On my radar: Chris Ware’s cultural highlights

The American cartoonist on Alexander Payne’s devastating new satire, the young graphic novelist he’s most excited about and the BBC series he pays to have airmailed across the Atlantic

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1967, Chris Ware started doing comic strips when he was studying at the University of Texas in Austin, where he was invited by fellow cartoonist Art Spiegelman to contribute to anthology magazine Raw. A regular contributor of covers and cartoons to the New Yorker, since 1993 Ware has also been publishing the Acme Novelty Library comic book series, which included a serialisation of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. In 2000 he turned the strip into an acclaimed graphic novel, which won the 2001 Guardian first book award. In 2012 Ware published the box set Building Stories, a project a decade in the making consisting of 14 different books and booklets. His latest book, Monograph (Rizzoli £45), is out now.

1 | Music

Sleep by Max Richter

Max Richter performing Sleep in Berlin.
‘Personal and meaningful’: Max Richter performing Sleep in Berlin. Photograph: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns

Though Richter claims he wants us to listen to his eight-hour work while asleep, I’ve been listening to its melting chords for the past year while very much awake, and it’s the only music I know that may capture the sensation of death: that ultimate, freeing apathy towards all things worldly, personal and meaningful – making it among the most personal and meaningful pieces I’ve ever heard. I would love to see it performed live before I die.

August 28th 2017 cover by David Plunkert

2 | Drawing

David Plunkert’s New Yorker covers

The newest artist to grace the only periodical remaining that still allows a drawing to be a drawing, David Plunkert’s covers are the best of the year so far, from his personalised bullets in the wake of Las Vegas to his genius perpetual motion-machine take on Charlottesville. Plunkert’s images start their engines and run smoothly, propelling one into a mental landscape that gets more tangled and complex the longer one looks. If he keeps this up, he’ll be our new Saul Steinberg.

3 | Film

Downsizing (director/writer Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor, 2017)

Watch a trailer for Downsizing.

Election, About Schmidt and Sideways are three of my favourite films, and Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor are reunited in a strafing satire on American excess, gluttony and class as told through the simple science-fictional tweak of shrinking oneself so drastically that worldly wealth becomes relatively so much more. The trailer features Matt Damon in gags as genius as giant wedding rings being moved into miniature McMansions and the signing of legal documents the size of tennis courts. That the film opens at Christmas and the trailer was released on 11 September proves these great, accessible and unpretentious film-makers aren’t missing even the tiniest detail of our hugely failing American experiment.


4 | Graphic novel

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

My own profession currently seems divided between comics fiction and comics memoir, the former more or less growing out of the childish fantasies now grotesquely metastasised as “superhero stories for adults” — which makes about as much sense to me as writing pornography for children. Some middle-aged colleagues and I believe literary comics fiction is possible without resorting to fantastical heroics, however, and the youngest and finest exemplar, 28-year-old Nick Drnaso, offers a new book next year to possibly top us all: Sabrina, about a missing woman, a video and the unspeakable possibilities of our contemporary mitigated reality. (After I recommended his first, Beverly, to Zadie Smith, she wrote back a one-word review: “wow,” and she’s just called Sabrina “the best book – in any medium – I have read about our current moment”.) I have no doubt that if Nick keeps it up, he will do things on paper that no other human has yet imagined (he basically already is), and that’s the best kind of heroism imaginable.

Whatsa Paintoonist? by Jerry Moriarty

5 | Graphic memoir

Whatsa Paintoonist? by Jerry Moriarty

Following the incandescent example of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the graphic memoir is easily the most visibly mature category of comics, from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home to Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – all books that dignify the genre with sophisticated human stories of, well, real life. Whatsa Paintoonist? by 79-year-old Jerry Moriarty reinvents the memoir as an ineffable, shimmering picture-poem of earth-shedding memory, discarding the black brushstrokes of his groundbreaking Jack Survives for a luminous rainbow of tentative pencil and brush attempts at putting his affairs in order through the mnemonics of his childhood home and family. That he recently purchased and moved back into this same house makes the reading of this book all the more heart-opening and life-affirming, to say nothing of profoundly moving. (I cried.)

6 | Exhibition

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Club Couple), 2014.
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Club Couple), 2014 – ‘connecting to the tendons of the deepest recesses of American identity’. Photograph: MCA Chicago

Though the exhibition has ended, the catalogue for Chicago painter Kerry James Marshall’s tour of African American life and consciousness is still gettable, and it should be got. Walking through the exhibit with the crowds during its closing week, my experience as a white viewer versus African American viewers must have been as opposing as Marshall’s approach to portraiture is to its history, western art’s “glowing skin” inverted as a pool of empathetic darkness into which the viewer falls. Connecting to the tendons of the deepest recesses of American identity, Marshall’s beautiful paintings are a humblingly generous artistic gesture, especially now. (And that he’s been working on a lengthy comic strip, Rythm Mastr, since 2000 is a fact not lost on this cartoonist.)

7 | Television

Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead
Full Steam Ahead (l-r): Peter Ginn, Alex Langlands, Ruth Goodman – ‘mind-sharpening and life-affirming’. Photograph: Charlotte Lee/BBC/Lion TV

I am proud to say my family’s favourite television programmes are the BBC’s Farm [historical docudrama] series, my daughter Clara naming presenter Ruth Goodman “one of her favourite people on planet Earth”. From 2005’s Tales from the Green Valley, set in the 1620s, to its newest, Full Steam Ahead, an examination of the effect of rail travel on the economy, industry and – most importantly – British daily life, I’ve had every DVD and book airmailed to our house, watching the boys and Ruth try to live under historical technological and agricultural limits with an infectious affection for their experiment and each other that is mind-sharpening and life-affirming. The hosts are unpatronisingly civil and ultimately get at that most Tolstoyan of ends: namely, what does it feel like — and mean — simply to be alive?

Nick Drnaso Sabrina cover


Chris Ware

The GuardianTramp

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