Building Stories by Chris Ware

Elysium

 

I’ve never been a graphic novel buff. I’d probably buy more if I could afford the hefty price tags they carry after being imported. Having said that, rarely has a graphic novel (or a book, for that matter) piqued my curiosity as Building Stories did. Apart from the merit of Chris Ware’s illustrious work itself, nearly every major publication has vouched for its brilliance.

 

PUBLISHER:
Pantheon Books

 

WRITER:
Chris Ware

 

PUBLICATION:
2012

 

ISBN:
978-0-375-42433-5

 

The box set comes with a review sticker on the cover by none other than J.J.Abrams. I realised this a lot later when the thin film started flying around the room, since I had refrained from looking at unboxing videos and just wanted to dig in.

 

Elysium

 

One thing that’s certainly evident is the fact that Ware’s style is more or less the same as seen in his Acme Novelty Library series and the graphic novel it gave birth to – Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. This similarity is justifiable since Building Stories‘ formation took an entire decade; with numerous appearances in The New York Times Magazine and within the Volume 18 of the Acme series.

 

As soon as you turn the box set around, the colossal amount of work put behind this book becomes evident. A small, precise introduction is followed by a blueprint of a building’s cross-section, with labelings indicating the ideal places in home where each of the 14 pieces can be placed and forgotten about. This makes it clear that Building Stories refuses to be confined by any kind of structure or chronological order – CW takes us back-and-forth through the life of the unnamed protagonist and dissects her existence under a microscope. From her birth to her intimate life (I’d advise to not read this with parents around), everything is looked through a cloudy lens of melancholy.

 

Elysium

 

To test the claim and to stem the proceedings from reaching any kind of cohesiveness, I made sure that I pick an order which is not expected from the reader. The three-fold board first, a pamphlet next, the cloth-bound diary later. It was almost frustrating to find these absurd pieces starting to make sense in my head as I moved from one to the other. The narration and use of comic boxes is extremely dense, so much so that sometimes your eyes might be zipping around the page wondering if you should read top-to-bottom or follow the traditional left-to-right. This is where Building Stories truly grips you – while you’re inside the protagonist’s head; a woman facing a mid-life crisis, weighed down by the anchors of her domestic life and the pull of shattered dreams, you realise that this is exactly how your mind works as well. We watch her string her past together as a chain of losses – her leg, her first boyfriend, her wrecked marriage, her home, deaths, her ambitions, her ageing body… we jump from one thought to another without any sense of time or logic.

 

As much as it is indulging, it might be the most exhausting book you’ve ever read. There are a string of off-kilter metaphors and every single pixel in a picture eventually means something a lot more. There’s repetition to enhance melancholy – one booklet shows the building’s aged owner sitting with her help at a table, eating fruits and staring out of the window. Her mind is blank and so are the pictures – there’s no narration, there are no words. Not just CW’s style, but also the fact that the protagonist always seems to embrace the losses rather than fight them – on a snowy day, she steps out of the building after resolving that she’ll break out of her rut and leave her sorry life behind, only to return a few minutes later. It’s saddening but it’s brutally honest and true. Sometimes, where you were was a lot better than where you’ve ended up now. It is cathartic in the most weirdest way since you’d start counting your blessings and be thankful for all that you have when you finish reading.

 

Elysium

 

Somewhere in these pieces, Building Stories stopped being a book and transformed into a living thing. Be it in the form of the clinically depressed woman, be it the story of Branford the Benevolent Bee or the building itself. A human mind has never been read this way before.

 

 

 

 

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