Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. But she’s been working at the same advertising agency for the past five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. Corrina knows there must be more to life, but and she faces the same question as does everyone in her generation: how to find it?
Here is the brilliant debut graphic novel about a young woman’s search for happiness and self-fulfillment in the big city.
Shoplifter, by Michael Cho 8.25
‘Shoplifter’ is the debut graphic novel of Canadian artist Michael Cho. Released in 2014, it tells the story of Corrina, an ad agency copy writer who regrets having lost sight of her dream of being an author. Now living in the big city, she finds herself disconnected from not just her dream, but also from her friends and herself.
Sometimes, to “punctuate the dreariness”, Corrina steals a magazine from the local convenience store by slipping it in a daily newspaper. It’s not like she can’t afford it, and she does buy other items while she’s there; she just does it for the thrill. She even explains to us how she does it, and what to do and what not to do.
Ultimately, though, ‘Shoplifter’ is really about the soul-searching that she does, trying to figure out what she wants out of her life – it’s a graphic novel short on drama and barren of action and artificial excitement. And that’s what makes it such a terrific read: it’s rich in self-reflection, internal debates and moral quandaries.
We are witness to a turning point in Corrina’s life.
It’s a slice of real life.
Having said this, Cho also adds a more intellectually stimulating layer to his tale, in Corrina’s questioning of the so-called interconnectivity that the social media age has brought in. There are a number of discourses about getting regular updates from friends, but never being in direct contact with them, of remaining lonely.
He also questions our consumerist society from the perspective of Corrina’s ad work. She begins to wonder if we’re so used to everything being marketed that we even market ourselves now. In defense of their work and this lifestyle, her boss states that they are “the dreamers of capitalism”. But she remains unconvinced…
I’m a fan of this book. It’s a rich piece work, a spectacular debut.
Mind you, I might be a little mollified by Cho’s splendiferous tricolour artwork, which was reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke’s work on the ‘Richard Stark’s Parker’ series. I spent a considerable amount of time scrutinizing each page, lifting the detail from them with my naked eye, basking in the skill with which they were composed.
Cho’s choice of black, white and pink may not seem intuitive, but he used the three to great effect, not limiting himself to just one for the contours or the other for the finer points; he actually alternated them to increase the impact that they have on the image. If there were any imperfections, they escaped me – so good is his rendering.
The layouts are also impressive: Cho knew exactly how to punctuate moments with silence, how to create a mood, when to lose Corrina in the grandeur of her environment, …etc. He has demonstrated an understanding for storytelling that is surprising given that it’s his first book – I’ve seen industry legends stumble more than he.
All this to say that, while ‘Shoplifter’ is no sprawling epic, it’s a true-to-life and affecting work that is adept at connecting with its audience. If this is any indication of what is to come from Michael Cho, there is no denying that he is a force to be reckoned with. I very much look forward to seeing what he will do next.