#29. Same Difference and Other Stories,
Derek Kirk Kim
2004, Top Shelf Productions (material originally self-published between 2000-2003)
I really, really like this story. (Also, the edition I'm reading has an extraordinarily beautiful cover
, which I wish would show up more readily on Google searches for the book. I just love it a lot.)
This is a collection of short stories, but the book is clearly dominated by the title piece, which at 80 pages makes up more than half the book. (The rest of the pieces are a grab bag of variable interest and quality, ranging from two to eight pages or so.) "Same Difference," though, is a novella -- or a short graphic novel -- and I really dug it a lot. The central characters are Simon Moore and his friend Nancy; both are Korean-American, both are recent college graduates, both are living and working in Oakland and working on finding their adult footing and way in the world. An over-the-top prank played by Nancy, and her insistent desire to follow it up (Nancy has a very forceful personality, to the point of being domineering), leads to a day-trip-cum-road-trip down to Pacifica, the quiet, beautiful beachside suburb where Simon grew up. The day brings encounters and surprises; it ends, as days do, with sunset, night falling, the stars.
It would make this a longer review than I have time for to go into detail about all the reasons I like this work, but I'll throw out a few. I like Kim's aesthetic; by that I mean not just the technical execution of his artwork (which I also like very much), but also the way he chooses to depict things: his sense of pacing, of rhythm, of composition; his interest in quiet spaces and quiet passages, in the emotional value of light and natural and constructed-urban patterns in the environment. (This stuff is not blatantly obvious while you're reading the story, which I think is also deliberate -- it has a cheerful, almost noisy flow -- but it's definitely there.) Also, I like his character design, and I like his characters.
I find myself thinking of this in comparison to other comics I've been reading lately. Adrian Tomine's 2007 book Shortcomings
throws up a similar dynamic: the protagonist's best friend Alice Kim is, well, actually almost identical to Simon's best friend Nancy. (Huh. The more I think about those details of character design and dynamic, the more I start to wonder about that. Kim's came first... ) But I like Kim's characters, and story, better: I find the protagonists more realistic (although that's admittedly a complicated term) and more engaging and endearing. Another comparison that comes to mind is Dan Clowes' Ghost World
, for reasons which will probably be evident if you've read both books. Once again, though, I find myself liking Same Difference
I think the reason might be... or boil down to... because I find Kim's view of his characters, and the world, ultimately much more compassionate and humane than is the case with either Tomine or Clowes? And I like humane. It is ultimately what makes great literature great to me; which is why I'm not really a fan of either Clowes or Tomine, despite the respect I can accord to some of their work.
Your mileage, of course, might vary. This is why the world is full of books! :)[Tags I would add if I could: california, disability, twentysomething, coming of age, culture shock]
PS: Oh yeah -- the rest of the stories are interesting, too, at least some of them. (A number of the tags I've used apply to them, not to the title story.) I couldn't really get into most of them, though; a lot of this work seems to be Kim complaining about how girls don't like him. They are fairly superior examples of the type, but there's not much depth there. This is, I'm coming to think, just material that many artists have to work through before they can get to plumbing their memories and emotions for richer and more mature work, and Kim has worked his way through it and gotten beyond. (Unlike some other cartoonists I could mention, like Chester Brown, or Ivan Brunetti, or Adrian Tomine, or Dan Clowes. (Oh, excuse me! Did I say that out loud? ;))