo dcploy Lhc
mcdium’s sLandard componcnLs in a sLraighLíorward manncr. Two pagcs arc
dividcd inLo cighLccn idcnLical pancls, which Lcll Lhc sLory oí a singlc charac-
Lcr: Lhc cldcrly landlady, who was born, livcd, and will dic in Lhc novcl’s cpon-
ymous building. Tc landlady appcars aL Lhc ccnLcr oí cach pancl, whilc a sc-
rics oí LhoughL balloons narraLc an auLobiographical sLory abouL hcr youLhíul
lovc oí papcr dolls. Tosc cighLccn picLurcs movc rcgularly and scqucnLially
Lhrough Lhc landlady’s liíc, sLarLing in uLcro, procccding Lhough childhood
and adolcsccncc, and gradually moving Loward Lhc characLcr’s prcscnL-day
agc—which is Lcllingly synchronizcd wiLh Lhc final word oí Lhc sLrip: “Lo-
Comparcd Lo somc oí Warc’s morc íormally claboraLc pagcs, “Papcr Dolls”
rcads clcarly and wiLhouL significanL impcdimcnL. TaL íacL, howcvcr, bclics
Lhc sLrangc disjoinLcdncss oí iLs parLs. Takc, íor cxamplc, Lhc disuniLy oí Lhc
picLurcs Lhcmsclvcs. Fach pancl conLains a Lclling “snapshoL” írom Lhc landla-
dy’s liíc (an apL labcl, sccing how shc is poscd and íramcd íor cach), ycL Lhosc
picLurcs bcar no morc narraLivc connccLion Lo cach oLhcr Lhan docs your avcr-
agc collccLion oí phoLographs. Wc jump, wiLhouL prcparaLion or cxplanaLion,
írom hcr parcnLs’ bcd Lo a íamily picnic, Lo a quicL ChrisLmas morning, and
Lhcn Lo hcr íaLhcr’s íuncral. By conLrasL, Lhc LcxL oí Lhc sLrip offcrs a sLory
LhaL sccms dirccL and unificd. BuL iL, Loo, has iLs disoricnLing qualiLics: Lhc
landlady’s papcr-doll rcvcric bcgins and cnds wiLhouL moLivaLion and slidcs
wiLhouL warning bcLwccn pasL and prcscnL conccrns. IL is Lold Lo no onc in
parLicular, íor no idcnLifiablc rcason or largcr narraLivc purposc.
Tc mosL significanL disuniLics, Lhough, cmcrgc írom Lhc disjuncLion be-
tween LcxL and imagc. Tc LhoughL balloons, íor insLancc, arc narraLcd írom
Lhc prcscnL-day pcrspccLivc, ycL Lhc imagcs arc dccidcdly drawn írom Lhc
pasL: an uncxpccLcd inLcrpolaLion oí Lhc “now” inLo Lhc “Lhcn.” In addiLion,
2 1 0 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
Lhc comic’s words and imagcs procccd aL radically diffcrcnL paccs and Lcm-
pos. Tc LcxL Lclls a sLory LhaL spans pcrhaps cighL ycars (Lhc lcngLh oí hcr
childhood aLLachmcnL Lo dolls), Lhc picLurcs, Lhough, covcr an cnLirc liícLimc,
wiLh somc pancl-Lo-pancl LransiLions skipping ahcad as many as cighL ycars
across a singlc guLLcr bcLwccn pancls. Finally, Lhc words wiLhin cach pancl
sccm only arbiLrarily (ií suggcsLivcly) rclaLcd Lo Lhc picLurcs LhaL surround
Lhcm. Tc íourLh pancl, íor cxamplc, dcscribcs a LraumaLic fiíLh birLhday,
whcn Lhc landlady’s parcnLs gavc hcr “a gianL, cxLravaganL corpsc oí a [doll],
which would opcn iLs hugc black cycs aL you whcn you saL hcr uprighL,” buL
Lhc pancl’s imagc sccms Lo havc occurrcd somc ycars prior, and Lhc sLrip as
a wholc ncvcr shows Lhc birLhday horror. Wc rcad, in addiLion, abouL how
Lhc landlady collccLcd, carcd íor, and ulLimaLcly “ruincd” hcr papcr dolls, buL
Warc ncvcr shows hcr cngagcd in LhaL acLiviLy ciLhcr. Indccd, Lhc only papcr
doll in sighL is Lhc carLoon woman hcrsclí, cach incarnaLion oí whom is drawn
wiLh a Lhick ouLlinc (idcal íor clipping) and small rccLangular Labs (íor casy
Warc is plainly Lcasing aparL Lhc sLrands oí Lhc comic íorm, allowing cach
Lo rcprcscnL a discrcLc íorm oí mcmory and rcmcmbcring. Tc picLurcs, íor
insLancc, prcscnL whaL mosL mcmory rcscarchcrs call epìsodìc memorìes, Lhosc
momcnLs and cvcnLs írom our own livcs LhaL wc can call up and visualizc.

Fspccially givcn Lhcir phoLo-likc qualiLics—and Lhc auLhcnLiciLy wiLh which
onc usually invcsLs such imagcs—onc mighL Lhink oí Lhcm as carLoon vcr-
sions oí “flashbulb mcmorics,” which sLrongly mark cmoLionally powcríul
momcnLs in our livcs.

Tc landlady’s words, alLcrnaLcly, cmbody whaL somc
mcmory rcscarchcrs singlc ouL as narratìve memory, which givcs our rccollcc-
Lions shapc and mcaning, placing Lhcm in Lhc conLcxL oí a liíc sLory.

words and inLcrnal sLoryLclling makc scnsc oí Lhcsc imagcs, giving Lhcm a
íccling oí dirccLion and scqucncc, cvcn Lhough Lhosc proccsscs Lcnd Lo ovcr-
wriLc and ovcrdcLcrminc Lhc original scnsaLions.

In Lhis comic, íor cxam-
plc, Lhc woman’s narraLivc mcmorics—Lhc comic’s words—drivc us íorward
Lhrough Lhc pagc, making connccLions cvcn whcrc, visually, nonc sccm Lo
cxisL, rcconsLrucLing Lhc imagcs inLo a cohcrcnL sLory oí childhood íanLasics
and Lhcir cvcnLual abandonmcnL.
BuL comics arc morc Lhan jusL Lhc conjuncLion oí LcxL and imagc, and Warc
is aLLcmpLing Lo do morc Lhan simply dcconsLrucL a scrics oí auLobiographi-
cal mcmorics. Tc Lruc arL oí comics involvcs Lhc hybrid naLurc oí rcading
words and picLurcs, and Warc’s comic uscs Lhis hybridiLy Lo “cncodc” whaL I
will call experìentìa| memory—Lhc íccling oí rcmcmbcring, Lhc phcnomcnol-
ogy oí mcmory iLsclí. In Warc’s work, cxpcricnLial mcmory is closcly Licd Lo
Lhc acL oí rcading as boLh a physical and a mcnLal cvcnL. IL is linkcd, LhaL is,
Lo Lhc proccss oí opLically navigaLing Lhc comics pagc as wcll as Lhc acLiv-
iLy oí consolidaLing LhaL pagc in onc’s mind. As a “pcríormcr” oí Lhc comic
composiLion, Lhc rcadcr movcs among and connccLs Lhc cpisodic/visual and
narraLivc/LcxLual mcmorics, and LhaL acLiviLy oí rcading crcaLcs iLs own cxpc-
ricnLial rhyLhms, iLs own scnsc oí Limc, and iLs own scL oí ícclings.
“Papcr Dolls” cncodcs Lhcsc ícclings noL in Lhc words or in Lhc picLurcs as
a wholc, buL wiLhin Lhc sLrip’s pancl-Lo-pancl scqucnccs. WiLhin Lhc íramcs
oí plaLc ±µ, íor insLancc, Lhc rcadcr may Lcmporarily ignorc Lhc words and Lhc
largcr visual sccncs and íocus insLcad upon Lhc isolaLcd figurcs oí Lhc growing
landlady, considcring Lhosc figurcs as componcnLs wiLh Lhcir own discrcLc
movcmcnL—as a comic wiLhin Lhc comic, so Lo spcak. Focuscd in Lhis way,
onc sccs Lhc young woman cngagcd noL in six scparaLc acLions aL six diffcrcnL
Limcs, buL (also) in onc unificd gcsLurc. In Lhc firsL Licr, Lhc girl looks ovcr hcr
shouldcr, rolls onLo hcr sidc, and lowcrs hcr righL arm. In Lhc sccond Licr, hcr
lcíL arm movcs slowly down hcr body, írom shouldcr Lo abdomcn and Lhcn Lo
Lhc spacc bcLwccn hcr lcgs. Tis acLion is only “visiblc,” howcvcr, as you movc
through Lhc scqucncc. IL has iLs own sLory, iLs own spccd, and iLs own dura-
Lion—a duraLion LhaL mosL closcly parallcls noL Lhc Limc oí Lhc comic’s words
or picLurcs, buL Lhc Limc oí rcmcmbcring iLsclí, and abovc all Lhc Limc oí Lhc
rcading. Indccd, iL is Lhc movcmcnL oí readìng LhaL animaLcs Lhc landlady’s
small body (likc a scrics oí carLoon cclls), bringing iL Lo liíc, jusL as Lhc acL oí
rcmcmbcring rcconsLiLuLcs and connccLs our cpisodic rccollccLions inLo an
cxpcricnLial wholc.
In íacL, Lhis rcading oí “Papcr Dolls” crcaLcs many addiLional linkagcs. As
noLcd abovc, Lhc sLrip’s cpisodic and narraLivc mcmorics sccm unrclaLcd, ycL
Lhc acL oí rcading crcaLcs connccLions bcLwccn Lhc Lwo. SomcLimcs Lhcsc cx-
pcricnLial links occur wiLhin a singlc íramc: Lhc landlady mcnLions Lhc hor-
riblc glassy-cycd doll, and Lhc accompanying imagc oí hcr iníanL sclí looks
parLicularly doll-likc, shc dcscribcs finding papcr dolls in Lhc ncwspapcr color
supplcmcnLs, whilc hcr youngcr incarnaLion pcruscs Lhc Sunday íunnics.
Morc írcqucnLly, Lhough, Lhc acL oí rcading acLivaLcs our own mcmorics oí
whaL was prcviously cncounLcrcd, conjuring ghosLly links Lo oLhcr parLs oí Lhc
comic pagc. Tc monsLrous doll comcs back Lo mind as wc rcach Lhc ChrisL-
mas pancl, which dcpicLs Lhc rcmnanLs oí anoLhcr opcncd, buL cqually invis-
iblc, prcscnL. Tc dcscripLion oí Lhc doll as “a gianL, cxLravaganL corpsc” also
assumcs a Lcrriblc rcaliLy aL Lhc íaLhcr’s gravc, which Lhcn scnds our LhoughLs
back Lo Lhc parLially obscurcd imagc oí his swollcn nakcd body. Tc landlady’s
dcscripLion oí papcr dolls “in Lhcir LasLcíully cngravcd undcrcloLhcs” springs
Lo liíc Lhrcc pancls laLcr, whcn wc scc Lhc landlady sLanding in hcr own un-
dcrgarmcnLs. And sLill largcr linkagcs cmcrgc across cnLirc rows. Tc LcxL
oí onc pancl, íor cxamplc, dcLails Lhc dolls’ “vulncrablc pink bodics,” which
“all oí a suddcn [would] bc drcsscd íor Lhc ball, or íor horscback riding, or
íor a LransaLlanLic cxcursion, or íor any numbcr oí marvclous Lhings I didn’L
undcrsLand aL LhaL agc.” Fach oí Lhcsc phrascs gains ncw scqucnLial viLaliLy
as Lhc comic progrcsscs, bcginning wiLh Lhc imagc oí a girl cxamining hcr
own pink papcr body, cars flushcd wiLh shamc and arousal, and conLinuing
Lhrough subscqucnL imagcs oí drcssing, commuLing, and daLing. In íacL, by
Lhc comic’s final imagcs, Lhc wholc sLrip hums wiLh mcmorics. As Lhc now-
agcd landlady wondcrs whaLcvcr happcncd Lo hcr papcr dolls and insisLs LhaL
shc will scarch íor Lhcm (buL “noL Loday”), Lhc cnLirc scqucncc rccollccLs iL-
sclí—as a liíclong scrics oí losL Lhings, losL pcoplc, and losL “prcscnLs.”
WiLh iLs visions oí cpisodic, narraLivc, and cxpcricnLial mcmory—cn-
counLcrcd simulLancously, buL cach configurcd wiLh iLs own Limc, Lcnsc, and
Lcmpo—“Papcr Dolls” cxcmplifics Chris Warc’s conccpLion oí mcmory and
his comics’ abiliLy Lo cncodc and, Lhrough rcading, Lo mimic LhaL cxpcricncc.
IL also uscs Lhc comics mcdium Lo highlighL somc pcculiar characLcrisLics oí
human mcmory iLsclí. ForcmosL among Lhcsc is our Lcndcncy Lo rc-cnvision
our íormcr cxpcricnccs írom a “Lhird-pcrson” poinL oí vicw. Wc írcqucnLly
2 1 2 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
rcmcmbcr our pasL sclvcs noL as ií wc arc inhabiLing LhaL carlicr body, sccing
Lhrough Lhosc youngcr cycs, insLcad, wc oíLcn scc oursclvcs as ií írom Lhc
ouLsidc, írom a sLaLion wc ncvcr could havc occupicd in Lhc hisLorical pasL.
Tis odd íacL abouL mcmory has long bccn noLcd, írom Frcud’s ±8µµ cssay on
“Scrccn Mcmorics” back aL lcasL Lo Virgil, who has Acncas mcnLally rcvisiL
Lhc baLLlcs oí Troy and noLcs LhaL his hcro “cvcn sccs himsclí / swcpL up in
Lhc mclcc, clashing wiLh Crcck capLains.”
CogniLivc scicnLisLs havc callcd
such Lhird-pcrson rccollccLions observer memorìes, whilc Lhosc sccn írom Lhc
firsL-pcrson pcrspccLivc havc bccn labclcd fie|d memorìes.
