Red One #1

Red One #1 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson.
Story by Xavier Dorison
Pencils and Colors by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Letters by Clayton Cowles

Red One starts from the conceit that America's neighbors from across The Pond are a far more liberated lot. Or maybe that was just the 70s. At any rate those silly Americans are kind of childish for still believing in superheroes. Why, they even make movies about them. Something has to be done about that for the sake of world peace. The central premise of the series is absurd and over-the-top, but I'm not entirely sure from this premiere if it's meant to work as a parody or a homage, or some clumsy marriage of both.

The art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson seem to be playing it straight, effortlessly capturing the kitschy and cheesecake atmosphere of the decade like this comic was just one more exploitative action adventure film. The colors acquire a washed out, nostalgic glow when the setting moves to 1977 Southern California, imbuing the place with a certain dated glamour.

Where the comic disappoints is in the dialogue, which is clunky and unrealistic. This may have something to do with translating the script from writer Xavier Dorison, but it sometimes feels like an over-earnest imitation of the informal speech patterns of Americans. What Hollywood starlet vents her frustration at her critics by screaming "I'm going to smash their peasant heads in!"? This is exacerbated by half the word balloons being crowded by too much text. This again may be a translation issue, but it results in some very slapdash lettering which could have been solved by rearranging the word balloons.

The comic's protagonist Vera Yelnikov could be described as a Rule 63-inspired, Soviet-era version of James Bond. She's a bombshell drawn by the very people who used to draw Wonder Woman during Gail Simone's run. Which is to say that Vera's clearly meant to be ogled by the reader. But she's no vacuous sex symbol, but her country's top operative. Smart, capable, and supremely athletic to the point of being possibly a super soldier. Vera's a free spirit involved in a polyamorous relationship with an expecting couple, plus a few other hanger-ons. She has no problem inducting complete strangers into the Mile High Club, but stops at sleeping with her superiors at the Kremlin.

Red One #1 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson.

For all of these reasons, Vera is sent to infiltrate America Society in order to play the part of a superhero. A costumed vigilante called The Carpenter has been murdering disreputable Hollywood types. The party bosses are so worried that his activities will inspire a new wave of puritanism, which in turn reignite the Cold War. So they assign Vera to pretend to masquerade as another American do-gooder so she can provide a more rational counterpoint.

Needless to say, the story is a not-so-subtle commentary on the connection between violence, sexual repression, and religious extremism, not to mention the rising tide of social and political conservatism that would come to dominate the 80s. And it panders to the view that Americans are somewhat naive in their idealism, making them a tad suggestible to things like men and women in tights. At the same time, there's an admiration for that very naïveté that comes across in Dodsons' love for portraying the Californian landscape and in their portrayal of a fresh-faced Vera as an innocent abroad.



Webcomic: Play Therapy

Play Therapy by Alison Bechdel.

Go to: Vulture, by Alison Bechdel (via Tom Spurgeon)


Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 by Jiro Kuwata.
By Jiro Kuwata, translated by Sheldon Drzka, lettered by Wes Abbott
Batman & Robin created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson

Originally serialised from 1966-1967 in Shonen King magazine to capitalise on the popularity of the Batman television series, the Batman manga would be rediscovered in 2008 by Chip Kidd, who would make it the centerpiece of his book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Despite being well-received, Kidd was criticised for failing to credit the manga’s creator Jiro Kuwata. So for comic fans, it’s a little more gratifying to see DC release the first volume of a planned complete run for the manga in a format that more closely preserves the content of the original. But fans of the current incarnation of Batman or of today’s manga are probably going to find this comic slightly strange. This isn’t the brooding protagonist cloaked in black. Nor is the art going to remind anyone of today’s manga populated by delicately drawn bishonen and bishojo types. This is a solidly-executed boy’s action adventure of the period. But for someone like me, there’s something familiar and comforting about its simplicity.

To begin, this is a superhero comic that still displays the genre’s early circus roots. Batman and Robin don a variation of the traditional tights that they wore for decades before the duo started bulking themselves up with body armour. Long before superheroes were granted bodybuilder physiques, Batman and Robin were portrayed as lithe athletes. And this works for the kind of storytelling Kuwata employs. The duo are usually shown leaping off buildings, swinging on ropes, running at top speed, tossing and kicking their enemies, dodging bullets. This classic staging of fight choreography really helps to ground the characters in real physical exertion. By today’s standards Kuwata’s style is rather minimal. But it’s primary virtue is in how it captures the dynamism of its protagonists. The clarity and pacing of the action keeps what are sometimes wordy panels from slowing down the story.

