William Kuskin, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado, Boulder, introduced Denver Comic Con’s keynote speaker, cartoonist Chris Ware, as a man who presents “honesty” as an “antidote to the emptiness we see in culture now, countered by art, even if he evokes a nightmare through that honesty”. Ware guided the audience at DCC through the major thematic movements of his life from childhood through his most recent work on Building Stories, closely interwoven at every juncture with his observations and engagement with art. From Ware’s student days, instructed in art school, where he “felt alienated”, that art was essentially dead in modern times, to his early work creating “wordless comics” in student papers, he encountered the realization that reading comics produced “sounds in his mind like music” and struggled to understand that phenomenon.
Creating art, for Ware, was a process of “relieving emotional pressure”, whether in assemblage works, paintings, or dioramas. He presented slides to the audience of his early strips and “mechanical sculptures” that he created in response to watching his grandmother “deteriorating” like a “failing mechanism” in later life prior to his gradual development of strips and an early collected edition of what would later become his comics opus Jimmy Corrigan. Corrigan’s real push began, he explained, after Ware broke both feet jumping a few feet off a balcony and was homebound for several weeks, leaving him with a stack of books on Chicago history for company, a book which he began as an “emotional experiment”.