Scholarship has
rcvcalcd LhaL wc arc rcmarkably adcpL aL waLching oursclvcs, aL slipping ouL
oí our own mncmonic skins. SLudics havc cvcn íound LhaL obscrvcr mcmo-
rics arc morc amcnablc Lo narraLion, arc morc conducivc Lo inLrospccLion and
sclí-undcrsLanding, and carry lcss biLing cmoLional impacL Lhan Lhcir ficld
ScoLL McCloud’s hunch LhaL wc cach carry a simplificd, pcr-
haps cvcn carLoon-likc, vcrsion oí oursclvcs sccms parLly bornc ouL by our
own rcLrospccLivc íaculLics.
Warc cxploiLs Lhis paradox oí mcmory and poinL oí vicw. In “Papcr Dolls,”
íor cxamplc, rcadcrs arc lcíL unccrLain whcLhcr Lhcy arc sccing picLurcs írom
Lhc “acLual” pasL or “mcrcly” Lhc conLcnLs oí Lhc landlady’s mind. Arc wc sup-
poscd Lo imaginc Lhc pancls as phoLographs oí whaL rcally happcncd or as
mcnLal projccLions oí cvcnLs Lhc landlady could oíLcn noL havc acLually rc-
mcmbcrcd, írom vanLagc poinLs shc could ncvcr havc acLually sharcd` Is Lhc
old woman cxpcricncing hcr pasL as a narraLivc ficld mcmory, which Warc
includcs in Lhc LcxL buL sLcadíasLly rcíuscs Lo draw` Or do Lhc sLrip’s picLurcs
rcproducc a radical scL oí obscrvcr mcmorics—a possibiliLy LhaL puLs us in
Lhc posiLion oí Lhc old lady hcrsclí, sccing (minus Lhc papcr Labs) whaL shc
rccollccLivcly sccs`
Clcarly, Warc is dcvcloping a Lcchniquc LhaL blurs such disLincLions, mak-
ing Lhis rccord oí rcmcmbcring onc LhaL is simulLancously insidc and ouLsidc,
subjccLivc and objccLivc. Tc pancls showing our proLagonisL bcíorc hcr mir-
ror, aL Lhc vcry ccnLcr oí Lhc original scqucncc, drivc homc Lhis poinL. Tc
landlady, now in hcr Lccns, assumcs hcr usual posc, Lhis Limc, howcvcr, Lhc
pancls’ ccnLral figurc is noL Lhc young woman hcrsclí, buL hcr rcflccLion. Shc
sLands bcíorc hcr íull-lcngLh imagc, looking boLh aL hcrsclí and inLo hcrsclí,
waLching as onc hand LcnLaLivcly cxplorcs hcr body. Shc sccs hcrsclí írom
an cxLcrnal poinL oí vicw and—ií Lhc imagc is Lo bc bclicvcd—as a papcr
doll. And wc rcadcrs sharc and apprcciaLc hcr fiLLing pcrccpLion, waLching as
hands wrap undcr a brcasL and slip bcLwccn lcgs likc Lhc “all-Loo íragilc Labs”
LhaL íold around “vulncrablc pink bodics” and rcady Lhcsc womcn íor a world
oí unknown adulL acLiviLics. In addiLion, sincc Warc draws Lhc mirror hcad-
on, wiLhouL pcrspccLivc and pcríccLly aligncd wiLh Lhc íramc oí Lhc comic
pancl, onc mighL cqually say LhaL Lhc girl sharcs Lhc rcadcr’s vicw oí hcr as
wcll. Shc sccs hcr carLoon sclí—onc in a linkcd scqucncc oí rapidly maLuring
For Warc, Lhcn, onc oí Lhc ccnLral ícclings oí mcmory and oí comics rc-
sidcs in Lhis mingling oí inLcrioriLy and cxLcrioriLy, Lhc pcrccpLion oí bcing si-
mulLancously insidc and ouLsidc oncsclí. Tc comics mcdium, LhaL is, mirrors
Lhc phcnomcnology oí mcmory boLh in iLs íorm and in iLs íuncLion. Tis is
not bccausc comics cngagc Lhc mcmory and imaginaLion morc dirccLly Lhan,
say, novcls. In íacL, Warc disLinguishcs novcls írom comics parLly by insisLing
LhaL Lhc purcly LcxLual mcdium cvokcs onc’s imaginaLion and inLcrior liíc
more íully Lhan iLs graphic counLcrparL:
When you read a text—a novel, like everybody would read—you basically, for all in-
tents and purposes, go blind. You quit looking at the words on the page. [. . .] You get
completely into your own imagination. And comics kind of toe the line between that
[interior reading experience and the outward experience of “looking”], where you still
have your eyes open and you’re still looking at pictures, but you’re also reading some-
what. You’re reading words and reading pictures. So there’s sort of this strange thing
that can happen in comics, where your own memories and imagination can be called
up, but at the same time you’re sort of having sort of a visual experience.
Tc rcading proccss iLsclí is hcrc rcfigurcd as a modc oí cngagcmcnL Lhrough
mcmory, an cngagcmcnL LhaL wriLLcn LcxLs and comics sharc. Comics, how-
cvcr, cxisL on a fluid cxpcricnLial boundary bcLwccn insidcs and ouLsidcs, bc-
Lwccn Lhc cxpcricncc oí imagining a world and Lhc cxpcricncc oí sccing iL.
Tc mcdium “calls up” onc’s mcmorics buL docs so in a way LhaL makcs Lhosc
mcmorics visiblc, LhaL allows Lhosc mcmorics Lo bc cncounLcrcd—noL ob-
jccLivcly, buL as a maLLcr oí íccling—wiLhin Lhc cxLcrnal world, on Lhc pagc.
Comics sccm Lo inducc, onc mighL say, a Lypc oí virLual obscrvcr mcmory,
making Lhc rcadcr íccl as ií hcr inLcrior rccollccLions arc broughL Lo liíc “ouL
Lhcrc.” Tc mcdium Lhus rcproduccs and pcrhaps cvcn draws iLs viLaliLy írom
Lhc Lwinncd pcrspccLivc LhaL many oí us havc on our own mcmorics, cspc-
cially Lhosc oí our youLh.
To bc surc, Lhis commingling oí insidc and ouLsidc spaccs is as old as Lhc
oldcsL wriLings abouL mcmory and is rcgisLcrcd powcríully in liLcrary and
philosophical sourccs. 1orgc Iuis Borgcs, Vladimir Nabokov, 1ohn Iockc, and
AugusLinc oí Hippo all noLcd Lhc proíound affiniLy bcLwccn auLobiographi-
cal mcmory and archiLccLural spacc, usually concciving oí Lhc íormcr as a
building Lhrough which onc wandcrs. In Te Art oj Memory, Franccs YaLcs
Lraccs Lhcsc inLuiLions Lo Lhc mosL íamous oí all mncmonic dcviccs: Lhc an-
cicnL mcLhod oí “placcs and imagcs (|ocì and ìmagìnes).” Dcvclopcd in classical
Crcccc, Lhis “mncmoLcchnic” LaughL iLs pracLiLioncrs how Lo improvc Lhcir
mcmorics by crcaLing oíLcn claboraLc imaginary buildings, wiLhin which Lhcy
could placc hclpíul symbolic imagcs. “Rcmcmbcring” bccamc a maLLcr oí rc-
visiLing Lhcsc spaccs in scqucncc: “Wc havc Lo Lhink oí Lhc ancicnL oraLor
as moving in imaginaLion Lhrough his mcmory building whì|st hc is making
his spccch, drawing írom Lhc mcmoriscd placcs Lhc imagcs hc has placcd on
Tis “arL oí mcmory” rcsonaLcs, almosL uncannily, wiLh Lhc arL oí
comics: boLh cmcrgc as a íorm oí “inncr wriLing,” dcploying scqucnLial im-
agcs LhaL comc Lo liíc as onc movcs Lhrough Lhcm.
Building Memories: “Staircase”
“Building SLorics” parLicipaLcs in Lhc LradiLion oí discoursc on mcmory, boLh
as a íorm oí analysis and as an cxLcndcd mcLaphor. In íacL, Warc occasionally
allows Lhc building Lo scrvc as a liLcral “mcmory LhcaLcr” íor Lhc landlady’s
auLobiographical Lalcs.
In his Lwo-pagc “sLaircasc” sLrip, íor cxamplc, Warc
Fig. 15.1. Memory as an
interaction of places,
pictures, and movement.
Chris Ware, untitled comic
strip [“Staircase”], Chicago
Reader, June 28, 2002, sec.
4: 30–31.
prcscnLs us wiLh a sLylizcd cuLaway oí his ficLional cdificc, cxposing iLs Lhrcc
floors along Lhc sLairwcll (scc fig. ±¸.±). Fvcn Lhc pancls—rcícrcncing a ía-
mous ±µ±¸ pagc by carLoonisL Charlcs Forbcll—mimic Lhc piLch oí Lhc sLcps
and Lhc lincs oí Lhc handrails, organizing Lhc pagc inLo a scrics oí horizon-
Lal “landings” and largc diagonal sLaircascs.
Oncc again, Lhc landlady Lclls a
sLory LhaL bcgins in childhood, wiLh oldcr LhoughLs cmcrging írom youngcr
sclvcs: “Whcn I was liLLlc,” a liLLlc girl Lhinks, “I lovcd Lo play in Lhc sLairway. I
didn’L likc going ouLsidc.” And as wiLh “Papcr Dolls,” wc waLch as Lhc landlady
progrcssivcly agcs, írom a Loddlcr in Lhc firsL pancls Lo hcr currcnL agc in Lhc
lasL (scc fig. ±¸.:).
In Lhis sLrip, howcvcr, Lhc landlady’s auLobiography is cxpliciLly anchorcd
Lo Lhc spacc oí Lhc building, which shc rcvisiLs in and Lhrough hcr sLory, much
likc YaLcs’s classical rhcLoricians. Tc comic shows us LhaL on Lhcsc sLairs a
child rompcd noisily, a girl acLcd ouL imaginaLivc advcnLurcs, a young woman
shicd away írom hcr ncighbors, and an oldcr woman clcancd and clcancd. Wc
rcvisiL Lhcsc placcs wiLh Lhc landlady, scqucnLially rcLricving Lhc imagcs and
sLorics LhaL arc sLorcd Lhcrcin: “Tc pcoplc who livcd hcrc gavc mc a pair oí
shocs aíLcr íaLhcr dicd. [. . .] A íamily wiLh a handsomc boy movcd in Lhcrc
laLcr.” Rcconfiguring Lhc comic pagc as iLs own “mncmoLcchnic,” Warc allows
Fig. 15.2. The landlady
ages until she reaches the
present at the bottom
of the staircase. Chris
Ware, untitled comic strip
[“Staircase”] detail, Chi-
cago Reader, June 28, 2002,
sec 4: 30–31.
2 1 6 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
psychological insidcs and physical ouLsidcs Lo mcrgc and blcnd, cvcn having
Lhc “Lak Lak Lak” oí Lhc landlady’s youLhíul íooLsLcps Lick off Lhc rclcnLlcss
passagc oí ycars. TroughouL Lhc scqucncc, Lhough, Lhc prcscnL-day landlady
is noL on Lhc sLairs aL all. Shc rcvisiLs Lhis spacc írom Lhc confincs oí hcr living
room, wiLhouL company or audicncc, murmuring LhaL Lhc building in which
shc uscd Lo play is “noL a playhousc” anymorc.
As wiLh “Papcr Dolls,” Lhc sLaircasc sLrip cmploys a loosc inLcracLion bc-
Lwccn Lhc narraLivc mcmory oí Lhc LcxL and Lhc cpisodic mcmorics oí Lhc
imagcs. Tis Limc, howcvcr, Lhc íormcr sclvcs sharc a singlc mcmory Lhc-
aLcr, populaLing Lhc sLaircasc likc mulLiplc phoLographic cxposurcs or rcsL-
lcss spiriLs. Tcsc pagcs also rcly hcavily upon Lhc acLiviLy oí cxpcricnLial
mcmory, acLivaLcd by Lhc rcading proccss. Tc sLrip prcscnLs rcmcmbcring
as a íorm oí movcmcnL LhaL accompanics and cnablcs onc’s auLobiographi-
cal sLoryLclling. ILs pancls compcl us Lo Lrack and rc-cnacL Lhc cxpcricnccs
oí Lhc landlady, íollowing hcr across cach landing, dcsccnding cach sLaircasc,
iniLiaLing a rcading LhaL brings Lo lighL Lhc Limc-íramc oí mcmory iLsclí and
Lhc íccling oí mcmory as moLion. In “Papcr Dolls,” Lhc acL oí rcading crcaLcs a
singlc movcmcnL (Lhc girl rolls ovcr, shiíLing hcr hands) ouL oí many discrcLc
acLions (c.g., rcading, mourning, Louching). In Lhc sLaircasc sLrip, Lhc acLivc
rcadcr crcaLcs a singlc movcmcnL ouL oí mulLiplc occurrcnccs oí Lhc samc acL.
In Lhc sLrip’s ccnLral sLaircasc pancl, íor cxamplc, Lhc girl slidcs írom landing
Lo landing. Tc landlady’s words spcak oí a rcpcaLcd acLion in Lhc pasL (“I’d
prcLcnd I was bcing swallowcd down Lhc gullcL oí somc cnormous whalc”),
and Lhc picLurcs rcprisc LhaL rcpcLiLion as girls oí Lhrcc diffcrcnL agcs slidc
Lhcir way Lo Lhc sccond floor. AL Lhc boLLom sLair, wc rcach Lhc cnd oí Lhc
slidc. Wc also cncounLcr Lhc cnd oí sliding in gcncral, as Lhc young woman’s
dcvcloping body puLs a halL Lo hcr play: “Onc day, Lhough, Lhc sLairs hurL, and
I ncvcr slid down Lhcm again.” 1usL as “Papcr Dolls” Lclcscopcs fiíLccn ycars oí
imagcs inLo a singlc moLion, so Lhc sLaircasc sLrip unrolls a singlc acLion ouL
across numcrous ycars.
Warc’s arLisLic goal in Lhcsc sLrips—Lhc cncoding noL oí mcmory, buL oí
rcmcmbcring—is morc difficulL Lo mccL Lhan iL may appcar. FirsL, as many
carLoonisLs havc noLcd, comic arL is characLcrizcd by a Lhoroughgoing prcs-
cnLncss. DcspiLc Lhc apparcnL affiniLy bcLwccn mcmorics and carLooning,
Warc has noLcd LhaL scqucnLial drawings always sccm Lo happcn “now”, wc
pcrccivc a comic sLrip’s acLions noL as “happcning in Lhc pasL,” buL as “hap-
pcning Lhc vcry momcnL you pcrccivcd iL.”
