Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a very complex comic book. Not only does it not read like a normal comic book due to its complex panel layouts, but it is almost meaningless when read on the surface. This is due to majority of the story not being in the words, but rather the pictures, or more specifically the relations of the pictures to other parts of the story and what they represent. Chris Ware included numerous American icons throughout the book. Due to this, it makes sense to read the book as a statement of America. Several of these statements of America pertain to the technological advances that resulted modern day America and their impact on the daily lives of modern day Americans. Although for this book modern day America is the 1980s, Ware’s messages still have meaning today.
One of the most important technological advances highlighted in the book is the invention of electricity. In several places throughout the book, Ware depicts power lines. There are also some frames where the power lines are in the foreground. During a surface reading of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, one might just simply ignore these power lines by treating them as purely scenery. Although this view exists for the power lines, Ware emphasizes uses of electricity that are not as easy to ignore. The most common example of this is lighting. Ware includes several frames that have complex or seemingly random lighting in the foreground. At a surface level, this seems awkward or maybe random, but at a deeper level, it can be argued that Ware is trying to emphasize the change in life due to the invention of electricity and light bulbs. Light bulbs dramatically revolutionized the way of life more many individuals, from work hours to home life. Electricity also allowed for microwaves, electric ovens, phones, and numerous other objects.
Although we usually look at the invention of electricity, light bulbs, microwaves and several other uses of electricity as a positive, but Ware appears to be highlighting the negatives. One of the first instances of this view point is at the beginning of the book when Jimmy’s mother keeps calling him at work, even though he repeatedly asks her not to. Although phones allow for us to communicate with others instantly, even if they are on the other side of the world, they also allow for unwanted calls. We also see Jimmy buying an answering machine in another frame. Although we now have caller ID on most phones, which somewhat alleviates this issue, in the 1980s the best solution was to screen calls using an answering machine.
However, phones are not the only negative that Ware emphasizes. There is also a frame in the book with a can of soup with the following frame being a table set for two. Although soup is relatively cheap and convenient, there are also anti-social tendencies commonly associated with it. Jimmy had so little social contact that he needed to set the table for two, just so he did not feel lonely. Later in the book, when Jimmy is on the plane and confronted by the women with green hair, it is visually and textually apparently that he is uncomfortable. Ware appears to be arguing that with the rise of convenience, there is a decline is social skills and interactions. Although this is a huge generalization, it is possible. Another interesting view on the inventions changing daily lives is that Jimmy’s family tree appears to have the similar issues in life as Jimmy. Although his father, grandfather, and great grandfather don’t appear to be as anti-social or as lacking in social skills, they do appear to be gradually decline in social skills and interactions.
Today, you often hear people say that we are becoming more anti-social due to the amount of time we spend behind screen. Although we cannot get Ware’s view point of this due to the time period of the book, it is possible to refute this view, making Ware’s view point of sociality in the 1980s outdated. Today, we have numerous ways of being social, without being physically in the space, such as Skype, FaceTime, FaceBook, Twitter, and several other technologies and applications. When applying this statement to Ware’s views on sociality in the 1980s, his views appear to be outdated.
Although the book takes place in the 1980s, Ware’s views on modern day America still apply. However, some are less prevalent, or in some cases relevant, than they were in the 1980s. Ware appears to be emphasizing the negatives of electricity and several inventions allowed by it. Although this is a mostly one sided view point, it is one that is not as commonly thought of. The book shows the negative effects that phones have, as well as the social implications of convenience. Although you can refute some of Ware’s view points, even in the 1980s, they are still an interesting view on life. Everything has pros and cons, but it is a matter of weighing them. At the surface, Ware appears to have a story that does not seem to have much of a point. However, when diving deeper we see that Ware is favoring a negative view on modern day America.