Instructions and the Female Illustration
When we first open Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth we are confronted with a set of instructions. These instructions cover everything from the design and layout of the graphic novel to the history of pictographic media. However in one section of these instructions there is a simple question that foreshadows and relates to many of Jimmy’s upcoming interactions; exam question number one asks “You are: a. male b. female.” It goes on “If b, you may stop. Put down your booklet. All others continue.” It would appear that that the author does not intend for the fairer sex to read this book. Quite possibly because the female reader would be dismayed at the way their gender is displayed in the world of Jimmy Corrigan. Whether his overbearing mother, the passenger seated next to him on the plane, his waitress, or his nurse Ware illustrates these women as objects; objects not in the same class as men but existing only to provide physical stimulation and reproductive means.
The first woman we meet is Jimmy’s mom. While not a direct object of Jimmy’s sexual desire she is depicted as being nagging and overbearing. It is no coincidence that, whenever she is speaking, her words are outside of the frame. This symbolizes that her words do not merit their own speech bubble the way many of the other characters, including Jimmy’s father, do. Not only do we see Jimmy’s mother illustrated this way but we also see her as the object of sexual attraction; while at the car show she meets and ultimately sleeps with the superman figure that Jimmy idolizes. This superman character’s relationship with Jimmy’s mom signifies the sexual nature that Jimmy will ultimately hold in high regard through the rest of the book.
One of the next female encounters for Jimmy is the stranger he meets on the plane. In one of the first frames when we are introduced to this woman, only breasts and a pair of legs represent her. It is not until a few frames in that we eventually see the back of her head. This is a representation of how Jimmy sees things; the first and often only thing he notices are those features that have a distinct sexual connotation. It can be observed that there are very few females that we actually see the face of throughout the book. This woman goes on to even question whether Jimmy is staring at her breasts. And to top it all off, Jimmy’s sense of rejection is represented by the banana, a very phallic symbol, which this woman does not touch when she receives her fruit basket and bran muffin.
Another female that Jimmy encounters is the waitress at the diner where his father and him go to eat. Our first description of this young lady is that of Jimmy’s father: “I hate that little teenage bitch.” He then goes on to say “she’s got a great pair of tits on her, though doesn’t she.” This is just another representation of how women are portrayed as lesser and only as objects of male sexual desire. Not to mention that in the same series of slides she is portrayed feeding a baby further conveying her willingness to engage sexually. Also in subsequent slides she is either pictured bending over or with a speech bubble blocking out her face only leaving her breasts visible to the reader this also symbolizes Jimmy’s focus during the extent of his interaction with her. This encounter, similar to the one before, also ends in rejection; however this is the imagined rejection that Jimmy perceives as part of any female that he finds sexually appealing.
One of the next female representations comes when Jimmy is at the doctor’s office. First there is what appears to be a poster with the female reproductive system hanging on the wall in the background; this is another portrayal of Jimmy’s fascination with the sexual aspect of females so much so that it is the backdrop prior to his interaction with the female nurse. This is yet another communication sequence where we do not see the face of the desirable female. We initially see her pink and blue bracelets, which symbolize male and female together, most likely in Jimmy’s mind, sexually. Also we see Jimmy’s first person view of her bra from the top of her shirt. Finally the one facial feature we do see is her puffy pink lips, which also serve to epitomize certain features of the female genitalia. Jimmy then goes on to fantasize about a sexual encounter with the nurse that ultimately results in marriage and a little house in the mountains. Finally this scene ends with Jimmy’s dad complaining about the color of the office and upon exiting the building his dad says: “Does everything look sort of pink to you?” This is yet another innuendo illustrating that all he does is think about sex.Throughout the novel we see Jimmy looking at women the same way his hero superman viewed his mother at the start of the novel. This may be a disturbing glimpse into the mind of Jimmy, the author, and unfortunately most men; however if the female reader finds this depiction disturbing maybe they should have followed the instructions.