Friday, April 1, 2011

Student Research Days: Graphic game changer

Students Chris Sun and Catherine Julmi pore over the groundbreaking graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth.
By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

If you thought the comic book, or graphic novel, was all about superheroes, two Douglas students are keen to introduce you to the work of Chris Ware.

An award-winning American cartoon artist whose drawings have graced the cover of the New Yorker, Ware is the author of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, a 380-page saga about a timid, maladroit man searching for his estranged father.

Catherine Julmi, who’s taking English and Chemistry, and Chris Sun, a General Studies student, chose to do their Student Research Days project on Ware because he’s pushing the boundaries of comic books.

“A lot of the time graphic novels are marketed for kids or people in their teens,” says Catherine. “ To read this you have to think about it more. It’s not light reading. I think he’s trying to break that image of comic books and graphic novels.”

“His work is very different in this field,” adds Chris. “Graphic artists usually have these very straightforward thoughts, like a superhero theme. Chris Ware likes the superhero theme, but he goes about it in this very abstract way.”

The research partners say Ware takes a multilayered approach to storytelling in Jimmy Corrigan, exploring themes of racism and human connections, among others.

“It’s also a story about the difficulties you can have when you reunite with a loved one who you haven’t seen much of,” says Catherine. “He has a lot of trouble reconnecting with his dad because he’s just a very awkward person. So it’s about the awkwardness and stress you can go through during such a time.”

As part of their research Catherine and Chris did a number of image analyses of Ware’s work, some on the covers he’s done for the New Yorker. They agree that Ware is a standout artist in the world of comics, as he’s always changing things up.
“Most of the time his New Yorker covers have nothing to do with what’s going on in the book,” says Chris. “One we looked at was about Halloween – in the middle of June. He is constantly changing his style, which I find very interesting.”