GENTLEMAN JIM and OJINGOGO reviewed by Monday Magazine

The Gentleman is a Scholar Graphic novels, then and now

Monday Magazine    |    Jason Schreurs    |    November 19, 2008

Gentleman Jim
by Raymond Briggs

by Matthew Forsythe

While graphic novels have morphed and adapted over the years to fit into mainstream culture (quick, how many big-screen offerings based on graphic novels can you name?), one thing about the format has remained constant: hunkering down into a favourite reading chair and cracking open one of these arty chapbooks is still a comforting and enriching experience, whether it’s one of the timeless classics of the genre or a new-school blend of anime and dreamscape diary.

Raymond Brigg’s Gentleman Jim, originally published in 1980, is widely regarded as one of the first English-language graphic novels. Briggs never got the credit he deserved in the graphic-novel world though, since a lot of his works (Father Christmas and The Snowman being his most popular) were delegated to the children’s section in bookstores.

But Gentleman Jim (and When the Wind Blows, published two years later) was aimed at a strictly adult audience and features a protagonist every dead-end-jobber can identify with. Jim Bloggs tries desperately to separate fantasy from reality as his waking hours are spent obsessing over where he is in life and where he would like to be. When he stumbles upon a story about the Highwayman in a dusty used bookstore, he begins to develop a thoroughly flawed but totally endearing plan of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. It starts with the purchase of a tired but affordable old donkey and spirals downward from there.

Gentleman Jim’s story is authentic and, truth be told, a bit of a tear-jerker, with subtle yet beautiful illustrations. We’ve all read The Snowman; now imagine the Office Space version.

While Brigg’s work is a perfect example of how the graphic novel began, works by artists like eastern Canadian Matthew Forsythe show the limitless boundaries of the genre. Ojingogo is a simple, open-ended collection of drawings that thrive on white space and quirky characters from the deep recesses of a child-genius’ mind. Except the child genius grew up, honed his skills and now has a razor-sharp arsenal of cute/disturbing characters.

The story of a young girl and her pet squid has hardly any dialogue, but the bizarro allies and villains she encounters amongst all the white space make up for her mostly muted tendencies. The drawings in Ojingogo take a while to decipher, but I’m pretty sure one of the characters is a big bar of soap with teeth. Another one is some amalgamated type of four-legged beast with a perpetual rain cloud over its head. Yep, some weird stuff.

Unlike Gentleman Jim, which is rich in dialogue and social message, Ojingogo is a simple journey full of whimsy and dark humor. It’s like an anime acid trip, but not a bad one.

Two very different looks at graphic novels, Gentelman Jim and Ojingogo prove the phenomenon isn’t going away anytime soon.

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