|December 14, 2012|
In September 1999, as Jimmy Corrigan was nearing completion, Ware visited the preserved apartment of the outsider artist Henry Darger. Darger had lived an isolated existence, working feverishly on thousands upon thousands of pages of eccentric fiction and drawings. “The whole room,” Ware wrote in his sketchbook journal, “was set up entirely in the sole service of the maintenance of aching loneliness—it was strangely uplifting, though, and an apt yet strange condensed metaphor for the way we all go through life.” Within the year, Ware had begun work on Building Stories, which takes that metaphor, and that mingling of pervasive loneliness and unexpected uplift, as its starting point.
Building Stories centers on a run-down Chicago apartment building, whose three floors form a kind of triptych of loneliness. The “old woman” (as she is referred to in passing—none of the four inhabitants is ever named, a much less noticeable decision in a comic than in a prose novel) on the ground floor, who owns the building and has lived in it her entire life, has settled into solitude for good; she doesn’t dream of companionship, but remembers the dreams of it she used to have, with a mix of regret and relief. The “married couple” on the second floor are lonely together, trapped in a cycle of fighting and apologizing so habitual it precludes any real contact between them. And the “girl” on the third floor—the book’s heroine, actually a young woman in her late twenties, a shy art school graduate with a prosthetic leg and a menial job at a flower shop—is lonely with a youthful, frenzied desperation, convinced she’ll be alone forever: “God…I can’t bear it…Am I really so awful? I must be…I must be…”
All this unhappiness is housed not in a bound comic book (let alone a “book book”), but a rectangular cardboard box—like what a board game would come in—containing fourteen “distinctively discrete” printed items: a slim hardcover volume, a faux children’s book, long fold-out strips, stapled pamphlets, several enormous broadsheet sections, even something very much like a game board, showing the building in all four seasons. There are also two sections—a stapled booklet and a newspaper—that focus on “Branford, the Best Bee in the World,” a semi-anthropomorphized sad sack whose desperate attempts to provide pollen for his family, avoid the bullying of other male bees, and stop fantasizing about sex with the queen provide a comic counterpoint to the more solitary and realistic characters.
Though there is, buried in those “contents,” a traditional, linear story—of how these people came to this building, and to this miserable time in their lives, and, in the case of the girl, of how she eventually leaves it and starts another life—it isn’t so much read as circled around, scouted out. (Instead of a reading order, Ware offers suggestions for “appropriate places to set down, forget or completely lose any number of its contents within the walls of an average well-appointed home.”) As one makes one’s own way through, landmarks are established, related to each other, reconfigured in light of other, later landmarks, and a map begins to form.
Make any cento you want! But try to make it as good as you want it to be. You don’t really want Seidel’s freedom. His poems are licensed by privilege, prestige and money — lots of all three. His deliberate transgressions look like power — to poets, any use of power looks like freedom. But I just read all Seidel’s work, straight through, and I think he’s wearing golden handcuffs.
Pale Youths in Love
I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal.
What is Work?
Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving the needs of a community rather than just those of an individual and his or her immediate family.
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I have in my l life met one or two people who were so well brought up that they had never read a comic. They tended to have an underdeveloped sense of humour. Whether there is a correlation between naughtily spending your lunch money on a Betty and Veronica Digest and having a well-honed grasp of the funny, I will leave to another time.
“Superman!” gasps Lois Lane, freshly scooped from beneath the nodding carbines of a South American firing squad. “Right!” says the boxy blue-and-red figure who holds her in his arms. “And still playing the role of gallant rescuer!” His mouth is set in a kind of grimace, but with dimples.
One of the reasons Will Eisner quit working on the Spirit in 1952 was so that he could continue working on PS Magazine, an instructional comic dedicated to teaching enlisted men how to perform preventative maintenance on U.S. Army equipment. While there certainly may have been other contributing factors to Eisner’s decision, like the progressive downsizing of the Spirit supplement and changing public opinion about the caricaturization of black sidekicks.