Sora painted an uncannily accurate picture of me, so I won’t add anything by way of introduction except that I don’t crash bicycles.
I merely fly over the handlebar.
I came across a graphic novel called 혜성을 닮은 방 or A Comet Study, also by Kim Han-min, a few years ago and quite enjoyed the detail-obsessed style of it.
Mobile personal space over Seoul-esque landscape
His lines are very clean and each detail is unfailingly neat and deliberate, which is how I would describe the way he constructs his fictional worlds and the rules by which they operate. The world of A Comet Study is so complex that even as I think about it now (after three close reads of this three-volume graphic novel, because I am that kind of nerd), I can’t articulate what it is about, except that it involves at least three levels of consciousness, two of which I can sort of identify. The motivation that drives most plots and characters in the book is the need to understand one another and repair interpersonal relationships. For instance, Mui (무이) the main character has a falling out with his best friend who stops speaking altogether, and must travel to the Echobook Library to find the plant’s “echobook” (a book in which every internal monologue you’ve ever had is recorded) so he can figure out what the matter is. I realize now that I’ve identified the sappiest of all the plots and subplots, but I took away something very different each time I read it, and was moved every time.
The main focus of this posting, before I get distracted by another rabbit hole, is this:
Kafe Limbo by Kim Han-min
Kafe Limbo explores the same themes that A Comet Study did–but in a more accessible way. Also a graphic novel, Kafe Limbo is about “limbos,” or “… those who don’t belong anywhere. Not only do they not belong, they don’t have the desire to belong.” The limbos live in a country called “82” where people are pressured to conform and the end goal of every being (the conformed, non-limbos are called “Roaches”) is to be married.
The limbos’ mission is to find their “mirrors” before the age of thirty-four. (What is a mirror, you say? “A mirror can be something that reveals my identity, or shows me the path I should choose, or tasks I should undertake. A mirror also reflects who I am. Is a mirror a person? Of course. And don’t forget! You can use a mirror only when it’s broken.”) That is apparently the age when everyone turns Roach by default. And in the meantime, the limbos must find a way to get out of 82. Finally, a graphic novel about liminoids who must choose between being normal and being happy even if it means geographical location change? But don’t commence eye roll sequence just yet.
Kim Han-min grew up in Denmark and Sri Lanka, developing a third culture man perspective which comes into play in Kafe Limbo. The limbos are torn between a desire to leave 82 and the desire to find their “mirrors” in 82. On the one hand, the limbos are encouraged to the leave the country that will eventually “kill” them, but on the other hand, they continue the search for non-Roach people to validate their existence.
Limbos at the immigration office
The meticulous world-building, including the back stories of each of the six limbos, reflects Kim Han-min’s affection for his characters and the touching struggle to make sense of 82 society that borders on genuine affection/concern for those who populate 82. I will admit this book does oversimplify things on occasion, but it hit me a few days after reading the book that this book is not so much a commentary on 82 as how liminoids navigate through a country like 82.
“Alas, they were crushing the child with too great a force.”
And there’s a twist at the end that I found to be the most simple yet earnest depiction of interpersonal trust and understanding I’ve ever seen or heard.
Someone ought to translate this book for liminoids everywhere.