Comic: "Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth"
Published by: Other
Written by: Chris Ware
Artist: Chris Ware
Plot: We follow the lives of four different generations of men in the Corrigan family, focusing primarily on modern day Jimmy, a thirty-something loser who still can't talk to girls whose life is dominated by an overbearing mother, and his grandfather, also Jimmy, who grows up with an abusive father who blames him for his mother's death in childbirth. In the main narrative, Jimmy-the-youngest gets a message from his long-lost father who wants to finally meet him. He reluctantly accepts the offer and the two lonely men try to forge an awkward relationship.
Review: The art of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth is deceptively simple at a glance, but the book contains a surprising amount of emotional depth. It's hard to believe that something featuring such cute artwork could be so insanely depressing, but Chris Ware's autobiographically inspired story is one of the saddest things I've read all year. And it's not that there's a sappy, tear-jerker ending or anything like that--it's just that the lives of the two central characters are so depressingly horrible that it's hard not to feel empty upon completing the book.
I'm not trying to scare you away from reading it, because it's one of the best comics I've ever encountered, but I'm giving you a disclaimer so you don't look at the art and approach it with the wrong expectations. Ware's style may be minimalistic, but his simple little faces convey more emotion than many "realistic" art styles I've seen. He gives the design of the book plenty of visual flair with his inventive layouts and page design. The only complaint I have about it is that sometimes his page layouts can be hard to follow (sometimes he includes helpful arrows, sometimes not)--even I, an avid comic reader for 25 years, had trouble figuring out the panel order on some pages, so novice readers may find themselves adrift in the pages here and there.
Also, the first time we jumped back in time to the grandfather's childhood, it took me a while to figure out that this was a different character--primarily because Jimmy-the-youngest has an active fantasy life, often escaping his miserable existence by imagining himself in all manner of different situations. Once you get the hang of it though, the story is easy enough to follow, and it's impressive that Ware managed to turn it into a cohesive story when, according to the afterword, he started it off as a sporadic serial and didn't know where the story was going to end up initially. It's also interesting to note that while the story is not directly autobiographical, there are some rather strange unplanned similarities (all explained in the afterword) between the author's life and Jimmy's.
At times, flashing back and forth, it's hard to decide which Jimmy had the worse life--they were both homely, unpopular children who had the appearance of baldness at a very early age--one had an abusive, neglectful father, and the other had no father figure present in his life at all. In the end I think that the elder Jimmy's childhood was crappiest, but younger Jimmy's adult life is about as cheerless as it could get. But both depressing lives bear about the same emotional weight. This is not a fun book by any measure, but it's the kind of thing that after reading it, you'll be damn glad that you did.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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