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The Guardian maps the rise of graphic novels, mentioning Chris Ware, Raymond Briggs, and Joe Sacco

Updated January 16, 2013


The graphic novel's spectacular rise: from kids' comics to the Costa prize
Cartoonists Joff Winterhart and Mary Talbot gain accolades that once would have seemed like a pipe dream
Becky Barnicoat
The Guardian, Friday 23 November 2012

Sitting alone in his box room, Pritt-Sticking speech bubbles on to panels drawn in disposable fountain pen, Joff Winterhart did not dream of literary fame and glory. The 38-year-old community artist from Bristol was out of work and filling his time with a project that might turn into an animation, might turn into a book, definitely wouldn't turn into a literary classic. "I kept thinking about what bad reviews it would get if it was ever published," he said. "I thought people would say it was extremely amateurish."

In the end, it turned into a 75-page comic book, Days of the Bagnold Summer, about a mother and her teenage son, and this week it was one of two graphic novels nominated for a Costa book award alongside Mary Talbot's biography of James Joyce's daughter, Dotter of her Father's Eyes. They are the first graphic novels nominated for the Costa. Against all odds, Winterhart had made literary history.

Just over 20 years ago, this sort of accolade would have seemed like a loopy pipe dream to most cartoonists. The literary establishment felt comics were for spotty kids who dreamed of being superheroes. Right-thinking adults may have guiltily re-read Tintin, or enjoyed Posy Simmonds in the Guardian and Steve Bell's political lampoonings, but comics weren't literature.

A comic book about the Holocaust starring mice changed that. Art Spiegelman's Maus, a graphic memoir about his relationship with his Holocaust-survivor father published in full in 1991, was a critical hit and in 1992 Spiegelman was awarded the Pulitzer prize. "Art Spiegelman doesn't draw comics," proclaimed the New York Times in its rapturous 1991 review. "Maus … is a serious form of pictorial literature."

Pictorial literature was born. Then graphic novels, then sequential art, then graphic memoirs. All seemed more palatable than plain old comic books, which critics still couldn't quite get their heads around. "The success of Maus was something of a false dawn," said comics historian Paul Gravett. "The comics industry thought mainstream publishers were finally going to wake up to comic books, but it didn't happen. Publishers didn't know how to market them."

Instead, there was a gradual creep. In 1998, the publishing director of Jonathan Cape, Dan Franklin, was given a manuscript by his children's division. "They said, we don't think this is for children, do you want to publish it?" he said. The book was Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs, a heartbreaking graphic memoir about the author's parents. It sold 200,000 copies. "It gave me a rather distorted view of how well comic books might do," said Franklin, "but I fell in love with the form."

Jonathan Cape began publishing a select list of comic books each year. In 2001, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian first book award. "Chris Ware was a watershed," said Franklin. "Suddenly, people were talking about it. Comics had gone overground." Cape has since published some of the most respected comics of the past decade: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi about her life in Iran, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel about her secretly gay father, and Palestine, a long-form work of comics reportage by Joe Sacco.

In 2005, Faber & Faber began regularly publishing comics, and, Franklin said, there are now numerous independent publishers such as SelfMadeHero and Blank Slate "doing really, really wonderful stuff." Slowly, steadily, the comic book had cast off its superhero costume, climbed off the kids' shelf, and nestled in among the heavyweights.

But while Franklin agreed the market is growing, comic books are costly investments. Jonathan Cape publishes about 10 a year, Faber & Faber publishes two or three. "Money isn't remotely the same for comics artists as regular book authors – it's terrible," said Franklin. "They are often printed full colour, and the economics doesn't allow for a huge advance to the author." Angus Cargill, who publishes comics at Faber, says it would not be possible to greatly expand his list. "In publishing you either do loads and hope that one or two hit, or you try to find the best ones and make them count. The production costs, the time, and the fact that the comics market is smaller means we choose the second course."

Publishers are still surprised by the growing success of comics. Franklin "thought it was a joke," when he heard two Cape titles had been nominated for the Costa, and Cargill admitted the company underestimated how well author Craig Thompson's new comic Habibi would do. The 672-page love story based on a Middle Eastern fable was a huge seller. "We had to reprint it three times," he said. "There are 25,000 copies in print. Much more than we anticipated." He agreed the Costa nominations are a huge deal for comics. "It will encourage people to read books they wouldn't have done otherwise, and make places like Waterstones much more aware as well."

