Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Reader's Diary #910- Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth

Sometimes when I switch from one book to another, it takes me a while to adjust to the new writer's style. It's fine once I do, but there's often that initial hurdle. I don't remember ever having that feeling with a graphic novel before. Maybe the first time I read manga?

To some extent that's what happened while reading Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth. Ware's style is different than most graphic novels I've come across. The drawings themselves— simplistic characters with thick outlines, attention to detail in the backgrounds— reminded me of Seth's work, but it's the use of panel sizes that sets Corrigan apart. All of his panels are rectangular, but he uses small, sometimes even tiny, squares to focus on details, while scanning out to show more or to capture the mood in larger blocks. The issue is that this creates a sometimes complicated, Tetris-y layout and though he occasionally uses arrows to help a reader out, it takes some getting used to.

As for the writing itself, that took some getting used to as well, though as Ware acknowledges in an apology at the end, what was intended to be a short-lived newspaper serial grew into something much bigger. This growth is evident in the final collection. On the publisher's website Jimmy is referred to as a "lonely and emotionally impaired 'everyman'". I can acknowledge the average Joe Jimmy has at least had some experience with loneliness, probably even felt emotionally impaired from time to time. However, at the beginning Jimmy seems to take these to the extreme. He's presented more as a freak than a empathetic or even sympathetic character. Fortunately as the book progresses, Ware digs a little deeper (though I do wish he didn't rely as heavily on nose-picking to prove the socially inept point) and Jimmy's character grows into itself. As an added bonus, Jimmy's grandfather's life gets thrown in, giving more insight to Jimmy and the whole family legacy. (I actually preferred the grandfather's story over Jimmy's.)

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth is not a comfortable book by any means, but few intelligent books are. While I'd probably not list it among my favourite graphic novels, I certainly admire the ambition.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I quite like the cover artwork! I can see how it could get a little frenetic to read an entire book done in that style, but as a single still, it's wonderful.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: The cover isn't a great representation of what's inside actually. I think the inside is better, but then, I'm not crazy about the cover, so maybe you'd feel otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you describe this as "intelligent." I've got Building Stories on my Santa list, and every review of his stuff seems to get me that much more excited...