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JIMMY CORRIGAN, THE SMARTEST KID ON EARTHWriter/Artist: Chris Ware
Synopsis: Actually, this story's about two Jimmy Corrigans. The first one is an 8-year-old kid living in Chicago in 1892, in the shadow of the upcoming World's Fair, and his travails living with his stern single father. The "main" Jimmy is a modern-day social reject with a nothing job, no friends, and a domineering mother. Things change when he gets a letter and a plane ticket from his real dad, and--acting on possibly the first daring impulse he's ever had--heads to Chicago to meet him for the first time.
How Is It?: One of the blurbs on the back calls this "A quietly brutal portrait of a friendless loser." Which doesn't sound like the most ringing of endorsements, but I'd say it's pretty dead-on. Jimmy is one of the biggest nonentities in comicdom; you get the sense that he can barely turn his head without panels and panels of thought on the subject. And I have no idea why the title refers to him as "The Smartest Kid on Earth", since he's clearly not, and is not even referred to, obliquely, or sarcastically, in that way. The whole story feels painfully realistic, and I do mean *painfully*, to the extent that it might be said not to be a good thing. The story does, indeed, have a "bleak" feel, thanks to its weirdly stylized and tiny drawings and extended pacing. The humans are often overwhelmed by the artifice, which is deliberate. Actually, it's the artifice that makes this comic unique. The panels are crammed in, often nonlinearly, with pictures of the setting or various bits of atmosphere or (most entertainingly) extended tangents in which we see Jimmy's fantasies or fears play out for half a page, before he's always abruptly jerked back to reality. Then there are some very strange inserts, like the "fold out" paper models of the neighbourhood in which the 1892 Jimmy lives, or the series of postcards of Jimmy's dad's hometown ("to clip and collect!"). These are amusing, and work since the story is a slow and quiet one with a lot of reflection. I just wish it hadn't been so...well, depressing. I appreciated the care with which most of the characters were fleshed out, but Jimmy himself is too paralyzed to be a likable protagonist. And yes, I know that's the point, but it doesn't change my antipathy towards the story. That said, Ware does some nifty things with the medium, and the 1892 Jimmy story is quite compelling, so this is definately worth a look.
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