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Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth, by Chris Ware, is about a meek and lonely man in his mid-thirties who meets his father for the first time in a Michigan town over Thanksgiving weekend. Jimmy is an awkward and cheerless character with an overbearing mother and a very limited social life. Jimmy attempts to escape his unhappiness via an active imagination that sometimes gets him into awkward situations. The book deals with loneliness, familial dysfunction, inadequacy, bullying, generational conflict, masculinity, sexual frustration, social embarrassment and depression. Ware wrote and illustrated the book. He is best known for a series of comics called the Acme Novelty Library, and incidentally, this graphic novel.First and foremost, Jimmy Corrigan has a very unique style. The first thing you notice is the thick line weight, the very geometric design of the illustrations, and the thick, opaque colors used.
The illustrations do not contain any fine detail. What Ware uses is subtle shifts in line weight. What Ware also does well is capturing the different shapes of the figures as they walk, talk, move their head, turn around, etc. This, along with adding slight blocks of color for shadows, really gives the illustrations depth and distance when there seemingly couldnt be. People, objects, buildings, the sky, the weather, etc. are all drawn in a very minimalist nature. Everything is given the simplest shape possible yet you know exactly what you are looking at, just by where certain lines bend and curve. The colors used for illustrations are relatively drab. Every color is a sort of soft, pastel like color, which gives the illustrations a very unobtrusive feel. This color palette fits the story nicely considering the story is rather drab and depressing. The colors do a good job of setting the mood and bringing you into Jimmy Corrigans life as well as mind state. With that said, what I found rather interesting was how Ware used the color red. Unlike the other colors, red was bright and strong, and at times really jumped off the page. For the most part it was used for sound effects, which although sounds like a relatively simple idea, I thought was a really good representation of them. Red was also used for narration as well, such as words. They were used almost as a guide at times, to really keep the story going,Another technical aspect of the work is the integration of various kinds of text. You have your typical cartoon for the dialogue and thoughts of the characters. You also have your typical sound-effects text as well. There are a few unique uses of text: one is use of cursive lettering in parts of the story. These scenes arent really Jimmys daydreams nor are they his full fledge dreams. They are much more like whimsical, fantasy like thoughts. They are also used at times as narration as well as representing Jimmys thoughts. Another unique use of text is his use of early-20th century lettering.
Ware applies this to the poster/flyer like images entitled â€œJimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth, which are sprinkled throughout the book. Another instance of this is when he is talking about the past, more specifically Jimmys grandfathers childhood. The text is both technically and beautifully done. Although they are necessary to the style and the story, it is interesting to note that Ware is an ardent ragtime enthusiast who publishes a journal on ragtime music, collects ragtime paraphernalia, and has even designed album art and posters for ragtime performers (jackhanley.com). This is all pretty apparent and really comes out in Jimmy Corrigan.Several images reoccur throughout the book and tie together the plotlines: superheroes, birds, broken limbs, guns, peaches, redheads, the Fair, and Jimmy Corrigan. The images bind the story together and reiterate the similarities between the Jimmies of each generation (findarticles.com). For example, the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893 represents the imaginary world that the Corrigans inhabit.
A world thrown together, that looked great for the two weeks of the fair and then collapsed into sudden ruin. Each character has a very brief childhood where everything looks fine until the harsh reality crashes through the illusion, ending childhood (i-reports.info). None of the Corrigans seem able to break the bonds of their past. Jimmy tries to make a connection to his father, but cannot seem to make any human connection.The superhero image is the one reoccurring image that really stands out throughout the book. Jimmy himself wears a Superman shirt. Jimmy imagines himself a bird flying outside of the clinic like Superman, and when a bird crashes into the window, we are back with Jimmy in the clinic, back to reality. In Jimmy Corrigan, superheroes are not invincible. A “superhero” jumps from the rooftop across from Jimmy’s office building and dies. A toy Superman that a child plays with at a diner dives to the floor. Jimmy’s dad picks it up to give back to the child, commenting how we would not want Superman to get hurt (findarticles.com). And in the first couple pages of the book you have a young Jimmy meeting a â€œsuperhero at a comic book convention. The superhero then goes home with Jimmy and his mom and subsequently sleeps with his mom, and then sneaks out in the morning. Not exactly something Superman would do, maybe Batman, but not Superman.Ware does a great job of connecting the past with the present. One example is how the book spans the time from Jimmy’s great-grandfather in 1863 to the present; the different time changes are illustrated through a particular visual sequence of a bird gathering nest materials by various hospitals (findarticles.com). This bird is seen first collecting a flowered twig around a war-zone tent-hospital, then by a hospital building in the 1890s, next at Lincoln Hospital in the 1930s, then at St. Mary’s in the 1950s, and finally placing the twig in a nest on the windowsill of a present-day “doc-in-a-box” where Jimmy waits with a bloody nose (findarticles.com). You have a sense that it is the same bird reflecting on times gone by, as well as different birds from different times.Ware uses a variety of narrative techniques. These techniques vary from panel to panel.
