Many critics and reviewers have hailed the comics of Chris Ware as a form of modernist cultural practice, with comparisons being made to canonical modernist writers such as James Joyce, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, John Dos Passos and Gertrude Stein. As Kuhlman and Ball have pointed out (x, xviii), critics have repeatedly identified Ware’s affinities with modernism: his theory of impersonality (Sattler), his use of repetition and interrupted narratives (Goldberg), the themes of alienation and commodity culture in his work (Prager), the interaction between memory and circularity (Bartual) and the presence of a modernistic, melancholic masculinity in the anthologies edited by Ware (Worden, ‘Shameful’; see also Worden, ‘Modernism’s Ruins’). This essay extends the modernist framework that has previously been used to analyse Ware’s work, with a specific focus on the Civil War battle scene in Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000). I will relate this scene’s formal features to a group of writers who are sometimes placed under the sign of modernism, albeit as an early outpost: the literary impressionists of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Tamar Katz summarises as follows:
Tag Archives: Chris Ware
Literary Impressionism and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) by Paul Williams
Vertigo, DC’s adult-oriented imprint, has been repeatedly praised for having ‘fully joined the fight for adult readers’ in the early 1990s (Weiner 2010: 10). It has been noted that this “fight” coincided with the imprint’s ‘adoption of the graphic novel format’ as well as ‘a new self-awareness and literary style’ which ‘brought the scope and structure of the Vertigo comics closer to the notion of literary text’ (Round 2010: 22). However, little attention has been devoted to the very cultural identity of the imprint, even if Vertigo has since its early days engaged in an intro- and retrospective discourse on the American comics form, its history, and the power relations inherent to its industry. This short essay intends to start filling that gap by investigating Vertigo’s archival impulse. It argues that in deploying various rewriting strategies which engage with specific past (comics) traditions, the label has activated a unique memorious discourse that provides a self-reflexive and critical commentary on the structuring forces of the American comics field, its politics of domination and exclusion, and hence its canons.
Navigating the Post-9/11 Mental Space Architecture and Expressionism in In the Shadow of No Towers by Aletta Verwoerd
On September 11, 2001, Art Spiegelman, son of Auschwitz survivors and renowned author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus (1992), found himself on a “ringside seat” to the attacks on the WTC (Spiegelman, 2004: p. 2). This was it; the moment his parents had anticipated when they taught him “to always keep [his] bags packed” (Spiegelman, 2004 ). Personal life and world history collided once again on Ground Zero and, after years of writing and illustrating for The New Yorker – though never combining the two disciplines – the cartoonist returned to the medium that he considers to be ultimately his own: comix.
Spiegelman’s second opus In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) contains ten large-scale cardboard pages, each with an eclectic collection of images and frames: comic figures from the dawn of the twentieth century feature prominently in the autobiographical story that is further built on references to popular culture, including the author’s familiar ‘disguise’ as a mouse. Produced in the two years right after the attacks, the shape of the towers is frequently mirrored in both single panels and in page structures. All together, the book provides a nearly surreal report of life in lower Manhattan; the neighbourhood in which the absence of the Twin Towers was ultimately present. Further, in order to do justice to “oversized skyscrapers and outsized events” (Spiegelman, 2004) the templates are extraordinary in size; each of them designed to precisely fill a full newsprint page, in colour.