Deploying three very different artistic styles, Yang and Kim present three graphic tales that explore the ethical border between fantasy and reality. In the first story, medievalist heroic fantasy meets teenage ninja turtles when a young man must kill the Frong King in order to marry the princess he loves, but a mysterious cola bottle lures him on to further deeds of heroism – and revelations about his identity. Deep browns and blacks predominate in the fight scenes and dream sequences, alternating with sunnier scenes that celebrate the young hero’s provisional victories. The second story follows the fate of a con artist frog who ties to capitalize on a mysterious smile that appears in the sky. Stylistic nods to mid-century Disney and Warner Bros. comics combine with a high-tech storyline that is at once humorous, satirical, and sad. Finally, a bored and underappreciated office worker indulges herself by pretending to believe that a Nigerian prince really does need her help transferring his fortune into an American bank account. Her fantasy is complemented by her depiction as pudgy, doll-like figure moving through panels of grayed purple against a pale yellow background; her fantasy scenes then come to life in dreamy, pastel-hued watercolors. In each story, the punchline tips the fantasy back to a surprising reality that is ultimately affirmative for the characters in different ways. In the first instance, the boy abandons his fantasy for an unpleasant reality in which he must accept his responsibility; in the second, the frog is liberated from his enslavement in someone else’s fantasy; and in the third, the young woman’s fantasy strengthens her ability to cope with her real life. Taken together, the stories offer opportunities for discussion about the multiple ways fantasy can enrich our lives, as well as some of its attendant dangers. KC
Review in 4/2 Shelf Awareness
Then, to see two pros in action, readers can turn to The Eternal Smile. A trio of comics tales explores the same theme: happiness cannot come from following the path that others have determined for us; true happiness comes from discovering and following one's own path. Longtime friends Yang (American Born Chinese), who wrote the comics, and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories), who illustrated, open with "Duncan's Kingdom," in earth tones that emphasize its medieval flavor. After the death of a King, the princess declares that whoever can kill her father's murderer will have her hand and rule the kingdom. Duncan takes on the task because he loves the princess, but he is haunted by a dream that, when he finally confronts it, reveals his true identity and forces him to make a moral choice. As the character's name in the title suggests, "Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile," stars a money-hungry villain who's a frog. The palette effectively evokes classic Looney Tunes, a fitting backdrop for Gran'pa Greenbax's cathartic experience--which leads him to understand his true nature. And lastly, "Urgent Request," in an exquisitely drab yellow-and-black series of TV tube-shaped panels, follows Janet, a corporate member of the CommTech team. After she applies for a promotion at her computer company, she is ridiculed by her boss. Just when readers might think she's been taken in by an e-mail scam, Janet turns the tables. Each of these three comics acknowledge the human need for escape (in a clever twist within "Duncan's Kingdom," comics themselves are the escape) but also ultimately to own and make decisions about one's reality. Taken together, this pair of books widens the scope of the way comics work and their infinite potential for creativity and for teaching us about ourselves.
Review in 4/1 VOYA – 4Q 4P
A trio of stories from Printz Award winning author Yang and Eisner Award winning author Kim make up this delightful graphic novel. In Duncan’s Kingdom, a young man dreams of becoming a hero. When he succeeds, it is on levels far deeper than he realized. Elias McFadden’s Grand’Pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is a Truman Show-like comic about a greedy frog who winds up seeing behind the smoke and mirrors of his life to seize upon simplicity. In Urgent Request, an office drone decides to send money to a Nigerian prince. Positive results come from her response to the spam.
The three tales are dark in tone, but they are leavened by hope. They never go exactly where the reader expects and the results are compelling. Duncan’s Kingdom is fully of tiny details that charm, such as a frog eating from a Chinese take-out container. The second story begins in a very gloomy manner but offers wonderful redemption. The third story uses color in a lovely way, enabling the main character’s drab world to become golden and warn with soft washes of color. The art is distinct to each story, whether old-fashioned comic book, manga, kiddie-comic, or a limited palette indy comic. The title is fitting – these dark stories end with a smile and some hope. All is not totally well, but you get the feeling things will be okay. – Geri Diorio
The Eternal Smile entwines fantasy and reality with remarkable ease into a delightful story. Surprise twists will keep readers engrossed to the very last page. Yang and Kim cater to fans of all genres, as they gracefully touch on nearly every subject imaginable. The artwork is simple, yet perfectly reflects the mood of the plot. Every element of this graphic novel is woven together into a flawless masterpiece. – Lucy Freeman, teen reviewer