{comic} august moon


August Moon by Diana Thung

Top Shelf, 2012. [Expected release November 6]

viewed via Adobe Reader. assuming the only color is that on the cover

Advanced Reader’s Copy [free & fairly reviewed] thanks to NetGalley and Top Shelf.

The townspeople of Calico believe in the legend of the Soul Fire – orbs of light dancing through the night sky, believed to be the souls of dead ancestors watching over the town.
But when eleven-year-old Fiona Gan comes to town with her dad, she learns the amazing truth: these “fireballs” are actually the light from lanterns carried by mysterious rabbit-like creatures as they leap across rooftops!
Leaping with them is the peculiar street boy Jaden, who rarely speaks and claims to come from the moon. But the games may be coming to an end, because Fi and her dad are not the only newcomers to Calico… when a creepy corporation starts bulldozing the nearby forests, she finds herself uncovering a whole world of secrets, and drawn into Jaden’s battle for the soul of a community.
Diana Thung’s debut Top Shelf graphic novel is a true adventure, rooted in the diverse local traditions of Asian festival culture, with a modern sensibility and a hint of magic.—marketing copy

A mysterious group of corporate thugs are looking to turn Calico’s forest into a developer’s playground and since the people of Calico are fierce in their protection of the woods, they must go about its destruction in a devious manner. The forest’s extinction isn’t their only target, but the annihilation of the “vermin” as well—mythical creatures ala Totoro who are solid enough to take a bullet, yet folkloric enough to remain unseen by most adults.

After witnessing one of these creatures up close, a scientist is asked to come to Calico to consult. He brings his 11-year-old daughter Fiona “Fi” Gan back to the place where her late mother was born and raised. Staying with her maternal Uncle while her father becomes increasingly endangered by his hunt for the rabbit-bear-like creature (aka the find of the century), Fi encounters a strange creature all her own, a peter-pan-like boy named Jaden.

Diana Thung writes and illustrates a solid magically-real adventure. The gangster-corporate figures are literally looking to destroy the heart and soul of Calico by destroying the forest and the Soul Fire. The question is: can Fi and Jaden stop them? There are other conflicts in August Moon, too: Science vs. Mystical (Fi’s father’s staunch and starchy science’s inability to cope with the loss and grief haunting their family); Law vs. Free-spiritedness (the comically stressed Sheriff trying to maintain some order amidst the whimsical graffiti and rebellious cart owners). Can the “old ways” help heal old wounds? Are they still of value to the imagination of the young and old? [And what do we do with the belief that the lanterns these creatures carry are the souls of ancestors? And what are these creatures anyway?—a mystery I am still working out—my knowledge of lore in this geographic region is limited.]

August Moon has much the humor, magic, and adventure we’ve come to expect from the offerings of Studio Ghibli, whom the author acknowledges for Totoro. It is less sweeping, however, the panels tighter of focus. Thung metes out sound effects, silence, text, and perspective with patience. She is conservative with exaggerative expression (in any way), grounding the magical in a real like a dark mystery adventure (or super hero) story might be grounded. In keeping with the shutter-bug Fi, Thung includes finely drawn polaroid snap-shots to divide up the story—again, a nod to the modern and the real; it also a really nice touch for the comic and artist.  August Moon isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon lacking that kind of pacing or energy, but it works as any day fare, one easy to recommend to the school-going set as well as its adult audience. The villains look mildly ridiculous in their suits and monkey-ish faces and the heroes are urban children, wise grandmas and cool uncles.

The black ink on white, the sinister corporation, the gun-violence, and the moving around at night lend a dark edge to the story, but I didn’t feel much of that weight. [Maybe I needed the weight of holding the book and flipping pages?] The silences, the moments of deceptive calm, the mother’s notebook, the strange Jaden-figure and the telephone booth lend a secretiveness which is great in peaking the reader’s curiosity and promoting Fi’s discoveries, but I guess I didn’t grasp the thrilling shiver of those elements either. The only sense of urgency to know the outcome or secret of anything was whether certain characters were going to survive the story and how victory over the corporation was going to be handled. And yes, I am not so heartless as to hope warmth would be restored to Fi and her father’s relationship—or that maybe she could move in with her Uncle. Maybe I wasn’t smart/educated or patient enough to figure out the answers to the mysteries I wanted to know more about from the story—the “vermin” in particular. Maybe the title holds a clue, but I missed that one, too—damn my ignorance (and my impatience)!

Overall, I found the story charming enough, the artwork a nice match, and the idea of it satisfying enough to give it another go in November as well as recommend everyone else make the time to find a copy of August Moon, and keep their eyes out for more from Diana Thung.

recommendations… NetGalley has categorized under Fiction—Adult: action/adventure, and while I think adults should and will enjoy August Moon (perhaps enjoying the conflicts and mysteries tucked here and there or have patience for some of the sequences), the story could really appeal to a smart younger set–w/ a caution regarding foul language. Also, I used the word “solid” to describe August Moon deliberately; it doesn’t feel exceptional nor smooth and I do not say this meanly; the comic is good. So sure, grown-ups, check this one out, those interested in lore familiar to Asia will probably find the stronger interest/enjoyment and/or those who like magical realism in the modern landscape. August Moon is easy to recommend to any age group middle-grade and up. And it is easy to follow structurally for new or non-comic readers.

of note: August Moon has me hungry for stories of this kind set in North America—maybe some ewok-sasquatch-wolf sort of woodland spiritual creature? Nothing that emigrated with us from European roots, yet something less creepy than the Stick People (of the tribal NW). Something drawn in the styling of August Moon, and not some naturalist or non-fiction sketchery.


{All images belong to Diana Thung}

see a trial run of August Moon here.

Graphic Novel Reporter hosted a nice interview w/ the author here.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeremy F says:

    The magical realism/urban setting is appealing to me right now and I like the look of the art. Gonna look for this one.

  2. L says:

    I don’t know how much of the comic is online, but I provided a link to at least the first of it. I hope you enjoy it and would love your thoughts on it. There were points where I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or something that could have been better or what….

    1. Jeremy F says:

      Well, it looks like it’s worth a try so I’ll check out the trial for sure!

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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