Comics of the Decade: Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan – The Smartest Kid on Earth

This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

It has now been over a decade since Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan : The Smartest Kid on Earth was published in collected form, and almost two since he first drew the character in a number of short strips in the Chicago weekly New City. Through the nineties, as it was being republished for the first time in his ongoing serial the ACME Novelty Library, it was for many consistently the most anticipated serialized comic around; an indication that comics were experiencing an artistic renaissance and a harbinger of great things to come for the medium.

Its release in book form in 2000 has now come to be seen as an emblematic event in what certain commentators, such as yours truly, have termed the international “new wave” of comics, which has since only gained in force and momentum. And Chris Ware is still working somewhere at is center, simultaneously expanding and refining his approach to comics, most recently with ACME #20, or “Lint”, which provides as good a touchstone as any to chart his development since Jimmy Corrigan. The following is a re-examination of Ware’s seminal book, made with the benefit of a decade plus of hindsight, with attention paid to how it has contributed to the evolution of the art form of comics and how we think about them.

Danish Comics of the Year 2010

Once again, international gentleman Paul Gravett has asked a bunch of international critics and writers about comics to talk a little about the comics of the year from their respective countries. I participated along with representatives from Austria, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Sweden, offering a selection of what I think are the best Danish comics of 2010. I’ve reproduced the text here, but check out the entirety of the list at Gravett’s site.

More on the Association Strike

While my attempts to reach the involved parties hasn’t met with much success, a little more information on the Association strike has trickled onto the web, including a press release by the staff, stating in a little more detail their motivations and grievances. It was sent out on 14 January week ago and runs like this:

Chers tous, auteurs, adhérents, libraires, éditeurs, journalistes, amis,

Nous, salariés de L’Association, sommes en grève depuis le lundi 10 janvier 2011 suite à l’annonce de la suppression de 3 à 4 postes sur 7, à partir de février 2011, et à l’impossibilité d’établir un dialogue constructif sur le sujet avec les instances dirigeantes.

Nos revendications restent celles émises au début de notre mouvement:

Picks of the Week

“The tragedy of the Euromess is that the creation of the euro was supposed to be the finest moment in a grand and noble undertaking: the generations-long effort to bring peace, democracy and shared prosperity to a once and frequently war-torn continent. But the architects of the euro, caught up in their project’s sweep and romance, chose to ignore the mundane difficulties a shared currency would predictably encounter — to ignore warnings, which were issued right from the beginning, that Europe lacked the institutions needed to make a common currency workable. Instead, they engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the nobility of their mission transcended such concerns.

The result is a tragedy not only for Europe but also for the world, for which Europe is a crucial role model. The Europeans have shown us that peace and unity can be brought to a region with a history of violence, and in the process they have created perhaps the most decent societies in human history, combining democracy and human rights with a level of individual economic security that America comes nowhere close to matching. These achievements are now in the process of being tarnished, as the European dream turns into a nightmare for all too many people. How did that happen?”

— Paul Krugman

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Paul Krugman: “Can Europe Be Saved? Great, provocative and lucid analysis of the recession in Europe and the problem of single currency. A must read.
  • Slavoj Žižek on WikiLeaks and the discrete charm of global hegemony. Need we say more? Go read.
  • Two from Hooded Utilitarian. James Romberger has recently been writing on the great cartoonists Alex Toth and his latest piece, a personal reminiscence of growing up reading his comics, is the best so far. Wonderful. Also, Sean Michael Robinson has just interviewed the great manga ambassador to the West, Frederick L. Schodt, who is always worth listening to.
  • Strike at l’Association

    It seems there’s an employee strike at the seminal French comics publisher l’Association. Emails sent to them are met with an auto-response with the following wording:

    “Nous, salariés de L’Association, décidons de nous mettre en grève et d’occuper les locaux à partir de ce lundi 10 janvier 2011 à 13h00, et ce pour une durée indéterminée, afin de protester contre l’annonce brutale de licenciements, à savoir 3 à 4 postes sur les 7 actuels.

    Nous contestons le cadre de ces licenciements, annoncés par un bureau absent dont le mandat n’a pas été renouvelé depuis de nombreuses années et par un directeur éditorial non salarié dont les responsabilités au sein de la structure restent floues. Nous demandons que soient exposées et justifiées les raisons économiques de ces licenciements, et que nous soit donnée la possibilité d’étudier d’autres solutions.

    Inquiets des décisions de gestion prises depuis de longs mois, de l’absence d’échange entre l’équipe des salariés et les décisionnaires, du contexte dans lequel les livres vont être édités et défendus, nous demandons la tenue dans les plus brefs délais d’une assemblée générale afin que soient soumis au vote de ses membres les rapports d’activité et financier de l’exercice 2010 et que soient exposées les prévisions pour 2011.”

    In short it announces a strike of indefinite duration, started by the employees this Monday because of an unexplained announcement that 3-4 out of the 7 full-time staff will be made redundant.