To bc surc, Lhis propcrLy oí com-
ics rcading hclps bring Lhc pasL Lo liíc, buL a sLory LhaL cxplorcs mcmory musL
gcnLly mainLain a disLincLion oí Limcíramcs, oLhcrwisc an acL oí rcmcmbcr-
ing simply bccomcs a flashback, and Lhc sLory’s narraLcd pasL bccomcs cxpc-
ricnccd simply as a ncw narraLivc prcscnL. In a similar vcin, Warc has noLcd
LhaL Lhc languagc oí comics lacks whaL wc mighL call an impcríccL Lcnsc, a
way oí dcpicLing ongoing or habiLual acLion in Lhc pasL: “An cxamplc would
bc, ‘Fvcry day hc would go Lo Lhc sLorc Lo buy milk.’ Now Lhc only way Lo
do LhaL in a scrics oí picLurcs would bc Lo show a characLcr going Lo a sLorc
and buying milk ovcr and ovcr again. BuL Lhc sum LoLal oí Lhosc scqucnccs
is jusL showing LhaL Lhc characLcr wcnL Lo Lhc sLorc Lo buy milk many, many
Limcs. IL’s a diffcrcnL sorL oí íccl, and Lonc . . . noL Lhc samc Lhing.”
As an
iconographic mcdium, comics cxccl aL dcpicLing gcncralizcd, cvcn sLcrcoLypi-
cal, imagcs, buL Lhcy cannoL casily show gcncralizcd acLions. Imagcs can rc-
crcaLc discrcLc cpisodcs írom Lhc pasL, buL Lhcy cannoL as casily show largcr
narraLivc paLLcrns across Limc. Tc immcdiacy oí comics conLinually jars Lhc
pasL Lcnsc inLo Lhc mcdium’s visual prcscnL.
“Building SLorics” coníronLs Lhis problcm dirccLly, dcvising ways íor Lhc
pasL and prcscnL Lo cxisL simulLancously, allowing Lhc vicwcr Lo scc Lhc pas-
sagc oí Limc by mainLaining all Lcnscs aL oncc.
To Lhis cnd, boLh “Papcr
Dolls” and Lhc sLaircasc sLrip arc cxcrciscs in achicving an arLisLic cmbodi-
mcnL oí Lhc “pasL impcríccL.” Tc LcxL oí boLh carLoons rcpcaLcdly dcploys
Fnglish approximaLions oí Lhc impcríccL (oíLcn a simplc pasL wiLh Lhc appro-
priaLc advcrbs): “I ncvcr likcd playing wiLh dolls”, “IaLcr, somcLimcs, I’d lay
awakc”, “I was [always] vcry carcíul wiLh Lhcm”, “Whcn I was liLLlc, I lovcd Lo
play in Lhc sLairway”, “I never ran. . . . I likcd Lo jusL siL.” BoLh sLorics also shiíL
Lcnsc as Lhc sLrip approachcs Lhc prcscnL day: “I wondcr whaL moLhcr did
wiLh Lhcm all”, “I kccp [Lhc sLairs] ncaL and Lidy [. . .] and I don’L allow íamilics
wiLh childrcn.” Tc imagcs, Loo, corrcspond Lo Lhc pasL impcríccL. Tc sLair-
casc sLrip accomplishcs Lhis ícaL, íor insLancc, by bundling rcpcaLcd acLiviLics
(sliding, mopping) inLo singlc mulLi-imagc acLions. MosL imporLanLly, boLh
sLrips kccp Lhcir imagcs lodgcd in Lhc pasL by allowing Lhc landlady’s nincLy-
ycar-old voicc Lo cmcrgc írom Lhc minds oí hcr youngcr sclvcs. WiLh Lhis
Lcchniquc, Warc allows us Lo scc Lhc hiddcn LhoughLs oí a sclí LhaL boLh is and
is noL Lhcrc, Lhc cldcrly woman cloakcd in an iníanL’s body, Lhc prcscnL LhaL
givcs Lhc pasL iLs “pasLncss.”
Living Memories: “1 a.m.”
In his book-lcngLh mcdiLaLion on sclíhood, philosophcr and cogniLivc scicn-
LisL Douglas HoísLadLcr argucs LhaL idcnLiLy and sclí-consciousncss arc Lhc
cffccLs oí a “sLrangc loop” insidc Lhc hcad, symbols LhaL Lurn back upon Lhcm-
sclvcs, crcaLing a complcx build-up oí sclí-rcícrcncc: “Tc dcpLh and complcx-
iLy oí human mcmory is sLaggcringly rich. IiLLlc wondcr, Lhcn, LhaL whcn
a human bcing, posscsscd oí such a rich armamcnLarium oí conccpLs and
mcmorics wiLh which Lo work, Lurns aLLcnLion Lo iLsclí, as iL incviLably musL,
iL produccs a sclí-modcl LhaL is cxLraordinarily dccp and Langlcd. TaL dccp
and Langlcd sclí-modcl is whaL ‘I’-ncss is all abouL.”
HoísLadLcr’s insighLs
grow ouL oí somc common, ií paradoxical, inLuiLions. As carly as ±8:µ, 1amcs
Mill posiLcd mcmory as a sorL oí íccdback loop oí idcnLiLy, in which a prcs-
cnL “rcmcmbcring” sclí bccomcs connccLcd Lo Lhc idca a pasL sclí Lhrough a
“wholc scrics oí Lhc sLaLcs oí consciousncss” inLcrvcning bcLwccn Lhc Lwo.

SixLy ycars laLcr, William 1amcs rc-cnvisioncd Mill’s chain oí íamiliar sclvcs
in Lcrms oí affccL, arguing LhaL wc rccognizc a mcmory as a mcmory noL by iLs
vivaciLy or by iLs conLcnLs, buL by a concomiLanL jee|ìng oí sclíhood: “IL musL
bc daLcd in my pasL. [. . .] IL musL havc LhaL ‘warmLh and inLimacy’ which
[characLcrizc] all cxpcricnccs ‘appropriaLcd’ by Lhc Lhinkcr as his own.”

Morc rcccnLly, Danicl DcnncLL has rc-íramcd mcmory as a íorm oí “Lalking
Lo yoursclí,” an acL LhaL progrcssivcly crcaLcs a cohcrcnL scnsc oí sclí noL as
an indcpcndcnL cgo, buL as a “ccnLcr oí narraLivc graviLy,” or whaL Ccorgc
SanLayana sLrikingly callcd “an inLcrnal rumor.”
Warc’s work Lakcs Lhcsc philosophical mcLaphors and makcs Lhcm lcgiblc,
2 1 8 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
porLraying boLh mcmory and rcmcmbcring as ícclings oí scqucnLial sclí-
hood, Lhcrcby connccLing his comics Lo largcr qucsLions oí idcnLiLy. “Build-
ing SLorics” implics LhaL idcnLiLy cmcrgcs cxacLly as mcmory cmcrgcs—as a
íorm oí mcnLal sclí-consLrucLion and cndlcss sclí-rcícrcncc, wiLh words and
imagcs íccding inLo cach oLhcr. “Papcr Dolls” cvcn mcLaphorizcs Lhc sclí as a
scrics oí ncsLcd or imbricaLcd figurincs, cach oí whom wcars Lhc “cosLumc”
oí an oldcr incarnaLion. Or considcr onc final comic sLrip, cnLiLlcd “± a.m.,”
which firsL appcarcd in Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne (scc plaLc :o).
Tc pagc
íocuscs on an unhappily marricd couplc írom Lhc building’s sccond floor. Tc
ploL oí Lhis pagc is simplc. AL ±:o± in Lhc morning, Lhc husband lcavcs íor his
gravcyard-shiíL job, whilc his wiíc lics awakc and wondcrs whcn cxacLly Lhcir
rclaLionship changcd: “Whcn did hc sLarL lcaving wiLhouL kissing mc good-
byc`” “Whcn did hc sLarL walking by wiLhouL Louching my hcad`” “Whcn did
hc sLarL grabbing mc in angcr`” ForLy-six minuLcs laLcr, shc is sLill wondcring
and sLaring aL Lhc cciling, whcrc hcr LhoughLs hovcr silcnLly.
Tis shorL sLory prcscnLs a slighLly diffcrcnL íorm oí mcmory—Lhc acL
oí Lrying and íailing Lo locaLc somcLhing in Lhc pasL—which cliciLs a diffcr-
cnL modc oí rcprcscnLaLion. Tc wiíc, in Lhis casc, cannoL rccall Lhosc mo-
mcnLs LhaL would answcr hcr LcxLual qucsLions: shc cannoL rcmcmbcr Lhc
partìcu|ar momcnL whcn Lhings wcnL wrong in hcr marriagc. NoncLhclcss,
hcr LhoughLs providc alLcrnaLc answcrs Lo hcr qucrics: carLoon visions oí
genera|ìzed mcmorics and rcpcaLcd acLions. Unlikc “Papcr Dolls,” wc scc
Lhis woman’s mcmorics dirccLly, as hcr LcxLual LhoughLs morph inLo bal-
loons conLaining a scrics oí silcnL visual cpisodcs, fivc comic sLrips LhaL ncsL
Lhcmsclvcs wiLhin Lhc largcr pancl íramcs. Tc firsL mcmory-comic, íor cx-
amplc, shows Lhc husband kissing his wiíc bcíorc hc lcavcs. TaL cpisodic
mcmory, howcvcr, is cngcndcrcd by a narraLivc mcmory oí how Lhosc kisscs
cvcnLually stopped: “Whcn did hc sLarL lcaving wiLhouL kissing mc good-
byc`” Tis aíLcr-Lhc-íacL knowlcdgc, which could noL havc bccn parL oí Lhc
rcmcmbcrcd cxpcricncc iLsclí, changcs Lhc Lcnor oí Lhc wiíc’s mcmory: an
cmbcddcd comic abouL kissing in Lhc pasL simulLancous sLands as—and pro-
grcssivcly bccomcs—a sLrip abouL noL-kissing in Lhc prcscnL. Tc kisscs wiLhin
Lhis cpisodic mcmory will soon disappcar, and havc alrcady disappcarcd. Tc
wiíc’s rccollccLcd pasL bcars Lhc imprinL oí Lhc rccollccLing prcscnL, and LhaL
firsL mcmory-comic cnds wiLh a “pancl” LhaL almosL cxacLly maLchcs Lhc firsL
pancls oí Lhc “± a.m.” sLory. Indccd, all fivc oí Lhis pagc’s “mcmory-comics”
comc Lo rcflccL Lhc wiíc’s prcscnL-Lcnsc sorrow: in cach sub-scqucncc, shc
cnds up alonc, boLh wiLh hcr LhoughLs and in hcr LhoughLs.
Fivc cpisodic
mcmorics, rcad in parallcl, congcal inLo a singlc “impcríccL” narraLivc oí who
Lhis woman is and how shc goL Lhcrc. Tc pasL loops inLo Lhc prcscnL, Lhc
prcscnL íramcs our scnsc oí Lhc pasL, and Lhc laycring oí boLh crcaLcs Lhc
íccling oí Lhc sclíhood LhaL wc cxpcricncc as mcmory.
Morcovcr, Lhis sLory oí rccurring LhoughLs is iLsclí cncodcd in a comic LhaL
musL bc rcad rccurrcnLly. TaL is Lo say, ií you wish Lo rcad Lhc firsL mcm-
ory-sLrip oí kissing and noL kissing (color-codcd as bluc in Lhc original pub-
licaLion), you havc Lo íollow Lhc balloons up and Lo Lhc righL, away írom Lhc
Lhinking characLcr hcrsclí. Only Lhcn, aL Lhc cnd oí Lhc bluc scqucncc, can
you rcLurn Lo your holding posiLion in Lhc main narraLivc, now Lhrcc pancls
in Lhc “pasL.” Tc sLory soon scnds you off again, howcvcr, Lhis Limc in pursuiL
oí a rcd mcmory-sLrip, which rcsLagcs Lhc husband’s insulLs and cruclLy. Fach
sLrip has iLs own color (ycllow, grccn, violcL), iLs own discrcLc scqucncc, and
iLs own parallcl LrajccLory. And Lhcsc looping sLrips crcaLc a circuiL wiLhin Lhc
common narraLivc and Lhc composiLional íramc.
Wc rcadcrs musL liLcrally
íollow Lhosc cyclcs. Tc sLrip and your rcading oí iL comprisc sLorics wiLhin
sLorics, comics wiLhin comics, sclvcs wiLhin sclvcs—all dcsigncd Lo cncodc
and rc-crcaLc Lhc imprcssion oí onc dark nighL’s rcminisccncc.
Drawing Memories
“Comics is abouL mcmory.” Chris Warc’s pronounccmcnL rcmains pcrhaps
Lhc bcsL Lool íor digging inLo his graphic ficLion and íor cxploring how LhaL
ficLion is linkcd Lo Lhc acLiviLy and cxpcricncc oí rcmcmbcring. BoLh opcr-
aLc Lhrough a blcnding oí imagcs and words, oí spacc and Limc, oí spccific
cpisodcs and gcncral narraLivcs, and oí pasL and prcscnL sclvcs. And “Build-
ing SLorics” offcrs an imagc oí sclíhood largc cnough Lo accommodaLc Lhcsc
sLrucLural similariLics. In Lhis graphic novcl-in-progrcss, mcmory and idcnLiLy
do noL cxisL as uniLary objccLs, indccd, Lhc pagcs analyzcd hcrc arc Lrcmcn-
dously ovcrpopulaLcd, wiLh sclvcs íolding and Lumbling and bumping inLo
onc anoLhcr. Sclíhood, Lhcsc sLorics Lcll us, is Lhc cffccL oí such inLcracLions.
AuLobiographical idcnLiLy and auLobiographical mcmorics arc noL Lhings,
buL ícclings dccply linkcd Lo Lhc cxpcricncc oí scqucncc and succcssion, Lhc
acLiviLics oí sclí-rcícrcncc and inLrospccLivc moLion. Warc’s comics, aL Lhcir
bcsL, aLLcmpL Lo rcprcscnL and cvcn rc-crcaLc such ícclings.
