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Johnny Hiro Paperback – June 1, 2009
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Tor, Jul 17 2012, $16.99
In Brooklyn, Johnny Hiro lives with his Pollyanna girlfriend Mayumi while he works across the Bay as a busboy in a Lower East Side sushi restaurant owned by Chef Masago; she accepts her role is that of the pretty sidekick GF to the hero. One night while they are sleeping, Gozadilla the monster that destroyed Tokyo crashes through their paper thin apartment wall seeking vengeance against Mayumi's mom who was a limb of giant Super A-OK Robot that kicked his butt. However, Johnny has experience battling urban blight waiters demanding greater tips for inadequate service or samurai carrying businessmen. Thus Johnny ruining Mayumi's bunny slippers leaps in a single bound at the humongous lizard hoping his reflexes keep him from an extended hospital stay as he lacks insurance. Thank goodness for Mayor Bloomberg or Johnny would not be there to play catch with a gigantic tuna, battling sushi ninja, arguing the law with Judge Judy in Night Court and dealing with the government failure to bail out that critical too big to fail capitalist industry, high heels; all part of everyday living in New York City.
This graphic version of the award winning Johnny Hiro survivor of New York City comic books showcases the amusing satirical adventures of a young man trying to make it in a city that never sleeps (as Gozadilla proves). The entries are fast-paced short clips with the B&W drawings lampooning the misadventures of the working class couple as nothing is sacred when it comes to life in the boroughs.
Fred Chao’s art is wonderful, thin linework with shading for depth and detail for verisimilitude. It’s active and has a great sense of motion, plus a strong sense of place, capturing the craziness of New York City. A lot of it is a love letter to the city and all that can happen there.
Another story in this volume features Johnny having to steal a lobster to get ahead at work. The chase scenes allow for lots of dynamite action leavened with philosophy, plus occasional commentary by a drawn Alton Brown, which tickled me immensely. Johnny and Mayumi also go to the opera, which is interrupted by a samurai attack in the men’s room, and then he’s sent to fix a messed-up order from the fishmonger. Finally, he and Mayumi go to court (only it’s Night Court run by Judge Judy) against their landlord.
Not only did I get amazing cartooning and fun, playful adventure, I even learned some things in terms of how to think about life. (Review originally posted at ComicsWorthReading.com.)
Johnny Hiro does not, on the surface, appear to be a book that will change your life. It's not about a moment of epiphany in which Johnny realizes that with great power comes great responsibility. It's about the mundane activities that make up your world (except, of course, for the giant lizard) and how you just have to keep plugging and get through the hard parts. The narrator more than once detaches himself from the action to explain someone's motivations or to show how some small action can have unforeseen consequences or how someone who really does do his best in life can still fail so spectacularly.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Johnny's girlfriend Mayumi. At first, Mayumi seems like the typical damsel-in-distress that often populates comic books. We first see her snatched from her apartment by a giant lizard, screaming to Hiro for help. But then when Hiro does go to help her, Mayumi cheerfully tells him that she is fine and that perhaps he should get the camera and take a picture so that Mayumi's mom can see what a hero he is.
As you get deeper into the story, you realize just what a struggle it is for Mayumi to stay so upbeat all the time, just how much effort she puts into her unfailing optimism. And I loved this about her - that just because she looked on the bright side of life and made the most of small wins, that didn't make her dim-witted or slow on the uptake. Rather, she comes through as a very strong character. She was very aware of just how difficult her life with Hiro was and how much they struggled to make ends meet - she just chose not to dwell on that and to focus on the positive instead.
This was a really fun book with which to spend an afternoon. While on the surface, it seems like a light romp through an alternate reality (particularly when Judge Judy makes a cameo), it really is a book that can combine depth with humor, and use fun, unlikely scenarios to make observations on life in general. Because as Chao mentions late in the book - most stories don't have happy endings or sad endings, they just keep going. So Hiro and Mayumi keep going, too, struggling to keep afloat in a massive city but determined to make the most of it, regardless.