Chris Ware’s comics look almost mechanical, with their smoothly drawn lines and flat areas of color, but the characters that inhabit them are achingly real. “I want [the drawings] to be as clear and readable as possible so the story can be as tangled and uncertain as life and experience seem to be,” he says of Rusty Brown, the comic he has been working on for the past 18 years. Pantheon will publish the first of two volumes in September.

Ware began serializing his comics in his college newspaper, the Daily Texan, at the University of Texas at Austin, and later was a contributor to Raw, the comics magazine edited by Françoise Mouly and her husband, Maus creator Art Spiegelman. He launched his comics series, The Acme Novelty Library, in 1993. Both Jimmy Corrigan, his first graphic novel, and Rusty Brown first appeared as part of the Acme Novelty Library series before being published as books (the new edition of Rusty Brown will include previously unpublished material). Building Stories, which collects 14 different comics printed in a variety of formats that together tell a single story, is one of Ware’s most unusual works and also got its start in the Novelty Library. When published as a book in 2012, it was named a Top 10 Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review.

After finishing Jimmy Corrigan, Ware says that he started Rusty Brown as “a humorous tension reliever.” He adds, “It had vague ambitions of being a shortish origin story about a middle-aged toy collector I’d been drawing for a couple of years, both as a parody of American materialism and infantilism and my own participation therein.” As he wrote it, though, it morphed into a much bigger story about the toy collector’s childhood and what Ware describes as “the three-dimensional framework of the characters who surround and form him.”

Ware sees comics as akin to mental images, like memories. “In regular fiction, printed words on the page are translucent, if not transparent,” he says, “creating images in the reader’s imagination—which is, by far, one of the strangest and most unpinnable phenomena there is. Whereas in comics the reader ideally ‘reads,’ or sees through, the drawings to have the simultaneous sensation of something happening not only in their own minds, but also before their eyes.”

At their heart, though, Ware’s comics are not formal exercises but stories about people. “What’s most compelling to me as a writer and a person is how we become who we are,” Ware says. “How do we go from that kid on the playground who made that weird animal sound whenever he caught a ball to being a mixed-use real estate developer?”

Today, 10:20–11:05 a.m. Chris Ware will participate in the “Graphic Novel Spotlight” on the Choice Stage.