Beautiful raw talent but with disappointing storytelling
A lot of teenage angst and some beautiful art. That’s mainly what you get in this manhua (which is just a fanish was of saying “Chinese comic book”) by the superbly talented and yet flawed Benjamin (real name Bin Zhang) (Orange).The stories of “Remember” are pure auto-biographical meta-fiction. There are actually two pieces, which share a somewhat similar theme; that of unappreciated artistic genius.
The first and longest story features a brilliant young comic artist who is a paragon of artistic integrity which means that his creations will never see print. Time and again he takes his stories to comic publishers, only to be told that he needs to stop being so original and provocative. Good comics, he is told, imitate the popular Japanese-style adjusting only for the more conservative morals of the Chinese people. Into the life of this melancholy but steadfast genius comes a beautiful young girl who was once a successful comic artist but who gave it up in order to pursue the more mundane course of college and career. She falls instantly in love with Mr. Moody Brilliance (who also happens to be super-cool and despite his protestations of poverty rides a pretty sweet bike), and dedicates herself to becoming his number one fan/stalker. The artist is cold and cruel to the sweet girl, chiding her for giving up her dreams and wantonly parading other women in front of her. The two bring each other nothing but tears, until finally a crisis point is reached.
The second story is much shorter, and tells of two schoolmates, one of which was a social misfit but talented artists. The misfit perseveres in his art, even at the bullying of other students, while the other student admires the artist but cannot bring himself to see past the social stigmatism of befriending the misfit.
With so many pages dedicated to the concept of the “brilliant but unappreciated artist” Benjamin is clearly doing a little self ego-stroking here. The autobiographical nature of the comic is something rarely seen out of the “indy” comics scene, and it is a somewhat precarious path to tread. Few have pulled off the necessary balance of being honest while still wanting to present yourself in a certain way, and also create a satisfying piece of entertainment.
Benjamin’s art is undeniably brilliant, with some of the prettiest pages I have see in a manga-style comic. Unlike most other Tokyo Pop releases, “Remember” is full-color and the size of an American comic. The larger size and glossy pages really show off Benjamin’s art, and he may be one of the biggest discoveries since Alex Ross. The faces of his women are heart-breakingly beautiful, and his use of color schemes and images show a Fine Art background.
The real problem lies in his ability as a storyteller. The story is too abstract and unfocused, without a solid anchor or plot. At one time I though the artist character wasn’t real, but only a symbol of “the world of art” that the girl had at one time allowed herself to be seduced by, but then pages later it is clear that they are both intended to be real-life characters.
Ultimately the strength of the artwork outweighs the flaws in the storytelling, and “Remember” is worth picking up. But for future books I would love to see Benjamin paired with a writer, or with an editor who can bring more focus to his stories.