Nicki's Reviews > Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
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Jun 25, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, graphic-novels
Read in June, 2010

Jimmy Corrigan is a self-conscious, mother-pleasing, middle-aged man who is still encased in the unshed angst of a teenager. After getting an invitation to visit his father, whom he’s never met, he sets off on what becomes quite a little adventure compared to his uneventful life. That’s Jimmy Corrigan, the character, in a nutshell. But Jimmy Corrigan, the book, is so much more.

Every time Miguel would look to see what page I was on, he’d declare, “You’re reading it too fast!” Indeed, with so much visual richness, it’s not a book to be rushed through, but experienced. If I was reading fast it’s only because I couldn’t put it down once I started.

I’ve heard Jimmy described as a miserable and pathetic loser. While most would agree that he is sad, it’s interesting to note that there’s very little self-pity in Corrigan’s character. He doesn’t protest his lot in life, he rarely complains or grumbles. Even in the images of his private world and thoughts, there are no blatant confessions of unhappiness. And there’s something very endearing, innocent, and sweet about Jimmy. There were times when I just wanted to pick him up and squeeze him and tell him that everything’s alright. Unlike so many other angst-ridden characters, it’s not difficult to empathize with Jimmy.

The drawings and layout of this graphic novel border on being downright cinematic. At times, it’s like looking at a flip book, only in slow motion and with dialogue. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to graphic novels, but I’ve never read one that conveys a better sense of time and movement.

The landscape is impressive. The setting superbly reflects the melancholy alienation of the characters. There’s a particularly affecting set of images that contain, among other things, a silhouette of the McDonald’s arches. Someone once described such establishments to me as “islands in a sea of asphalt.” The characters themselves are, in a way, like islands.

Ware also sets the stage for certain scenes with wordless pages which are so artfully done that you can sense what the air feels like, smells like, sounds like, all of which enhances your emotional connection to the scene. Throughout the novel, some panels are wildly detailed while others are minimalistic. Ware seems to know just how many and which specific details will best match the mood of the moment.

Thought and emotion is masterfully conveyed by flashing back and forth between imagination and reality in a way that feels realistic and believable. There are several parallel storylines in addition to extended daydreams and all the different threads overlap and connect together magnificently.

One of the things that I value most in a writer is their ability to tell you without telling you. This book just might be my new favorite example of that. Once you’ve put the pieces together it gives you a sense of mind-blowing accomplishment, as though you’ve just solved a riddle. That leads me to perhaps my favorite thing about this book. It demands something of you. This is not a book for passive readers who want all the conclusions and meanings spelled out for them. This book asks that you, as the reader, reach between the layers to uncover the significance of events, to experience the irony, to complete the puzzle.

Jimmy Corrigan is an artfully interwoven tapestry of realism, fantasy, and flashback. It is both innovative and intelligent.
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