Dan's Reviews > Building Stories

Building Stories by Chris Ware
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Oct 13, 12

Read from October 09 to 13, 2012

I don't know why I keep reading Chris Ware's stuff. I know I'm going to wind-up depressed when I'm done reading, but I do it anyway. Maybe that's part of his genius. His comics/graphic novels alternate between whimsy (like "Quimby the Mouse") and something in the realm of literary fiction, and I eat it up. But much like some people do with popular fiction's most famous authors (i.e. Stephen King, John Grisham, even Nicholas Sparks), Mr. Ware releases something new and I say to myself, "Must get!"

So how does this one measure up? There is very little that I can compare this to. Certainly, it looks like Mr. Ware's work. The excellent art is there; as is the sometimes very small lettering and non-traditional page design. The "true to life" style story is there. And so is the melancholy.

The basic idea behind this boxed set is to tell the stories of the people living on the three different floors of an apartment building. We have the old lady who owns the building living on the ground floor and she has seemingly lived there her entire life. On the second floor, we find a married couple whose relationship seems to be failing. Finally, on the top floor, we have a young to middle aged woman (distinguished by missing the lower half of her left leg), who we get the best portrait of, as we get bits of her life from both before and after she lived in the building. (Oops! Let us also not forget the stories of the honey bee who lives outside and is having a bit of an existential crisis over his feelings towards the Queen.)

We get 14 different items inside this box that each serve as a slice of life of one or more of the characters. To this extent, the box set is very much like a short story collection. Mr. Ware does not tell us in which order to read the items (I just went from smallest to largest as they were arranged in the box), suggesting an almost shotgun approach. Here it all is! All at once! If one really set their mind to it, I think you could read the stories in a chronological order, but would have to read them out of order at least once to figure out which pieces of the story fit where. Even with a few pieces of the characters' lives missing, I still felt like I had received a whole story when I finished all the pieces.

So, bonus one (for me): It is a story told in comic format that is actually well-written.

Bonus two: "Building Stories" is very much an experience (and a big one at that). You get to figure out what order to read the items. You have the literal grandness of dealing with 14 items and how each will open (one piece opens to be larger than a newspaper, others are chapbook size, and other items fit in every size in between). You piece together the story and very much become a participant in its creation. Several times I had to figure out how I would physically be able to read the larger items (Should I lay it on the floor? Can I read it lying down? Where do I put the rest of the items while I'm reading this one?)

But what you really want to know is: "Is this thing worth $50?" Absolutely. If not only for the well-written story and artwork, buy it as a conversation piece. If I have one complaint about the box is that is so large it won't actually fit on any of the shelves of my bookcase, so it is bound to migrate around my apartment where people will see it and ask "what's that?" If you want to judge it by entertainment value, think of this. Going to a movie costs between $8-12. For $50 dollars (favoring the cheapest price), you could see about 6 movies. Say each movie is 2 hours. That is 12 hours entertainment. It took me four days to read and absorb this book (granted, I wasn't reading non-stop, but never-the-less). Plus, I can read this again without paying for another ticket or DVD. Still not convinced? The box, when full is easily heavy enough to crush a zombie's head. I believe it is also large enough to ride in the passenger seat of your car and qualify you for the carpool lane. If all this still doesn't have you convinced you need this, I'm not sure what to say.
(It will make you cool!)
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