Ever since 2000, when the release of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth earned him recognition beyond comic book fans and readers of Newcity, and even as he began illustrating covers for the New Yorker and curating museum exhibits, Chris Ware has been preoccupied with one endeavor: producing a second graphic novel. “At a certain point, however,” the 51-year-old Oak Park resident says, “I realized that this particular book would likely be my uneasy companion for the better part of my life — not unlike the memories which we all keep locked inside and regularly look up, somehow revise, or edit, and then put back in the cold storage of our minds until, really, the day we die.”
That bittersweet observation is perfectly in keeping with Rusty Brown, the follow-up — or at least the first part of the follow-up — that Ware is finally publishing. It opens with the title character at the Omaha, Nebraska, elementary school of Ware’s youth, then refracts into chapters devoted to the people the first grader encounters in a single day: his father, his teacher, and his bully, whose life story is covered from birth to death. As usual, Ware experiments with layout (sometimes one panel to a page, like a painting, or dozens, like a finished puzzle), text (either illustrated or handled in comic-style bubbles), and genre (a whole separate science fiction story takes place within the narrative).
A fictionalized version of Ware appears in the book, and the character will get his own chapter in the project’s second part, which Ware is already deep into crafting. “Mr. Ware is by far the biggest jerk in the whole story,” says the famously self-effacing author, “and I figured if I was going to have a character who was a jerk, he might as well look like me.”
Jac Jemc Delivers Another Cache of Elliptical Tales
Jac Jemc thrives in the world of ambiguity. Inspired by true crime and thrillers, the 36-year-old author says she let her “natural obsessions” guide the creation of her latest, False Bingo, her second short-story collection and fourth book. One of those obsessions? “The unknowability of people. Like, no matter how close you are to a person, there’s this tiny little bit that you can never bridge.” In one story, a family receives a stream of curious packages, from old coins to Nintendo Wiis, only to discover that the father has ordered them … except he has no memory of it. Other tales deal with more malevolent forces, like the one in which an ex-felon devotes himself to taxidermy to “forget the trembling urges he kept in check.”
In recent years, Jemc has achieved national renown, particularly for her 2017 novel The Grip of It (she has another, a work of historical fiction, coming out in 2021). But inspiration for the StoryStudio instructor and School of the Art Institute of Chicago MFA grad is often found locally. “I’m always convinced that I’m writing mostly placeless stories,” she says, “but people point out to me that they see Chicago when I describe a neighborhood or walking down the street.”
Even when her characters find themselves in low-stakes situations — like in the story of a couple embarking on a dizzying journey to find better dinner companions — the reader is left with a sense of unease. “I don’t love an ending that’s tied up with a bow. I like to explore the things that can’t be answered.”
Five More Things to Read
1 A Suspense Story Set in the World of Chicago Theater
After a seven-year wait, Carol Anshaw, who splits her time between Chicago and Amsterdam, is back with her first novel since the New York Times bestseller Carry the One. In Right After the Weather, the world of a disaffected 40-something theater tech is shaken by a home invasion.
2 Liz Phair Comes Clean
The singer-songwriter and former Wicker Park resident bares her soul in Horror Stories: A Memoir. Through 17 essays, Phair reflects on body image, infidelity, and #MeToo, exhibiting the same wit and vulnerability that made her rock anthems so iconic.
3 A Promising Poet Makes an Anticipated Debut
Xandria Phillips, who just left Chicago for a University of Wisconsin residency, first garnered attention after winning a 2016 Seattle Review poetry contest judged by Claudia Rankine. In Hull, Phillips connects slavery and colonialism to the emotional trauma felt by today’s queer black women.
4 South Side Architecture Gets Its Due
Former Sun-Times architecture critic Lee Bey combines sociology, memoir, and his own photography for Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, a sprawling and heartfelt survey of schools, churches, houses, and more.
5 The Stories That Inspired the Musical Chicago
Assembled by a team of Tribune staffers and featuring original essays, old news clippings, and recently unearthed photographs, He Had It Coming takes a deep dive into 1920s-era Murderess Row, the Cook County Jail’s infamous holding block for women. — T.M.