12 IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER
Sometimes when you're a comic book editor, certain projects come across your desk that, for one reason or another, you have to pass on, even when you really, really want to do it. I could rattle off some famous books that I turned down at both Dark Horse and Oni and that then went on to have great success, and for each one I can still say confidently that the success they had elsewhere is due to them being elsewhere. Sometimes you have to note what fits.
Though I don't believe I ever read a proposal for 12 Days, the new Tokyopop graphic novel, its author June Kim is definitely one of those cases. June proposed a couple of things to me, but the projects were never quite right. I really wanted to work with her, however, especially after she sent me her short story "B-612" in 2003 (part of it is available on her website, NoFish Entertainment). It remains one of the best short comic book pieces I have ever read. In a very few pages, June managed to evoke the breadth of a friendship on the eve of the pair parting. She illustrates the emotions unexpressed in the way they circle other subjects, the inability to find a mailbox a metaphor for communication avoided and prolonged to the point of it losing its potency. One of the girls doesn't like e-mail because it's too easy, doesn't like snail mail because it requires too much. Classic excuse making. As "B-612" ends, June traverses these doubts for her characters and manages a conclusion that is strikingly heartfelt and sentimental without being mawkish. It's extremely powerful. (The story was published in the second volume of an anthology called New Thing.)
Based on this story, I tried to find any kind of job for June at Oni, but even just trying to hire her as an artist for other people's stories never worked out. Of course, when I was looking for artists to collaborate with on my own projects, I approached her. Amusingly, she couldn't consider 12 Reasons Why I Love Her because she was doing 12 Days, her first full-length graphic novel. Once again, this worked out the best for both parties. 12 Reasons would not have been the same (nor would I) without Joëlle Jones, and the reading public would have been deprived of 12 Days.
Two things struck me about 12 Days right off the bat. One, June Kim has become an amazing draftsmen. Her ink line has strengthened while still remaining delicate, and she has a newfound attention to detail that makes her environments come across as strikingly real. Just look at that cover. It has an incredible depth and is full of gorgeous little pieces.
Two, this is a daring book for a writer/artist on her first time out. 12 Days is a one-off graphic novel about two people living in grief. Jackie first lost her lover, Noah, to the heterosexual world and marriage, and then to death, as Noah died in an accident coming home from her honeymoon. Now, with the help of Noah's brother, Nick, Jackie is going to cleanse the memory of the departed from her system. She will do so by consuming Noah's ashes. Over the course of twelve days, she works her way through the jar, reliving her time with Noah in her head and developing a camaraderie with Nick. Yet, something keeps the girlfriend and the brother from bonding completely. There is some contention in their new friendship, and he definitely has something of his own going on.
The storytelling in 12 Days is confidently structured. June moves in and out of past and present with subtle transitions, sometimes purposely disorienting the reader to cause the two timelines to blur together. She also uses parallel actions so that one event triggers the recollection of another. The mourning is heavy, willfully so on the part of the characters. They want out of it, for sure, but they are going to squeeze every ounce of sadness out of each day they have allotted themselves. When they aren't speaking, what they're feeling causes their faces to sag; when they are speaking, what they say displays their emotions the way opening a paper fan shows us the picture between the folds. Even when Nick and Jackie tease one another, the jokes are morbid, and they can never carry them so far as to completely leave their grief. The writing is brutally honest, and yet the reader never feels crushed by it. We are a quiet observer, watching with fascination as the characters move from page to page.
12 Days is a remarkable comic. I wish I had edited it. I wish my name was on it somewhere, just so I could have been a part of it. It deserves to be bought and read and praised by everyone everywhere. It's not the best comic this year with the number 12 in the title, but it's close. (Insert wink here.) I can offer no higher praise. Get it now, thank me later.
Current Soundtrack: The Ordinary Boys, How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps
Current Mood: impressed
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich
Images (c) 2006 June Kim and Tokyopop