Bartual – University of Copenhagen

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Roberto Bartual: Memory and neurosis in Chris Ware?s diagrammatic compositions

Chris Ware is one of the most experimental comic-book artists nowadays, so much that it is difficult to relate his work to a previous tradition. Jimmy Corrigan's or Rusty Brown's loneliness are echoed by Charlie Brown's, Ware's fondness of absurdist humor and existential comedy have many points in common with Herriman?s Krazy Kat (Glass, 2002: 9), but even if we can easily trace back his themes and tone to early and mid-century comics, Chris Ware's eminently original narrative techniques have opened many new doors to comics as an artistic expression.

One of Ware's most original narrative devices is his diagrammatic conception of the page: panels are organized in a non-linear manner and connected by arrows that allow more than one reading path. Ware?s compositions look like a network diagram, but instead of describing a production process or a business activity, he uses them to represent complex and non-linear human realities: the process of memory, on the one hand, but also neurotic mind-processes. 

In order to follow the story, the reader must sometimes follow complex paths marked by arrows that usually flow in circles or zig-zag patterns like a serpent (Ware, 2006: 55, 62): more often than not, these diagrams are a mirror that reflects the character's mood and thinking pattern. Some other times, his diagrams look like a huge map of the mind, each panel a remembrance, a geographic or architectonic background representing the place that triggers the memory, and a complex system of arrows establishing free association patterns among the images of memory (Ware, 1994: 5; 2007: 24).

In my presentation I will analyze these two narrative modes in relation to previous non-linear composition in comics (Gasoline Alley) and diagrammatic compositions (Rube Goldberg?s machines) that are also, like Ware's, a vehicle to neurotic narratives; as well, I will study the similarities between Ware's free association patters and free indirect speech in Literature (Joyce, Cortázar and Thomas Pynchon).