Monday, October 27, 2014

Jimmy Corrigan - Basic Instructions

            While reading the first few pages of Ward’s, Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth, you quickly understand why he decided to include reading instructions for his comic book. In particular section four entitled, “Technical Explanation of the Language, Developing Skills”, is useful in understanding the basics of the comic strip and how he plans on using them in his book.  This section is broken down into five questions that are meant to guide the reader into only one conclusion per question. If the wrong answer is chosen the reader does not go any further in the questions and then is forced to agree with what he wants to continue the reading. He is deliberately trying to make sure the reader knows how to interpret the two pictures he placed side by side in the beginning of the section.
            To begin with, section four states that, “most of the talents required for the understanding of this volume are essentially intuitive, though some basic premises must be re-established before attempting a thorough apprehension of the complete work.” This instruction is saying that although the reader may be a comic reader, they need to understand the way he intends to illustrate the comic and how it may be different that the typical comic book is shown. Also, he wants to cover the very basic’s of comic strip reading in the instructions to ensure the readers with no previous comic strip experience understand what they should be taking away from each illustration.
            The two small boxes contain a mice and a cat head with a sequence of events taking place in them, which is the topic of interest in the very first question.  Ward asks, “Do you see a) two boxes printed in the midst of text filled with a confusing arrangement of outlined shapes that are utterly incomprehensible, or b) two boxes printed in the midst of text on a page with tiny pictures of mice and a cat head inside them?” Of course, the reader is not going to choose option (a), because it sounds completely ridiculous, but this is what the author was going for. He knows it sounds absurd and does not think anyone will think it is the correct answer, but it is a small way he insults the reader and shows how little he may think of them or how he wants to make sure they are even capable of the most basic comic strip reading.
            In the next question, Ward asks, “If b), do you see a) two mice and two cat heads in two boxes next to each other, one raising a hammer above his head, the other striking a cat head with a very similar hammer, or b) one mouse and one cat head, portrayed at two different points in time, the result of comparison being the impression of the same mouse striking the same cat head with the same hammer?” This question is not as insulting as the previous one, but still is making the reader feel a little insulted making sure they understand how time evolves through comics.  The reader can take this as an insult or as a helpful guidance to the way they should see time happening in comic strips.  Again the way these questions are interpreted can be one extreme to the other and Ward seems like he could have been annoyed by being asked to provide an instructions section to his comic book by his “research facility” he refers to in the introduction section, which I do not think is a real thing but he decides to blame them for the need for instructions.
            The sequence of events is the topic of questions three and question four.  Ward is making sure that the reader is not completely lost on how comic strips are used to show movement of things and how it relates to the time of events. He uses one question to ensure the readers know that you read from left to right, because this will be of importance during the reading of his comic book. He goes from left to right unless otherwise specified. During these questions he writes less and makes sure the reader knows the cat’s head is being hit with the hammer by the mouse, and not the mouse lifting the hammer of the cat’s head.  This was emphasized because Ward includes violence in his comic book at times, and does not shy away from confrontations between characters is his comic book.  I believe the mouse was hitting the cat’s head because in most cases the cat is the one hurting the mice but Ward wanted the smaller adversary to have the upper hand.  Revealed later in the book, Jimmy Corrigan could be seen as the mouse and his father seen as the cat, with Jimmy wanting to be the one in charge of the hitting and not his father. Although, that may not be correct because the comic book itself is hard to follow and the characters are sometimes hard to differentiate.
            Lastly, Ward asks, “If b) did you, a) feel sorry for the cat head, or b) not?” The only correct answer for Ward is answer (b), and that shows that he does not want the reader to always feel bad for the one being attacked in the comic book because they may not know the full story behind the events leading up to the conflict. He intends the readers to think above and beyond the illustrations he provides and question the motives behind them.
            Then in the last segment of section four, he gives the readers who answered (b) to all of his questions the okay to read the comic book, while anyone who did not answer (b) to all the questions has to take an exam in the next section.  He tells the exam taker’s to not dally, be honest, and to fill in the ovals completely with firm pressure. This section takes on a bossy and annoyed tone, because he does not want to deal with any person who was not able to pass the previous test. Ward is using this as a chance to be bossy to the type of person he probably was bossed around by at some point in time, so he does not sugar coat his instructions.
            In conclusion, I think Ward was not pleased about writing the instructions and felt annoyed the whole time by them.  He included section four to insult the average comic book reader and belittle anyone who may have never read a comic book before. 


  1. I think it would be helpful to have a clear thesis stating your argument about Ware's annoyance at writing the instructions. Exploring WHY you believe he feels irritated with his readers or wants to insult them would give some depth to the argument. Understanding why he would attempt to belittle or insult his viewers could be an entire essay in itself, but it seems necessary to make the argument believable. As of now, you use only the instructions themselves to support your opinion; referencing places throughout the comic where these instructions apply could bolster your argument. You could examine the organization of the panels or pages as a function of how Ware feels towards his viewers or how he wants them to feel while reading Jimmy Corrigan.
    Lastly, it would be interesting to pursue the portion of your argument that discussed how the instructions were meant to help the readers. The portion about Ware encouraging readers to "look above and beyond" his images for their deeper meaning was very interesting and could definitely be expanded.

  2. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but I think the work of the first two paragraphs could probably have been done in 1-2 sentences. In fact, the third paragraph doesn’t really get anywhere either - you’ve taken three paragraphs to point out a passage that your’e interested in and to make a quick point about it, but you don’t have anything resembling an argument yet.

    Then, toward the end of the essay, we move into more interesting territory. Although you spent more than half of the essay describing the way Ware insults the reader, you don’t really explain why that matters. However, you do have something to say about what violence means in JC.

    In your third to last paragraph, you assume that Ware wants us to follow the channel laid out by the instructions, and lack sympathy. But now you’ve stumbled upon part of what it means for Ware to have insulted us so much. This is not a set of instructions necessarily to be liked or trusted - they need to be interpreted, not simply followed. Do you really lack sympathy? If we aren’t supposed to have sympathy for Jimmy, what should our attitude be?

    In other words, it’s simplistic to assume that the “bossy tone” you reference is really just aimed at telling us *directly* how to read. How are we supposed to respond to bossiness, big words, etc.?

    Re: your conclusion, which grows more direct. What is the purpose of the insult? You are right that it is an insult - but what does that accomplish? It’s like you want it to be a blatant insult *and* for it to be straightforward, literal instructions at once - but that’s really a contradiction or complication to be resolved.