Michael Cho’s Shoplifter is the most modern, of-its-time graphic novel I’ve read in a long while. Illustrated in a style that’s Darwyn Cooke meets Adrian Tomine, it’s the story of Corinna Park, a young woman in a big city who no longer knows what she wants or what to do. I was also reminded of the well-recommended Pope Hats in its style and subject matter.
Like so many young people, Corinna has been taught to follow her dreams, which included an English degree and fantasies of being a novelist. In the meantime, to afford her condo, she’s working at an advertising agency, where she writes copy for potentially disturbing products, such as perfume for nine-year-olds. She took the job to pay the bills, but it’s worn her down to the point where she no longer does anything creative. She’s existing, not living.
Although she dislikes her workplace, Corinna doesn’t have much else in her life, with her socializing involving co-workers and sponsored parties. The interactions there ring true to anyone who’s been part of that corporate world. Other than that, she has an angry cat, well-drawn, as are the incredible cityscapes that punctuate the scenes.
The title comes from Corinna’s habit, a tic to release the pressure on her. She shoplifts magazines from the local convenience store, a tiny bit of rebellion that ultimately reinforces her privilege. She thinks her action affects no one but her. Although she bemoans her solitude, in this action, she reinforces it — and she’s wrong about the lack of connection.
For a first graphic novel, Shoplifter is quite accomplished. In his portrait of Corinna, Cho uses one character to symbolize universal feelings of unfocused confusion, disconnection, and ennui. The ending, while hopeful, is equally uncertain. I disagree with the way Cho buys into the artistic/professional divide, when it seems more practical to find ways to fund yourself while working on your personal projects, but I couldn’t help rooting for Corinna.
You can see more of Michael Cho’s art at his website. (The publisher provided an advance review copy.)