Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

by Matthea Harvey

Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, published by Pantheon Books.

We do not learn much about Jimmy Corrigan, the hero of this tragic comic book, from what he says (primarily “ha ha,” “snf,” “coff,” and the occasional stuttered word) but from what we see of him. There is a basic narrative here—Jimmy, a lonely, nervous man prone to surreal and violent fantasies, goes to meet his father for the first time. But the real subject is vision and Chris Ware has an entirely unique one. A doctor who works in a green hospital says, “your eyes get used to it and then when you get outside, everything takes on this sort of pinkish-peach color.” Turn the page and the outside world is pink. Ware distinguishes between Corrigan’s life and the imagined lives of his father and grandfather with different color palettes, drawing styles, and fonts while threading all three with recurring images of Superman, a red bird, a golden hair. Each page is scored differently—one page crammed with tiny frames covers a span of 30 years, another uses roomy frames to show five seconds of elapsed time in which the red bird turns its head. Perspective shifts as well—we see planet Earth from outer space, a close up of a breast, then the ketchup on a hamburger bun. It’s as if we are looking through a camera with a crazed zoom lens, a technique that echoes Jimmy’s skittish attempts at connection with the world. In a particularly poignant scene Jimmy records a bird’s song and then listens to it through his tape recorder. Ware intersperses his narrative with directions for making tiny paper models of Corrigan’s world and elaborate pictorial family trees, making the book fold in on itself both literally and figuratively. In a moment of homesickness Corrigan calls his own answering machine to have it tell him, "Hello. This is Jimmy. I’m not home right now . . . ”

—Matthea Harvey

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth was published by Pantheon in 2000.

Graphic novels
Comic books
Spring 2002
The cover of BOMB 79