Gentleman Jim


By Raymond Briggs (Jonathan Cape/Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-0-22408-524-3,  D&Q edition 978-1-8972-9936-4

Cartoonist, political satirist, philosopher, social commentator and delighter of children Raymond Briggs never forgets that kids think too. Many of his books for the young revel in their fascination with all things gross and disgusting and the artist has never underestimated unformed minds’ capacity for empathy and understanding. Moreover, unlike so many working in the children’s book industry, he isn’t afraid to be morose or even sad…

The comicbook industry has always wilfully neglected Briggs’s graphic narratives which have reached more hearts and minds than the Hulk or Dan Dare ever will, yet his books remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field.

His most famous works such as The Snowman, When the Wind Blows and Fungus the Bogeyman are but the tip of an incredibly impressive and uniquely British iceberg of dry wit, cheeky sarcasm and poignant fellow-feeling for even the most ghastly and graceless of protagonists.

After leaving Wimbledon School of Art, Central and The Slade – and completing a stint of National Service in Catterick – Briggs began working as an illustrator in 1958. He has since produced 36 superb books: ranging from illuminating other creators’ poetry and stories to crafting his own dingily fabulous yarns such as this slyly seditious treatise on self-betterment that first appeared in 1980.

One of his most charmingly bittersweet and contemplative efforts, Gentleman Jim is the mesmerising and affectionate portrait of a one of life’s always-dreaming no-hoper’s published just as Thatcherite dogma began to bite and tear into Britain’s already reeling social structures.

Jim Bloggs is a middle aged bloke who mans a Council-run public toilet or “Gentleman’s Convenience” in Birmingham, diligently and uncomplainingly cleaning and maintaining his subterranean office whilst constantly dreaming of bigger, better, bolder things. There’s nothing wrong with the job; it’s just that Jim feels he was meant for greater challenges…

Whenever he has a quiet moment he scans the job section of the paper, imagining himself a hero of the Royal Marines or a tail-gunner in a fighter-bomber or an artist or even a doorman in a fancy uniform. It’s never too late…

Jim’s problem is education: he hasn’t any and all these vacant situations want people with “The Levels”, O’s and A’s and whatnot…

At home with his wife Hilda, Jim discusses a change of direction. Inspired by a late film on television he decides to become a cowboy, maybe even a sheriff…

A quick bit of research convinces him that the start-up costs for cowboying are beyond his means and the paperwork would be a nightmare, but after popping into the second-hand bookshop Jim realises that what he really wants to be is a Highwayman.

Even here though, money is a problem. Great black chargers or even plain old valiant steeds cost thousands of pounds. However, when the local Donkey Sanctuary lets him have one of their older ones for free, Jim’s off and running in his new career…

Sublimely low key and gentle, the fall into arrant criminality of this ambitious dreamer is a sheer, understated masterpiece of sardonic whimsy which will enthral and delight older kids as well as all us adults who never quite made it. Yet…

Older editions from Hamish Hamilton, Sphere and Penguin are still available, and with Christmas bearing down upon us never forget Brigg’s splendid seasonal treats Father Christmas, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday and the stunning classic The Snowman
© 1980, 2008  Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.