A few years ago, one of my very thoughtful friends, Aris, asked me a question, which it took me quite some time to respond to. He asked: “What is the greatest work of art you have ever beheld?”
I believe he asked me this, partially, because I’m visually creative (I’m a graphic designer and lapsed artist) and have a fairly decent art education. Of course, I couldn’t respond to him immediately. How does one recall all of the art they’ve seen? I suppose it should have been obvious to me, since the question implies that the work of art would have lodged itself in my mind, firmly implanted in the neurons reserved for the ‘Best ofs’. Well, there was nothing. I just don’t keep lists like that mentally on hand. The other trick is that those things I’d seen lately stuck more. So, I pondered. For over half a year, if I remember correctly.
Then, it dawned on me. I do know what that work of art is. It’s an exquisite, human, genre-expanding and discipline-crossing work of intensely affecting beauty. It is Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth; a graphic novel. So, I wrapped it up and sent it to him, since just telling him was foolish, and it’s something that must be experienced directly to be understood.
And then, this New Year’s, Aris gave me a gift. It was a gesture of thoughtful and poigniant reciprocation.
He gave me Daniel Raeburn’s Chris Ware, an engaging, personal, and insightful book that opens up Ware’s work, revealing the deeper layers that often get obscured by the vibrant, enthralling, and brilliant surface of his work (mainly comics). Raeburn, who is not only familiar Ware’s work, but is also Ware’s friend, does an excellent job of exploring and explicating his work and development without delving too deep into repetition or becoming snagged on minutia of his personal life.
If you’re interested in Ware’s work, or want to know more about one of the most fascinating examinations of written language, graphic language, symbols, meaning, art, and narrative that I’ve seen (which would be Ware’s work), then I highly recommend this book. I was trapped by it in a coffee shop today, unable to put it back in my bag until I had finished.
Best of all it’s even inspired me to dust off my Rapidiographs. Perhaps I’ll be able to tap into the wealth of possibilities laid bare by Chris Ware’s comics. Thank you, Aris.