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Graphic Novel Review: Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm

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In Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm's Good As Lily (Minx), you get four heroines for the price of one: all versions of Grace Kwon, the 18-year-old Korean-American high-schooler who suddenly finds herself living with a trio of Graces from three different stages in her life. The three extra Graces mysteriously appear the night of our girl's 18th birthday; how this sudden manifestation works is never explicitly explained, but it seems to have something to with a piñata. Still, it's clear that the three Graces — aged six, twenty-nine and seventy — have arrived to prod our heroine onto a better life path. Looking at herself many years down the road, Grace is initially appalled at this unexpected glimpse of her future. "I can't possibly turn out looking like this!" the 29-year-old Grace says of her "halmoni" (grandmother) self, and the eighteen-year-old Grace later echoes the same sentiments.

The first overt fantasy from DC Minx's new line of 'tween-aimed graphic novels, Good As Lily rings amusing changes on the type of sentimental change-yer-life fable that's been a Hollywood staple from It's A Wonderful Life through Groundhog Day. Teenaged Grace is a bright and talented high school senior whose tunnel vision keeps her from seeing all of the opportunities around her. Though the reader can almost instantly see in the introductory party scene that her long-standing friend Jeremy has a major thing for her, she's too focused on a hopeless crush for her drama teacher to really notice him.

Each of the other Graces also has their own blind spot: six-year-old Grace is living in the shadow of her older sister Lily, who died at the age of eight from spinal meningitis; twenty-nine-year-old Grace is a well-dressed professional woman who dreads living the rest of her life single; while the halmoni feels that all she has left in life are hours in front of the tube watching Antiques Roadshow and Walker, Texas Ranger. ("What is it with old ladies and Walker, Texas Ranger, anyway?" the teen Grace grouses at one point.) Throughout the course of the graphic novel, each Grace has her perspective widened by her sister selves.

Scripter Kim, who won the triple crown of comics awards (Ignatz, Eisner & Harvey Awards) for his debut book Same Difference And Other Stories, has a bright way with dialog and a knack for capturing his characters' Americanized ethnicity without belaboring it. If his ambitious graphic novel occasionally seems to rush from subplot to subplot (a side story concerning a snotty high school rival seems particularly ill-wedged into the book), his appealing characters continue to hold our interest even when Kim's asking us to accept the fact that Grace is able to hide her three selves in her bedroom, night after night, without her parents once becoming suspicious. Hey, I live in an old house with a wife and a bunch of animals – and I can hear any one of the cats landing when they jump off the furniture onto the floor. You expect me to believe that neither of Grace's parents hear a six-year-old clumping around the place?

That plot canyon aside, Lily works best when the focus remains on Grace and her various selves bouncing off each other. In the most entertaining twist, twenty-nine-year-old Grace attempts to make a play for the drama teacher who's the unrequited object of teen Grace's affections, spurring teen Grace into jealous action. "When you 'grow up' and go out into the 'real world,'" the elder Grace explains to her younger self, "you're gonna find that guys like Mr. Levon are rarer than a Packers jersey at a Star Trek Convention." But our centerpiece protagonist is not swayed by this bit of self-justification, and she works to undermine her older "rival" every chance she gets. The resulting battle escalates to the point where it jeopardizes the production of the (what else?) high school play.

Artist Jesse Hamm, primarily known for mini-comics, is generally up to the demands of Kim's script –- which can shift from serious moments of self-discovery to slapstick in the space of a few panels — though at times his treatment of the secondary characters isn't as strong as it is with the story's primary quartet. (He particularly seems to get a kick out of drawing the oldest Grace.) A three-panel sequence showing Grace's father as he lectures his daughter outside her bedroom, for instance, looks more awkwardly posed than it needs to be. Hamm gets the book's big action scene, though: a multiple catastrophe sequence that concludes with an onstage fire.

As the fourth entry in DC/Minx's much ballyhooed series of black-and-white GN paperbacks, Good As Lily shows the fledgling line growing stronger with each release. I have to wonder, however, whether the books' seemingly set-in-stone 148-page count doesn't work against a work that could've easily better fleshed its story with a few extra pages (perhaps, for instance, some more panels devoted to the title Lily?) With at least two more Minx volumes (the very Judy Blume-sounding Confessions of a Blabbermouth and Kimmie66) announced for fall release, it's clear that DC has hopes for its new young reader's imprint. Maybe providing its writers and artists a smidge more freedom and/or room would help to better ensure Minx's success?

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!