THE COVER commands you to stop, but not just because of the sign.

The acclaimed cartoonist and illustrator Chris Ware (“Building Stories,” “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”) is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, rendering scenes that feel layered in meaning. And for this week’s issue, Ware again pulls in the reader with an image succinctly titled, “Stop.”

The literal intersection in the image evokes metaphorical ones — between light skin and dark, young lives and adults, power and innocence, playfulness and protection. In this meditation on racial tension, it’s telling that the smallest child in the foreground looks not to the police in the vehicle, but rather to the guard. And the “Stop” sign that can be interpreted as applying equally to civilian and officer — and, of course, to the viewer.

“The larger thinking behind the cover involved my watching the last couple of years’ accumulation of cities associated with police shootings and abuse, and wondering if Chicago would join that ignominious list,” Ware, who is based in Oak Park, Ill., tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “The city’s seemingly politically delayed release of the Laquan MacDonald video in November, and the shootings of Quintonio LaGrier and Bettie Jones the day after Christmas, sadly answered that.

“Seeing the videos of teenage girls thrown to the ground, Sandra Bland’s arrest and, before that, Michael Brown’s body laying unattended for four hours on the Ferguson street seemed to sickeningly draw out a pervasive, lingering cultural thread of white Americans still treating African Americans as property,” Ware continues, “and it all left me fearful of how I might also, however unconsciously, somehow be a part of it.”

Ware interprets the presence of some of these crossing guards as civic reactions to worry and fright and concern.

Ware’s wife is a schoolteacher, and he often sees that “stationed among these students are the crossing guards, all of whom are Chicago Police employees,” Ware writes in the New Yorker. “In the outer peripheries work the Safe Passage guards, hired by the city when fifty schools were closed in 2013, lengthening the daily walks, drives, and bus rides of thousands of students to reassigned schools through neighborhoods identified as gang territory, just because they have streets and corners.”

Of depicting race within “Stop,” Ware writes: “Nearly all of the Safe Passage guards [in his Chicago public school district] are middle-aged African-American women, and they nearly all recognize us and wave and smile, braving icy temperatures for hours every winter morning and afternoon.”

Yet behind the waves and smiles is a job fraught with frustration. “Last week, as we gingerly crept through her intersection,” Ware writes about his favorite guard, “my wife noted the sorry state of her sign, new at the beginning of the school year but now showing its battle damage: the top chipped, bent and curled down nearly halfway through the lettering, the consequence of it being slammed to the ground, over and over.”

The sign and the conflict below the page’s horizontal midpoint are set against natural openness above. “What’s striking about Chris Ware’s latest cover is the amount of empty space — the extent of the sky in this otherwise compact image,” New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly tells The Post. “It’s almost as if you need all the icy emptiness to catch your breath after you’re brought to the heart-stopping dead-end of the central ‘STOP’ sign.

“The stop sign is a prime example of good graphic design — you get it before you read it,” Mouly adds. “And this cover is a great example of how an image can make you stop — and think.”