Friday, May 4, 2012

Comic Review: Koko Be Good

Another book that I came across at the library, interestingly enough even though I've heard good things about this publisher (First Second) for a few years now it's only been within the past year that I've started finding their books at the libraries as such (which I will take as a good sign that the libraries are now starting to pay attention to them and will get more of their releases). Maybe I should keep an eye out for them in bookstores too, although the ones I go to barely have any non-superhero Western comics.....

Koko Be Good by Jen Wang

Summary: Jon hasn't quite figured out to do with his life but when his girlfriend offers him a chance to come with her to Peru and do missionary work there he decides that this sounds like a good thing to do. Koko on the other hand doesn't do "good" things until she runs into Jon one night and, envious of how collected he seems to be, decides that she'll try to be good as well. But figuring out what you want to do and trying to do good are both hard tasks, especially if you haven't quite figured out who you are.

The Good: There are hundreds, thousands of coming of age stories (I consider it to be a genre unto itself) and it's really hard for me to get excited or interested in those stories after seeing so many (even though, given where I am in my life I should easily be able to sympathize with them). This story is one of the better examples I've seen in the genre and I think part of the reason it worked was because it felt a little more low-key than usual. While Koko is over the top in trying to create a new identity to be happy, Jon is much more low key and knows from the start that he isn't sure of what he wants to do, he's just going along and willing to try something he knows might not work out in the end. I think it was good that his girlfriend was a major influence in him, the scenes where she cautions him about going along with her (showing that even she isn't totally sure this is what she wants to do) really helped flesh them both out and it was great to not see another instance where one half of the relationship is completely confident and sure of themselves and drags the other half along, here with both sides hesitating felt a lot more true to life. I was surprised that Koko's friend Faron was developed as much as he was as well, originally I had thought he was going to be just a foil to Koko but in the end Wang showed us a chapter in his coming of age story as well and I'm amazed she was able to fit three such stories into one so smoothly.

The Bad: While I liked Jon a lot and was surprised by how much I liked Faron in the end as well Koko just never grew on me. I never understood her motivation to "become good" (I know that it was supposed to be that she was envious of Jon's life and tried to emulate him but the story only told that, never showed it) so all of her attempts to do good just felt awkward to me (they were supposed to feel awkward but they also managed to feel awkward in a way I don't think Wang intended). I was also leery at bits that Jon would dump his girlfriend and go for Koko (since the rule is that if you have two straight characters of opposite genders in a story they're gonna fall for each other) and, while that didn't quite happen, there was some chemistry between them that I didn't understand. In short, despite the fact the book is named after her and her adventures I just never understood half of what Koko did and, while the story wouldn't have worked if she wasn't present at all, half the time I didn't see the need for her.

The Art: Like the cover, the art is colored in various soft sepia tones and I absolutely loved how it looked. I liked the art style a lot as well, it had a lot of energy and the pages flowed well, but the coloring was what sold me on the book. It really reflects the mood of the story, even with all it's action it's rather introspective and calm and the best thing a visual work can do is to enhance and add to the mood already created by the story which it succeeds at marvelously here. Like I said, the art really sold me on the book and it makes me want to go and pick up my own copy as well, I don't know if I would have had the same reaction if the art had been any different.

I was very pleased with this book, especially since I just picked it up on a whim since I was in that section of the library anyway, and I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy of it in a store near me. It doesn't appear that Jen Wang has published any other books (aside from being in a volume or two of Flight and honestly it seems like every indie comic artist in the US has been in there at one point or another) but I'm going to also try to keep an eye out for their future works and see what they do next.     

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