Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs

Book Info
Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs
©1980, 2008 Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
ISBN 978-1897299364

Plot Summary
After years spent cleaning public toilets, Jim is realizing that he may have worked himself into a rut. Ready for a change, Jim begins spending his breaks browsing the local paper for new career opportunities, only to find that nearly everything requires applicants to have “the levels.” It would be so much easier, and not to mention exciting, if he could just become cowboy or a valiant highway man who robs from the rich and gives to the poor! Jim decides to follow his dream and find the excitement he seeks, but he rapidly learns that the excitement may not be everything he expected.

Reader’s Annotation
Jim is tired of cleaning toilets and longs for a career filled with excitement and adventure. He must learn the hard way that change isn’t easy and adventure isn’t always what you expect.

Critical Evaluation
Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs is credited as being one of the first graphic novels published in English. Not only is it written in English, it is actually from England. I felt the need to specify this because it features a decent amount of British Slang and references. Jim wants to get out of his dead end job as a janitor for a public toilet, but he doesn’t seem to be qualified for any of the jobs he is interested in because they require “the levels.” He is referring to an element of the British educational system where students take standardized exams in various subjects, and certain jobs require passing grades in specific subjects. This and other references may make it difficult for American teenagers to understand, though the overall story is still very clear. Jim longs for adventure, but is painfully ignorant which is illustrated both by his aloof dialog and visually through drawings where the authority figures who step in when Jim’s adventures go awry, are often sketchily drawn. In general, the book is a social commentary on societal structures that are still relevant 30 years later.

Information about the Author
Raymond Briggs was born in London in 1934, and studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Slade School of Art, London.  His first work was in advertising, but he soon began to win acclaim as a children’s book illustrator as well as teaching illustration at Brighton College of Art.

He came to public attention when he illustrated a book of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Treasury, in 1966, winning a Kate Greenaway medal. Since then he has become one of the most innovative and popular author-illustrators.

Graphic Novel

Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
Do you feel Jim was fairly sentenced at the end of the book?

Jim seems to be content in prison and happy to be considered an expert at something, even if it was exactly the job he was trying to get out of. Knowing this, do you think Jim’s goal all along was really adventure?

Reading Level/ Interest Age

Challenge Issues

Why Included?
I stumbled upon this book while browsing through the YA graphic novels at my library and picked it up because I was drawn to the artwork. I later discovered that it was one of the first English graphic novels and would be a valuable resource.


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