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Reviews from a library: Jimmy Corrigan

Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

I recently moved, meaning I had a new library to investigate. Unlike my previous local library, this one has a large selection of graphic novels for my delectation. An added bonus is being able to read books that are outside my sphere of interest, but might warrant a read based on good word-of-mouth. This is how I ended up with Jimmy Corrigan, resulting in my decision to only read things that tickle my genre fancy in future.

I’ve heard good things about Chris Ware, and Jimmy Corrigan won the Guardian First Book Award 2001, and I like to think I can read a variety of material for review purposes. I was wrong, and I’m big enough to admit it. The book is about Jimmy Corrigan, a strange man in small-town America, harassed by his mother, who meets his father for the first time when he is in his 30s. It is also about his grandfather in turn-of-the-century Chicago, and the parallels between them. And that was all I got from reading the book. In fact, I got more emotion and resonance from Ware’s post-script, where he talks about the autobiographical nature of the story and how he met his real father after a similar absence.

Reading this book was a chore for me; there were times when I didn’t want to pick it up and carry on. I had to force myself to get through to the end. I did enjoy Ware’s illustrations, with the exquisite detail, the perfect geometry of design, his ability to create mood and moments in his pages, but I found the story itself rather dull and unengaging. I may feel sorry for Jimmy and his plight, but I didn’t care enough about him as a character to continue at times. I’m not criticising Ware’s ability to tell a story; his talents are not in doubt. It just didn’t do anything for me.

This could reflect on me, and an inability to connect with the emotional content, but I wouldn’t read this nor recommend it. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a fondness for genre, I think because of the fact that I like stories, narratives that compel me to read them, with bizarre and exciting and funny events. I want the story to exist for a reason, as a tale that simply had to be told. I find large, sprawling tomes about the human experience to be rather dull and up themselves. This may limit my literary experience, perhaps, but it doesn’t limit my enjoyment. Give me the comedy of Douglas Adams, the satire of Terry Pratchett, give me fantasy, give me crime/thriller fiction, give me the works of my new buzz, Jasper Fforde. In comics, the mind-expanding superheroics of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, give me the crime and meta-superheroes of Warren Ellis, give me Usagi Yojimbo, give me Fables, 100 Bullets, Powers … I think you get the picture. Just please don’t give me any more of this.

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