Monday, November 23, 2009

The Eternal Smile

This is a collection of three stories by Gene Yang and Derek Kim, the authors of American Born Chinese and Same Difference and Other Stories respectively. Individually their works have won much praise: ABC won the 2007 Printz Award and was nominated for a National Book Award while Kim won the three major comics industry awards (the Eisner, the Ignatz, and the Harvey) for his work on SDaOS.

This collection brings together three separate stories that all focus on unstable relationships between fact and fantasy. Fiction especially acts as a great coping mechanism for hardships, trepidations, and ennui. It is quite redemptive, guiding uneasy or lost people to find hidden strengths and pleasures within themselves and their worlds. The three stories here are:

"Duncan's Kingdom"
This story was published originally by Image Comics in 1999. Duncan is a member of the Royal Guard who seeks vengeance for the murder of the king by diabolical frogmen. Also, he is motivated by the beautiful princess's hand in marriage in exchange for the frog king's head. Ostensibly set in a medieval setting, a few modern objects enter into the picture, and Duncan's sense of reality is seriously questioned.

"Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile"
One part The Truman Show and two parts Uncle Scrooge comic, this story mostly follows the exploits of a Disneyesque character. An extremely wealthy frog plots and plans ways to build even more wealth so that he won't bump his head on the ground when he dives into his personal money pit. Events turn in strange directions after he decides to use religious beliefs and practices in a money-making scheme.

"Urgent Request"
Janet is an office worker who struggles to be noticed and rewarded for her efforts on the job. In response to feelings of uselessness, she participates in the classic Nigerian email scam, sending huge amounts of money to a prince who promises to repay her once his proper office and situation are restored.

Although these three tales are separate narratives, Yang and Kim tie them together visually and thematically. Objects, such as bottles of Snap Cola appear in each, as do images of frogs, and other features. Astute readers can catch these features, and they definitely add to a sense of cohesion in the book.

This book has received a range of reviews, characterized by a mixed review such as this one from Sandy at I Love Rob Liefeld, who likes the art and themes in the stories but is unsatisfied by the package as a whole. Brian Heater at The Daily Crosshatch was happier with the whole created from the three component stories, as was Greg McElhatton at Read About Comics who really enjoyed the blend of Kim's and Yang's work here. Jason Borelli enjoyed the stories just fine but also does not think that they live up to the standards created by the collaborators' earlier works.

Excerpts are available here from First Second. I would also like to thank them for providing me with a copy of this book.

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