The Eternal Smile - Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

Comic: The Eternal Smile - Three Stories
Release date: May 2009
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Derek Kirk Kim
Publisher: First Second (:01)
Cover: full-color
Interior: full-color
Synopsis: The story of a prince who defeats his greatest enemy only to discover that maybe his world is not what it had seemed. 
The story of a frog who finds that just being a frog might be the way to go.
The story of a women who receives an e-mail from Prince Henry of Nigeria asking for a loan to help save his family – and gives it to him.  

The Deal

After having bought 'Missouri Boy' by the same publisher (and really liking it) I didn't think too hard about it when I saw this graphic novel in the sales section of a book store in England (for the life of me I can't remember what store it came from). I've never read the well known story of 'American Born Chinese' by Gene Luen Yang and 'Same Difference' by Derek Kirk Kim but I've read great reviews about those two stories. It felt like I was buying a book with a dream-team partnership. 

The Feel

I can almost copy and paste this section from my earlier review of Missouri Boy, also a 'First Second' graphic novel. I've since seen a couple more and it seems all their books are designed to the same specifications and probably printed by the same Chinese printer. 
Both the front and back cover have an inside flap and are made of thick sturdy paper that will keep your book in perfect condition. Unfortunately in my copy the glued part of the the front and back cover part has come loose from the interior pages. The perfect binding is still holding all the pages together but I have to wonder how long that will last if I keep reading the stories. But perhaps that's why it was in the sales section of the store? The interior pages are made up of full color printed bleached matte paper. The pages in my copy were cut perfectly straight and kept together with perfect binding. The front and back cover have been UV-spot coated on top of the typography and most of the artwork.

The Stories and the Look

Three stories with three completely different but very impressive drawing styles. The three stories are about the reality we live in and the reality we perceive. They're all stories with a twist, I won't delve into the details too deep so I'll give it away.

Duncan's Kingdom
The princess wants her favorite knight to kill the Frog King who killed her father. Will he succeed and what else will he find?
A story of reality and the power of a guilty conscience. The story follows through quickly. I thought it was nice but did see the twist coming so wasn't surprised at the ending. Did find that everything was explained at the end and it all fitted properly in the story. The people and their surroundings were realistically drawn. If you put the first and the last picture of this story next to each other you can fill in the story in between in many different ways. If I was a teacher I'd give these two pages to students and ask them to make the story in between. To me it felt like a classic reality story that felt re-hashed. I found nothing new or surprising in the story as it was told. I did however really like the artwork. It fitted the story, colors were dark and gloomy where they were supposed to be and happy and colorful where it fitted. Well done Derek Kirk Kim.

Gran'pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile
I loved the artwork from the first page, like it came straight from a 60's comic. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Story wise it started out good and I was wondering what would happen, but the middle just got a bit crazy for me and I started to wonder where it was going. The ending came as a surprise but did make me think of The Truman Show a bit too much. 

Urgent Request
Janet meets an on-line Nigerian prince who promises to send her money if she'll let him use her bank account. I think we've all heard stories of what happens next.
The artwork is so completely different from the other two stories it looks like it's made by a different artist. The art is soft and has no hard edges. I like the changes between the colors of her real life and the fantasy she's living. I like how all the text and text balloons are outside the panels so they don't interfere with the artwork. The story was set up very nicely. I really felt for Janet at her office and felt for her as she sent out the first e-mail to her new Nigerian friend. I know these things happen with people who fall for these kinds of things hook, line and sinker. I thought it ended in the middle of the story, there could be so much more than this. I guess that's the only disappointment I have with this story. The art is beautiful, the story is nice and sometimes a bit crazy. 

The Conclusion

I feel conflicted about this graphic novel. It contains three stories and all of them have their good points but as a whole it's not quite where it could be. I liked 'Urgent Request' the most although I think there could be so much more to the story. It feels unfinished somehow. The three artistic styles drawn by Derek Kirk Kim are amazingly beautiful and very different from each other. 

How to get a copy

I found my copy on sale and got it for 4,99 GBP. I Googled the title and found it on a couple of websites, the cheapest was on Amazon USA. It was no longer available from 'First Second' publishers so your best bet might be to get it from a second hand store. 
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