So in my life to date I think I’ve read in the neighbourhood of a eight hundred books. A figure arrived at with the base calculation of 50 books a year for the last ten years + 30 books a year for the ten years between 6-16. A number of no consequence whatsoever except when contrasted with the six (total) graphic novels I’ve read: Spiegleman’s Maus I and II, Persepolis, Riel, and the Unwritten, and now, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.
I mention all this because I have a lot of practice deciding what I like and don’t like about fiction (in the non-picture sense) and justifying those feelings with evidence from the text. I have, however, very little experience explaining why I do or do not like graphic novels (see my entry on The Unwritten for evidence) and so I am in the unfortunate position of writing that I LOVE Jimmy Corrigan and I have some sense of why, but it is, a very grasping sense. Graphic novels are not something I have enough experience with or training with to explain clearly, so take this proviso for what is and let me explain why (I think) I love Jimmy Corrigan.
1) There are beautiful sentences. True, graphic novels still have sentences, and I still recognize one them when I read it. Beautiful little gems peppered in dialogue and description that catch you and say ‘wham.’ (For a great article in defense of the beautiful sentence see 19 February 2011 Globe & Mail Books section back-page).
2) Pictures! Pictures that are not simply pretty, but add whole layers of meaning (to this admitted novice in picture-meaning-reading). Illustrations that captivate and confuse – where I spent time puzzling out not simply the direction of meaning (where do I read/look next?) but how the illustrations competed with the text, added to it, complicated it, and made it all the more weighty.
3) The plot. It jumps in time, space (dreams of robots), place and plausibility in ways that left this reader simultaneously confused and captivated. I worked reading this book to understand and appreciate not just the plot flow, but the significance of particular narrative asides and reoccurring symbols (a little red bird for instance, I finally worked out signaled a change in time).
I’m done with my list now. I also like Jimmy, but not so much as to put him in the list. He was a bit sniveling for my taste. Oh! That too! The perfect capture of sound in the text! I heard things as well as saw them.
So I’m more excited now for the other books in my Books with Illustrations category than I was before. Much more. Not so much as to read another one right away. My brain aches a bit. And I think I’ll review Scott McCloud’s stuff on graphic novels (thanks K. for the suggestion) before writing another analysis. Just in case those of you out there who care, care.