Our last book this week is a collection of three short stories told in graphic novel form. In the last couple of years I have discovered how much I enjoy graphic novels. This format contains stories that run the gamut of literature, with the benefit of interesting, beautiful, and funny illustrations. In the same way that the illustrations in a children’s picture book contribute to the story so that the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, graphic novels do the same thing for more complicated storylines. The shorts in The Eternal Smile are all about escape, in one way or another.
The first, “Duncan’s Kingdom,” begins with a classic fantasy gambit—a knight of the realm is sent off to kill a great enemy of the kingdom, but he is plagued by a mysterious dream. In his dream, which is told without text, we see the back of a woman, sitting at a table, an old-fashioned glass soda bottle sits next to her. In the realm of the enemy, Duncan discovers a bottle that looks the same, bearing the label “Snappy Cola;” he’s mystified by this bottle and what it might mean. The artistic style of this story is fairly realistic, but with some stylized elements. The colors in the day time scenes are warm, tones of red and dark yellow predominate; but the scenes that take place in the evening are cool, in grays and purples. I especially like the way that Duncan is drawn in classic hero style, with a small dimple in his chin.
The next story is drawn in a style reminiscent of the old Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck adventures. “Gran’Pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile” features a money-grubbing frog, his two equally greedy granddaughters, and his hapless assistant, Filbert, who does all the real work despite his pronounced stutter and obvious fear of his employer. Greenbax’s goal is to have a golden pool, filled with money, so deep that he can dive into it without hitting his head. Filbert is his ideas man, relentless in his search to find Gran’pa Greenbax his next “get rich quick scheme.” At the end of his rope, Filbert brings them all to the desert to view “the eternal smile,” the name he has given to the smile-shaped anomaly in the sky. Greenbax is furious, but then decides to build a “Church of the Eternal Smile” to solicit donations from parishioners to fuel his greed. The church, however, does not operate as smoothly as he expects.
The final story in this collection is “Urgent Request”; the characters are very stylized, rounded figures rendered in shades of black and grey on yellow paper. Janet is a low-level programmer for CommTech and her shyness is evident. The text is spare, but the story unfolds with details added by the illustrations. Shortly after Janet is turned down for a promotion and humiliated by her boss, she receives an urgent request from Prince Henry Alembu of the Royal Family of Nigeria, asking for her banking information so he can send through a wire transfer of funds. Readers will recognize this as one of the classic email “phishing” scams to bilk people out of their hard earned money. What Janet does in response is as surprising as it is fascinating.
Just as words combined with pictures make a whole greater than the sum of their parts, these three disparate stories work together to create a thought-provoking book. The Eternal Smile is a quick read and readers who have read Gene Luen Yang’s Prinz award-winning young adult novel American Born Chinese will recognize both the drawing style and exploration of identity. Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Good as Lily, which is also in our collection.
Check the WRL catalog for The Eternal Smile.