Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth by C. Ware

If you think graphic novels are easy to read, Jimmy Corrigan  by C. Ware will put you to the test.

It will be worth it.

I don’t know enough about graphic novels to say this with authority, but I think there’s a visual storytelling genius at work in Jimmy Corrigan.

The way Mr. Ware uses the page impressed  me from the get-go.  Some pages are so crammed with images and with print so small even folks younger than I will be tempted to use a magnifying glass at times.  The images get smaller and smaller, becoming little visual footnotes to the main larger text.  You have to turn the book around to read at times, slow down to figure out what order the panels should be read in, pull back to see how the smaller images make up a larger whole.

You can see a bit of this at work in the cover, but here’s one of my favorite pages.

I read this page in the usual order paying attention only to the words at first.  It reads, “Fortunately, for these children, a recent planting of trees, telephone poles and houses on their blank neighborhood landscape helps to make their game much more exciting.  After all who’d want to play hide and seek in a swamp? A half century earlier, the only place to secret yourself around here might have been a depression in the ground or behind an Indian on horseback.  But with the inviolable forward march of progress come new ways of hiding things and new things to hide.”

Even without images, this is a darn good piece of writing, enough to strike a chord in this reader.  In a book about how early childhood trauma affects four generations of men, this comment on new ways to hide and new things to hide hit a nerve with me.  Then I pulled back and looked at the twelve frames that make up the page.

Since this is a flashback sequence we see Jimmy Corrigan’s grandfather run from place to place, frame to frame, appearing five times in what is really a single image, an areal view of the buildings he lives. The older girl remains in a single frame, hiding.  She is something of a guilty secret for Jimmy’s grandfather, rather his feelings for her are the guilty secret he carries.  The frames in the middle left, are a flashback, a visual digression maybe a footnote, to the time before this Chicago neighborhood was developed.  The middle panel to the right of this features a cut-away view of what’s inside the house, the framework that holds it up.  Jimmy’s grandfather starts in the top left where he is counting down. He runs into the next frame, still the same overall image, “Ready or not here I come!” He peers around the corner in the third panel.  Instead of children, there is text about hiding in a swamp in the fourth.  Two frames of flashback, one of the house cut away.  Two more frames without Jimmy’s grandfather as his frantic search slows down. Jimmy’s grandfather appears again, standing still looking puzzled.  He has stopped looking. Another frame with no figures then the final frame where the girl has been hiding all along with the text “and new things to hide.”

The next page, the facing page, features diagrams for a cut-and-assemble scene of all the buildings and the tree depicted in the hide and seek game.  There is no Indian on horseback but there is a hearse complete with coffin to remind us that the hide and seek game went on in the yard while inside the house Jimmy’s great-great-grandmother lay in the front parlor waiting for her funeral.

That’s an awful lot of work for two pages to accomplish.  The past in the present both buried in the form of the Indian and waiting to be buried in the form of Jimmy’s great-great-grandmother.  Secret feelings to be hidden and to be sought out, the push-pull of sexual desire for the older girl who brings up feelings the boy doesn’t yet understand.

Jimmy Corrigan is one of those books where nothing happens while everything happens.  The title character lives in the present day.  He has decided to fly across country to visit his estranged father, a man he never knew.  While there he will also meet his grandfather whom he did not know was still alive.  Along the way the reader will get the story of this grandfather, who was abandoned as a small boy by his own father, Jimmy’s great-grandfather. And there are dream sequences.  It can all be  a challenge, picking out just what is going on.

I’m not sure I really know, myself.

While I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, I have read many of them, probably most of the big name ones that everyone reads–Maus, Persepolis, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, The Watchmen, American Born Chinese, El Deffo, a couple of Scott Pilgrim books. Maybe I am a bigger fan of the genre than I admit. In any case, Jimmy Corrigan is the first one that I’ve finished thinking I would gain so much more from re-reading the way a really great novel can offer the reader a completely different take on the book with a second read.

I may have to buy myself a copy, since this was a library book.

And I kind of want to do the cut-and-assemble page.  It sort of looks like fun.


3 thoughts on “Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth by C. Ware

  1. We’ve done a few comics for my book club. Maus, Watchmen, etc. I really liked John Lewis’ March trilogy. It’s much more strightforward than anything Chris Ware does though!

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