In Lhcsc pagcs, I havc Lricd Lo illuminaLc somc oí Chris Warc’s idcas by
juxLaposing Lhcm wiLh insighLs írom cogniLivc scicnLisLs on Lhc onc hand
and philosophcrs and LhcorisLs on Lhc oLhcr. I hopc LhaL Lhcsc similariLics arc
insLrucLivc and hclp Lhc rcadcr Lo rcgisLcr somc oí Lhc íormal and narraLivc
complcxiLy oí “Building SLorics,” cspccially in iLs rcprcscnLaLion oí rcmcm-
bcring. BuL Warc is noL a ncuroscicnLisL, nor is hc a criLical LhcorisL. And
such linkagcs, howcvcr suggcsLivc, should noL obscurc Lhc arLisL’s cxpliciLly
humanisL goals íor Lhcsc comics and íor his arL in gcncral—his insisLcncc on
Lhc ccnLraliLy oí íccling and Lhc abiliLy oí arL Lo “cncodc íccling[s]” Lhrough
“basic sLrucLurcs” LhaL fiL “inLuiLivcly inLo Lhc way LhaL wc scc, and inLcrprcL,
and arc disappoinLcd by Lhc world.”
As an arLisL, Warc sccms uninLcrcsLcd in
simply dismanLling whaL wc mighL call “Lhc ficLion oí sclíhood,” jusL as Lhis rc-
lcnLlcss comic innovaLor claims hc is uninLcrcsLcd in íormal cxpcrimcnLaLion
íor iLs own sakc.
His dcconsLrucLivc Lcchniqucs arc noL dcsigncd Lo cxposc
Lhc illusions oí mcmory or idcnLiLy alonc, buL Lo cxplorc Lhc phcnomcnologi-
cal complcxiLy oí Lhosc psychological sLaLcs. Trough Lhcir mcmory sLorics,
Warc’s comics Lry Lo rcproducc whaL iL is rcally |ìke Lo havc a sclí—LhaL is Lo
say, in Warc’s own Lcrms, “whaL iL jee|s likc Lo ìnhabìt onc.”
“Building SLorics”
wanLs us Lo íccl our own scnsc oí sclíhood, Lo rcmcmbcr Lhc cxpcricncc oí
rcmcmbcring, as wc cncounLcr iL boLh on iLs pagcs and in our inLcracLions
wiLh Lhosc pagcs. TaL is Lhc mcssagc and Lhc inLcndcd cffccL oí Lhis graphic
novcl: Lo rcmind us oí whaL iL is likc Lo build and inhabiL a sLory, Lo rcmind us
LhaL wc arc always building sLorics, and Lo rcmind us LhaL Lhc sLorics wc build
arc, onc piccc aL a Limc, us.
2 2 0 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
1. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper, 1994), 36–40.
2. Art Spiegelman, “Comix 101,” City Arts and Lectures Series, Herbst Theater, San Francisco,
October 15, 1998; Art Spiegelman, interview with Daniel Pink, Upfront and Unscripted, August 5,
2008, (accessed February
25, 2009).
3. Seth, “The Quiet Art of Cartooning,” Walrus, September 2008, http://www.walrusmagazine
.com/articles/2008.09--the-quiet-art-of-cartooning-seth-comic-book-cartoons/ (accessed February
25, 2009).
4. Seth, interview with Sean Rogers, “Q&A: Seth” (Weblog entry), Four-Colour Words, Walrus,
August 21, 2008,
one/ (accessed February 25, 2009).
5. Chris Ware, interview with Benoît Peeters, “Chris Ware: Un Art de la Mémoire,” dir. Benoît
Peeters, Comix, Arte France, January 26, 2005.
6. Chris Ware, qtd. in Jeet Heer, “Little Nemo in Comicsland,” Virginia Quarterly Review 82.2
(2006): 114.
7. Marianne Hirsch, “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning, and Post-Memory,” Discourse 15.2 (1992–
93): 9. Hirsch and the many critics who have adopted her language appreciate comics, in part, because
the medium highlights its own artifice, its distance and difference from the “reality” it attempts to
capture. That blatant difference, Hirsch claims, “enable[s] us to expose the layers of mediation and
transformation” inherent in all memory, all history, all representation (interview with Martha Kuhl-
man, Indy Magazine, winter 2005,
[accessed February 25, 2009]). Without invalidating either point of view, the difference between
Hirsch and the cartoonists above is telling. The artists, on the one hand, celebrate the directness
and immediacy of comics, insisting that the form of cartooning approximates and resonates with the
form of memory. Comics “work,” the cartoonists say, because they so closely correspond to the
structures of our interior world. Literary critics, on the other hand, celebrate the indirectness and
self-aware “mediacy” of comic art—making comic art no more like memory than memory itself as an
objective record of the past. Comics “work,” many academics reply, when they disavow any absolute
resemblance to the “real” world, inside or out.
8. Chris Ware, interview with Daniel Siedell, Sheldon Memorial Museum of Art, University of
Nebraska–Lincoln, February 16, 2007.
9. Chris Ware, e-mail to the author, August 12, 2008.
10. Chris Ware, “Every Morning,” in Quimby the Mouse (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2003), 34–35. For
a more detailed analysis of Quimby the Mouse’s autobiographical narrative strategies, see Benjamin
Widiss’s essay in this volume.
11. Ware, Quimby, 36–41. Todd Hignite notes the importance of memory to “Thrilling Adventure
Stories / I Guess,” the earliest of these tales: “Assumptions about ‘reading’ the form are short-
circuited as the acts of remembering both the physical events of one’s own life and those experienced
vicariously through popular media are conflated.” Todd Hignite, In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary
Cartoonists (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 228.
12. Chris Ware, qtd. in Daniel Raeburn, “The Smartest Cartoonist on Earth,” The Imp 3 (1999):
13. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000), 219, 239,
14. Ibid., 283–84, 288–89.
15. Chris Ware, qtd. in Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004),
16. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, “Smartest Cartoonist,” 19.
17. Chris Ware, interview with Daniel Siedell.
18. Chris Ware, qtd. in Neil Strauss, “Creating Literature, One Comic Book at a Time; Chris
Ware’s Graphic Tales Mine His Own Life and Heart,” New York Times, April 4, 2001, http://query
“ B UI L DI NG S T OR I E S ” AND T HE ART OF ME MORY 2 2 1 (accessed February
25, 2009); “crystalline structures,” qtd. in Raeburn, Chris Ware, 25.
19. Chris Ware, interview with Todd Hignite, In the Studio, 231; “the way I actually think,” qtd. in
Raeburn, Chris Ware, 96.
20. Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library 18 (Chicago: The ACME Novelty Library, 2007).
21. Chris Ware, “Paper Dolls,” Chicago Reader, March 21, 2003, sec. 4: 30–31. The strip was
reprinted in expanded form in The Paper Sculpture Book, ed. Sin Najafi (New York; Cabinet, 2003),
135–38. Please note that the panels in figure 15.1 have been reformatted to present a series of se-
quential images.
22. Daniel L. Schacter, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past (New York: Basic,
1996), 17; Endel Tulving, Elements of Episodic Memory (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983).
23. Schacter, Searching for Memory, 195–201.
24. See, for example, David C. Rubin and Daniel L. Greenberg, “The Role of Narrative in Recol-
lection: A View from Cognitive Psychology and Neuropsychology,” in Narrative and Consciousness: Lit-
erature, Psychology, and the Brain, ed. Gary D. Fireman, Ted E. McVay Jr., and Owen J. Flanagan (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2003), 53–85; Paul John Eakin, “Autobiography, Identity, and the Fictions of
Memory,” in Memory, Brain, and Belief, ed. Daniel L. Schacter and Elaine Scarry (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2000), 290–306.
25. In Stumbling on Happiness (New York: Knopf, 2006), psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes how
verbal and visual memories embody two different, often conflicting, systems for encoding and re-
membering events, with the verbal often trumping and short-circuiting the visual (40–42).
26. Sigmund Freud, “Screen Memories,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works
of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, vol. 3 (London: Hogarth, 1962), 301–22; Virgil, The
Aeneid, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Viking, 2006), 1.589–1.590.
27. Schacter, Searching for Memory, 21–22; Martin A. Conway, “Autobiographical Knowledge and
Autobiographical Memories,” in Remembering Our Past: Studies in Autobiographical Memory, ed. David
C. Rubin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 88–90.
28. Heather K. McIsaac and Eric Eich, “Vantage Point in Episodic Memory,” Psychonomic Bulletin
& Review 9 (2002): 146–50; Benedict Carey, “This Is Your Life (and How You Tell It),” New York
Times, May 22, 2007, (accessed
February 25, 2009); Ethan Kross, Ozlem Ayduk, and Walter Mischel, “When Asking ‘Why’ Does
Not Hurt: Distinguishing Rumination from Reflective Processing of Negative Emotions,” Psychologi-
cal Science 16 (2005): 709–15. Observer memories, which dampen the emotions, might seem to
work against an artist who hopes to have his readers “feel.” But such emotional distancing effects fit
surprisingly well within Ware’s tempered, anti-expressivist approach to drawing and design. As his
“crystalline structures” comment makes clear, Ware is not trying to represent emotions directly but
to encode them—and the feeling of recalling them—onto the page.
29. Chris Ware, interview with Daniel Siedell.
30. Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 3.
31. Chris Ware, untitled comic strip [“Staircase”], Chicago Reader, June 28, 2002, sec. 4: 30–31;
rpt. in Paul Candler, Raw, Boiled, and Cooked: Comics on the Verge (San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2004),
32. Charles Forbell, “Naughty Pete,” Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1913, sec. 8: 1; rpt. in Dan
Nadel, ed., Art Out of Time: Unknown Comic Visionaries, 1900–1969 (New York: Abrams, 2006), 259.
Ware’s homage is explicitly acknowledged in the newspaper version of the staircase strip, which ap-
pends the following note: “Apologies to Charles Forbell.”
33. Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, inside front cover.
34. Chris Ware, interview with Gary Groth, “Understanding (Chris Ware’s) Comics,” Comics
Journal 200 (December 1997): 161. Although Ware erroneously identifies this mode of expressing
habitual past actions as the “subjunctive,” his point remains clear.
35. For a similar formulation in fiction, see Roger Shattuck, Proust’s Binoculars: A Study of Memory,
Time, and Recognition in “À la recherche du temps perdu” (New York: Random House, 1963).
36. Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 86.
2 2 2 P E T E R R . S AT T L E R
37. James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829; rpt., Hildesheim, Ger.: Gerig,
1982), 330–31.
38. William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1 (1890; rpt., New York: Dover, 1950) 650.
39. Daniel Dennett, “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity,” Self and Consciousness: Multiple
Perspectives, ed. Frank S. Kessel, Pamela M. Cole, and Dale L. Johnson (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erl-
baum, 1992), 113; George Santayana, The Life of Reason (New York: Scribner’s, 1932), 40.
40. Chris Ware, “Building Stories: Part 5, 1 a.m.,” New York Times Magazine, October 16, 2005,
41. In fact, one could push these claims farther, as the first memory-comic (“When did he start
leaving without kissing me goodbye?”) completely reenacts the comic’s present tense. That strip’s
third and fifth balloon-panels reproduce, in miniature, the full page’s own second and third pictures,
which show (respectively) the husband’s departure and the wife’s wide-eyed solitude. A lonely wife
thus remembers herself as a lonely wife, and the repetition seems destined to produce a third set of
recollections: the memory wife’s own memories, a comic within a comic within a comic.
42. This page, with its differently colored pathways offering no clear exit, tips its hat silently to
Art Spiegelman’s classic 1975 strip, “Day at the Circuits” reprinted in Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist
as a Young %@&*! (New York: Pantheon, 2008), 51.
43. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, Chris Ware, 25.
44. Chris Ware, qtd. in Raeburn, Chris Ware, 11: “‘I rarely ever did a comic just for the sake of
experimentation,’ says Ware. ‘Even when I did, I was always trying to get at some kind of feeling.’”
45. Chris Ware, “Philip Guston: A Cartoonist’s Appreciation,” in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
13 (New York: McSweeney’s, 2004), 89.
2 2 3
A Guide to Chris Ware’s Primary Works
Chris Warc’s ocuvrc prcscnLs scvcral challcngcs íor scholars, sLudcnLs, and
íans alikc. Much oí his work was originally publishcd in difficulL-Lo-locaLc
vcnucs, oíLcn lacks paginaLion, and appcars in subsLanLially diffcring íorms
during Lhc coursc oí scrial and subscqucnL publicaLion. Warc’s aLLcmpLs Lo
dcíy LradiLional Laxonomics oí classificaLion cxLcnd cvcn Lo his willíul obíus-
caLion oí ISBN numbcrs and oLhcr publicaLion iníormaLion, oíLcn lcading Lo
his works bcing miscaLcgorizcd by librarics and archivc holdings. Tc lisL bc-
low aLLcmpLs Lo caLcgorizc in chronological ordcr Lhc major works oí Warc’s
cxLrcmcly prolific carccr Lo daLc.
For Lhc sakc oí clariLy and consisLcncy, Lhc cssays in Lhis volumc rcícr Lo
Lhc íollowing primary sourccs. PaginaLion has bccn ascribcd Lo Lhc numbcrcd
issucs oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary bcginning wiLh pagc ± opposiLc Lhc inLc-
rior íronL covcr oí cach issuc (consisLcnL wiLh Lhc paginaLion Warc indicaLcs
in carly issucs). Rcícrcnccs Lo pagc numbcrs in cdiLions oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan
arc dcrivcd írom Lhc singlc pagc numbcr givcn in Lhc novcl: pagcs :o6–,, Lhc
asscmbly modcl oí 1amcs Rccd Corrigan’s Chicago homc. For boLh Lhc hard-
covcr and papcrback cdiLions oí 1ìmmy Corrìgan, wc bcgin numbcring pagcs
wiLh Lhc firsL appcarancc oí 1immy’s characLcr. To avoid coníusion wiLh Lhc
scrializcd issucs oí Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary, Warc’s :oo¸ book publicaLion
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary Fìna| Report to Shareho|ders and Saturday Ajternoon
Raìny Lay Fun Pook will bc rcícrrcd Lo LhroughouL as Te ACMF Report.
In ordcr Lo disLinguish bcLwccn Warc’s cllipscs, which appcar írcqucnLly
LhroughouL his comics, and Lhc clisions inLroduccd by Lhc auLhors in Lhis col-
lccLion, Lhc laLLcr arc indicaLcd LhroughouL in squarc brackcLs.
Serial Publications
Te Laì|y Texan, wcckly or daily ncwspapcr carLoon sLrip, ±µ86–±µµ±, AusLin,
New Cìty, wcckly carLoon sLrip, ±µµ±–:oo:, Chicago, Illinois.