The director of the Costa awards, Bud McLintock, laughs off the suggestion that this year's nominations are tokenism: "The judges aren't in touch with each other, so it is just an amazing coincidence. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard. Graphic novels must be in the zeitgeist."

Author Wendy Holden, a judge in the best novel category for which Winterhart is nominated, thinks it's more than just zeitgeist. She was already a fan of the work of Posy Simmonds and Bryan Talbot (Mary Talbot's husband, and the illustrator of Dotter in Her Father's Eyes) so finding a comic book in her pile didn't seem strange. "I picked Days of the Bagnold Summer simply because I liked it," she said. "It was clearly one of the very best books I had read. When I heard it was the first time a graphic novel had been nominated I was surprised. To me it seems obvious that graphic novels should be considered for literary awards."
 
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Featured artists

Joe Sacco
Chris Ware
Raymond Briggs

          



  GENTLEMAN JIM and OJINGOGO reviewed by Monday Magazine

Updated November 27, 2008


The Gentleman is a Scholar
Graphic novels, then and now
11/19/2008
Jason Schreurs
MONDAY MAGAZINE

Gentleman Jim
by Raymond Briggs

Ojingogo
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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Featured artists

Raymond Briggs
Matt Forsythe

           Featured products

Gentleman Jim
Ojingogo




WHAT IT IS, BURMA CHRONICLES, GENTLEMAN JIM and BERLIN 2 reviewed by Globe and Mail

Updated November 26, 2008



What It Is
by Barry, Lynda (May 2008 | Out of Stock)
978-1-897299-35-7 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $24.95

The Burma Chronicles
by Delisle, Guy
978-1-897299-50-0 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $19.95

Berlin
City Of Smoke, Book Two
by Lutes, Jason
978-1-897299-53-1 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Paperback | Price: $19.95

Gentleman Jim
by Briggs, Raymond (Jun 2008)
978-1-897299-36-4 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $14.95

Drawing from life
The Globe And Mail
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Page: D10
Section: Book Review
Byline: Nathalie Atkinson
Source: Martin Levin

The best books are often hard to classify. Lynda Barry's autobiographical, instructional and inspirational graphic novel What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $24.95) is one of these, because it's both an intensely personal memoir of Barry's creative life and a writing guide. Oh, and it's a DIY creative activity kit too. So where to shelve it? The newly minted graphica section? Art? Psychology? Activity books? Memoir? Although the most autobiographical of Barry's books, What It Is is also a creative text presented in a very original way, so it most naturally belongs next to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

Regardless of where it's shelved, What It Is is unique. It starts with Barry herself, whose creative life has stalled. Working through and diagnosing her malaise and writer's block, she becomes introspective. "The thing I call 'my mind' seems to be kind of like a landlord that doesn't really know its tenants, " she begins. Her path as an artist began in childhood and Barry establishes a connection between the importance of imaginative childhood play and art and creativity in adulthood; both, she argues, are essential to well-being.

Art and embellishment fill page after page of yellow legal paper, divided into three distinct sections identified by the colour of page borders. Over these 200 pages of dense, personal material, Barry examines the nature of imagination and memory, combines comics and collage and blurs the distinction between drawing and handwriting. It's much the same way someone might doodle while talking on the phone. Barry thinks most adults continue to do this long after they've given up on art, "because it helps us maintain a certain patient state of mind and there is a part of us which has never forgotten this ... a place where one line can still follow another without a plan."

Stamps and postmarks appear both as decoration and reminders of the passage of time when Barry considers memory and its use in creativity. Here, she poses many questions: "Is a dream autobiography or fiction?" "What makes us able to imagine something?" and the two supreme questions that haunt every artist, whatever the medium: Is this good? Does it suck?

The middle section, called Activity Book, is filled with the exercises Barry uses in her popular creativity workshops: helping others mine their creativity functions as an inspiration to her own. In the final section, Barry provides the essentials of a DIY writing kit, such as words to cut out and tips on materials (a three-ring binder and loose-leaf paper - all in Barry's unique baroque collage style.

