Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

by Chris Ware

Hardcover, 2000




Pantheon, (2000)


A graphic novel chronicles four generations of the Corrigan men, from 1893 to 1983. "This first book from Chicago author Chris Ware is a pleasantly-decorated view at a lonely and emotionally-impaired 'everyman' (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890's Chicago and 1980's small town Michigan, the reader is helped along by thousands of colored illustrations and diagrams, which, when read rapidly in sequence, provide a convincing illusion of life and movement. The bulk of the work is supported by fold-out instructions, an index, paper cut-outs, and a brief apology, all of which concrete to form a rich portrait of a man stunted by a paralyzing fear of being disliked."--Publisher's website.… (more)

Media reviews

Some will find Jimmy Corrigan slow and depressing; they will be wrong. It is thrilling, moving, profoundly sympathetic — and it is the most beautiful-looking book of the year.
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In Ware's world, lost boys grow up (or fail to do so), turning into lost men. Grey waves of depression cascade endlessly down though lost generations. No feel- good endings here: what prevents the bleakness of Ware's vision from overwhelming the reader in a flood of cosmic pessimism is the sheer
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craftsmanship, imagination, inventiveness and compassion with which it is realised.
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While so many similar projects are little more than strings of striking images, Jimmy Corrigan forces you to pause, flick back a few pages and read again, rewarding you with another insight, another overdue connection. It is a rare and uplifting example of an artistic vision pushed to the limits.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dmcolon
Disturbing. I can think of no word to describe this book that are more apt than disturbing. It's a book about alienation, death, loneliness, and estrangement. The book is hard to describe adequately -- at least for me. Jimmy's alienation from his father; his discovery that he had siblings he didn't
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now about till adulthood; his inability to connect with other humans; are all powerfully expressed through a powerful text and starkly beautiful illustrations.

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.
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LibraryThing member Knicke
I’m familiar with other stuff from Ware, but had never read this. Since The New Yorker called it “the first formal masterpiece of the medium” (man, is The New Yorker ever pretentious sometimes), and since it’s a good ten years old, I figured I should get around to reading it.Well, it’s
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completely amazing, but it made me want to die. Seriously, I think it may be one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. I get more emotional about graphic novels in general, probably because of the additional visual stimulus. This one made me feel as if I were repeatedly being punched in the gut. Something about the idea of angst lasting for generations just kills me.Normally books like this (with so many bad things happening to the characters) make me feel manipulated emotionally, which makes it possible for me to maintain distance. This one goes right to the edge of maudlinness without going over, and so it just made me sad, sad, sad.I stayed up late and read it in one go, it was so good. But it was so sad, I had to pick up another book right away after finishing it and read a few chapters before going to sleep. Otherwise, I think I might have laid awake all night feeling stricken.
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LibraryThing member rores28
An expertly written and illustrated work. Ware is an adept writer, but is equally skilled at letting a few frames fill up with oceans of philosophical and psychological depth. The story flows so seamlessly between the mundane and surreal that it becomes difficult at times to discern which are
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veridical events. Some themes are explored overtly while others are so subtle that they are easy to miss, and the format allows for subtly depicted revelations that might otherwise feel heavy handed if they were put to words.

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.
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LibraryThing member rrriles
If you stumbled into the graphic novel genre because of Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) or Art Spiegelman (Maus), you owe it to yourself to check out Chris Ware's magnum opus.Also required reading for anyone who (a) read comic books as a kid; (b) has ever felt nerdy / shunned / lonely; or (c) has
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parental control and/or abandonment issues.
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LibraryThing member wilsonknut
If you believe that graphic novels should be more than just a story with pictures, you will love this book. It takes what graphic novels can do as a medium to a level few have matched. It is carefully crafted and complex in both story and structure. As a student of literature, I have to say that
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this book is a serious work of art.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
On the surface, Jimmy Corrigan can easily be dismissed as a simple story. Then the details and the sheer cleverness of it all begins to emerge. Jimmy Corrigan does his best to be someone we don't want to care about - clumsy, unable to stick-up for himself and on crutches due to a minor spill, he's
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heard from his father at 36 and is flying out to meet him for no other reason than to have a stranger not hate him. He is hoping to hide this from his overbearing mother who calls him constantly, he allows a fellow passenger to berate his roll choice finds himself alone and waiting in a strange airport for a man that cannot be bothered to show up on time.

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.
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LibraryThing member JohnMunsch
I picked up a new paperback edition that I believe is quite new. I like it a lot. It's all about what mean, lonely, emotional cripples people can be and how they can turn out children who are just like themselves.

Idiots who think comics are a genre rather than a medium should read stuff like
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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.
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LibraryThing member staram
Let me state for the record that I adore Chris Ware and his meticulous, precisely rendered artwork. And then there's Jimmy Corrigan. I truly wanted to like this book, but just couldn't.

The artwork is typical Chris Ware, of course. That is always pleasing. The storyline is well thought-out: the
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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.
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LibraryThing member sproutchild
Never liked comic books and haven't read Sunday comics in years. Discovered this in the NYTimes magazine section and throught I'd see what the fuss was about. Was blown away by the depth of emotion, Ware's ability to tell a compelling story using a medium I had previously been turned off by. Add
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the Chicago Fair connection and it's one of my all-time-favorite books.
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LibraryThing member duck2ducks
Powerfully moving. Startlingly bizarre. Freakishly funny. And elegantly illustrated. I put off reading this book for far too long; I'm very very glad I finally picked it up.
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
Ok, I know this is supposed to be a really good book, but most of it left me cold. I was moved by Jimmy's relationship with his father though.
LibraryThing member trents
"Jimmy Corrigan" is a difficult work to encapsulate in a short, pithy review like this one. It is a graphic novel that demonstrates the power of the medium, transforming what would amount to a short novella about four generations of lonely and isolated men into something much more, in which at
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least two of the characters (the titular Jimmy and his grandfather) burst into that literary reality in which they have their own living, breathing existence in one's mind.

