The Smartest Kid on Earth

I have just finished one of the most moving, beautiful, poignant, intelligent and thought-provoking books I have read for a long time. The fact that Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a comic book which won The American Book Award and The Guardian First Book Award in 2001 would suggest of course that I am not the first to recognise the delights of this ‘semi-autobiographical work of fiction’ as the author Chris Ware calls it, but I cannot recommend it highly enough for the fine detail of its artwork and the authenticity of its exploration of the complex relationships between a son, his domineering mother and his estranged father. The use of colour and tone, as metaphorical representation of  bland new consumerism, would be worthy of a seminar in itself.

Set in Chicago and some of the bleak backwaters of the American mid-west in the middle years of the 20th century, the central character seems doomed to replay for ever in his mind every mundane detail of his life, as well as the range of alternatives he imagines for himself if only things had been different, occasionally losing himself in the fantasy world of his superhero alter-ego, complete with mask and cape. Introverted, neurotic, bullied at school and at home, Jimmy’s (or Ware’s) observations, and the sharp wit with which he delivers them, suggest that with a grand sense of irony, he may indeed be one of the smartest kids on earth.

This is how the book, which started out as a weekly comic strip in the ‘New City’ newspaper, was described by one reviewer when it was first published in 2001:

Jimmy Corrigan is further set apart by Ware’s visually stunning, two-dimensional artwork, where simple characters are drawn against painstakingly detailed backdrops, and an overall creative layout that utilises more traditional uniform panels, full-page vistas, draughtsman diagrams and cut-outs, among other things. With the flashbacks and disjointed narrative, Chris Ware shows a remarkable command of the comics medium, elevating Jimmy Corrigan far above its peers. More than just a great graphic novel, this is a classic in any medium.”

The Smartest Kid on Earth has been compared to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, and while the scale of its tragedy is local rather than global, the scope of its achievement is immeasurable.

*NB Due to the use of ‘adult’ language the book would probably be deemed unsuitable for study in school for anyone other than the most mature reader.

However, for a list of comic books and graphic novels suitable for 10-14 year old readers click on the Books 10-14 tab at the top of the page.


2 thoughts on “The Smartest Kid on Earth

  1. Great stuff. I recommend his ACME Novelty Datebooks. He is an amazing artist and it is fascinating to delve into his day to day thoughts, misgivings, drawings and very dry sense of humour. I love his drawing style but he is continually putting himself down and dismissing his own sketches as lazy and out of practice!

  2. Hi Athole,
    Good to hear from you and thanks for the comments. Shades of Charles Schulz I think. I must check out the Datebooks as you suggest as I just loved the fine detail of the drawings. Could probably stand several re-readings as there is so much to take in on each page.


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