Text and image interplay in many ways: Text lies inside an image (unlike a word balloon) and strips of found typography add texture. Ad slogans, sentence fragments, lists of names and random words become a sort of poetry, interspersed with product advertisements clipped from old newspapers and magazines and even glitter. Occasionally, Barry uses vintage primer page for practising children's letters as her sketch paper, superimposing her recurring menagerie of fish, squid, dogs and monkey sketches or cutout pictures of birds. All these images decorate Barry's text rather than merely illustrate it, like an illuminated manuscript. It's an extraordinary peek into the mind of the artist.




After visits to Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Guy Delisle shifts his autobiographical travelogue shtick with Burma Chronicles (Drawn & Quarterly, 264 pages, $19.95). By now a habitué of culture shock, Delisle is chocked by nothing. His talent is noticing the peculiar mundane details of whatever latest totalitarian milieu (this time Rangoon, thanks to his partner Nadège's year- long posting with Médecins sans Frontières).

This time, their toddler son Louis is in tow and Delisle is a househusband, which enables him to add a few new notes to his repertoire of Seinfeldian nothingness, as when he pushes Louis's stroller up to armed guards at a barricade ("a white-skinned baby is a big draw here") to get close to the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, a dissident under house arrest since 1988 and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Delisle's observations are at once banal and absurd: Currency is in denominations of 15, 45 and 90 kyats, a "nice way to drive people nuts or make them math wizards." At the supermarket, Nescafé's ubiquitous grinning cow is "the real face of globalization," and he points out the irony of a grocery store playing the songs of anorexic fatale Karen Carpenter in constant loop for ambience.

Nathalie Atkinson is a Toronto freelance journalist who very much wishes she could draw.

***

A cluster of comix

BERLIN
City of Smoke: Book Two
By Jason Lutes, Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $19.95
This long-anticipated sequel to Berlin: City of Stone (2001) recreates the Volatile Weimar Berlin of 1929, a world of Nazis and communists, Jews and gentiles. Lutes handles the sense of menace with delicacy and force.

GENTLEMAN JIM
By Raymond Briggs, Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pages, $14.95
A welcome reissue of a 1980 work by the wonderful author of Ethel & Ernest marks the first appearance of the Bloggs family, stand-ins for Briggs's own parents. Cartoonist Seth adds an illuminating introduction.

Martin Levin

© 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Lynda Barry
Raymond Briggs

           Featured products

What It Is
Gentleman Jim
Burma Chronicles




  GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by The Village Voice

Updated October 10, 2008


Pulp Fictions: Raymond Briggs' 'Gentleman Jim' and J. Otto Seibold & Siobhan Vivian's 'Vunce Upon A Time'
Comics come out on Wednesday, and so does Richard Gehr's Pulp Fictions.
September 24, 2008
THE VILLAGE VOICE


Jim's life is literally in the shitter. After five years as a toilet cleaner, the title character of British writer-artist Raymond Briggs's newly reissued 1980 graphic novel is ready for a career change. The slim Gentleman Jim chronicles the humble and earnest man's quixotic notions of becoming a soldier, artist, executive, and highwayman, ideas that quickly sputter out as Jim learns about the necessity of degrees (or "levels," in Britspeak) and the price of boots, a gun, a plane ticket to Texas, etc.

Jim lives his daily life in tiny panels that occasionally explode into gilded fantasies. He comes closest to a new career after deciding to become a highwayman. His toy gun and foil sword get him arrested, however. "Do they work you hard, love?" asks his kind yet oblivious wife, Hilda, when she visits him in prison. "Oh no," Jim replies. "It's cushy. They've put me on the toilets. They say I'm an expert." Sigh.

This cautionary story about the dangers of attempting to transcend one's class marked one of Briggs's earliest attempts to transcend his usual audience: children. In his introduction to Gentleman Jim, the artist Seth argues that Briggs's children's books – which include the highly successful Father Christmas and When the Wind Blows, an anti-nukes classic – hindered Briggs from gaining more respect as a cartoonist and pre-Eisnerian graphic novelist.