Ware uses one of the more basic panel-to-panel transitions called simply œmoment to moment; the same subject is displayed in adjacent instants, like a movie running jerkily on a slow computer (McCloud chapt. 3). This is basically used to animate the story and give it some fluidity. Ware also uses transitions very similar to moment to moment, one being action to action, in which the focus remains on a single subject, but this time, two separate, consecutive actions are displayed (for example, the first panel might contain a car speeding along, the 2nd the car smashing into a tree, or in this case Jimmy) (McCloud chapt. 3). The other transition Ware uses similar to this is â€œsubject to subject, in which both panels are within the same scene or idea, but each portrays a different subject (McCloud chapt. 3). The three of these techniques are the basis for how the story is told. Another interesting narrative feature of the story is when he uses the transition called â€œaspect to aspect, which is when the author “Bypasses time for the most part and sets a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, mood, or idea (McCloud chapt. 3).” Ware does this periodically throughout the book to set the mood, describe a setting, show what a character is thinking, etc. He will have a number of consecutive panels that will show simple objects, or even small details of simple objects, along with the regular narrative features of the story. The bulk of the story obviously deals with the modern-day Jimmy. This part of the story starts off the book and continues in a relative linear fashion, flowing in and out of dreams and thoughts. We join Jimmy at work and soon follow him through a series of panels which show his simple, boring, and depressing life. What is then introduced is a rather odd dream sequence in which Jimmy imagines himself as a robot. Similar dream sequences happen throughout the course of the story, including one where a giant superhero hand picks up Jimmys house and then proceeds to drop it.Another narrative feature that happens quite frequently throughout Jimmy Corrigan is when Jimmy has his daydreams. These serve as a window into Jimmys psyche and often reveal tiny details about his persona. Some of them show Jimmy imagining himself with different women, including his co-worker Peggy, the nurse at the doctors office his father brings him to, and the girl his father adopted Amy. The daydreams do not all contain the same themes though. The one involving Peggy has Jimmy imagining her as an almost mother-like character. This is probably due to the fact that Peggy is a very domineering woman, much like Jimmys mother.
The next one comes during Jimmys visit to the doctors office with his father. This daydream is purely sexual. Jimmy takes the nurses niceness and seemingly flirtatious actions and runs with it, setting off a series of images depicting the nurse coming on to Jimmy, them running away together and then ultimately getting married. This is all rather humorous and really does accurately portray what goes through a manâ€™s mind when he meets an attractive woman. This similar chain of events happens when Jimmy has a daydream about Amy. Only this time a bomb or meteor demolishes everything and Jimmy and Amy are the only ones left. Yet unlike the previous two this daydream has Jimmy taking charge and taking care of someone else. It shows him chopping wood, being a real man. The daydreams are quick and to the point. The majority of the time they end rather abruptly with someone or something snapping him out of it.Although the main plot of Jimmys life and his attempt at reconnecting with his father is told in a relative linear fashion, it is the inclusion of flashbacks from Jimmys life, his fathers life, and his grandfathers life, that really elevates the plotline and reveals more about who the Corrigans are. They really show why these three men are who they are. Whats interesting is how Ware treats these flashbacks. There is never any notice of them. They flow in and out of the story, revealing more and more each time. Ware breaks up the flashbacks, being careful not to show too much too soon. What makes these flashback even more confusing is that it is often tough to figure out wh Ware is talking about, a prime example being that Jimmys grandfather is also named Jimmy. Ware makes no attempt at depicting any of these three men differently in the flashbacks either. Young Jimmy looks the same as modern day Jimmy and Grandfather Jimmy. The only clues are of course the backgrounds and settings. There is a reoccurring theme with the Corrigans. The interconnected stories reveal a long genealogical line of abandonment and disappointment, regret and paralyzing isolation (cnn.com).Although Jimmy Corrigan contains images, symbols, and characters pertaining to superheroes, it is easy to say that the book is not exactly of the superhero genre. Upon further research it was interesting to find out that parts of the book are indeed autobiographical.
