The comics world has amply rewarded Ware for his amazingly innovative work—he’s won numerous prizes for his Acme Novelty Library, a combination of complex narratives about mice, a trove of visually arcane inventions (diagrammed with Rube Goldberg–like precision), and plenty of eye-straining text: a graphic self-effacement that echoes the creepy despair of Ware’s main creation, Jimmy Corrigan.
Jimmy’s story now finds its full expression in this wonderful book, itself an endlessly fascinating art object that deserves attention way beyond the comics market. The Corrigan tale as such, now easier to piece together than it was in the Acme series, concerns four generations of sad, dough-faced men. The first Corrigan, the son of Irish immigrants to the Midwest, loses his wife early on, and bears no affection for his perpetually frightened son, who dreams of the Chicago Exhibition rising on the land near their ramshackle home. It’s also the place where the gruff and nasty old man abandons little Jimmy to his fate. Meanwhile, in present time, the newest Corrigan man, also abandoned by his father to an overprotective mother, is an overweight, sniveling mess, with a receding hairline, and a rich fantasy life. Contacted by his long-lost dad, an airport bar tender, Jimmy takes the unusually bold step of visiting the man he barely knows, only to witness his accidental death. Here, in short, is what this multilayered piece is all about: loss, abandonment, death, passivity. And Ware’s stunning visual style raises this patriarchal struggle to the level of Chekhov, with the historical naturalism of Dreiser. His use of block colors, his precise lines, the intensity of his wordless images are beautifully echoed by his sudden bursts of lyrical language (in an array of apposite typefaces) and his challenging plot developments.
Everything here boggles: the artfully conceived foldout dust-jacket, the cryptically word-burdened endpapers, and, most of all, the story itself: a graphic narrative that deserves a place beside the best novels of the year.