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posted July 24, 2013
Conundrum Press, hardcover, 184 pages, May 2013, $20.
I'm not sure if any of the comics in Chihoi's The Library
qualify as great works, but the vast majority are intriguing and the project overall seems laudatory and necessary. As explained in Christian Gasser tightly-spun contextual narrative up front, Chihoi is an emblematic artist of the new Hong Kong alternative comics movement. This is a group of comics-makers with few erected barriers between comics and any sort of better-paying work, a group that lacks in historical, same-region examples but is more than amenable to cross-cultural influence, a group of cartoonists trying to say the same things that young cartoonists have said for years now and settling into a very similar place in the wider popular arts scene with many of the same influences as everyone else in the world. It is a scene more than a decade old now, with all the impact the desire for paid work and an international latticework of supporters might provide.
Chihoi's primary virtues as a cartoonist are the specificity of his observations and the measured way with which he chooses to bring that out on the page. The best comics in The Library
deal with death and separation, the cartoonist able to evoke people not there and the fundamental mysteries of the other by depicting human relationships that barely seem functional, let alone ennobling or comforting. It may say something about the ubiquity of this form for telling stories that only one of the comics remains memorable after reading solely for its choice of visual metaphor (penises as trees), the kind of comic that is memorable for its strange and off-putting qualities. For the most part, the emotions on display are as recognizable in one culture as they are in others, and if the points of emphasis seem different that may be an individual vote of dissent. I would have read another book of the same size upon closing this one, no problem.