Panel to Panel

By Nathan Patton

Gentleman Jim
Editor: Raymond Briggs
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Cost: $14.95

This reissue of Raymond Briggs’ first graphic novel aimed at adults accomplishes more in 40 pages than some graphic novels accomplish in twice that amount. Originally released in1980, “Gentleman Jim” is thought to be one of the first graphic novels. It marked the first time Briggs, who is perhaps most famous for his book and subsequent animated short “The Snowman,” branched into adult material.
The book centers on Jim Bloggs, a daydreaming janitor with aspirations for a better life. Every chance he gets, he reads the classifieds and fantasizes about being something more than he is. The reader takes brief looks into these dream sequences as Jim imagines himself in various jobs such as a soldier, a pilot, and an artist.
His wife, for better or worse, humors him. She spends most of her time knitting while she listens to his ever-changing plans. She’s perfectly content with her place in life but willing to follow Jim wherever he may decide to go. It’s never clear if she believes he will actually go through with his wild ideas, or if she’s just allowing him to go through random phases. But she too gets sucked into his plan to move out west and become a cowboy. She even ponders becoming a “bar floozy.”
Briggs’ art is reminiscent of early 20th century political cartoons. He opts for exaggerated features over realism and monotone colored pencil instead of bright digital colors. The layouts are simple but effective. His boring life is depicted in a boring way, but when his daydreams take over they burst through the panel borders and take over the page.
“Gentleman Jim” is a humorous, yet emotional tale of a simple man living a simple life. Even 28 years ago, this book was a throwback. The dialogue is more colorful than the pictures themselves and the pacing moves along at a deliberate pace. And unlike most modern works, there seems to be a clear moral. But the moral, along with the ending itself, packs a punch.

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