We here at MojoFiction are always looking out for the next big thing, that next cultural phenomenon that’s destined to influence tomorrow’s generation of young artists and leaders. We do that because we are, of course, cool and hip and young. And by young we mean don’t look at the picture on our about page (seriously, don’t look at it). And just forget that we used hip in a sentence.
Anyway, now comes along Johnny Hiro, a series of comics by Fred Chao, collected in one handy graphic novel. And like any cool and young person we are five years late getting to it. See, the author cleverly released this book back in 2009 just so he could make us look bad several years later.
Johnny Hiro is subtitled “Half Asian, All Hero,” and chronicles the adventures of a young man struggling to make ends meet in the city of New York. By day he lives in a tiny apartment with his girlfriend Mayumi, who adores him in ways he can barely understand. By night he works in a sushi restaurant owned and operated by Mr. Masago, a hard-boiled, whip-cracking manager if ever there was one. Johnny believes his life is ordinary at best, yet somehow by the end he finds himself hanging out with the mayor of New York, Gwen Stefani, and Judge Judy, all while trying to escape from a band of vengeful Ronin during a night at the opera, rescuing his girlfriend from a Godzilla-like lizard bent on revenge, and dodging murderous meat cleavers wielded by the chefs of a rival restaurant as they chase him and a prize lobster through the streets of New York.
If this sounds wacky, that’s because it is. And it’s awesome. Author and artist Fred Chao packs more humor, heart, and charm into his writing and drawings than could possibly legally exist in one place (okay, U.S. law allows it, but we’re still checking with the laws of nature). For example, early on Hiro runs down the streets at night, chasing a giant lizard that has grabbed Mayumi. He shouts out to her:
Hiro: Mayumi, are you okay?!
Mayumi (from the giant claw of the lizard): Oh, I fine. You so brave, my mom would be so proud of you. Maybe we should take picture, she would like very much. My digital camera is under sofa…
Fred Chao is also the artist for this book. His black-and-white artwork is deceptively simple-looking, yet detailed and expressive. Every panel feels alive. Every character design embodies the persona that has been created for them. It’s genuinely affecting.
Somehow, through the fairy-tale-like stories and all the wit and charm, the author also finds a way to wax poetic about today’s youth trying to make it in the big city. He weaves in his own philosophies about growing up, dealing with adversity, and finding love. He strikes the balance between entertainment and meaning. In other words, this is good storytelling.
It may be nearing the end of 2014, this book may have premiered in 2009, but if you have never read it, if you don’t consider yourself a reader of graphic novels, do yourself a favor. Put all that aside and read this book.
Do it now.