The Acme Novelty Archive - An Unofficial Chris Ware Database

Serial Boxes: Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman in Conversation

Serial Boxes: Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman in Conversation

April 29th, 2008

"Join us for a feature event in our Graphic Novelists series: a conversation between a new sensation and the master on comic art, its evolution and contemporary meaning."

Presented in partnership with the California College of the Arts, the Cartoon Art Museum and the San Francisco Art Institute

A review of the event is here, quoted below:

"Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman were guest speakers at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on April 30th. Their conversation, as guided by Heidi Chute, was part of Serial Boxes - a series of lectures exploring the graphic novel.

Ware is known for his graphic and geometric comics that look computer generated, but is done by hand. His notable works include the Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Spiegelman's underground comics work began in the 1960s and 1970s and continued with co-founding of Arcade and Raw. His Pulitzer-winning Maus elevated graphic novels to literary status. He equated his recent work, In the Shadow of Two Towers, as current generation’s World War II influence.

Spiegelman believes that graphic novels are still bidding for respectability. The graphic novel is a medium, not a genre. He views the term "graphic novel" as a marketing term, instead of just saying "comics" to describe his work. Chute had Spiegelman define comics - words and pictures, reduced level of visuals, picture words. Ware shared his view of sequential art as "typography of picture words."

To Spiegelman, comics represent timeless space, much like a musical score. Large panels may equal no passage of time. Spiegelman claimed rational barely exists in comics. Plain painting ignores the story. Ware creates his panels as he goes, increasing the complexity of the pages to have the reader linger over the pages. He joked how drawing naked people brings him to the drawing board.

Speaking historically, Spiegelman suggested comics as architecture derived from the church stained glass windows. Spiegelman focuses his narrative stories, looking for visual coherence of panels in and out of the story. On the other hand, Ware gives the story a more cursory glance (whether it works or not) tempered with real life parallels.

On the question about which panel to read next, Spiegelman replied that it was the artist’s responsibility to know. Spiegelman added that ambiguity lends to more reader involvement. "You have to use what little space you have to pack inside everything you can!" quoted Spiegelman of his father showing him how to pack in a cartoon strip. He stated that this was the best advice he ever received as a cartoonist.

Ware uses comic panels as a typographic element and as "memory pictures." He experiments with story, not necessarily storytelling. Relying on the perception of ambiguity for his panels, he said that it must feel right to work. He commented that man is the only creature surrounded by man-made things.

Regarding influences on his work, Spiegelman cited Harvey Kurtzman of Mad magazine. Spiegelman showed slides of an ugly woman portrait that spoke more to him than some pretty girl magazine color. Ware cited Frank King’s Gasoline Alley for its parallel to real life story, use of contemplation and color. He also included Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World and Eightball.

Throughout the conversation, Spiegelman and Ware showed slides of their work, applicable cartoons and references. For example, Spiegelman showed a cartoon of himself overshadowed by a monolith of Maus with his grandson in the foreground playing World of Warcraft on a laptop. He wondered if could ever escape Maus’ shadow, while his grandson asked to be left alone to finish up a quest.

Ware discussed the details of the Acme Novelty Library, covering repeated letter design and a glow-in-a-dark constellation of the story’s cast. He lamented how much he over thinks his stories and their format. Spiegelman had single cartoons and strips ready to illustrate his answers, while Ware was self-deprecating about the fact he was not as prepared or witty.

Chute asked what concerns Spiegelman and Ware have about their own work. Spiegelman said that the birth of a notion was troublesome, citing the fame of Maus. Ware’s concern was keeping a grip on his self-worth as an artist.

Recognizing that inherent humor was in their work and answers, Chute asked if that was intentional. Ware remarked that comics are prefect for humor; although, it’s much harder for him to write humor, as his work reflects his "deep self." Spiegelman paraphrased Mark Twain saying, "There’s no laughter in heaven."

The conservation ended with applause from a full house. Both gentleman lingered afterwards, signing their books for an appreciative audience."

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