WARNING: Contains some spoilers from the second half of the novel.
A famous adage in American culture is that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” If so, then comic books are the ultimate literature, using both pictures and words to get their message across. However, comics have been reserved for the Superheroes and the Funnies in the paper, reduced to simple entertainment and disregarded as serious literature. The comic book “Jimmy Corrigan” resists the genre of these comics and spins a more mature story where even one page can tell many more than a thousand words. Two such pages are found near the beginning of the book where the protagonist Jimmy Corrigan meets his father. The illustrations jump quickly away from the main action and are seemingly random at first glance. Looking at the illustrations with help of the instructions given at the very beginning of the novel reveals the true purpose of these pages as they show Jimmy’s feelings when meeting his father and set up a connection between Jimmy and his grandfather later in the book.
The background of these pages emphasizes their seeming randomness and is important for finding their connection to the rest of the novel. The illustration of Jimmy’s lineage comes directly after meeting his father for the first time which is both awkward and frightening to Jimmy who imagines brutally murdering him. This first meeting is the culmination of many events in Jimmy’s life which is suggested by the General Instructions on the front cover. Under the section titled “Role,” author Chris Ware explains how a family lineage can come up at such a random time. He writes, ‘Perhaps one has simply sat…and, quite unsuspectingly, been seized by the horrible gnawing sense of all that has led up to this one point in their life, the hopefulness of their childhood, the friends lost, the trysts unrealized, the hearts broken” (Ware). This exactly corresponds to Jimmy’s situation to set up these pages. All his years of wondering who his dad is has made their meeting feel like a culmination of all his suffering as a child. He then reflects even farther, feeling that this meeting is the process of his entire family lineage, setting up the panels examining his family history and its cyclical nature.
The General Instructions contain not only written instructions, but a guide in pictures as well which helps decipher the page describing the Corrigan’s history. The instructions first show the importance of the largest pictures in the section. It shows a gigantic human-mouse hitting a cat head with a hammer. This comedic, “Loony Toons”-esque image is then broken down into all of its elements in order to help the reader decipher later diagrams in the novel. No matter what goes on in the diagram, the main image is still dominant and is the focus of the page. In the pages of Jimmy’s lineage, the prominent pictures are a time lapse of a house opposite of Jimmy’s apartment. The house is the same, but is shown at different points in time. The house is shown to be built by Jimmy’s great-grandfather and now is just outside Jimmy’s window in Chicago. These main images contribute to the idea that the work that Jimmy’s great-grandfather started is now passed on to Jimmy who now watches over this old building in the city. It also sets up the idea that all the images in between will be linking the houses through the Corrigan family. Connecting the houses through such a timeline becomes useful later on in the book when the reader is directed to the experiences of Jimmy’s grandfather who starts in the Chicago townhouse shown in the final picture. It shows that Jimmy and his grandfather have similar troubles since Jimmy is raised at the house located (as indicated in a picture) on Peachwood Avenue. The peach so far in the novel identifies Jimmy as very vulnerable and soft and can now be seen foreshadowing Jimmy’s grandfather as a similar pushover when he is introduced several pages from this one.
Another main device used on these pages is the time lapse showing the most recent part of the Corrigan family. The general instructions use obvious timelines to acquaint the reader with this kind of structure for pages like these. The bottom left of the image shows the formation and destruction of Earth, expanding out the current place in the timeline for the main image to take place. It also includes the evolution of the mouse-man and life cycles of the cat head and mouse-man to further the point. The correct section of the time line to use is expanded using dotted lines like what is used in text books to magnify and image. Such a device is then used in the illustration of Jimmy’s history to show the development of Jimmy’s parents and Jimmy throughout time. As the reader moves left along this timeline, more time passes. Three points are extracted from the timeline and are important to understanding the family history and the story in general. The most glaring point is the image drawn from “Now” which has Jimmy’s mother at an old age, Jimmy’s father at an old age, and Jimmy reaching his thirties. This is important because it shows where this family lineage has culminated, but it also foreshadows a major plot point in the second half of the book.
Jimmy and his mother are shown growing older as time goes on past “Now” as indicated by squiggly lines (also shown in the General Instructions picture) whereas Jimmy’s father only shows a grave immediately following “Now.” It shows that Jimmy’s father will die soon and leaves the reader wondering how and if Jimmy will finally make up with his estranged father before his passing since this immediately follows Jimmy’s thoughts of torturing his father. The next point extracted from the timeline leads to the ripped photo, showing that right after Jimmy was born, his family was together. The picture is then shown as ripped with one half pushed to one side of the page (toward the image of it under the ground) and the other half put in Jimmy’s drawer, signifying the separation that led up to Jimmy and his father’s meeting. It is emphasized by the full picture of his grandmother and grandfather that remains together and becomes animated on the second page. This picture comes from the ova and sperm that created Jimmy’s dad, being the third and final extraction that leads back in time to the house that not sits opposite of Jimmy’s apartment. The timeline and its extractions show various points in time that lead up to Jimmy and his father’s meeting in the airport immediately preceding these pages. It drives home the idea described in the “Role” of the Generals Instructions, that Jimmy is examining all the points in time that have lead up to such a traumatic event. Using the General Instructions, the reader is able to use the main pictures and extractions of the timeline that emphasize the meaning of these two pages: the illustrations of Jimmy’s “horrible gnawing sense of all that has led up to this one point in [his] life” (Ware).
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.
|General Instructions - Illustration|
|General Instructions - Total Page|
|Pages of Interest - Page 1|
|Pages of Interest - Page 2|
All Images are from "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth" Cited Above (Ware)