Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan at first glance, appears to be a potentially entertaining comic book, or “graphic novel” as enthusiasts tend to call it. A quick glance through the pages however reveals this not to be the case. If taken at face value and skimmed through passively as an unserious medium of literature, Jimmy Corrigan quickly takes on the incomprehensible form of a stream of consciousness nightmare of words and pictures. Upon reaching the end of the first of many hours of daunting confusion and false understanding of the text as a whole, one may discover the conveniently placed instructions for reading the book printed on the inner cover. Why should reading a book, especially something as seemingly childish as a comic book, require instructions for proper understanding? The instructions, however, answer this along with numerous other questions and concerns that certainly arise after 2 hours of reading without prior direction. In particular, section three of the instructions, titled “Role,” gracefully dispels any presumptions regarding the outward appearance of the text in a storm of sarcasm. Had an impatient reader started at the true beginning of the text, he would have discovered that in fact, this work is not for the emotionally shallow or self-actualized, but instead directs itself to those who can relate to grief and sexual tension and who are in potential need of a social outlet to either relate to or take comfort in.
Knowing the foundations on which this book is written, it is easier to understand the life and thought processes of Jimmy as he passes between the present and his constructed reality of the past. Rather than flashbacks, it appears that the lapses in the continuity of the present are actually illusions brought on by both guilt and fear of the unknown. In particular, a one page span of images depicting one such tangent blurs Jimmy’s perception of the present and constructed past together in a confusing mix of childhood, adulthood, and various locations while retaining continuity in the present. Jimmy is situated in the hospital waiting for news of his father when the accumulated grief and guilt for his actions piles up in his mind. Flashes between the hospital and a solitary park bench are riddled with Jimmy’s repeated descent into childhood defending his decisions against his mom’s discriminating tone. Fear, grief, and a general lack of understanding place Jimmy in a position where he is unable to cope with the burdens of death and abandonment which he struggles with throughout the book.
As Chris Ware sarcastically declares in his instructions, consoling those with grief obviously isn’t the intention of a comic book such as this. This is the work of something that will provide “sympathetic resonance,” like a movie, moving picture box or a cake. Ware’s sarcasm aside, this section of the book provides this “sympathetic resonance” which he passively assigns to the role of a cake. Confronted with the potential death of his father whom he’s sought for so many years, he’s plagued with so much grief that he reverts back to the innocent child within. He doesn’t do this through thoughts and words alone, but instead physically transforms into his inner child while remaining in the context of the present. With the abandonment of his father in death, he’s forced to face the other side of his guilty conscience, his mother whom he abandoned himself in pursuit of his father. While Jimmy parts with reality and looks onto his mother in childish terror for the disappointment he’s caused, it is important to note that his responses to her are not made directly to her, but through a phone. The disconnection between Jimmy and his mom is furthered throughout the story by losing contact with his mom during his trip, and instead he uses the phone as a way to keep in touch with her while lying through his teeth. The importance of the phone in these images is that Jimmy cannot seem to face the accumulated guilt of his lies, and confronted subconsciously, he must still use that enabling mechanism to continue his explanations for his actions.
The role of Jimmy Corrigan as a collective work is to break the mold of comic strips and portray something more than the “most shallow of sentiments.” The intention of this work is to provide some sort of relevant connection that creates “sympathetic resonance” with the reader such that there is some inherent value to reading a comic strip aimed at an adult demographic. Understanding the complexity and specific aim of this work provides insight on subtle details throughout the text such as the various props like the telephone when Jimmy becomes overwhelmed with his father’s death and his disobedience to his mother. With a better understanding of the text, small details that would be passed up such as subtle color changes or minor variations of the same image can be read as a deeper and considerably more meaningful representation of emotion which isn’t expected from such a literary medium. In all, these elements, when taken together, provide a much more sympathetic character whom Ware’s target audience can relate to and sympathize with.