Great Jimmy Corrigan:

An Analysis of Comic Book Techniques Featured in the Acclaimed Graphic Novel

It is always comforting when one stumbles upon a comic that is less advertised than those seen at the LCS. It is a time when one purchases a book that’s only source of marketing has come from either a periodical you’ve read or from a friend who sings its praises and urges you to grab a copy of their own. However, in the case of Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Boy On The Planet, such acclaim is derived from its shape as well as from its sequential storytelling that is so original the art practically explodes off the page.

The book was written and illustrated by Chris Ware and features a story about a young boy who is attempting to amend his broken relationship with his father. There is little dialogue in the over two hundred panel pages but what is not said in text is quite said in the innumerable boxes that capture the vivid elements of expression and movement. Throughout the narrative Ware combines several panels in a variety of different ways, the most notable of which is the use of tiny squares that appear in the shape of a grid, thus allowing for readers to see Corrigan’s facial expressions with panels that appear both above and below. By crafting the book in such a manner Ware is able to capture movement amongst his characters, a technique that was made famous by comic legend Will Eisner who, when creating his book The Spirit, found new ways of capturing movement amongst those included in the story. There is also a wide use of a full-page spread that, due to the book’s shape, appear as large rectangular frames, enabling for much to be included in a single shot. This is opposite to the large-sized panels seen in most one-issue comic books, and unlike those contemporary panels that are used to capture something intense or revealing, with Chris Ware and Jimmy Corrigan the billboard-shaped panels are similar to how a portrait or painting would act when it uses size and scope to capture the intimate and the profound. This is something that allows readers to examine implications and experience the book as a more intimate form of comic book storytelling.

Such a captivating technique continues as the story progresses, specifically when the reader is greeted with numerous flashbacks that capture Jimmy’s exploits as a young child. The full page spread is downgraded to wider panel, which is still capable of capturing scope, yet is also used to propel the story forward, beginning with a large panel that immediately establishes a different setting and then moves to square-sized panels that capture the same level of intimacy. By doing this Ware introduces a valuable instruction when it comes to understanding and exploring of comic books. The shapes and sizes of panels must be intricately selected and executed in a manner that is suitable to the image being drawn. By remaining loyal to these types of panels the comic itself is able to show a deeper side of Jimmy Corrigan, for more story can be included within the pages, and a specification can be made to the character’s journey from one panel to the other. And, in just four pages, over thirty panels are presented and while there are some small and others large the minds of readers’ quickly forms around this method they unwillingly fall into a world where pictures speak and where the dense forms of dialogue are negated in favor of a clearer, more suitable form of communication.

In addition to panel sizes and sequential storytelling, another captivating element of the Jimmy Corrigan comic is the illustrious detail and clarity given to each of the characters. The specificity that Ware lends makes them distinct in a way only a skilled cartoonist can do, with details that include extending beyond the reliance of simple colors and relying on a distinct kind given to those featured in the story, such as when Jimmy Corrigan, his father, his mother, or anyone else is illustrated on the page. This occurs when looking at the variation between Corrigan and his father, for both of these individuals share similar qualities yet Corrigan always manages to find a way to make them distinct from each other, a technique that artists can still sometimes find to be considerably challenging. By utilizing the shapes of the panels and the ways in which each of the characters are presented and making a clear distinction, and while Jimmy’s father has to wear different clothing and by illustrating with specific types of color the readers’ subconscious becomes immediately aware of the changes and thus they are in turn able to perceive the characters more intimately. Another great example of this specificity and beauty comes through the use of color, for throughout the comic not a single person is colored as bright or fluorescent and instead each image is tinted with dull greys and dim reds, and although this might seem like a small detail when compared to the pencils themselves, the color gives the comic an original identity and immediately sets the mood for the rest of the narrative. The reader is able to get a sense of what the story entails, which, in this case, is a dreary, depressing tale about a man’s search for satisfaction in a world that has been stripped of it. As a result the colors become immensely important as the way they complement the illustrations and remains consistent throughout the entire comic.

In conclusion, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy On The Planet is a powerful comic book, one that emphasizes the fundamental elements by which the medium is built upon. It is created using intricate panels that include interacting images that allow the characters to move gracefully from one image to the other and offers distinct illustrations that challenge the readers’ perceptions and brings them into a realm of true sequential storytelling, one where they are exposed to a comic in ways that every reader should be. And, while Jimmy Corrigan does not receive as much public exposure as other books on the shelves, it belongs in the front and center, and precisely as the character Jimmy Corrigan is to the reader: up close and very personal.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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