Published by First Second
When Deshi Li's brother dies suddenly--and as a bachelor, his deeply religious parents send him on a quest to find a bride for the brother to share in the afterlife. But it won't be easy, as the dying tradition sends him down into the darker parts of Chinese culture and into the arms of a young woman who can change everything for Deshi in this ambitious graphic novel whose strong visuals make up for a few weak moments in the plot.
Opening with a struggle between Deshi and his brother which leads to the brother's death, Deshi is guilted into finding a ghost bride for the brother. That leads him into trouble, as it is completely illegal, forcing him to grow more and more desperate. When a corpse snatch and grab goes wrong, Deshi meets Lily, who chafes at the idea of another old and dying tradition--marrying off a daughter to solve a financial problem.
All of those moments explode when the grave robber runs into Deshi and Lily, followed quickly be her father. Novgorodoff's intricate plotting brings us to the moment of truth for both of them, and their decisions will change their lives entirely. The denouncements show you can't run from your past forever, a powerful theme that, unfortunately, does get undercut by Novgorodoff by resolving things a bit too neatly and resorting to an urban legend that's been proven not to work. There's certainly enough light fantasy going on in the narrative to justify it, but given Lily's no-nonsense attitude, I felt like an ending grounded in her practicality would have fit in better.
While others might have tried to ink creations such as the ghosts that supposedly haunt Deshi, Novgorodoff uses her brush to delineate them, giving them an especially ephemeral quality. It also allows her to create backgrounds where the colors blend more naturally, like in real life No matter how good a computer colorist is--and there are plenty of them--you can't recreate two different shades of wet paint meeting together on paper, and mixing with its impurities. That's something unique to working with watercolors, at least in my opinion, and Novgorodoff is a master at her craft here.
Undertaking of Lily Chen isn't a perfect book by any means, but it deserves credit for being an extremely ambitious concept that works in nearly every detail. With two main characters you'll immediately fall in love with, problems of familial expectations that are easy to relate to, and some of the best watercolor work I've see in a comic, it's easy to forgive the shortfalls. This is just the kind of book First Second is good at publishing, and it's well worth your time to pick up.