Friday, May 9, 2014

Whit Taylor Reviews Cat Person by Seo Kim




When I first glanced over Seo Kim’s Cat Person, published by Koyama Press, my initial thought was “cute.”  Looking back to this quick judgment, however, I realize how limited it was. Cat Person is certainly cute, but it is much more than that, making for a charming, funny, and relatable read. The book is split up into four sections which showcase Kim’s different artistic and storytelling interests and abilities.

“Jimmy & Me", the first section, is all about Seo Kim and her relationship with her beloved cat Jimmy. This is certainly an enjoyable section if you are a cat lover, as it really delves into the idiosyncratic yet universal behaviors of cats. Kim’s storytelling rhythm, which pervades the book, is also established in this first section. The short stories are essentially gags, which often feature the last panel of Kim’s hilariously animated face reacting to whatever situation has befallen her.

This leads us into the second section “Just Me.” This part focuses on a solo Kim, whose repetitive and slightly disorganized lifestyle sets her up for a struggle with unfulfilled expectations. Her self-deprecation is relatable as she tackles the “ills” of the modern world through the eyes of a singleton: eating by yourself, spending too much time in front of the computer, and learning how to curb impulses and bad habits, such as going to bed at unreasonable hours, reading too much into Facebook, or becoming over reliant on one’s smartphone. Kim has a major case of the “shoulds,” and it’s the gap between wanting to meet these imaginary demands and what actually ensues that creates humor. As mentioned before, Kim’s facial expressions are hilarious, as are her frequent juxtapositions between absurdist fantasies and the mundane nature of everyday life. A great example of this is when she is stressing out that she is behind on her to-do-list, only to realize it’s Sunday, after which she sets up this highly stylized idyllic panel of her running through a field, ruby-cheeked, with joyous animals, stars, and an ice cream cone proclaiming, “beautiful feeling.”

Overall, Kim’s art is sketchy and simple, but this is not a negative thing. It doesn’t need to be any other way. She has a mastery of facial expressions, tight comedic timing, appropriate use of subtle color in different comics, and varies her style throughout the book enough to keep the reader engaged. This is most apparent in her third section “Just Me II,” where she ventures solo into the outside world. This section is rife with misunderstandings, misrepresentations, ambiguous encounters with strangers,  and overall awkward situations that we all encounter, but perhaps internalize more so when solo. It’s a sweet, yet slightly sad section, where I wanted to tell Kim at times to stop selling herself short, even though that’s part of the gag. I think she included the perfect amount of strips in this section, so as not as to exhaust this sentiment, but keep it poignant and lighthearted.

The next section, “Eddie & Me,” is a collection of comics about her long distance relationship with her boyfriend Eddie. There is a bit of a disjointed feel between each section, so we do not have any idea of how she went to being (presumably) single to meeting Eddie, but that’s not too important. In fact, the gaps are necessary in allowing the reader to craft their own connections between each section. Kim nicely captures how technology affects communication in long distance relationships, from missing out on phone cues, to the dry nature of texting your everyday activities. Kim is skilled at capturing the minute interactions that make up greater relationships, and although this section is not very long, we learn a lot about she and Eddie’s relationship in a small number of actual interactions.

The last section “Misc.” is a collection of random comics, many of which feature anthropomorphized animals, plants, and other bizarre creatures. They’re all funny, particularly the “Chocolate Chip Cookie Disease” bit, but the section felt a bit disconnected thematically from the other sections which seemed to flow logically, as it is not “autobiographical.” I don’t know if there could have been a better place to put this, or whether it could’ve been omitted in general. It did end the book on a less personal, lighter note though, which may have been Kim’s intention.

Cat Person is a delightful, entertaining read about the little moments in life. Kim’s adeptness at picking up situational nuances, tied with her simple yet whimsical line, hints at an artist who is able to use the inherent ridiculousness of everyday life to her advantage.

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