Shoplifter original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist//Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Michael Cho
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Price: $19.99 US/$23.99 CAN
Michael Cho has probably best known in mainstream comics in the past couple of years as the talent behind some striking variant covers on super-hero titles from both DC and Marvel. Sadly, I was well out of the loop and didn’t realize that his skills are far more profound and striking than I originally thought, and I have a recent purchase from my local comic shop’s discounted graphic-novel rack. I sped through this 2014 book, not because it’s superficial in any way, but because it’s so powerfully but quietly compelling. Cho offers a thoroughly relatable vignette of life in one’s 20s, and it’s illustrated in a simple style that nevertheless conveys a depth and realism that brings Corrina’s corner of the world to life vividly.
Five years out of university, Corrina Park thought she’d be in a different place in her life. She’d taken a job at an advertising agency as a copywriter, something she thought would be temporary as she dealt with student debt and transitioned into a life as an author. But that never happened, and she feels adrift in her own life. She fears her ennui is threatening her livelihood, and she believes the man of her dreams lies just beyond her grasp. Corrina is at a crossroads, and she has no idea what direction to take.
Comparisons to Adrian Tomine’s work on Optic Nerve are unavoidable, but given Tomine’s reputation and skill, that’s a high compliment. Cho’s simple character designs are quite convincing; these all look and move like real people. While Cho might be better known at the moment for colorful but impossible paragons of power, this project shows the real strength of his artistry is how vulnerable, how human his figures are. I was particularly impressed by his use of negative space to define parts of his characters’ shapes at times. Cho’s cityscapes are particularly impressive as well, and his sense of perspective seems flawless.
I found Corrina to be incredibly relatable. Her social awkwardness, her trepidation when it comes to matters of romance — I felt I was looking back at my own 20s in a way. There’s surprisingly little of the activity referred to in the book’s title, but it’s important as it symbolizes the heart of the story. Corrina only feels any sense of control or power in her life when she’s steals a meaningless item from a convenience store, but the reality is that that sense of control is an illusion. There’s no control over others, over how things play out; there’s only choice, and that’s the lesson that plays out over the course of the book.
Years ago, my best friend picked up and moved out of province to Toronto — no job, no place to live, no anything. He was driven, wanted a change, and I couldn’t fathom such a move. I’ve always been a guy who craved a safety net, whose penchant for risk was limited, to say the least. Things worked out great for that friend, and as I sit here in my 40s, I’m thoroughly pleased with how my life has turned out. But I have regrets, nagging questions at the back of my mind of what could have been, daydreams of experiences on which I passed. It’s not a burden, per se, but those “what ifs” will always be with me. Cho’s story is about such fear and the key to addressing it.
While my attention was drawn to this book due to the big price drop, as someone who loves the medium, it really shouldn’t have. I should have found out about this, sought it out upon its initial release. It’s an amazing representation not only of Cho’s storytelling ability, but of the potential of the medium of comics in general. It’s a classic — or at least should be seen as such. 10/10