Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth is a bold experiment in reader tolerance, disguised as a gaily-colored illustrated romance in which tiny pictures seem to come alive by Chris Ware, originally appearing in his comic book series Acme Novelty Library.
Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid On Earth, is a lonely, 35-year old emotionally-impaired human castaway who lives by himself and calls his mom at least once a day. Suddenly, he gets a plane ticket from his father which he has never seen before! So he goes to meet him! What exciting adventures await him?
Meanwhile, a hundred years ago, Jimmy's lonely, emotionally-impaired human castaway grandfather James Corrigan is taking a trip to Jimmy's sick great great grandmother, while Jimmy's great grandfather is helping in constructing "The White City" of the 1893 "World's Columbian Exposition". What exciting adventures await Jimmy's grandfather?
- Abusive Parents: The older generations of Corrigan men lapse into this a lot.
- All There in the Manual: The paperback edition severely condenses a huge map of the character relationships in the story (included with the hardcover edition) to almost-unreadable levels.
- Bittersweet Ending: Jimmy's dad dies after complications from a car crash, his relationship with his step-sister is irreparably strained and his mother is marrying another man. Just when it seems all is lost, a new female employee comes into the office where he was previously all alone and their conversation signals a Maybe Ever After and suggests he'll grow up.
- BrotherSister Incest: Jimmy briefly imagines with what would happen if he and his stepsister were the last people on earth. It just adds to the awkward tension between the relationship of the two.
- Brutal Honesty: Jimmy's grandfather, more or less the Only Sane Man in the Corrgan family, tells both his son and grandson that their reunion is a waste of time, and is happening far too late to give either of them any sort of closure.
- Credits Gag: The inside cover contains numerous critical reactions to the book, both glowing and negative.Arguably the greatest achievement of the form, ever.—Dave EggersBeautiful, poignant, and at times utterly heartbreaking, this multi-layered coming-of-age story may be one of the finest sympathetic portraits of a loser we have in history.—The Boston Sunday Globe.A work of genius.—Zadie SmithWare's work is the comic equivalent of Joyce's Ulysses - no one's ever read it, and those who have know that it sucks, but it sure looks great on your bookshelf.—Ted Rall
- Design Student's Orgasm: The Hardcover boasted not only a complex, geometric design, but also included fold-out instructions to create your own three dimensional Jimmy and a DIY zoetrope. This is a recurring theme in Chris Ware's work.
- Dirty Old Man: Jimmy's dad.
- Dream Sequence: Seems to happen to Jimmy a lot.
- Imagine Spot: This too. Happens to Jimmy's grandfather too.
- Dysfunctional Family
- In the Blood: In the end, Jimmy, his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather and even his adopted stepsister are lonely characters that perpetuate an endless cycle of abandonment. Though the ending suggests Jimmy finally meets someone he can connect with.
- Expy: Similarities between "The Smartest Kid On Earth" and Stewie Griffin can be seen, but this (as confirmed by Word of God) is coincidental. "The Smartest Kid On Earth" has been around in Ware's comics since 1991, Family Guy since 1999, so this would make Stewie the Expy. Seth MacFarlane denies this, though.
- Manchild: Jimmy's fantastic and sometimes Squick-y imagination is very childlike, which makes sense for a man living in years of isolation.
- Maybe Ever After: At the end of the story, Jimmy meets a new coworker, a woman who's lonely and miserable like himself. It's implied they may find consolation and even love with each other.
- My Beloved Smother: The only times Jimmy asserts himself is when he tells his mother to stop calling him at work all the time.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Inverted! Jimmy's awkward reunion with his father was written before Ware met his own estranged father, but played out eerily similarly, despite his father not knowing about Ware's prescient comic.
- Readers Are Geniuses: Although it follows a simple plot, the book is replete with digressions, either in Jimmy's daydreams or his family history. Ware thinks nothing of including a succinct genealogy of a character which will run concurrently with the actual main storyline. Even people who are experienced comics readers may struggle with the books structure and elaborate panel layout.
- Self-Deprecation: Ware's authorial asides to the reader are chock-full of this, and is predominantly part of his public persona.
- Whole Episode Flashback: While almost every chapter dips back into Jimmy's grandfather's youth at some point, the penultimate chapter is wholly devoted to the past, culminating in his father abandoning him at the Chicago World's Fair.