Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jimmy Corrigan: Past and Present

               In the General Instructions for this book, a cat being struck with a hammer is a prominent image. Within this image of the mouse striking a cat’s head with a hammer are a million small details of perception of the situation: the passage of time, the sound of the hammer strike, the visuals of both the past and future at once. A combination of understanding about what it happening and when it is happening is necessary to understand this image in the opening instruction page and the book as a whole. One page within the story of Jimmy Corrigan shows imagery that is strikingly similar to that of the instruction manual, examining a ripped photo of Jimmy and his parents, looking at their aging over time in a series of small panels, then looking closely at Jimmy’s grandfather, going deeper into the images surrounding him. With this comic technique, the instructions to show us the meaning that images can create and the millions of ways these images can be looked at; the novel brings us meaning and shows the connectedness of Jimmy and his past while showing us the analytical characteristic that defines his present.
                The instructions make it clear that to be considered prepared to read this book it is essential to take what we perceive as happening at the present time. Watching Jimmy struggle with meeting his father for the first time shows us Jimmy’s present, even if much of it exists in fantasy. At the same time, the images within the instruction pages bring to our attention the evolution and aging processes at work to bring us this very moment in time – mouse hits cat with hammer. As Jimmy pictures the photo in a drawer at his home that shows his mom, dad, and him, we are also given a very similar row of panels: a quick overview of the lives and time that brought us to now. The comic style introduced in the beginning helps us understand that the development of Jimmy and his parents was necessary to create the world that, in reading this book, becomes our present time. The ability to create the past and present within one page, giving us such a range of time in Jimmy’s world to create this single ripped image from a photo frame, is a tool used by Ware to emphasize the present in light of the past, showing meaning within context. A subject is only as important as its influence on the world it inhabits, and this lesson of ancestry shows us Jimmy’s world and how it came to be.
                To understand Jimmy Corrigan within this world being created, Ware’s general instructions can once again be used. The analysis of the cat being hit by a hammer-wielding mouse is not the only time we see very detailed analyzing. Jimmy’s character is derived from the world of over-analyzing, as he tends to analyze to the point where he imagines and dreams up scenarios for most of his life, creating a constant mix of fantasy and reality for the reader. Looking at his life from every angle, Jimmy creates in his head a diagram of possibilities, like that which takes the mouse-hammer-cat image for more than face-value, creating an entire world of existence for the image. In most cases, this world Jimmy creates in his head is presented as equal to the world of reality, with the same style and no separation. Not only is Jimmy left living in an unrealistic world, but the reader is unsure of what is real. After the analytical breakdown of this photograph for the reader, another dimension is added: the seamless integration of not only Jimmy’s past but of those who come before him. The past takes on the same life that the present does, with Jimmy’s grandfather as the focus. From the general instructions, we can better understand the connection between these realities and the individual presence that each of them can exist within.

                Clearly this creates an important connection between Jimmy and his grandfather, between the past and the present. A comic is read so that each moment can be interpreted as the here and now – according to the way the instructions want us to read comics. Thus we are transported almost to the past in these pages, foreshadowing the story’s transference to the past later on when Jimmy’s grandfather is given his own present as a child. Even if Jimmy and his grandfather are literally within different times of history, they share a present within this writing, and the connection between them as they both struggle to connect with their fathers and relate to the world around them is made stronger. On these two pages, where we begin and end with almost the same view out of a window, Ware uses his analysis through comics to establish past and present, yet blur the lines between them at the same time.


  1. So, there is a lot of stuff you cover here concerning how to interpret time as according to the instructions. The instructions say that you should take each panel to mean that it is literally happening in the present. I like how you tie his grandfather's story into this instruction. Even though it clearly takes place in Jimmy's past, if you perceive each event as happening now, it brings the past into the present. One thing you briefly mentioned that I think could be further explored are the presents that exist in fantasy. According to the instructions, they literally happen in the present and you are to perceive them as such, but you often can't figure out what is fantasy until either something really weird happens or reality comes back directly contradicts it. In this case, taking the instructions into account can actually make things more confusing, especially before you catch on to the fact that he has vivid dreams/ daydreams. How does the perception of time tie into the perception of reality?

  2. As usual, you have dense and promising introduction, but your argument, again, is a little general. “the novel brings us meaning and shows the connectedness of Jimmy and his past while showing us the analytical characteristic that defines his present” -- the buildup with interesting, but this is awfully vague!

    “A subject is only as important as its influence on the world it inhabits, and this lesson of ancestry shows us Jimmy’s world and how it came to be.” - an ironic line, given Jimmy’s (apparent) insignificance! You write *well* about how time works in *JImmy Corrigan*, but you also write *around* the topic - writing about it in a way that explores it without really making a clear claim.

    The third paragraph still doesn’t quite have a thesis, but it could. You’re within an inch of arguing that the book is thematically exploring and condemning the same hyper-analytical way of thinking and drawing which is *the* defining characteristic of its style. That’s great. Also, it belonged in the introduction, more clearly stated.

    Overall: some good thinking and great potential here, marred by an, at best, ambivalent overall direction.

  3. One more thing - to refer more directly to the prompt, the key word here is "ought" - how *should* we read this material? You don't take as clear of a position as you might have, in other words.