Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a very complex comic book. Not only does it not read like a normal comic book due to its complex panel layouts, but it is almost meaningless when read on the surface. However, when read at a deeper level, there are multiple meanings or purposes are possible to explore. One of these purposes is to criticize America as whole. However, Chris Ware is not satisfied with plainly stating his opinions of America in one time period, but rather does it across multiple. Ware presents what he considers to be failures in America from roughly the mid nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. Ware mainly focuses on the issues that result in common value or policy choices. Although these are not necessarily everyday issues, they are not one time events either. Some of these issues are related to military, technology, and commercialism.
One of the earliest chronological failures in the book is when Jimmy’s grandfather shoots off his own finger. Although shooting off you own finger is never a positive, but since Jimmy’s grandfather did it during the Civil War, it could be viewed as betrayal or maybe even treason. Regardless how severely you view it, the action was not a patriotic one. The exact reasoning behind this decision is not given, but it is likely to get out of the war. Although it can be argued that War is not for everyone and having someone who is not mentally capable of being at war is likely to be more of a liability than an asset, failure to function in war times was not something taken lightly. During the Civil War, it is expected that any able body man, slave or free, fight for their side of the Mason-Dixon Line and anyone caught escaping would be prosecuted. Due to this, shooting off his own finger was probably the easiest and only way for Jimmy’s grandfather to “legally” leave the war zone. Ware could be pointing out the failure in the way the Jimmy’s grandfather acted, as well as the failure in the system. Depending on your viewpoint on liabilities versus assets, this failure could either in an easier dismissal or punishment for the betrayal. Although it is not completely obvious which Ware prefers, he is likely to side with the lack of punishment due to the emphasis on the finger. Even if I am wrong and Ware sides with the lack of easier dismissal, Ware wants the reader to think about this event and their viewpoints on it.
Ware portrays Jimmy’s grandfather as a racist who is fighting for the Union, which obviously is not something that would end well. This emphasizes the argument on whether the draft system is designed properly. Every able bodied male is required to fight during war time, regardless of their viewpoints on the war. Although now there are some requirements for everyday enlistment, during war times, these requirements are typically ignored. However, this is not always the case. My grandfather wanted to enlist during the Vietnam War time frame, but was denied due to my grandmother being pregnant with my mother. My grandfather thought it was his duty as an able bodied American to enlist, but even that did not meet the requirements. Granted this was a century after the Civil War depicted by Ware, but someone who wanted to take part in a war could not, whereas someone whose viewpoints likely opposed the war was enlisted.
Ware is not only considered with military policy, but also with everyday issues such as technology and commercialism. This pairing is because it hard to discuss the implication and advancements in technology without commercialism, and vice-versa. Although military is somewhat distinct from the technology-commercialism pairing, one would not exist to the extent that it does today without the other. Although today we tend to refer to technology as electronic devices or various forms of software, technology is actually anything that has an effect on our lives, generally in a positive way. The weaponry used in war is technology that was created with a commercial goal or restriction in mind.
Ware emphasizes this through the depictions of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. There are numerous pages of panels relating to the World’s Columbian Exposition in the book. Several of these pages are related to building designs. In this time period, there was a cultural demand for attractive buildings. Unfortunately, with the rise of industrialism, came the rise of commercialism. Although commercialism is nothing new, the greed and demand for products to be highly profitable arose. Several of the buildings that Ware depicts would never be built today due to costs. Everything today is costs versus benefits with the benefit as the primary, if not the only, factor for most executives. For example, one of the buildings is essential a huge hangar-like building with the walls and ceilings being steel and glass. Although this building may be fond to the eyes, it is highly expensive and would never be seen to be worth the costs in today’s society. Throughout the whole section on the World’s Columbian Exposition, Ware depicts buildings that have visual appeals like this one. This is likely due to Ware forcing the reader to think about what not only their values are, but what is valued by others and the country or world as a whole.
