“Jimmy Corrigan” Book Released to Raves

Chris Ware's NewCity cartoon called "haunting" and "thrilling."

Chris Ware says he always intended to publish his comic strip as a book. I “planned it that way, with chapters and color shifts built into the story,” he says.

Nevertheless, he admits that he may never have completed “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” (Pantheon) if he hadn’t agreed nine years ago to publish the strip in Chicago NewCity: “NewCity provides a weekly deadline that forces me to get work done; without it, I’d probably still be on page forty of the ‘Jimmy Corrigan’ story.”

And the world would be a lesser place, according to the enthusiastic reviews that have followed in the wake of the book’s publication in September. Entertainment Weekly gave it an “A+” and called it “thrilling, moving, profoundly sympathetic, and … the most beautiful-looking book of the year.” Time Magazine said, “(T)his haunting and unshakable book will change the way you look at your world.” And last week, The Village Voice named “Jimmy Corrigan” as one of the best 25 books of the year, proclaiming, “Chris Ware is the Stanley Kubrick of comics.”

Ware’s first book is the story of a “lonely and emotionally-impaired ‘everyman’ … who is provided, at age 36, the opportunity to meet his father for the first time,” says the Random House Web site promoting the graphic novel. “An improvisatory romance which gingerly deports itself between 1890’s Chicago and 1980’s small town Michigan, the reader is helped along by thousands of colored illustrations and diagrams, which, when read rapidly in sequence, provide a convincing illusion of life and movement.”

According to CNN.com, which says the book “is more akin to a novel by Faulkner or Dickens than to ‘The Adventures of Spiderman,'” the book “is not a quick read. Skim a page and you’ll miss a tiny delight — a Thumbelina landscape; a postage-stamp still-life; an entire treatise, in Lilliputian letters, on vinyl siding as a metaphor for life.”

NewCity Publisher and Editor Brian Hieggelke says he began publishing the “Corrigan” strips on Dec. 26, 1991, after Ware was recommended by contemporary cartoonist and Pulitzer-prize winner Art Spiegelman. The Stranger is the only other AAN paper to publish Ware.

“We were the only guys who would ever publish [Ware], because of the color and scale,” Hieggelke says. “We decided a long time ago we would rather have one work of genius than four average cartoons.”

Ware understands the risks that Hieggelke has taken in publishing his work. “NewCity allows a self-indulgence that is probably at times unsightly; a great deal of the time my serialized story appears in such fragmentary bits that the strip probably seems ‘avant garde’ or otherwise purposefully obtuse,” he says, adding that he tries to break the story into “sensible bits.” “Brian … has never told me ‘no’ to anything I’ve ever run, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him and NewCity for running my stuff for so long.”

Ironically, NewCity’s success in selling tobacco ads — the paper is a perennial leader in Alternative Weekly Network sales — may have made it possible for Hieggelke to take those risks. According to Ware, “the advent of all the recent anti-tobacco legislation” leaves “few outlets in which the cigarette companies may advertise other than the free weeklies, which allows my strip, by default, to be in full color.”

Although he got his start in NewCity, the book’s publication seems to have provided Ware with a measure of personal validation. “It was reassuring to see (Jimmy Corrigan) as a rather thick tome … it sort of alleviated the sense that I’d wasted my life for the [past several years].”