    Comics of the Decade: Daniel Clowes’ Ice Haven and The Death Ray

    This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

    By Andreas Gregersen

    Daniel Clowes hardly needs introduction. Best known for the comic and film Ghost World (1997 and 2000) and the irregular periodical comics magazine Eightball (1989-), he has attained a prominent place in international comics during the course of the last fifteen years. Five years ago, Chris Ware himself described Clowes as the most significant cartoonist in the US, which — irrespective of any false modesty — is big words from an artist whose own contribution to (and understanding of) the art form is hard to argue with.

    Clowes most complex and arguably most successful work so far is Eightball #22, which was published as a full-colour comic book back in 2001. Now, in 2005, Pantheon has republished the story in reworked and reformatted form with the title Ice Haven. Since this more or less coincides with the publication last year of its remarkable follow-up, Eightball #23, and since they have a lot in common both thematically and formally, why not look at them both here?

    Ice Haven is the name of a small town and the story of a cross-section of its inhabitants. Its 29 chapters (or 36 in the Pantheon edition) interweave the threads of their lives in ways that on first glance may seem mundane and lacking in drama, but they slowly accrue to greater significance. The format recalls American ensemble cinema of the kind perfected by Robert Altman, and more recently seen in such works as Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon (1991), P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) and Todd Solondz’ Happiness (1998), for the latter of which Clowes drew the poster, incidentally. But in contrast to those, Ice Haven consists of a series of self-contained stories in different comics genres, like a casual flip through the Sunday comics page in days of yore.

    Clowes exhibits tight control throughout, managing the storytelling with the eye for the telling image and the sense of rhythm and layout we have come to know and appreciate, but perhaps most notably the story marks a step forward in terms of colouring: best known for his clear black-and-white imagery, at times embellished by a second colour, he here brings a remarkable sensitivity to bear on a much more nuanced palette. The variety of styles on display often works contrapuntally with the material, suggesting the complex nature of life and its treatment in art.

    Picks of the Week

    “…no artist likes to be exploited, precisely because our work is precious to us in ways more important than money, and we want that relationship we have with our work to be respected. Unfortunately, we live in an economy where money is the most obvious measure of value, and so it’s easy to end up focusing on that as the bottom line, as you put it. Often, when you scratch a little deeper, you find that what upsets artists even more is a lack of respect, of being exploited, taken for granted — even when the work we make is earning someone, somewhere a heap of money and luxury…. I don’t believe I have the right to set the terms by which people access my material, nor where they take it from there. Once I’ve written a story or drawn a comic — certainly once I put it out into the world by publishing it (online or on paper), that comic is out there living its own life and interacting with all the people who come across it. It’s like having kids. Once you’ve brought them into the world, they’re not actually your property to do with as you will. You have a very important relationship with them, and you deserve to have people respect that relationship. But in the end, they’re in the world and they have their own life. Eventually other people will have relationships with them as important as yours — and it’s not fair to try to dictate those terms until the day they die.”

    — Dylan Horrocks

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The Panelists. This new group blog unites Derik Badman, Alex Boney, Isaac Cates, Craig Fischer, Jared Gardner and Charles Hatfield under the Comics Journal umbrella. It promises to be an academically inflected, but accessible resource for the kind of quality criticism for which these folk are already known from other contexts. Welcome to the ‘sphere!
  • Tom Spurgeon’s holiday interviews. As he’s done for the past few years, Spurgeon has conducted an impressive round of interviews for the holiday season. Several of them are great reading for anyone interested in the state of comics as an art form and an industry these years. Hunt through his (still unsearchable and badly indexed) archive for the past month Here’s the archive; I recommend the conversations with Joe Casey, Matt Seneca, Dylan Horrocks, Dan Clowes, and Jaime Hernandez
  • Bill Sienkiewicz on Big Numbers. Following up from my earlier post re: this most famous torso of 90s comics, here’s artist Bill Sienkiewicz’ personal and rather painful testimony on what went wrong way back then. Great reading for people interested in Alan Moore’s lost masterwork and in creative hubris in general.
  • Carl Barks Finally Done Right?

    Since I’ve been fairly engaged in the sad fortune of the Disney comics of Carl Barks (1901-2000) in reprint, I figured I would comment briefly on the recent announcement by Fantagraphics that they will be helming a complete edition, starting this fall. Already publishing the reprint editions of The Complete Peanuts, Krazy & Ignatz, Popeye, and Prince Valiant (and, soon, Walt Kelly’s Pogo and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse) — all exemplary presentations of classic comic strip material — one could not wish for a better publisher to undertake this project. This is really good news.

    All earlier editions of the Barks material have been faulty. The best is clearly Another Rainbow’s luxuriously packaged, slipcased hardcover set Carl Barks Library, published in the 1980s. But it presented the strips in black and white — great for connoisseurs, but ultimately uncongenial to material intended for colour — and published several of the less politically correct stories in redrawn, censored form. It was followed in the 1990s by Gladstone’s cheaper series of albums, The Carl Barks Library in Colour, which printed the previously censored strips in their original form, but was marred by insensitive, if not downright counterproductive, computer colouring. Moreover, this edition was the least complete of the collected editions so far, leaving out the late Grandma and Daisy Duck material drawn, but not written, by Barks, as well as the Junior Woodchucks stories that Daan Jippes completed over his layouts in the 1970s.