Chìcago Reader, wcckly carLoon sLrip, :oo:–:oo6, Chicago, Illinois.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary :, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¡.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ¸, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¡.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ¡, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¡.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ¸, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary 6, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ¸.
2 2 4 AP P E NDI X
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ,, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ6.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary 8, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ,.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary µ, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ,.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±o, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ8.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±±, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµ8.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±:, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµµ.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±¸, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, ±µµµ.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±¡, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, :ooo.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±¸, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, :oo±.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±6, Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary, :oo¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±,, Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary, :oo6.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8, Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary, :oo,.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±8.¸, Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary, :oo,.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±µ, Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Iibrary, :oo8.
Book Publications
1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te Smartest Kìd on Farth, Ncw York: PanLhcon, :ooo.
Quìmby the Mouse, ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, :oo¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Latebook, MonLrcal: Drawn & QuarLcrly, :oo¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary Fìna| Report to Shareho|ders and Saturday Ajternoon
Raìny Lay Fun Pook, Ncw York: PanLhcon, :oo¸.
Te ACMF Nove|ty Latebook, vo|ume Two, MonLrcal: Drawn & QuarLcrly,
“RusLy Brown,” appcaring variously in wcckly inscrLs oí Chicago’s New Cìty
and Chìcago Reader, Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±6, ±,, and ±µ, and Lhc vìr-
gìnìa Quarter|y Revìew (winLcr :oo8–prcscnL), among oLhcr publicaLions.
“Building SLorics,” appcaring variously in wcckly inscrLs oí Chìcago Reader,
Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary ±6 and ±8, and Lhc New York Tìmes Magazìne in
:oo¸–:oo6, among oLhcr publicaLions.
DVD Collaboration
Lost Puì|dìngs, collaboraLion wiLh Ira Class and Tim Samuclson íor “Tis
Amcrican Iiíc,” :oo¡.
Edited and Designed Volumes
Te Ragtìme Fphemera|ìst (¸ vols. Lo daLc), Chicago: Tc ACMF NovclLy Ii-
brary, ±µµ8–prcscnL.
McSweeney’s Quarter|y Concern ±¸, San Francisco: McSwccncy’s, :oo¡.
wa|t and Skeezìx (¸ vols. Lo daLc), MonLrcal: Drawn & QuarLcrly, :oo¸–prcs-
Pest Amerìcan Comìcs .oo,, Ncw York: HoughLon Mifflin, :oo,.
0n!nked. Paìntìng, Scu|pture, and Craphìc work by Fìve Contemporary Cartoon-
ìsts, Phocnix: Phocnix ArL Muscum, :oo,.
2 2 5
Selected Bibliography
Agacinski, Sylvianc. Tìme Passìng. Modernìty and Nosta|gìa. Trans. 1ody Clad-
ding. Ncw York: Columbia UnivcrsiLy Prcss, :oo¸.
Arnold, Andrcw. “Q and A wiLh Comicbook MasLcr Chris Warc,” T!MF, ScpLcm-
bcr ±, :ooo. hLLp://,8¸µµ,¸¸88,,oo
.hLml (acccsscd April ±¸, :ooµ).
BacLcns, 1an. “Ncw = Old, Old = Ncw: DigiLal and OLhcr Comics Following
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as IiLcraLurc.” In Contemporary Amerìcan Comìcs. Creators and theìr Con-
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:,,os. ToronLo: UnivcrsiLy oí ToronLo Prcss, :oo,.
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McIaughlin. Cambridgc, MA: Harvard UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµµ.
———. Te Orìgìn oj Cerman Tragìc Lrama. Trans. 1ohn Osbornc. Ncw York:
Vcrso, :oo¸.
———. “Tcscs on Lhc Philosophy oí HisLory.” In !||umìnatìons. Fssays and
Reflectìons, cd. Hannah ArcndL, Lrans. Harry Zohn, :¸¸–6¡ . Ncw York:
Schockcn, ±µ6µ.
Bcrgson, Hcnri. An !ntroductìon to Metaphysìcs. Trans. T. F. Hulmc. Ncw York:
Macmillan, ±µ¸¸.
Blackbcard, Bill. “Tc Four Color Papcr Trail: A Iook Back.” !nternatìona| 1our-
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per Comìcs. Ncw York: Abrams, ±µ,,.
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BrcdchoíL, Tomas A. “Comics ArchiLccLurc, MulLidimcnsionaliLy, and Timc:
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posìtìon. Tucson: UnivcrsiLy oí Arizona Prcss, ±µµ¡.
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2 2 6 S E L E CT E D B I B L I OGR AP HY
Carlin, 1ohn. “Tc Rcal Comic Book Hcrocs.” TATF Ftc. µ (spring :oo,): 6o–
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nary. Lìnes oj Skeptìcìsm and Romantìcìsm, ±¸¸–,8. Chicago: UnivcrsiLy oí
Chicago Prcss, ±µ88.
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(:oo:): ¸–8.
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(:oo8): ¡¸:–6¸.
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Cravcn, Tomas. Cartoon Cava|cade. Ncw York: Simon, ±µ¡¸.
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Danicls, Ics. Superman. Te Comp|ete Hìstory. San Francisco: Chroniclc, ±µµ8.
DcnncLL, Danicl. “Tc Sclí as a CcnLcr oí NarraLivc CraviLy.” In Se|j and Con-
scìousness. Mu|tìp|e Perspectìves, cd. Frank S. Kcsscl, Pamcla M. Colc, and
Dalc I. 1ohnson, ±o¸–±¸. Hillsdalc, N1: Iawrcncc Frlbaum, ±µµ:.
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¸–:,. Chicago: UnivcrsiLy oí Chicago Prcss, ±µ8:.
Dowd, D. B., and Todd HigniLc. Strìps, Toons, and P|uesìes. Ncw York: Princc-
Lon ArchiLccLural Prcss, :oo¡.
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lic ChilLon, ±o,–:¡. BloomingLon: Indiana UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µ,µ.
Fdcmariam, Aida. “Tc ArL oí Mclancholy.” Te Cuardìan, OcLobcr ¸±, :oo¸.
hLLp://ícaLurcs/sLory/o,,±6o¸±µ¸,oo.hLml (acccsscd
AugusL ¸±, :oo8).
Fggcrs, Davc. “AíLcr Wham! Pow! Shazam!” New York Tìmes Pook Revìew, No-
vcmbcr :6, :ooo, ±o–±±.
Fisncr, Will. Craphìc Storyte||ìng and vìsua| Narratìve. Tamarac: Poorhousc,
Flkins, 1amcs. Storìes oj Art. Ncw York: RouLlcdgc, :oo:.
Ficdlcr, Icslic. “Tc Middlc againsL BoLh Fnds.” Fncounter (AugusL ±µ¸¸). RpL.
in Te Co||ected Fssays oj Les|ìe Fìed|er. Vol. :, ¡±¸–:8. Ncw York: SLcin and
Day, ±µ,±.
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Psycho|ogìca| works oj Sìgmund Freud, vol. ¸. cd. and Lrans. 1amcs SLrachcy,
¸o±–::. Iondon: HogarLh, ±µ6:.
———. Totem and Taboo. Fd. and Lrans. 1amcs SLrachcy. Ncw York: NorLon,
Fromc, 1onaLhan. “IdcnLificaLion in Comics.” Comìcs 1ourna| :±± (±µµµ): 8:–
Fukuyama, Francis. Te Fnd oj Hìstory and the Last Man. Ncw York: Avon,
Cardncr, 1arcd. “Archivcs, CollccLors, and Lhc Ncw Mcdia Work oí Comics.”
Modern Fìctìon Studìes ¸: (:oo6): ,8,–8o6.
Carland-Tomson, Roscmaric. Fxtraordìnary Podìes. Fìgurìng Physìca| Lìsabì|-
ìty ìn Amerìcan Cu|ture. Ncw York: Columbia UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµ,.
CcncLLc, Ccrard. Paratexts. Tresho|ds oj !nterpretatìon. Trans. 1anc F. Icwin.
Cambridgc: Cambridgc UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµ,.
S E L E CT E D B I B L I OGR AP HY 2 2 7
Coldbcrg, Myla. “Tc FxquisiLc SLrangcncss and FsLrangcmcnL oí Rcncc
Frcnch and Chris Warc.” In Cìve Our Regards to the Atom Smashers| wrìters
on Comìcs, cd. Scan Howc, :o¡–,. Ncw York: PanLhcon, :oo¡.
CrocnsLccn, Ticrry. “1immy Corrigan: Unc Lragcdic pour rirc.” In L’humour
graphìque fin de sìec|e, ±oµ–±:±. Paris: PUF, ±µµµ.
———. La bande dessìnee. une |ìtterature graphìque. Toulousc: ÉdiLions Milan,
———. Te System oj Comìcs.Trans. BarL BcaLy and Nick Nguycn. 1ackson:
UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Mississippi, :oo,.
———. Système de |a bande dessìnee. Paris: PUF, ±µµµ.
———. “Un prcmicr bouqucL dc consLrainLs.” OuPus ± (1anuary ±µµ,): ±¸–¸8.
Hajdu, David. Te Ten-Cent P|ague. Te Creat Comìc-Pook Scare and How !t
Changed Amerìca. Ncw York: Farrar, :oo8.
HaLficld, Charlcs. A|ternatìve Comìcs. 1ackson: UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Missis-
sippi, :oo¸.
———. Rcvicw oí Te Sì|ver Age oj Comìc Art. !nternatìona| 1ourna| oj Comìc
Art 6.± (:oo¡): ¸¸o–¸¸.
Hccr, 1ccL. “IiLLlc Ncmo in Comicsland.” vìrgìnìa Quarter|y Revìew 8:.: (:oo6):
HigniLc, Tom. !n the Studìo. vìsìts wìth Contemporary Cartoonìsts. Ncw Havcn:
Yalc UnivcrsiLy Prcss, :oo6.
Hirsch, Mariannc. “Family PicLurcs: Maus, Mourning, and PosL-Mcmory.”
Lìscourse ±¸.: (±µµ:–µ¸): ¸–:µ.
———. InLcrvicw wiLh MarLha Kuhlman. !ndy Magazìne (winLcr :oo¸).
hLLp://6¡.:¸.µ8.±¡:/indy/winLcr_:oo¸/kuhlman_hirsch/indcx.hLml (ac-
ccsscd Dcccmbcr :o, :oo8).
Hodgman, 1ohn. “Comics Chroniclc.” New York Tìmes Pook Revìew, 1unc ¡,
:oo6, ±8–±µ.
Huizcnga, Kcvin. Canges ±. ScaLLlc: FanLagraphics, :oo6.
———. Or F|se :. MonLrcal: Drawn & QuarLcrly, :oo¸.
Humc, KaLhryn. “NarraLivc Spccd in ConLcmporary FicLion.” Narratìve ±¸.:
(May :oo¸): ±o¸–:¡.
1amcson, Frcdric. Postmodernìsm, or, the Cu|tura| Logìc oj Late Capìta|ìsm.
Durham, NC: Dukc UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµ±.
1uno, Andrca. “Chris Warc.” In Langerous Lrawìngs. !ntervìews wìth Comìx and
Craphìx Artìsts, cd. Andrca 1uno, ¸:–¸¸. Ncw York: 1uno, ±µµ,.
Kanncnburg, Ccnc, 1r. “Tc Comics oí Chris Warc: TcxL, Imagc, and Visual
NarraLivc SLraLcgics.” In Te Language oj Comìcs. word and !mage, cd. Robin
Varnum and ChrisLina Cibbons, ±,¡–µ,. 1ackson: UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Mis-
sissippi, :oo±.
Karasik, Paul, and David Mazzucchclli. Pau| Auster’s Cìty oj C|ass. Ncw York:
Avon, ±µµ¡.
Kidd, Chip. “Plcasc Don’L HaLc Him.” Prìnt ¸±.¸ (±µµ,): ¡:–¡µ.
Klock, Ccoff. How to Read Superhero Comìcs and why. Ncw York: ConLinuum,
Kuhlman, MarLha. “Tc TraumaLic TcmporaliLy oí ArL Spicgclman’s !n the
Shadow oj No Towers.” 1ourna| oj Popu|ar Cu|ture ¡o.¸ (:oo,): 8¡µ–66.
Kunzlc, David. Father oj the Comìc Strìp. Rodo|phe Topffer. 1ackson: UnivcrsiLy
Prcss oí Mississippi, :oo,.
2 2 8 S E L E CT E D B I B L I OGR AP HY
———. Rodo|phe Topffer. Te Comp|ete Comìc Strìps. 1ackson: UnivcrsiLy Prcss
oí Mississippi, :oo,.
Icícbvrc, Hcnri. Rhythmana|ysìs. Space, Tìme and Fveryday Lìje. Trans. SLuarL
Fldcn and Ccrald Moorc. Ncw York: ConLinuum, :oo¡.
IcnL, 1ohn A. Pu|p Lemons. Madison: Farlcigh Dickinson UnivcrsiLy Prcss,
Icwis, Arnold. An Far|y Fncounter wìth Tomorrow. Furopeans, Chìcago’s Loop,
and the wor|d’s Co|umbìan Fxposìtìon. Urbana: UnivcrsiLy oí Illinois Prcss,
Iogan, 1ohn R., and Harvcy MoloLch. 0rban Fortunes. Te Po|ìtìca| Fconomy oj
P|ace. Bcrkclcy: UnivcrsiLy oí Caliíornia Prcss, ±µ8,.
IyoLard, 1can François. Te !nhuman. Reflectìons on Tìme. Trans. Ccoffrcy Bcn-
ningLon and Rachcl Bowlby. SLaníord: SLaníord UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµ±.
Marconi, Roxana. Comìc Abstractìon. !mage Preakìng, !mage Makìng. Ncw York:
Muscum oí Modcrn ArL, Iondon: Tamcs & Hudson, :oo,.
McCloud, ScoLL. 0nderstandìng Comìcs. Te !nvìsìb|e Art. NorLhampLon, MA:
KiLchcn Sink, ±µµ¸.
McCraLh, Charlcs. “NoL Funnics.” New York Tìmes Magazìne, 1uly ±±, :oo¡,
McRucr, RobcrL. Crìp Teory. Cu|tura| Sìgns oj Queerness and Lìsabì|ìty. Ncw
York: Ncw York UnivcrsiLy Prcss, :oo6.
