Chris Ware is the author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and Building Stories, which was deemed a Top Ten Fiction Book of the Year by The New York Times and Time magazine. A contributor to The New Yorker, his work has been exhibited at MoCa Los Angeles, the MCA Chicago, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The ongoing visual gag of the book, especially as Philip Guston finds his groove and really gets going, is Richard Nixon-as-dick, or Tricky Dick with chin as hairy scrotum and nose-dong—sometimes priapic, sometimes flaccid—though Nixon’s earliest appearances are almost certainly internalizations of Robert Crumb’s Flakey Foont, a sort of everyman character blindly shuttered by American lies and ambitions until his enlightened old Squirrel Cage pal Mr. Natural blows his mind with the cosmic truths, or at least tries to.
As a cartoonist myself, I am dismayed that there’s little of Saul Steinberg’s that I can steal, the crossover in the Venn diagram of the image-as-itself versus as-what-it-represents being depressingly slim. I am painfully aware that in comics, stories generally kill the image. But Steinberg’s images grow and even live on the page; somewhere in the viewing of a Steinberg drawing the reader follows not only his line, but also his line of thought.
Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of George Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip.
Soft City, by the Norwegian graphic artist Hariton Pushwagner, is something of a miracle. Not only for existing in the first place, but for surviving at all. It languished in obscurity for decades and was very nearly lost before finally being issued in book form, following a messy legal dispute involving the artist and his former dealer. Most pointedly, however, it is a miracle of its native medium—the comic strip—for its startling and disquieting vision in a form that had never seen anything like it.