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.
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LibraryThing member williecostello
This is an exquisite book. Ware has developed a comics idiom that is all his own and really makes you feel like you're reading a whole new type of book. I like to think of what Ware does here as bringing stream-of-consciousness writing to the visual medium, but that doesn't really capture the depth
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and weight of all he does with his imagery. I guess I'd just say that you really have to read it to understand it. And of course, Ware's art itself is also fantastic, in every aspect: illustration, coloring, blocking, and so on---he executes it all to a T.

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.
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LibraryThing member abirdman
A big, fat, wonderful, and affecting graphic novel. The simple pictures and framing provide a surprisingly good way to convey the simple, biographical action.
LibraryThing member Stevil2001
This may be the saddest book that I have ever read.  Not in terms of how many sad things happen; there are plenty of books out there where tons of sad things happen.  Sad things all over the place.  No, Jimmy Corrigan is the saddest book that I have ever read in the sense that when I finished
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it, I felt utterly miserable, depressed, alone in the world.  Very rarely has a book been capable of altering my emotional state as much as this one did.  I could natter on a lot about how Chris Ware achieves this through his masterful use of the comics medium (I like how he keeps a figure the same size, but suddenly enlarges the panel to show how alone the character is; I like how he uses repeated imagery; I like how he has large, anchorless words float above the characters' heads right in the panels; I like how he parallels the present, the past, and fantasies, especially how he makes time pass in the latter), but I suspect wiser brains than mine have already explicated on this at length.

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?)
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LibraryThing member klburnside
I thought this book was going to be a real winner. The reviews on the inside cover included praise from Dave Eggers and David Sedaris among others. The story takes place at a number of different time periods, so it gets a little confusing as to who is who, because you have to rely visually on
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knowing what a young Jimmy Corrigan looks like versus what his grandfather looked like as a boy, etc. What I love about graphic novels is that so often this happens completely effortlessly. Your eyes take in the words and the images simultaneously and before you know it you are having a beautiful experience within the pages of the book without any awareness of how your brain is putting it all together. That didn't happen for me in this book. I had to consciously look closely at character's faces to figure out who was who, and look at the background to determine in what time period the scene was taking place. That took the magic away for me. There were moments of the book I really enjoyed, but overall it was fairly lackluster.
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LibraryThing member Arkholt
I highly enjoyed it. Yes, it is bleak and sad, but only because it makes one reflect on certain things in one's life, and the relationships one has with one's family and friends. The art is great, and the design of the entire book is incredible. It immediately caught my eye when i saw it on the
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shelf. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member deckehoe
Wow, that was bleak. Beautiful, detailed, human, inspired but bleak.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I admit, I wanted some text to go along with the pictures. Page numbers would have been nice also, though I think I see why they were left off. In general, it's worth looking over if you're a comic or graphic novel fan, but even with what I imagine Ware was going for, I feel it grew a bit long, and
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a bit confused at points as well.
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LibraryThing member sassafras
A study in family dysfunction. This adult graphic novel is the story of Jimmy Corrigan’s relationship with his father, a relationship that was nonexistent until his father sends the grown Jimmy an airplane ticket, out of the blue, for Jimmy to visit. Jimmy’s visit with his father is predictably
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awkward and strained. Through dream sequences and other flashbacks, we get a picture of Jimmy’s inner thoughts, childhood and reactions to his father. But that’s only one part of the book-within the story of Jimmy Corrigan is the story of Jimmy’s great grandfather who lived with a neglectful, abusive father who abandoned him at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. As all of these elements tie together, you begin to understand the family dynamic that has come before Jimmy and how it shapes his Twentieth Century life. In the end, as Jimmy is coming to terms with his father and his newly found sister, he is robbed of the opportunity to forgive and build a relationship with his father.

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.
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LibraryThing member renrav
I chose this book for a buddy read since it looked interesting and had good reviews. It was interesting but I just didn't enjoy it too much. It wasn't bad, but I think I was not in the right mood for it and I was speeding through it a bit. The book was also more depressing than what I was probably
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in the mood for.
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LibraryThing member WorldInColour
Very touching and presented in the utmost beautiful way. A book that I will cherish for some time.
LibraryThing member patsaintsfan
Well... I must admit that I read this in one sitting, but I felt awful when I finished. Actually, I did while reading it too! It kept my attention, which is a positive in my opinion, but wow!, I just don't know what words to use to describe this book...
LibraryThing member booklover3258
Only read a few pages and realized it wasn't for me. Writing too small, did not like illustrations or story line. Not for me.
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Thirty-six-year-old Jimmy Corrigan lives a quiet and rather depressing life, in which he has no friends or companions outside of his overbearing mother and in which he has no hobbies outside of work. He is afraid of his own shadow, as the saying goes, and is so socially inept that he can't answer
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simple direct questions. One day out of the blue, Jimmy is contacted by the father he hasn't seen since childhood and asked to go visit him, which he does. A large part of the book concerns the awkward meeting between Jimmy and his father, as well as other members of his paternal family that he never before knew. Meanwhile, the book also provides the story of Jimmy's grandfather, the first James Corrigan, as a young boy growing up with his abusive father, mirroring the awkwardness and loneliness of Jimmy's life.

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.
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