Damn kids.
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Featured artist

Raymond Briggs

           Featured product

Gentleman Jim




GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by Shuffleboil

Updated September 11, 2008


Review - Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs
Author: John
SHUFFLEBOIL
08.09.2008

Through books like “The Bear” and “The Snowman” Raymond Briggs has met with acclaim largely for books aimed at kids that have a dark edge to them. They stop short of actually being depressing, but the humor they disperse has a bite, peppered with an outlook that is not wholly sunny. Briggs has also branched out in his career with works like “Where the Wind Blows,” a fable of nuclear war that plunges to the depths of sadness.
Somewhere in between these extremes lies “Gentleman Jim,” which takes the forlorn of a life wasted and the inability to crawl to higher heights and adds a childlike whimsy to the proceedings. In this way, it plays to both audiences — more importantly, it serves as a funny tale that may just lodge itself in a kid’s brain, a lesson learned to be applied at the crossroads we all face.
The book’s title refers not to the main character Jim, but to a roving masked highwayman that Jim pulls from his favorite escapist literature. Jim wants to be Gentleman Jim, but is in reality a bathroom attendant long past his prime, though not too old to dream of changing his life. Daydreaming on the job and spouting off ideas with his patient wife, Jim goes through a litany of career and life change plans before settling on highwayman. Unfortunately, Jim is naive to the point of idiocy and not only can he not tell the difference between reality and fantasy, he also has little intuition on the way things work in the real world.
Much of the humor of the book is pulled from the inability of Jim and his wife to understand the world around him and the spectacle of his schemes falling apart thanks to society’s rigidity. On one hand, Briggs seems entirely on Jim’s side — on the other, there are aspects to Jim and his wife which shows a cruelty in Briggs’ writing and an anger in his conception. This is not so much a criticism as an observation of Briggs’ usual tone and it’s place in this story — the rounded, ruddy-cheeked people born of his art style sometimes imply a sweetness to his stories that don’t necessarily exist. As the characters unfold, they become as much an examination of Briggs’ psychology as their own.
As the story winds down, the hostility is holds less strength against the humor and “Gentleman Jim” turns out to be something that a kid might enjoy without perceiving the negatives. Briggs’s concoctions are always filled with emotional depth and good laughs — “Gentleman Jim” is that best kind of book, one that grows with the reader and reveals previously hidden aspects that are found through maturity.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Raymond Briggs

           Featured product

Gentleman Jim




  GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by Newsarama

Updated September 2, 2008


Gentleman Jim
By: Raymond Briggs
From: Drawn & Quarterly
Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

There is such a thing as being too far ahead of your time, and that seems to have been the case with Raymond Briggs—or at least that’s the case one-named Canadian comics artist Seth makes in his introduction to this new edition of Briggs’ 1980 book Gentleman Jim.

Briggs, whose work you’ve probably seen even if you don’t recognize his name, as he’s the artist responsible for classic children’s book The Snowman could, and perhaps should, be recognized in the same breath as Will Eisner when it comes to popularizing the idea of the graphic novel, Seth argues, as Briggs’ Snowman came out the same year as Eisner’s A Contract With God (and was, in fact, predated by two other holiday-themed works of sequential art).

That Briggs isn’t thought of as a comics creator has more to do with the pigeonhole we’ve stuck him in than his actual work, Seth says. Because Briggs’ books are usually addressed towards young readers (and, I’d point out, usually printed by children’s book publishers in formats that look more like picture books than comics), he’s thought of as a children’s book author, not a graphic novelist. This despite the fact that so many of his books—Father Christmas, Ug, Boy Genius of the Stone Age, The Bear, The Puddleman—are told exactly like comics, complete with panels, narration boxes and word balloons.

Gentleman Jim should help change that, as Drawn & Quarterly is a graphic novel publisher, and this is being pushed as such (additionally, it’s addressed is towards adults, not children).

The characters will likely be familiar to anyone who has read Briggs’ powerful 1982 nuclear war graphic novel/children’s book for grown-ups When The Wind Blows, which focused on a charmingly naïve and gentle-hearted older British couple trying to weather a nuclear missile strike together.

