Monday, 12 August 2013

Review: Jimmy Corrigan - The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware.

Not strictly a comic strip, or maybe it is. Not strictly a graphic novel, or perhaps it is. Not clearly sure how I would characterise this 'book' at all.

 My brother suggested this to me and although I had read excerpts before I'd never been sufficiently interested enough to actually get it. So he bought it for me to save time... with the added note, 'Enjoy! It may take some time to get through!'

This is the story of three generations of Corrigans told in two main time narratives - that of Jimmy, an office 'dogsbody' ('our hero') and that of his grandfather (Jimmy), growing up in the late eighteen hundreds. But both are sad stories. Both Jimmys are bullied, brow-beaten and have truly tragic (or pathetic) lives. There is a real and constant sense of loneliness and isolation. Just when you think human warmth is going to shine through, it melts away in the snow that falls. And there is a constant longing, on the reader's part, for life to be fairer, more just and not quite so unremittingly bleak. Grandfather Jimmy has a painful relationship with his lone-parent father. Contemporary Jimmy attempts an unsuccessful reconcilliation with a father long absent from his own life -  the chain-like apron strings that exist between him and his mother pervade the novel. Is it a novel?

It would be too easy to say that it's quite depressing fare. That's not it at all. There is not much in the way of text but the constant thought-provoking nature of the story does mean it takes time to digest and 'mull over'. (My brother was spot on!) It is powerful and affective. That's it! The sadness Ware creates is so human, so recogniseable. Relationships are seen to be complex, unsatisfactory and often fragile. The tragedies are human ones, even everyday ones. But as we read, we feel and that is what makes this book (?) stand out from the rest. It's oddly all too real.

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A lot has been said about the muted colouring and simple drawings. Mignola only uses half a dozen colours in 'Hellboy' and Spiegleman's 'Maus' is in black and white. It's clever, it's carefully drawn and, in my opinion, if that's your crticism, you've missed the point. In art (?), form and content have a relationship. And that is clearly seen here. The story panels don't quite tell the story sequentially, the mind wanders, Jimmy's (both of them) mind wanders, there is a kind of 'stream of consciousness here'.  It works.

This is genuinely an extraordinary text. I finished reading it a couple of days ago but I still haven't settled on what I think about it fully yet, the ideas are still lingering. Top job Mr Ware. There's so much I have read that I have forgotten. It won't happen with this comic book.


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