His dazzlingly meticulous and morosely funny graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth (Pantheon, $29.95), won the 2001 First Book Award from the British newspaper The Guardian. The next year, his original drawings were granted two entire walls in the Whitney Biennial, the splashy survey of contemporary American art at New York's Whitney Museum of Art.
Even with such highbrow credits, Mr. Ware prefers the more prosaic term "comic book" to "graphic novel," he says. The former "admits the messy origins of the form" as a colorful, cheap entertainment. It "doesn't shy away from the accomplishments of those who came before my generation."
Born in Omaha, Neb., in 1968, Mr. Ware studied art at the University of Texas at Austin. He first became a published cartoonist with a strip in the campus newspaper, The Daily Texan. "I learned most everything I know about drawing for reproduction" while at the Texan, he says.
When he left Austin for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. Ware broke up a relationship – a move he regretted. Inspired by his own "limitless capacity for self-pity," Mr. Ware began Jimmy Corrigan, his deadpan study of loneliness and social failure in a family traced back to Chicago's World's Fair of 1893.
He is suspicious of art that "promises a 24-hour joy ride," he has said. Pop culture presents very little about loneliness or people who never connect – problems of his own, he acknowledges. Mr. Ware is extremely shy and prefers conducting interviews via e-mail, as he did here. Even his author photo is a drawing of a robot.
Now married and living in Chicago, Mr. Ware has retired Jimmy Corrigan but continues to write and draw a weekly strip that he compiles into issues of the Acme Novelty Library. He is fascinated by old typefaces, silent movies, period comic strips and ragtime music. He even publishes The Ragtime Ephemeralist. All of these contribute to the distinct feel of his work – part nostalgic delight, part comic satire, part despondent sigh.
Each issue of Acme, for instance, features old-style, cut-and-paste creations or game boards – designs that led The Guardian to enthuse that his work is "as beautiful as any published" but it also "challenges us to think about what literature is and where it is going."
Although a new collection of strips will be released this week ( Quimby the Mouse from Fantagraphics), Mr. Ware reports that "I find myself only wanting to do long stories now and worrying about how I can make them better, not worrying about how I can serialize them."
Even so, the comic strips pay the bills. Artists such as he are "all marginal laborers," he told the online A.V. Club.
"We're practically medical oddities." Mr. Ware has received more acclaim than any comic artist since Art Spiegelman won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Maus. But "at the moment, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I have any kind of income or 'job' at all, given the plummeting economic trajectory everything seems to have taken in the past three years."
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