Wednesday, August 31, 2005

34. Jimmy Corrigan

by Chris Ware

I was bad this weekend. In lieu of going to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Body Worlds exhibit, where, due to its popularity, the next available show was five hours later, I skipped down 57th St. to visit my favorite used bookstore. I haven’t been to Powell’s in about two years and even though there’s one up north by me, I rarely visit it because I dislike the layout of the store. Powell’s Hyde Park will always seem a little bit like home to me. And like the kind of place where I leave about fifty bucks poorer and seven or eight books heavier.

I had already planned on purchasing Jimmy Corrigan full price, so imagine my surprise when I saw it sitting at Powell’s, all lonely and wishing to be owned. I always feel some sense of achievement when I’m at a used bookstore and I find a book I’ve been wanting to read for years. This was one of those times and, along with a few other books that you’ll hear about in the coming months, I did a little internal dance after checking the book’s spine and pages and found its condition acceptable.

I was recently trying to explain to my best friend the kinds of comics I like. “The ones that are…you know…more like literature?” I said, unsure of how to categorize my tastes. “Wow, can I sound more like a snob?” I asked. I will say this: I’m a big fan of contemporary fiction, things that have a definite human plot, things that aren’t too experimental with a focus on telling a solid story with rich characters. The same can be said for the kind of comics I like and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan falls right in. The story follows three generations of Corrigan men and the father-son relationships that plague their lives. Present-time Jimmy receives a letter from his absent father inviting him to spend Thanksgiving weekend with him. Jimmy accepts and the ensuing weekend is rife with uncomfortable silences and questions that Jimmy can’t bring himself to ask. Interspersed with this story is the story of Jimmy’s grandfather’s life and the abuse he suffered at his own father’s hand. Always afraid of the physical repercussions of his actions, young James is timid, maladjusted, and afraid of most things. We witness his separation from his own father at a young age and we see the pattern emerge among the future Corrigan men.

What I really like about Chris Ware is that his drawings are so clean. With minimal lines, he’s able to convey the entirety of a character and his emotions. I, of course, loved that the story was set in Chicago and the panels of the World’s Fair were breathtaking, especially when juxtaposed with the duller scenes outside Jimmy’s apartment window, the skyline a faint presence in the background. Where Jimmy might be a dull, lifeless character in the hands of another artist, Ware imparts his few utterances with the hesitancy and self-doubt of a man who holds himself in the lowest esteem. I won’t give away too much of the story, but I will say that Jimmy ends up learning much more about his father than he had expected, but not nearly as much as he may have been subconsciously hoping. The difference between these two is what gives Jimmy Corrigan its disheartening, but very real, end.

The great thing about going to Powell’s? Coming away with an armful of books that I can’t wait to delve into. The bad thing about going to Powell’s? Coming away with an armful of book that I don’t have time to delve into. And with the fall television season swiftly approaching us, I’m not sure how I’m going to manage my reading duties. You’d think that would stop me from return visits to the bookstore…and that’s where you’d be wrong.

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