Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 336 (1/5) -- The Story of Lee by Wilson and Kutsuwada

First impressions are often wrong. For example, if you had in your hand a new graphic novel written by a man whom you know as the editor of AX: Alternative Manga, a collection of underground and independent comics stories from Japan, what kind of story would you expect it to be?

If you answer wasn't "a sweet, low-key intercultural love story set in Hong Kong, between a local young woman and a Scottish man," then I'm afraid that you are as misled by first impressions as I was. If that was your answer, I frankly suspect chicanery.

The Story of Lee, Volume One is written by that co-editor of AX, Sean Michael Wilson, but there's nothing underground or alternative about it: it's a solidly entertaining, quiet story of possible love and family entanglements. The title character is twenty-four, a dentistry school dropout working at her father's small Hong Kong grocery and dreaming of moving to London. She's got a somewhat obvious family around her: controlling, demanding father; loving, quietly understanding mother; wise, dying grandmother; no siblings; and a favorite uncle, her father's older, widowed idle older brother. Her father is ungently trying to match her up with Wang, "a young handsome man with a good job" in a bank, but Lee has, as the book opens, just met and started flirting very slightly with a blonde man from Scotland, Matthew, who works as an English teacher in the area.

Lee and Matthew's relationship follows pretty much the expected, slow course from that point, with some side-plots having to do with Lee's family, until they reach the end of this volume a hundred and fifty pages later. It's, again, a sweet little romance story, without much in the way of serious complications or reversals, a warm relaxing bath of a genre exercise. Chie Kutsuwada's art has a clear manga influence, but doesn't commit deeply to a serious shojo style (which Lee's mostly Western readers may appreciate). It's not a book that will set any worlds on fire, but it's cute and lovable -- and there's nothing wrong with that.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Sean Michael Wilson said...

This is Sean, the writer of THE STORY OF LEE.

Thanks for this, i think you hit the nail on the head here (or anyway the nail has gone where it was meant to go!). This SOL book is an effort on my part to write a 'normal' style story - of clearly defined characters in a specific situation and location, with a conventionally developing plot. So, its quite different from my AX collection, as you note! In fact its the FIRST such conventional long story I've ever had published! Since my other books (this is my 14th book so far) have been documentary books, historical adaptations, biographies, anthologies, etc. So, in a funny kind of way, this very normal story is my own alternative to those 'alternatives'!

Slightly disappointed, though, that you didn't mention two aspects that make the book a little different from others in its general genre of shojo (or perhaps its more a mature Josei story, since its quite a realistic story). Firstly, the considerable place of 'artistic' concerns in several of the characters (mainly music and literature), which I got a kick from adding in. Secondly, the effort made to make this based on a realistic Hong Kong, rather than just some ridicolous stereotype of the place - almost every exterior building, street, etc is based on a real place in HK. I went there several times, taking photos of 100's of places for visual reference, and speaking to some HK people about life there.


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