Blue Boy

Ware, creator of the Acme Novelty Library and widely respected among contemporaries as one of the comic world’s most important artists, was paired with Tim Samuelson, the endlessly fascinated Chicago cultural historian, as part of the “Masters of American Comics” exhibit co-hosted by the Hammer with MOCA.

Ware started things off in a typically sardonic fashion. “Everybody is free to leave at any point. And if everybody does that,” he paused, looking hopeful, “then we’ll just stop.”

This brought some laughter, applause and the cry, “We love you, Chris!”

Ware, quiet a moment, replied definitively: “I’m sorry.”

Despite Samuelson’s confident, unshakable spirit and the undeniable appeal of Ware’s keen mind, what followed was the bleakest, wryest show-and-tell ever.

Here’s Ware commenting on a black-and-white image of the early Chicago landscape: “This just emphasizes for me the true grimness of the place. All these hopeful buildings and this sheer wasteland that surrounds it .?.?. The best thing to do when you live there is to just simply go home and close the door, turn up the radiator.”

Ha ha ha ha ha haah.

On a photo of Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould bent over his drawing board in a white shirt and tie: “This goes to show how unromantic this job is. Basically you’re an accountant that doodles all day.”

Ha ha ha ha ha haah.

And on George Herriman (Krazy Kat): “He also suffered from migraines, which is a very common cartoonist complaint. I took three Extra Strength Tylenols today.”

Ha ha ha ha ha haah.

Even Ware’s encouragement for struggling cartoonists was more of an admonishment: “I just don’t want anyone to think they’re not doing it right because they’re not happy doing it.”

When the program was over, Samuelson disappeared and the crowd, which included artist and comic-book publisher Jim Taylor and Sideways director Alexander Payne, descended on Ware proffering books to be signed and hands to be shaken. Clearly uncomfortable, the cartoonist had the nervous look of a Petco pet confronting the strange hand in its cage. “I don’t mean to be rude,” he kept saying, arms at his side, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to be rude.”

But the strange hands kept coming.

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