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Advance review of Michael Cho's "Shoplifter" from Pantheon Books

Can one become lost in the big city?



New York based publisher Pantheon Books has had a long and fascinating history. Founded in 1942 by Europeans fleeing the spread of fascism throughout Europe, it has been home to some of the most important works in history. Purchased by Random House publishing in 1960 and ultimately becoming a cog in the massive publication empire of Knopf Doubleday publishing corporation, its graphic novel imprint continues to offer some of the best comic book works in modern times. It's impressive graphic novel library includes Art Spiegelman's "Maus" series from 1986 as well as the more recent "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi from 2003. Entering such esteemed company is the first graphic novel by Toronto based illustrator Michael Cho.

"Shoplifter" is the 96 page tale of Corrine Park, an advertising writer for one of many massive companies within New York City. Having graduated college with an English degree with dreams of becoming the next great American novelist, she's since settled into a career typing ad copy for the past five years. Her life is comfortable with a cozy apartment, a feisty cat and a sporadic nightlife with co-workers and other associates (including a dashing photographer that she fancies). Yet despite all this she's not content, to the point that she occasionally shoplifts magazines from a local convenience store for the thrill, or spends many evenings watching TV and drinking wine alone. Is this all there is to life in the big city, or can true self be found with some risk?

To this end, "Shoplifter" exists as a "slice of life" story about a professional woman in the big city, and questions whether the constant bombardment of stimuli from people and the media in such a place makes one feel more, or less, fulfilled in life. In terms of a pure narrative, it may seem familiar to many other "career versus dreams" conflicts in fiction, and some of the visual metaphors border on being blunt. The ultimate resolution won't be much of a surprise if one is studying the work simply as a narrative. Where it stands above other works is in its' execution and especially in Cho's terrific and illustrative artwork. The work may be "two color", but amid the blacks and whites of his work are an ocean worth of grays which add a lot of texture and depth to his panels without things being bogged down in needless lines or details. In this way his style may remind some of Darwyn Cooke, the animation storyboard artist turned comic book creator. There is plenty of satire here, such as the send up of how ad companies work as well as a thinly veiled look at "OkCupid" and similar dating websites, and the dialogue between the characters is always cracking. Every panel has a purpose and Cho doesn't waste any time with telling his story and getting to the point of his character study.

Set to go on sale on Sept. 2nd, it is available for pre-order now on Amazon. His first graphic novel effort knocks it out of the park (pun intended) with its' humor, sense of style, and near flawless execution of its' simple narrative. Lovers of comic books who prefer stories about characters in real life situations and juxtapositions instead of superheroes having endless violence soaked crossovers will find a lot to enjoy here. Just make sure not to take the title too literally and pay for it.