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Jimmy Corrigan is a lengthy
graphic novel about its namesake. It is
a difficult book to read because it seems to repetitive. The main character is of course Jimmy
Corrigan, whose father abandoned the family when he was a boy. Jimmy is an emotionally crippled man whose
main facial expressions register fear, bewilderment, and worry, with occasional
signs of sorrow and loneliness. He has
thinning hair and he slouches, making him seem old, although in flashbacks to
his childhood, we see he always looked like that. The only person he talks with regularly is his aged mother, who
frets over him and chastises him when he does not immediately return her phone
calls. The central event in the novel
is Jimmy's trip to visit his father for Thanksgiving, who has contacted him
after many years of silence. He obeys
his father's request, despite the fact that he has no idea who his father is or
even what he looks like. We find that
his father is emotionally abusive and manipulative, and from flashbacks we see
that he was always so. Jimmy is a
pathetic figure, and to plough through hundreds of pages of this graphic novel
as each episode of this trip is recorded in minute detail is exhausting.
One might compare this to some of
the plays of Samuel Beckett, which are equally bleak in showing the complete
lack of communication between the different characters. But nearly all of Beckett's plays are also
darkly humorous and even openly comic, and most of them have the virtue of
being short. One might also compare
Ware's work to the angry young film directors who created the British "New
Cinema" of the late 1950s and early 1960s, who with rather humorlessly
highlighted class divisions and the drudgery of work--films such as Room at
the Top, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and Billy
Liar. The more subtle work of
British film director Mike Leigh in films such as Home Sweet Home or Nuts
in May might also serve as a reference point for discussing Ware's
Such comparisons bring to the
foreground the political elements in the Ware's work. Jimmy Corrigan is set in twentieth
century United States of America, and it can be read as social commentary. Jimmy lives in the suburbs and works downtown,
and he visits father in Chicago; when he was a child his family lived in the
country, and through the flashbacks, one gets some sense of the shifting
cultural life in the background of the family's history. His family is white and dysfunctional, and Jimmy
works in an anonymous office cubicle.
Jimmy's story is not so much one of a search for meaning and community
as one of his being buffeted around by the demands of others, and his utter
inability to even articulate his emotional reactions, let alone try to change
his situation. If Jimmy represents the
average American, then Ware has a particularly miserable view of his country.
However, what makes Jimmy
Corrigan so distinctive is its artwork.
Ware's style is deceptively simple.
His lines are strong and confident.
The colors are solid and simple, yet the detail and precision in the
drawing is astonishing. It is
reminiscent of classic comic art, especially in its depiction of buildings and
the city. His drawing of faces is
minimalist but effective, and conveys the mutual incomprehension of all his
characters. Ware uses the page in a
wide variety of ways, with frames of different sizes and in arrangements all
through the book. Some of the frames go
down to very small sizes, with many on the page, while others occupy a whole
half page. Occasionally Ware takes the
narrative into fantasy as a way of conveying some of Jimmy's inner life, and
the surrealism is visually arresting -- giant Jimmy roaming through the city,
or tiny Jimmy lost in a huge armchair.
There's no question that Jimmy
Corrigan is a milestone in the form of the graphic novel. It's a mammoth work that explores broad
themes and is highly inventive in its graphic style. Its major limitation is the narrow emotional range of its main character
and the lack of humor, which makes it hard work to get through. Hopefully, when Ware writes a more concise
work with a different main character, it will be more gripping to read.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All
Link: Publisher's web page for book.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy
Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology
Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in
medicine, psychiatry and psychology.