The shapeshifter is one of the most misunderstood character archetypes. It is familiar while also shrouded in mystery. And you can find some in unexpected places. How about Kafka’s 1915 classic “The Metamorphosis”? In the novel, Gregor Samsa turns into a cockroach. That makes him a shapeshifter. Alright, I said it. Not a pretty sight. Not something out of Harry Potter. And yet, Kafka would have you look within and ask how close you are to the life of an insect. In Chris W. Kim’s new graphic novel, “Herman by Trade,” he takes a decidedly offbeat approach to shapeshifting. In the case of his main character, Herman, he emerges from a Kafka-like existence and is saved by his unique ability to shape shift.
Kim begins with some spot on workplace satire that mirrors the bigger picture that lies ahead. Herman is part of a sanitation crew based at the city waterfront. Within the pecking order, Herman is viewed by his co-workers as a dowdy stay-at-home. But Herman has other plans when he goes to a special screening of a cult hit movie. He knows enough to go in costume. But he knows nothing about this celebrated film until he asks the girl at the ticket booth. She informs him that “Gare” is an intimate portrait of street performers. That’s good enough for Herman to join the die-hard fans in the crowded theater.
With a light and subtle touch, Kim reveals Herman’s journey. It all begins that night in that movie theater. MIO, the film’s director, announces to wild applause that she is going to film a sequel to “Gare” and she invites anyone in the city to come audition at the waterfront. Herman’s fate is sealed. He must be part of the excitement of this momentous event. And, as this graphic novel unfolds, one can’t help but be captivated by Kim’s ambitious vision. He has the backstory of the film and its sequel; the mileu of film buffs; and Herman emerging from his inner world to a much more complex inner world.
Herman’s goal to be cast in MIO’s new film turns out to be pretty daunting. How will Herman succeed while being so out of his element? In order to even survive, Herman must adapt and that involves shapshifting! Herman, despite all outward appearances, is no cockroach! Kim’s artwork is a marvelous mix of delicate and exuberant. He gently and slyly guides us. All the while, we are viewing not a roach, but a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon in order to triumphantly spread its butterfly wings.
HERMAN BY TRADE is a 120-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. For more details, visit Abrams right here.