The subject matter in this book—originally published in 1980—is much, much lighter. Jim Bloggs is a roly-poly, middle-aged man who works as a janitor but dreams of a more exciting life while reading the classified ads—a life as a soldier or artist or cowboy or executive—and he eventually settles on trying to be a highwayman.

His wife Hilda tries to help him the best she can, helping him dress up like the fellow on the cover of the adventure novel that inspired him to take on a second career as Gentleman Jim, and we follow the couple’s efforts to make Jim’s silly dream a reality, neither one of them ever quite realizing how unrealistic it is, despite the constant intrusion of real life.

The Bloggs are simple characters devoid of cynicism, like little kids who never stopped being little kids despite reaching the other side of middle age, and there’s a bittersweet sort of joy in watching them try and fail to live out this fantasy, thanks in large part to the attention Briggs pays to detailing their relationship. Sweeter still is the way that nothing seems able to deter them, or dampen their spirits, or push them away from one another.

All in all, it’s not a bad little graphic novel Briggs has produced, and hopefully it will be one that will introduce comics fans to his exceptional body of work.
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Featured artist

Raymond Briggs

           Featured product

Gentleman Jim




GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by North Adams Transcript

Updated July 30, 2008


Strange tales
By John E. Mitchell
NORTH ADAMS TRANSCRIPT
07/25/2008

Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs (Drawn and Quarterly)

Through books like "The Bear" and "The Snowman" Raymond Briggs has met with acclaim largely for books aimed at kids that have a dark edge to them. They stop short of actually being depressing, but the humor they disperse has a bite, peppered with an outlook that is not wholly sunny. Briggs has also branched out in his career with works like "Where the Wind Blows," a fable of nuclear war that plunges to the depths of sadness.

Somewhere in between these extremes lies "Gentleman Jim," which takes the forlorn of a life wasted and the inability to crawl to higher heights and adds a childlike whimsy to the proceedings. In this way, it plays to both audiences -- more importantly, it serves as a funny tale that may just lodge itself in a kid's brain, a lesson learned to be applied at the crossroads we all face.

The book's title refers not to the main character Jim, but to a roving masked highwayman that Jim pulls from his favorite escapist literature. Jim wants to be Gentleman Jim, but is in reality a bathroom attendant long past his prime, though not too old to dream of changing his life. Daydreaming on the job and spouting off ideas with his patient wife, Jim goes through a litany of career and life change plans before settling on highwayman. Unfortunately, Jim is naive to the point of idiocy and not only can he not tell the difference between reality and fantasy, he also has little intuition on the way things work in the real world.

Much of the humor of the book is pulled from the inability of Jim and his wife to understand the world around him and the spectacle of his schemes falling apart thanks to society's rigidity. On one hand, Briggs seems entirely on Jim's side -- on the other, there are aspects to Jim and his wife which shows a cruelty in Briggs' writing and an anger in his conception. This is not so much a criticism as an observation of Briggs' usual tone and it's place in this story -- the rounded, ruddy-cheeked people born of his art style sometimes imply a sweetness to his stories that don't necessarily exist. As the characters unfold, they become as much an examination of Briggs' psychology as their own.

As the story winds down, the hostility holds far less strength against the humor and "Gentleman Jim" turns out to be something that a kid might enjoy without perceiving the negatives. Briggs's concoctions are always filled with emotional depth and good laughs -- "Gentleman Jim" is that best kind of book, one that grows with the reader and reveals previously hidden aspects that are found through maturity.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Raymond Briggs

           Featured product

Gentleman Jim




  GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by Pop Matters

Updated July 30, 2008


Gentleman Jim
by Jeremy Estes
POP MATTERS
22 July 2008

Gentleman Jim
Writer: Briggs, Raymond
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
32 pages, $14.95

For 12 years, Jim Bloggs—the aging hero of Raymond Briggs’ wonderful Gentleman Jim—has yearned for a new career. A dissatisfied bathroom attendant, Jim dreams of joining the military, becoming a famous artist, and even of becoming a cowboy. Jim’s everyday world is small, compressed. His fantasies, fed by a shelf full of adventure books and a childlike naiveté, spill out of Briggs’ neatly constructed panels in huge swaths of rich color, literally becoming larger than life.

