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Current Issue: #220 Tracking CanLit (Spring 2014)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 220 (Spring 2014) is now available. The issue features a wide range of articles and book reviews as well as a selection of new Canadian poetry.

Globality in Comics

  • Chris Ware (Author)
    Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Pantheon (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Guy Delisle (Author)
    Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. Drawn & Quarterly (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Andrew Yang

Although the subtitle of Jimmy Corrigan implies a global perspective, one may initially wonder whether Chris Ware's intentions were ironic. The text takes place almost solely in two cities-Waukosha, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois-and focuses intensely on the experiences and histories of one family alone. Between these experiences, however, there are subtle moments that reveal intended audiences across the world. As one example, the opening panels begin in outer space, focusing rapidly on the planet, then the coastline, then finally on Jimmy's house itself. As another, the narrative of his grandfather's childhood takes place during the construction of the World's Columbian Exposition, an expression of America's optimism and global visions.

Such moments, however, are incidental compared to other themes more subtly revealed throughout the text. Arjun Appadurai mentions globalization as an ironically localizing process, with technology, ethnicity, media, finance, and ideology as concerns linking cultures across the globe with one another. Each of these, particularly the first two, is present in Jimmy Corrigan, in the dialogic aspects of Jimmy's childhood and his grandfather's childhood. Technology is relevant in both the massive structures of the World's Fair, the mother's recurrent presence on the phone, and even the paper models and building instructions ed between episodes. Ethnicity is apparent in the immigrant Italian child who befriends and then bullies Jimmy senior, and in the family history surrounding James Corrigan's adopted daughter. History and memory continually intertwine. One particular example occurs in the mock postcards ed in the middle of the text; one of them depicts a local diner called "Pam's Wagon Wheel," narrating, on its back, the story behind the gum on the bottom of one of its tables and other anecdotes about its patrons.

Shenzhen is a narrative less about individuals than place. Full-page illustrations of various scenes, from a skyscraper under construction, to a bustling city street, and tarpaulin-covered balconies, emphasize the narrative's atmosphere. The plot features Delisle, under a three-month contract from Dupuis to supervise a project outsourced to an animation studio in Shenzhen, China.

The subject matter of this work holds obvious dangers of Orientalism-of gazing upon Eastern cultures with the assumption of ontological authority, without accommodating for dialogue or reciprocation. Though Edward Said first diagnoses it in discussions concerning the Middle East, others have later revealed it applied to East Asian countries and cultures as well. With this in mind, Delisle's attitude towards the Chinese may arouse suspicion at first, but remains acceptable by the end; Delisle's accounts are neither expert nor do they make any claims to be expert. They are, however, the most honest account of a single perspective. Delisle explicitly acknowledges his "colonial reflexes," and in one bout compares Dante's descent to Hell to a journey through China, experiencing no wonder over the fact that Shenzhen is one of the fastest growing cities in the world since 1970 and a forerunner of the country's economic revival (126). By the end of the book, however, he also warms to his co-workers, enjoying one lonely Christmas with a fellow animator, and the jokes of the company manager over dinner at the end of his stay.

The fundamental question driving Delisle's narrative, then, is not whether he will "survive" the China he and the previous supervisor find hellish, but precisely what kinds of forces drive him there in the first place. Travelogues, according to their old French root travail, are not just about journeys, but also about acts of labour. Delisle is in China under contract from Dupuis, the largest publishing firm of comics in France. Shenzhen, for all its journeys, says extraordinarily little about the corporation catalyzing them, which is somewhat disturbing since, by definition, only the most peripheral operations of a company are ever exported to foreign firms. How aware is Delisle of his marginal status, not only amidst the Chinese but within the very French corporation that employs him? His final attitude implies, disturbingly, unqualified obedience: "There!" he says in the text's last few panels. "Three months of good and faithful service."  Both these graphic novels are about place, and how that particular place holds significance on a global scale. Corrigan shows that significance through its profound mundanity, while Shenzhen explicitly reveals that significance but misdirects its attentions in the end. The former shows globality through individualism, the latter globality's effects on individualism. Both use their media to create complex environments that should provide fruitful discussion in multiple fields of study.

 

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MLA: Yang, Andrew. Globality in Comics. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #197 (Summer 2008), Predators and Gardens. (pg. 193 - 194)

***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.

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