The graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan can be rather confusing upon first glance. The pictures vary in size, placement, and even the direction they face on the page. All of these things combined can make the novel challenging to follow. This is a logistical aspect that makes Jimmy Corrigan a difficult piece, but much of the content and storyline of the novel can be hard to understand and follow as well. Pictures jump from topic to topic; often moving from what readers think is real life to an image of a large hand picking up a house, or a robot (clearly things that are not happening in real life). In other words, Ware moves from Jimmy’s reality to Jimmy’s imagination without the slightest explanation, and this tends to make the graphic novel rather perplexing. Along with being slightly confusing, some parts of Jimmy Corrigan tend to be very dark. However, by utilizing the instruction manual provided by Ware, readers are told to accept many such disturbing or confusing images as they are, and to accept that they are simply tools that make up the greater story; they are to be taken lightly.
One of the more disturbing images in Jimmy Corrigan can be seen just after the images of Jimmy talking to his son. While he is speaking with Billy, a large hand picks up his home and drops it on the ground. The next series of images shows Jimmy searching frantically for his son and finding Billy’s body parts scattered all around him. Billy’s head is eventually spotted and Billy begins saying things like, “Dad…Dad, it hurts” and “make it stop Dad make it stop” repeatedly. Clearly distressed, Jimmy sets his son’s head on the ground and starts to walk away. To the surprise of the readers, Jimmy then picks up a cement block and drops it on Billy’s head. Without taking the instructions provided into account, one may be truly horrified by this scenario. If taken as is, it is an incredibly graphic scene. The idea that a parent is being forced to kill their child in order to put them out of their pain, is an incredibly dark, incredibly twisted one. A scene like this may cause many questions to be raised about Jimmy’s character, his morals, and ethics in general. However, I do not believe this image is meant to be taken in such a way.
In the fourth instruction on the inside front cover of Jimmy Corrigan (Technical Explanation of the language, Developing skills), Ware provides readers with “five questions by which you should be able to determine whether your understanding of the ‘comic strip’ language is sufficient to embark”. Along with this statement, he provides two sequential pictures of a mouse raising a hammer and hitting a cat’s head. The last question Ware asks (out of the five) is, “did you a) feel sorry for the cat head, or b) not?” He follows by saying “if you answered b) to all of these questions, congratulations you are sufficiently well versed to continue”. Ware clearly states that in order for people to understand this comic book, they must have answered b) to all of the five questions he provided. In the example above, the answer to b) implied that the reader felt no sympathy for the cat; this in turn means that Ware does not want to illicit a sympathetic response from the readers when he depicts graphic images (such as a cat head being smashed by a mouse). He means for the images to be just that, images. He wants readers to look at them through the context of the instantaneous moment he depicts in the picture. Readers are not supposed to feel sorry for the cat because it seems he wants the image to be taken lightly, and even in a comedic manner. To him, that is the key to understanding his style of comics.
Another interesting observation can be made by looking at the elaborate diagram given by Ware on the inside front cover of the novel. The diagram once again shows images of the cat and mouse, but it shows each image connecting to one another in a web. I am particularly interested in the two images on the far right of the diagram. One picture shows the cat and mouse, while a squiggly arrow points downward from the image to a picture of a theater stage. Next to the stage, there are three more images. One image is a really small brain, and under the brain is a really small heart. What is interesting is that directly next to the heart and brain there is a picture of an eye. This eye is drawn much larger than the heart and brain, and it is connected to the stage. This is intriguing because it seems to suggest that one should look at the scene of the cat and mouse as a form of entertainment (hence the drawing of the theater), and that the entire image should not be analyzed too heavily, but rather looked at and enjoyed (hence the picture of the eye that is larger than the brain and heart).
How does this relate to the image of Jimmy Corrigan killing his son? The sequence with Jimmy and Billy resembles the sequence with the cat and the mouse. The cat’s head is Billy’s head, and the mouse is Jimmy. So already, Ware is having readers draw parallels between the images of Jimmy and Billy and the instructions he provides. It is also important to note that the sequence of Billy and Jimmy is set on a stage in a theater. This stage is very similar to the one depicted in the diagram on the inside cover of the novel, another parallel. Finally, there are little mice sitting in the audience watching as Jimmy beats his son’s head with a rock. This is a direct reference to the images of the cat and mouse pictures in the front of the novel. Why does Ware draw so many parallels? Perhaps it is because he wants readers to experience the initial shock of seeing Jimmy kill his son, but he wants to remind them that the images should be used as entertainment, just as the cat and mouse images are. The sequence should not be used as a reason to analyze the morals of Jimmy, but rather it should be taken as simply one small piece that makes up this rather dark comic.
It seems that Ware has a specific audience in mind for his graphic novel. However, since he cannot control who chooses to look at his work, he includes instructions on how it should be read. He wants readers to have a certain type of humor that allows them to take disturbing, or depressing images, and just look at them as a form of entertainment.