Chris Ware and the Old Building Appreciation Society have struck again.
Last night, the humble artist spoke at the Jewish Museum in New York with City of Chicago Cultural Historian Timothy Samuelson ("We both love old buildings, old music, and old comics") on the role of Chicago in the history of the comic strip. Easily this counts as one of the most enjoyable talks I've been to in New York. It could only have been made better if it had taken place in Chicago. And oh how it made me want to be in Chicago.
Great moments came from examinations of entries to a Chicago Tribune contest held to find the building that would be their headquarters, and ultimately, the greatest building in the world. "I call this one the marital aid entry." Ware's dry humor found laughter as well as he lent his commentary to the section of a silent film called "Trees to Tribune" featuring the art staff of the Chicago Tribune. Of Carey Orr: "This guy is such a douchebag. Don't forget your signature, Carey..." (He later reminded us that though he makes fun, he feels a real affinity for these guys.)
Samuelson spun stories of the history of Chicago architecture - of how it was an amalgam of new ideas that never could have worked in a place like New York, of the way it was mocked decades ago in a New Yorker illustration as a prop film set, with tall buildings up front, and support beams in back - a fantastic storyteller. He and Ware bounced off each other like two men sitting on a porch, telling stories they've been telling for years to the new stranger from out of town. Ware shared his love for artists such as Feininger ("he just looks like a nice, old man"), McCay, Darger, New Yorker cover artist Mary Petty (a new fling), and Frank King, creator of "Gasoline Alley."
There was a particular beauty in both Samuelson's and Ware's appreciation for King. There were old black-and-white pictures from King's life, including a sweet moment capturing King, the bottom button of his cardigan undone, carrying his son on his shoulders in front of the camera. Ware told us he seemed like a happy, down-to-earth father. That they had a cozy life. The slight melancholy in the autumn strips of "Gasoline Alley" was explained by the departure of King's son to boarding school. A reflection of melancholy, Ware said: "so anyway..." and the projection screen momentarily faded to black. And there was something very beautiful and intangible in that moment.
More things that endear me to Ware: He wants his drawings to look like they are dead on the page. He loves books more than gallery shows. He understands the majesty of people in photographs obscured to the size of specks of dust by a building of plaster and wood.
"That's what you get for your $15." Well worth it.
More on the Ware/Samuelson connection in multi-media format, featuring Ira Glass, here. If you are in New York, you can see the Masters of American Comics exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum through January 28th.
And bonus: Here's Ware talking about cartooning and Tintin.