Current Reviews


Same Difference and Other Stories

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003
By: Marcus Nyahoe

Writer/Artist: Derek Kirk Kim
Publisher: Small Stories

Three young Korean-American friends, Simon, Nancy and Ian, are sat chatting in a restaurant when Simon notices a blind girl outside that he used to be friendly with but then treated rather badly. After their meal Ian goes home and Simon goes back to Nancy's, where he finds that she has been opening mail that was sent to somebody else. The mail was sent to a girl called Sarah, and is particularly obsessive. What makes things worse is that Nancy has been replying as Sarah, stringing the guy along. On a whim Nancy decides that it would be fun to visit this guy. Simon drives her back to his hometown where he meets the blind girl and realises that his actions have left no imprint on her whatsoever. Nancy meanwhile sees the obsessive guy working at a supermarket checkout, and feels a sense of guilt as he turns out to be a normal, lonely person. At the conclusion she apologises to him in a particularly apt way.

Wow, what can I say? This is a wonderful little book. I first came across it on the Small Stories website, and was so impressed I immediately bought it. There's a subtlety at work here with the characters that is a joy to behold. Nancy and Simon are particularly well realised. You feel instantly drawn towards them as warm individuals as lonely and scared of the world as the rest of us. Simon's inflated sense of self only manifests itself in a negative way, when he thinks that a minor adolescent event may have left somebody permanently scarred. Conversely Nancy seems not to care too much, wilfully playing with somebody's feelings in the name of fun, until she has to come face-to-face with that person as an individual human being, when she is suddenly confronted with the suffering her actions could cause.

It's unusual to find a book with such insight and warmth from a young cartoonist. Kim obviously cares a great deal about people, whilst at the same time holding a cynical view about the importance we place on ourselves as individuals. He pulls this off with aplomb. The clear, clean line of his art helps pull us into his deceptively simple story, which slowly reveals layers of complex observations about the human condition as we read and re-read his wonderful, modern day parable. Everything is clear in this strip, every panel carefully chosen so that it does not jar with the preceding one. He tries to be ambitious at times, particularly near the start when he draws several panels as seen through the restaurant's fish tank. This doesn't always work (as in the aforementioned example) but at least it shows a willingness to try and an artist thinking carefully about what he does.

Final Word:
This book is just wonderful. The insight filtered through his experiences as a Korean-American gives a slightly, subtly different take on the slice-of-life genre. If you're interested in furthering comics as a serious art form, if you're interested in the potential of American comics as an art form, and if you want to see young artists go on to further the work we already have by such luminaries as Eisner, Spiegleman and Moore, then you must go out and purchase this. With your support this impressive young artist will get better and better. He's already provided as solid a foundation as any I've yet seen. If your local comics shop won’t order this for you, you can get it as I did from Page 45 online at this link.

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