If you were under the impression that the life of a cartoonist was a happy-go-lucky existence, let Mr Chris Ware shatter your illusions. “Drawing provides no sense of reassurance or self-satisfaction, but acts instead as an ongoing indictment of my lack of intelligence, artistic sophistication and inadequate understanding of how the world actually works,” he writes in the introduction of his new book, Monograph, which is, unsurprisingly, a monograph of the cartoonist’s life and work. Named by the vaunted cartoonist himself (“mono for alone, graph for drawing”), Monograph is a coffee-table comic book featuring a mixture of Mr Ware’s life’s work, from his most recognisable characters Quimby the Mouse and Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Boy In the World, to iconic New Yorker covers, as well as some never-before-seen sketches from the beginnings of his career, and biographical elements in the form of photographs from the artist’s childhood.
Despite Mr Ware’s characteristic self-deprecation, the dark and hilarious subject matter of his work – as well as its graphic beauty – have won him a passionate fan base, and Monograph opens with a number of rather gushing accounts of the artist from his friends and colleagues. Ms Françoise Mouly, Mr Ware’s editor at The New Yorker, writes that “the key to his genius isn’t his extraordinary mastery of writing, drawing, style, craft, color and composition or his rigorous formal thinking – though all these qualities in one artist would certainly be impressive enough. What makes him stand out is the humility of his grand project: he aims at pinning the butterflies of our most basic but universal emotions.” Mr Ira Glass, Mr Ware’s friend and the host of This American Life, orates on the artist’s visual mastery: “When a living room shows up in his work – or a dingy airport bar, a grocery store aisle, a snowstorm in the city, an examining table, a Quik Mart sign or anything else at all – it somehow pops into existence like the platonic idea of that object, rendered in clean simple lines and gorgeous color.”