Inside the Box

From The New York Times:

The most despairing image in Chris Ware’s magnificent new graphic novel, “Building Stories” — and there are plenty of candidates — depicts a dumpy middle-aged couple, naked in their bedroom. She’s just dropped her clothes to the floor; he’s lying on the bed, oblivious to her, his face and chest illuminated by the iPad propped on his belly. You will never be able to read “Building Stories” on a digital tablet, by design. It is a physical object, printed on wood pulp, darn it. It’s a big, sturdy box, containing 14 different “easily misplaced elements” — a hard-bound volume or two, pamphlets and leaflets of various dimensions, a monstrously huge tabloid à la century-old Sunday newspaper comics sections and a folded board of the sort that might once have come with a fancy game. In which order should one read them? Whatever, Ware shrugs, uncharacteristically relinquishing his customary absolute control. In the world of “Building Stories,” linearity leads only to decay and death.

Arguably, the box’s central nugget of story is a sequence Ware serialized in The New York Times Magazine in the mid-2000s, which appears here in something that approximates the dimensions and binding of a Little Golden Book. The chief protagonist of “Building Stories,” a sad, lonely florist with a prosthetic leg (Ware never gives her a name), lives on the third story of a 98-year-old building in Chicago. She’s a former art student who eventually gave up on creating anything: as she explains in a pseudo-gag cartoon on the edge of the box (!), she was “just art curious.”

More here.