What does she mean by flower petals?
I have had “The Color of Earth” sitting on my “to be read” pile for far too long. When I finally picked it up, I was instantly drawn into the story of the young Korean girl Ehwa and her widowed mother, and the earthy village they live in. I didn’t put it down again until the last page was read, and I found my hands itching for the next volume.
Drawn from his own mother’s memories, artist Kim Dong Hwa has created what he calls “ochre-colored earth stories.” They are tales from a time when people were more innocent, and in touch with the world. The stories are nostalgic, but real at the same time; like the smell of flowers mixed with dirt.
The first panels of “The Color of Earth” is a pair of elephant beetles mating. As the male mounts the female, a challenger comes crawling up to take the top position. When local men compare her mother, a widowed tavern-keeper, to the promiscuous beetle, six-year old Ehwa first learns the sting of town gossip. Ehwa also discovers that she doesn’t have a “chili pepper” between her legs like the boys, and wonders if she is deformed. Both of these are six-year old Ehwa’s first encounters with the mysteries of sex, and are the beginnings of a journey into adult-hood. A journey that will take her through her first and second loves, the changes of her own body, and the realization that her mother is a human being, and a woman.
The other characters of the village are just as real. Dongchul, a boy the same age as Ehwa, is a typical country blowhard, more interested in the contents of everyone’s pants than anything else. Boongsoon is a tough-talking girl who matures faster than Ehwa, but regrets that she isn’t as pretty. Chung-Myung is a young monk who has known nothing but the monastery, but finds that as he ages there are other flowers than the venerable lotus that draw his attention. And Ehwa’s mother finds that her daughter growing up has granted her some more freedom, as she waits patiently under night-blooming gourd flowers for her lover the traveling artist to come and visit. With every visit he leaves behind a single calligraphy brush, and her hope is that when he leaves his last brush he will stay forever.
One of the wonders of “The Color of Earth” is how poetically lyrical Dong Hwa has portrayed all of these experiences. From a girl’s first period, to a boy’s first wet dream; Dong Hwa stays far away from treating these subjects as vulgar, and draws the frankness and reality of life with beauty. He uses the art style of simple, linear characters drawn over hyper-realistic backgrounds, giving the full impact of both impressionistic and realistic styles. When dealing with a woman’s body, a single line on a blank panel gives all the detail necessary, although the next panel might be a scene of the rural Korean countryside with every flower drawn in perfectly.
“The Color of Earth” really is a tremendously good comic. I haven’t read too many Korean comics (or manhwa as they are called), and the ones I have read seem like Japanese copies. “The Color of Earth” is nothing of the sort, and is authentic and beautiful in every way.