The stories themselves, which mimic the 3-act structure of a television episode, are also fairly episodic, with Batman and Robin battling a succession of villains-of-the-week. Two of them (Lord Death Man and Doctor Faceless) were lifted from the manga’s American counterparts, but none of them could be described as an essential member of Batman’s rogues gallery. The plots and characterisations are now fairly predictable, with many of the tropes seen here having been used many times since the 60s. What I found surprising was the science-based nature of the antagonists. Like many readers, I’ve become accustomed to the horror/crime themed interpretation of Batman’s more popular arch-foes as well as Batman himself being portrayed as a psychologically scarred individual. But Kuwata’s stories reflect the post-War fascination with science and technology gone amuck. So the manga's always flamboyant villains tend to be hucksters, mad inventors, or freaks of nature rather than the more familiar assortment of mobsters, assassins, mass murderers, or serial killers. The only thing missing here are angst-ridden individuals transmogrified after being bathed in radiation.

This results in a very different kind of Batman. Rather than the urban avenger waging a one-man-war against crime in Gotham or the control freak who plans for every outcome, we have a Batman who initially stumbles when confronting a new villain’s MO for the first time. He starts out at a clear disadvantage dealing with their unfamiliar technology since he has no way to counter it. And while he eventually finds a way to win, he's far from infallible. This isn’t Batman the Dark Knight, but closer to Batman the problem-solving Science Hero. Admittedly, this plays to some of my more nostalgic instincts.


Webcomic: #Lighten Up

Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly.

Go to: The Nib, by Ronald Wimberly (via Janelle Asselin)


Photo Blog: The Little People Project

I really like this sequential approach using photographic effects.

Cartoon: Science Comic Strips

The 10 Percent Brain Myth by Darryl Cunningham.



R.I.P. Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Push Man and other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

(Yoshihiro Tatsumi: June 10, 1935 - March 7, 2015) 

When you move to the metropolis, and you don’t know where you are, and you don’t have any work, I think that that can be a very alienating experience. Furthermore, I think that, when you’re living in those conditions, you start to envy other people that are around you, you start to imagine that everyone around you is living a better life than you are. I think that that’s a basic condition of living in the city. And when you’re with just one other person, and you envy them, you can just not see them. That’s fine. But that becomes very difficult when you are living in the city.
- From The Comics Journal

I tend to write about everything that’s happening in Japan. Socially, I’m inspired by that. Even if they’re good or bad incidents, I find myself interested in them, and then create stories. So before I write something, I’m always determined to include the things that are happening in society at the time.

So after the war, American troops came in, and got things settled in Japan. I drew this image of a Japanese man pulling a rickshaw – and there‘s a drunk American soldier waving around a bottle of alcohol around, getting kind of crazy. So just in that one panel, it sums up the exact situation of Japan after the war in that one panel.
- From About Manga

In Japan they weren't really making a lot of films at that time, so I watched a lot of European and American films. I pretty much watched everything from overseas. In American films, the bad guy always gets it in the end and justice wins. It was fun to watch American films, but everything was just so good, though. I thought there weren't very many people that could actually live like that.

In European films, the bad guy wins and justice loses out. That's when I started creating manga, where sometimes the bad wins and the good loses.
- From The Star


R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy (1913-2015)

In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the 'Star Trek' television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry;  U.S. Rep. Don Fuqua (D.-Fla.); and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). NASA is mourning the passing today, Feb. 27, 2015, of actor Leonard Nimoy, most famous for his role as Star Trek's Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock. The sci-fi classic served as an inspiration for many at NASA over the years, and Nimoy joined other cast members at special NASA events and worked to promote NASA missions, as in this 2007 video he narrated before the launch of the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. Nimoy also was there for the 1976 rollout of the shuttle Enterprise, named for the show's iconic spacecraft.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Star Trek/X-Men by by Scott Lobdell et al.

Double Self Portrait with Light Bulb by Leonard Nimoy.

Photo Courtesy of R. Michelson Galleries
Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human.
 - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
In an era when nerd heroes were still in short supply, Mr. Spock was already there. Bon voyage Leonard Nimoy. You lived and prospered.


