Bad Friends

Ancco, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 (176 p) ISBN 978-1-77046-329-5
Told with arresting honesty and strength, this graphic novel conjures a grim vision of growing up in late-1990s South Korea. Rebelling against her abusive father and teachers who routinely beat her, 16-year-old Pearl smokes, slacks off at school, and runs with the bad-girls crowd. Yet her situation is well-adjusted compared to her fellow delinquents, especially her best friend, Jeong-Ae, who survives in chaotic poverty and is already dabbling in sex work. Pearl and Jeong-Ae run away together, try to get work in a hostess bar, and share a seedy motel room. When they’re finally forced to give up, only Pearl has a home, however unhappy, left to go back to. Reflecting as a comfortable, mostly happy adult, she can barely believe she escaped her hometown: “Even now I feel relieved when I realize I don’t have to get a beating,” Pearl marvels. Yet for all its bleak moments, the book has a tender warmth. Ancco evokes the confused excitement of adolescence: realizing adults can’t be relied on, standing up for yourself, trusting in friendship. In sharp, kinetic charcoal lines that seem in constant danger of toppling off the page, she renders a hostile world of monotone classrooms shadowy alleys, Oppa lovers, and the defiant girls who stand out from the crowd. Stunning in its stark look at child abuse, and empathy for its characters, Ancco’s artfully told story grabs the reader’s attention and never lets go. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/18/2018
Release date: 09/25/2018
Genre: Comics
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