Friday, November 8, 2013

Revision 2 - Repetitive Imagery in Jimmy Corrigan

When reading Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, it is immediately evident that Chris Ware doesn't have the same motives as that of a more traditional graphic novelist. At many points throughout the novel, seemingly ordinary images are presented as part of mundane repetition. Ware uses these scenes of repetition to present Jimmy's true stream of consciousness that is otherwise hidden behind his reserved outward behaviour and left for the reader to deduce. Consequently, through sequences of image repetition space is created for the reader to interpret and understand the complexities of the anxieties and insecurities that Jimmy feels during each moment in his life. These anxieties are at the core of the novel's larger themes which could not be fully developed without the use of image repetition.

In the novel the reader is constantly provided images that depict Jimmy's blank stare or his slow movements during ordinary moments in his life. For example, the reader is shown images of Jimmy eating a bowl of cereal in a slow and methodical way [1]. At this moment, it is possible that Jimmy's head is filled with thoughts that are anxious, conflicting, and burdensome but the reader only sees the him eating cereal. Similarly, any person that interacts with Jimmy sees a person who is reserved, flat, and boring. In order to break through this outward facing shell and dig deeper into the mind of Jimmy Corrigan Ware presents repetition as a depiction of the anxiety that Jimmy feels in each moment. Jimmy experiences every moment in life as a struggle to cope with his anxieties and by remaining on the same scene or image through multiple frames, Ware is able to create space within these moments to develop the complexities of this struggle. With this space the reader is then able to consider each moment's depth independently and feel the weight of time as Jimmy does.

One particular example of this type of repetition is seen when Ware presents Jimmy's mental images of the father that he has never met [2]. Here Ware could have easily chosen to provide only one image of Jimmy's imagined father however twelve are displayed. Jimmy's anxiety over his relationship with his father are immediately evident in these frames and without repetition these feelings would be lost. Jimmy imagines twelve distinct men as his father and the reader sees that Jimmy does not have any idea about the man his father really is. The reader is confronted directly with the confusion and distance that Jimmy is feeling about his father by carefully moving through each anxious moment that Jimmy considers. In contrast, if Ware chose to present these Jimmy's thoughts without the repetition, the reader would be inclined to pass quickly over the moment and would miss the intricacies of Jimmy's anxiety which weighs heavily on each moment which he experiences. Thomas Bredehoft argues that Ware uses three-dimensional space (through the use of cut-outs) in order to explain "complex visual and narrative structures that simply cannot be contained within a single narrative line, or within the two dimensions of a single page." However the space needed to explain these complexities is also created by extending moments in time through the use of repetition.

This extension of a moment in Jimmy's mind is further enforced when it is considered that the images of Jimmy's imagined father develop linearly throughout the repetition. We see repetition of certain elements such as the strap of a bag through three sequential images (ten through twelve). Similarly in image four we see an increase in formal attire (a tie but no jacket) and then as the images progress (five, six, and seven) we see a full suit depicted. These sequential progressions show an explanation to the way Jimmy's stream of consciousness develops during an individual moment. Within a this individual moment of thought, Jimmy is not choosing one of these images as the image of his father. Rather, Ware reminds the reader that there is development through this specific moment and Jimmy moves through all of the images. The reader is then able to move naturally into this particular instance of Jimmy's thought with an opportunity for intricacies to evolve from the entire moment as a distinct development through time.

After creating the space for complex commentary on Jimmy's anxiety, Ware uses this space precisely to develop the relationship Jimmy has with the idea of his father that is at the core of the novel's many themes. This depth begins to surface when the reader notes the black rectangles that Jimmy imagines over the images of the men [2]. Many people view eyes as the most distinguishing feature of the face. Even from a young age, a child will look constantly into another person's eyes and in particular, the eyes of their parents. Knowing this, it is particularly interesting that Jimmy cannot render this feature in his mind when he thinks about his father. By stripping the portraits of eyes, the humanity of each man is taken away. In this way, the rectangles serve as an indicator that the distance between Jimmy and his father is so great that he can't even imagine him as a real person. Ware further develops this moment by depicting one of the men within the repetition as saying "Especially around the've got your mother's eyes, you know." Here Ware is drawing attention specifically to the eyes as a distinguishing characteristic of a person and a trait which is strongly based in genetic inheritance. Simply, Ware reminds the reader that the eyes are a direct link between a parent and a child. Jimmy imagines his father without this characteristic which breaks this fundamental connection. In addition, by Jimmy imagining his father saying that "you've got your mother's eyes" the father himself is abandoning this connection with his son and is instead placing this link solely with Jimmy's mother.

As this example displays, a complete understanding of each moment of time in Jimmy's mind holds depths that are not initially evident or understood. These depths do not fit into a single frame and by using repetition Ware creates space for complexities to develop. In this space that is created, Ware is also able to depict the way anxieties plague every independent moment in Jimmy's life. Then, the reader is able to truly connect with Jimmy's anxiety because it is understood and experienced.


Works Cited:

Bredehoft, Thomas. "Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time: Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth." MFS Modern Fiction Studies 52.4 (2006): 869-90. Web. 08 Nov. 2013.

1 comment:

Adam said...

My first observation is that the essay is quite short. My second is that the central idea is great. I'm not sure that you're expressing it quite as well as you could, but your focus on the significance of repeating boring images is good (although I'd suggest that one reason that these images work is we also get to go into Jimmy's dreams and fantasies - the existence of the rich fantasy life, I'd argue, helps us breaking through the flatness which, as you explain well, is insistently pushed upon us. My third observation is that two paragraphs of introduction in a *very* short revision is excessive!

Your use of Bredehoft is effective, but I wonder if it's still somewhat underutilized.

Your reading of the father's face as it evolves is good and detailed - I wonder if there's more to be done with the idea of the "mother's eyes," though, especially since the book withholds Jimmy's mother from us, but not Jimmy himself - there might be a larger resonance there.

You end briefly, suddenly and vaguely - the central thing that I take away is that you're generating about repetition in the book based on a single series of images which - as you pointed out in good detail - develops substantially. I find it curious that you are ostensibly writing about repetition, but you're really writing about what I'd call repetition-with-a-difference, which isn't quite the same thing.

At the end of the day, this essay is very good for its length (despite an excessive intro and a weak conclusion), but it simply is too short: there is more to be developed here in terms of argument, and a single example of repetition isn't satisfying - you should have done two at this level of detail, which I think would have helped you develop a clearer final argument.