Over the next few weeks, various websites will start naming their lists of best comics and graphic novels for 2012, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Chris Ware’s ‘Building Stories’ will be near or at the top of most of them. ‘Building Stories’ is probably the most acclaimed comic since ‘Watchmen’; it’s so acclaimed that even book reviewers such as Publishers Weekly have ranked it amongst the best books overall for 2012. (Indeed, you could almost say that it’s so acclaimed that those who fancy themselves to be in the ‘literary know’ might be too chicken not to read it.)Book reviewers and hardcore book readers are to some extent book fetishists, and even those (like myself) who have acquiesced to owning an e-book reader still have a fondness for the look, feel and smell of a thick-as-a-brick hardback. They know that, in most cases, their preference is irrational; the words are no different whichever form you read them in, and the electronic versions are usually far cheaper and do not clutter up your living space. But ‘Building Stories’ gives them all something to point to as evidence that the ‘physical’ form is superior. Ware’s new novel comes in the form of 14 separate sections of different shapes and sizes, which (theoretically, at least) can be read in any order. It’s therefore a book whose reading experience is essentially impossible to replicate in electronic form, which I think explains at least part of its appeal amongst the world’s remaining readers.
The 14 different sections of ‘Building Stories’ come packed in a grand-looking box, shown below:
On the back of the box, I’ve heard, is supposed to be a guide for the order that the various sections should be read in. (But if you can figure it out, you’re a better reader than I am.)
If you look more closely on the back of the box, you’ll see that my copy was ruined by my having to peel an over-adhesive sticker off. I’m not going to publicly denounce the store I bought it from for their sticker policy and the disregard it shows to collectors (apart from to say it’s a store that should definitely know better than that), but needless to say I was NOT HAPPY AT ALL!!!
And this is how all the sections sit when you open the box. Really, this is exactly how they sit, because I’m obsessive enough to make sure that I’ve kept the original ordering within the box (even if that’s different from the order in which I’ve read them).
This is my favourite part of the collection: it follows a single day in the lives of the main characters (Sep 23, 2000), and it’s made to look like a Little Golden Book. You could even write your name on the inside front cover – of course, I wouldn’t dream of doing that in a million years …
I got excited by this one for a moment – I thought it was a board game! Now that would’ve broken down some literary barriers! Alas, it’s not, it’s just a well-reinforced comic strip.
At the bottom of the box is this monster newspaper-sized section. I haven’t read this one yet, because like any broadsheet it’s a bit hard to read while you’re in bed unless you’re plotting to take your partner’s eye out. I’m become even more hesitant to read it now I’ve spotted the huge, creepy picture of a grimacing little girl lurking somewhere in the middle (not shown). It’s the most disturbing Ware drawing since Jordan Lint’s wife seemingly tried to swallow his head whole.