Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Building Stories is the single greatest argument for the continuation of print comics that could possibly be conceived. Building stories could not exist in any other format and retain its power and beauty. It is a wholly immersive experience which cannot be imitated nor duplicated in a digital format, not matter how powerful the processor or how many dpi your screen resolution.
Building stories arrived on my doorstep quite unexpectedly. The fine folks at Pantheon must been feeling exceptionally gracious to have sent this behemoth of a project in my direction. I cradled it in my arms and retired to the confines of my favorite pub. There, with pint in hand, I opened the box and delved in.
It was overwhelming.
Inside the board-game-sized box was a myriad of books, pamphlets, posters, newsprint, and foldouts, none of which having any indication of where to start or what came next. I flipped through one, then set it aside, eager to get to the next. Occasionally I would stop and read a page or two, only to put it aside again to look at the next item in the box. There was so much there that I was unable to take it all in. After fifteen minutes of looking, having gone through everything, I had to put it all away and take a long drink from my glass. Even brief exposure to Building Stories let me know that I was in for something exceptional and powerful.
It doesn’t matter where you start reading. Every piece completes a little more of the picture. The first piece I picked up ended and began with identical panels, making the start and finish inconsequential…it is what is in the middle that is truly important.
A few days later I sat down with the box again. The house was quiet. I had the day to myself. I could give Building Stories the kind of attention it deserved. Despite the fact that you can enter Building Stories however you choose, and leave whenever you like, that does not mean that it is something that can be read half-heartedly or distractedly. Chris Ware’s stories require your full attention, whether for a 40 page comic, or a two-sided poster.
Building Stories is, ostensibly about the inhabitants of a three-story building in Chicago. The old lady who lives on the first floor owns the building. She longs for a life she never had, never quite realizing that she had some part in that life never coming to pass. She spends her days reminiscing and wishing that someone would come for a visit.
The young couple who lives on the second floor have a tumultuous relationship. As much as they love each other, the words never quite come out right. They spend their time together fighting and their time apart wondering how it all went so wrong.
The young woman on the top floor lives alone with her cat, her false leg, and the realization that she is not the artist she had always dreamed she would be. Ostensibly she is the main character in Building Stories as Ware spends a majority of the pages exploring her life long before she lived in the building and her life after.
Readers familiar with Ware’s work will immediately recognize the melancholy tone of Building Stories. No one is happy. Everyone has regrets. Nothing turns as planned.
If all of this is to be expected, why bother reading? Simple. In the able hands of Chris Ware, it all becomes poetry. The love, the longing, the desire all become palpable. Each of the characters has hope within them. A hope for a new life, something better, something different. And, because there is no end for any of the characters, no sense of finality, that hope continues to spring eternal instead of devolving in to a morass of depression.
Building Stories is not easy on the reader. More than once I found myself hugging my daughters tight after having read a particularly powerful piece. Ware does not give the reader any answers. he does not assure the reader that everything will be ok. We have to keep that hope, same as the characters in the story, that it will all turn out fine.
Ware is at his most powerful in the pieces where the people do not speak at all. That is where it becomes personal for the reader. We, the readers, fill in that silence with our own experiences, forging a connection with the characters more powerful than anything Ware could have written. This also makes it so that each reader has a unique experience and connection to the piece. We connect with the characters at different times in their/our lives. No two readers are going to feel the same way about any piece of the book.
Building Stories is unlike anything else I have experienced. It is more than a book. It is more than a story. It is a glimpse into the lives of people. Building Stories should be in everyone’s collection, not just as a work of art, but as a notice of the potential that still exists in storytelling.
Order your copy of Building Stories today.