Comics

REVIEW: Stay by Sohn from Shooting Star Press

Written by Patrick Smith

A comic pile. Piles of comics. Comics. Piles. These two words have had a long, mutually beneficial association. I must confess however, I never expected to encounter a graphic novel that would unite these two words to address a subject that’s best described as challenging. At first glance it seems almost perverse. Piles. Piles. Yes. That piles. This is a comic, with piles.

Don’t run away! Please be assured that we’re not about to embark on some coprophilic journey. At 100-odd pages, this one-shot serves much more unexpected fare. We’re introduced to urbanite Hagong, ‘a young wannabe writer struggling with his creativity’, yet only after a thoroughly realised flight of fantasy that effortlessly transports you inside the head of this protagonist.

He’s a young man struggling to find his place. He has some difficulties that he really isn’t managing very well, at all: his relationship with the beautiful Jini; his rather monstrous mother; his loyal mate who is exasperated by Hagong’s inability to get a grip. And of course, there’s his piles, or to use the more correct term, haemorrhoids.

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Would it amuse you to learn that for the first thirty odd pages, Hagong is sat inside a toilet cubicle? Well, he is and you know what? It’s OK. It works. This guy may not be any kind of role model but his strongest attribute, his imagination, certainly has its appeal. During this first segment, one absorbs considerable detail on his life, predicaments and character, along with well visualised perspectives of the supporting cast. The chapter is elevated to another level however, by two distinctly styled, confidently executed ‘trips’; surreal leaps into Hagong’s mind’s eye. The artwork bounds from scene to scene, toying with layouts and design with exuberance, yet always adding to the narrative; punctuation; dramatization; momentum. And Hagong hasn’t even pulled up his pants yet.

These parallel tracks of his dour reality and rich fantasy interweave throughout. The juxtaposition of matters of the heart and soul with an unpalatable physical condition is vividly and bluntly illustrated. As Hagong is confronted, so is the reader and the results are inventive and compelling. Although, you might occasionaly wince.

The applied colour palettes are another pleasing aspect. As with the line-work, there’s no rigidity here; stark black and white clashes; vivid red/black duo-tones; full-colour bursts; ‘water-coloured’ mono-tone panels with organic tints and blends; all in service of the scene in play and adding layers to the over-arching story.

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The writing is also creditable. This tale is full of pace and there’s no place here for panels of exposition.‘Events, dear boy, events’ are a potent reminder that regardless of one’s woes, the world is turning with each second, thus avoiding over-indulgent navel-gazing. With a few well versed words, situations and characters are portrayed with some depth. The dialogue is grounded and genuine; the voices come quickly and clearly to one’s ears.

With this drama, there are difficulties to be overcome, pennies to be dropped and revelations to be had. This isn’t an overblown ode to an aspiring artists’ wrestling with his inner being. This is a well observed characterisation of Hagong, a flawed work-in-progress. However, it’s the surrealistic, daringly rendered jaunts into his creative consciousness that make this tale more than the sum of it’s parts. And it’s this approach that transforms a potentially puerile physical complaint into a circumspect metaphor.

As for how Hagong deals with the dilemmas placed before him, I recommend you obtain this enterprising piece and see for yourselves. This graphic novel, originally published in Korea by Blue Wolf, is available from Shooting Star Press.

About the author

Patrick Smith