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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Ware’

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis

July 20, 2015 | by

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script.

The script Sousanis is veering away from in this case is the age-old Western bias against visual imagery (and in favor of the Word), which he traces back to Plato’s cave. Sousanis believes that verbal language alone is a poor vehicle for capturing the multidimensional, many-layered fullness of human experience, the equivalent of Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional flatworms trying to explain a sphere. It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words, but rather that a picture is worth concepts that can’t even be put into words. And in an attempt to prove his case, he drew it.

What does “unflattening” mean?

It would be easier to tell you what the book’s about than to tell you what “unflattening” is. Actually, I’ve thinking about that lately because there’s a French translation in the works, and they can’t use that word because it doesn’t mean anything.

How could it not mean anything?

Well, I don’t think it means the right thing. It doesn’t mean anything in English—it’s not a word people use. The book is very much an argument that we make sense of the world in ways beyond text—teaching and learning shouldn’t be restricted to that narrow band. So rather than talking about visual thinking and multimodal stuff—from Howard Gardner to Rudolf Arnheim, people have been talking about it—comics just let me do it.

That’s what the book is about, if it’s about anything. Read More »

Staff Picks: Man-boys, Musicals, Multimillionaires

April 24, 2015 | by

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From the cover of Sphinx.

thirlwell“In one corner of the room there was a television, and I find it difficult to avoid a television—not because I am so intent on the game shows and confessions, but just because a moving image is very difficult to ignore. If I’m trying to read on one of those ancient planes where they silently display the film on a screen at the front, I keep looking up at it and losing my concentration, just as in the airport lounge already I will have been distracted by the silent news, and the mini frenzy of its montage.” Usually when we say that something sounds like a translation, it’s a bad thing, but Adam Thirlwell’s new novel Lurid & Cute sounds like brainy colloquial English translated into some slightly brainier (more formal? more poetic? more European?) idiom. We don’t go around talking about “ancient planes” or “the game shows and confessions,” but Zeno might. That interplay between banality and beauty—between the merely cute, or merely lurid, and deep ironic observation—kept me hurrying back to the book. It is, as James Wood might say, “unreliably unreliable”—either a parody or else the end point of a certain kind of wide-eyed man-boy narrator, like Jonathan Safran Foer on crystal, with a gun. —Lorin Stein

“The incident was really quite typical, but still curious … And that’s all.” Most of Daniil Kharms’s writing could be summed up this way—this is, in fact, the way he began and ended a certain forty-five-word story. Several of his stories end with “And that’s it, more or less” and plenty more do so in spirit. They’re so casually, almost indifferently, related that they read like fables—inexhaustible, with an underlying wisdom or moral that, in the case of Kharms’s work, is difficult to pinpoint. That’s because, as Ian Frazier points out in his wonderful recent essay in The New York Review of Books, Kharms’s work falls into a “subgenre of cheerfully moronic writing” that rejects any form of rationality. It’s a kind of humor that can easily get lost in translation (or not—I wonder how many Russians get it). Frazier’s piece sent me running back to my own copy of Today I Wrote Nothing, a selection of Kharms’s writing. I find that reading his prose and poetry requires a kind of release, a letting go of expectations and a faith that the nonsense will pay off. And it does. A man pummels another man with his dentures. A man meets another man who’s bought bread. A succession of women fall out the window until the narrator gets tired of watching. And that’s it, more or less. —Nicole Rudick Read More »

This Tuesday: Chris Ware and Lorin Stein at BAM

April 20, 2015 | by

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Tomorrow evening (Tuesday, April 21), join us in Brooklyn at the BAMcafé, where our editor, Lorin Stein, will talk to Chris Ware as part of BAM’s Eat, Drink, and Be Literary series.

Zadie Smith has said, “There’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware.” His latest book, Building Stories (2012), pushes the boundaries of the comic format—it’s a series of books, broadsheets, scraps, and pamphlets focusing on the inhabitants of a single building in Chicago. The Paris Review’s interview with Ware ran in our Fall 2014 issue, for which he also designed the cover. “The quote marks that fine art put around picture making in the mid to late twentieth century just seemed a dead end to me,” he says, speaking of what led him to pursue comics:

Sarcasm can only go so far. I just figured there must still be various ways to make art “about” something without making it bad or sentimental. Comics basically seemed a way ­toward this goal for me, especially since they are a language meant to be read, not seen—which is a frighteningly interesting and very human way of perceiving the world, and one that’s generally given short shrift, especially in art schools.

Tickets for tomorrow’s event are available here. Lorin will also moderate BAM events with Jane Smiley, on June 2, and Rachel Kushner, on June 10.

Say Hello to Our Fall Issue

September 2, 2014 | by

TPR-210You may recognize the distinctive hand behind our autumnal cover art—that’s Chris Ware, who’s interviewed in this issue about the Art of Comics:

I just figured there must still be various ways to make art “about” something without making it bad or sentimental. Comics basically seemed a way toward this goal for me … I think cartooning gets at, and re-creates on the page, some sixth sense—of space and of being in a body—in a way no other medium can quite so easily, or at least so naturally.

