“I discovered Raw magazine while looking for pornography in the back room of my local Omaha comic shop,” Chris Ware recalls in Outside the Box, a collection of in-depth conversations between influential cartoonists (among them Allison Bechdel, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and Daniel Clowes) and Hillary L. Chute, a comics scholar and assistant prof of English at the U. of C., where she organized the wildly popular Comics: Philosophy & Practice Conference in 2012.
As we learn in Outside the Box, Chute’s follow-up to 2010’s Graphic Women, the pubescent Ware was bummed to learn Raw wasn’t very dirty. So he shelved the seminal 80s comics anthology cofounded by two of Chute’s other interview subjects, Maus creator Art Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly, New Yorker art director for the last 20 years. Fast-forward to college: Ware got a call from Spiegelman, who’d seen one of Ware’s comics in a student newspaper and invited the budding artist to contribute. Such serendipitous exchanges and candid anecdotes are what make Chute’s book so engaging. We learn Charles Burns was inspired by Mexican wrestling mags, and Lynda Barry—for a series of women talking to impudent cactus-men in a bar—by a bad breakup. Nearly all of Chute’s interlocutors, it seems, were influenced by Raw and R. Crumb and family dysfunction and Mad, particularly under the editorship of Harvey Kurtzman.
Because of the depth of the conversations, a less siloed organization of the cartoonists’ often overlapping insights would have benefited the book—and its author’s point that these artists and writers have taken “the field forward in terms of force, sophistication, and craft.” That the book’s introduction points out literary comics’ increasing public profile will seem needless to most of Outside the Box‘s readership, whose appreciation for the form can only benefit from Chute’s thoughtful exchanges.
Chute discusses the book 4/19, 7 PM, Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910, quimbys.com, free.