by Jeet Heer
Saturday, November 7, 2009
In a recent Inkstuds interview, Seth said that that three most influential contemporary cartoonists are Crumb, Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. For Seth, what sets these three apart is not so much the quality of their work, as the fact that they’ve changed the syntax of comics, greatly expanding the range and depth of stories that can be told in the medium. I agree with Seth, with the proviso that Gary Panter and Lynda Barry also belong on this list.
The type of influence Seth was talking about is fairly subtle: in the case of Ware it means making other cartoonists aware that comics can have minutely delicate shades of emotional meaning hitherto unexplored in the medium. But Ware’s influence on some artists is also more blatant in the sense that he’s clearly informed their style and design sense. Recent examples of Ware-inflected design include the cover for the new Michael Chabon essay collection, an art catalogue designed by Ellen Gould, and a illustration by Mark Matcho from the August 24, 2009 issue of Time Magazine.
Certainly Ware has raised the bar in terms of design, just as he has done for comics, but it is odd to see Ware pastiches popping up all over the place. I’m divided on how I feel about this phenomenon. On the one hand, most of the Ware-influenced art is quite good: if you’re going to steal a style you might as well do it from the best. On the other hand, in Ware’s work his style isn’t just for show but is integral to the total artistic package. To take use his style for other purposes almost seems like your missing the point of what it is that he’s doing.