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CR Review: Gentleman Jim
posted April 15, 2008
Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 32 pages, July 2008, $14.95
Raymond Briggs' Gentleman Jim
is an easy, accessible work for both casual comics fans and the reviewer. Originally released in Great Britain in 1980, it's one of a series of works by the esteemed cartoonist that is clearly a precedent for modern graphic novels in a way that introduction author Seth believes should afford Briggs a greater reputation with the comics field. Briggs tells the story of Jim and Hilda Bloggs, masked versions of Briggs' parents. Jim Bloggs is a toilet cleaner who dreams of a more exciting life in a naive way that is part of a generational response to the post-World War II West that is for obvious reasons increasingly lost to history. Bloggs' vivid dreams pound at the more rigid panel borders of his pleasant but rigidly ordered life, and the difference between his passive demeanor and his increased mania for seizing an absurd vocational dream provides much of the humor. Best of all is an artistic flourish whereby Briggs depicts his figures in lines that correspond to the harshness of their resistance to Bloggs' acting out.
It's the subtle visual and character touches that distinguish Gentleman Jim
from most same-era graphic novels, and make it worth a look at for the history represented by such an approach at that time as well as the pleasure for reading it oneself. Dealing with vocational and class frustration in such an arch and roundabout would distinguish a comic were it to be released today for the very first time, forget about a comic that does so in the age of Super Boxers
. Art wise, the advance copy does a worse than usual job in depicting the finished artwork (at least as I recall it), but it's full-color work, and the fantasy scenes are near knock-outs. The major shortcoming to the work comes in the way the humor builds: it's not that the situation presented isn't humorous, but it feels labored, like watching a television sitcom and noticing its 17 past and knowing that the situation presented needs to start building on itself before half-hour's end. That's a small complaint for a small but very nice little book.