Chris Ware has put out a few books since the immensely successful Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. All of them have highlighted his incredibly precise and beautifully designed cartoons. This new book feels much more like a companion piece to Jimmy Corrigan in its formatting and themes, and it is a magnificent piece of work. From its fold-out dust jacket to its interwoven narratives, every aspect of this book is thought through. Not a line is wasted. This careful consideration delivers a considerable emotional punch as we delve deep into the minds and lives of several characters. Each of them, on the surface, appears very mundane, but it is this facet of perception that Chris Ware manipulates so successfully throughout his storytelling. For behind every mundane individual is a personal tragedy, private fear, nagging worry or cloaked secret, and in the act of unravelling those personal inner battles or bottled demons does Ware draw you in. Often his characters are the victims of their own shortcomings, making them so easy to relate to as we reflect ourselves upon their struggles.
Although the aspects of the book relating to Rusty Brown and his introspective father are captivating in themselves, for me the two strongest sections relate to the troubled teen Jason Lint and Rusty’s teacher Joanne Cole. Lint is a bully, always on the wrong side of trouble, but rather than just flashback to what makes him the teen terror, Ware also takes his story forward, through troubled marriage and fraudulent business dealings right up to the very moment of his death from old age. It’s a beautifully structured piece of character development that allows you to get right under Lint’s skin, experience his turmoil, and chart his mistakes. Joanne Cole’s story appears on the surface to be a much more gentle affair, told against a background of race and female equality. Joanne is immensely likeable as a dedicated teacher who keeps herself to herself. You can’t help but root for her and wish her the happiness and companionship she so clearly deserves. What happens in the last few pages is a genuine shock – an emotional wrench that brought tears to my eyes.
Chris Ware is a remarkable talent and this might be his finest work to date. I highly doubt you’ll read a better book this year.
And if you liked that: Get a copy of Jimmy Corrigan if you’ve not yet read it.