Monday, October 27, 2014

Ware, masculinity, and Jimmy Corrigan

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a graphic novel of great depth. It is not the first work to break from its comic origins and into the realm of literary argument, but it certainly makes a persuasive argument in a new way. Ware's novel, much like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, criticizes modern culture and society to present a view on sexuality, particularly as it relates to masculinity in contemporary culture. The novel suggests that due to his home environment, particularly the absence of his father, Jimmy grew to be an introverted, socially incompetent adult. Furthermore, Ware presents a view point that everything is not always as it seems, a further reflection on modern society.

Ware's argument pertains to modern society, and how views of masculinity in conjunction with parenting effects certain people. This becomes evident in Ware's character, Jimmy Corrigan. Jimmy is shown to be a shy, "head in the sky" type character. Jimmy is shown alone imagining superheroes and other fantasies lacking the social skills necessary to make friends or talk to women. The novel implies that this is due to the absence of Jimmy's father. The lack of a father figure also leads to the representation of Jimmy's mother as strong-willed and overbearing, stripping away any sense of masculine identity Jimmy might be able to construct. Her strong personality is evident from the onset of the story when she chastises Jimmy for making her wait, and it continues when she implores him to not be late, making sure he understands. This is just one example of her strong-willed tactics. Ware seems to argue that his mother's strong personality, in conjunction with the the lack of a father figure created an environment which did not allow Jimmy to meet the masculine ideal of society, something that is altogether harmful to men. 
Ware's argument is persuasive as there are elements that I think everyone can relate to (even women, despite Ware's instructions for women not to read the book) in certain thematic elements. Nearly everyone would say their parents, whether through their direct involvement, indirect involvement, or absence effected the person they became. I certainly feel my parents effected my development. The implications of Ware's views as it relates to society are less clear. Certainly, Ware feels the masculine ideal of a strong, womanizing, macho man is harful to boys and the development of males in society, and this should change, but it cannot be abolished completely. Rather, I think Ware feels a more accepting culture should be implemented. This is evident in the formatting of the novel. 

The graphic novel, in terms of comics, is quite... different. Ware makes use of, at times, non-traditional arrangements of color, image arrangement, and text. In his instructions Ware emphasizes that there is more than one interpretation, and even issues a section of errors and corrections at the end ("Corrigenda"). I believe this is a veiled effort at pushing the reader towards a higher level of thinking, beyond absolutes and stereotypes such as the typical idea of male masculinity. This argument seems to stand in conjunction with the previous, supporting a new way of interpretation and cultural understanding. 

Ware's multi-faceted argument presents the problem, and a representation of how that manifests itself in day to day life in the form of Jimmy's story. Furthermore, Ware's graphic novel seems to present a solution in the form of greater acceptance through the format and structure of the novel. Ware certainly presents a persuasive view through the story presented and the format of that story. His argument provides an important perspective on something that seems to be given little visibility, male masculinity. 


  1. I find it funny that I always seem to be the person who reviews your work. Anyway, I like the direction you took this essay as its argument and depth creates a good social commentary on developmental aspects of American society. I think this would be interesting as a revision because of the sheer amount of research that could be brought into this, such as nature vs. nurture, single-parent homes, etc.

    The last sentence of your first paragraph is slightly vague, which comes immediately after your argument and could be reworked to further support your stance. I found your argument to be present throughout although it seems a tad segmented in its transition from paragraph to paragraph, mainly only in the third paragraph. In the third paragraph you bring in elements of his visual style to function further as a tool for Ware's message, like talking about his arrangement of color, arrangement, and "Corrigenda" but did not provide any specific examples. Probably just due to time, but a few examples of his unorthodox presentation of moments, either with his father, mother, extended family, or even using "super-man!" could further progress your argument.

  2. Your thesis is a little vague. It becomes clearer in the 2nd paragraph - but so far everything you say is based on a kind of high-level summary of the plot of the book. How do the details of the art develop or problematize your argument? For instance, how does the way that Jimmy imagines his father before he’s met him (Remember the page of variations on his father?) influence your reading? Or how about his reluctance to show the face of Jimmy’s mother?

    Your last couple paragraphs don’t really develop your argument through details at all. Rather, you slide off into more general statements about the details of the book. Those are fine, but in a text as meticulous as Jimmy Corrigan, if masculinity or gender in general are central ideas, we’re going to need to understand them, in large part, through the details of the art. An essay which engages with no details of the art, but only summarizes the plot, can’t get very far.