Sunday, 11 August 2013

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth is not the sort of comic book I usually read. I tend to like things with superpowers and fights and characters that first appeared fifty years ago. Jimmy Corrigan is none of these things. For starters it’s probably one of the few books in the world that could accurately be described as a graphic novel in the non-pretentious usage of the term.

It’s a depressing story about a socially awkward man who lives alone and has very little contact with other people. He has an overbearing mother, has never met his father, and doesn’t know how to talk to women. The sense of loneliness is clear from the very beginning and becomes more evident as you witness the isolated existence Corrigan has and see flashbacks to his equally remote childhood.

The story that unfolds across the book is pretty simple to summarise. Corrigan meets his estranged father for the first time and is sparked into doing a handful of things outside of his usual routine. What makes this generic story worth reading are the details that writer-artist Chris Ware includes. Watching Corrigan mumble his way through scenes, seeing other people judge and pity him, is heart-breaking.

Depressing as it is the book is popular. I think this is because of how relatable and sympathetic the central character and his problems are. The book doesn’t shy away from upsetting its readers. When so many comics these days are more concerned with working in references to a crossover arc that happened twenty years ago than giving readers something to invest in emotionally Jimmy Corrigan is something to be cherished. It’s also something that has an appeal beyond the average comic book reader, which can’t have hindered sales either.

In all honesty I suspect the greatest reason for the book’s success is Chris Ware’s artwork. He works with graphic design tools such as rulers, T squares and compasses to produce precise, geometrical artwork. Sometimes he’ll dedicate an entire page to one panel, drawing a scene of a wrecked city, a sprawling harbour or a group of people sitting in stands. Other times he’ll crisscross his page with dozens of tiny panels and cram an impossible about of story into a small area. It’s the smaller approach that I prefer. It allows Ware to tell stories visually rather than relying on cumbersome dialogue bubbles stuffed with exposition.

Just leafing through the book you can come across some interesting visual points of interest. Old fashioned ads for fictitious brands litter the panels of the book, joined occasionally by a picture of an infant Jimmy striding across a landscape eating tiny people or a cutout page that allows you to make a miniature model paper house. If you get the hardback edition of the book (Jimmy Corrigan is a rare example of a book that’s kept in print in both hardback and paperback) you get some unadvertised extras. The inside of the front and back covers and covered with small text detailing Ware’s views on comic books and the history of writing Jimmy Corrigan. Pulling off the dust jacket reveals more stories that can be glanced through (I say glanced because there are no words and you can’t read pictures). One side is dedicated to the history of the Corrigan family, the other to the endless tedium that comes with being Jimmy Corrigan. It’s easily worth the extra couple of quid.

Chris Ware is fantastic at creating work that evokes a sense of exploration and discovery. His artwork can’t simply be read. It has to be pored over in order to uncover every last detail. Jimmy Corrigan is his most lauded work and entirely deserving of being so.


  1. Wow such a nice book do you have one copy of this book!
    comic books

    1. I do have a copy of this. But I don't have a free one if that's what you're asking. Any good book shop will have a copy or be able to order you on. Dig?