When he finally decides to pursue his dreams, Jim travels about town in search of the tools of the cowboy and the artist, only to find he lacks the skills (not to mention cash) to achieve his strange ambitions. He’s drawn as a round head with rosy cheeks, a few stray lines of hair on his head and as he interacts with shopkeepers and clerks he appears small, further illustrating his childlike demeanor.

Finally, after a number of dead ends, Jim makes an absolutely absurd career choice: he becomes a highwayman, like Robin Hood, intending to steal from the rich and give to the poor. It isn’t an act of frustration or desperation: it’s one of romance. And though seemingly selfish—Jim is primarily concerned with the excitement, thrill and notoriety of his deeds—becoming a highwayman can be seen as an act of empowerment for Jims everywhere.

Briggs takes Jim to the edge of reality, letting his character get so caught up in the fantasy he ignores the real life implications of his new career. Finally, the real world closes in and Jim is faced with nosy bureaucrats, angry neighbors and, ultimately, the police. Jim’s first raid as a highwayman is his last, and he’s carted off to jail.

With this book—first published in 1980—Briggs’ succinctly and effectively depicts the crisis of confidence that comes when staring down a career. By making Jim an older adult, the crisis becomes more immediate. Of course both children and adults share the capacity to dream of the future and to want adventure and excitement in their lives, but yearning for it, as Jim Bloggs does, is a uniquely adult feeling. The imaginations of children are limitless, and the success of their fantasies hinges only on the ability to get others to play along. For adults, the process is internalized.

Take the book’s opening: All alone, scrubbing the toilets of a men’s public restroom, Jim repeats the mantra of every dissatisfied worker in the world: “I must break out… start a new life.” The tension in this statement is maintained for the rest of the story, with Jim’s outlandish fantasies constantly at odds with the dullness of reality. “I must break out” is charged with the desperation of 12 years of being stuck in a rut, and contains the same melodrama of Jim’s adventure books. Given its full implications, “start a new life” is an understatement, a simple declaration of fact that ignores its overall meaning. In choosing to be a highwayman, Jim ignores any and all repercussions that might come about. He just decides to do it.

Though he never says it, it’s a safe bet Jim never intended to be a restroom attendant. It’s this fact that holds the story together and helps the reader easily identify with Jim. When Jim dreams of being an artist, he imagines himself in a messy smock, surrounded by canvasses and nude models in his huge Parisian studio. It’s romantic and unrealistic, but it conjures up an image of Raymond Briggs, the commercial artist, dreaming a similar dream, ignoring a looming deadline, and one can hardly blame him. Most of us don’t end up doing what we thought we would as children, let alone doing what we love. For many people, finding a career becomes a choice between struggling with what you love to do and settling for what you like to do.

Of course Briggs left commercial art and became a successful children’s book author, creating stories like The Snowman and Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age, two books that deal with the same struggle for change as Gentleman Jim. The boy who builds the snowman actually finds adventure, flying around the city with his magical snowman, only to discover the next day his new friend has melted. Ug, who dreams of making a comfortable pair of trousers out of anything but stone, nearly accomplishes his goal, but in the end has to settle for the status quo. The book ends with Ug as an adult, wondering what could have been and repeating, “Things will get better… won’t they?” He’s referring to his pants, of course, but the implication is deeper.

To a child, giggling at the furry man in stone pants, it’s funny. To the adult reading along, there’s a tremendous sadness there. Briggs asks children and adults a difficult question: when is it time to stop dreaming of the future and when is it time to do something about it. For Jim Bloggs, maybe the right time was 12 years ago, when he first dreamed of leaving the restroom behind. Or, with aspirations of highway robbery, maybe the time was never.

We live in the real world, and we all want a better future. When does “the future” begin? As I type these words, I enter into the future; reading them back is to visit the past. So, greetings from the future. Things look okay from here.

