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Top 10 comic book cities: #2 Chris Ware’s Chicago

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From Radiant City to Mega City One, the Architects’ Journal presents a selection of the greatest illustrated urban spaces

Chris Ware’s Chicago

Chris Ware is the most accomplished comic book illustrator and cartoonist working today. Perhaps ever. For this reason alone his work, published as the Acme Novelty Library by Fantagraphics Books, is worth checking out. However Ware is also fascinated by architecture - and actually uses buildings and sections through them - as a narrative structuring device.

Ware is nostalgic for the late 19th and early 20th century: he thinks all forms of design were more accomplished then, more carefully crafted - just better. Consequently all his art is hand-drawn hand-coloured in astonishing detail.

Many stories are set in Chicago and its suburbs. In Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on Earth, Ware depicts the skyscrapers of Louis Sullivan and roadside diners in the outlying districts with equal care - each panel, a Patrick Caulfield. (After Ware, Julian Opie seems pointless). Ware’s skill in arranging panels on a page mesmerise: time, and the rate at which it passes, is endlessly played with.

In Building Stories, first published in the New York Times as a series of 25 one-page strips, a building becomes the framework for a story to unfold, with rooms and elevations used as comic panels. ‘Reading’ these works is demanding: the rewards, however, are great.

If Ware has an analogue in the architectural profession its Peter Zumthor. One phrase unites them: ‘no compromise’.


10 - Radiant City
9 - Tintin’s Inca city
8 - Metropolis
7 - Ubicand
6 - Gotham City
5 - The city in Moebius’ The Long Tomorrow
4 - Daredevil’s New York
3 - From Hell’s London
2 - Chris Ware’s Chicago
1 - Mega City One

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Sorry, but any list of comic book cities is not complete without Neo-Tokyo from the Akira series.

    Neo-tokyo is the profoundly detailed survivor of a nuclear attack and draws on the experiences of Nakasaki and Hiroshima (both now fully inhabited, as if nothing had ever happened).

    NT, like mega city one, is vastly exaggerated - however it is functional and believable.
    Like Gotham, Neo Tokyo has escaped the boundaries of its creation in Akira, and is now the generic name for the future Tokyo.

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