The Eternal Smile Mini-Review
Short form; it’s by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim, so you should probably buy it. A slightly longer attempt at analysis follows.
Well no, not actually. All I’m really going to do here is recount the premise of each of the three stories (one is your typical heroic medieval fantasy, one is a take on Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck with a plot twist I’d ruin if I boiled it down to a high concept, and one is a slice of life story about a lonely office worker who gets taken in by the whole Nigerian prince hoax e-mail) and talk about the book as a whole a little.
Escapism vs. reality is a theme that runs through all three stories, which is what drew me to the book beyond the creators. I remember really liking Kim’s “Same Difference And Other Stories” when I read it in 2004. While I haven’t read Yang’s much lauded American Born Chinese (because I am a bad person), I do associate his name with good comics, and was interested in this collaboration. Yang wrote and Kim drew the three stories, one of which was previously published by Image in 1999 according to the legal disclaimer page.
But the overarching theme was also a draw. I’ve always been interested in it, and Yang and Kim handle it deftly here. While reality is preferable to fantasy in each story, they find different ways to express that in each story. Each story also has a different tone. The swords and sorcery story does a routine similar to Seaguy, in that both are bright shiny fantasy worlds, but the protagonist knows there’s something wrong with each. The second story is a pretty hilarious, gonzo take on Scrooge McDuck until the big twist. The third story is a very good slice of life piece which takes what seems like a glaring flaw in story logic and makes it a major turning point for the protagonist.
It’s pretty easy to plow through the book in an hour or so, and I’m not sure how much the decoding crowd will get out of multiple read throughs, but who cares? It’s Yang and Kim; you should probably buy it.