Same Difference and Other Stories

By Derek Kirk Kim
144 pages, black and white
Published by Small Stories, distributed by Alternative Comics

Don’t trust editors. I should engrave this on the top of my monitor or something, because every time I ignore this adage I end up spending money. I first got suckered by Matt Wayne from Milestone Media, who promised me that if I didn’t love Maison Ikkoku he’d give me my money back. Fourteen volumes later, I was happier if a bit poorer. Ever since then, I keep getting sucked into new books by editors saying the same thing. When they haven’t published the book themselves, I figure it must be sincere, and it usually is… and my wallet ends up a bit lighter. This time the blame goes to James Lucas Jones from Oni Press, who did the whole, “If you don’t like it I’ll give you your money back” thing with Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference and Other Stories. You’d think I would have seen the end result a mile away.

Simon and Nancy both know the meaning of the word regret. When Simon sees an old classmate across the street, it brings back memories of how nervousness and fear made him treat her badly. When Nancy gets her mail, she discovers that responding to “please return to me” love letters written a former resident of her apartment may not have been the kindest thing to do. When these regrets bring them both back to Simon’s old neighborhood, though, both find themselves taking a good hard look at themselves.

If I was trying to sell this book with a comparison to another, the closest I could probably come to is Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve; not so much for subject material, but how both are able to evoke a feeling of wistfulness and regret. Kim’s story impressed me in how its meanderings were able to dip into the past, return to the present, and seemingly head off in a random direction before pulling everything back together while never losing the mood it had generated early on. At the same time, there’s also a nice balance of humor here that keeps the book from getting too maudlin; references to visions of the future as seen in “Sleeper” and high school crushes on the girl from “Real Genius” fly fast and furious and you really can’t help but grin at Simon’s and Nancy’s earnestness. Even then, though, the humor still ties in strongly to the story’s look at how we view our past and the things that still affect us years later. It’s a really effective story and at the end of the book I found myself turning back to the first page and reading it all over again.

I’d encountered Kim’s art before, back when he drew Duncan’s Kingdom for Image Comics. I was a fan then, and I’m even more of one now. There’s a real sense of gracefulness to Kim drawings; the early images of the friends sitting in front of the restaurant fishtank are beautiful, with the fish seemingly floating amongst the people as they talk. It’s a smart move to grab the reader’s attention, but he never really lets go. Both the big and the small moments work in Same Difference and Other Stories; a breathtaking view of Pacifica makes an immediate grab for the reader’s attention, but it’s just as impressive to see the look on Ben’s face when he picks up the ice cream carton and sees the note underneath. Kim’s art is ultimately a visual chameleon, able to shift just slightly to fit with the exact tone of what he’s drawing just then, be it humor, drama, or something in-between.

Same Difference and Other Stories is absolutely fantastic… and I haven’t even mentioned the “Other Stories” part of the book, where Kim collects a lot of short stories for your entertainment. This is one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a while, with every aspect working wonderfully. Even the production design is fantastic, with snazzy endflaps on the covers, a nice paper stock, and an adorable cover design. It’s no small wonder that Same Difference and Other Stories got a Xeric Grant, because if I’d been in charge of giving them out that year I’d also want to give Kim money to make sure his work got into even more hands than ever. If you don’t trust me, trust James Lucas Jones. Buy this book.

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