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2013 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize Goes to Chris Ware's "Building Stories"

by Daniel Tripp — Posted Nov 20, 2013 12:00 PM
By Nick DiMarco, Undergraduate Intern, November 13, 2013

On Tuesday, November 19th, Penn State presented renowned comic book artist Chris Ware with the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize for the Year 2013 for his captivating piece Building Stories.

The prize has been awarded annually to the best graphic novel published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian resident.   Ware joined past recipients of the award Anders Nilsen (Big Questions) and Adam Hines  (Duncan the Wonder Dog).

According to the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, which administers the award, the event “celebrates Mr. Ward’s seminal influence in the development of the graphic novel and celebrates the gift of an extensive collection of Ward’s wood engravings, original book illustrations, and other graphic art donated to Penn State University Libraries by his daughters, Robin Ward Savage and Nanda Weedon Ward.”  These wordless novels, produced between 1929 and 1937, include God’s Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage, Prelude to a Million Years, Songs without Words, and Vertigo.

Ware has become an influential figure in his own right in the increasingly recognizable field of graphic literature.  His book Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth was met with critical acclaim in the late 1990’s, and even stirred controversy when it was posited that Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy, modeled the character “Stewie” after the comic’s protagonist (the similarity is striking). Building Stories, which took a decade to complete, is considered by many to be a continuation of Ware’s comic book preeminence.

The work’s highly unconventional elements—which range from newspapers to flip books—complement the multilayered storyline.  The prize jurors observe, “Ware’s astute and precise renderings, composed with a tender yet unblinkingly clinical eye and fleshed out with the pristine and evocative coloring, trace the mundane routines and moments of small crisis that his characters inhabit.  In so doing, he produces not a document but a monument, a work whose narrative logic is architectural rather than chronological: a set of lives to be encountered, traversed, and returned to as the rooms and floors of a building might be over the years, still sequentially but not in a limited or decided-upon sequence.”

The selection jury was comprised of representatives from various Penn State academic circles, as well as alumni and students with particular knowledge and interest in graphic novels.  The Penn State English Department, which has been involved since the prize’s conception, has become increasingly more involved in the award process, seating members on each year’s selection jury.

Scott T. Smith, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature here at Penn State, is on the advisory board for the award.  He notes that the English Department “brings a particular perspective and skill set that complements the expertise of other jury members.  English faculty also regularly teaches courses in comics, which positions us to think about comics from a formal or literary perspective.  Comics as an artistic medium is receiving increased attention in the academy, and scholars are just now developing the critical vocabulary and expertise to do them justice.”

After receiving the prize, Ware led a discussion of his book, affording an opportunity for audience members to hear from and speak with one of the most accomplished creators in comics.

“Events like this can expand our thinking about comics as an art form,” Smith says, “especially for anyone who only knows comics casually.”