Michael Cho laughed with recognition when I compared his character, Corinna Park, with Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly. Granted, it is by no means an exact match but the two are kindred spirits in many ways. There is something very appealing and relatable about Corinna Park. In Cho’s debut graphic novel, “Shoplifter,” we observe a young woman’s struggle to find her place in the world. We appreciate that struggle as well as the increasingly disconnected world we live in. You can read my review here.
Cho is an illustrator, cartoonist, and writer whose previously published work includes “Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes,” a collection of sketches depicting Toronto’s cityscape. Born in South Korea, he has lived in Canada since he was six.
Seth, author of “Palookaville,” has said, “Michael Cho’s ‘Shoplifter,’ his first graphic novel, is a joy to behold–so beautiful it will make all other cartoonists weep with envy.”
In this interview, Cho speaks to the impatience of youth and life in the big city for young people. This is part of an unfolding story. Cho is looking forward to pursuing this narrative further with other characters. “Shoplifter” is the first of five graphic novels with intertwined themes.
“Shoplifter” has two-color illustrations throughout and is available as of September 2, 2014. It is published by Pantheon, a division of Random House. To pre-order, visit Random House right here.
The fresh face of youth, complete with a cute smirk, is such a fleeting thing. Meet Corinna Park. She thought she’d take the big city by storm, have wildly witty friends, and knock out her first novel by sundown. In the graphic novel, “Shoplifter,” Michael Cho guides us through the life of a new generation’s Holly Golightly.
If you have not yet read what Charles Burns has been up to lately, don’t panic. You have options. There are two installments of his current wild ride, “X’ed Out” and “The Hive.” Both graphic novels can work as stand alones and you will do fine whether you read one first or the other. Essentially, this is a story that follows the main character mostly through flashbacks and alternates with his doppelganger in a parallel story set in a more cartoony and sinister world. Enjoy it as a multi-layered horror story. We’ll focus here on “X’ed Out,” the first graphic novel in the series which came out in 2010. And you can then proceed to a review of “The Hive” in the next post.
“X’ed Out” is as much about the angst of Generation X as it is a horror story. The two themes actually compliment each other rather nicely here. You will find equal amounts of supernatural horror and the self-inflicted horror of disaffected youth. Consider any art school crowd of a generation ago (or any generation, really) and you will find an inner core of self-loathing malcontented rebels ready to set the world on fire. What will it take? Start up a band? How about a magazine? But what will it ultimately take to make the pain go away? What happens when raw idealism and Prozac aren’t enough?
We begin with the cartoony doppelganger. He is sitting up after a restless sleep in an old fold out bed. He has a bandage across the side of his head which can’t be a good sign. He has no idea of where he is. And, once he makes his way out into the outside, we see that this is a very strange place he has found himself in. As we progress through the story, we see that this world is more real in some ways than the hipster world that Doug and his girlfriend, Sarah, are so enthralled by. It’s as if the chickens have come home to roost, as if all those extreme misfits staying up late at night have finally summoned up the Devil. There’s a hint that Sarah may have actually done something like that. And then there’s that strange bandage across the side of Doug’s head.
It really is easy to enjoy both of these installments in either order. Although you can sense the force of the narrative progressing from the first book to the second, the numerous transitions in both books can act as so many elements building up, providing clues. Who is the old man in the creepy cartoon world that Doug’s doppelganger is spying on? Wait, now we have a scene with the old man followed by a scene with Doug and they’re all wearing the same purple bathrobe . Is it a much older Doug in one scene? Maybe. But, in another scene, we know the old man is Doug’s father. “X’ed” will definitely leave you wondering about what will happen next, who is who, and what is what. It’s when the last book in the trilogy, “Sugar Skull,” arrives in 2014 that the sequence will be clear and the resolution unmistakable.
“X’ed Out” and “The Hive” are available in bookstores, comics shops and online. You will find in many shops that both books are neatly displayed side by side. Visit Pantheon Books.
If you are interested in seeing comics taken to their outer limits, the world of Charles Burns is the place for you. “The Hive” is the current installment in Mr. Burn’s work. He’s an artist, at the top of his game, not to be taken for granted. If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to comics, there he’d be, alongside Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes and Art Spiegelman, who all happen to be published by Pantheon. Once you put the awe aside, the story and art of “The Hive” sweep you away. This is a story within a story, life imitating art and vice versa, the innocuous mixed in with the surreal. In some respects, it is an even more enigmatic work than the previous, “X’ed Out.”
There is one key additional layer added since “X’ed Out.” We now see that Doug is looking back at his youth. So, we have yet another version of Doug, this time, in early middle-age. He hasn’t taken care of himself and looks tired and pudgy. He treats the woman he’s now involved with to endless analysis of what went wrong with Sarah, the love of his life. Those days of youthful angst are over and have been replaced with a deeper anxiety only possible once you’ve lived long enough to have your dreams crushed. There’s no more Sarah. She’s not coming back. Try to deal with that, Doug.
As in “X’ed Out,” we have Doug, the cocky provocateur performance artist compared to his doppelganger in a world stranger and more surreal than anything his art could imply. In “The Hive,” we add to that same young Doug, his older despondent self full of regret, full of his own well-earned horrific nightmares. Doug, you once surly youth, searching for pain, you have arrived.
Meanwhile, we follow Doug’s cartoon version as he toils away at a menial job in The Hive, a place run by lizards that appears to be breeding humans. Ultimately, Doug’s own personal misery pales in comparison to whatever is going on in that evil alternate world. The conclusion to this trilogy is entitled, “Sugar Skull,” and will surely be something to look forward to. Given that “X’ed Out” was published in 2010 and “The Hive” was published in 2012, we can expect “Sugar Skull” to come out in 2014.
