Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Formal Blog 3/20

I must admit I don’t see the point in The Adventure of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.  Maybe I’m missing something big, but there are two things, which bother me.  First the story is lame.  It is about a 30 year-old loser who just met his dad.  There is no driving conflict to push the story forward.  Jimmy bumbles about his pitiful life.  The second issue I have with the story is the discontinuities with in the plot.  One minute the book is focused on present day Jimmy, the next second it jumps to the 1800s.  Though I find these two items painful, I do believe they are crucial to this book and very unique to any form of literature today.  The discontinuities have much to do with Christopher Ware’s medium and his experimentation within the medium.  This will allow him to construct a narrative different than a conventional comic book, movie, or novel.  The story he tells with in it is also unique to Ware’s life, influences, and medium.


If you translated this graphic novel to a feature film, you would get an average length film that feels like the entire Lord of the Rings saga.  The story does not having any driving force which films typically exemplify.  Jimmy does not have any goals or motivations.  Instead, he simply goes about his life.  He goes to work, goes home, calls his mom, etc.  He is not aspiring to anything.  His only desire is to be with a woman, but he does nothing about this.  Jimmy Corrigan is about as passive of a hero as they come.  However, this graphic novel isn’t meant for theatres or even females.  He intended this for nerdy, off beat, introverted guys who like comic books (REF: inside cover).  This target audience could identify with this extreme example of a guy who has a hard time with girls.  In fact, I doubt there are many readers who have had that kind of luck with women as Jimmy Corrigan does.  This seems to be an exaggeration of a fact of life with his target audience and himself.  The medium itself is appropriate for the story also.  As mentioned before, this story would not work in a movie theatre, because it does not fit entertainment standards.  It does, however, to the niche audience of graphic novels and the Chicago newspaper he originally published.


The comic book medium also allowed Ware to create discontinuities and juxtaposed storylines and dreams without transitions or clues.  He will create dream sequences without any warning, and some are close to reality like the dream with nurse, it confuse the reader for a period of time.  This works in two different ways.  First it creates disillusionment for the character and conveys that to the reader.  Jimmy does have a great life in the real world, so he unknowingly escapes to his fantasyland just to snap back to harsh reality.  This device furthers Jimmy’s character making him more of a loser.


This technique also plays with the conventions of comic books.  Usually each frame is suppose to be viewed one right after the other like reading is one word after the other.  When there is a discontinuity, there should be a transition or at least an indication of a change.  Instead there is almost a seamless flow into the dream or flashback.  This challenges how the reader should read these scenes.  He has to read them all the way through, then realize it’s only a dream.  Then the reader rereads the dream in new context.  So the normal stream of reading is disturbed.  This calls attention to the fact that this is a comic (or graphic novel).  Ware is using these comic book conventions and the story line to construct his own story about his medium and an exaggeration of kids who read these comic books. 


Ware, Chris.  Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This discussion was interesting, but somewhat scattered, without a set of images to focus on. Here's a hypothesis: you could have framed your two areas of discomfort as questions, and then tried to answer those questions through specific images.

Example: "There is no driving conflict to push the story forward." Obviously you're right - this isn't a Hollywood story, and it doesn't partake of Hollywood values.

In Werner Herzog's borderline-great film Grizzly Man he reproduces some home footage of a squirrel, or squirrels, running around on the roof of a tent, then asserts that this scene is, more or less, greater than anything accessible to the Hollywood imagination: there are artists, Chris Ware among them, who deliberately defy Hollywood conventions.

So, rather than just asserting the correct statement that "There is no driving conflict," we might ask what there is _instead_ (actually, one could argue that there is a conflict; Jimmy's internalized struggle to assert himself).

I'd argue that instead of conflict, we have formalism: the narrative is driven not by events so much as by pure form, including its poetry-like use of assonance/repetition; the two contrasting images of McDonalds which bookmark what we might call the "old times" is the perfect example. This is just an example of how you might have opened a question about your discomfort which then would have led to an analysis of particular images; an alternative would have been to focus on those moments where there _is_ action, e.g., when Jimmy touches Amy's hand and she pushes him away.