STUMPTOWN COMIC BOOK FINDS: FOOD IS STILL HOT
It's only taken me a couple of weeks, but I'm finally getting around to reading the minicomics and things I got at Stumptown last month.
First on the pile were two lengthy books by J. Eric Lee. Of the pair, the one I really liked was Pho Story.
Pho Story is slice-of-life fiction about a teenager whose food explorations lead him to discover pho, a tasty Vietnamese noodle soup. The dish quickly becomes his obsession, and when his favorite restaurant closes down, he learns to appreciate what he has. The boy learns further lessons when he goes to college and the connections he formed between food and other people become even more meaningful.
Lee balances an eye for realism and sentimentality with a slapstick sense of humor. In a way, his funny asides remind me of Chynna Clugston's comics, though when he settles back down, his writing is far more serious than even hers. His main character comes across as natural and definitely has flaws, but never ones that seem exaggerated for effect, as is so often the case in autobio or other realism-oriented comics. In other words, he's an actual person rather than a caricature.
The strength of Pho Story is definitely in the writing. The cartooning is passable, but it seems more like Lee is drawing these things himself just as a way to get his story out there rather than being his true passion. Which is fine, I can totally understand that, and it speaks to the writing that it kept me interested enough not to put the book down.
Pho Story is online at Lee's Livejournal, and you can see it by clicking through on the cover above. He is also working on a blog now and serializing a strip called Definitely Far From Korea that continues in the same realistic humor vein as Pho Story, though in shorter bursts designed for the web.
Lee's other comic, Parka: A Red Riding Hood Variation differs from this course. It's far more dour in tone and also contains elements of fantasy, as befitting the fairy tale it retells. In it, Lee remodeled the wolf as a more sympathetic good guy who comes to the aid of Parka when she is on her way to grandma's. The basic set-up actually reminded me a little of Untamed Heart, which I always saw as a fairy tale with Christian Slater cast as the misunderstood beast rescuing the lost traveler, Marisa Tomei.
I didn't enjoy Parka as much as Pho Story, partly because retold fairy tales interest me less, but also because the more conventional plot made the writing come off as more rickety. It doesn't surprise me that Parka came before Pho, though it does surprise me that it's a first comic for Lee. He gets closer to the mark here than one would expect for a debut effort, and it makes the flaws understandable and more than forgivable.
I am not sure if J. Eric Lee is selling printed copies of these books, but if you like what you see, drop him a line and ask.
Current Soundtrack: The Joy Formidable, "While the Flies (Live);" Kelis, "22nd Century;" "Empire State of Mind I & II" and this horrible song (I had to hear how Katy Perry lived up to her proclamation that she was competing with Alicia Keys and Jay-Z; not even close, idiot girl)
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All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich