Tag: Fred Chao

Comics for Grownups Episode 26

by on Nov.11, 2013, under Comics

Comics for Grownups Episode 26 with Alex Rothman is now out on iTunes. Direct RSS link for Android users here.

In this episode we talk about Comic Arts Brooklyn and review:

B+F by Gregory Benton

Johnny Hiro: The Skills to Pay the Bills by Fred Chao

Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Coat Check Dream by Keren Katz

Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen

The Sasquatch in Brooklyn by Jess Worby

Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will

The online comics venture Believed Behavior

Murderville #1: “A Farewell to Armories” and Goodnight Irene: The Collected Stories of Irene¬†Van De Kamp¬†by Carol Lay

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Johnny Hiro

by on Oct.09, 2009, under Comics


Gonzo absurdity is all the rage in independent comics these days. Maybe it’s because so many young authors are cutting their teeth in Web comics, where you need to be splashy to get noticed. In general I like the trend. It’s certainly more enjoyable than the endless navel-gazing-white-guy realism of around seven or eight years ago. There are times, though, when it feels like I’m being hammered over the head with soulless wackiness.

I guess that’s why I appreciated Johnny Hiro so much. There’s a difference between wacky and whimsical, and Fred Chao wrote Johnny Hiro firmly on the side of whimsy, with a sweet, sweet heart. The three issues of Johnny Hiro appeared in 2007 and 2008 but have just been collected into a trade paperback (along with a bunch of new material) by AdHouse Books.

In the opening story, title character Johnny is jerked awake when Godzilla crashes through the wall of his Lower East Side apartment and snatches up his girlfriend Mayumi, in revenge for Mayumi’s mother once besting him as part of the Voltron team. Fortunately the beast has forgotten to take into account the time difference between Tokyo and New York and falls asleep in the street, jet-lagged. Mayumi calls Mayor Bloomberg at home, the Mayor comes and cleans up the mess. Unfortunately, Johnny and Mayumi’s landlord sues them for $50,000 for the damage, in a lawsuit that ends up in Night Court (the sitcom), presided over by Judge Judy. Of course Johnny doesn’t have anything like that kind of cash. He’s a busboy in a sushi restaurant, training to be a chef—when he’s not leading a high-speed chase out of the Hunts Point Fish Market in a truck full of horse mackerel.

You can imagine how all these elements could tend toward the annoyingly wacky. What saves them—what saves the whole Johnny Hiro enterprise—is that Chao keeps drawing our attention back to the relationship between Johnny and Mayumi, and they’re a genuinely endearing couple. They may bump into David Byrne at the opera and then get chased out by dot-com ronin, but when they come home they worry about their bills, talk to their cats, and comfort each other in their underwear. Above all their dialogue is wonderful: plainly written but with just the right rhythms. It’s the kind of polished, seemingly effortless work that could only be the product of painstaking revision. (You can always tell the indie comic book authors who edit carefully: no typos.)

The figures are often drawn very simply. They remind me a little of Anders Nilsen, in fact, except that Nilsen tends to set his people and animals against very plain backgrounds. Chao has his navigating fully detailed city landscapes and interiors that once more look effortless and yet surely were not.

Did I mention that this is Chao’s debut collection? His author photo makes him look, oh, about 22 or 23.

Well done, sir. PDF previews here, here, and here.

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