The Eternal Smile is a collection of short comics by authors and artists Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories). The comics follow different characters and even have very different drawing and writing styles, but all have the same theme: nothing is really ever how we perceive it and it only takes one event (or one scene, or one word) to change our world view. All three sections had a lovely twist at the end that really solidified the strength of these stories.
Duncan’s Kingdom is about a young soldier who is determined to marry his sweetheart, who just happens to be the princess of the land. When her father, the king, is killed by the Frog King, the princess announces that whoever avenges her father’s death with the head of the Frog King will earn her hand in marriage. Duncan, with the help of his adopted guardian The Patchwork Man, goes on a journey to avenge the king. Along the way things are out of place and Duncan begins to question the very foundation of his kingdom. The twist at the end of this story was not necessarily unexpected and I liked it, but I think it was the weakest of the three stories. This is not necessarily a fault of the story, but the other two were so strong.
I thought that Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile was going to be my least favorite comic. At first I really didn’t like it and was going to skip it entirely. I just didn’t love the story and thought it was kind of boring and I didn’t understand the point. And then I did understand the point and it ended up being my favorite of all. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you are reading this and consider giving up the story, don’t. I think it’s the strongest and most imaginative of the three.
If Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is the most imaginative, then Urgent Request is the most beautiful. I really loved it and the message it sends is a good one. Janet Oh works at a boring, dead-end job and her life is as gray as the color on the pages. However, when a Nigerian prince emails her and asks for her help, her life suddenly turns colorful for more than one reason. I loved the twist at the end of this one. It was much more contemplative than the other two stories and the beautiful watercolors added to that. There is one particular panel of this story that is just gorgeous and I would love to have it on my wall.
Though this collection is not necessarily as strong as American Born Chinese or other graphic novels I’ve read lately, it certainly deserves a spot on your list of books to be read. It’s a quick, enjoyable read and has me really interested in Derek Kirk Kim’s other work. Fans of graphic novels will find a lot to love here.
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR