interviews Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware and Charles Burns about their new work

“Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine and Charles Burns discuss their best work” / The Star / Laura Kane / November 2, 2012

As three of the world’s most respected graphic novelists prepare to discuss their new books in Toronto, the changing landscape of their medium seems to be top of mind.

Chris Ware’s Building Stories is truly a book that cannot be read on a Kindle: an assortment of 14 graphic pamphlets, posters and books housed inside a large cardboard box.

Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings is a beautiful hardcover collecting the artist’s covers, drawings and cartoons for The New Yorker.

Then there is Charles Burns’ The Hive, a disorienting, multi-layered tale that explores the theme of art as a lens to view the world. All three books are worthy arguments for art you can touch, hold and experience — not just scroll through.

It’s not a surprise then that when asked by the Star to describe a favourite page both Ware and Tomine wrote, by coincidence, about the value of print in a digital world.

Adrian Tomine, “Read Handed” from New York Drawings

This image, which appeared on the June 9 & 16, 2008 cover of The New Yorker, was my attempt to sympathetically acknowledge the plight of the independent bookseller in the Amazon age, as well as the dilemma of the modern book buyer.

When it was published, I saw this cover taped into the window of several book shops around New York. That was gratifying to me, and I felt like, in some small way, there was an unspoken conversation taking place between me, the retailer, and the store’s customers.

Chris Ware, “Building Daughter” from Building Stories

Since I don’t generally feel happy or confident about what I do, I can’t pick a “favourite” page. But if I had to choose one that sort of surprised me as I was working on it, it would maybe be this page.

It’s a newspaper-scaled spread that arranges the main character’s memories of her recently deceased father around a drawing of her sleeping daughter, printed more or less the size that a child at 10 months actually is.

Though we hear a lot lately about the usurpation of print and paper by electronic media, I believe there’s still a reason for art and storytelling that doesn’t arrive in a little glowing pit, but as a certain, real thing which one can actually hold.

Even though it was only published a few years ago, it’s an image that’s already dated. If I were to create an amended version today, there would be another person in one of the windows above, enthralled by an “e-reader” and oblivious to the commotion downstairs.

Charles Burns, pg. 19 from The Hive

Whenever I leaf through The Hive, I find myself pausing to look at this page; perhaps because it comes close to capturing that subtle feeling of loss and regret I get when summer turns to fall.

On this page, Doug, the protagonist, is walking with Sarah, his soon-to-be girlfriend. I never like “explaining” my stories, but in the centre panel, we see three groupings of figures: Doug and Sarah with hopeful, almost wistful smiles on their faces, an older hippie couple that look a little broken and sad and a young family sitting in the park, enjoying a beautiful autumn day.

Why have they all been placed together in the same panel? How do they relate to each other? Those are the kinds of questions I want my readers to ask themselves as they make their way through my story.

Adrian Tomine, Charles Burns and Chris Ware host audio-visual presentations of their respective new works on Nov. 12 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 8:30 p.m., as part of The Beguiling’s 25th anniversary.

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