Yeong-shin Ma’s artist – middle-aged men behaving badly | Comics and graphic novels
“IThis is not enough to succeed,” said Gore Vidal. “The others must fail.” In his dark and funny new book, Artist, Korean cartoonist Yeong-shin Ma puts this notion front and center, with his three male characters vying for position in a world where the stakes can be so low that sometimes the only satisfaction is watching a pal ignite. And, yes, that makes for somewhat toxic reading; envy runs through him like poison. But it’s also kind of heartwarming to see these unfortunate middle-aged men – a musician, a writer and a painter – behaving so badly. The creative life, Ma suggests, is no nobler than any other, and the artist is no less prone to pettiness. In other words, be careful what you wish for.
Ma’s story revolves around three friends in their forties: Shin Deuk Nyeong is a once-successful but rapidly fading writer; Chun Jongseop is a musician with an irrational aversion to pop trends such as sampling; and Kwak Kyeongsu is a painter who is about to go crazy over the power he thinks he can wield as an administrator of the arts. This rough, rival trio loves to chat, drink, club, and make “hangover soup,” and when all three struggle to make a living at the same time, they get along pretty well, even if they don’t. they are way too macho. never talk properly about their true feelings. But then Chun Jongseop gets an unexpected break, in the form of a lucrative book deal for a memoir of his life as a musician, and things start to change. As her success goes straight to her head, the other two feel even worse than before. When, if ever, will the world pay attention?
Artist, which has more than 600 pages, is twice as long as moms, Yeong-shin Ma’s latest award-winning book, and I found it much harder to read. While moms put women at the center of attention, they are here only marginal figures, victims of the horrible sexism of its male characters. I was also confused by the way he drew Chun Jongseop – his head, for no reason ever explained, is shaped like a butternut squash. But it’s a fascinating comic nonetheless, and one that has been wonderfully translated by Janet Hong, the male banter flying like ping-pong balls over a net. The characters’ inner monologues, both desperate and hilarious and trivial, are utterly compelling.
While Yeong-shin Ma knows how his fellow people work – he sees the melancholy behind the bluster, the fear that drags them along even as they harass and let go and explode in unjustified rage – he also sets a boldly satirical eye on Korean society. . What’s underneath the neon capitalist exterior that the country exports to the rest of the world? How do its rules and customs restrict its citizens, and what happens to those who dare to break them? We are miles away from K-pop here, and the experience is painfully instructive.