Readers of The Lost Art

Same Difference and Other Stories

March 4th, 2009

Writer and Artist: Derek Kirk Kim.
Reviewer: Alex

Same Difference and Other Stories

There is a slight propensity with a certain kind of indie comic, usually by young male creators, to overdo semi-autobiographical guff on themes of self-analysis, existentialist ennui and how hard it is to begin and sustain romantic relationships. Same Difference and Other Stories could, in this regard, be considered run of the mill, being an indie comic by a young male creator, touching (semi-autobiographically) on themes of self-analysis, existentialist ennui, and how hard it is to begin and sustain romantic relationships.

However, it does this with such subtlety, humour and truth that it not only carves out a space for itself amongst other such stories, but stands as a refreshing piece of sequential art fiction, transcending genre categorisation.

There are two distinct elements of this book: Same Difference (the main story, occupying nearly two-thirds of the book’s 140-odd pages) and the Other Stories (the rest of the book: an assortment of varied short pieces), and it makes sense to appraise them separately.

Same Difference follows Simon and Nancy, a pair of mid-twenty-something friends, as they take a little excursion back to Simon’s hometown. This involves almost zero action or high drama, but a lot of cod-philosophical banter and musings about mistakes made at high school (and since). Kim’s excellent dialogue and expressive art (fairly realistic but with a slight manga influence) work perfectly; he’s equally adept at both extensive conversation sequences, and silent sequences where volumes are spoken only in the characters’ facial expressions. Thanks to this storytelling talent, the characters come across as rounded and believable, and the story flows smoothly.

If you’ve read books like Dan Clowes’ Ghost World and appreciated the directionlessness, but wished the characters would just get a bit of perspective and stop being quite so whiny and hard to empathise with, then you’re likely to enjoy Same Difference. Although Simon and Nancy are (just a little) flawed and self-absorbed, that’s part of what makes them realistic and engaging. Through the story, they each atone for a past immaturity and there’s a definite – but not overpowering – sense of a progression and development in their characters. There are moments of emotional eloquence and philosophising around the subject of getting older and maturer, but there’s always some humorous self-deprecation or pop-cultural observation to undercut any potential pretentiousness.

The Other Stories are a fine accompaniment to the main event. They vary from understated straight narratives to comedy rants on subjects including being suicidally single and toilets. They all ‘work’ as strips, and the humour, which varies from sophisticated to quite crude (in the same strip!), is often amusing (particularly the ‘Oliver Pikk’ strips).

Several of the Other Stories are classed as ‘autobiographical’, but the believability and empathisability in the non-autobiographical material suggests that much of that too is partially based on Kim’s personal experience. For example, in Same Difference itself, Simon is a twenty-something Korean American living in the San Francisco Bay Area – just like Kim; although the story’s fictional, it feels like there’s a lot of the author in the character (and it’s all the better for that).

Perhaps to get maximum resonance from the book, you do need to be a twenty-something coming to terms with life, but if you ever were one (or are about to become one) then I’m sure you’ll find much to appreciate in Same Difference and Other Stories.

Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions Inc. (Sep 2004)
Language: English
ISBN: 1891830570

(First published 27/07/2006.)

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