If ever a single book declared that print publishing is alive and thriving, Chris Ware’s graphic novel Building Stories is that book.
In this case however, ‘book’ is something of a misnomer. The tale of Building Stories is told in 14 different items – bound books, pamphlets, comics, a map board and a tabloid. This assortment of different formats is for me a huge part of the appeal and source of my excitement towards this book. Each element is so beautifully designed and each tell a separate story, that, like stories of a building, fit together to create the wider picture. The reader chooses where to start the story and in what order it progresses.
These different items are packaged together in one large beautiful box, with a strokeable matt finish and a fit so perfect that as you wiggle and slide the top off the bottom it makes that schllluuuup sound you hear when unpacking new board games. It’s roughly 30cm x 42cm, but to really get an idea of the size, here it is alongside some everyday objects. Measurements are one thing, but the universally recognised Cocktail Umbrella Scale is unbeatable.
The elements of Building Stories combine to describe the residents of a Chicago building, focussing on the life of an unnamed female protagonist, and eventually her husband Phil and daughter Lucy. With the exception of a male bee named Branford, the tale is told through the eyes of women, and from my first excited skim it seems to be fairly bleak. The first spread inside a coverless book reads “I just want to fall asleep / And never wake up again”. In this sense, and in the drawing style too, Ware really reminds me of Daniel Clowse, whose graphic novel Deathray is one of my favourite things ever, and is in fact the reason my lovely boyfriend James decided to buy me this book out of the blue.
So far, the details of Building Stories are what I love. The tiny drawings hidden on the side of the box, the inclusion of bees in the background of some panels, whole spreads without words at all, or simple sound effects. iPhone messaging accurately rendered, the glow of an iPad in a dark room, the awkward nakedness of interrupted sex. But this book is not only a visual feast, but a fantastic character study. Some of the stories I’ve read so far are heartbreaking accounts of unhealthy relationships, that jump seamlessly forward and back in time to paint a vivid picture of how people change and impact others’ lives.
I love holding Building Stories in my hands, feeling the heft of the box, flicking through the pages, picking up and sorting through the different items. I am so excited by the beauty of the book itself that I wanted to share this before I’ve even finished reading it. This book is for me a great example of why I love print publishing, and what I adore about the physical presence of books. Don’t get me wrong, e-books are super duper. But print publishing has something more: the ability to make me marvel.
>>> This is post 10 of the 31 I’ll be writing for Blogtoberfest 2012 <<<