Charles Burns

Chris Ware and Charles Burns at Unity Temple

An audience of about 200 fans was afforded a rare opportunity to see and hear two modern masters of the graphic novel, Chris Ware and Charles Burns. The setting was Oak Park, Illinois’ beautiful and historic Unity Temple, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is undergoing an extensive and much needed renovation. In addition to numerous structural issues, recently there was news that vandals had stolen the bronze lettering above both entryway doors.

Chris Ware, best known for his masterful “Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth”, is an Oak Park native, and Wright’s prairie style comes through in the clean architectural precision of his work. Charles Burns, the senior of the two and one of Ware’s “childhood heroes”, on the other hand, claims to be no good at rendering mechanical objects and says he relies heavily on photo reference for things like cars. His latest work is the nightmarish “X’ed Out”.

Throughout their presentations, both artist’s came across as genuine, modest, and reserved, somewhat surprising given Burns’ roots as a “punk comic artist” (Both have had work published in the alternative “Raw magazine”). Both Ware and Burns share a mastery at getting under the skin of their characters and exposing their darkest sides and most disturbing thoughts. Much of their imagery and story lines are aimed at mature readers in every sense of the word.

When asked if they ever had to police their own thought processes in order to avoid offending family and friends (both are now family men), Burns said that he has to consciously fight the temptation to censor his darker themes in order to avoid dulling his art. Ware said he isn’t sure where his darker themes of family dysfunction come from, as he grew up in a comfortable, middle class home environment. Both confessed to occasional awkward conversations with a parent, having to explain that “The mom and dad in the story are purely fictional…REALLY!”

At the book signing following the presentations and Q & A, both artists were personable and the fans patient despite long lines. Given Ware’s methodical signature style, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the line is still snaking throughout the temple.

Many thanks to Chris Ware and Charles Burns and to Oak Park’s “Book Table” book store for arranging the event and to the Unity Temple for hosting. A portion of the event’s book sale proceeds go toward the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation”.

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