Advance Review: 'Shoplifter' is a beautifully drawn tale of urban frustration

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

Note: Shoplifter will be released September 2, 2014 by Pantheon Books

Where has Michael Cho been hiding himself, and why are so many talented artists getting into graphic novels?

Alright, he's been "hiding" himself by drawing variant covers and  pinups in books like Madman and Fear Agent. (Seriously, check out his art on Tumblr!) But Cho's first graphic novel is a novelette, really, a small slice-of-life piece about a twentysomething woman named Corrina Park. Corrina's been out of college for a couple of years and discovers herself in a completely unfulfilling job at an advertising agency. Her days are pretty much empty and miserable. Her friend steals her prospective boyfriend, her train ride into work is endless, and even her cat is always hissing at her. One of the few ways that Corrina finds any sort of thrill in her life is through very small-scale shoplifting – hence the title of this slim volume.

And while his story is entertaining and at times compelling despite its familiarity, the real star of Shoplifter is Cho's artwork. His art is lovely with an art deco, Darwyn Cooke-style approach to the page, detailed with shaded images and dense backgrounds that seem full of people and buildings that nearly seem to jump off his page. There's a tremendous feeling of life and realism in Cho's characters; in their small sideways glances and bright eyes, Cho captures the essence of humanity in even the most random of background strangers.

That approach is an absolute delight because Cho delivers his art in a minimalistic style. As you can see from the accompanying image, the artist seems to take delight in drawing his characters with as few lines as possible, trusting his innate skills and smart shading to convey setting and depth in ways that help to make Corrina's real-life work adventure feel universal.

The standout character in Shoplifter for me is Corrina's boss. Rodney is the CEO of the advertising agency where she works. He has a giant bay window in his office overlooking the city and a deep sense of meaning about his chosen profession. Rodney is one of those characters who is appealing despite his puffed-up image of himself, and is full of endless quotes from the philosopher Kahlil Gibran. With his perfect hair, athletic build and deep aspect of happiness in his life's calling, Rodney seems one of those men of a certain age who are most fully themselves when they're doing the work that they love, who find deep meaning in the art of selling perfume to teens and tweens or discussing the latest social networking dotcom innovation.

Of course, Rodney contrast wonderfully with directionless Corrina – his passion for his work and love for literature show a road that our passionless former English major protagonist could have taken – and her listless reactions to him illuminate the character of both of them – compassionate Rodney versus eternally listless Corrina.

This slim graphic novelette shows the power of good art to convey depth to a relatively shallow story. Cho's vividly lovely presentation helps make Shoplifter a memorable tale. I keep opening up my galley preview and staring at the beautiful way that Michael Cho draws cities and people. This might not be a place where Corrina Park enjoyed living, but I enjoyed my visit with this Shoplifter.

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