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  • Words: Byun Byung-Jun
  • Art: Byun Byung-Jun
  • Story Title: "Mijeong", "Utility", "A Short Tall Tale", et al.
  • Publisher: NBM Publishing
  • Price: $19.95
  • Release Date: Aug 3, 2009

Byun Byung-Jun’s anthology is a hard look at urban life, the trials of youth and the esoteric nature of comics.

Anthologies are a fickle beast.  They can be a showcase for the new and exciting.  There are volumes that speak of the strange and unusual.  Many times, the mere format makes for an uneven read.  Different stories by different folks can be cumbersome.  Some can be a breeze to read, some can be a nightmare.

The anthology executed by a single creator is a different beast altogether.  It can showcase the voice of a talent and let the craft shine.  It can also be a massive failure.  Mijeong is somewhere in the middle.  There are pieces that are near perfect and there are pieces that are oblique and nigh incomprehensible.

At its best in a story entitled “Utility,” Byun’s work is masterful.  In the story, a group of kids are faced with the dilemma of how to dispose of a sister who has committed suicide.  The macabre solution is almost Hitchcockian in its simplicity and the tension it builds.  The themes are complicated though as the sister’s suicide is brought on by an act of violence that is justified in its righteousness, but the children feel that there is face lost and more trouble will weigh down on the family due to the circumstances of her demise.  There is no moral black and white in the story.

In much of the book, moral ambiguity reigns supreme.  Byun portrays his native Korea as a harsh place of Urban impropriety and the decay of scruples is his stock in trade.  Many times, the plight of his characters is moving.

In “Yeon-du, Seventeen Years Old,” he examines life’s ability to crush youth through tragedy and as time marches on there is a relentless toll on the soul.  This theme is probably one of the most constant of the book.  It is even on display in the art work.  Byun draws young people with a swoop and a curve.  It is instantly recognizable that the lack of years makes one not only more beautiful, but in a way almost less real.  As the age of the characters reaches higher and higher, his rendering becomes more complex and his drawings become more real.  It's as if time makes a person more substantial. The effect on the reader is that the hardships of the life of a man are shown quite plainly on his face.

This emotional context is the author’s most powerful tool.  Sometimes, he lets that fall to cleverness and is less successful in his narratives as a result.  Two stories actually put the author in the work and he shows how dreams inspire his work; or he tells a tale over the phone.  The artistic statement is powerful in these kinds of stories, but he loses the impact of his characters - the stories become less about the people and more about the process of storytelling.  Part of this reader admires the courage to display oneself in such a manner and respects the merits of the effort, but even more poetic and ethereal tales in the book may be less satisfying as stories, but resonate stronger.  It is an interesting development to have a less successful story be the more powerful statement. 

Mijeong translates to “pure beauty” in Chinese.  It is obvious that the author sees pure beauty as a fleeting and unobtainable perfection in his reality.  It is the kind of artistic statement that will keep the hip talking and leave the casual reader scratching his head.  When Byun is successful, he is a powerhouse capable of stirring deep rooted feelings in his audience.  When he is less so, there is obvious talent on display, but confusion seeps in.

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  • Defunkt

    Defunkt Jun 19, 2009 at 8:01am

    August the third?!!! :( I preordered my copy months ago and thought I would get it in July. Did you get a preview/review copy, Lee? Anyway can't wait...

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