Selection from Pages 68-69 (or around there based on numbering)
Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: smartest kid on earth is a graphic novel with much to be analyzed. The format of a graphic novel allows various methods of conveying feelings and events. The pictures and words go beyond what they explicitly depict in the way that they are colored. This gives a clearer picture of the significance of some of the smaller events through what the reader may subconsciously interpret anyway. One page of the novel rife with color significance is the sequence on pages 68 and 69. Jimmy is waking up in his father’s apartment, and sitting on a couch while his father showers in the other room. The phone rings and someone leaves a message. It clearly frightens Jimmy in the way that this event would frighten an infant. This event of the phone ringing and the message being left has significance in the illustrations through color choice that depict his anxiety, further reinforcing his insecurity of existing in the adult world.
A close reading of the colors used in these panels reveals the focus and anxiety of Jimmy during this event. The environment of the father’s apartment consists of shades of light browns and greens on the walls and a black floor. These all seem to be soothing, neutral colors that aren’t very intrusive. Molly Bang’s book Picture This is an effective way to analyze color and shape relationship. She supports the idea that lighter backgrounds feel safer than dark ones because we feel safer during the day than at night. When the phone rings and Jimmy becomes scared thinking about who could be calling in the smaller panels, the background is fittingly black to show his feelings of insecurity and fear.
The only tangible object with any color in the scene is the pink floral pillow from Jimmy’s bed on the couch. The light pink, though it does stand out in the scene, is not an intrusive color. The contrast created between the calm, neutral colors and this pastel pink is striking. Following another theme in the book, this color could be used to emasculate Jimmy as a functioning adult and cast him in a passive, fragile light.
Beyond the significance of the colors used in the room, perhaps more telling is the colors of the “sounds” and thoughts as depicted in these panels. The red text is strong and loud when used on the neutral scene. As it first appears, the large capital letters of the “RING” of the telephone are meant to be invasive and startling. The color red, in many cases, can be used to depict a threat or danger, and Jimmy reacts to the ring as if it was a danger, curling up in fear. The red color is also used to write the sounds of the phone besides the ringing. The “K-KIK” of the answering machine picking up and the “beep” tones after the away message has played are both red. All the sounds that the phone makes are made out to be very invasive to Jimmy, and that is evident in the aggressiveness of the color but mostly the way Jimmy responds to them.
A stark contrast to the red phone sounds, the blue text and symbols depict Jimmy’s train of thought inside his own head, or more specifically what he is focusing on. Blue is generally a color that implies a calmness or passivity, which is fitting to represent Jimmy’s thoughts and oppose the harsh, red stimuli. In the first two of the selected panels, the blue color is reserved for the “SSSHHH” of the shower being run in the next room. After the phone rings, the shower “SSSHHH” text is black, indicating that Jimmy is no longer focused on that stimulus. In the panel of the second ring, the blue color is used to show four of Jimmy’s possible explanations for the upsetting sound, like he hadn’t identified it as being the ring of the phone. Three of the four symbols suggest that the sound could be from a fire alarm and the fourth being a question mark. In the following panel, his thoughts suggest he has figured out the sound was from the telephone. After the away message answers, his thoughts focus in on who could possibly be calling, which causes him visible stress. Once the caller finishes leaving the message, the blue text goes back to the shower sounds, where Jimmy’s focus has then gone to. The blue symbols are all contained within what we know to be thought bubbles, and the blue shower sounds indicate that his focus is there.
Especially in this scene, colors have significance beyond just aesthetics. They evoke feelings and allow the reader to subconsciously contextualize the meanings of scene. The intrusiveness of the red on Jimmy’s blue thoughts in this neutral room coupled with Jimmy’s child-like panic in response to the phone ringing clearly show his fear and anxiety caused by this normal, adult event.
1. Bang, Molly. Picture This: How Pictures Work, SeaStar Books (New York, NY), 1991.
A link to a PDF version here: http://samuelsloan.com/teaching/Molly-Bang-picture-this.pdf
2. Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.