Koko Be Good
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Koko is a flighty, semi-homeless, semi-unemployed young woman. Jon is a recent college graduate trying to wrap up loose ends before he leaves for Peru, where his girlfriend is going to be teaching. When the two meet, they begin to question their individual outlooks on life.
While a straight-laced young man meeting a free-spirited young woman is pretty well-tread territory, Jen Wang‘s Koko Be Good (First Second, 2010) is surprisingly sensitive and nuanced. It’s less about two characters meeting cute and changing the other’s life for the better and more of a meditation on growing up and making decisions about the future.
Wang’s art shifts from cartoony slapstick to sweetly sincere. Koko is a big-eyed loudmouth and Wang presents her outlandish ways with oversized features and movements. The introspective Jon is much more slight and Wang presents him nearly overwhelmed by the world around him. Also, her San Francisco is instantly recognizable as a place that people actually live and work and made me realize how I really need to go there for another visit. The subtle, sepia-toned color palette (with a few splashes of green and blue) is lovely and highlights the introspective nature of the story.
The story is in the details — I adore Jon’s visit with one of his old bandmates and they remark on an old photo of the days when they’d all grown their first beards. Later, the aimless Koko feels out of place during a get-together after a beach cleanup. Word bubbles with “community;” “internship;” and “graduation” float around her as she clearly realizes she’s not a part of that world. It’s in moments like this where the book really shines — we’ve all had moments like these where we have to reflect on our pasts our futures and decide where we’re going next.
By contrast with the fumbling Koko and the lost Jon, Emily is nothing less than a grownup — someone who knows what she wants and what it’s going to require for her to do that. I’m glad that Wang included her as a grounding point and a glimpse of what these character’s futures could be.
I am pretty well beyond having to deal with these sorts of issues, but this still resonated with me. After all, are any of us really sure of what we want to be doing with our lives? Do we ever wonder how we could make the world a better place? Koko Be Good isn’t going to give you any answers. It will, however, tell you these are things we all need to figure out for ourselves.