Monday, August 11, 2008

Jimmy Corrigan

Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2002.
(This was my fourth read for the Graphic Novels Challenge)

Talk about feeling stupid. If nothing else, this book certainly belies the notion that graphic novels represent the "dumbing down" of our culture. It also belies what I thought was a budding love affair between the genre and me, a genre that until now had done nothing but delight me. Oh well, the lover's flaws always seep out from around the edges (leaving their sticky blotches), eventually, don't they?
At first, I tried to blame poor eyesight for the fact that I was lost pretty much from the first page of the book. This book, with its microscopic print and tiny, detailed drawings is obviously meant for much younger eyes than mine. I don't need bifocals, yet, but trying to read this one was enough to convince me that maybe I do. Anyway, it was quite apparent that the only reason I wasn't able to follow the story was that I didn't eat enough carrots when I was a kid, whereas Chris Ware's nickname must have been "Rabbit" when he was a boy. This was a good excuse, and I added Ocuvite to my grocery list. However, then I had to face the hard truth that moving the pages into a brighter light where I could actually make out the words and see some of the pictures didn't help much.
Next, I tried to blame it on the fact that I just wasn't all that enamored of the illustrative style. Style is key when it comes to artwork and illustrations. For instance, I love Peanuts. There's something comfortable, despite Schultz's often very dark outlook, in those big round heads. I also love Gary Larsen's exaggerated characteristics. Ware's illustrations, somewhere in between the more realistic Mary-Worth-like comics and Peanuts left me cold. Because I wasn't that into the artwork, I decided the problem was that I wasn't drawn to study the illustrations, at least, not the way I did when I read Fun Home. Subtleties meant to be noticed were easily missed by a reader quickly skimming over panels that had no words to read.
Finally, though, when I couldn't figure out what this meeting with Jimmy's father was all about, I had to admit that the problem was clearly my own stupidity. Who's this other man finding Jimmy in the airport and leading him to his father? Aren't they in the airport bar? Why is his father suddenly in bed with a woman? Why is Jimmy sitting on that bed? Wait a minute. Is this a flashback to Jimmy's life as a kid? Now they're in a fast food restaurant? I haven't been so confused since the last time I watched an Ingmar Bergman film. At least with Bergman, though, everything eventually gets connected somehow. Oh yeah, and the Bergman visuals are stunning while you're waiting for the connections. Oh, and then there's that tiny detail: I actually care about Bergman's characters.
In fairness, maybe this would all have been explained had I been able to stick with the book. However, I didn't want to add anymore squint wrinkles around my eyes than I've already got by ploughing through something I was not enjoying. Getting to page 36 was about all I could handle.
I found very little there that didn't make me feel like a complete idiot. And really, there's only so much I can take of being made to feel as if I'm all alone in the world in my stupidity.
Jimmy Corrigan probably is the smartest kid in the world. He's so smart, he knows how to make the rest of us wonder how we could possibly not make it all the way through a graphic novel. How can it be that I, who pride myself on the number of lengthy tomes I've consumed in my lifetime, couldn't make it through less than 300 pages of pictures? Jimmy could probably tell me, but I just wasn't patient enough to wait around for incomprehensible answers, especially when I've had the likes of Anne of Green Gables sitting around for ages, doing her own waiting, too polite to tell me to stop listening to that nerdy kid, so she can tell me her story.
(Sorry about the screwy formatting. For some reason -- maybe it's had a bit too much to drink this evening? -- Blogger has decided it does not want to make any paragraph breaks or to honor the "Tab" key.)

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