Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good As Lily: I prefer roses

Another lame post title. I need to work on coming up with puns or something. Anyway:

Good As Lily
Written by Derek Kirk Kim
Art by Jesse Hamm

The fourth entry in DC Comics' Minx line of graphic novels aimed at teenage girls is all about an eighteen-year-old girl named Grace who meets versions of herself at different points in her life. It's never explained what exactly brings them together (although a strange incident involving a piñata seems to have something to do with it); they just run into each other one night, and Grace brings them home and starts living with them, hiding them from her parents and passing them off as relatives to everyone else. Grace is at a precarious point in her life; at eighteen, she feels like she hasn't really accomplished anything, and although she got into Stanford, she isn't really sure what she wants to do in the future. She has friends (including a boy she's known for years who obviously has feelings for her), but she also harbors a major crush on her drama teacher, Mr. Levon.

The insertion of three other Graces into her life shakes things up a bit, and although it starts out as a comedic device, we slowly realize that they are there for a reason, with each of them wanting to sort out something they regret and teach teenage Grace a lesson (although it's not as obvious as it sounds; there are no explicit morals here). Six-year-old Grace manages to reconcile her feelings about her older sister Lily, who died at the age of eight and always loomed over her as a "preferred" daughter to their parents (hence the title; Grace doesn't feel like she's ever as good as Lily). Twenty-nine-year-old Grace has regrets about what she didn't do when she was younger and thinks perhaps the best years of her life are over. Eighty-year-old Grace regrets everything, having pretty much given up on life, enjoying only cigarettes and daytime TV. She gets to realize that she can still make a difference in people's lives, and teach teenage Grace not to overlook the treasures right in front of her.

It's beautifully written, with all of the above information coming through interpretations, rather than baldly stated to the readers. There's plenty of comedy and fun scenes in addition to the life lesson. And along with the Graces, there are plenty of other well-rounded characters, like Grace's parents and friends, or the mean girl at school who we eventually find out feels the same way about Grace as Grace does about Lily.

Unfortunately, Derek Kirk Kim doesn't provide the art along with his story. Not that Jesse Hamm is terrible or anything, but Kim could have pushed this book to a whole new level, creating an instant classic. As it is, Hamm does a workmanlike job, following Kim's script and character designs. Sometimes the art gets a bit rough, especially in the changing contours of characters' mouths, but it usually works pretty well. However, Mr. Levon does come off as vacuous and empty-eyed:

And he wears the same outfit, a V-neck sweater over a plaid shirt and black tie, in every appearance, even when he's chaperoning the school dance. That was bothersome. But usually the art is pretty good, and occasionally looks pretty nice, like in this panel that uses greytones to beautifully define Grace's features:

So it's a wonderful story with art that, while not perfect, is certainly quite readable. I would definitely recommend it, and I should mention that my wife read it and liked it too. Check it out!

I originally had the following paragraph in the middle of the above review, but I thought it kind of interrupted the flow and didn't really have to do with the actual critique of the book, so I took it out. But I didn't want to waste it, so here it is:

The first time I ever heard of Jesse Hamm was in a blog post he did back in March in which he complained about writers not knowing enough about art (the post gained some notoriety around the comics blogosphere after Mark Waid stopped by and left some angrily argumentative comments). One example he gave was having a character express two mutually exclusive emotions in one panel, forcing the artist to draw the character with two faces. I probably wouldn't have paid it any mind regularly, but due to that post, I noticed several instances of that technique in this book:

It caused me to wonder if Derek Kirk Kim was the writer Hamm was complaining about. Strange.


  1. Thanks for the detailed review, Matt. Two comments:

    My notorious blog entry wasn't about any particular writer; only about trends I'd noticed in the many scripts I've read. As I said in my blog, Derek's "a great visual storyteller," and that dual-face technique is "workable in cartoony contexts" like the one you cite above. What bothered me was its use "when you're dealing with subtler shades of emotion in a more realistic context."

    However, if you object to Levon's choice of clothing, that was D's department! I'll point out in his defense that Levon does change it up as the situation demands: he abandons his sweater for the car wash, and adds a blazer for the formal occasion at the end.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Jesse!

  3. Between personally responding to this review, writing a letter to The Comics Reporter decrying their choosing to link to a lone negative review, and the posting of all his positive reviews over on The Beat (every... single... one...WTF?), one might think that Mr. Hamm's skin is a wee bit thin.

    What ever happened to letting one's work speak for itself?

  4. In Hamm's defense, I think he's just being active in the online comics community, at least in my case. He responded to specific questions I had about the work, which is really pretty neat, from my standpoint, especially since I wasn't really expecting an answer. I'm still getting used to the idea of interacting directly with the people who create the comics that I read. It's a brave new world, man!

  5. Some might also say it makes the chasm between reviewers and creators a little too close for comfort.

    Don't worry, Mr. Brady, I'll go easy on you the next time you rip one of my books to shreds. ;)

  6. That's a fair point, and an interesting thing to think about, from both the critical and creator perspective. If I've got a direct link to a creator, I might consider them a friend and thus "go easy" on their book. On the other hand, a creator might get caught up in responding to critics and/or fans, rather than focusing on the work. For my part, I try to be honest, but I do recognize that creators might actually read something I write, so I don't want to be mean or make any personal presumptions. I do want to maintain my critical integrity though, even if it means I might not get to be chummy with somebody "famous". I dunno, it's kind of a fine line to walk. I suppose it would be easier if I was anonymous; then I could lob attacks willy-nilly, and not care about what people thought. Heh.

  7. Anonymous?

    I'm Batman!


  8. I wasn't actually referring to you (damn, I worried that you might think I was), but you seem to be taking credit for your employer's good deeds. Be careful; he might not like that.

  9. Batman I can handle.

    It's Chuck Norris that makes me piss my pants.

    Seriously though, you have got to love how the internuts brings people closer together.

    Why, without it we'd never have witnessed such highlights as Uwe Boll going all UFC on a bunch of web critics.

    Crazy times, sir, crazy times.