Chris Ware visited the Raptus comics festival in Bergen in 2002, and I got the chance to interview him both by e-mail in advance and meeting him in person at the festival. Here’s the e-mail interview in full.
FOTO: ØYVIND HOLEN
CW: Dear Mr. Holen, my apologies for not sending this sooner – I actually answered all the questions on Monday, though I like to let them «sit» for a few days, just to make sure that I didn’t say anything too incredibly stupid. Anyway, I hope these answers are okay… and my thanks again for your kind interest!
Very warmest wishes, and regards,
ØH: Your title, ACME Novelty Library, seemed to come out of nowhere when it first appeared in 1993. What plans and goals did you have for the title at first, and how did/do these change with time?
CW: Essentially, in 1993, it was sort of a «catch all» title intended to encompass everything I’d done up until that time which I deemed marginally publishable; the earliest comics that have appeared in its pages are from 1988, and the most recent from 2000.
I didn’t want the book to have my name plastered all over the series, since everything I do is essentially autobiography already; the «corporate» tone allowed me to satirize and parody those pseudo-esthetic aspects of the rest of the world (i.e. the business world) that amuse me, as well as to play up the jokes inherent in a medium with its feet set both in art and in commerce. Plus I liked the idea of a «library» for «novelties.» I guess. Maybe, however, I’m starting now to forget why I did it.
ØH: The movie versions of From Hell and Ghost World can be seen as the mainstream’s acceptance that comics are more than colorful characters. They were made into movies because of the stories, not the characters (like Batman and Spider-Man). It’s almost the same when Jimmy Corrigan won The Guardian’s First Book Award. But my question is this: How do you feel about superhero comics and will comics ever step out of the long shadows of the superhero? Even Jimmy Corrigan is using superhero images.
CW: I think the superhero is probably one of the most powerful metaphors that modern culture has produced, but I’m not too crazy about modern superhero comics that pretend to be serious writing, or «adult» literature. However, simply the idea of a father figure all dressed up in proto-military garb, hopping around, saving things, being moral – it’s a wonderful idea, one thoroughly treated by Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – particularly the Jewish aspects of it, starting with the artists and writers themselves, anglicanizing their names — just like their characters, who have to have «secret identities.»
As for me, I grew up reading superhero comics, wanting to be a superhero, so to one degree or another, they’re a part of me… even if I wasn’t a cartoonist, I’m sure superheroes would always still play some part in what I did. A «superman,» to me, is such a perfect stand-in for a lost, or at least a distant, father… as well as sort of a goal towards which to naively aim oneself as a pre-adult, before one realizes that the world is mostly just disappointment.
ØH: In an interview with The Comics Journal you said «if you’re writing a script beforehand, you’re not really writing comics. You’re illustrating a story». Did you do the whole Jimmy Corrigan story without a script? How are you working?
CW: I write notes on individual pieces of paper before starting to draw, and on the margins of the bristol board while I’m working; currently, I keep three separate notebooks about Rusty Brown. Mostly everything that I write down I either completely forget or don’t use.
Essentially, I work from a very loose outline, trying to let myself into the «world» I’m drawing in the same way I think the reader will enter it, rather than imposing my order on top of it. Plus, I’m deathly sickened by all my ideas, and have to let them develop more «organically»; I have a deeply bipolar confidence, and am sometimes so repulsed and overwhelmed my my own work I have to simply stop working — or force myself to work, depending on how close the weekly deadline is. I realize this is probably irresponsible, though I can’t seem to work any other way, unfortunately.
ØH: Judging by some of your illustrations and written language you seem to be nostalgic of a time period you never experienced in the first place, the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Is that correct? It reminds me in parts of the nostalgia in Seth’s comics, like It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken«. Where does this interest come from?
CW: Mostly I just appreciate the skill, craft, and respect for the viewer that so much of the design from those eras seems to have, not to mention the unstable core of folly and dignity about which it all seems to orbit. Most of today’s world appears more interested in being cool, slick, and sexual, which is fine, but generally I find it distracting and not a comfortable place to be. I don’t need an environment that advises me to be more macho or apathetic.
ØH: After the longJimmy Corrigan had finished you started the even more harrowing Rusty Brown. But what are you working on for the years to come. Do you feel that Jimmy Corrigan is a tough act to follow? And will you continue ACME Novelty Library or publish independent graphic novels?
CW: Actually, Rusty Brown is the next book I’m doing — the «gag» strips which appeared in ACME #15 are separate; the book is about eight different characters, the introduction of the story (the first two «chapters») being set in the 1970s, during Rusty’s childhood, and while he’s one of the central characters, he’s not necessarily the «main» character. (I was recently asked by another interviewer about the plot of this book, who seemed relieved that it wouldn’t just be a 500 page book about toy collectors.)
As well, I’m working on a shorter story, unrelated, which is more experimental, and may never be collected anywhere; I’m not sure if it’s good enough yet. As well, Oog and Blik in Holland and Drawn and Quarterly in Canada are copublishing a book of my sketchbook drawings, though that’s not really comics, I guess. Much of it is fairly embarrassing, as well.
Bonus: Chris Ware on French television.