GENTLEMAN JIM reviewed by The Village Voice

“Pulp Fictions: Raymond Briggs' 'Gentleman Jim' and J. Otto Seibold & Siobhan Vivian's 'Vunce Upon A Time'” / The Village Voice / Village Voice contributor / September 24, 2008

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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