Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bacon HI

“Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth” by Chris Ware is a graphic novel different than any other. From the binding of the book, to the very last inside page, the novel is chuck-full of cynicism, humor, symbols and metaphors, and ultimately an interpersonal story of life. It’s a story of Jimmy Corrigan— a sad-sack middle aged man who meets his father for the first time after receiving a letter from his father suggesting that maybe it was about time that they get to know one another over Thanksgiving.  Jimmy heads to Michigan to meet his father, whom tries overly hard, is offensively sexist, and fairly inept of being a good father figure. His father is depicted this way in many of the scenes— from the doctor’s office to the kitchen, the reader comes to understand the inadequacy of Jimmy’s father. One series of panels early on in the reunion of Jimmy and his newly met father perfectly presents the way Ware depicts Jimmy’s father through humor and images.
            “Jimmy Corrigan” is not only read by the text from one frame to the next, but also, and more importantly, by carefully observing and making connections to the deliberately chosen tiny images and details of each panel. Every little detail of each panel has some type of significance to either enhance the particular section of the book or help understand the story as a whole. One morning Jimmy wakes up to the sound of his father making breakfast in the kitchen. In the kitchen he finds that his father made bacon and placed it on a plate spelling “HI.” This series of panels has more significance than just believing his father likes to play with his food—but rather it shows his father’s failure to compensate for his inadequacy as a father and the insignificant role he plays in Jimmy’s life.
            Jimmy wakes up one morning to his father loudly mumbling at the news station on the television and his father’s noisy breakfast-making in the kitchen. Jimmy finds bacon strips that his father made on a plate placed to spell “HI.” On the kitchen wall is also a poster of Chicago, which is the city where Jimmy lives, and on the following page Jimmy’s father has admitted to drying his clothes on high to make sure that they are still warm when he dresses. The image of the bacon “HI” is a very poignant image that is more significant than just that. His father, by trying to be humorous using breakfast food, is attempting to compensate for his absence in Jimmy’s life. Although placing bacon on a plate to read “HI” is quite comical, and even I would get a kick out of it if my parents did that for me, but what is lacking is a sturdy relationship, or a relationship at all, to make it funny. Jimmy really knows nothing of his father, so what his father believes to be funny isn't quite as funny to Jimmy.
            His father’s “efforts” to impress Jimmy does not make up for lack of genuine love and affection. The Chicago poster on the wall, the bacon “HI,” the shirt that says “Number 1 Dad,” and the clean laundry dried on high, are all menial gestures that cannot amount to Jimmy’s father’s inadequacy and inability to be a truly loving and caring father. This theme of neglect and rejection by Jimmy’s father is suggested just by a few panels in this section, but sums up almost the entire story thus far in the graphic novel. Jimmy is tragically dealing with a father whom he barely knows and cannot connect with through meaningless gestures. Jimmy’s father ultimately has failed to compensate for the absence in his son’s life, and doesn’t realize that a loving relationship cannot be bought nor acquired through menial gestures.


2 comments:

Shane Bombara said...

Maggie,

I think you do a good job by immediately exploiting the minute (if they may be seen that way) details that are presented from these particular set of frames. I didn't pay too much attention to the bacon until I read this. It’s apparent that Jimmy's dad is certainly trying to make up for being absent and possibly still see's Jimmy as a kid in his eyes, hence the bacon placed in a playful manner. Between your 2nd and 3rd paragraph I didn't see much of a change in your thought process. I felt like you may have just restated, maybe with a bit more detail added, the same thing from the previous paragraph. That's just my perspective, though. Overall, I think you have make a valid point with the details from this particular scene. If you choose to revise you could take this one step further and look into how psychologists view the effects of an absentee father then reunited with their child. I'm sure there's a common trait of the parent trying to make-up for lost time. I'm just throwing out an idea.

Adam said...

The first paragraph doesn't do much. The second paragraph seems correct, but it also doesn't (by itself) move much beyond the prompt.

I'm glad you focused so narrowly on a precise set of images, and you are surely right that Jimmy's father *fails* in his attempts to connect with Jimmy here. But part of me simply wants to say - isn't it obvious that he fails? Isn't it at least as clear from the words as from the pictures that he fails?

For you part of the problem (or maybe the whole problem) is that humor ordinarily takes place within a context, or even a relationship. I liked that, and I'd like to see it developed further. But if this moment is really important, I'd like you to consider alternative readings (if only to move beyond them). Is the problem that his gestures are meaningless, or that they aren't speaking the same language? Is it that the father isn't "speaking" coherently, that Jimmy isn't listening correctly, or something else.

In other words, it's obvious *that* the gestures fail. So the interesting part, if any, has to do with the how and why they fail. I'd like to see you focus more narrowly on that, at greater length.