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Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
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Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

by Chris Ware

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This first book from Chicago author Chris Ware is a pleasantly-decorated view at a lonely and emotionally-impaired "everyman" (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890's Chicago and 1980's small town


This first book from Chicago author Chris Ware is a pleasantly-decorated view at a lonely and emotionally-impaired "everyman" (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time. An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890's Chicago and 1980's small town Michigan, the reader is helped along by thousands of colored illustrations and diagrams, which, when read rapidly in sequence, provide a convincing illusion of life and movement. The bulk of the work is supported by fold-out instructions, an index, paper cut-outs, and a brief apology, all of which concrete to form a rich portrait of a man stunted by a paralyzing fear of being disliked.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This haunting and unshakable book will change the way you look at your world. Ware captures landscapes made to flatten emotion—a clinic shrouded in snow, a sterile apartment complex—and yet shows the reader the meaning and even beauty in every glimpse from a highway, every snippet of small talk.” —Time magazine

Jimmy Corrigan pushes the form of comics into unexpected formal and emotional territory.” —Chicago Tribune

“Graphically inventive, wonderfully realized . . . [Jimmy Corrigan] is wonderfully illustrated in full color, and Ware’s spare, iconic drawing style can render vivid architectural complexity or movingly capture the stark despondency of an unloved child.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Ware’s use of words is sparing, and at times maudlin. But the real joy is his art. It's stunning. In terms of attention to detail, graceful use of color, and overall design—Ware has no peer. And while each panel is relentlessly polished—never an errant line or lazily rendered image—his drawings, somehow, remain delicate and achingly lyrical.” —Dave Eggers, The New York Times Book Review

Library Journal
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is the semiautobiographical story of a pudgy, frail man who can find pleasure only in escapism and is subjected to cycles of rejection. Jimmy’s grandfather is abandoned as a child; Jimmy’s father abandons his family only to return, decades later, shortly before his death. Ware’s artwork is cluttered in an evocative way, simultaneously recalling old comics and the inner workings of a nervous mind, as he brilliantly contrasts his highly ornate style with the mundane—even boring—scenes of Jimmy’s life.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Comic books are just kids' stuff, aren't they? Superheroes and flying saucers and jug-eared kids making nuisances of themselves. In fact, there are adult emotions at work in the best of today's graphic novels, as the grown-up version of the genre has been dubbed. It's an alternative world, one characterized by profound melancholy, offering a different kind of escapism than is typically associated with comic books.

The simultaneous publication of two recent graphic novels, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, the collected tales of the author's pitiable protagonist, and Daniel Clowes' David Boring, another collection about another neurotic young man by the author of Ghost World, marks a significant milestone in the art of the comic book. For one thing, both books come in hardcover.

That's just the most obvious of their many departures from comic-book tradition. In the elegant hands of Ware and Clowes, probably the two most celebrated alternative-comics artists of recent years, the mundane lives and fanciful dream states of their alter egos inspire new combinations of poetry and storytelling.

Ware, who has been publishing his serialized Jimmy Corrigan stories for several years now as part of the Acme Novelty Library—a series of outsize, painstakingly detailed comic books—was discovered by Art Spiegelman, the comic artist who gave the form an unprecedented respectability when he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Holocaust family history, Maus. The title character, Corrigan, a thirty-six-year-old man-child who stumbles through an ill-fated meeting with his long-estranged father, is the product of severalgenerations of unfulfilled men. Flashbacks to Corrigan's grandfather's Chicago childhood give the author ample opportunity to explore one hundred years of the city's changing face, from the magnificent 1893 World's Fair to the high-rise offices of today. Ware, who structures his narrative in ways that invoke old advertisements or the dialogue cards of silent movies, clearly has little use for the modern world. With the inevitable effects of the march of progress "come new ways of hiding things, and new things to hide," Ware writes in one touching sequence that depicts the grandfather Corrigan playing hide-and-seek as a boy.

Pale and pear-shaped, Corrigan has hollow eyes that give him the skittish look of a neglected mutt living in fear of the rolled-up newspaper. Curiously, Corrigan's chronic lack of confidence is wholly betrayed by the author's thick, woodcut-like lines, which are absolutely self-assured. Ware's are some of the most beautiful pictures ever seen in comic books.

In a meticulous apology printed on the back pages of the book, Ware expresses his (needless) regret that his literary techniques don't do justice to his semi-autobiographical tale. When he met his real father some years ago, he writes, he was relieved to find that the man was unfamiliar with the Corrigan comics—"the invisible and universally unfashionable world of the comic strip having left me thankfully unread." Utterly in spite of himself, Ware is making comic-book art very fashionable indeed.

So too is Clowes, whose Ghost World, the rambling, seemingly inconsequential dialogue of two disaffected young women, is being made into a feature film (by Terry Zwigoff, who directed Crumb, the extraordinary documentary based on the odd life of the underground comics artist R. Crumb). Like Ware, Clowes tells the story of a timid young man whose real life is no match for his interior world. Unlike Corrigan, Clowes' character is obsessed with the opposite sex, and he acts on his obsessions. And his nostalgic tendencies plumb a slightly more recent America, one of 1950s diners and 1960s apartment complexes. Contrary to his name, Boring's escapades include a handful of shootings, a drowning and other tragedies.

