Written and Drawn by Derek Kirk Kim
Written and Drawn by Thien Pham
Published by First Second
Reviewed by Marc Mason
I’ve been intrigued by Derek Kirk Kim’s output since I read SAME DIFFERENCE when it came out, so I was intrigued to see TUNE vol.1: VANISHING POINT when it hit my mailbox. Kim has shown no predilection for repeating himself, and that remains true with this book, which melds early 20s angst with cute romance and a highly unusual sci-fi concept. If you’re anything like me, that alone would make you want to pick up the book.
Young artist Andy Go thinks he’s headed for the big time, so he drops out of school with one year left in order to pursue his massive freelance dreams. It isn’t much of a spoiler to note that it doesn’t quite go as he would like, and that it drives a wedge between him, his friends, and his family. Forced to job hunt by his parents, he winds up getting a job offer that he perhaps doesn’t quite understand, because it happens to be located in another dimension. Hilarity follows.
There’s really nothing here that doesn’t work. Andy is a funny, rounded, complex character, and so are his friends. His parents are played for laughs, yet they also come across as genuinely caring about Andy and his future. The dialogue is sharp, the plotting is brisk, and Kim handles the absurdity of it all in such a way that it never violates the parameters that Kim has set up for his story. I was completely charmed by TUNE, and I’m looking forward to future volumes.
I had a more mixed reaction to Thien Pham’s SUMO, a book that I admired more for its poetic spirit and experimental storytelling than the actual story itself. Scott is a football player whose career didn’t pan out the way he had hoped, and without an NFL career, he has found himself adrift. However, he gets a new, unexpected opportunity: would he like to move to Japan and undergo training to become a sumo wrestler? With a busted relationship and no job prospects, he accepts, sending him on a long journey in more ways than one.
Pham’s story covers three different plot tracks, and he does so through color. His work in Japan at training to be a sumo is done in orange, the story of his final days in the States is done in blue, and his efforts at teaching his Japanese cruch how to fish are done in green. It’s an interesting artistic conceit, and I liked the way it help structure the book. It also prevents Pham from having to use narrative captions or other shortcuts, which is smart. I also think that the two stories he chose to tell beyond the sumo training were the best ones to focus on; they definitely help flesh out Scott as an interesting character trying to take control of his fate.
Yet at the same time, I never quite emotionally connected to him. I still felt like there were things about him we should know and were not seeing. And while I like Pham’s art, his work in the sumo sequences is extremely difficult to follow. Nothing horrific, mind you, but I just wasn’t connecting to it.
As I said above, I admired the work, and the poetic spirit that Pham imbues the material with, and I admired the artist’s storytelling choices. I just didn’t love the book as a whole. Your mileage, of course, will vary.