Big Books

Gift guide

Big Books

Chris Ware

by Daniel Raeburn

Yale Press, 112 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Yale Press' newest Monographics release about the work of Chris Ware isn't merely a case of series Editor Rick Poynor striking while the iron is hot. It might be, in part, a case of compiling a sufficient collection of Ware's wares real quicklike, before the artist generates so many more examples of brilliance that no single volume could hold them, yes ... but it's also, simply, a practical extension of previous considerations of the careers of H.N. Werkman, Kyle Cooper, and Chip Kidd. It's also simply practical, merely expedient, for Poynor to have chosen Daniel Raeburn to present this overview. You couldn't call Poynor prescient for this. Raeburn's the man behind the almost annual publication The Imp, in which he has celebrated, investigated, and exhaustively covered comic book notables Dan Clowes, Jack Chick, and – yes – Chris Ware. You could read yards of interviews and profiles and critiques of any of these artists in any number of zines or Web sites or college textbooks, and you'd still be better served by digesting the single issue of The Imp devoted to that artist. For the sheer density of information, to be sure, but also because Raeburn is one of those rare critics who may be just as smart and talented (albeit in different ways) as his subjects. Who the hell else would Poynor choose?

And here, in this new book, Raeburn's able to do what his rather more limited Imp budget wouldn't allow: present page after page of Ware's graphic and narrative inventions in full, blazing color on thick glossy stock. For some artists, this sort of showcase is a luxury; for displaying Ware's work, with its intricate flowcharts of narrative, with its vast palette of colors and often excruciatingly minuscule (hand-lettered!) typography, it's a necessity. Raeburn's comments – his scholarly, stage-setting introduction and the helpful insights and pointers that follow on each page – allow for a doubled appreciation of the panels and covers and various mechanical apparati displayed. Again, with other artists, such critical assistance might be little more than lagniappe; with the intricacy and density of Ware's work, it's a provision of tools with which to better devour the sequential feast.

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