Mcnu, 1can-ChrisLophc. “Ic prodigicux projcL dc Chris Warc.” ,e Art. Les ca-
hìers du Musee de |a bande dessìnee : (±µµ,): ¡¸–¸,.
MiLchcll, W.1.T. “Showing Sccing: A CriLiquc oí Visual CulLurc.” In Te vìsua|
Cu|ture Reader, cd. Nicholas Mirzocff, :nd cd., 86–±o±. Ncw York: RouL-
lcdgc, :oo±.
MoLLc, Warrcn, cd. and Lrans. Ou|ìpo. A Prìmer oj Potentìa| Lìterature. Normal,
II: Dalkcy Archivc, ±µµ8.
MoulLhrop, SLuarL. “Rhizomcs and RcsisLancc: HypcrLcxL and Lhc Drcams oí
a Ncw CulLurc.” In Hyper/Text/Teory, cd. Ccorgc P. Iandow, ¸oo–±. BalLi-
morc: 1ohns Hopkins UnivcrsiLy Prcss, ±µµ¡.
Nadcl, Dan, cd. Art Out oj Tìme. 0nknown Comìc vìsìonarìes, :,oo–:,õ,. Ncw
York: Abrams, :oo6.
Najafi, Sina, cd. Te Paper Scu|pture Pook. Ncw York: CabincL, :oo¸.
Nisscn, BcLh. “An InLcrvicw wiLh Chris Warc.”, OcLobcr ¸, :ooo.
dcx.hLml (acccsscd 1unc :¸, :oo8).
Op dc Bccck, NaLhalic. “Found ObjccLs (1cm Cohcn, Bcn KaLchor, WalLcr
Bcnjamin).” Modern Fìctìon Studìes ¸: (:oo6): 8o,–¸±.
Phipps, KciLh. “InLcrvicw wiLh Chris Warc.” Tc Onion A.V. Club, Dcccmbcr
¸±, :oo¸. hLLp://,±¸8¡µ/ (acccsscd
Fcbruary :6, :ooµ).
Pragcr, Brad. “Modcrnism and Lhc ConLcmporary Craphic Novcl: Chris Warc
and Lhc Agc oí Mcchanical RcproducLion.” !nternatìona| 1ourna| oj Comìc
Art ¸.± (:oo¸): ±µ¸–:±¸.
Probyn, FlspcLh. Outsìde Pe|ongìngs. Ncw York: RouLlcdgc, ±µµ6.
Racburn, Danicl K. Chrìs ware. Ncw Havcn: Yalc UnivcrsiLy Prcss, :oo¡.
———. “Tc SmarLcsL CarLoonisL on FarLh.” Te !mp ¸ (±µµµ): ±–±µ.
S E L E CT E D B I B L I OGR AP HY 2 2 9
Rindcr, Iawrcncc. whìtney Pìennìa| .oo.. Ncw York: WhiLncy Muscum oí
Amcrican ArL, :oo:.
Schjcldahl, PcLcr. “Do IL Yoursclí: Bicnnial Follics aL Lhc WhiLncy.” New Yorker,
March :¸, :oo:, µ8–µµ.
———. “Words and PicLurcs: Craphic Novcls Comc oí Agc,” New Yorker, Oc-
Lobcr ±,, :oo¸, ±6:–68.
ScLh. InLcrvicw wiLh Scan Rogcrs. “Q&A: ScLh.” [Wcblog cnLry.] Four-Colour
Words. wa|rus, AugusL :±, :oo8. hLLp://
blogs/:oo8/o8/:±/an-inLcrvicw-wiLh-scLh-parL-onc/ (acccsscd AugusL ::,
———. “Tc QuicL ArL oí CarLooning.” wa|rus, ScpLcmbcr :oo8. hLLp://www.µ--Lhc-quicL- arL-oí-carLooning-scLh-
comic-book-carLoons/ (acccsscd AugusL ±8, :oo8).
Simmonds, Posy. Cemma Povery. Ncw York: PanLhcon, ±µµµ.
Sorkin, Michacl. “InLroducLion.” In varìatìons on a Teme Park. Te New Amerì-
can Cìty and the Fnd oj Pub|ìc Space, cd. Michacl Sorkin, xi–xv. Ncw York:
Noonday, ±µµ:.
Spicgclman, ArL. “AbsLracL ToughL Is a Warm Puppy.” New Yorker, Fcbraury.
±¡, :ooo, 6±–6¸.
———. Art Spìege|man. Comìx, Fssays, Craphìcs, 8 Scraps (From Maus to Now to
“Maus” to Now). Palcrmo: Scllcrio FdiLorc—Ia CcnLralc dcll’ArLc, ±µµ8.
———. Preakdowns. Portraìt oj the Artìst as a Young ×,8´|. Ncw York: Pan-
Lhcon, :oo8.
———. “Comix ±o±.” CiLy ArLs and IccLurcs Scrics. HcrbsL TcaLcr, San Fran-
cisco, OcLobcr ±¸, ±µµ8.
———. “Drawing Blood: OuLragcous CarLoons and Lhc ArL oí OuLragc.” Harp-
er’s Magazìne (1unc :oo6): ¡¸–¸:.
———. “Fphcmcra vs. Lhc Apocalypsc.” !ndy Magazìne (auLumn :oo¸).
.hLml (acccsscd 1uly ±¸, :oo8).
———. InLcrvicw wiLh Danicl Pink. 0pjront and 0nscrìpted, AugusL ¸, :oo8.
(acccsscd AugusL :±, :oo8).
Spicgclman, ArL, and Françoisc Mouly, cds. Lìtt|e Lìt. Fo|k|ore 8 Faìry Ta|e Fun-
nìes. Ncw York: RAW 1unior, :ooo.
———. Lìtt|e Lìt. Strange Storìes jor Strange Kìds. Ncw York: RAW 1unior,
———. Read Yourse|j RAw. Ncw York: PanLhcon, ±µ8,.
Squicr, Susan M. “So Iong as Tcy Crow OuL oí IL: Comics, Lhc Discoursc oí
DcvclopmcnLal Normalcy, and DisabiliLy.” 1ourna| oj the Medìca| Humanì-
tìes :µ (:oo8): ,±–88.
SLrauss, Ncil. “CrcaLing IiLcraLurc, Onc Comic Book aL a Timc, Chris Warc’s
Craphic Talcs Minc His Own Iiíc and HcarL.” New York Tìmes, April ¡,
:oo±. hLLp:// (acccsscd 1anuary ¸o, :oo¸).
Tompson, David. “A FraLcrniLy oí Triflcs.” Fye Magazìne 6, (spring :oo:).
hLLp://`id=6:&rid=88 (acccsscd 1uly
6, :ooµ).
Topffcr, Rodolphc. Fnter. Te Comìcs. Trans. F. Wicsc. Iincoln: UnivcrsiLy oí
Ncbraska Prcss, ±µ6¸.
2 3 0 S E L E CT E D B I B L I OGR AP HY
TuíLc, Fdward R. Fnvìsìonìng !njormatìon. Chcshirc, CT: Craphics, ±µµo.
———. Te vìsua| Lìsp|ay oj Quantìtatìve !njormatìon. :nd cd. Chcshirc, CT:
Craphics, :oo±.
Vcrsaci, Rocco. Tìs Pook Contaìns Craphìc Language. Comìcs as Lìterature. Ncw
York: ConLinuum, :oo,.
Virilio, Paul. Te Orìgìna| Accìdent. Trans. 1ulic Rosc. Cambridgc: PoliLy,
Warc, Chris. “Frank King’s Casolinc Allcy.” In Cartoon Amerìca. Comìc Art ìn
the Lìbrary oj Amerìca, cd. Harry KaLz, ±6:–6,. Ncw York: Abrams, :oo8.
———. InLcrvicw wiLh BcnoîL PccLcrs. “Chris Warc: Un ArL dc la Mcmoirc.”
Dir. BcnoîL PccLcrs. Comìx. ArLc Francc, 1anuary :6, :oo¸.
———. InLcrvicw wiLh Danicl Sicdcll. Shcldon Muscum oí ArL. UnivcrsiLy oí
Ncbraska–Iincoln, Fcbruary ±6, :oo,.
———. InLcrvicw wiLh Cary CroLh. “UndcrsLanding (Chris Warc’s) Comics.”
Comìcs 1ourna| :oo (Dcccmbcr ±µµ,): ±±µ–,±.
———. “Philip CusLon: A CarLoonisL’s ApprcciaLion.” Fd. Chris Warc. Mc-
Sweeney’s Quarter|y Concern ±¸ (:oo¡): 8¸–µ±.
———. “Richard McCuirc and ‘Hcrc:’ A CraLcíul ApprcciaLion.” Comìc Art 8
(íall :oo6): ¸–,.
———. “SLrip Mind.” Pookjorum ±¸.± (April/May :oo8): ¡¸+.
———. “You Arc Hcrc.” FxhibiLion cssay íor Lhc Marc Trujillo show aL Lhc
HackcLL-Frccdman Callcry, San Francisco, 1unc :oo,. hLLp://www.acmc (acccsscd 1uly ±,, :oo8).
[A íull lisL oí Chris Warc’s primary LcxLs can bc íound in Lhc appcndix.]
Waugh, CoulLon. Te Comìcs. Ncw York: Macmillan, ±µ¡,.
WcnLhc, Michacl. “Tc Rulcs oí Lhc Camc.” InLcrnaLional Comic ArLs FcsLival.
Iibrary oí Congrcss, WashingLon, DC, OcLobcr ±¸, :oo6.
Williams, Dylan. “An InLcrvicw wiLh Chris Warc.” Lestroy A|| Comìcs ± (No-
vcmbcr ±µµ¡): 8–±µ.
WiLck, 1oscph. Comìc Pooks as Hìstory. Te Narratìve Art oj 1ack 1ackson, Art
Spìege|man, and Harvey Pekar. 1ackson: UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Mississippi,
Wolk, Douglas. Readìng Comìcs. How Craphìc Nove|s work and what Tey Mean.
Cambridgc, MA: Da Capo, :oo,.
Wordcn, Danicl. “Tc Shamcíul ArL: McSweeney’s Quarter|y Concern, Comics,
and Lhc PoliLics oí AffccL.” Modern Fìctìon Studìes ¸: (:oo6): 8µ±–µ±,.
ZcLLwoch, Dan. “Cross Fadcr.” In Kramers Frgot 6, cd. Sammy Harkham, n.p.
Oakland, CA: BucnavcnLura and Avodah Books, :oo6.
———. “SLorm oí Lhc Hillsmcn.” Kramers Frgot ,, cd. Sammy Harkham, n.p.
Oakland, CA: BucnavcnLura, :oo8.
2 3 1
David M. Ball is AssisLanL Proícssor oí Fnglish aL Dickinson Collcgc. His
cssays on Amcrican liLcraLurc and culLurc havc appcarcd in FSQ. A 1ourna| oj
the Amerìcan Renaìssance, Crìtìca| Matrìx, and Lhc íorLhcoming Contemporary
Amerìcan Comìcs. Creators and Teìr Contexts (UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Mississippi).
Hc is currcnLly complcLing a book LiLlcd “Falsc SLarLs: Tc RhcLoric oí Failurc
and Lhc Making oí Amcrican Modcrnism, ±8¸o–PrcscnL.”
Georgiana Banita is a PhD candidaLc and Lcaching assisLanL aL Lhc Univcr-
siLy oí ConsLancc, Ccrmany. Shc wriLcs on Lcchniqucs oí visual and inLcr-
mcdial rcprcscnLaLion in liLcraLurc aíLcr µ/±±, wiLh spccial cmphasis on Lhcir
cLhical implicaLions. Hcr cssays havc appcarcd in Para||ax, Peace Revìew, M/
MLA and scvcral book collccLions. Shc is also a conLribuLor Lo Lhc íorLhcom-
ing anLhologics Hìstory oj the Amerìcan Pestse||er, cdiLcd by Sarah Churchwcll
and Tomay Ruys SmiLh (Palgravc), About Raymond wì||ìams, cdiLcd by Iaw-
rcncc Crossbcrg (RouLlcdgc), and Fì|m and Cenocìde, cdiLcd by KrisLi Wilson
and Tomas Crowdcr (Waync SLaLc UnivcrsiLy Prcss).
Margaret Fink Berman is a PhD sLudcnL in Lhc DcparLmcnL oí Fnglish aL
Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Chicago. Shc wroLc Lhc “comics” arLiclc íor W.1.T. MiLchcll’s
onlinc “Tcorics oí Mcdia Kcywords Clossary” and has givcn conícrcncc prc-
scnLaLions on Chris Warc’s rcprcscnLaLion oí disabiliLy as wcll as on disabiliLy
and Lrauma in Al Davison’s graphic novcl Te Spìra| Cage.
Jacob Brogan is a docLoral candidaLc in Lhc DcparLmcnL oí Fnglish aL Cor-
ncll UnivcrsiLy. His rcscarch inLcrcsLs includc íragmcnLaLion, LcmporaliLy,
and cLhics.
Isaac Cates currcnLly Lcachcs in Lhc Fnglish DcparLmcnL aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy
oí VcrmonL. Hc has publishcd rcvicws oí comics by Danicl Clowcs, 1ason,
and Nick BcrLozzi, and prcscnLcd papcrs on comics arLisLs as various as Rick
Ccary, Will Fisncr, and Alan Moorc. Hc also wriLcs on LwcnLicLh-ccnLury po-
cLry. WiLh Mikc WcnLhc, hc sclí-publishcd a long-running scrics oí minicom-
ics. His book-lcngLh sLudy oí Lhc graphic novcl, Te Craphìc Nove|. How Comìcs
Crew 0p, is íorLhcoming írom Yalc UnivcrsiLy Prcss.
Joanna Davis-McElligatt is currcnLly wriLing a disscrLaLion on racism, na-
Livism, and immigraLion in LwcnLicLh-ccnLury Amcrican liLcraLurc in Lhc Dc-
parLmcnL oí Fnglish aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Iowa.
Shawn Gilmore is complcLing a disscrLaLion on graphic narraLion, scrial fic-
Lion, and Lhc spaLializaLion oí LwcnLicLh-ccnLury Amcrican liLcraLurc in Lhc
DcparLmcnL oí Fnglish aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
2 3 2 CONT R I B UT OR S
Matt Godbey is a íull-Limc insLrucLor aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí KcnLucky, whcrc
hc Lcachcs courscs on LwcnLicLh-ccnLury and posLwar urban Amcrican liL-
craLurc. His cssay on 1onaLhan IcLhcm’s Te Fortress oj So|ìtude rcccnLly ap-
pcarcd in Arìzona Quarter|y and hc is working on a book projccL LiLlcd “Tc
FicLion oí CcnLrificaLion.”
