What I’ve Been Reading: Comics (O’Malley, Chao, Kim, Talbot, Cooper)

Have you seen the introductory essay for my new indie comics column at SF Signal? Though I am aiming to keep myself to speculative fiction comics for them, because that fits with the scope of what SF Signal talks about, I read a lot of other comics each week. I’m particularly into semi-(and)autobiographical and realist stories, which rarely have a speculative element, but I still think are worth reading. In the last two weeks I’ve read:

Lost At Sea, Bryan Lee O’Malley – This book, by the creator of Scott Pilgrim, comes early in O’Malley’s career, drawn when he was just 24. Though SP fans will be able to see the evolution in O’Malley’s style from here to there, I actually prefer Lost at Sea. It’s not as directed toward the 20-something gamer geek crowd, which I am tangentially affiliated with (being both a gamer and a geek) but not quite a member of.

Lost focuses on the story of one girl looking for her soul, which was stolen by cats, or traded to the devil. Or she could be looking for friends, or a salve for her broken heart, or a ride back to Canada. There are a lot of possibilities. O’Malley mixes a strong but cute style – grounded in his use of dark line work and sometimes-dynamic panel placement – with a not-entirely-linear story line that was so intriguing I read the whole book in one sitting.

Johnny Hiro, Fred Chao – I wanted to love this book. I should have loved this book, with its airy manga-derived art style, cutesy attention to detail (oh, the lobster!), and Godzilla invading NYC. These are things I love. But the book left me disappointed for a couple of reasons:

  • The art style is very light, with thin linework, and is more focused on details than on depth. Chao has a definite style, but his doesn’t work for me.
  • The incessant narration, which only gets worse as the book goes on. Eventually the story is told almost entirely with omniscient text-boxes, instead of Chao allowing the story to unfold through action and dialogue.
  • The girlfriend – unfailingly loving, always needing to be rescued, who speaks imperfect English when everyone else in the book is fluent. She’s the perfect Asian trophy sycophant/wife, the sort of one-dimensional woman you usually find in a certain kind of porn, and lacks enough character to actually be interesting.

Same Difference and Other Stories, Derek Kirk Kim – a collection of personal stories centered on a Korean American and his friends. “Same Difference” is the longest piece in the book, and is able to develop into a complex and bittersweet tale; the other comics are much shorter, drawn in a variety of styles, and feature couple-of-page-long moments in time.

I very much enjoyed this book, and though it begs comparison to Adrian Tomine (the big name in Asian-American autobiographical comics) I have to say that I think Kim’s work is a lot less jaded than Tomine’s. Still sad, but somehow more hopeful.

The Tale of One Bad Rat, Bryan Talbot – Talbot gives us the story of a sexual abuse survivor going through despair, homelessness, fear, self-exploration, and eventually recovery. The art style is inspired by the work of  Beatrix Potter, at least peripherally, and uses bright colors to give a faux soft appearance to a harsh story. I thought the book was well put together until the end, where Talbot rushes the “redemption” portion of the story, but overall it’s worth reading.

Ripple, Dave Cooper – NSFW doesn’t really cover the dirty, fleshy, ugly art in this revealing comic about one man’s obsession with an unattractive young woman. It’s a fascinating look at both depravity and longing, and while I can’t post any of the art here, trust me when I say you should not bring this one to the office. Great, great stuff though.

Overall I’d recommend every one of these books, even Johnny Hiro, which is cotton candy compared to the rest of the titles here. (In that vein, Ripple would be a greasy cheeseburger, Same Difference a ripe peach, Bad Rat a strip of jerky and a cold beer, and Lost at Sea is a cup of coffee in a diner at 3 am.) My favorites are Same Difference and Lost at Sea, so if you can only read two, read those first.

Click on the book covers to buy them now!

One thought on “What I’ve Been Reading: Comics (O’Malley, Chao, Kim, Talbot, Cooper)

  1. ooh, intriguing line up of stuffs here. Especially, Ripple (what does that say about me??). Thanks for the tips!

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