R. Kikuo Johnson
Fantagraphics, 2005 (2005)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton
igh school in Hawaii would seem to be a fantasy for most teens, and yet Loren wonders if he can make it out alive or at least with his sanity intact. He's soon to graduate but only if his friend Shane doesn't drag him into trouble. Though the two are growing apart, Loren is drawn to follow Shane as he puts them in questionable situations. Meanwhile, an estrangement from his father leaves Loren feelings directionless.
. Kikuo Johnson's first graphic novel reveals his talents as an artist and storyteller. Loren's tale gains depth through a number of tactics employed by the author/artist. Paralleling Loren's story, Johnson inserts historical, biological, and geographical information about the Hawaiian Islands into the graphic novel, providing education and perspective as well as entertainment. Whether it is a deed of land from the nineteenth century or a rap sheet of an arrest character (fingerprints and all), the material adds to the story. Johnson's use of dialogue also proves intriguing. Rather than typical back and forth dialogues, he often places word bubbles one partially on top of another, effectively showing how two people talk at once, talk over each other, or start talking before someone else finishes. He uses it regularly within this text, which works given its theme of trying to mean something in other people's eyes.
he story transpires mostly at night, with black panels drawing attention to the characters. Johnson's depiction of Loren proves engaging. He wears glasses throughout the story, drawn as two blank white circles so Loren's eyes are never seen straight on but only from the sides. This correlates with the idea that Loren (or the reader) can't be sure where he is going to end up - his future is tentative. By the last page, the glasses have been removed and both the reader and Loren know where he is going.
ohnson's subtitle reads '
a comic book novella
' which rings true. A moderate-sized story carries through this graphic novel, which contains a serious and solemn commentary about adolescence as well as the tenuous predicament of Hawaiian culture and history. Graphic novels like these could be easily used in the classroom because of their depth and versatility.
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