07 March 2012

The Death of the Super-Man

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2003 (originally 1995-2000)
Acquired January 2012

Read February 2012
The Smartest Kid on Earth, Jimmy Corrigan: An Improvisatory Romance, Pictographically Configured
by Chris Ware

This may be the saddest book that I have ever read. Not in terms of how many sad things happen; there are plenty of books out there where tons of sad things happen. Sad things all over the place. No, Jimmy Corrigan is the saddest book that I have ever read in the sense that when I finished it, I felt utterly miserable, depressed, alone in the world. Very rarely has a book been capable of altering my emotional state as much as this one did. I could natter on a lot about how Chris Ware achieves this through his masterful use of the comics medium (I like how he keeps a figure the same size, but suddenly enlarges the panel to show how alone the character is; I like how he uses repeated imagery; I like how he has large, anchorless words float above the characters' heads right in the panels; I like how he parallels the present, the past, and fantasies, especially how he makes time pass in the latter), but I suspect wiser brains than mine have already explicated on this at length.

I do want to give a shoutout to two specific aspects of the story. The first is Ware's clever use of utopian motifs, in the 1893 Chicago Exposition (also known as "White City") and the appearances of Superman (looking like his 1930s self). Seeing these ostensibly triumphal figures in a story like this only makes everything worse, in a good way. They also edge Jimmy Corrigan from being the story of one man's loneliness to something bigger. As does the second thing I want to talk about: the text on the back of a set of depressing picture postcards from Waukosha, Michigan, a blackly humorous skewering of American values. (Actually, all the paratextual stuff is quite funny; I also enjoyed the mocking of literary folks who like comics on the inside front cover.)

I've been avoiding recommending this to people because of how it will make them feel, but it really is quite excellent. If you consider great literature to be something that moves you, be that positively or negatively, then pick up Jimmy Corrigan. (Then again, a friend of mine thinks it's one of the funniest books he's ever read, so what do I know?)

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