Ware has refined a unique illustrative and typographic language that bridges comic art and graphic design. STEVEN HELLER discusses the sheer virtuosity of Chris Ware’s lettering.
Ware’s comics are so conceptually astute and compositionally engaging that they cannot fail but connect with their audience. His sympathetically melancholy characters (Jimmy, Rusty, Quimby the Mouse, among them), his nostalgically futuristic world-scapes, and his genius for conveying subtle time-shifts in two-dimensional space have all the components of compelling narrative. But it does not take a design critic to realise that his ingenious typography is equally (perhaps more) essential for enabling access to an eccentric comic world that could otherwise be opaque. Ware’s various lettering and typographic compositions exude a curiously universal allure and a timely timelessness like that of a personal signature. Yet one will be hard-pressed to find any of his custom (and nameless) faces in digital type foundry specimen books.
Although Ware’s comics are receiving wide exposure these days (his critically praised book Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth remains a bestseller two years after its release, and he was the only comics artist to be featured in the 2002 Whitney Museum Biennial in New York), his lettering is not for sale. Rather than commercial property, his type is a personal signature and each typographic confection stems from a private obsession. ‘A type company asked me to do some fonts a while back,’ says Ware, ‘but I realised that seeing my lettering appear on billboards and annual reports would be about the most horrifying thing imaginable. Besides, I don’t really think of my lettering as fonts; it’s more or less circumstantial to the page on which it appears, and I try to let my instincts shape how it looks.’