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”Rusty Brown, Part I” by Chris Ware. Pantheon, September 2019. 352 pp. Hardcover, $35. Adult.
“Sprawling” is an adjective frequently applied to the visual and narrative style of vaunted comics master Chris Ware. The above image is only a section of the unfolded cover of his new book, “Rusty Brown, Part One,” but it well conveys the nested, insular, and almost maddeningly complex narrative mapping for which Ware is famous. (See my review of his 2012 book in a box, “Building Stories.”)
“Depressing” is an adjective frequently—perhaps most frequently—applied to Ware’s characters and their stories. In “Rusty Brown,” however, though the characters’ lives are often bleak, the book culminates in an expression of the type of hope and determination that keep Ware’s characters—and, really, the human race—going, even in the face of despair. “Books can’t tell us how to live,” he explains in a recent ”Guardian” interview, “but they can help us get better at imagining how to live.”
As well as how not to live, as some of the characters in “Rusty Brown” suggest. The book runs one by one through the stories of seven protagonists, introduced at the start of the book with film-like credits. The names are all very similar: for example, “W.K. Brown as W.K. ‘Woody’ Brown.” All of the characters either teach at or attend a small private school in Omaha, Nebraska. Though the real-life Chris Ware is associated with Chicago—he lives in the suburb Oak Park, populated by Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and patterns that echo throughout his work—he grew up in Omaha. “Rusty Brown” could be an alternate, “what if?” universe for Ware, especially since an art teacher at the school shares his name. Continue reading ““Rusty Brown, Part I,” by Chris Ware”