Jeet Heer is finishing a docLorial Lhcsis aL York UnivcrsiLy in ToronLo on Lhc
culLural poliLics oí IiLLlc Orphan Annic. His cssays havc appcarcd in Lhc Na-
tìona| Post,, Lhc Poston C|obe, Lhc Lìterary Revìew oj Canada, vìrgìnìa
Quarter|y Revìew, and Lhc Cuardìan oí Iondon. WiLh KcnL WorccsLcr, hc is
co-cdiLor oí Arguìng Comìcs. Lìterary Masters on a Popu|ar Medìum (UnivcrsiLy
Prcss oí Mississippi) and A Comìcs Studìes Reader (UnivcrsiLy Prcss oí Missis-
sippi). WiLh Chris Warc and Chris Olivcros, hc is cdiLing wa|t and Skeezìx, a
scrics oí volumcs rcprinLing Frank King’s Caso|ìne A||ey (Drawn & QuarLcrly,
¸ vols. Lo daLc). Hc has wriLLcn inLroducLory cssays Lo many books, including
Ccorgc Hcrriman’s Krazy and !gnatz, :,¸,–:,¸õ and Krazy and !gnatz, :,¸,–
:,¡o (FanLagraphics), Clarc Briggs’s Oh Skìn-nay (Drawn & QuarLcrly), and
Harold Cray’s Lìtt|e Orphan Annìe. vo|ume One (IDW).
Martha B. Kuhlman is AssociaLc Proícssor oí ComparaLivc IiLcraLurc in
Lhc DcparLmcnL oí Fnglish and CulLural SLudics aL BryanL UnivcrsiLy, whcrc
shc Lcachcs courscs on Lhc graphic novcl, CcnLral Furopcan liLcraLurc, and
criLical Lhcory. In Lhc ficld oí comics, shc has publishcd arLiclcs in Lhc 1our-
na| oj Popu|ar Cu|ture and Furopean 1ourna| oj Comìc Art and conLribuLcd Lo
Lhc íorLhcoming MIA volumc Teachìng the Craphìc Nove|. In addiLion, shc has
publishcd arLiclcs abouL CcnLral Furopcan liLcraLurc and culLurc in journals
such as Modernìsm/Modernìty, Lhc Comparatìst, and Studìes ìn .oth Century
Katherine Roeder is a docLoral candidaLc in arL hisLory aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí
Dclawarc, whcrc shc is prcparing a disscrLaLion on Lhc inLcrsccLion oí ían-
Lasy, arL, and mass culLurc in Lhc work oí Winsor McCay. Shc rcccnLly pub-
lishcd an cssay LiLlcd “Iooking High and Iow aL Comic ArL” in Lhc spring :oo8
issuc oí Amerìcan Art.
Peter R. Sattler is AssociaLc Proícssor oí Amcrican IiLcraLurc aL Iakcland
Collcgc, whcrc hc crcaLcd Lhc firsL courscs dcdicaLcd Lo Lhc sLudy oí comic
arL. Hc has publishcd and prcscnLcd on a varicLy oí Lopics wiLhin Lhc ficld oí
comics scholarship, including Lhc arL oí Ccorgc Hcrriman (íor word 8 !mage),
comics and classroom pracLicc (íor Lhc Milwaukcc ArL Muscum), and, mosL
rcccnLly, Lhc inLcrsccLion oí Amcrican carLoonisLs and Lhc avanL-gardc during
Lhc ±µ±os (íor Lhc ModcrnisL SLudics AssociaLion). Hc is currcnLly working on
a criLical cdiLion oí Lhc World War I comics oí Bud Fishcr.
Marc Singer is AssisLanL Proícssor oí Fnglish aL Howard UnivcrsiLy. His ar-
Liclcs on conLcmporary liLcraLurc, film, comics, and popular culLurc havc ap-
pcarcd in Post Scrìpt, Crìtìque. Studìes ìn Contemporary Fìctìon, 1NT. 1ourna| oj
Narratìve Teory, Twentìeth-Century Lìterature, Ajrìcan Amerìcan Revìew, and
Lhc !nternatìona| 1ourna| oj Comìc Art.
CONT R I B UT OR S 2 3 3
Benjamin Widiss is AssisLanL Proícssor oí Fnglish aL PrinccLon UnivcrsiLy.
Hc is currcnLly complcLing a book cnLiLlcd “Obscurc InviLaLions: Fngaging
Lhc Rcadcr oí TwcnLicLh-CcnLury Amcrican IiLcraLurc” and is bcginning onc
on noLions oí prcscncc animaLing laLc-posLmodcrn culLurc.
Daniel Worden is AssisLanL Proícssor oí Fnglish aL Lhc UnivcrsiLy oí Col-
orado aL Colorado Springs. His prcvious work on Lhc comics issuc oí Mc-
Sweney’s Quarter|y Concern, cdiLcd by Chris Warc, appcarcd in Modern Fìctìon
Studìes, and hc is currcnLly complcLing a book manuscripL on masculiniLy in
modcrnisL Amcrican ficLion.
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2 3 5
Pagc numbcrs in bold indicaLc illusLraLions.
affccLivc dccclcraLion, lS7–SS
alLcrnaLivc comics, xii, 5, 29, 32, 34–40, 42,
archiLccLurc, x, xvii, xix, 93–95, l03nl3,
l07–lS, l23–24, l56, l70
auLobiography, xiii, xiv, xxi, 9, 29–30,
S4–S5, ll0, l66, l6S, l72n9, 207, 209,
2l3, 2l5–l6, auLobiographical pacL,
l59, l70, cmphasis on rcalism, 2S, 33,
39–40, gcnrcs oí comics, 37–39, Philippc
Icjcunc, l59, l64, mcmory, 2l9, Harvcy
Pckar, 32
Ayrolcs, François, 79, S2, S4, 85, S9n5l
BacLcns, 1an, xviii, xxiiinl0
Bakcr, Nicholson, 6, l3nl9
Barry, Iynda, 3S, 44n60, 206
BarLhcs, Roland, S6
BcaLy, BarL, 79, SSn3l, l47
Bcnjamin, WalLcr, xviii, Te Arcades Pro¡ect,
l77, archivc, ll0, Orìgìn oj Cerman
Tragìc Lrama, l07, “Paris, CapiLal oí Lhc
NincLccnLh CcnLury” and “Tc Angcl oí
HisLory,” llS, “Tc Work oí ArL in Lhc Agc
oí Mcchanical RcproducLion,” l09
BcrlanL, Iaurcn, l97, 200
Blackbcard, Bill, 7–S, l0, ll
Blcgvad, PcLcr, 99–l00
body: in adolcsccncc, 2l6, awkward body
languagc, lS5, disabiliLy, l92–93, Iacan’s
mirror sLagc, l9, mcmorics oí, 209, 2ll–
l2, mind ovcr, l7l, W. 1. T. MiLchcll’s
conccpL oí, l92, scxualiLy, 20l–2, shamc,
braiding (Lrcssagc), S9n64, l47, l5l, l56. See
a|so CrocnsLccn, Ticrry
BrcdchoíL, Tomas, xviii, S3, 93, l03nll,
l03nl5, lll, l60, l65, l70, l7l, l7S,
Briggs, Clarc, S
Brown, ChcsLcr, 6, ll
BruncLLi, Ivan, ii, 5, l2nl3, 39, S0
Bushmillcr, Frnic, 97
Caniff, MilLon, 5, S
Cavcll, SLanlcy, l96
Chabon, Michacl, 4l
child: “Billy,” 1immy’s imaginary son, 23,
illcgiLimaLc, 25, 94, l43
childhood: “childish” mcdium oí comics, l6,
“childrcn’s liLcraLurc,” 49, 79, and comics,
37–3S, íanLasy, l07, gamcs, S3–S4,
1amcs’s (1immy’s grandíaLhcr) narraLivc
oí, l47, l50, lSl, 20S, in 1ìmmy Corrìgan,
l9–20, lSl, mcmory, 209, 2l0, 2l5, in
Ncbraska, xiii, nosLalgia, l09, in Quìmby
the Mouse, l60, l65, l6S, l69, l7l,
l72, lS0, in “RusLy Brown,” 50–5l, Tim
Samuclson, mcmorics oí, ll2–l4, ll7,
shamc, lSS, supcrhcrocs, 35, in “Trilling
AdvcnLurc SLorics/I Cucss,” xiv, l5
ChuLc, Hillary, ll2, l3lnS
Clark, T. 1., ll0
closurc, 25, l47, l49, l62
Clowcs, Dan, xii, 5, 33, 3S, 4l, S0
collccLing, xii, xvi, lS2–S3, in “Building
SLorics,” 2l0, 1immy Corrigan’s comics,
27n3l, 93, in “RusLy Brown,” l2, 50–5l,
60n20, Te Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon oj
Newspaper Comìcs, S, Warc’s comics
anLhologics, 3S, Warc’s hisLorical
collccLions, 4, 7, l57nl3
Comics Codc AuLhoriLy, l6, 26nS
Comìcs 1ourna|, 47, 48, 49–50, 53, 5S, 60nl7
Corncll, 1oscph, x, xxiin7
Crimp, Douglas, l09
DC Comics, xii, l6, 4l, 59nl0
dcaLh, lS9, oí 1immy’s íaLhcr, 94, oí 1immy’s
paLcrnal grandmoLhcr, 93, oí Richard
Nickcls, ll2, in Quìmby the Mouse,
l62, oí Lhc supcrhcro, l6–l7, oí Warc’s
grandmoLhcr, l69, l72n9
Dclcuzc, Cillcs, and Fclix CuaLLari, l7S, lS2
DcnncLL, Danicl, 2l7
Dcrrida, 1acqucs, lS
Dickcns, Charlcs, 4, 56, 57
Dirks, Rudolph, 6, 47
disabiliLy sLudics, 26nll, l9l, l92–95, l99,
203nS, 203nl0
Donnc, 1ohn, 4–5, l2nS
Duchamp, Marccl, 67, 74, 76nl0
Fco, UmbcrLo, 9, l0, l3n25, l5, l7, 20,
Fggcrs, Davc, x, xxiin5, l4, 2S, 43n52, l5Sn6
2 3 6 I NDE X
FlioL, T. S., ix, 4, 5, l2nS
Flkins, 1amcs, 75, 77n29
cmbarrassmcnL, l7S, lS5, lS7–SS, lS9n4,
Fmcrson, Ralph Waldo, 53, 6ln36
cvcryday liíc, xxi, 5, and archiLccLurc,
l0S–9, lll, ll5, llS, in comics, 32,
Lhc quoLidian, 33, 39, 40, 4l, ll4, in
skcLchbooks, 66, in urban ncighborhoods,
l30. See a|so ordinarincss
íailurc: according Lo Douglas Wolk, l7S,
in Lhc ACMF display, 60nl7, in Te
ACMF Report, 45, 5l, oí comics, 20, and
disabiliLy, 2lS, in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, l9, 23,
27n23, 67, 95, l56, liLcrary LrcaLmcnL oí,
53, 56–5S, rhcLoric oí, xvi, xix, 45–47,
ícar, lS7, lS9, l99
Ficdlcr, Icslic, 36–37, 4l
flâncur, ll0, l77
Forbcll, Charlcs, 2l5, 22ln32
FosLcr, Hal, 5, S
Frcud, Sigmund, xviii, in Lhc modcrnisL
canon, l09, and rcpcLiLion, lS2, “Scrccn
Mcmorics,” 2l2, Totem and Taboo, 20

Carland-Tomson, Roscmaric, l93
CcncLLc, Ccrard, 59n5, l64, l7l
gcnLrificaLion, l23–30
Ccrncr, 1ochcn, 79
Class, Ira, xvii, 37, l0S, ll2, ll5–l7, l5Sn23
Coldbcrg, Myla, xviii
graphic novcl, ix, xii, xvi, ll–l2, l4, l5, l6,
40–4l, ll2, l65, 207
Cray, Harold, 6, S
CrocnsLccn, Ticrry, 42n3, 79, S2–S3, S4, S6,
S7n9, S9n64, ll9n23, l47, l5l
CroLh, Cary, 49–50, 53, l65
CusLon, Philip, x, 66, 73, 75, 77n2S
Hajdu, David, 26nS, l36, l37
Hallcy, 1ancL, l93–94
HaLficld, Charlcs, 29, 33, 34, 37, 43n53
HawLhornc, NaLhanicl, 46–47, 59n9
Hcrriman, Ccorgc, xii, xiii–xiv, xvi, xix, 3–4,
5–6, 7, S, l0–ll, l2n4, l2nl3, l3n2S, 3S,
l37, l72n20
HigniLc, Todd, ll, l2nl4, S7n2, 220nll
Hirsch, Mariannc, xxivn4l, 220n7
Hodgman, 1ohn, 37, 3S, 43n40
HoísLadLcr, Douglas, 2l7
HogarLh, William, 73, 73–75
Huizcnga, Kcvin, 43n40, l00, 101
HumboldL Park, l2l, l25–26, l30
Humc, KaLhryn, l79, lS3, lS5, lS9nl0
idcnLiLy: in Amcrican culLurc, l35, arLisLic, 5,
oí Chicago ncighborhoods, l25, l2S, and
disabiliLy, l93, íaLhcr-son, 23, Douglas
HoísLadLcr, 2l7, idcnLificaLion wiLh
characLcrs, l66, Iacanian pcrspccLivc
on, l9–20, mcmory, 2l7–l9, poliLics
oí, l92–97, 203nS, 203nl2, racial and
cLhnic, l36, l3S–42
idiosyncraLic bclonging, l92, l94–95, l97,
