Author/Artist: Benjamin

Publisher: Tokyopop

Date Published: 2006

Pages: 144

Her name is Orange. She’s a young girl in high school, coming of age in the heart of the city. And she has decided she has nothing to live for. Not her shallow friends. Not her parents. Not school. Not even the empty promise of love. Her head filled with morbid fantasies of suicide, Orange finds herself standing at the edge of her rooftop when the drunken, enigmatic young man, Dashu, enters her world…changing it forever.

‘Orange’ is a story of lonliness and social isolation told through the suicidal tendencies of its protagonist. The vast modernisation of the landscape and culture of China, and its effects upon the younger generation, are personified by Orange’s feelings of pointlessness and distrust of the future. It is the kind of story which, given the behaviour of the Chinese government during the Beijing Olympics, many would like to ignore or quickly sweep under the carpet. This is the dirty laundry and the emotional cry of a generation.

The creator, Benjamin, is a relatively obscure artist from China. I happened across his art when I visited  Guu Press, where I bought a print of one of his works (which is currently hanging on my wall). Due to Guu Press’s love of his work, he was also included in their art book Io: Art of the Wired.

In comics there is commonly an expectation of the bait-and-switch scenario where the cover art is better than the art inside (it is the severity of difference that determines whether one is being ripped off). The cover has the most effort spent in order to attract customers, most publishers even hire a separate artist. I was astonished when I opened ‘Orange’ and found that the inside panel artwork was as good or better than the cover. I’ve never read a comic where one is pouring over pages and pages of top quality art, almost like a pamphlet of a gallery exhibition. ‘Orange’ is artgasmic.

Benjamin’s art appears wet, like neon watercolours or a liquid rainbow exploding on the page. The focus sharpens and softens to emphasise the emotional tone of the moment, undulating from lucidly detailed to fuzzy and vague. ‘Orange’ is (strangely enough) mostly dominated by blue, with bright splashes of red and pink occasionally. A gallery of his other works, including on future project ‘Remember’, is included.

Benjamin attempts to communicate through mood and colours more so than comics where the artists and author are separate. There is a lack of strong plotline to follow in ‘Orange’, instead its more like a series of emotional moments strung together. He skips clunky background information. This allows ‘Orange’ great second reading value, however it also penalises the character development. There are many interesting aspects of the story that were never developed at all; for instance, is ‘Orange’ unique in her situation? Are her friends so shallow or is it a case of her own lack of caring about their world? Is she just in a stage of adolescent self obsessiveness? Do her parents know or care at all about her situation?

‘Orange’ is a worthy purchase just for the art. The story is the weaker aspect of the comic, however it does hold up better than other single author/artist projects I have come across. It is a unique work, as most stories from China tend to focus on history or martial arts, where as modern cultural issues tend to receive far less attention.

♥♥♥½ – 3½/5

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