The Smartest Kid on Earth
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
This extraordinary graphic novel is so obviously a labour of love that the reader can only marvel at the energy that has been expended in its creation.
Although the two plots that make up the book are essentially simple, the care with which Ware has executed them gives them an almost mythic quality. Jimmy Corrigan is a lonely, single, thirty-something with a boring job in an office cubicle, and a domineering mother who, in spite of living in a nursing home, is never far from the telephone or Jimmy. His crippling shyness renders him incapable of even saying hello to Peggy, the woman who works at an adjacent desk. When the father he has never known sends him an invitation and a plane ticket, Jimmy feels compelled to fly out to meet him.
Jimmy's (by and large disastrous) trip is mirrored by the boyhood tale of his grandfather, James, whose relationship with his father is tainted by unhappiness. (It's not as confusing as it sounds.) Young James's mother has died, leaving his father with the unwanted job of bringing up the little boy alone, while at the same time maintaining his job as a glazier at the 1892 Chicago World's Fair. James is a frightened little boy, cowed by his father and bullied at school; he has a vagueness and fragility common to young, lonely and fearful children, qualities that are inherited generations later by his grandson.
Chris Ware's illustrations are simply awe-inspiring in the true sense of the word. It is hard to believe that someone could put so much detail into each of the 380 pages that make up this incredible book, but there is a clue to his devotion in the afterword. After spending most of his life avoiding his own father, speaking only rarely on the phone, Ware finally met up with him: 'Gradually, the sublime outrageousness of our evening eroded into two people simply running out of things to say to each other. We weren't father and son anymore, just a pair of regretful men.'