In the general instructions on the inside cover of Jimmy Corrigan, the reader is presented with section 4, “Technical Explanations of the Language, Developing Skills,” where he learns whether he is capable of reading comic strip language. A series of questions is presented alongside two frames showing a mouse hitting a “cat head” with a hammer. The last question is --- did you a) feel sorry for the cat head, or b) not? The author then informs the reader that if he answered “b” to all of the previous questions he is ready to continue in his reading, suggesting that he was not supposed to feel bad for the cat head. This may not seem like a big deal, as a lot of the inside cover is plain silly anyway, but flash forward several pages and a very similar image reappears in one of Jimmy Corrigan’s dreams, as he sobs over his child’s crying head on the ground and smashes it over the head with a cinder block. This connection brings an important point about how we as readers are supposed to view Jimmy’s character.
The timing of this dream is extremely important. Jimmy has this dream the night that he meets his father, after the awkward dinner at the fast food joint. He is pretty unsure about the situation, and rightly so, noting the juxtaposition of the father and the crafty car salesman (granted, we can be pretty sure that Jimmy has not picked up on this). The dream he has highlights his naïve optimism – he is reminiscing and telling his child a fairytale version of the night that he met his grandfather (“Scared? Ha Ha… oh no I wasn’t scared.” Liar). Something is clearly already not right here, as Superman again appears, standing this time on the windowsill, and literally shakes everything up. Jimmy’s second dream in the sequence, where his father forces him to shoot his miniature horse, further shows his worries about a father figure, who in the dream is emotionally doing him harm.
Jimmy is worried about getting hurt. The child’s head is not literally a child that he wishes he had, but is a deeper symbol of himself. Though in his dream he is the one with the cinder block, he is also the father figure in the dream. In real life, his is the child, and so he is meant to be the head. This is magnified by the diagram to the right of the directions on the inner cover. In one section there is the sketch of the cat head, with two arrows pointing to it. One leads from a man’s head, and one leaves it from the child’s head. Throughout the book, Jimmy is presented as both a child and a man, and so he is the cat head (In my opinion, the cat head looks absolutely nothing like a cat, and looks a lot more like a bird or chicken. This brings about the image of Jimmy as a “chicken head” from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Jimmy is the one constantly getting hit, and the symbolism of the head on the ground brings back the question from the inner cover --- do you a) feel sorry for him or b) not? More importantly, are we supposed to feel sorry for him?
For the entire first half of the book the reader watches as he gets pummeled. Nothing good ever seems to happen to Jimmy, and he never seems to be intelligent enough to realize what’s going on around him. Feeling sorry for him is not exactly a hard thing to do. In a summary-like page the author points out three obvious reasons that we could feel sorry for Jimmy: Jimmy can’t meet girls, Jimmy wears old-fashioned pants, and Jimmy calls his mom at least once a day. This isn’t to mention the constant, mocking “JIMMY CORRIGAN – THE SMARTEST KID ON EARTH” frame that is scattered among the pages. It’s pretty easy for the reader to think “Poor Jimmy, what a loser…” However, Ware also uses the inside cover to turn the sarcasm on the reader – “Most of the purchasers of this book, however, are likely to be sexually confident, attractive go-getters for whom grief is merely an abstraction, or at worst, an annoyance treatable by expensive medication.” Translation: don’t fool yourself, you are all just as pathetic as my main character.
He doesn’t want us to feel sorry for Jimmy, but rather, he seems to want us to recognize the parallels between Jimmy’s life and our own. The London Review of Books wrote that Jimmy Corrigan was “A meticulous record of the minutiae of nothing happening: eating, waiting, being disappointed.” Perhaps, then, we are supposed to see our own lives in this way too.