The concept of thinking about or re-evaluating values is a reoccurring theme throughout the book. Although it is not solely tied to the issues relating to military, technology, and commercialism, it can be applied to most, if not all, of these issues. For example, with the issue of Jimmy’s grandfather during the Civil War, the reader is guided towards thinking about and possibly re-evaluating what they think is versus what is valued for someone in the military. Although this is not bound to war times, the values could be different due to circumstances.
Although the theme is throughout the entire book, the heart of the theme has to deal with the focus of technological progress of the World’s Columbian Exposition and the failure to adhere to this forecast. Despite the theme of the World’s Columbian Exposition, “Some of the more popular exhibits were curiosities rather than serious displays of technology and progress. They included an eleven-ton cheese and a 1,500 pound chocolate Venus de Milo in the Hall of Agriculture and a seventy-foot-high tower of light bulbs in the Electricity Building. (“The World’s Columbian Exposition”)”. Ware decides not to include this in his book. Although it may be hard to depict this specifically, it definitely changes the way the World’s Columbian Exposition is viewed. This could be interpreted in many ways including people did not see or value progression and that people find attractions more interesting. Those interpretations may not actually be distinct. As for not seeing progress, for the people attending the event, most of the exhibits being displayed were part of their everyday lives. Typically things that people use on a daily basis, they take for granted, hence the lack of value of progression. Although these are not the only reason why people may find the exhibits that they do not get to experience during their daily lives, it is definitely a serious possibility. What is more interesting is why Ware did not include this in his depiction of the World’s Columbian Exposition. One likely possibility is that it is not necessarily a failure, but rather human nature. Despite this, taking things for granted seems like it should be covered by Ware. The likely reasons that Ware did not cover this concern is that either he did not think of it, or his did not want to be hypocritical since he probably takes things for granted as well. Although this cannot be explained entirely, it is something that could probably be explored at a deeper level reading of the book that I currently have. Again, this ties back into value evaluation. Although it does not appear to be explored by Ware, it still is something that should be considered by the reader.
Today, you often hear people say that we are becoming more anti-social due to the amount of time we spend behind screen. Although we cannot get Ware’s view point of this due to the time period of the book, it is possible to refute this view, making Ware’s view point of sociality in the 1980s outdated. Today, we have numerous ways of being social, without being physically in the space, such as Skype, FaceTime, FaceBook, Twitter, and several other technologies and applications. When applying this statement to Ware’s views on sociality in the 1980s, his views appear to be outdated. Although Ware does not directly talk about this, it does fall into his theme of values.
Although the book takes place from the 1860s to the 1980s, Ware’s views on modern day America still apply.. Ware appears to be emphasizing the values and policies of the military, technology and commercialism. Although this is a mostly opinional view point, it is one that is not as commonly thought of. Although you can refute some of Ware’s view points, even in the 1980s, they are still an interesting view on life. Everything has pros and cons, but it is a matter of weighing them. At the surface, Ware appears to have a story that does not seem to have much of a point. However, when diving deeper we see that Ware is favoring a negative our values of various topics.
"The World's Columbian Exposition." History Files - The World's Columbian Exposition. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
The World’s Columbian Exposition was supposed to be an event displaying progress. Although it has been noted that these exhibits were not always valued during that time period, it defines a forecast for the future. One of the technologies that is displayed to shape the future is electricity. Ware depicts a building with a sign saying “ELECTRICITY IS LIFE”. He also caps the section on the World’s Columbian Exposition in panels depicting a street light and some electrical wires connected to telephone poles. There is also a depiction of the lights turning on at the beginning and off at the end. This can be interpreted in multiple ways that are somewhat similar. One of these is meaning is from the use of light bulbs as an icon for an idea. When exploring this meaning, we see the World’s Columbian Exposition as purely that, an idea. This is probably close to reality. The forecast depicted by the World’s Columbian Exposition was a great idea, but not reality. Another meaning comes from the expression “to see the light”. When applying this meaning, the World’s Columbian Exposition is a brighter life, or at least the forecast could have been. Unfortunately, the saying “things aren’t always better on the other side” comes in to play here. With both meaning applied, you get a sense of what is really occurring. Electricity did have a huge impact on life, but not always in a positive way. Most of this falls back on the evaluation of values.