Over the course of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, we find many recognizable troupes that comics across the world follow. This ranges from the panel format to text boxes to the easy-to-understand art the makes the story that much more intriguing in its complexities. The story that Ware is trying to tell over the course of the first half of the book is one of the struggles, fears, and attempts at success that Jimmy Corrigan faces over his seemingly mediocre middle-American life.
How are comics, in particular Jimmy Corrigan, understood, however? Without the previous attempts at making comics something that the everyday person could interact with and comprehend, Jimmy Corrigan would have been but a series of images that we would struggle to understand. Ware’s predecessors, such as Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, helped in creating a society that could read and understand images in sequence, and as such, Schulz is nearly directly responsible for Ware’s ability for the general public to understand the story he is attempting to express.
In the Peanuts comics, Schulz tells a story within a limited space. This space creates a need for a balance between words and images; if there are too many words, the image loses some of its impact because it is allotted less space. If the text is too short, the meaning behind the image or images can be lost. Although Schulz may not have created this style himself, he is one of the individuals who benefitted from it, perfected it, and kept it alive. Although space was less of a limitation to Ware, he owes the overall organizational structure of his comics, in this case Jimmy Corrigan, to Schulz and his contemporaries.
If we try to look deeper into Ware’s work through the lens of Schulz’s comics, we find that many of his stories are extended through his use of panel location. If Ware would have used the typical composition that is used by cartoonists such as Schulz, Jimmy Corrigan might have been more approachable, and yet it would not have had the deep meanings it currently contains through its interesting use of organization.
The use of imagination is something that makes Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan easier to understand when looked at in the same way as in the Peanuts comics. For example, Snoopy sometimes imagines himself flying the Red Baron through the skies, with the wind in his face, until finally reality hits and he realizes that he’s actually stuck on the ground. Snoopy believes that he was actually flying, although we as an audience know that he was not. In the same way, Jimmy has the thoughts of himself as the robot falling down the steps. Because of this dream, he uses a crutch for an extended period of time. He thinks that his visions are real, although they are merely figments of his imagination
Peanuts comments revolve around a continuous story that can be expressed through 4 separate panels for different times; one day, there may be a story about the group going to visit the Great Pumpkin (Schulz) . The next day, there could be a scene at the pumpkin patch. Although the stories can be presented in chronological order, they do not have to be viewed at the same time to make sense. This is in opposition to Jimmy Corrigan, where many of the happenings only make sense within the context of the entire book. Although there are inevitably some instances in the book that could be taken out of context and turned into a “short form”, 4-panel comic, as Schulz does, most of what Ward has drawn must be read and understood as literature would be- the past parts of the story all matter in deciphering of the current location.
The themes displayed throughout Jimmy Corrigan are much more mature than what is offered in the Peanuts. In Schulz’s comics, the characters are (mostly) children, living out their lives in as innocent a way as possible. Their problems consist of juvenile things like love (Snoopy’s crush on Lucy, for example), sports (the many times that Linus pulls a football from someone trying to kick it), and school. They have obstacles to overcome, for sure, but as a group they almost always manage to overcome the things that they set out to accomplish. In Jimmy Corrigan, however, youth is replaced with ignorance and habit; although we can assume that Jimmy has some mental deficiencies, the overall feel and themes of the comics, as created by Ware, are darker. Jimmy’s dreams involve hurt, pain, and death (such as that of him having to shoot the horse). He is lost and stuck in the same job, attached to his mother although he is an adult, and overall he seems to be unable to live on his own.
Without the influence of Schulz’s Charlie Brown character, could Jimmy Corrigan have existed? The two fictional beings are similar in many ways, from their social awkwardness to their shy demeanors. Although characters with this persona existed before Charlie Brown, both in the real world and in the world of comics, the mold of the shy, inward, and awkward individual was better understood at the time Ware wrote the book than it was in the 60s when Peanuts began. As a reader, we understand many of Jimmy’s interactions because we have seen similar situations as we have grown up, be it in characters like Charlie Brown or something we saw in another form of media.
There are a few more specific comparisons that can be drawn between Peanuts comics and Jimmy Corrigan. One that I found to be specifically similar was released on September 13th, 1966. In it, Linus and Charlie Brown are talking about a note that Linus’ mother left in his lunch. He reads the lengthy note to Charlie, and it takes up more than half of the two strips in which he is reading it. It’s funny, wordy, and it goes too far, almost like the introduction to Jimmy Corrigan that we find inside the front cover. Both texts almost reach a point where we don’t want to read them, but instead, we filter through the blocks of text to find humor. This was not done often in the Peanuts comics; as mentioned previously, there was usually a great amount of balance within the comics. By throwing this balance off, the viewer is likely to pay more attention to the text.
Balance is also the reason we are more likely to read the very first page of Jimmy Corrigan. The cover’s text is twisted in different ways and filled with interesting images that we are not used to seeing in a comic. We see lines separating paragraphs that run from left to right and then from top to bottom, an image of a mouse (or cat, potentially) hitting a cat (or, maybe, a mouse) on its head with what looks to be a hammer. We then see a gigantic chart trying to explain the workings of a comic to us.
The graph on the inside cover draws huge comparisons to Peanuts and how we understand comics in general. We learn, when we are young, what a rat looks like, what a cat looks like, and how motion works. The simplistic drawing in the huge circle on the first actual page of Jimmy Corrigan shows an image, and the smaller boxes and circles and line serve as a means to understanding it; or, rather, they serve as a way to understand why we understand what is happening. We know, for instance, that a separate panel means a change in time, that there is a sound when a hammer hits a cartoon head, and that an eyebrow, tilted toward the middle of the face, denotes anger. We would not be as accustomed to these tropes, however, if not for things like the Peanuts conditioning us from a young age.
Schulz helped in making the 4-panel format popular. Because of his contributions, we are able to understand action within a series of drawings. Jimmy Corrigan, viewed through the lens of Peanuts comics, is easier to understand than it would be had characters like Charlie Brown and Snoopy never existed. The actions, organization, and stories presented in the Peanuts strips are integral in forming a basis of understanding within the entire culture that reads them, which allows for more complex levels of understanding in Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.
Schulz, Charles. "Peanuts." Peanuts Comic Strips. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.