Chris Ware is an American comic book artist. He writes and draws stories using text and pictures. He is best know for his graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, and the comic book series where it began, Acme Novelty Library.
Franklin Christenson Ware was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He was inspired by paperback comics that he found in his grandma’s house. He drew his own comics every week, and published cartoons in his school newspaper, the Daily Texan.
Ware studied artists like Joseph Cornell, Windsor McCay, and Charles Schulz before arriving at his own “precise, geometrical style.” He describes his drawings as an attempt to write with pictures. “I figured out this way of working,” He said, “By learning from and looking at artists I admired and whom I thought came closest to getting at what seemed to me to be the ‘essence’ of comics, which is fundamentally the weird process of reading pictures, not just looking at them.”
Art Spiegelman noticed Ware’s work and invited the young artist to contribute to RAW, an influential anthology of comics. Being featured in those comic books gave Ware confidence and inspired him to study printmaking and self-publish his own books.
Ware moved to Chicago to study printmaking. During his first year at the Art Institute of Chicago, he was invited to draw comics for a local paper, New City. Soon after, Fantagraphics offered Ware a regular series. ACME Novelty Library became famous for its irregular format and impeccable design. It included his established comic strip characters like Quimby the Mouse, his own godlike version of Superman, and a semi-autobiographical character, Jimmy Corrigan. Ware used the books to experiment with comics and develop longer stories through installments. He drew Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth over seven years, and eventually republished it as a 380 page graphic novel about a lonely daydreamer who is given a chance to reunite with his estranged father. Ware’s achievements in art, design, publishing, storytelling, and typography have won him Eisner, Harvey, Ignatz, Rueben, and National Cartoonists’ Society Awards, the highest awards in the comics industry.
His mastery is recognized by the art and literary worlds as well. He was the first comic artist to be included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial Exhibition. His original comic pages were shown in the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum and the Jewish Museum’s Masters of American Comics exhibition. Jimmy Corrigan was the first comic book to win the Guardian First Book Award and the American Book Award. His work can now be seen in posters, stores, toys, and any number of books and magazines including Art Forum, McSweeney’s, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Fortune 500.
Chris Ware lives today in Chicago with his wife and daughter. He publishes his own comics and is currently creating two new graphic novels, Rusty Brown and Building Stories.
Like most people, I am blown away by almost all of Chris Ware’s work. His “datebooks” and his most recent self-published comics strike a special chord. But my favorite Chris Ware comic is a lunchbox (above). I actually own this lunch box. I used it until it was beat to pieces. It includes all the craftsmanship, utility, humility, sadness, heart, and humor that I have come to expect from Chris Ware. And, even though it is a lunchbox, he obviously approached it as just another bold experiment in format. A comic strip winds itself around the box, from cover to cover, around the sides, into the box, and through a tiny mini-book that it contains. Plus, you have to love the intrinsic humor of a “Rusty Brown” lunchbox. It is one of many Chris Ware masterpieces.
Portrait of Chris Ware drawn by yours truly from a photo taken by Noah Sheldon and published in Tokion magazine.