Thursday, March 6, 2014

Instructions for What?

                The instructions to the reading of Jimmy Corrigan are condescending in their own right, but comical in relation to the writing of the story.  The author assumes that most people are fully endowed with the intuition needed to follow the story line of the comic book, reading pane for pane in proper direction and technique, but provides a multitude of material on how to do so for a layman reader, which is assumed to be someone ugly, who may or may not have been spit on growing up.  An interesting part of this is the simplicity of the example used to “test” the reader’s ability to distinguish scene progression in instruction four, “Technical Explanation of the Language, Developing Skills.” A mouse raises a hammer above his head then proceeds to smash it on top of a cat’s head lying on the ground.  The series of questions about it including, “did a) the mouse strike the cat head first then raise the hammer, or b) first raise the hammer and then strike the cat head?,” boil down to asking the reader, are you an idiot who can’t logically follow simple illustrations or not?
            The implication of being extremely stupid for not being able to follow this two pane illustration is important in reading the book.  The reader is expected to have this “intelligence” to recognize things for what they are, in scene, time and meaning.  Interestingly enough, the characters are the exact opposite in this differential intelligence, specifically Jimmy’s Dad.  There is more than one occasion where this is displayed quite bluntly, but one particular example comes when Jimmy and his dad go to eat lunch at Pam’s Wagon Wheel Restaurant.  Jimmy’s dad sees a man outside the restaurant while eating, screaming, “Pop. Over here!” which the reader immediately assumes correctly that it’s his dad.  He says that he can’t hear well then goes outside after him still repeating, “Hey dad!...Dad!” trying to get his attention, which he only does when he finally waves excessively and stops him by putting his arm on the old man’s shoulder.  Jimmy’s dad, with an incredibly excited look on his face, then knocks on the window pointing to Jimmy to come outside.  The old man’s only response to Jimmy after their introduction is, “Well don’t let him monkey you around, y’hear?” before ranting about how he needs to go get a smaller toilet seat from the store.  Jimmy’s dad’s face goes then resembles confusion, defeat, and sadness much like the face of Jimmy throughout the entire comic.
            The reader is able to easily tell that the old man simply does not care about Jimmy’s dad, though Jimmy’s dad thinks he would want to stop to talk to him.  The exchange of conversation is incredibly brief, and ultimately ends personally with a negative comment from the old man.  The reading of this scene is simple in terms of the reader, but interesting from the standpoint of Jimmy’s dad.  Though the reader is easily intelligent enough to distinguish what has happened, which may be a part of the reason why Jimmy’s dad was also neglectful to Jimmy himself, Jimmy’s dad is not in tune with the situation.  He is naïve and hopeful (shown in his face as excitement), but clearly no hope is to be found (shown in his display of utter disappointment in his face).  This scene to the reader, according to the directions, suggests that Jimmy’s dad longs for something that he does not have, which in this case can be seen as a relationship with his father (he says previously in the book that his dad left him), and thinks that his father would want the same, but he is not intelligent or emotionally removed enough, even after numerous years, to see that this isn’t going to happen for him.  In terms of the technical explanation of the language from the instructions, this is read explicitly by the reader as such, but this similar train of thought is not shared by the characters, which is in some sense a lapse in judgment.
            Equally important to the differentiation of instruction four, is the concluding statement of the directions, in which the reader should not feel sorry for the cat that just had his head smashed by a hammer.  This also fits into the reading of the previously discussed situation.  The reader is instructed to be emotionally removed from the situation of the lack of any type of relationship between the old man and Jimmy’s dad, in a sense that he doesn’t deserve our sympathy.  His lack of relationship with his father strongly emulates the lack of relationship he has with his son, Jimmy.  If he really cared that much about a father-son relationship, he wouldn’t have waited 30 odd years to try to have a relationship with his own son, therefore we should have no remorse for the awkward and negative interaction between the two.  The relationship between the father and son is central to the entire book, and summed up in this scene.  The neglect is passed from father to son over generations, where it seemingly stops with Jimmy, a man who is 36 years old with no girlfriend, let alone any children to pass this neglect along to.  It is interesting in this sense to note that Jimmy and his dad are similar in ways of still being childish, not having father’s to show them how to be men when growing up, which in this regard, Jimmy seems to have suffered more than his father.  The characters don’t have the luxury of looking from the outside in on the situation, so in being less removed than the reader, they cannot see this dynamic for exactly what it is.  The reader, however, is expected to identify it openly and feel nothing positive about the interaction for Jimmy’s dad, though it’s hard not to with Jimmy himself, where the cycle has stopped so far.  We recognize what it tells us as readers in relation to a theme of the book and what that says about the characters themselves, then continue to read. 



Courtney Elvin said...


I think you picked a very significant part of the comic to analyze when Jimmy’s dad goes chasing after Jimmy’s grandfather at the diner. Your analysis of that scene is very good in the middle paragraphs, with ample detail and explanation. However, I feel like I’m missing how this relates to the instructions and the mouse and cat diagram you describe at the beginning or the instruction section in general? I also wonder what your reading on the book as a whole is around the idea that you mention of the instructions saying to the reader that he/she should be emotionally removed. Why do you think that’s in there? What does it mean? What emotions do you feel anyway? You articulate generally what Ware thinks of the reader’s intelligence, but why does he do so? Overall, I think you’ve picked a significant scene and analyzed it in detail, but maybe the argument with the instructions needs a clearer focus.

Adam said...

Or an alternate answer to the one you raise in the first paragraph - maybe we're absurdly bringing up an important topic - the nature of time in the comics.

Your discussion Jimmy's father's limitations - "but he is not intelligent or emotionally removed enough, even after numerous years" - is insightful, although I think it's pretty clear that what he lacks is perspective or emotional removal, not intelligence (which isn't to say that he's exceptionally intelligent, either). This is emotional stupidity, not intellectual stupidity, and it would be helpful to be more precise on that topic.

Like Courtney, I ultimately struggle with the relationship between the instructions (the section which interests you) and the recurring failures of the Corrigan men. On the latter subject, you're pretty good, albeit a little bit repetitive. Or to put it more precisely - wouldn't this analysis be more effective without any reference to the instructions at all, in which case you would need to clarify and streamline what exactly you have to say about the repeating psychology of the Corrigan men?

And one thing I'd like to see, if you do that, is more of an analysis of their attempts to be better than they are - that is, both of them make some attempt to connect with Jimmy, although they're not good at it and he's a tough egg to crack; I'd like you to be careful about oversimplifying, in other words.