Talk about a step out of the old “comfort zone” — Hong Kong-based cartoonist Chihoi is best known for delicate, lushly-rendered graphite illustration that’s equal parts emotive, subtle, and expressive, but with his latest mini, The Book Fight, he takes off the gloves — even if his literal Comic Book protagonist does, in fact, wear a pair of them. Boxing gloves, to be precise. And he definitely punches well above his weight class.
Rendered in sub-garish oranges, yellows, and whites, Chihoi’s book — which “weighs in” at number 84 in the long-running Mini Kus! line — contains plenty of visual bang for your buck, sure, complete with Kirby-esque flair, flourish, and (crucially) impact, but underneath all the admittedly self-aware bombast is a point well taken, namely : the hierarchy of “art book” publications is complete bullshit, and there’s nothing to preclude you from enjoying a well-constructed children’s pop-up book every bit as much as, if not more than, some fancy (to say nothing of expensive) coffee table monstrosity apart from “too cool for school” appearances. It’s an obvious point, to be sure — so obvious that it may as well be taken as a given — but then, being subtle and/or beating around the bush in any way, shape, or form would fly directly in the face of what Chihoi is going for here.
So, yeah, this comic is a fun one, a nifty little “battle of the books” premise taken to extremes as absurd as they are logical, it’s got just enough to say to maintain your interest without necessarily belaboring the point, and it’s joy to look at. There may not be a whole hell of a lot more to it than that, but I think the idea that there really doesn’t need to be is central to Chihoi’s thesis here — and no sooner do I type that than I feel like a snooty asshole for even using the term “thesis” in regards to this thing in the first place. As well I probably should. Over-analysis is soooo tired at this point; can’t we just take things at face value?
Well, yeah, we can, even if there’s an entire industry predicated upon doing anything but — and I’m part of it. But we in the critical community all need to re-familiarize ourselves with the location of our “off” switch sometimes, and just know when it’s time to kick back and enjoy a cool little comic book — even, maybe especially, when that cool little comic book is about a cool little comic book that enjoys being a cool little comic book and ain’t ashamed to admit it.
I think we’re all well past the point where we feel the need to “defend” comics as a “real” art form — or at least we damn well should be — but it’s equally true that most comics are still trashy, juvenile, disposable fun, and admitting that there’s nothing wrong with that is a further step that’s long overdue. Chihoi has found a pitch-perfect method by which to express that sentiment, and he’s done so without resorting to anything more than good, old-fashioned fisticuffs. That’s pretty creative. That’s pretty clever. And it’s the kind of “creative” and “clever” that can only work in the comics medium.
When you really sit down and think about it, there aren’t many works of art that demand to be taken for precisely what they are — no less, no more, and nothing other than. This is one of them, so enjoy it for what it is — and only for what it is. Which is a much more glowing recommendation than it probably sounds like.
The Book Fight is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/35759365/the-book-fight-by-chihoi
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