cover image The Naked Tree

The Naked Tree

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 trade paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-77046-667-8

This adaptation by Eisner Award winner Gendry-Kim (The Waiting) of a seminal Korean novel by Park Wan-Suh possesses a rare power. Twenty-year-old Lee Kyeonga navigates 1950s Seoul, which is under siege by the North Korean army. Cynical and guarded, she lives with her mother and works at the Post Exchange, where she butters up American GIs so they’ll buy portraits of themselves painted on handkerchiefs. Gendry-Kim breathes life into this milieu in just a handful of striking panels, as Kyeonga convinces a vain saleswoman to write love letters in English to her American beau, develops an uncomfortable crush on a married portrait painter, and reels from an encounter with a GI who promises to “liberate” her in his hotel room. These fraught episodic vignettes are weighted by Kyeonga’s desperation to free herself from guilt and grief over the deaths of her two brothers in a bombing. “How could the Gods be so cruel?” Kyeonga recalls her mother crying out, “How could they take both my boys and leave only the girl behind?” Gendry-Kim brings this trauma full-force to her pages in bold, brushy inkwork, proving yet again that she’s an essential voice in global comics. It’s a masterful and devastating portrait of the lasting cruelties of wartime. Agent: Nicolas Grivel, Nicolas Grivel Agency. (Aug.)