Quimby the Mouse
by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics, 2004)

Quimby the Mouse was a cartoon strip written and drawn by Chris Ware, the genius behind Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, mostly during 1990-91 (some of it was done in 1992-93), for his ACME Novelty Library series.

As far as alternative comics go, Quimby pretty much set the standard. Based stylistically on Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat, but emotionally somewhere in John Updike territory, Quimby is a mouse who is seemingly infected with a large dose of nihilism. Depressed creature that he is, he constantly questions himself and his place in the world as he encounters suffering in nearly every single event of his life, most of it self-inflicted.

In addition to the long sequential strips about Quimby's adventures with his alter-egos/selves, there are long textual passages that concern Ware's past and the aching regret he feels for a time that is irretrievably gone. There are also bizarre, rather existentialist mail-in orders that are obviously more about complex human emotions and situations than they are about anything you can actually get in the mail. Then there are the cartoons themselves, which, while apparently simple, are nonetheless emotionally compelling, highly complex, introspective stories about self-deprecation, loneliness and nostalgia.

Moving, sad and uplifting all at the same time, Ware's detailed and visually inventive style pushed alternative comics into a whole new storytelling universe, one in which pain, heartbreak and anguish are limned in whole new ways.

It isn't always easy on the eye: some of the strips are so tightly drawn in such tiny panels that it almost requires a magnifying glass to read, an almost absurd thing given that the this particular volume measures 11x14 inches. But that's how much storytelling goes into the tightly organized compartments. For something that amounts to a massive scrapbooking of Ware's doodling, there's a lot of human nature under the microscope, showing glimmers of the kind of brilliance that, with maturity and organization, would later become Jimmy Corrigan. His methods are innovative even for today, especially in his use of early format cartoon techniques and multi-directional format. It's pure genius on a level that alternative comics hadn't seen since R. Crumb.

The themes that would underscore Jimmy Corrigan are present throughout Quimby the Mouse: selfishness, loss, loneliness and fear. Jimmy Corrigan notwithstanding, Quimby the Mouse is probably Ware's most deeply personal statement. Throughout the book his prose recollections of his childhood reveal the deep-seated insecurity and sadness that seem to inform his art. The emotions that both infuse and influence his vignettes can at times be overwhelming in their piercing melancholy, but it's an exhilaratingly freeing sort of melancholia. Quimby the Mouse is the sort of work that requires patience and a willingness to be immersed in world where every bit of the page is used to tell an extraordinary story about the most ordinary human emotions.

review by
Mary Harvey

11 February 2012

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new