This is David Malki's first collection of his Wondermark webcomic to be published by Dark Horse Comics. While Wondermark has appeared in print before, in various other collections, Beards is a clear step-up--a high quality hardcover volume that certainly brings the work a level of product importance that any self-published paperback might lack. While, like any compendium of gag strips, the book turns out to be a bit hit or miss, Malki is pretty damn clever when he wants to be. Taken as a whole, the entire enterprise suffers from a bit of exhaustion--besides the strip themselves, there's a constant stream of self-referential text, silly throw-away gags that are either clever or irrritating, and an overload of prosaic narration that begins to grate even after a short amount of time. When the strips are funny, they are spot-on, but the additional material screams of trying far too hard, and of having far too little faith in the work itself. For the strips, and the presentation of them, the book is certainly rewarding--but it would do the reader well to avoid anything that isn't attached to pictures.
A meandering piece of work resulting from what at first sounds like a clever idea, Too Cool is one of those comics that exists solely so that it can be praised for being created. The story follows the tiresome, and altogether predictable, adventures of a middle-aged man transported into his teenage body while under hypnosis, and proceeds to behave like a boring middle-aged man wandering around as a teenager, dispensing the sort of homespun wisdom that could conceivably cause a school shooting: "You shouldn't drink, or, whatever, date, until you feel like you're ready." Of course, all of that drops away like a sack of claw hammers when it's time for the comic to dive into full tear-jerking mode for a scene that reads like a grade school retelling of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, specifically the scene where Tom Cruise used the power of Scientology to cry a lot. Once again, here's another comic from a semi-talented artist who figured that since Top Shelf would publish whatever he came up with, he mine as well come up with something. The something he came up with? Sentimental tripe, presented in a gauzy autobiographical style that only grows more obnoxious with every simpering page.
It's of some interest that the offices at the Factual happened to come across another story about the loss of fathers so quickly on top of Too Cool to be Forgotten--while Wall City has it's own failings, and it certainly doesn't have the money behind it that will end up propelling the far lesser Too Cool to greater heights and exposure, both books take a similar theme and go in completely different directions. Mr. Kim hasn't built up much of a body of work yet; unless we're severely mistaken, this 103 page graphic novel is the longest he's done yet--yet he's already built a readily identifiable personal style. Wall City is predominately full of flat, at times featureless characters, consistently dressed in clothing that is drawn with a strange liquid appearance, making all of them look both similar in expression as they are in their satin jackets. The story, what little there is, follows a confused, young EMT named Minty as he struggles through memories of loss, a failed relationship and a painful, gut-wrenching job--all of which he internalizes so extensively that he seems to learn his own problems at the same rate the reader does. All the action takes place amongst black, heavily designed buildings and clumsy apartments--by the time the book veers off into a static empty clearing outside of the city, the book has become so thoroughly oppressive that even the strangeness of a giant pit filled with interlocking industrial equipment (what looks like air conditioners and televisions, for the most part) is a weird sort of quasi-relief. From there, the story completely abandons itself from attempting to meet an exact explanation--wherever it is that Minty plans to go, and how long he plans to be there is left unexplained.
While Wall City might not be the next step in a full-fledged comics-as-career for Mr. Kim--the works internal design could use a bit more of the heart that is given so freely to the language--but for a young cartoonist, fresh out of school, it's unassailable accomplished work, and far more rewarding than the similarly themed work from Alex Robinson. Considering that it was put together by hand and placed in the marketplace with little promotion beyond appearances at conventions by a young cartoonist just out of school, it makes the future projects of Mr. Kim something to look forward too.
-Tucker Stone, 2008
Wondermark is readable for free online at the Wondermark website. You can also pick up Beards of Forefathers there.
Too Cool To Be Forgotten will be released by Top Shelf this month.
Wall City is available through the artists website.