Thursday, March 6, 2014

Jimmy Corrigan: Images of a Child

                At first glance into this book many will consider Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth to be somewhat of a routine comic book. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. The approach is quite different compared to several comics and Ware’s graphic novel relies heavily on symbolism, flashbacks, and a frequent use of fantasies as a means to display the everyday awkward life of Jimmy Corrigan. Jimmy is the epitome of socially awkward and sexually frustrated, and because of this he is constantly fantasizing about what could be. His mother constantly calls to check on him, his coworkers treat him like a young kid trying to get laid for the first time, and even his father converses with him as if he is a child. Jimmy Corrigan is nothing more than a doormat for the world to walk over. These reasons have all contributed as to why he is struggling to come into his own as a fully mature man. Because of this it has led to multiple inadequacies where, in all his lack of glory, he could never muster up enough confidence to speak to many people, especially the women he encounters in his sad everyday life.

                Jimmy Corrigan lives a very mundane life. He wakes up, will often receive a call from his mother, and goes to work. Even at work Jimmy can’t escape his mother’s calls where she refers to him as “such a good kid.” He sits at a desk and like a distracted child he plays with a yellow toy while dodging his mother’s questions. And to make matters painfully worse, within a few pages we are introduced to Jimmy’s coworker and his crush, Peggy. It’s apparent that Jimmy is deeply interested in Peggy from the first calls he makes to her telling her about a rainbow outside where he implies they should go on a walk together to see it, then to his fantasy about them planting a peach grove together. When in the mailroom, however, Peggy isn’t very kind to Jimmy and tells him to take his mail and leave because she is busy. He can only reply with “O-okay, Peggy… I-I’m sorry….” Jimmy shows his shyness toward this faceless woman presumably often, since she seems so unkind when he comes to get his mail. It has become a debilitating part of his character which has weakened his ability to have any confidence in everyday society. Shortly after this encounter, Jimmy heads to the break room where his seemingly demoralized countenance is apparent to his coworker. This coworker has a hunch that Jimmy’s problems are because of a woman which leads him to say that he’s “too nice,” then he proceeds to give him sleazy advice on how to get with women. Throughout these encounters he struggles tremendously to find his own voice with those who have engaged in conversation with him. It’s possible that Jimmy’s mother is at least one culprit as to why he is constantly reverting back to child-like states that can only be defined as being shy, scared, and unknowing.

                Another example where Jimmy’s insecurities are exemplified is when he is on a plane flying to see his father for the first time. He is seated next to a voluptuous woman when she begins to engage in conversation with him about the food served on the flight. As he begins to talk to her about his family and meeting his father she randomly begins lamenting “are you looking at my breasts??” Jimmy is perplexed and in typical Corrigan fashion stutters away how he was not looking at her breasts. Taking a step back from the text and analyzing the comic art alone, one can clearly see that Jimmy was always looking straight ahead while he was eating and conversing with her. Ware depicts his actions in a fashion which could only be characterized as being similar to that of a shy, scared boy talking to an attractive stranger. It’s possible that the way he was raised by a single mother coupled with an absent male figure has alone prevented him from really knowing how to engage in any real meaningful conversation with any woman other than his mother. From the first encounter with Peggy to the second encounter with the woman on the flight I couldn’t help but compare Jimmy Corrigan to Tom Hanks from the movie Big. To me, and up until this point, Jimmy seems to be just a kid living in a middle-aged man’s body.