Webcomic: The Bloody Footprint

The Bloody Footprint by Lilli Carré.

Go to: The New York Times, by Lilli Carré (via Tom Spurgeon)

Sketchbook: Renee French

Soft Black by Renee French.
Soft Black by Renee French.
Soft Black by Renee French.

Go to: Medium, by Renee French


Webcomic: The Gaeneviad

The Gaeneviad by Boulet.

Go to: Bouletcorp by Boulet (via Chris Arrant)

Webcomic: Umbrella Blackout

Umbrella Blackout by Erik Thurman.

Go to: Medium, by Erik Thurman (via Tom Spurgeon)

Everybody was kung fu fighting.


André The Giant: Life and Legend

André The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown.
By Box Brown

I’ve never been more than a casual viewer of pro wrestling, but even as a kid I was aware of André René Roussimoff, more famously known by his wrestling handle André the Giant. Officially billed at a height of 7 ft. 4 in. and weighing in at 520 pounds, he was the image of what a wrestler should look like - a true giant of a man. Roussimoff’s manufactured rivalry as the heel to babyface wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea would culminate in their 1987 match at Wrestlemania III. The event would bring an unprecedented level of mainstream media attention to the World Wrestling Federation (now called World Wrestling Entertainment), the last pro wrestling promotion left in the United States after having absorbed all its rivals. Roussimoff’s iconic status was further enhanced by a few memorable film and television appearances, his early death at the age of 46 due to heart failure, and a viral street art campaign created by Shepard Fairey. If there’s any professional entertainer who’s identity has been completely subsumed by his own legend, it’s André the Giant.

As Box Brown tells it in André The Giant: Life and Legend, there’s a certain inevitable quality to Roussimoff’s involvement with pro wrestling. Born and raised in southern France, Rousimoff was neither brilliant, athletic, handsome or charismatic. But he was unusually large for his age. So large that the local school bus refused to take him as a passenger. The young Rousimoff had to be driven to class by riding on the back of the truck of his neighbour, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett. After leaving school, he employed his tremendous strength while drifting between various odd jobs. So the choice to become a wrestler seems to have been arrived at by default. Where else could Rousimoff exploit his size to achieve a modicum of wealth and fame?

But once he fell into pro wrestling, Roussimoff became fully committed to its itinerant lifestyle. Much of the graphic novel portrays life outside the ring being spent hanging out at restaurants, airport and hotel lobbies, or squeezing into the cramped seats of airplanes and buses. This would be a lonely and difficult existence for anyone, let alone someone suffering from acromegaly. Brown’s art is particularly effective here because his representation of Roussimoff is both archetypical and humanizing. He’s drawn a bit larger than he was in reality, but this only heightens the character’s discomfort. He looks awkward in every panel trying to navigate a world not built to accommodate his size. His impressive bulk belying the physical fragility that would eventually contribute to his death.

André The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown.

Unsurprisingly, Rousimoff would inspire numerous anecdotes during his lifetime conveying contradictory impressions about him. Some would exaggerate his freakish power while others would portray him as a gentle spirit. Brown’s remarkable achievement is that he manages to pull together these disparate sources into a cohesive biography. Brown’s aesthetic is similar to that of Seth or James Kochalka. Minimally designed figures outlined with thick strokes and soft contours. This imbues not just Roussimoff, but all the other heavyset wrestlers with an oddly endearing appearance. I’ll assume that most of these stories are already familiar to hardcore fans, but Brown organizes them in such a way that doesn’t require much prior knowledge from the reader.

There’s indeed a great deal of fondness for the subject-matter that comes across the entire book. Brown patiently guides the uninitiated through the world of wrestling kayfabe. Roussimoof’s career spanned an era when the WWF and other promotions still insisted that its matches, and even its wrestlers' ludicrous personas were 100% genuine. Of course any savvy viewer, or anyone who’d been in a real scrap, could tell that the televised fights were staged (or a work, to use pro wrestling parlance), but the promotions had tasked their wrestlers to maintain the act whenever in public. As far as Brown can tell after examining his taped appearances, Roussimoff never broke character, even if it meant flipping someone’s car over when responding to a skeptical fan’s challenge (though Brown admits he’s unsure about the veracity of the story). As Hogan stated in an interview “He loved this business and he protected it.” Some of Brown’s best set pieces are his blow-by-blow analysis of Roussimoff’s more famous matches. They illuminate how wrestlers will sometimes put themselves into real danger in order to sustain the illusion of a true brawl.

