Review: Shoplifter, by Michael Cho

It seems like the last week of June is the week where I talk
about books that focus on people who are displaced or struggling; on Monday I
reviewed Noah Van Sciver’s Saint Cole,
and today, Michael Cho’s debut graphic novel Shoplifter, a 96 page two-tone comic from Pantheon about the life
and times of Corina Park, an English major stuck in an advertising
copywrighting job. In order to relieve some of the stress of life and to get a
cheap thrill, Corina shoplifts magazines from a local convenience store. After
an outburst about a recent product acquisition and new campaign, Park must
examine her life and find out what is most important.

If my summary of the plot seems a little too pat, that’s
because it is. This is a story we’ve seen before, and it’s not really that
interesting. Unlike Van Sciver’s Joe in Saint
, Corina is under no major pressure. She lives a privileged, single
life in a nice city. Her work, while seemingly meaningless, is supporting her
without much stress besides existential angst. Instead of telling a story about
a person struggling to survive, Cho is telling a story about trying to find
meaning in life, the classic millennial struggle.

This seeming dullness of story is not abated by Cho’s lovely
illustration style. The book breathes with Cho’s smart use of tone and line. The
book reads quickly and well, inundating readers with advertising for products
and brands, a smart choice for a book about an advertising copywriter.

Cho seems to be making a point about connecting with people.
The most valid, human connection Corina has is with a clerk at the local
convenience store, a place mostly detached from the social media and the buzz
of modernity. The rest of the connections in the book (fueled by social media,
no less) fall flat or break under their own weight.

All this is going on while Corina moves forward to the big
revelation at the end of Shoplifter.
Which is essentially “give up your job and make art!” an act that seems
laughably naïve to folks grinding away at freelance work and a part/full time
work in order to make art.  The
complexity of this decision isn’t lost on Cho – he spends a nice part of the
book discussing Corina’s inability to make rent payments waiting tables. But to
hell with it all.

Shoplifter’s naïveté
keeps it from being able to really dig down into the meat and bones of our
connectedly disconnected life, the struggle of artists to make art, and the
struggle of all people to find meaning in their lives. It’s a pretty book, don’t
get me wrong. But it’s also lifeless.


Michael Cho is an illustrator and cartoonist based in
Toronto, Ontario.  Shoplifter, his first graphic novel, is published by Pantheon in
the US and Jonathon Cape in the UK.

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