Monday, October 27, 2014

Ware and Schulz

It is no secret that many cartoonists are heavily influenced by their predecessors. Techniques of relaying a story through pictures are passed on to new artists, each contributing to and adapting the style. Ware is no exception in this regard. Though his style of cartooning may appear to differ substantially from the lighter work of most comics, their influence on Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is undeniable. Ware draws from Schulz’s style of prioritizing character expression to craft a narrative that transports viewers to the same state of loneliness as Jimmy Corrigan.
               Schulz is considered one of the most well-known comics of all time. The work which he is most famous for is the Peanuts, a comic strip that focuses on the life of a young boy and his friends. In this strip, Schulz employs a number of strategies to make his characters the central focus of each of his stories. One of the first aspects to stand out to the viewers is the minimal background. His panels feature uncluttered backdrops which place the emphasis of the story in the forefront.
               In this forefront are the characters that are known throughout the world: Charlie Brown and the Peanut gallery. Accustomed to seeing these characters, people may not notice that they are designed simplistically to emphasize their facial expressions. Composed of larger heads perched on small bodies, Schulz created a canvas in which to paint the emotions of each character. The basic lines that make up their facial features have the same purpose. They are easily manipulated into clearly defined emotions.
               Another method in which Schulz minimized background information to keep focus on his characters was the exclusion of any unnecessary characters. There are a number of main characters who are fleshed out in the strip, but no extraneous adults or parents are put in view of the reader. This may be seen as a technique to lessen the amount of work for himself, but this decision of Schulz’s has the same effect of limiting the amount of material in the narrative down to his main concern of character emotion.
               Ware capitalizes on this minimalist technique in several places throughout the novel for much the same purpose. Like Schulz, he keeps the identities of extraneous characters from distracting viewers. There are relatively few faces shown throughout the novel. Jimmy, his father, his grandfather, and Amy compose the main repeating faces within the book. In particular, the sections featuring Jimmy often have no other character’s face fleshed out. Even his mother is never pictured from the front. This is a way in which Ware visually communicates Jimmy’s inability to relate and connect to others. There are not many other people who figure into his life. This strategy helps intensify the viewers’ empathy for and understanding of his loneliness.
He wants viewers to truly experience the overwhelming loneliness from the character’s personal perspective. Many of Ware’s panels contain Jimmy’s face against a mostly blank background. For the majority of the novel, the character himself seems to be an extremely boring individual who is mostly devoid of opinion and expression. However, the nuances of these close-ups allow for viewers to recognize and relate to the emotions Jimmy is experiencing. In essence, Ware ensures that viewers are immersed enough in the protagonist’s expression to subjectively experience his emotions.
               Many of the sequences focused in on Jimmy’s face occur when he is in his father’s home. When he contemplates the price tag on his father’s coffee table, there are a few slides that show the subtlety of the change in his expression. The changes are almost invisible, but extremely revealing about Jimmy’s current state of mind. The audience is drawn in, experiencing Jimmy’s nerve-wracking fear that his father could actually be a conniving murderer.
The sequence in which Amy calls and leaves a message is also particularly interesting. Two full pages have little more in focus than Jimmy’s face. There is a sequence where Jimmy is questioning the identity of the caller; an anxious expression covering his face. Five subsequent panels featuring Jimmy’s face against a black background with relatively little changes reveal the depth of his nervousness and confusion. Though the changes in his expression are small, the effect of being immersed in them is monumental. The audience has been plunged into the mind, insecurities, and fears of this man-child.
Lastly, the portion of the novel after Amy has told Jimmy to get away from her features multiple close-ups on the character. At what may be his most expressive point in the novel, Jimmy’s facial expression is one of despair. Rejected by the only woman who seemed interested in his life, Jimmy is struggling to cope. This is echoed in the montage of close-ups on his face. His expression does not particularly change, but the effect on the viewer is a submersion in Jimmy’s angst.

               By incorporating Schulz’s expression-focused method, Ware was able to not only express the subtle emotional shifts experienced by the protagonist, but to immerse viewers in the perspective from which they originated. He did not require words to transmit these emotions. Like Schulz before him, he understood the impact that an expression-focused account could have on his audience. What results from his efforts is an intimate and personal acquaintance with loneliness.


  1. You make a great point in drawing this comparison between Ware and Schulz and their styles of comics. The character of Jimmy Corrigan is definitely made to be viewed in this simplistic and focused way so that his expressions give the reader insight to what he is thinking and feeling. To help build this essay I would suggest doing more to incorporate your thesis of the simplicity of the frames into the paragraphs concerning Jimmy. You make a good comparison between the two works but the essay would have more continuity if you explain more how the evidence in Jimmy Corrigan really relates to Schulz and you argument so that it doesn't get muddled and but then comes back at the end.

  2. “Ware draws from Schulz’s style of prioritizing character expression to craft a narrative that transports viewers to the same state of loneliness as Jimmy Corrigan.” -- It’s a clear argument, but I’d like to see a more ambitious formulation - one which explains how this helps us as readers.

    If you revise, I think it would be useful to at least link to a peanuts strip or two as an example of his minimalism. I think you characterize some of the elements of that minimalism rather well, although you could have done it a little faster or with actual examples - either approach would have merit depending on where you wanted to take it.

    Another idea for revision would be to include a few images in the essay itself. Regardless of whether you include them or not, a more detailed analysis of some of the minimalism, expressive moments which interest you would help. I think your instincts here are great, and that you are tying together the two cartoonists well, but I like this essay rather than loving it because you say the obvious a little too much and break down the details of images too little. You could be a little more convincing, first, by using details to show how deep the similarities between the two cartoonists are and, second, by being able to say something about how this “expressive minimalism” (I’ll put it in quotes, although I don’t think you actually put the two words directly together) matters to our understanding of the book (maybe by connecting form to content more directly - that might be a good approach in a revision).