Then there’s our interview with Aharon Appelfeld:

My nights are a nightmare, quite often, but the nightmares are rich—rich in human behavior, rich in feelings, rich in sensations. I nourish myself by those nights. They nourish me.

And in the Art of Fiction No. 225, the Nobel Prize–winner Herta Müller discusses her early fascination with plants (“They knew how to live and I didn’t”), life under Ceauşescu, and her approach to the sentence:

I’m not hungry for words, but they have a hunger of their own. They want to consume what I have experienced, and I have to make sure that they do that … The language knows where it has to wind up. I know what I want, but the sentence knows how I’ll get there.

There’s also an essay by David Searcy; the final installment of Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline, illustrated by Samantha Hahn; fiction by David Gates, Atticus Lish, and Alejandro Zambra; and poems by Karen Solie, Stephen Dunn, Maureen M. McLane, Devin Johnston, Ben Lerner, Frederick Seidel, Linda Pastan, and Brenda Shaughnessy.

And finally, a portfolio of letters between George Plimpton and Terry Southern, circa 1957–58, in which Southern writes of this magazine, “[its] very escutcheon has come to be synonymous (to my mind at least) with aesthetic integrity, tough jaunty know-how, etc.”

Get yourself some of that integrity and know-how—subscribe now!

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Underwear Life: An Interview with Francesco Pacifico

March 12, 2013 | by

9780374270445_p0_v1_s260x420Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity is narrated by Piero Rosini. This Piero seems like most other modern schlubs—thirty, overweight, bourgeois, in a sexless marriage, you know it—but the thing that makes him unusual is his deep belief in Christ. This is the most Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. He is also the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. And what happens to Piero is some kind of picaresque adventure that takes him from Rome to Paris and beyond, into all the problems of his innocence. What else do you need to know about Piero’s creator? Francesco Pacifico is also a translator from English into Italian, and translation is something we talk about a lot. In fact, he has almost definitely read more fiction in English than you have. And if an inglese italianato is the devil incarnate, then what does that make an italiano americano? I just mean that Francesco Pacifico is one of the least innocent novelists I know.

There’s a moment where Piero says “nobody’s Roman,” and this setting of Rome is crucial to the book’s opening. So my first question is, are you Roman?

I am, and I’m not. I was born in Rome and have lived there all my life. But I don’t know how to cook trippa and pajata, I know nothing of Rome’s cuisine pauvre, my family’s half-assed culinary traditions are half abbruzzese and half everything. My father’s side comes from L’Aquila, Abbruzzio, where my granddad’s family was big during the Fascist era, or so I’m told. My mother’s side is from everywhere, the hills of Sabina, and remotely Spain and France, and they travelled the country as my granddad was an engineer for the electric company—Milan, Genoa, Terni. I don’t feel Roman. You can spot a real Roman from miles. Savvy, gritty, ironic. I’m not.

And now—to keep with first things first—could you talk a little about this theme of purity? It seems such a gorgeously perverse subject for a contemporary novel. What’s the beauty of purity?

I experimented with not having sex for years. And I am a renowned lover of women. There was a time in my midtwenties where I thought of my life as an ongoing piece of performance art, and I realized the big thing I should try was to stop having sex. I had this romantic view of my love for my girlfriend being exalted and enhanced by abstinence. I became impotent. Read More »

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Paul Hornschemeier on ‘Life with Mr. Dangerous’

July 18, 2011 | by

Forlorn Funnies, the title of cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier’s periodical of short prose comics, aptly characterizes all of his work: bleak subjects leavened by drollery and gags reigned-in by finely drawn anxieties. The author of the graphic novels Mother, Come Home (2003) and The Three Paradoxes (2007) and two collections of shorter work, Hornschemeier recently published Life with Mr. Dangerous, a graphic novel he began serializing in Fantagraphics’s comics anthology, Mome, in 2005. The story concluded last winter, and the novel, which tells the story of a young woman adrift in bad relationships and obsessed with a little-known cartoon show, appeared in book form last month. I spoke with Hornschemeier from his home in Evanston, Illinois.

The story was serialized in Mome over a period of five years. Was the story whole in your mind when you started, or did you create it as you went along?

With most of my stories, I have key scenes in mind and I almost always have the beginning and end done right from the start. With this one, I definitely had key emotional notes I wanted to hit, and I knew how it ended and the set up. But it was strange in that I was both writing it as I was going, and, as it was coming out in Mome, I was going back and editing the story and inserting new pages. So in the book, there are thirty pages that weren’t in the serialized format.

What was needed that wasn’t already there?

I could see there were beats I hadn’t hit that I wanted to go back and reemphasize, pacing issues and characterization issues that I wanted to resolve. I produced that graphic novel really differently than my other graphic novels. Mother, Come Home was very act 1, act 2, act 3, and they were written very much as acts by themselves. And The Three Paradoxes was as close as possible to what a full screenplay would be, because it was so complex, with interlocking narratives. But this one was just a huge, jumbled mess.

Read More »

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