The main example being when Jimmy and his newly met Dad sit on the couch in awkward silence, with nothing to say and so much unsaid. Jimmy’s dad, feebly trying to make up for a lifetime of missed breakfasts, fries some bacon in a skillet, then arranges the bacon strips on Jimmy’s plate so they spell “HI (cnn.com).” The entire breakfast sequence is vividly evoked, down to the “tsss, tlink, tink” that Ware uses to convey the sound of a metal fork turning frying bacon in a skillet. Ware drew from his own life experience for the scene.Like Jimmy, I never knew my father. Over the years, I tried to envision him, to imagine him. I’d seen photographs of him, but they were years old, I had no idea what he looked like. And then he called me up one day (cnn.com).Ware was 29 years old, and more than halfway through the writing of the book, when he first met his own father. Their meeting, too, was tentative and awkward, and tinged with anger. His father died a short time later. Many of the other scenes in the book are from Ware’s memory as much as his imagination. The book contains several accounts of schoolyard cruelty that will be painfully familiar to anyone who, as a child, was the butthead or the dork, the shortest or the skinniest, the last picked for kickball or the first target in dodge ball (cnn.com).This is the category where Jimmy falls into, the dork, the weirdo, the quiet guy the lovable loser. He is not your typical â€œleading man. He is no hero, he is not talented, and he really does not bring anything to the table.
Yet vast amounts of people are drawn to characters and stories like this, both in the literary world, and the film and music world as well. What is it that draws people towards characters like this? What makes people interested in seeing or hearing a lonely, depressed person go through his/her lonely, depressed life? It would seem that in one way or another everyone has been there before, maybe not for long, but they have been there. Everyone has felt lonely or depressed at some point in their life, so for the most part people can relate. They know what it is like to not feel loved. Because of this, people tend to root for these types of people when they appear in book, or in movies.There have been numerous movies that contain this everyman, this lonely, somewhat depressed person who is just lacking in life. Some examples are American Splendor (the bio pic of graphic novelist Harvey Pekar), Sideways (Paul Giamattis character Miles), Taxi Driver, Welcome to the Dollhouse, and oddly enough most movies about serial killers including Psycho, Henry and American Psycho. Of course these happen to be towards the extreme end of the spectrum. These characters, like Jimmy Corrigan, are almost always, needless to say, ugly and unkempt. They always have some sort of social issues, whether it is shyness, a speech impediment, or just all in all awkward. The characters are almost always single and have a limited amount of friends, if any at all. They are simple and plain, and basically lead ordinary, drab lives. Yet through all of this these characters find something to strive for, to keep them going, if only for a short time.
Like any human being they want something more out of life, to break the cycle of loneliness and despair. For Jimmy it is trying to reconnect with his father, for Miles in Sideways it is trying find love after his painful divorce, for Dawn in Welcome to the Dollhouse it is simply trying to fit in, for Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver it is â€¦ well â€¦ who knows. The truth is, we root for these characters. We want them to achieve their goals or at the very least get some closure. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they dont. Jimmy Corrigan is a story of loneliness and abandonment and the struggle to break this cycle and not repeat it. Although Jimmys life is boring and depressing, and seemingly one dimensional, the way in which Chris Ware presents is not. Ware is not content with simply telling a story of a lonesome man. He delves into the depths of why people can be like this and how they try and deal with these feelings and emotions. In the words of Harvey Pekar, Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.
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