Noun. Smart books for smart ladies; or the brilliant archenemies of plain (often read: bad) chick lit.
So not everything that goes under the theme of Gadchick Lit has to be booky-books. I’ve been reading comics since what feels like the dawn of time (6? 7? One of those ages where you can do all the really necessary things like go to the bathroom, eat, and walk around without always running your head into things). My dad took me to our local comic shop every week, and we would pick up new issues of DC titles, Star Wars comics (later on, when I had taste in things beyond Disney comics) and anything else that looked good. Over the years, though I’ve eschewed buying single issues in favor of graphic novels, the devotion I have for the happy babies born of good art and good writing has only grown.
In this episode of GL, I am spreading my love of sequential art with a graphic novel on its 2nd anniversary: Koko Be Good by Jen Wang.
Warnings: Beautiful art, existential dilemmas, relationships falling apart. It’s all the makings of a wadded-up-tissue collage of feelings.
Why Read It: Now, I’m slightly biased when it comes to Jen Wang, as I have been following her amazing work online since I was but a wee high-schooler, discovering that there was actually more to the Internet than Napster. So I’d already been familiar with Koko from her one-shot appearance several years ago in a comic by the same name, which can be located here. You can imagine my surprise (read: squeeing girlish delight) when I wandered to First Second Books’ table at Comic Con 2010 and found that an inked indie online comic had become…well, still indie, but a much more brilliant, living, breathing tome of itself. I wanted to run away with it, and despite my insistence that First Second shut up and take my money, they refused. No, seriously, I picked up the book and was like, “I’m going to take this home,” and they were all, “No, it’s not actually for sale yet. It’s a preview copy.” And I felt really stupid and may have cried a little. Anyway, back to the review!
Set in the wild-yet-somehow-appropriately-wholesome backdrop of San Francisco, Koko Be Good tells the story of Koko, a young couch-hopping eccentric; her partner-in-crime Faron, a high-school boy trying to find himself in a family that won’t understand him; and Jon, a recent college graduate preparing to uproot his life and head to Peru with his philanthropic, change-the-world girlfriend. The reader is suddenly following this magical, organic journey as these three characters try to unravel what it means to have an impact on the world and, most importantly, to know who they are.
Jen’s style is this beautiful hybrid of ink and watercolors, enhancing the expressions and actions of the characters while giving the rest of the world this dreamy, glowing look. At points, the speech bubbles are rather unconventional, hanging unattached to the characters. This creates an interesting effect as the voices become a unique soundtrack to the story unfolding, though it may bother some hardcore comic purists.
Koko is the firecracker that keeps the story going, lighting up and blowing apart in everyone’s faces (whether they like it or not). Thanks to her animated antics, what could be a heavy coming-of-age story about a drifter, a weird kid and a globe-trotting lovebird becomes this glorious montage of intertwined fates. And the book is not without its philosophical moments that, while not too heavy-handed, convey the desire to exist for something more:
[Koko says], “Did you ever go through that phase as a kid when you wanted to be a Doctor or a Fireman or Nobel prize-winning Scientist or something? Like, before you realized real jobs were more like Mattress Salesman or Taco Truck Guy? Being a grownup meant you got to be a hero? I think I’ve figured it out, Faron. I’m going to be Good. I’m going to be the hero I was meant to be.”
Lessons Learned and Awesome Take-Aways: I always feel like I’m too old for stories that sound a lot like The Breakfast Club or Catcher in the Rye. Several years out of college, I tend to look at these sorts of movies and books and think there really isn’t anything they can teach me at this point, that I can only appreciate them at an aesthetic level.
Books like Koko Be Good remind me that that isn’t true. This graphic novel brought me into a real world that is not only depicted with words but also with expressive faces and hands and emotions that drew me in deep. Talented artists like Jen make me stop and realize that there is always a chance to change who you are and to take up a new identity, and that it’s never too late to learn something new about yourself.