For five years Chris Ware has been drawing amazingly innovative 'comic strips' about a character called Jimmy Corrigan - a boy with the face of a disappointed old man. Jimmy Corrigan has rightly been hailed as the greatest comic/graphic novel ever to be published and is now available for the first time in paperback.
Perhaps some of the themes hit too close to home or perhaps Ware's text is too unrelentingly bleak, but I cannot speak of this book in any meaningful way. He captures awkward moments between father and son brilliantly. He understands the relationship between overprotective mothers and their sons intuitively. The pain of meeting an unrecognized sibling -- all of these themes are treated better than just about anything I've read.
Having finished the book, though, I have a real need to read something else to take my mind off Jimmy Corrigan.
Make sure to read the final insert by Ware, where he talks about the influences of the book and the entire works becomes even more eerie and surreal.
This does not bode well.
And yet, you find that there's much in this story. Chris Ware has a generational aspect to the story as it flips back to Jimmy's grandfather's story of growing up with the construction of the World's Fair where he has an absent mother and an overbearing father in another story that is detailed in the book.
Ware does a fine job of detailing the human side of this without turning it into a Hallmark card. The drawings are lush and the layouts are done to match the stories - some are open and breezy while others are crammed and frantic. Some frames offer direction while others can be read in several different ways and still make sense, leaving their order ultimately up to the reader.
Very readable and ultimately a showcase for Ware's talent.
Idiots who think comics are a genre rather than a medium should read stuff like this.
P.S. After finishing this, you should really read the author's afterword. It's very interesting and has a lot to do with the content of the book.
This is perhaps the most stunning example of the wide palette of literary techniques that can be used by a graphic novelist. Ware uses repetitive frames to build up a character's reality, even in the face of boring or semi-repulsive behaviour (think "The Office" for a popular work that uses similar effect). He often encloses Jimmy in tiny frames, representing the claustrophobic aspects of his life. Then, almost suddenly, enormous visions of architectural beauty fill the page, almost overwhelming the character and, on at least one occasion, showing the emptiness of it all.
If one doubts that illustrated works can have amazing literary effects, all one needs to do is to give "Jimmy Corrigan" a read. It will quickly change your perspectives.
I do want to give a shoutout to two specific aspects of the story. The first is Ware's clever use of utopian motifs, in the 1893 Chicago Exposition (also known as "White City") and the appearances of Superman (looking like his 1930s self). Seeing these ostensibly triumphal figures in a story like this only makes everything worse, in a good way. They also edge Jimmy Corrigan from being the story of one man's loneliness to something bigger. As does the second thing I want to talk about: the text on the back of a set of depressing picture postcards from Waukosha, Michigan, a blackly humorous skewering of American values. (Actually, all the paratextual stuff is quite funny; I also enjoyed the mocking of literary folks who like comics on the inside front cover.)
I've been avoiding recommending this to people because of how it will make them feel, but it really is quite excellent. If you consider great literature to be something that moves you, be that positively or negatively, then pick up Jimmy Corrigan. (Then again, a friend of mine thinks it's one of the funniest books he's ever read, so what do I know?)
However, be forewarned that this is a difficult book, in more ways than one. Because of its unconventional storytelling style, I found it a bit hard to get into at first and figure out everything that was going on. In addition, I found the actual story of the book to be very depressing, filled with scene after scene of heart-wrenching awkwardness, and while this does create for some moments of real poignancy and empathy with the characters, it also made it hard for me to want to keep reading the book, although the sheer artistry of the work was definitely enough to stop me from putting it down.
The artwork is typical Chris Ware, of course. That is always pleasing. The storyline is well thought-out: the awkwardness of the decidedly less than stellar adulthood of the title character. There are awkward moments aplenty, all presented to the reader with subtlety and skill.
If you like the graphic novel of sadness and depression -- with the main character facing constant disappointment and rejection at every page, the disappointments of growing up and viewing it naively through the eyes of a child -- then this is for you. Who knows why this seems to be a current trend in graphic novels.
This story is told as much with the art work as with the text. There is definitely a family resemblance between fathers and sons in looks and mannerisms. This reviewer initially had trouble getting into the story and following the sometimes unusual sequence of panels. However, the story of Jimmy’s grandfather is particularly captivating, and the conclusion made this graphic novel a rewarding, if not necessarily happy, read.
Loneliness is indeed the overarching theme of the book and is described by the author at the end of the book as "the permanent state of being for all humans, despite any efforts to the contrary. Can be soothed or subdued in a variety of ways, viz., marriage, sexual intercourse, board games, literature, music, poetry, television, party hats, pastries, etc., but cannot be solved." The real tragedy for Jimmy is that, unlike his grandfather, he cannot seem to find any way to at least soothe or subdue his loneliness with any of the various activities the author suggests. While my expectation was that this book would speak in a meaningful way about loneliness as a universal theme, that was not what I got out of the bulk of it. Jimmy was beyond socially awkward to a level that was just painful, and I felt I could not connect with him as a result. By contrast, the grandfather's story as a young boy was much more compelling and the part of the book that really saved it for me. He at least made attempts to interact with his peers, but his awful father - as well as the cruelty of school children -help to prevent these friendships from blooming and I felt true pity for this poor young boy. Ware notes in the epilogue that Jimmy Corrigan was semi-autobiographical in terms of the estranged father-son story, but Jimmy never felt like a real person to me. When I read the grandfather's story though, I actually had to remind myself that this was not a true story because of how real it felt.
In terms of style, Ware employs a lot of stream-of-consciousness, revealing inner thoughts and worries as well as dream states. He leaves many of his illustrated panels wordless, or nearly wordless, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks and intuit what is going on in the characters' minds. I appreciate the way he plays with the comic book form to tell his story, using some creative and innovative art. His tongue-in-cheek humor is apparent in the book's covers, jackets, and epilogue but is sadly missing from the majority of the main narrative. However, while I can appreciate his technical skill, the book mainly left me cold and most of the time I didn't feel touched by the characters outside of Jimmy's grandfather. For that reason, I struggled a bit to get in to this book and I can't say that I would recommend it to others.
And draw he did! Chris Ware's book is filled with gorgeous artwork, both geometric and very personal at once, as well as being art deco without being grandiose. The artist is very clean, and manages to go from having profuse detail in one frame to having a relatively featureless frame without either looking too busy. In addition, the artist has a great eye for framing. The comic looks almost like storyboard for film because of how successfully it employs dramatic framing, ominous headroom, cut aways, intercutting, close-ups, and other tropes that, as a film major in university, I was trained to look for in film. Occasional diagrams including information on a person's age, and from which parents they came, etc. were brilliant. The comic book also used a color language to convey memory or daydream, which was an interesting trope. Because the story was so haunting, the stilted "ha ha" lettering that representing laughter was awkward, and though at first I didn't like it, by the end I understood. This wasn't a book where laughing was supposed to be natural. In fact, it took me a while to get used to other aspects of the book. Sometimes, the frame layout wasn't intuitive, and so for about the first half of the book, I had to be conscious of which frame I would choose to read next, which is quite distracting. At that point, I was not enamored with the story. But once my eyes and brain adjusted to seeing such fragmented pages, and being able to quickly move from one frame to the next without much thought, I really enjoyed reading it.
The plot is very sad, and poor Jimmy is frightened at all times, and in all situations. Jimmy's time with the father he never knew is tragic and haunting. Jimmy's grandfather's childhood was the most compelling part of the book, seeing a lonely child deal with his terrible father and the cruelty of other children. And in the final pages, it is beautiful to see how all the strings of the story come together, in an almost cyclical way.