by Toma; translation by Ernest Woo
published by Netcomics; $17.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
X Diary is a collection of comic strips that focus on Mingo and Jerry, ex-lovers who have decided to stay friends. The strips are in full color, and the humor is styled after the slice-of-life genre. The cast also includes Mingo’s younger sister, Sam, and Mingo’s co-worker, Jinjin.
The book opens with a panel showing Mingo and Jerry breaking up after dating for a year and a half. This is the only glimpse we are given into their life as a romantic couple and brings us to the first problem I had with the book. No one in the book ever talks about what Mingo and Jerry were like as a couple, or if their relationship itself was any good. How am I suppose to connect to their effort to remain friends without knowing what kind of couple they were and why they chose to break up? If the relationship was good, but just didn’t work, then maybe I’ll be inclined to root for them. However, if the relationship was bad, then maybe it’s better they make a clean break of it. There is such a black hole of information about the past relationship, I wouldn’t even know Mingo and Jerry dated if one of the characters didn’t mention it from time to time.
Another problem in the book is how the humor kills any emotional content. Toma, the artist, is determined that the fourth panel always be a punch line regardless of what happens in the first three panels. A good example is the first full strip of the book. Mingo has boxed up all the gifts Jerry has given her. She then pauses to take one last look inside the box. She decides that she really likes, and wants to keep, each of the items. The joke in the last panel is how her avarice for the gifts overcomes any emotional association these items contain. So what starts out as a potential reflection on the emotional memories attached to physical objects ends up as a cheap laugh about greed. This strip really sets the tone for the rest of the book.
In the introduction, the book is presented as a kind of thought experiment by Toma. She sets up a cast of characters and then tries to explore the theme about friendship between former lovers. However, human relationships are just too complex to sit in an armchair and try to imagine what would happen from a detached standpoint. For your exploration to have any real emotional content, it has to be an experience you’ve either lived through yourself or been close to someone who has lived through it. I love philosophical pondering, but not all subjects are appropriate for such abstraction.
The artwork is done in a minimalist style. The character designs are basic but function well. Each character is unique looking and you’ll never confuse one for the other. However, there is still room for improvement. Everything looks flat. A better sense of perspective and depth would help give the artwork more life.
Another complaint I have with the book is the price point. It’s true this is a full color book. But they only print one or two panels per page, so each strip takes up two pages. All four panels could easily fit on the same page. This would reduce the page count and help the book be more affordable.
In the end, Mingo and Jerry decide they’re “too young to go on with a lifeless relationship.” So too, our leisure time is too short to read such a lifeless book. There’s nothing interesting about any of the characters. Both the humor and emotional content are flat. There are simply too many good comics about relationships to recommend this book.
There is free preview of the book available at the publisher’s website. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.