                Another revealing example of Jimmy’s insecurities is when he and his father are at “Burger Kuntry.” After they order their food Jimmy’s father exclaims that the young mother who took their order is a “little teenage bitch” who “always treats [him] like [he’s] some old moron with half a brain.” Jimmy just sits there quietly while having another grandiose fantasy about being on a boat with some “ladies.” It’s revealed that his father’s order is messed up when he finds there is ketchup on his burger, but Jimmy offers to take it back and resolve the issue for him. When he approaches the counter he explains that he ordered no ketchup and the server even replies “ummm… Oh geez you’re right… I’m sorry….” In the actual depiction we see little hearts surrounding Jimmy’s head. He can do nothing more but stand by flustered as usual as she makes another burger for him. When it is all done she states that the new burger will be “one fifty-four,” even though she was the one who messed up the order. Jimmy stands there as she awaits the money and Ware depicts this particular scene with two singular black framed backgrounds where Jimmy is portrayed as voiceless with an inability to stand-up for himself. Of course he come backs to reality and gives in, then returns back to his seat. He asks Jimmy “I bet she tried to charge you for it, though, didn’t she?” but Jimmy never replies back in the following frames. He is morally defeated and dejected. His lack of confidence and voice allow him to be walked all over. All of these scenes within the restaurant are reminiscent of a shy young boy who is afraid to approach the counter to order food, or even voice any concern or wrongdoing. Even while he is sitting with his dad he is quietly drinking his root beer childishly while his father suggests movies for them to watch, almost as if he plans to try and entertain Jimmy as if he were a little kid.

                Chris Ware accurately illustrates Jimmy’s social and sexual blunders throughout the first half of his graphic novel. Many of these aspects have to be seen as a lack of maturity due to the causation that many influential people in his life treat him as a child, even though he is well into his 30’s. With Jimmy’s dad being absent for the majority of his life he still sees Jimmy as a young kid when they are reunited. Combine his mother’s constant concern about him and the fact that he had an absentee father lends to the idea that psychologically Jimmy Corrigan is suffering greatly. He is nothing more than a kid trapped within the confines of an adult body while lacking confidence, determination, social ability, and any understanding of women.

Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2002. Print.


Becca Garges said...


You do a good job of explaining Jimmy's character and some of the reasons why he is that way. By explaining a little about his relationships with his parents, you expose his past and how he is stuck in a childlike frame of mind. I thought it was really interesting how you compared Jimmy to Tom Hanks's character in the movie Big. I love that movie and thought the connection was a great comparison. If you revise this essay, maybe you could expand on the connections between Big and the comic. For example, you could talk about Tom Hanks's interactions with women as a child in an adult's body and compare them to Jimmy's experiences. Also, maybe you could cut out some of the summarizing and add more in depth descriptions of the actual imagery. I did like that you included pictures for reference. Your essay is a great start to analyzing Jimmy's character.


Adam said...

You say some reasonably interesting things in the first paragraph - for instance, re: Jimmy being a doormat - but you don't really have a specific argument. If you aren't making a specific claim that pertains to specific parts of the book, and if you aren't clear on why that claim matters, you're not focused enough.

I thought the 2nd paragraph summarized far too much, but that doesn't mean there isn't good material. "Throughout these encounters he struggles tremendously to find his own voice with those who have engaged in conversation with him. It’s possible that Jimmy’s mother is at least one culprit as to why he is constantly reverting back to child-like states that can only be defined as being shy, scared, and unknowing."

Focusing on Jimmy's inability to speak (maybe to speak for himself, maybe simply to speak) is a *good* focus. But even that still isn't an argument. You want something like (I'm making up something quickly - who knows if it would work) - "Jimmy's general problems with being unable to speak teach us that the microphone and the tape recorder have an important function in the book - Jimmy is looking for a voice in the wrong places, because of the structure of the world in which we live." Now, that's my style of argument maybe more than yours - my point isn't that you should say anything like this, but that you should operate at something like that level of specificity.

Re: the encounter on the plane. Is he perplexed or is he ashamed? It's not totally obvious, and the difference is important.

The last couple paragraphs continue to show a good understanding of Jimmy and the text - but what continues to be absent is *your* voice. It's not just a matter of telling us something about the book (really, something which at some level is somewhat obvious) - you should be aspiring to show us the importance or meaning of this aspect of the book, to interpret it for us.

Note that Becca also picked up on the problem with summarizing. Her idea about making it more thoroughly about Big is clever - could you get to a more substantive argument that way?