The stories in “Mijeong” work like poetry, evoking senses, feelings that neither the words nor the images alone accomplish. In his collection of manhwa stories, or Korean manga, the promising young artist Byun Byung-Jun depicts a relentlessly tragic dystopia of commonplace violence—notably rape and suicide—horrific acts that are almost a normal course of life. His main characters are mostly young—high schoolers or twentysomethings—who’ve entered a world of disillusionment far too early, living off memories of a more promising life, as if their existences were already too far gone to salvage. The characters in “Mijeong” get lonely in crowds; they long for connections in the city, for a purpose to life. There are heroes too, but they don’t accomplish much, driven by motivations that seem one-dimensional, almost, well, cartoonish relative to the sad beings they want to save.
The stories might live in a state of sorrow and urban ennui, but they turn to poetry in their images—breathtaking artwork that evokes both Jim Steranko and the cyber-psychotic realm of Ryutaro Nakamura’s seminal anime series, “Serial Experiment: Lain.” The stories are rendered in richly shaded black and white, except for “Song For You,” with its impressionistic watercolor world. Actually the color exists only on the page, for this world is just as dark as the rest of them. (Brian Hieggelke)
By Byun Byung-Jun
NBM Comics Lit, 238 pages, $19.95