immigraLion, ix, 93, l35–44, l45nS
impairmcnL, lS4, l94–95, l96, l97, l9S,
l99–20l, 203nl0
!ndependent, Te, l9l, 202
1acobs, 1anc, l27–2S, l32n30–3l
1amcs, William, 2l7
1amcson, Frcdric, llS
1oplin, ScoLL, x, xi
Kaíka, Franz, x, xviii, 4, l2nS, l09
Kanncnbcrg, Ccnc, 1r., xvii, l5, 26nl4,
76nl3, 95, l00, l7l
Karasik, Paul, l00
KaLchor, Bcn, xii, 39, S0
Kidd, Chip, ll5
King, Frank, xii, xvi–xvii, 3–9, ll, l2n4,
l2nl0, l3n24, l9
Kirby, 1ack, 5
Iacan, 1acqucs, l9, 74, l90n35
Iasch, ChrisLophcr, 40, 43n53
I’AssociaLion, 79–S0, 80, SSnl9, SSn22
Ic Iionnais, François, 79
IccroarL, ÉLicnnc, 79, S3
Icjcunc, Philippc, l59, l64
IiLvak, 1oscph, l7
loss: and archiLccLurc, l0S, in “Building
SLorics,” lll, l92, l97, l99–200, 202, in
comics, 40, 46, ll2, in 1ìmmy Corrìgan,
25, in Lost Puì|dìngs, ll2, ll7, and
nosLalgia, lS0, oí public liíc, l30, in
Quìmby the Mouse, S2, l60, l62
MagriLLc, Rcnc, 67–6S, 73, 74
Marvcl Comics, xii, l6, 4l, 59nl0
Mazzucchclli, David, l00
McCay, Winsor, xii, 3, 5, 6, 6S
McCloud, ScoLL, xxiiinl0, closurc, l47, l49,
film, l90n30, idcnLificaLion, 42nlS, 97,
l03n23, l96, 2l2, iconic rcprcscnLaLion,
96, “juxLaposcd scqucnLial imagcs,” 9l,
mcmory, 206, moLion, 96, l04n32, Limc,
36, LransiLions, l02n5, Te Treachery oj
!mages, 67
McCraLh, Charlcs, ix, xxiiinll, 40–4l
McCuirc, Richard, xii, S2
McRucr, RobcrL, l93, 203n7
mclancholia, S2, S4, in “Building SLorics,”
lll, l27, in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, lSl, lSS,
in Lost Puì|dìngs, l0S–9, ll2, ll4, llS,
I NDE X 2 3 7
and masculinc modcrniLy, xviii, 43n44,
60n32, in Quìmby the Mouse, lS0
Mclvillc, Hcrman, 46, 47, 5l, 53, 5S, 59n9
mcmory, 35, S3, in “Building SLorics,”
l30, l95, l9S, 20l, 2l3–l9, cpisodic,
cxpcricnLial, and narraLivc, 2l0, 2l6,
Mariannc Hirsch and “posL-mcmory,”
220n7, in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, l43, l50,
lS0, lS2–S3, lS7, lS9, lS9–90nlS, in
Lost Puì|dìngs, ll7, obscrvcr and ficld
mcmorics, 2ll, in “Papcr Dolls,” 209–l2,
phcnomcnology oí mcmory, 207, in
Quìmby the Mouse, l65, l66, l6S–70,
l72n9, lS0, and racc, l40, rcvcric,
206, vcrbal and visual, 22ln25, Warc’s
childhood, l59–60, Franccs YaLcs, 2l3
Mcnu, 1can-ChrisLophc, 79, S0, S2, S4, S7n9
Mìckey Mouse, 7, l3S
middlcbrow, 36, 4l
Mics Van dcr Rohc, Iudwig, ll5, ll7, l56,
Mill, 1amcs, 2l7
minsLrclsy, l37, l3S, l4l
MiLchcll, W. 1. T., 32, l92
mockcry, l7, 50, 57, 66, 67, 93, l24, l4S, lS6
modcrnism, x, xviii, 39, archiLccLural, l0S,
ll5, l23, arLisLic vcrsions oí, 72, 74, Lhc
canon oí, l09, in comics, 36, dcfiniLions
oí, 59nl0, T. S. FlioL, 5, cmoLion,
20S, ClcmcnL Crccnbcrg, 75, Ccorgc
Hcrriman, 3, liLcrary, 57, 60nl6, Lhc
novcl, l0, ruins, ll0, LcmporaliLy, l79
Mouly, Françoisc, x, 7S, S3
Muybridgc, Fadwcard, 6S, 76nl4, 95, 9S,
l03nl4, l04n42, l53
Nabokov, Vladimir, x, xxiin4, 5S, 2l3, Pa|e
Fìre, 9, l0, 5l
Nickcl, Richard, l0S, ll2, ll7
Nochlin, Iinda, 32, 42nl2
nosLalgia: SvcLlana Boym’s dcfiniLion oí,
lS0, lS9–90nlS, in “Building SLorics,”
l09, íor Hcrriman’s Krazy Kat, l0, in
1ìmmy Corrìgan, lSS, Lost Puì|dìngs, ll3,
mcmorics, lS7, íor ncwspapcr comics,
7–S, Lhc nincLccnLh ccnLury, l07, in
Quìmby the Mouse, l60, LcmporaliLy, l7S,
ordinarincss, xiii, in “Building SLorics,” l9l,
l92, l94, l95–202, 204n3l, Marccl
Duchamp, 67, in Caso|ìne A||ey, 9, l2nl0,
Lhc sLrangcncss oí, 6S, l27. See a|so
cvcryday liíc
Oubapo, 7S–S6, S7n5, S7n9, SSnl9, SSn3l,
Oulipo, 7S–S0, S2, S3, S7nS, S7n9
OuLcaulL, Richard FclLon, 6, 47, 50, l36–37
Packcr, Ccorgc, 40
paraLcxL, 46, 59n6, l46, l4S, l64, l7l
parody: oí advcrLising, xvii–xviii, l5, 53,
l3lnl7, 1udiLh BuLlcr’s dcfiniLion oí, l7,
23, oí comics, 47, oí commodiLics, 50,
oí íorcign and domcsLic policy, l35, oí
liLcraLurc, 56, in Quìmby the Mouse, l66,
oí Lhc supcrhcro, l4
Pcrcc, Ccorgcs, 79
posLmodcrnism, 36, 70, 7l, 74, l09, ll0, lS2
Pragcr, Brad, xviii, 43n5l, l0S–9
Probyn, FlspcLh, l94
Qucncau, Raymond, 79, S7nS, S7n9
racc, xiii, xiv, S5, l25–26, l3lnl7, 134,
l35–44, l93
Racburn, Danicl, xviii–xix, xxiin7, 26nl7, 33,
34, 42n20, 66, 69, S5, 96–97, l04n3l,
ll0, l30n3, l49, l57nl3, l69, l7l,
RAw magazinc, x, xii, xiv, xvii, 5, l5, 74, 7S,
79, S4, S6, S6–S7n2
Raymond, Alcx, 5, S
rcalism, xiv, in “Building SLorics,” 202, in
diagrams, 9l, “illusLraLional” sLylc in
comics, 5, S, “laycrs oí rcaliLy,” 220n7,
Rcnc MagriLLc, 67, Iinda Nochlin’s
dcfiniLion, 42nl2, in “Trilling AdvcnLurc
SLorics/I Cucss,” l5, in Limc, 9, Arlcn
Schumcr’s dcfiniLion, 42n20, vs. iconiciLy,
l96, in Warc’s anLhologics, 32–34, 3S–4l,
in Warc’s comics, 2S–29
Samuclson, Tim, 9, l3n26, l0S, ll2–lS,
SanLayana, Ccorgc, 2l7
Schjcldahl, PcLcr, ix, 70, 77n2S
Scgar, F. C., S
scmioLics, 97, l65, l6S
ScLh, xii, xvii, 4, 5, 6, ll, l2n6, l2nl4, S0,
Shklovsky, VicLor, S6, l79
ShusLcr, 1oc, 3
Simmonds, Posy, 99, l04n37
slidcshow, l0S, lll–l5, ll7–lS, ll9nl9
slowncss, S6, 96, ll4, l77–S5, lS7–S9,
lS9n4, l90n30, l97, l99, 20S, 2ll
Smìthsonìan Co||ectìon oj Newspaper Comìcs,
Te, 7, S, 9
Spicgclman, ArL, x–xii, xiv, xix, alLcrnaLivc
comics, l4, Preakdowns, S6, 222n42, on
Frnic Bushmillcr, 97, comics hisLory, 5,
ll, l2nl3, on ChcsLcr Could, 96, iconic
drawings, 97, l03n23, Lìtt|e Lìt, S3,
Maus, 42nlS, mcmory, 206–7, on racial
rcprcscnLaLion, l37, RAw magazinc, 7S,
LcmporaliLy, ll3, lS0, Lrauma, 59n6, ll2
Squicr, Susan, 26nll, l94–95
2 3 8 I NDE X
Sullivan, Iouis, x, xvii, l0S, ll2–lS, l23,
l24, l30n4
supcrhcrocs: according Lo Ccoff Klock, 26n4,
in Te ACMF Report, 56, DC and Marvcl,
xii, l6, 4l, UmbcrLo Fco, l3n25, 27n22,
gcnrc, 34–35, 50, 59nl0, goldcn agc,
xiv, 3, 67–6S, S4–S5, 1ohn Hodgman’s
opinion oí, 37–3S, immigranLs, l37,
in 1ìmmy Corrìgan, l4–25, 27n30, 93,
l02nl0, mainsLrcam/mass markcL, 29,
5l, S0, ll0, Todd McFarlanc and Rob
Iicícld, 43n27, Alan Moorc, 40, rcalisLic
drawing sLylc, 33, 42n20, Supcrman,
l50–5l, l56, “Trilling AdvcnLurc
SLorics/I Cucss,” 34, l7l, 207
SwarLc, 1oosL, 7S, 79, S0, S6, S7n2
Tominc, Adrian, xii, S0
Topffcr, Rodolphc, xii, 5, l2n9, 3S, 5S, 72,
l37–3S, l43, l44
Lrauma, xiii, 5l, 59n6, ll2, lS7, 2l0
Trondhcim, Icwis, 79, S7n9, S9n4S
TuíLc, Fdward, 9S–l00
Virgil, 57, 2l2
Virilio, Paul, l7S–79
Warc, Chris: Te ACMF Nove|ty Latebook, xvii,
66, 75, l03nl3, l0S, l6S, 224, Te ACMF
Nove|ty Latebook, vo|ume Two, xvii, 66,
75, 80, 224, Te ACMF Nove|ty Lìbrary,
xiv, xv, xvi, xvii–xix, 34, 45–46, 47, 49,
50, 66, 68, 7S, S0, S2, S3, S5, 90, 99, lll,
l3lnl7, l56n6, l59, l64, l7l, l72n4,
l72n9, 204nlS, 204n37, 209, 223, “Tc
ACMF NovclLy Iibrary FrccsLanding
Cardboard Display,” 50, 60nl7, S0, 81,
Te ACMF Report, xvi, 3, l2n7, 45, 5l, 52,
53, 56, 5S, 60n20, 60n22, 60n35, 65, 70,
7l, 76nl4, S0, S5, 93, l02nS, l3lnl7,
134, l35, l36, l66, lS6, l90n35, 223,
“Apologics, FLc.,” xxiin6, 45, “Building
SLorics,” xiii, xvi, xix, l07–ll, ll4,
l2l–24, 122, l25–26, l2S, 129, l30,
l30n2, l9l–93, l95, l97, l99, 200–1,
202, 203nl, 204nlS, 204n25, 204–5n37,
207, 20S–ll, 2l2, 2l3, 214–15, 2l6–l9,
224, Laì|y Texan carLoons, xiii–xiv, l3S–
39, l59, l62, 223, 1ìmmy Corrìgan. Te
Smartest Kìd on Farth, ix, x, xii, xiii, xiv,
xvi, xvii, xviii, 3, 4, 5, S, 9, l0, ll, l3n23,
l4, lS–25, 19, 21–22, 26nl7, 27nlS,
27n2l, 27n23–24, 27n2S–32, 33, 45, 5l,
53, 5S, 60n20, 67, 76nl4, 7S, S2, S3, S6,
S7n3, SSn22, SSn39, 90, 92, 93–l00,
l02, l02nl0, l0S, l36, l39–44, l45nl4,
l46–53, l55–56, l56nl–2, l56–57n6,
l57n9–l0, l57nl4, l60, l65, l66, l77–
S9, 184, 186, lS9–90nlS, 207–S, 223,
224, Lost Puì|dìngs, xvii, l3n26, l0S–l5,
116, ll7–lS, llSn3, ll9nl9, ll9n23,
l23, l26, l5Sn23, 224, McSweeney’s
Quarter|y Concern, xvi, xviii, xxiin4–5, l4,
2S, 29–31, 33, 34–35, 36–3S, 40–42,
5S, 60n32, 66, 75, SSn35, l66, lS7, lSS,
“Oncc Upon a Timc,” S3, Quìmby the
Mouse, xii, xiii, xiv, xvi, 3, 5, ll, 5l, 53,
5S, 60n32, S2, S3, S6, S9n54, 9l, 93, 99,
l02n6, ll0, l4S, l49, l50, l56n5, l56–
57n6, l59–72, 161, 163, 167, l72n3,
l72n7, l72n9, lS0, 207, 224, “RusLy
Brown,” xii, xiii, xvi, 4, 9, l2n7, l3n23,
50–5l, 53, 5S, 60n20, 66–6S, 68, 69, 224,
“Trilling AdvcnLurc SLorics/I Cucss,” xiv,
xvii, 3, l5, lS, 34, S4, S6n2, S9n54, l7l,
207, 220nll, 2007 Pest Amerìcan Comìcs,
xvi, 2S, 32–33, 35–42, 43n30, 43n32,
43n46, 44n60, S0, 0nìnked, 5S, 69, 224,
“Tc WhiLncy PrcvaricaLor,” 65, 70, 7l,
74, “WriLcrs on WriLcrs,” xxiin4, 47,
54–55, 56–57, 57, 60n32
WhiLchcad, Colson, 4l
WhiLncy Muscum oí Amcrican ArL, 2002
Bicnnial, 65, 70, 77n2S
Wiglcy, Mark, ll7
Williams, Cluyas, 5, S, l2nll
Williams, MarLin, 7, l2n6
WiLck, 1oscph, 32, 34, l57nS
Wolk, Douglas, l6, 46, l09, l7S, lS0, lS9n4
Wordcn, Danicl, xviii, 37, 60n32
World’s Columbian FxposiLion, l03nl4, l46–
56, 152, 154, l57nl3–l4, l57nl6–l9
wriLcrly LcxL, S5–S6
YaLcs, Franccs, 2l3, 2l5
ZcLLwoch, Dan, 40, 99, l04n37