It’s a little odd to see a scholarly monograph on Chris Ware as a visual artist. It’s not that Ware’s comics—most notably Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby the Mouse—don’t deserve all the attention they can get; it’s that, for all his compositional wizardry, his visual style is pretty self-explanatory. In the introduction to Daniel Raeburn’s study, Ware is quoted as saying that he tries to make his pictures work visually like type, all straight edges and simple curves, so “you can’t make yourself not read [them],” and we get to see a fascinating handful of the old Sears catalogs and beauty product labels from which he’s cribbed design ideas.
Beyond that, the text is mostly about how comics are different and Ware is even more different—there’s not much about Ware’s narrative sense or signature images, but plenty of labored comparison between comics and music. Raeburn is close enough to his subject that one of the pieces in the extensive “Selected Work” section is a handmade, painted Daniel Raeburn wooden toy. He lovingly annotates the covers of all of Ware’s comics, and some unreadably reduced interior pages (and mostly omits Ware’s pseudonymous commercial-design work). But when Raeburn claims that a time-shifting series of panels, for instance, is “literally capturing the distance between comedy and tragedy,” he seems less to be explicating the work than trying to make the case for Ware as a first-rate artist. He doesn’t need to.