Same Difference: The Joys and Sadnesses of Being Directionless in Your Mid-Twenties
I'm not really sure how many comics I've read created by Derek Kirk Kim. I often mix up his work with the stories of his friend and occasional collaborator, Gene Yang, who provides an introduction to this volume. However, despite the fact that I often forget what Kim has done, when I re-encounter his work I discover over again that he is both a great storyteller and a great artist.
I picked up this story, which Kim considers his first significant work, based on his name on the spine and the interesting cover picture of two Asian-American twenty somethings surrounded by fish. What I discovered was a interesting little short story, a reflection on being directionless in your mid-twenties, when everyone else seems to be accomplishing things: getting married, having children, and starting a career.
The two main characters of the story, Simon Moore and Nancy Kim, are Korean-Americans living in Oakland. On a whim a few months before the story starts, Nancy randomly opened a letter sent to her apartment by a man named Ben Leland, who was trying to contact a former tenant named Sarah. Ben's somewhat obsessive love for this mysterious Sarah amused Nancy so much that she wrote back pretending to be Sarah. When she learns that Ben's from Simon's hometown of Pacifica, California, Nancy insists that the two of them go there to see who Ben is and what he looks like.
The crux of this story is the terror of being or of being perceived as a "loser." Simon hates going back to Pacifica because he always runs into high school friends working at Safeway or somewhere similar, and while they haven't accomplished much in their life, it's still more than he has. Nancy justifies playing what is in essence a horribly mean-spirited prank on Ben, a man she doesn't know, because he has to be a loser, only to be called out on it by Simon, although mostly because she pulls him into her schemes as opposed to a moral disagreement with what she's doing. In fact, when the two finally are about to catch a glimpse of him, they bet on what stereotypical "loser" features--a ponytail, a mullet, dorky glasses-- he will have, only to be surprised as to what Ben actually looks like.
Kim writes Simon and Nancy really well, making them oddly sympathetic for two shiftless, cowardly losers who on occasion do rather mean-spirited things. We get to know them as the story goes on, and we see that while the two may do bad things, they show regret for it (Simon, in fact, still feels guilty over ditching a blind girl who wanted to go to a dance with him over seven years ago). In short, they're twentysomethings, and as most of the intended audience of this comic are probably also twentysomethings (even though I found it in the teen section of my library) it makes them sympathetic despite being flawed.
It's a rather simple story in which not much happens, but thanks to its interesting characters, this story works for what it is. This is as good an introduction to Kim's work as any, so check it out if you're interested.