December 2004

Sharon Adarlo

fiction

Same Difference and Other Stories by Derek Kirk Kim

Same Difference and Other Stories, before appearing in bound physical copies, started life on Derek Kirk Kim’s website, and gradually acquired steady word of mouth. The transition from computer screen to comic book is not exactly seamless. Colors from the original become black and white, panels seem too small, but for the most part, you get the same over-all experience.

The comic book, reflecting their young creator, dwell on pressing issues that plague our particular generation of vaguely unhappy twentysomethings, from looking for love in all the wrong places, leftover high school angst, problems with the family, and searching for that small slice of heaven, a carton of Cherry Garcia ice cream. Kim brings his own personal slant to the stories by referring to his Korean heritage, but the comics don’t get bogged down with identity issues and instead uses his background to self-deprecating ends in scatological discussions about Korean toilets and getting metaphorically shafted with a broomstick by God and posh Korean girls. In the end, the mostly Korean American characters’ heritage is incidental to the stories and poses no problem for anybody else to quickly identify with Kim’s empathetic portrayals of these young people.

The bulk of the comic book is the story Same Difference, concerning the aimless going-ons of two Korean Americans, Nancy and Simon. Nancy has been exchanging letters with Ben Leland who mistakes her for his ex-girlfriend, and Nancy decides to go and finally meet him. Simon reluctantly agrees to go along with his best friend’s harebrained scheme. The other stories concern themselves with the love lorn musings of a boy named Lyle and the weeds in his backyard, the strip titled "Super Unleaded" is about the quiet observations of a boy concerning the problems in his family, and there’s the pathetic, Woody Allenish talking toothpick who is sex-obsessed and despairs that everybody is getting laid except him, and of course the aforementioned autobiographical experiences that Kim has in South Korea. And oh yeah, in drawings worthy of Joel Peter Witkin, Cupid gets brained by a frustrated youth swinging a baseball bat. Underlying these often sarcastic and biting stories is this razor sharp wit, hilarious self-deprecating jokes, and a kind of quiet, low-grade fever of pathos -- the pathos of a young person trying to find his place in the world. You can tell that Kim puts a lot of himself in these pieces, if not exact personal information the import and feelings that underpin the experiences of so many of his peers. There’s also a striking cinematic quality to his comic book, which is most of all realized in the titular piece where the frames take on an artful quality by the selection of certain scenes and angles.

The other stories are arranged in non-chronological order, but you can tell by the quality of the drawings on which is earlier and which is a later piece. The earlier stories he worked on seem more rigid and actually dated looking -- his early depictions of foliage have the unfortunate look of late-seventies clip art used for architecture drawings. The later stories and especially Same Difference are more mature, more unique, and more affecting. There’s a wonderful balance that he achieves in marrying realism and stylization into a unique voice that is all his own, a kind of Korean American Woody Allen -- angtsy, biting, smart, and ultimately a voice sensitive to the crazy and often contradictory feelings of the cell phone generation and for that becomes more than a comic book, and instead a skillful and effective mediation on what it means it to be young, stupid, and a little horny.

Same Difference and Other Stories by Derek Kirk Kim
Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 1891830570
144 Pages