Although many consider Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth to be simply drawn, it certainly is not fair to say that each and every panel does not hold any importance. From the straight-forward art style to the frequently muted color palette, everything that appears in the novel deliberately contributes to Ware’s emphasis on the everyday aspects of despair throughout both Jimmy’s life and that of his ancestors. In fact, it is this simplicity in graphical approach that serves to further reinforce that the sources of the characters’ unhappiness are not fantastical, rather realistic and overtly “common”. A key aspect of this sadness that is shown many times, at least in the case of Jimmy himself, comes from his near inability to simply speak or interact with women, which is exemplified in the short, yet revealing interaction between him and the “Burger Kuntry” counter girl.
The short sequence of ten panels concerns Jimmy attempting to get his father’s burger replaced due to a mix-up to the fault of the female server. From the second Jimmy attempts to speak to her, he becomes extremely flustered, which Ware cleverly denotes by the emitting of hearts from Jimmy’s head as he tries to think of something to say. By this point, the reader has already seen prime examples of his inadequacies in interacting with women, such as his overly nervous and meaningless phone call to Peggy, the office mail-lady and his implied “crush”, and how he stares at the breasts of his neighboring flight passenger. This example, although far more subtle, truly shows just how nervous women truly make Jimmy, as the girl is able to completely paralyze his thoughts with nothing other than meaningless banter regarding a botched burger order. Ware highlights the meaninglessness of the conversation by quickly showing the creation of the burger, consisting of nothing more than a frozen meat patty quickly cooked in the microwave. The minute process that it requires is further made insignificant by the excuse the girl makes, claiming she “sometimes… gets a little… distracted,” even though the task truly should require no attention towards it at all.
When the girl finishes fixing the order, she tells Jimmy that he has to pay for it, even though it was her mistake earlier. Even though he desperately tries to speak out against paying for the meal twice, he locks up to the point where he simply submits, and ends up paying double. This is exemplified through the total lack of background within the panels that Jimmy contemplates challenging the girl, showing a battle within himself to speak up rather than an external conflict. When Jimmy finally submits to the additional payment, the background of the restaurant returns, showing him snapping back into the reality that he failed to stand up for himself, as well as speak to yet another woman. Although he does not show it, the reader can infer that he is frustrated with himself afterwards, as his dream in which he “walks out” on a mental representation of presumably the same girl can be read as a justification to himself for his lack of confidence and speech towards her behind the counter.
Another aspect of the panels that speaks volumes towards Jimmy’s shortcomings with women is the lack of the presence of the girl’s face. This is not a feature of just this interaction, but nearly all of Jimmy’s other past and future)] experiences with women throughout the graphic novel. Even Peggy, the woman that he claims is his girlfriend when confronted by his father, never has her face revealed. The lack of facial features can be read as a lack of importance in what the women actually looks like, and an emphasis on Jimmy’s reactions, regardless of features. By downplaying the physical representations of women (although some characters crudely speak towards them), Jimmy’s desperate longing for companionship and horrible social awkwardness become highlighted. The obstruction of facial features can also be seen as a de-emphasizing any woman’s true interest in Jimmy or importance to him, sexual or otherwise, in order to make Jimmy’s despair in loneliness more apparent.
This interaction between Jimmy and the “burger girl”, and all of Jimmy Corrigan in general, exemplifies the efficiency graphic novels can hold in conveying content both through text and visual details. Through only this short sequence of panels, Ware is able to accurately exemplify Jimmy’s social and sexual failures, as well as set up for later examples that build upon his simple inabilities to speak up for himself and talk to women. Still, these aspects of Jimmy’s sadness are nothing abnormal to an everyday reader due to realistic nature of both the subject matter as well as Ware’s efficient illustration, making Jimmy’s situation all the more relatable.
A visual reference to the panels in question: