written by Sean Michael Wilson; art by Chie Kutsuwada
published by NBM; $11.99 US
I liked the idea behind The Story of Lee, but the execution wasn’t as successful as I wanted.
It seems like it should work well — it’s the story of a Chinese girl in Hong Kong who gets involved with a visiting Scot (to the horror of her traditional father), written by a Scot living in Japan and drawn by a Japanese living in London. If anyone should understand cross-cultural stories, this team should. But the pacing!
I thought too much time was spent on bits I already understood or easily grasped — Lee dreams of more than working at her father’s shop and marrying the boy he’s picked out for her — and not enough on the pieces that could have been fresh. What does she see in this brash foreigner, and what does he see in her? He seems perfect for her — they share loves of poetry and the same music — but if we’re to believe he’s doing more than just having a travel lark with a pretty local girl, there’s not much ground for it. She considers and incorporates his ideas, but in return, when she expresses objections to his opinions, he comes close to bulldozing her, simply telling her she’s wrong (or not international enough). Then the ending comes rushing up, with items that were considered major obstacles throughout the book suddenly no longer a problem, many resolved off-page. That’s frustrating.
Wilson is obviously very familiar with his characters, but he seems to forget that we don’t already know them as well as he does; we need more explanation of their personalities for them to become more than types (“foreign boy teaching English who likes Asian girls”). I also wanted to have some hint of what Wang (the boy chosen by her father for Lee) thought about and why he made certain choices.
Part of that may be a mismatch between the promotion and the actual product. The advertising talked about a relationship facing “obstacles including family pressures, xenophobia, and the clash of East and West.” However, there’s little actual relationship here — much of the book is how they meet and their first few dates. There is lots of culture clash, but it’s more between the generations. Lee’s friend is considered too slutty a dresser by her father, he doesn’t understand why his daughter won’t settle for work she isn’t satisfied by, and so on. My favorite parts were Lee with some of her extended family: the grandmother who almost supernaturally understands her, and her visiting literary uncle. That seemed to be a much more promising book, while the love story I found underdeveloped and taken for granted.
The art is also somewhat immature. The figures are fine, but the selection of which moments to show isn’t as accomplished as I wanted. Key elements of action occasionally happen off-panel, and sometimes I wasn’t sure on exactly what happened until I re-read the scene. (I can’t say, as an observer, whether particular selections were scripted or the breakdown was chosen by the artist, of course.) I also found some of the narration and description annoyingly British. When I’m reading about a Chinese girl who dreams of visiting the U.K. but has never been there, to see such terms as “damn this bloody box!” knocked me out of her story. I didn’t believe that she would think in those phrases, so it reminded me distractingly of the presence of the writer.
There were also a number of text flaws. It would have been nice if the letterer knew to use a comma before someone is addressed. (It’s “Hi, Lee”, not “Hi Lee”.) “No thanks mum, I had something” is missing at least one comma, and those kinds of proofreading errors make it hard for me to focus on the story. (I admit, I’m much more aware of this than many other readers.) More distractingly, during one scene, Wang is referred to throughout as Wing. These kinds of errors suggest sloppy (or non-existent) editing, or one person doing too many jobs on the book.