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‘A book is the perfect metaphor for a human being’: Watch Chris Ware explain the meaning of his famous art comics

From June to October this year, the Public Information Library (Bpi) of the Center Pompidou is honoring the American comic artist and author Chris Ware with a retrospective exhibition dedicated to his inventive graphic novels and illustrations, which disrupt conventional storytelling techniques and focus on the inner lives of the protagonists.

Based in Chicago’s Oak Park neighborhood, Ware’s stories often take place there as well. The details of his own daily encounters blend seamlessly into works like jimmy corrigan (2000) and rust brown (2020). In an exclusive interview given to Art21 as part of the Art in the 21st century series, Ware explains the painstaking process of making his intricate works.

A general atmospheric view with the work of cartoonist Chris Ware during the previews of the summer exhibitions at the Center Pompidou on June 7, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)

“In general, each page takes about 40 hours,” he explains. Although many books are two or three hundred pages long, he continues, “andvery stripped down, all the lettering you see is a product of my hand.

The artist first arranges the illustrations on a large piece of cardboard, which he draws in blue pencil, before tracing his work in black ink and superimposing the colors. “When I compose my pages, the way the individual panels line up and inform each other is improvised,” Ware explains. “But there are always things happening on the page that add meaning to the overall structure of the story.”

Ware’s approach to structure is also novel. His work from 2012 Building stories—which took 10 years to complete – consists of 14 printed works, including cloth-bound sections, journals, pamphlets and flip books. Readers can start and stop the book from any individual section, so that each experience is unique and the reader feels they own the story arc they choose to follow.

“A book itself is the perfect metaphor for a human being. There’s a front and a back,” Ware says. “He’s got a backbone and he’s bigger on the inside than he is on the outside.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21 Art in the 21st century series, below. “Chris Ware” is on view at the Public Information Library at the Center Pompidou from June 8 to October 10, 2022.

This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new season of the flagship series of the Art21 association Art in the 21st century is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series, like New York close up and Extended gameand learn about the organization’s educational programs at

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