Though Brown’s research is extensive, his book is far from the last word on André the Giant. Brown was mostly limited to examining 2nd and 3rd-hand sources, and the resulting biography’s emotional distance reflects his dependence on those sources. While Brown’s willing to streamline some events in order to smooth over conflicting testimonies and better fit the dramatic needs of the narrative, he isn’t able to penetrate far past Roussimoff’s tough exterior. Whatever private struggles he must have had with acromegaly and the rigorous demands of his profession are left off the page. And the reader is only vaguely informed about his soured domestic life. Ultimately, Bown’s André Roussimoff remains an enigmatic presence.

André The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown.

Brown adopts the same circumspect attitude towards the wrestling industry as a whole. When the WWF’s Vince McMahon admitted in 1989 that wrestling matches were artifice, he did so in order to keep state athletic commissions from imposing stricter standards (like conducting proper medical exams or hiring ringside doctors) or from more properly supervising the promotion’s events. The tactic worked to some degree. While some in the wrestling community bemoaned the death of kayfabe, the uncovering of one form of artifice simply allowed the promotion to continue kayfabe on a more subtle plane. What remains largely hidden from the public are the exploitive practices that take a huge toll on the wrestlers they market. Roussimoff cycles from the squared circle to heavy drinking sessions at hotel bars to the surgery table. But Brown's unvarnished account never calls into question the promotion’s ethical responsibility towards its employees. While he mentions that Roussimoff was the highest paid wrestler of the era, he leaves out how the WWF would build a massive "sports entertainment" empire based on his infamous reputation, even long after his death.

Brown does include one scene were a younger Roussimoff meets with Vince McMahon Sr. in New York, who outlines how he’ll turn the burgeoning talent into a legend. “You’re an unstoppable force!! No running dropkicks or leg scissors. You don’t move for nobody.” he commands. McMahon then decides to take Roussimoff on the road. “We keep moving him from town to town so he never gets overexposed… And we let the legend grow. By the time you get back to town you’re ten feet tall!!” However this might have impacted Roussimoff personally whether for better or worse, it certainly proved to be a most profitable strategy for the company.

André The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown.


French Toast

The K Chronicles by Keith Knight.

Go to: The K Chronicles by Keith Knight

More NonSense: Je Suis Charlie

Charlie Hebdo—Let the Hot Takes Begin! by Tim Tomorrow.

Go to: Medium, by Tom Tomorrow

A small sampling of online reactions from: Heidi MacDonaldmiscellaneous cartoonistsBrigid AlversonJacob Canfield, Andrew O'Hehir, Ruben Bolling, Tim KreiderJohn Stewart, Laura MillerDavid Palumbo-Liu, Tim Holder, The SimpsonsRobert and Aline Kominsky-Crumb et al, Brittney CooperZunarAsghar Bukhari, Noah BerlatskyJanell Hobson,

Marguerite Dabaie on the challenges faced by Middle Eastern Cartoonists.

Michael Dean and R.C. Harvey reprint an old essay about the controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad from several years ago.

Jeet Heer on the history of French satire.

Michael Kupperman on his time working as a cartoonist for the New York Times.

Jeff Trexler on defunct satirical magazine The Mascot.

Mona Chalabi on the history of religious intolerance in France.

I myself was initially distressed, angry, and sorrowful over the Charlie Hebdo murders, though I've grown to question the overall merits of efforts to rally around the "" hashtag. This is par for the course in this Social Media age. And it's hard to ignore the cathartic effect is has on a considerable number of people, particularly those in the comics and cartooning community. But such attempts to engender unity almost always seem to end up fanning broader societal tensions, leading to expressions of tribalism accompanied by reactions steeped in apologia. I also suspect that said sloganeering might have the ironic effect of quashing debate and suppressing a more nuanced take of the events. Playing into the hands of those fanning hate.


Cartoon: On Satire

On Satire by Joe Sacco.

Go to: The Guardian, by Joe Sacco (via Wim Lockefeer)



Webcomic: Home for the Holidays 2014

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Go to: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Webcomic: On Optimism

On Optimism by Anders Nilsen.

