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Chris Ware

Page history last edited by Matt Brown 12 years, 2 months ago

Born Franklin Christenson Ware,December 28th, 1967.   


Chris Ware is most widely known for his Acme Novelty Library, an ongoing serial comic that began in 1993.  The character Jimmy Corrigan is the most common character in the series and ANL 5-6, 8-9, 11-14 have been collected into Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth.  Jimmy Corrigan was published in 2000 by Pantheon Books and won the American Book Award in 2001, among other awards.  Ware is cartoonist, letterer, and colorist for all is work.  He has a unique style reflective of early American cartoons but with nonlinear story lines.  The themes of his work often deal with the difficulties of human relationships and memory.



            Chris Ware was born in Omaha, Nebraska and was originally inspired by the comic form by reading Peanuts comics in his grandmother’s basement.  Ware states his major influences are cartoonist from the early 20th century like Charles Schulz, including Winsor McCay and Frank King. He grew up without ever meeting his father, and met his father only once, shortly before the completion and publication of Jimmy Corrigan (where Jimmy also meets his father for the first and only time).

            He got his BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991 and attended the masters program of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1991-1993, though he didn’t complete his degree. He still lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Marnie, and daughter, Clara.  He is an ardent collector of Ragtime memorabilia and occasionally publishes a journal The Ragtime Ephemeralist.             





            While attending the University of Texas at Austin, Ware wrote strips for The Daily Texan, the country’s largest university paper.  It was in The Daily Texan that Ware began crafting the characters of Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby the Mouse, now his two most widely known characters.  In 1987, his work in the paper was noticed by Art Spiegelman, writer of Maus and editor of the comic magazine RAW.  Spiegelman invited Ware to contribute to the last two issues appearing in 1990 and 1991.  The four-page comics in each issue were his first large audience publications.

            After achieving his BFA at the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, Ware moved to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in printmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago.  He attended the school for two year but did not complete the degree.  While in the program, he was asked to write a weekly strip for the Chicago magazine, Newcity, where he began with a newer version of Jimmy Corrigan.

            In 1994, Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics Books offered Ware a regular comics series, which became ACME Novelty Library.  Since its beginnings, ACME has been unique and outstanding (in both sense of the word) in its design.  The comics are not the standard size and have ranged from 9.25” x 7” to 11” x 18”.  Over the years Ware has won numerous awards, including the Eisner Awards for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer/Artist, Best Colorist, and Best Publication design, as well as the Harvey Awards for Best Letterer, Best Colorist, Best Cartoonist, and Excellence in Production/Presentation.  Ware is the only comic artist to have more awards than he has published comics.     

            With the publication of ACME #14 in 2001, the continuing story of Jimmy Corrigan was completed, having began in ACME #1 in 1993.  It was published in late 2000 by Pantheon Books and won both the Guardian First Book Award in the UK and the American Book Award the following year.  It was the first graphic narrative to win either award.  Fantagraphics published the first fifteen issues of ACME and after a four year break Ware began self-publishing with the issue #16 in late 2005.  The latest AMCE Novelty Library was issue #20  in November of 2010.

            Outside of ACME Novelty Library, Ware has done various other things.  He was a contributor to the Showtime series This American Life with Ira Glass (2007-2008), did the poster art for the movie The Savages (2007), and was the editor of Best American Comics 2007 as well as Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Vol. 13.  He did a very satirical cover for the Fortune 500 magazine that was rejected and a mural on the 826 Valencia building showing the parallel developments of spoken and written human language.  



            Ware has a very recognizable style, simplistic art with precise geometrical layouts.  His work is often thought to be computer generated because of its precision but Ware does draw everything by hand (though uses rulers and T-squares).  Sometimes Ware places over a dozen frames per page and other times has one frame floating on an otherwise empty page.    Ware periodically uses pages of diagrams to explain family history, the connection of events, of the progression of time.  Because of the cold nature of the art many critics feel a lack of emotion in Ware’s work.  Ware, however, states he is trying to simplistically depict the inner emotional states of his characters just using gestures and pictures.

            Ware tends to rely more on the images to tell the story than on the text.  In order to show the natural, awkward rhythm of dialogue, sentences are often framed or filled with silences.  Ware believes that thinking of comics in terms of film is a crutch, and instead thinks that music is a more apt comparison to his work.  He describes his layouts like sheet music, waiting to be read so that the music can be experienced. 

When Ware does use text outside the speech bubble the words are images, comprising of or framing the panels.  He also believes his images are acting just like words, calling them ideograms.


Well, to me, drawing from life is about observation and about looking, and to me, cartooning is about remembering and about reading. Fundamentally, the difference between comics and fine art, for lack of a more pretentious distinction, is the difference between reading pictures and looking at pictures. When I draw comics, I draw pictures that are ideograms — you read them rather than look at them.”


            Ware’s most well known character is Jimmy Corrigan, being the focus of ten of the twenty ACME Novelty Librarys published.  Other recurring characters are Quimby the Mouse and Rusty Brown.  Jimmy Corrigan’s story follows Jimmy, a inactive middle-aged man with an overbearing mother, meeting his father for the first and only time.  In conjunction, the story of his grandfather’s abandonment/abuse by his father is also told.  The disconnect between father and son and the strain of family ties is explored in both storylines.  Quimby the Mouse’s stories always deal with the love/hate relationship between Quimby and Sparky, highlighting the struggle of human relationships.  Rusty Brown is shown from childhood to middle age as a nerd particularly obsessed with collecting action figures.   Rusty is seen as a loner, being constantly bullied, and the one friend he has throughout his life, Chalky, he treats poorly.  


  • Acme Novelty Library, 1993-present
  • Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Pantheon (ANL 5-6, 8-9, 11-14 collected)
  • Quimby the Mouse (2003), Fantagraphics (ANL 2 and 4 with additional material)
  • The Acme Novelty Library Final Report to Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Fun Book (2005), Pantheon (ANL 7 and 15 with additional material)
  • Building Stories (scheduled for fall 2012), Pantheon 



     Kannenberg, Jr., Gene, “The Comics of Chris Ware,” in A Comics Studies Reader, ed. by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2009.



Further Reading


     http://www.flickr.com/photos/unaesthetic/2207771948/  (826 Valencia mural)

     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/23/chris-wares-rejectedemfor_n_550341.html#s84460&title=Chris_Wares_Fortune (Fortune 500 cover)


     http://vimeo.com/4412391 (Quimby the Mouse video)


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