If you still think that graphic novels are childish and can’t rip your heart out just as easily as any other novel out there, you haven’t been paying attention to this blog lately. Because this little challenge I’ve been doing has really opened my eyes to a whole new world, and I’m so glad that I decided to take this one on.
My latest graphic novel was Jimmy Corrigan, or, The Smartest Boy on Earth, by Chris Ware. Initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book, because the illustrations are quite busy, the writing tiny and sometimes hard to read, and it looked like it might be more kid oriented than the other books I had read thus far. Boy, was I wrong. I mean, the pages ARE quite busy (see above), and the writing was sometimes difficult to read (especially when italicized), but the story itself was sad and amazing. Jimmy Corrigan is approaching middle age, and has never met his father. His life is dominated by his mother, and he both needs her and wishes she would leave him the hell alone. And the rest of the time, he is alone. He lusts in a schoolboy way over a waitress in a local coffee shop, but is too shy to talk to her. He doesn’t even notice the woman who worked on the other side of his cubicle wall for 6 months. He is the epitome of emotional isolation.
The book tells the story of his meeting with his father, which is mostly a dud. His dad is a bombastic blow hard, who tells inappropriate stories and gets excessively angry with a waitress who messes up his order…and Jimmy is passive enough to go fix the order with the waitress, but then ends up paying for the fixed burger, when it was the waitresses fault to begin with. The story weaves between the past, the distant past (the tragic story of Jimmy’s grandfather’s youth with an abusive father), and fantasies of being a superhero, a robot, anything.
Jimmy’s coping mechanisms are heart-breaking, but his grandpa’s story was the one that made me cringe inside. There’s a scene where he goes to an immigrant friend’s house with a group of kids, to make figurines out of clay or something, and the grandpa (also named Jimmy) waits and waits for the friend’s father to irrationally lose his temper, to curse and yell and explode in his anger. When that doesn’t happen, when the man shows actual warmth toward the kids, and praises Jimmy’s horse figurine, Jimmy attaches himself to the man, and starts to fantasize about staying there forever. Of course, his father comes and drags him home, with him crying the whole time. Ugh.
Not an easy read on the eyes or the heart, but a touching and brilliant peek into the inner workings of an emotionally stunted character. Highly recommended, again. I might have to give a few more graphic novels a shot, I’m thinking.