Go to: Medium, by Anders Nilsen (via Heidi MacDonald)


This One Summer

This One Summer By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.
By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.

This One Summer begins with a brief flashback of a sleeping young girl being carried by her father to a lakeside cottage. It’s a beautifully illustrated sequence that succinctly evokes that particular nostalgia for the lazy summer days of childhood: the ending of the school term, building sandcastles on the beach, feeling the heat of the sun and being blinded by the glare reflected of the water, floating on its surface or being allowing to be engulfed by its murky depths, collecting pebbles and seashells by the shore, exploring the woods and hearing the leaves underfoot being crushed, staying up late unsupervised to watch movies or swap gossip or tell scary ghost stories. Creators (and cousins) Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki certainly capture all this within their latest collaboration. But they also dig beneath the surface to fashion a story of personal growth, nascent sexuality, the inexorable dissolution of longstanding relationships, and the end of innocence. The narrative slowly unfolds through scenes composed of quiet reflection, meaningless distractions, chance meetings, short elliptical conversations, with the occasional flare-up for emphasis.

But above all else is how the story is told through stunning artwork. TOS might be the most gorgeous-looking comic book I’ve read to come out in 2014. As an illustrator Jillian is noteworthy for her lushly detailed drawing style with its varied, organic lines realized with supple brushwork. She compliments it here with delicate blue washes that work to capture the sensuality of the book’s idyllic setting. The inviting waters of the lake, the inky sky at night, the dampness of the summer rain, the quaint houses, the coolness of the shade, or the deep shadow of the verdant undergrowth. But the monochromatic color palette also serves to express a certain narrative ambiguity. The mood can subtly modulate from placid to melancholic, or from comforting to a little threatening, within an instant.

This One Summer By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.

Jillian’s characters posses a slightly cartoony look that reminds me of a more nuanced version of Craig Thompson. They’re rendered with an economy of features to help distinguish them from the richly textured backgrounds. The book’s POV character is Rose, an only child who spends every summer with her parents at their residence located on the small resort town of Awago. Her usual summer companion is another girl named Windy. Based on the way Rose reminisces about them, these trips were enjoyable family vacations. But both girls are now on the cusp of adolescence, though Rose is slightly older and much lankier. While she’s beginning to notice the teenage boys around her, the cherubic Windy still views them as freaks and clings to girlish pursuits. This small contrast is mirrored in Rose’s own parents. The more stoutly built and voluble Evan seems determined that everyone have fun during their time at Awago. The introverted and tightly wound Alice is an older, more exasperated version of Rose. Her body inexplicably emaciated, her thin hair swept back and messily arranged, her face taught with worry, and the round glasses she wears form a mask which she sometimes uses to withdraw from the world.

It would be easy to blame Alice for much of the conflict that takes place in the book. And that’s what the uncomprehending Rose initially does. Events take a turn for the worse when Alice receives a visit from her vivacious sister and brother-in-law. His attempts to coax Alice out of her shell end disastrously, resulting in an impasse between Alice and Evan. This causes a rift to develop between her and Rose, heartbreakingly portrayed by their subsequent verbal exchanges in which Alice refuses to look at her daughter. The strain it puts on their relationship negatively impacts the way Rose conducts herself around other people, especially an older boy whom she's been secretly crushing on named Dunc. When a scandal involving him and his girlfriend threatens to erupt, Rose instinctively comes to his defence by formulating some unforgiving ideas about women's sexual promiscuity. This precipitates her first argument over gender politics with Windy. But this isn’t a book with any obviously labelled heroes and villains, just flawed individuals whose needs don’t always align with each other simply because they’re family. The root of Alice’s depression does eventually become discernible to the reader. And it’s a credit to Mariko’s abilities as a writer that both adults and children come across as sympathetic characters in the end.

If there’s a flaw to the book, it’s in the attempt to weave all the various plot threads by tying them together into a satisfactory conclusion. It’s the one part of the book in which the generally relaxed nature of the narrative starts to let slip some of the crinkles, and the emotional content swerves close to melodramatic territory. But this is a minor complaint when compared to the many pleasures of TOS. The book manages to distill the vivid emotions and fuzzy memories associated with the season without falling into the trap of becoming over-sentimental.

This One Summer By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.


Video: Lonely Hulk

Go to: NBC Classics

"The Lonely Man" musical theme to "The Incredible Hulk" 1978 TV series composed by Joseph "Joe" Harnell.