Like Ware, Clowes has an ability to capture ephemeral feelings with keen combinations of words and pictures. In a narrative on "the first really warm day of spring," the title character notes, "the streets are quiet and a lot of businesses are closed because of some obscure religious holiday, and I am buoyed by the innate human confidence that comes with fair weather." The close reader can really feel the short-sleeve weather in the accompanying suburban street scene. It's an achievement that is unmistakably literary in its execution. Of course, the comic-book authors of today grew up reading the classic comic books of yesterday. Both of these new books make cryptic references to Superman, the red-caped superhero who made so many anxious young lives more bearable with his invincible exploits. In his despair, the hero-less Jimmy Corrigan catches glimpses of a fellow in a Superman outfit, toppling from skyscraper ledges. And David Boring searches for clues from his own estranged father, a free-lance comic artist who once drew an issue for the "S____" series.

Subtle as it is, the work of these two young talents can be more powerful than a locomotive. Few examples of modern literature can leap so many tall buildings in a single bound.
—James Sullivan

Chicago Tribune
Jimmy Corrigan pushes the form of comics into unexpected formal and emotional territory.
It is thrilling, moving, profoundly sympathetic, and it is the most beautiful looking book of the year.
Entertainment Weekly Editor's Choice
Dave Eggers
Ware is the most versatile and innovative artist the medium has known, and though it's unlikely that anyone soon will tell a story as powerfully as did Spiegelman in Maus, in terms of sheer aesthetic virtuosity Ware's book is arguably the greatest achievement of the form, ever.
New York Times Book Review
Logan Hill
You may recognize a certain other round-headed kid in the lonely Jimmy—spurned by a little red-haired girl—whose life is a series of petty humiliations.
New York Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
The comics world has amply rewarded Ware for his amazingly innovative work—he's won numerous prizes for his Acme Novelty Library, a combination of complex narratives about mice, a trove of visually arcane inventions (diagrammed with Rube Goldberg—like precision), and plenty of eye-straining text: a graphic self-effacement that echoes the creepy despair of Ware's main creation, Jimmy Corrigan. Jimmy's story now finds its full expression in this wonderful book, itself an endlessly fascinating art object that deserves attention way beyond the comics market. The Corrigan tale as such, now easier to piece together than it was in the Acme series, concerns four generations of sad, dough-faced men. The first Corrigan, the son of Irish immigrants to the Midwest, loses his wife early on, and bears no affection for his perpetually frightened son, who dreams of the Chicago Exhibition rising on the land near their ramshackle home. It's also the place where the gruff and nasty old man abandons little Jimmy to his fate. Meanwhile, in present time, the newest Corrigan man, also abandoned by his father to an overprotective mother, is an overweight, sniveling mess, with a receding hairline, and a rich fantasy life. Contacted by his long-lost dad, an airport bar tender, Jimmy takes the unusually bold step of visiting the man he barely knows, only to witness his accidental death. Here, in short, is what this multilayered piece is all about: loss, abandonment, death, passivity. And Ware's stunning visual style raises this patriarchal struggle to the level of Chekhov, with the historical naturalism of Dreiser. His use of block colors, his precise lines, the intensity of his wordlessimagesare beautifully echoed by his sudden bursts of lyrical language (in an array of apposite typefaces) and his challenging plot developments. Everything here boggles: the artfully conceived foldout dust-jacket, the cryptically word-burdened endpapers, and, most of all, the story itself: a graphic narrative that deserves a place beside the best novels of the year. Clegg, Douglas MISCHIEF Cemetery Dance(P.O. Box 943, Abingdon, MD 21009) (260 pp.) Oct. 2000

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
8.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.75(d)

What People are Saying About This

Dave Eggers
Ware's use of words is sparing, and at time maudlin. But the real joy is his art. It's stunning. In terms of attention to detail, graceful use of color, and overall design. Ware has no peer. And while each panel is relentlessly polished-never an errant line or lazily rendered image-his drawings, somehow, remain delicate and achingly lyrical.
Mother Jones
Ware's work is among the very best graphic, comic, illustrative, and fine artwork being produced in the world right now.
Art Spiegelman
It's uncanny that someone so young would have such an apparent recollection of the history of comics, and the talent to expand upon it.

Meet the Author

CHRIS WARE is widely acknowledged as the most gifted and beloved cartoonist of his generation by both his mother and seven-year-old daughter. Building Stories, released in 2012, received 4 Eisner Awards, including Best Graphic Album, in 2013. His Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian First Book Award and was listed as one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" by The Times (London) in 2009. An irregular contributor to This American Life and The New Yorker (where some of the pages of this book first appeared) his original drawings have been exhibited in the Whitney Biennial, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and in piles behind his work table in Oak Park, Illinois.

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