Written and Drawn by Fred Chao
Published by AdHouse Books
I’m a little jaded these days when it comes to comics, and frankly it takes a lot to get me excited. But when I went to the post office recently and saw a package of review books from Chris Pitzer’s always excellent AdHouse Books line, I got a little twinge. And when I opened it to find the trade paperback collection of JOHNNY HIRO?
Yeah- that gave me a charge.
A couple of years ago, when the first issue of JOHNNY came out, I fell head over heels in love with it. It was a masterpiece of pop art, combining giant monsters, romance, New York City cultural ridiculousness, and wrapped in enough charm to make even the grumpiest person smile. I referred to it as “pure, unadulterated genius” and I meant it. Issue two hit, and it was another smash, playing slickly off of chase flicks, Jackie Chan movies, rent control problems, and Anthony Bourdain. Fred Chao was clearly someone to keep a permanent eye on. A third issue rolled around, and then things went a bit quiet. Diamond jacked up its benchmarks, and I personally feared for the book’s future. But not to worry; Chao has brought together issues one through three and what would have been issues four and five, as well as some one-page strips in this indispensible collection.
What else does he deliver? Giant fish (“Smack My Fish Up”- oi!), car chases, sushi rolling, a rollicking parody of NIGHT COURT, David Byrne, the inspirational words of Gwen Stefani… the list goes on. JOHNNY HIRO is so full of pop that you worry it might explode. Yet what makes the book work is that its nature never consumes the story; Johnny has amazing adventures, but it is always about getting home at the end of the day and trying to build a happy life with his girlfriend Mayumi. Chao’s genius is that he knows how to avoid straying too far from the love story that defines who Hiro really is.
Packed full of wicked cool art, the wittiest (and driest) of dialogue, JOHNNY HIRO is likely to be as much fun as any one graphic novel will give you in 2009. Sitting down and revisiting the characters and their crazy adventures was the greatest of comics pleasures. This gets my highest possible recommendation.