Shoplifter by Michael Cho.
By Michael Cho

The story told in the pages of Shoplifter will be all too familiar to many: idealistic college graduate who takes a job to pay the bills, only to find herself stuck in a rut several years later. The ennui felt by the petit-bourgeois as they carry on with their humdrum routines has been grist for all kinds of popular entertainment for decades now, including many alt-lit comics from the nineties. So the graphic novel’s creator Michael Cho doesn’t exactly cover new ground here. But I suspect this trope will only continue to find an eager audience as we seemingly march towards a future in which all of human civilization has been successfully converted into a giant high-tech shopping mall, à la Wall-E.

This is a simple tale with hardly any plot to speak of. Corrina Park works as a copywriter for an ad agency located in an unnamed North American city (I’m assuming it’s Toronto). She began her career dreaming of one day becoming a novelist. But with said dreams still completely unfulfilled, her personal frustration begins to bubble to the surface. This causes her boss to inquire whether she even wants to continue working at the agency. There’s no melodrama in Shoplifter. Corinna doesn’t suddenly decide to bring down the capitalist system from within by founding an underground fight club, or anything else along those lines. But she does avail herself to a low-level form of rebellion by pilfering magazines from the local convenience store. There aren’t any illicit affairs, or physical confrontations, or office intrigue leading to a public blowout with the boss. The book is instead a quiet meditation wherein its protagonist navigates a series of mundane obstacles, culminating in a quiet epiphany. It reads like something a film school major or fledging indie director would have fashioned into a short movie. So why not adapt those devices to one's first graphic novel?

I will admit that one of the reasons I enjoyed Shoplifter is that I identified with Corrina to a considerable degree, particularly her backstory and frustrated creative ambitions. But the first words she utters, which she declares in perfect deadpan, quickly won me over. Corinna is a likeable individual. Introverted, but affable. Thoroughly dissatisfied with what she's accomplished so far, but aware of the comparable privilege she still enjoys because of her day job. Afraid of change, but desperate for personal growth. And I'm amused at how Cho draws her as a diminutive Asian woman who exhibits the occasional worry lines under her eyes. This makes her appear both fragile and visually unique. Corinna’s cropped dark hair makes her a little bit easier to spot in even the most crowded city street. But her stature constantly forces her to literally look up to anyone she engages in conversation, which is slightly comical and kinda endearing.

Shoplifter by Michael Cho.

The supporting characters are no more than archetypes. There’s the aforementioned boss portrayed as a dapper middle-aged man who likes to put on airs. A slightly ditzy-looking receptionist co-worker, the closest person Corinna has to a friend, keeps inviting her to join in the after-hours fraternizing. A would-be love interest is given rugged good looks - complete with stubble and smouldering dark eyes. Their appearances are mercifully short, and they’re rendered in assured shorthand by Cho. He draws in a classic illustrative style along the lines of Darwyn Cooke and Jaime Hernandez. Forms and shapes are clearly delineated by eschewing cross hatching for solid shadows. Cho’s economical with his use of blacks, and employs rose pinks for midtones. The effect of these choices captures the lively bustle of the book’s urban setting and the ubiquity of electronic media.

The overarching theme of Shoplifter is how this ubiquity has allowed advertising to intrude into every aspect of our lives, influencing the way individual consumers communicate with each other until their online profiles have been turned into brands desperately promoting their status updates. Cho’s approach to the issue isn’t subtle: Corrina is seen rejecting poorly-worded proposals on an internet dating site. And the book’s pivotal scene occurs in an obnoxious nightclub party celebrating the launch of a social media site that reduces human relationships “into a plus or minus value. For whatever the client’s product or service.” Ugh! That’s so MeowMeowBeenz. But never is this more evident than in the physical world where Cho gets to show his chops as an artist and illustrator. Whether it be the conspicuously designed billboards and posters that plaster the city’s downtown area. Or the typography adorning street signs, subway station ads, train car cards, store shelf products, and magazine racks. Corrina is inundated by ad-copy wherever she goes. But as uncomfortable as that might sound, it’s lovingly realized by Cho. His urban landscapes are neatly balanced, luminous, even almost magical. The city might foster a rootless existence. But it is a seductive place, serenely insisting that the reader become lost within it.

Shoplifter by Michael Cho.