Only recently did I get around to reading Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, after receiving it as a gift from the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend. She actually ventured into a comic book shop all by her lonesome to get it for me, even though its book format meant it was widely available in more familiar places, such as bookstores. But it makes sense, doesn't it? I imagine the thought process went something like this: buy comics as gift > go to shop selling comics > go to comics shop.
About halfway through the book I started to think of Chris Ware as sort of a male version of Sylvia Plath, that's how impressed I was with his unrelenting, let's-all-slit-our-wrists vision of the world. Staring straight into the abyss for long periods does have its downsides, however. I knew the book was having an impact on me when the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend turned to me with suspicion and asked, "Is Jimmy Corrigan depressing you?" "No," I replied guiltily, trying to avoid an intervention.
About midway through the book, just when I was beginning to think it might be a good idea after all to put it down, the mood of the book shifted. I found I was no longer standing at the very lip of the abyss, but was instead strolling around it, at about a two feet distance. The change was a relief, but it also struck me as quite an artistic achievement. Because we know--from Sylvia Plath's life and works, for example--that another option would be simply to continue standing there at the edge, or else to step forward and plunge in. I don't disparage those options, not at all, I simply call attention to the artistic feat of being able to examine the darkest human emotions and then being able to pull back, just so.
So Ware is not the male Plath, but he does give an airing to the underbelly of male identity. He also makes quite a contribution to the representation of sound in comics. Throughout the text, my eye was drawn to the scripting of such usually overlooked noises as, for instance, the tsssssh of water running, the chngle chng of keys in a lock, and the sound of a horse going up a staircase. Along with the included cut-out toys, the sounds expanded the story beyond its visual dimension. As I said above, I was amazed at the moodiness of this graphic novel, but also at the rich texture of that mood: its palette, its soundtrack, its architecture.