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The staff said, “Write about this.”

July 22, 2013

We’ve had it for a while, many months, but we didn’t really know what to do with it, so it sat around. Now that it was ready, I took it home. It doesn’t fit in either bicycle basket, so it was a nervous ride home, with glances behind me to see if it was still there. I didn’t want it to fall in the road before anyone had read it.

Actually, L read it already, a kind of privileged preview when it first arrived last fall, and she said it was great. So, “it” is Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” a graphic work of many parts held together in a box. Maybe it’s a graphic novel. Maybe it’s a collection of comics.

Amazon lists it as “hardcover,” which I suppose it is, being a big cardboard box, but “it” also includes “a fully-apportioned variety of reading material ready to address virtually any imaginable artistic or poetic taste, from the corrosive sarcasm of youth to the sickening earnestness of maturity …”

Which also includes fourteen items: two hardback books, five pamphlets, two small newspapers, two large newspapers, two comic strips, and one folding board.

We’ve numbered the items for logistical ease, but I’d hesitated to do that, one of various issues that left it unprocessed so long. Chris Ware did not number the items. There is no official way to negotiate all the pieces, although supposedly Ware left hints.

But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you read them all. You can’t watch only part of the movie “Pulp Fiction.” You have to watch to the end and complete the re-assembly. If you check out “Building Stories,” just start reading (and in the end, please count all the pieces before returning).

I’ve enjoyed Chris Ware’s work in the New Yorker. “Enjoy” might be the wrong word if it conjures a smiling face. Maybe a wry smile. His work is moving, something more complex than merely heart-breaking or painfully honest. Thus, L found “Building Stories” remarkable.

Cartoons, comics, graphic novels, illustrated works—literary boundaries are blurred these days, and it’s a good thing (except for publishers wanting to label stuff for marketing).

The art show at the library right now is itself a kind of graphic literature. Salida artist Jon MacManus was asked in 2000 to make 18 illustrations for the 3rd edition of William M. Bueler’s “Roof of the Rockies,” a history of Colorado mountaineering.

They were needed in less than four months (sound familiar, graphic artists?), but Jon said yes. He has now reworked some of those illustrations and produced Giclee prints on Somerset Vanilla printmaking paper.

(I include this point because we’ve been arguing whether Ponderosa pines smell like vanilla or butterscotch. Since some butterscotch recipes call for vanilla, it may be a moot point.)

Included with Jon’s prints are narrations by Terry Root of the Colorado Mountain Club Press. Since then, narration became a habit of Jon’s, such that he researches and narrates much of his work.

(I don’t think this extends to his window-washing business, for it might be annoying to hear “Now I shall squeegee the north-facing single-pane window …” all day long.)

Many of the prints are mountain locations, but the last is “Eleanor Davis,” who died in 1993 at age 107. She and Albert Ellingwood made the first climb of the Crestones in 1916 and of the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle in 1925. Perhaps those were the first “recorded” climbs.

There’s a lot of Colorado history in these beautiful prints. Don’t miss them.


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