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This review is from: Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Hardcover)
Readers of The Guardian will be sick of hearing about this book by now, but for the uninitiated, this book by Chris Ware has just become the first graphic novel ever to win a literary prize in the UK. For those of you to whom the dread words "graphic novel" summon forth images of new "limited" edition Superman specials or - even worse - Neil Gaiman's tiresome po-faced mythologising, fear not. I fancy, in fact, that the very self-effacing Chris Ware would demur at the use of the term, and prefer "strip cartoon," because that's how Jimmy Corrigan started out - as a weekly page in a local paper which was intended to run for three months and, in the way of these things, went on for six years. I guess, to quote J.R.R. Tolkein - for the first and only time in my life, promise - on his own pictureless graphic novel The Lord of the Rings, the tale grew in the telling.
The tale itself is fairly minimal in plot. Jimmy, a middle-aged lonely man whose only phone calls come from his mother - and whom, in turn, he ferociously resents - fantasises mildly about a superhero life as The Smartest Kid on Earth. His father, whom he has never met, writes to him out of the blue one day and suggests they meet up. And, er, that's it. They meet, while in parallel run the tales of Jimmy's father and grandfather, and their relationships with their fathers. The violent and unpredictable great-Corrigan is a horror to behold. Jimmy's own father is, much to Jimmy's surprise, a nice man, like himself.
The beauty of Jimmy Corrigan then is not in the plot but in the absolutely perfect and seamless conjunction of media - the words and drawings work so well together that the whole thing really looks as though it sprang from the womb fully-formed; and if there is evidence for Ware's apparent shame at the supposedly amateurish half-baked nature of the early strips, it doesn't show up on the page. One sequence among many hundreds sticks in the mind: an horrific dream scene where Jimmy (or is it his grandfather?) imagines his baby son being blown to pieces and runs around trying to save him as the child cries piteously to him, reminiscent somehow of the pivotal scene in Catch-22 where Snowden's "I'm cold. I'm cold" unfolds its full horror. The layout of frames and the precisely judged pauses between the frames actually make this scene, and the entire book, impossible to read badly. And the artwork throughout is as meticulous and dry as Jimmy Corrigan himself, and the attention to detail utterly breathtaking.
For the prurient, the book even provides sustenance for art-and-life theorists. Chris Ware himself never met his father until one day - while, so the story goes, he was working on Jimmy Corrigan - he wrote to him and suggested they meet up... How much further art imitates life would be churlish to guess, but I will say this: physically, Chris Ware? Jimmy Corrigan? Tefal-heads to a man.
As well as all that, Jimmy Corrigan is a beautiful artefact, brilliantly put together with a detailed fold-out cover and lots of pointless but tempting cut-out zeotropes and farmyard scenes. The hardback is £18 but worth every penny. Get it on your wish list now and have a happy Christmas thanking god you're not Jimmy Corrigan.