Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Matthea Harvey

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 79 Spring 2002
Chris Ware Body

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.

The Death-Ray by Alexander Chee
Daniel Clowes
Just a Few of the Best Comics of 2016 by Chantal McStay
Dome Spread 01

There’s never been a richer time for graphic novels in all their genre-bending permutations: memoirs and literary adaptations, documentaries and short-form collections, histories and abstract pieces.

Graphic Recollections by Chantal McStay
Mcstay Graphic Recollections Bomb 01
Aidan Koch by Chantal McStay
Aidan Koch 6 Bomb

“A lot of times I end up turning on the camera on my computer and playing something out, and pausing it and seeing what tonal or emotional nuances are there that I can work with.”

Originally published in

BOMB 79, Spring 2002

Featuring interviews with Steven Holl, Stephen Mueller, Janet Cardiff, Laurie Sheck, Cornelius Eady, Victor Pelevin, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Bill Frisell.

Read the issue