Thursday, March 6, 2014

Scale and Orientation in the First Pages of Jimmy Corrigan

In the first two pages of Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, the scene shows panels that portray the earth growing larger and larger in the field of view, until the city of Chicago can be made out. As Chicago grows in size, the final panel of the page shows the exterior of the Corrigan house. Ware uses this introduction to highlight the true scale of human existence in the world, which he would argue is quite small. This idea, brought up pictorially in the opening pages, is a theme that runs through the entire graphic novel.
The first panel, which fills the entire page, can be considered the first panel of the entire narrative. The earth can barely be distinguished from the other stars in the page, and the overwhelming majority of the page is black. The placement of this panel at the beginning can be seen as the comic analogue to an establishing shot in film. By portraying the setting of the narrative as a point in the vast expanse of space, Ware is suggesting that everything about the narrative is insignificant in scale. The narrative of Jimmy Corrigan highlights the minutiae and mundanity of everyday life, not only in Jimmy's world but also in the real world. This suggestion of the narrative as insignificant can be extended to its subject: everyday life.

    The next panel is smaller and shows the earth as the focus, but the size of the earth relative to the panel remains quite small. From this image, however, details of the earth can begin to be seen, such as the shadow of the sun over the planet an the outline of continents, specifically North America and South America. This scene like the first continues to establish the setting of the narrative. The next panel is a continuation of the earlier one, with the earth slightly rotated showing some passage of time. The most significant change between these panels is the addition of the speech bubble "Jimmy!" The placement of the speech bubble at this scale is a way for Ware to solidify the idea that the narrative is occurring within a setting that is incredibly large, and the events of the narrative are comparably insignificant.

    The next four panels can be interpreted as the frame zooming in, four panels of the same motion. The initial panel shows exactly half of the earth divided approximately along its axis of rotation, showing the shadow of the night just past North America. The orientation of this panel seems "correct," the north pole would be in the upper left of the earth if it were visible, North America is above South America, and it resembles most globes in orientation. Ware intentionally preserves this orientation as the next three panels show the skyline of Chicago emerge from the vast expanse of the brownish-green North American continent. This makes the city appear to protrude outward to the left of the page instead of towards the top of the page. Because Ware preserves this orientation, he is very subtly reminding the reader that compared to the scale of earth, the events of our lives are actually happening sideways.

    The most interesting aspect of this effect is that Ware maintains this orientation in the continuing panels of the story. The entire chapter of the novel from this point onward uses the left side of the page as the "top" and the right side as the "bottom." Ware is showing that all of the human scale events that seem to have such a definite, immutable orientation can very easily and maybe more accurately be seen as happening absolutely sideways.

    The last panel of the page shows the the Corrigan house exterior, still in its horizontal rotation. The speech bubble in this panel, unlike the other bubble on this page, is oriented with the house. This panel establishes the connection between the establishing images of the earth, and the "actual" setting of the novel, a human-scale Chicago. Also, by maintaining the sideways orientation the reader understands that this building is part of the sideways city skyline shown a panel earlier. through this panel, Ware maintains the setting of the sideways city through the rest of the chapter, or what would serially be the issue. This gives an impression of insignificance and skewed perspective to the events that unfold in the rest of the novel, which Ware continues to carry through the tone of the narrative.

Works Cited:

Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.


Alec Brace said...


I like the section of the graphic novel you chose for this prompt. It establishes that images are very important to the story line right from the beginning because you chose the very first part of the book. Your essay really dissects this one page of the book down into what it could mean and how it can help the reader understand the significance or in this case insignificance of this narrative, which really hits the prompt spot on. At parts, particularly in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs, you do a lot of analysis on the images that seems a little unnecessary. I feel like most readers can make these observations on their own quite easily. As far as revision goes, I would consider analyzing these scenes even more, trying to discern why Ware doesn't maintain this orientation throughout the book. You could also consider exploring why only the Chicago skyline is present in the middle frame, surely there would be other smaller cities visible from that angle. Overall, I enjoyed your essay and think you make a strong argument that Ware uses the images to portray the insignificance of human existence in a way the reader can understand.


Adam said...

Your introduction is a good introduction to a *theme*, although I'd like to see an argument too.

Clearly there's truth in your second paragraph: this is a book that makes relentlessly clear that Jimmy's life is insignificant. And yet it unpacks that small, sad life in endless and even powerful detail. So let me ask this: what is the significance of an "insignificant" life?

"Because Ware preserves this orientation, he is very subtly reminding the reader that compared to the scale of earth, the events of our lives are actually happening sideways." -- this is clever, and I like it, but does it really serve any particular (larger) argument? Is it a good idea to be abandoned or followed up upon? To push you farther: is a "sideways" and contextualized life the same as a truly insignificant one?

To carry that through to the last paragraph: you say "insignificance and skewed perspective" as if they are the same thing. But they're *not* the same thing. Maybe he's interested in both, or maybe you've discovered an important distinction between different, valid ways of understanding the book & Jimmy's life. Figuring out exactly what you're trying to say here, rather than casually lumping too rather different concepts together, is likely the way to discover interesting material for revision here.