Tuesday, 2 November 2010

... our fathers that begat us

A couple of years back - see M and other non-comical comics - I briefly mentioned Chris Ware's graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, which I've just been re-reading.  It's a poignant and semi-autobiographical exploration of the psychology of  Corrigan, a timid postal worker in his 30s, as he meets his father for the first time.  It is, however, a nonlinear story, with the main thread interwoven with Jimmy's dreams and fantasies and with flashbacks, particularly to the childhood of Corrigan's grandfather at the time of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (see this hypertext thesis and this Illinois Institute of Technology project) with its 600-acre stucco-coated "White City".

The threads weave even more tightly with interactions between past and present also interact: Jimmy's neuroses and dreams (such as his fear of women and his recurring dream of a tiny horse) appear to come from the traumas of his grandfather's childhood rather than his own. Through these connected narratives, the story gradually reveals and dissects the history of a family with a repeating motif of fractured relationships, all leading to Jimmy's crippling inability assert himself and interact with the world.  I'm pleased to see that the sampler at Random House, and the CNN review (A not-so-comic comic book) and interview with Chris Ware are still online.

Somewhat in contrast, I've also been reading Exit Wounds, also an acclaimed graphic novel, by the Israeli artist Rutu Modan.  This takes a somewhat different angle on fatherhood, beginning when Koby Franco, a 20-something taxi driver in Tel Aviv, gets a call from the nearby Army Headquarters, where a female soldier, Numi, tells him his estranged father Gabriel may be dead, possibly the single unidentified victim of a suicide bombing. He isn't much interested, but Numi (who is keener than him to investigate) gradually draws him into following official and unofficial avenues to see if Gabriel is the unknown victim.  Initially Franco thinks of the tall and gangly Numi as 'The Giraffe', but the two become increasingly close as they pursue the puzzle of Gabriel's whereabouts.  Numi, however, has an agenda of her own, and Koby becomes increasingly troubled at the revelations of his father's complex love life.

Although the blurb at Drawn and Quarterly (here, and see the sampler) describes Exit Wounds as particular "portrait of modern Israel, a place where sudden death mingles with the slow dissolution of family ties", the location doesn't strike me as crucial to the story; any kind of mass accident, anywhere, could have led to the mystery. The central theme is, like Jimmy Corrigan, an investigation of a single fractured family. It's not as convoluted as the stream-of-consciousness Corrigan, but it's nevertheless sensitive and gripping, and it was rightly nominated for the 2007 Quill Awards.

- RG

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