Reading: Gary Groth interviews Chris Ware (part one)

ware19.jpg

Greetings from a quiet little village just outside Stuttgart, where I’m spending Easter with long lost friends. After a fine meal, everyone has settled down to tonight’s feature film on TV, the second installment of the Lord of the Rings saga. I would join them but a) it seems all foreign programming on German TV is dubbed rather than subtitled; b) I don’t speak German; and c) I really got bored of the Lord of the Rings about half way through the first film. So I’ve peeled off to ruminate on some of the reading I’ve been doing over the weekend at home in Strasbourg and on the train ride here.

In addition to the chunky monthly print edition of the magazine, subscribers to The Comics Journal also get exclusive online access to a small but growing archive of previously published material. While entire issues are now being loaded onto the website soon after publication, a handful of earlier articles have also been put onto the Subscribers’ Area of the website, including Gary Groth’s December 1997 interview with Chris Ware. This was originally published in issue number 200 of the Comics Journal, a fantastically popular issue of which all back issues have now been sold. Examples of TCJ # 200 now trade for several times their original cover value on eBay, so it’s been good news to find this article online. There is (unsurprisingly for a Comics Journal interview) a lot of interesting material in this massive and largely unedited article, which came out on more than fifty A4 pages when I printed it off on Saturday for more leisurely reading. With this in mind, I’m probably going to come back to this one over the next week or two as thoughts bubble to the surface.

(Note: because I’ve retrieved the text of this interview from a web page, I don’t have any page number references from the printed magazine. Short of advising you to print out your own copy in 10pt Arial Narrow on A4 paper, there’s not much I can do to help about this…)

Something that has struck me from the first reading of this interview is, however, an interesting explanation from Ware about the difference he finds between “real drawing” and “cartooning”.

I think drawing is “about” – or at least good drawing is about – trying to see. It’s more about detail and looking. Whereas cartooning is making a story happen with symbols … cartoon drawings are -just by nature of how they’re used as symbols – in a lot of ways not really drawings because the information that they have is so rudimentary, or conceptual.

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Ware seems to make this distinction quite clear: a comic strip is not a series of drawings of people or places, but a series of drawings of symbols that represent people, places, emotions. Ware has already made his thoughts clear on the use of words in comics (see this earlier post), so we interpret these symbols to mean words, pictures and any other visual device that he employs in his strips.

But Ware’s comics are not just about symbols. Far from it, their notably measured rhythm is generated in no small part by the use of both “real drawings”and “cartoons”.

…I try to use “real” drawing occasionally, or sort of a looser drawing, as a waz of anchoring a sense of place or feeling. By either floating it below or above the story it seems to take on this sort of tonal quality, like a long note held…

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Ah yes, the musical references once more. Ware dismisses his own musical capability during the interview…

At one point I played piano in front of around 600 people at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha and it was such a traumatic experience I don’t even remember if it went well or not. But I have a feeling it went quite badly. Nevertheless I decided at that point, “maybe this isn’t what I should do.”

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

It is quite apparent that Warehas a masterful appreciation of the quality of muscial rhythm. This certainly is not the first time that he has made a reference from comics to music (again, see my earlier post on Daniel Raeburn’s introduction to Chris Ware) and the inclusion of these panels of “real drawing” is a noticeable feature of his longer stories. Open up Jimmy Corrigan pretty much wherever you please, and you’ll find the occasional ‘wide’ shot of a place where the events in the rest of the page are taking place. The effect of a larger single panel without dialogue is indeed notably effective at creating “a long note held”.

ware20.jpg

The use of gently falling snow in this example (from Jimmy Corrigan) heightens the delicateness of this pause at the end of a comparatively ‘busy’ page. If a single “real” drawing anchors the story to a place or inserts a moment of rest in the larger scheme of the story, it can so with an almost audible silence. These page compositions had lead me to believe that Ware was a phenomenal ‘architect’ of the page, laying out individual pages with a careful eye for the rhythm of the story, often inserting a moment of silence at the end of complex sequences. But it seems I might have been mistaken.

GROTH: Let me ask you about the mechanics of designing a page. You do approximately one page a week:

WARE: Uh… yeah. Two pages of the story a week … One on top of each other.

GROTH: So when you start to compose a page, do you rough out the whole page and then just move toward the lower right-hand corner?

WARE: Work down. Yes … Sometimes I might rough out a few panels with just shapes of where the characters are going to be. But a lot of times I go back and change that. For the most part it’s panel by panel, and I’ve met a lot of people who are surprised when I saz that, but I don’t think there’s any other approach I could use that would allow for the sort of detail that accrues. I might measure out a few panels, or I have an idea of how I might try to fit things in, but I might also end up completely changing that.

GROTH: Do you run into situations, for example, where you only have so much space left in the last panel, and it’s the wrong amount of space?

WARE: I do a lot of subdividing.

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Much more to come on this interview, which I hope to blog in the next week or so.

 

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  1. 1 STWALLSKULL » Interesting Links: April 9, 2007

    […] Reading: Gary Groth interviews Chris Ware (part one) […]




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