RATING: 7/10
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Featured artist

Raymond Briggs

           Featured product

Gentleman Jim




GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by Bookreporter.com

Updated July 23, 2008


BOOKREPORTER.COM
July, 2008

GENTLEMAN JIM
Raymond Briggs
Drawn & Quarterly
Graphic Novel
ISBN: 9781897299364

At first glance, GENTLEMAN JIM looks like a child’s board book. Its small size and playful cover don’t give much of a hint as to its dense contents and marvelously constructed themes. A quick flip inside its pages reveals the truth, however: This is a deliciously funny and witty book for grownups --- but kids might like it too.

Author and illustrator Raymond Briggs has certainly balanced his work between kids’ tales and more adult-oriented fare, from things like FATHER CHRISTMAS and THE SNOWMAN to WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, an ominous graphic novel take on nuclear war. At a scant 32 pages, GENTLEMAN JIM is a short yet delightful bit of whimsy that wouldn’t be inappropriate for children but has enough smart edginess underlying its story that mark it as a sweet story for adult dreamers.

The title character, Jim Bloggs, has a steady but unfulfilling job cleaning toilets. He wants to do more, so much more, and he dreams of it constantly, looking at want ads and trying to figure out what steps to take. But every attempt Jim makes to advance his career to new heights is met with disdain and disapproval from an authority figure.

Tellingly, those authority figures are sparsely illustrated, sometimes just angular features obscuring any real details (like a face, for example). Ever an optimist, Jim still perseveres, blissfully unaware of the sheer futility of his plight. It’s almost heartbreaking to witness, or at least it would be if Briggs didn’t take so much care to ensure the story stayed light. There’s real hope inside Jim; no wonder he remains one of Briggs’s signature characters. He still resonates.

As direct commentary on societal structures, GENTLEMAN JIM uses brevity to its benefit. The book was first published in 1980, just a year after Margaret Thatcher had become England’s first female prime minister. That its British-born author directed most of his social commentary at his native society doesn’t diminish GENTLEMAN JIM for American readers.

Jim and his wife, Hilda, are rumored to be based on Briggs’s own parents, whose lives he detailed in ETHEL & ERNEST. Jim and Hilda made their own return in 1982’s WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, which pitted the two against the perils of nuclear winter.

Always, Briggs finds a way to draw humor and hope out of sadness and despair. He’s also a master at using symbolism in his design to support his story: Notice the size of the panels in GENTLEMAN JIM, for example, and how they reflect Jim’s plight in life throughout the story. It’s a pleasure to see Drawn & Quarterly reviving one of his pivotal works in such a nice edition. Briggs has long been overlooked in the field --- even though he’s worked steadily writing and/or illustrating since the late 1950s –-- so it’s good to see him get his due.

--Reviewed by John Hogan
 
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  GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by Booklist

Updated July 18, 2008


Gentleman Jim
By Flagg, Gordon
1 July 2008
BOOKLIST 51
Volume 104; Issue 21;

Gentleman Jim. By Raymond Briggs. July 2008.32p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $14.95 (9781897299364). 741.5.

Long before the current graphic-novel craze, Briggs created book-length comics for children (e.g., The Snowman, 1978) and adults (Etheland Ernest, 1998). Gentleman Jim (1980; this is its first U.S. edition) presents Jim Bloggs, who decides he'd like a new line of work after cleaning toilets for 37 years. Childishly naive, he considers becoming a commando, Parisian artist, business executive, and cowboy before finally settling, with the uncomprehending support of his equally clueless wife, Hilda, on the glamorous and lucrative occupation of highwayman. He is, however, thwarted by the authorities. His donkey (can't afford a horse) violates zoning laws and draws the RSPCA's attention, and once he finally takes to the highway, he runs afoul of the police. Briggs' cartoonlike pastel drawings and spot-on dialogue vividly portray Jim and Hilda's unsophisticated ways, though his affection for their salt-of-the-earthness is clear. He used the same characters in the heartbreaking When the Wind Blows (1982), in which they uncomprehendingly face a nuclear attack on Britain. Knowing that book bestows even more poignancy on this relatively minor work. -Gordon Flagg

YA/S: Jim's befuddled quest and possibly his poignancy may delight sensitive YAs. GF.

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GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by The Comics Reporter

Updated April 24, 2008


Creator: Raymond Briggs
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 32 pages, July 2008, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781897299364 (ISBN13)

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.
 
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Raymond Briggs

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