T e x t u a l l y A c t i v e

Low Art

For most people, comics are actually pretty accessible. Free syndicated comics, both good and terrible (good = Peanuts, Doonesbury; terrible = Hagar, B.C., Garfield), appear in newspapers and are read by a lot of folks. Comics are displayed in Chapters and various other behemoth bookstores. They’re discussed in magazines and on public radio, and infuse pop culture at large.

But the more serious comics, the underground comics and the graphic novels that you hear so much about but don’t see all that often … those are sort of inaccessible for the average person with little time and energy to devote to digging. And money. Let’s not forget, comics cost money. And even if you do have the money… there is the intimidation factor. In a way, comics are a bit like jazz music. Most people have heard true jazz, and even more have heard the commercial variety, but very few people are really really into it… and around those that are, there exists a bit of a special aura of sorts. A mystique. Except that the mystique surrounding comic books is mostly not a cool one, as comics nerds know well.

Therefore, I say hurrah for the internet! On the internet, it is possible to read thousands upon thousands of comics for free online, without anyone knowing about all the time you waste delving into your favourite character’s lives, or even having to worry about what you smell like when you walk into the comic store to buy a comic.

Online publishing is always a double-edged sword, though. The great thing about it is that it is both easy and cheap, meaning that almost anyone with access to a scanner and a cracked version of a graphics program can post their work online. The problem with online publishing is that it is… well, easy and cheap—with print media, a lot of crap gets filtered out simply because the author knows that the financial risk of publishing is only worth it if there is a market to read his or her work. [Thus the continued success of Hagar remains a mysery—Ed.] On the internet, artists can post their work without worrying about if a readership exists or not. And so you get a lot more crap. But hidden among all the stick characters with vulgar dialogue, talking sperm and
floating cut’n’paste heads speaking in Sand and Comic Sans, there are gems in the world of online comics… and this column intends to expose at least one of these webcomic gems every month.

We’ll start with Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim, which qualifies as a webcomic, but just barely. Kim’s work, which is completely available online at (http://www.lowbright.com/Comics/SameDifference/SameDifferenceIndex.htm), actually also appeared as a self-published book in 2003, and Kim went on to win some of the print comic world’s highest honours: the 2003 Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent, the 2004 Eisner Award for Name Deserving of Wider Recognition, and a 2004 Harvey Award. The San Fransiscobased author and artist, who moved to the United States from Korea when he was eight, uses Same Difference to explore questions of ethnicity, race, and friendship.

The comic opens in a Vietnamese noodle shop, where our protagonists, Simon and Nancy, explore answers to life’s great deep questions (such as “Who eats the shit of the fl y?”). Through a series of flashbacks and chance meetings, we find out that both Simon and Nancy have oddball tales of romance rolling about their lives. Simon is haunted by a decision he made (in high school) not to take a blind girl to a school dance because he’d be uncool. Nancy, meanwhile, decides to hunt down the man who has been sending romantic letters to her new apartment addressed to someone else. “It’s Fun!” she tells Simon as she tries to convince him to join her. “F!U!N! Fun!”

If you’re reading this thinking, “I’ve seen Message in a Bottle already, and it really wasn’t that great,” don’t fret. The thing is, despite the predictable premise, Kim has such gorgeous control of the dialogue and pacing that the story works.

And his control of the pen is mighty as well. The story is illustrated in shades of sepia, and Kim has as much control of his angles as a film director, showing you characters through a fishtank, characters from above, and the beautiful landscapes of the American west coast.

Inevitably, because he’s Asian (and because his characters are as well), a few have gone so far as to call his style “American suburban magna.” But there’s very little “magna” about Kim’s art style at all. If anything, it’s halfway between detective comics and Tintin… except with a sort of wallowy reflective air that sits dangerously close to being overly self-absorbed without quite succumbing to that. Same Difference is a beautiful piece that starts loudly and finishes quietly. For more webcomic recommendations, check out Lucas’ link page at http://www.lucastds.com/webcomic/webcomic_links.htm