Saturday, 3 August 2013

Minx Review: Good As Lily

This week's graphic novel in my Minx Review series is Good As Lily written by Derek Kirk Kim and illustrated by Jesse Hamm.

Good As Lily is about Korean American high school student Grace Kwon. After getting her head stuck in a magic birthday piñata Grace is visited by three versions of herself (a child, aged 29 and an elderly lady) who seem intent in ruining her life...which couldn't come at a worse time as she is desperately trying to keep her drama club from folding and also win the heart of her high school drama teacher. Through all these events she realises that turning eighteen is not the end of the world but just the start of a new one.
I need to address the elephants in the room: the story has nearly nothing to do with Lily and the cover art is drawn by Derek Kirk Kim whilst the inside art is by Jesse Hamm. I feel the only time a graphic novel should have a cover by an artist who has had nothing to do with the inside art is when the book contains art by multiple artists or if it is a trade paperback where each section was published separately using the cover artist. I mean I hate it when people buy a book then complain about the weird art when it is obvious from the cover what they're getting but in this instance I think it's fair to feel cheated. Though Derek is also an artist and quite obviously wanted a hand in the art of the story too nothing suggests a lack of faith in the inside art than to choose a separate cover artist (the biggest offender being using Kouyu Shurei's amazing cover art for standard western manga Return to the Labyrinth).
You can see more of Derek's art of Good As Lily here.
It is evident from the amount of story packed into Good As Lily that Derek is full of good ideas. Good As Lily is a fantasy with a subtext of embracing life, a slice of life drama about friends fighting to save their high school drama club and even a romance but thanks to the restrictions of the single volume format it feels like too much is going on to be full explored satisfyingly. For instance the first 28 pages (nearly a 1/4 of the entire page count) are dedicated to getting to know Grace's friends. Endearing as this set up is only Jeremy and Rona deserve such a detailed introduction as the other friends barely return again. Perhaps if there was no fantasy aspect we would be able to focus on the drama friends more but once the fantasy part kicks in and Grace's friends retire to the background it makes such a long beginning feel redundant and slightly wasteful. The rest of the story races to deal with the lack of balance and never really catches up.
Then there is the titular Lily. Lily is Grace's dead sister. She is supposed to be this heavy weight that Grace compares herself to throughout the story but she is barely referenced and when we eventually do find out who she is Grace's feelings towards her are resolved in a matter of panels in the middle of the story. Because the book is called Good As Lily you are on the constant look out for her or at least expect to be drip-fed hints about who she was. Because this does not happen it feels like the most unsatisfying aspect of the story.
The story is written in a friendly, sometimes even comical tone and Grace has good conflicts with her other selves (yet another reason why her friends are not needed). In particular she has trouble with her 29 year old self who also has a crush on her drama teacher. This finds a satisfying conclusion as does Grace's evolving friendship with Jeremy however her eventual friendship with her bully does feel less believable.
Jesse Hamm's art is detailed and very indie. I particularly like Grace's look. I can imagine her as a drummer of an indie rock band! There's the odd weird panel (and few too many floating heads for my liking) but it's mostly of the good quality you would expect from a Minx artist. It does, however, have a slightly stinted feel. At first I thought maybe Jesse was a new artist still trying to perfect his style but as I looked over Derek's notes on Good As Lily I realised Jesse was trying to recreate Derek's style rather than embrace his own which is a shame as you can tell there is something not quite comfortable about it. I would like to see something in his own style to see if it feels more relaxed and natural.
Good As Lily is probably the weakest of the Minx books though it is still worth a try if you have enjoyed the rest of the series. Despite its faults it is a perfect gateway for exploring the art and writing of Derek and Jesse. Just surfing around Derek's blog makes me want to read and watch more by him. I hope to feature more by both Derek and Jesse in the future.

You'll like Good As Lily if you like:
Freaky Friday, 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, Glee (and The Glee Project), Western slice of life manga, 1990s kids shows set in and around high school, cheesy Asian drama.

Also by Jesse Hamm:
Negative Burn, Hawkeye Volume Two and Hawkeye: Little Hits

Graphic novels written by Derek Kirk Kim:
Same Difference,  Flight Volume One, Bizarro World and Electric Ant Issue 1

Graphic novels drawn by Derek Kirk Kim:
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, The Eternal Smile and Prime Baby

Online Media by Derek Kirk Kim:
Mythomania, Tune, Yesterday and Orange Tango

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