Same Difference

Same DifferenceSummary: When Derek Kirk Kim (The Eternal Smile) published his debut graphic novel back in 2003, it made an immediate stir. The story about a group of young people navigating adulthood and personal relationships is told with such sympathy and perception that the book was immediately hailed as an important new work.

Seven years later, it’s clear that Same Difference has won a place among the great literature of the last decade. It stands not only with Fun Home, Persepolis, and American Born Chinese as a lasting graphic novel, but with much of the best fiction of this young century. Derek’s distinctive voice as an author, coupled with his clear, crisp, expressive art has made this story a classic. 

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Same Difference, by Derek Kirk Kim 8.0

It’s amazing what happens when you’re even remotely curious and adventurous. Oh, I’m not talking about going on awe-inspiring journeys to foreign lands. I mean in everyday life. Much like some people are creative and others aren’t, some people are adventurous and others aren’t (it’s not truly black and white, mind you; there’s plenty of gray in between).

I know people who go on trips, but who are completely unadventurous with respect to food or culture. They consume the same things things time and time again, never daring to expand their boundaries. Conversely, I never go on trips (long story), but love to discover something new, unearth a hidden gem, widen the scope of my experience.

Of course this tends to limit itself to movies, music, books and food, but we all have our fascinations. And as anyone who reads my blurbs knows, I pursue my interests fully and in all directions at once. There’s no end to the new unbeaten trails: you go down one (sometimes all the way, sometimes only partly) and you find another as you go along.

This leads me to ‘Something New’ (Is this a pun? Am I being punny?).

I never would ever have heard of this book if I hadn’t read ‘The Eternal Smile‘ which, in turn, I wouldn’t have heard of if not for ‘Level Up‘ which, in turn, I wouldn’t have heard of if I hadn’t paid attention to the ‘Recently Recommended’ page of the library’s website. The whole question now is “when does Kevin Bacon  show up?”

Derek Kirk Kim (The author of ‘Something New’! Let’s try to keep up, shall we?) was the illustrator and collaborator on Gene Luen Yang’s book. Since I liked his artwork and because his bio brief said he was an author in his own right, I decided to get some of his books from the library. And this is how ‘Same Difference’ came into the picture.

‘Same Difference’ is a lovely semi-autobiographical book that Kim fleshed out over the course of a few years. His debut graphic novel, to him it remains his most significant work; he says that it’s with ‘Same Difference’ that he found his own voice. He was rewarded for his breakthrough with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry.

Derek Kim takes us into a day in the life of Simon and Nancy, as they hang out with their best friend Ian, go on a road trip, and share a few embarrassing secrets along the way. It’s the perfect example of every day life made interesting by people’s imperfections, by people saying and doing the wrong things to other people.

And living with the resulting shame.

And trying to make amends.

It’s a funny, engaging book. The moment you’re thrown into Simon, Nancy and Ian’s world, preparing for lunch in Oakland’s Pho Anh Dao, you get a sense of the familiarity and conviviality between the three: they banter, poke fun at each other, muse about absurd things and tell each other stories. I laughed out loud many times throughout.

The dialogues read extremely well. Unlike mainstream comic books, the exchanges feel real and flow just like natural discussions do; there are no pretentious statements or catchphrases here. Reading this book is like being the mute and invisible friend tagging along with Simon and Nancy; one feels very much part of the monochromatic picture.

The artwork is elegant. It’s not a masterwork of precision, but it’s rich with detail and it articulates the mood, the moments and the characters beautifully. Kim did all the work himself and his understanding of paneling, his positioning of the speech/thought bubbles, and of all the pieces that make a visual novel work, is exceptional.

It may not seem like much at first glance, but “Something New’ is absolutely delightful. It’s a quick read, but it’s filled with highlights. It leaves us with many fond memories, memories created with Simon and Nancy – not recounted to us, but that we experienced too. And it’s this ability to involve us that makes ‘Something New’ so worth reading.

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