While much of Chris Ware’s graphic novel “Jimmy Corrigan” is a self-reflection of his own life trying to figure out who his father is, it also serves to force the reader to think about his or her own personal or emotional problems. On the inside of the book’s cover, Ware provides a sometimes-serious, sometimes-sarcastic reading guide of general instructions to help the reader better understand Ware’s intentions and Jimmy’s tale. In the section about “Role,” Ware discusses a topic that I find very interesting.
“There are moments…in some people’s lives where there is a palpable sense that all activity is valueless,” he writes, which implies that he, and many of his readers, have felt this negative emotion, and I believe that he is dead serious when he writes this. Later in the section, he continues by saying, “In such times…many of us may seek out some form of pageantry to provide distraction, or solace,” such as a movie, book or painting.
This section of Ware’s general instructions led me to a moment about a quarter of the way through the story where some of Ware’s readers might relate to or take solace in Jimmy’s plight. Following a brief and awkward conversation with his dad about a Chicago poster, his clean clothes, and bacon, Jimmy sits on the couch and waits for his dad to shower. Then, when his mind begins to wander, Jimmy has one of these moments of questioning what the hell he is doing there – a sense that “all activity is valueless.” He sees a price tag that reads $19.95 and envisions his dad buying the cheap Chicago poster to try to impress his son that he hasn’t seen in years. This thought leads him to thinking maybe his dad rented this apartment for a short period of time in an attempt to lure Jimmy back into his life. Then he even imagines his father sneaking up behind him and stabbing him in the neck. These thoughts all leave Jimmy confused and just sitting on the couch not knowing what he should do. Back in real life, the phone rings and a girl’s voice leave a message to “dad”, which means that Jimmy suddenly realizes he has a sister. He panics, sneaks out of the house, and proceeds to walk into oncoming traffic.
This series of images correlates to Ware’s original description of what may be considered depression. Jimmy still wants to figure out what he should do about his relationship with his father, and he is struggling with the fact that he still doesn’t truly know who the man is, which gives him a sense that maybe it’s not such a great idea to be hanging out with his dad. And when he hears that he also might possibly have a sibling he never knew, it tears him up even more and causes him to leave. This moment is extremely emotional and makes Jimmy a very sentimental character, especially for anyone who has previously had similar family problems, like myself.
But even more importantly, Ware takes a shot at readers who view moments such as this as funny, unmoving, or not important. Switching to a sarcastic tone at the end of his “Role” section of general instructions, Ware writes that “Most of the purchasers of this book, however, are likely sexually confident, attractive go-getters for whom grief is merely an abstraction, or, at worst, an annoyance treatable by expensive medication. Hence, they are hoping to find something which will briefly titillate or amuse them, fashionably enhance their ‘look,’ or add to their ‘nowness,’ and they have certainly made the right choice, for the comic strip medium which it employs holds no hope of ever expressing anything but the meanest and most shallow sentiments.”
Here Ware forces the reader to examine himself or herself, suggesting through distinct sarcasm that we all have similar problems to Jimmy Corrigan – none of us are perfect physically and certainly not emotionally. He wants readers to view and understand Jimmy’s story in relation to their own problems, definitely not as something to laugh at or use to look cool, which I think is important to realize when reading scenes throughout “Jimmy Corrigan.”
And I believe Ware would likely argue that this reading strategy should be applied to all “art” – books, paintings, movies, music, and yes, even comics.