“The Hive” is published by Pantheon. Visit them to find where to get your copy and learn more about this leading publisher of graphic novels.
For those unfamiliar with the literary magazine “McSweeney’s” and its elaborate packaging of its issues into boxes containing various precocious printed items, “Building Stories,” the new collected work of cartoonist, Chris Ware, will really bowl you over. But the audience for this is precisely those readers who are already intimately familiar with Dave Eggers, Ira Glass, Chuck Klosterman and so on. How do you relate with an audience as jaded and self-aware as you are? You keep calm, and know you will dazzle them. Ware delivers solid stories here for the most discriminating connoisseur. “Building Stories,” after all, is a celebration of Chris Ware, of work that has, indeed, appeared in such elite and wonderful publications as “McSweeney’s.” You can consider this collection of the best of a decade’s worth of work as a “McSweeney’s” on steroids.
A lion roars. A dog barks. A bear growls. But a human, all too often…whines. At least that’s what we get in the world of Chris Ware. There are no obvious acts of heroism, nor flights of fancy, nor moments of sheer unqualified joy to be found among his characters. Perhaps such scenes exist but restrained and subtle. And that is part of the point of why Chris Ware does what he does. The world is not a “happy” place and he will show you why. He does not go for the acknowledged hero but focuses on all those lives lived in quiet desperation. He doesn’t want to go with quantity over quality either. No, he favors a select group of well-read and upwardly mobile lives that are lived quietly in desperation and desperately quiet. If Chris Ware has any heroes, they are the likes of Dorothy Parker, Edward Hopper and, of course, Dylan Thomas.
We get such a delicious selection of despondent characters that, whenever there is a glimmer of hope, it seems rather jarring, too out of place. There’s the youngish couple slipping into middle-age who resent each other. There’s the woman who must come to grips with a life wasted in the care of an indifferent mother. There’s that same mother who has spent her whole life in the care of a boarding house. There’s the actual boarding house that is as neurotic as any Ware creation! And then there is the woman with an amputated leg who perseveres through this melancholic landscape and even finds a fairly good soul mate. No one in this world is giddy with silly happiness, not even a simple little bumblebee. For him, Ware has saddled him with a monumental existential crisis!
The packaging of pamphlets, books and magazines is quite beautiful and, dare I say, a joy to read. The only quibble, and this won’t be new for regular Ware readers, is that the type, at times, is so darn small. It feels downright antisocial to do that! Even with the best of eyes, there are some segments that require a magnifying glass! It is what it is. But, ultimately, it’s a good enough trade off for some spectacular artwork, as in his architectural renderings. Built upon one intricate brushstroke after another, the houses, their interiors and exteriors, are built, like Chris Ware’s characters and stories, with great care, with empathy, and with compassion.
“Building Stories” is, just as the box describes, “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets.” It is a decade’s worth of work as seen in the pages of “The New Yorker,” “The New York Times,” and “McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern,” as they call themselves in the most elevated of company. This amazing collection is listed at $50 US. Visit the Random House Pantheon site for more details here.
If you happen to be in Toronto tonight, do stop by and see Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Adrian Tomine, all together to support their recent publications and to support the printed word! Details follow:
CHARLES BURNS – ADRIAN TOMINE – CHRIS WARE
Debut their new graphic novels in Toronto “THE HIVE” – “NEW YORK DRAWINGS” – “BUILDING STORIES”
at a special event in honour of The Beguiling’s 25th anniversaryFeaturing iconic Canadian graphic novelist Seth as guest moderator.
Monday, November 12th, 2012, @ 8:30pm
The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West
Admission $10 or free with advance purchase of debuting book at The Beguiling
A BEGUILING 25TH ANNIVERSARY EVENT
TORONTO—Prepare to welcome three of the most respected graphic novel creators in the world, as Charles Burns (Black Hole), Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), and Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library) visit Toronto TONIGHT to debut their new books. These three contemporaries and friends will each show an all-new audio/visual presentation based on their new works. Then, iconic Canadian graphic novelist Seth will lead all three creators in a rousing discussion of their work and history, including audience participation. This isthe centerpiece autumn event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of venerable Toronto comics and alternative culture shop The Beguiling, at the nearby newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.) in the heart of the Annex neighborhood.
Sure to be the talk of the literary world this fall and winter, these three new releases blur the lines between ‘traditional’ graphic novels, illustration, and the publishing avant-garde!
Charles Burns’ stunning follow-up to 2010’s bestselling X’ed Out is The Hive. It takes readers further into the recesses of the diseased world of X’ed Out, shattering the boundaries between comics and the people who read them.
Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings collects over a decade of the comics, illustrations, and covers produced by the artist for publishing institution The New Yorker, alongside a number of other rare and uncollected pieces in a lavish oversized hard cover.
Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth has been hailed as a modern literary masterpiece, and Building Stories is Ware’s first and much-anticipated graphic novel length follow-up. Ware experiments further with form and medium: the story is a literal box. Beautifully presented as variously formatted and sized comics, graphic novels, newspapers and pamphlets, the ensemble creates a fascinating and compelling portrait of a seemingly ordinary young woman, and the building where she lives.
All three of these compelling arguments for the necessary survival of the printed word will be on sale at The Beguiling and at the event.
Admission to the 25th anniversary event is $10, but admissions tickets are free (while supplies last) with every advance purchase of any of the above new books at The Beguiling. Tickets MAY still be available at The Beguiling!
Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, and Charles Burns’ Toronto book event is the centerpiece of a half-dozen events occurring this fall, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of venerable comic book and alternative culture store The Beguiling. Events with local, Canadian, and international graphic novelists will continue throughout the fall, adding vibrancy and texture to the city’s literary events calendar. Visit www.beguiling.com for more information on upcoming events.