Top positive review
23 people found this helpful
Excellent, but . . . .
on 14 October 2012
For me, it's actually 3 1/2 stars, but that might be simply because I was expecting the outstanding. Chris Ware is I think my favourite American comics writer and I heartily recommend this book, but I don't think it's Ware at his very best.
If you've read (the exceedingly good) Acme Novelty Libary no. 18, Building Stories will ring a bell: Except for tales of a temporary resident the story is of the tenants of an apartment building, focussing upon the main character of the previous book. (If you own ANL no. 18 be prepared to own another copy of it--rather disappointingly it's one of the books enclosed and though it's slightly larger than the original I noticed no other changes.) Ware dips in and out of the lives of an old woman, a couple with a strained relationship, and, most of all, a lonely young woman. There's little drama in those lives and most of what we learn of these people we learn from their thoughts, but the book is credible and most of it is thoroughly absorbing, The art is of course terrific.
But a couple of the booklets barely held my interest. While the 'The Daily Bee', a mock newspaper, was very nice a booklet about the bee character, which actually has the most attractive artwork in the book, grows almost tedious. Another over-long booklet seems to have no point other than to show us that a mother loves her child. Indeed, I wondered whether Ware had written some of Building Stories shortly after becoming a parent; although he never quite slides into sentimentality he comes close to it. (The child's words and actions do seem true to life, though.)
And the lonely woman, the child's mother, sometimes verges on being a rather annoying bore. I've little doubt that my tolerance for self-absorbed socially awkward characters has been lowered because so many American graphic novelists--Clowes of course springs to mind--have done them almost to death, but her preoccupation with herself (pre-child, anyway), with her appearance, whether she'll find a partner, slights she suffered years ago, wears thin. Occasionally as well her social cluelessness would be in real life downright scary: She interprets disinterested glances as signs of sexual attraction to her and, when a virtual stranger gives her a lift and upon reaching the destination takes hold of her hand, her response is to say disappointedly 'I know . . . you only want to be "friends".' And onn the whole I'm not sure this person is interesting enough to merit so many pages of the book; I'd rather have read more about the man downstairs, who seems to have a more complex personality than the other characters.
Because I've a fair few books in odd formats, including a couple of others in boxes, I wasn't quite so ravished by the format of this one as others have been: it's a good idea but not a new one. Moreover, whilst the papers, pamphlets, and books are bundled together within the box, there's nothing to prevent that bundle sliding about during shipping and I presume that's why several of the items in my copy were bent at the edges and why the foil covering the spine of one book has begun to peel. (For some interesting remarks on the book's design, see mrclam's review on American amazon.)
One last thing: If you've never read Chris Ware--and certainly if you've never read comics--this mightn't be the best place to start. Instead, for a full-length novel, try Jimmy Corrigan; for Ware at his most distinctive, have a look at Acme Novelty Library (unnumbered) or perhaps Quimby Mouse.
(edit, June 2015: For what it's worth, after re-reading Jimmy Corrigan I took another look at Building Stories and afterward asked myself, Am I likely to ever read this again? would I regret not having it around to look at now and again? The answers landed it in a box of books going to the 2nd-hand shop.)