As a recognised master of the form, Chris Ware was the perfect choice of graphic novelist to get the Stripped Book Fest off to a fascinating start at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
A thoughtful and humourously self-effacing speaker, Ware was in conversation with Stuart Kelly. Together, they discussed the rise and provenance of the graphic novel as an artform, looking at what makes it so unique — and so popular, a fact evidenced by tonight’s sell-out audience.
Ware described comics and graphic novels as a ‘working-class artform’, growing from their superhero roots via the likes of Schultz’ timeless Peanuts strips to the genre-defying classics such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
“Comics aren’t a genre,” he said, “they’re a language.”
Ware’s 11-years-in-the-making opus Building Stories illustrates this point beautifully. A box containing 14 separate but linked graphic novels in a variety of styles, Building Stories‘ narrative can be experienced in an almost infinite amount of ways (approximately 86 billion different combinations, according to Kelly, who has worked it out). With its ‘synthetic’ art style and fluid narrative structure, Ware aims to in some way recreate the way that human memory works, by letting the reader choose themselves what’s important.
It’s certainly a work which wouldn’t be possible in a digital format. Ware was keen to release something which evoked the tactile, tangible nature of how comics used to be, and — comparing them to ‘like someone else breathing into your mouth’ — did not appear to be digital comics’ greatest fan.
Only slightly perturbed by the noise from the flypast from the Tattoo (“they’re closing in on us…”), Ware then went on to answer questions from the audience, discussing the rich heritage of Japanese manga, namechecking his heroes Spiegelman and Crumb, and outlining his artistic techniques.
As an artist with a mind as precise as his brushstrokes, Ware provided a fascinating insight into the thought processes behind producing something so unique as Building Stories. He also inked in what promises to be a fascinating and popular new addition to the Book Festival’s already packed programme, in the shape of the Stripped Book Fest itself.
Chris Ware was in conversation with Stuart Kelly as part of the Stripped Book Fest on 12 August