It's impossible to talk about Chris Ware's Building Stories without addressing the physicality of Building Stories. It's a brightly colored box, 16 inches long, 2 inches deep, and about a foot wide. Upon opening the box, you'll find 14 books inside, arranged more or less by size. The experience of opening Building Stories resembles opening a board game for the first time, without all the little plastic gewgaws clattering around. (It's funny to think how just 15 years ago, comic books were frowned upon by many literary-minded snobs. Now, as the importance of physical books shrinks in the face of an e-book onslaught, Ware's inventive storytelling techniques make the best possible case for the physical book as an integral part of storytelling.)
Once you open the box, on the top are the pamphlets—it's a strange experience to see the guts of coverless comics sitting there with their panels right out front, like accidentally walking in on a naked roommate—but you can see that there are many shapes and sizes of books inside. One looks like a Little Golden Book. One is shaped like a newspaper. Another is a large cardboard screen. You sink into the box the way you slip into a Sunday newspaper: Some readers will pull all the pieces apart and restack them into an order that pleases them. Others will explode all the books across a room and choose the next book at random. Others will rigidly keep to the order in which the books came, from the top down.
It takes a while of being dazzled by the form before you can begin to really appreciate the content...(Keep reading.)