There are many different types of writing that always present a different view, tone and entertainment to many different kinds of readers. Now, everyone knows that I am not a huge book reader, but I do go through phases when I read a lot to feed my sponge-like brain. Be that as it may, I review mostly movies and comic books and so many of you may wonder what I am doing reviewing a book by a first-time author (again)?
“When I was a Kid” is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Cheeming Boey. I have to admit that it may be one of those books that proved to be a little harder for me to review since I am so used to looking for something with a storyline or what you can call a stright-forward plot; such things are much easier to dissect for me. Those are the kinds of things I usually review since I would know what to look for, since I can possibly see what works and what doesn't. Well, Jerry Seinfeld once portrayed his own pitch of his TV show to NBC as something about “nothing”. I guess if someone wanted me to describe what I thought about Boey‘s “When I was a Kid” then I would say it is a book about “nothing” and yet it may be “everything”. It is “nothing” because there really is no story structure or plot, and yet, there is “everything” because the book has something to say; on its surface and between the lines.
This book is a prequel to Boey’s own web comic/blog called “I am Boey”. This blog had been inspired by Scott Dicker's “I Went to College and it was Ok”. "I am Boey" is a day to day journal (sort of) of Boey’s personal experiences. They are bits and pieces of his daily affairs that includes his interaction with everyday folk and the friendship he shares with some of his closest friends and family; his mother has become one of the most loved characters in the blog. I know you may be wondering, just who is the author? Boey is a Malaysian artist who one day ran out of paper and decided to draw on a coffee cup (foam cups) with a “Sharpie“. His art had been picked by Sharpie to launch their own ad campaign so some of you may have seen him on TV at one time or another.
But enough about the author. I know readers of this review may think that I am dragging a bit so let’s talk about the book. “When I Was a Kid” is written in America, currently number 2 in Malaysia’s best seller list and is currently available in America through the Blurb website (click here to buy). The author is focused on marketing the book in Asia and once you see the delightful art in this graphic novel one can easily see why. When I first laid eyes on the book, I instantly thought of those Asian comic strips that I have grown to be so fond of from my native land (Cesar Asar and Ikabod). Seeing some similarities to Japanese manga may also be true, but I haven’t exactly read much of the cute manga stuff that had become so popular in Japan and Korea to really clarify this.
To get into the workings of the book and how it plays out, well, I guess one would need to remember the silly things we used to do when we were kids? The things that sometimes annoy us and the things that mesmerize us? Sometimes how we felt like we were misunderstood and in turn we also did feel a tad lost? Boey takes all his childhood memories into pen and paper. There is something very sincere about the book in the way Boey had written it out. It also helps a lot that the writing is very easy to get into. I mean, the guy easily captures the essence of the thoughts of a child (I guess he may be a child at heart but that is what makes us creative most of the time) and he expresses them through his illustrations. The illustrations have no panels or frames, and this gives the pages a feeling of freedom. It is a graphic novel in a literal sense, but it does not have the staples of what we are used to seeing in a graphic novel. I noticed that it had that ‘child-like’ flair around the way it was executed so it could stay true to the style of the web comic and reflect the thoughts of a child. I mean, there are a few “behind the scenes” (or can be taken as such) as the author illustrates himself pondering whether what he had wrote worked and asks a character from the blog for an opinion. Oh, what makes it even more charming is that way he includes “scratches” (or erases) in the texts as if the author was really struggling to dig up something interesting in his childhood memories.
Each page opens up a new chapter (short story) in his life as a kid and he even illustrates himself. There are times that it goes further than two pages and it includes actual photos of his family. One chapter may seem a little insignificant, and yet once you get to the “punch line”, it takes the reader by surprise as to how something so simple can make one smile and even laugh. Someone had said that it is “a collection of stories that are like tacos: little pockets of savory goodness that leaves you warm and satisfied” and I could not find better words to describe it. When I was reading “When I was a Kid”, it was exactly just as described; I was being taken to a trip down memory lane while I get this fuzzy feeling. I laughed at the illustrations of “cabinet televisions”, I snickered when I read about “blackouts”, how ice cream went in the household and the amusing way to remember phone numbers and how cool it is to hear "Yay!". The author takes us to places when even how shopping for shoes with your mom and just watching TV can be, well, challenging…I mean it was a very delightful read; it made me glad that I am now an adult, but at the same time, I envy myself when I was a kid with no real worries.
I was taken to my own memories of my own mother who would always pick up the butter and ice cream last when we were in the grocery store for fear that it would melt before we checked out. I mean, I was very amused of the personality in the writing and I mean…the writer can even take you on memory lane when we got sick and how we used to milk our sickness as long as we could. Each segment would begin with “When I was a Kid” and then it grabs you with simple things that is so funny. I mean, who knew that sitting on your father’s lap while pretending to drive his car and how your mom would hide money around the house can be some kind of adventure in the eyes of a child? Each chapter may be short that comes with a title that is very descriptive of what is going on in that little simple thing.
I personally really enjoyed “Matchstick Planes”, “Drawers”, “Bugles” and “Shoes”. The silly things that our parents do and what drove us crazy is the fact that we couldn’t do anything about them. The more you get further into the book’s writing and illustrations, the more you get into its moments of enchantment and perhaps of endearing those little forgotten moments you've had yourself. The characters have a lot of traits that express their persona and has a child-like charm around them. I am also an artist and I mostly draw myself the way I‘d like to be seen, but nope, the artist goes for something different. Boey is building a character after all and the style is very unique and yet familiar. It is hard to describe, they resemble ‘scribbles’ but with a lot more character that resemble otaku anime as a parody of oneself.
I saw myself in the book. I went back to a time of wonderment as a child, things that appeared to be ingenious or silly at the time when I was a kid, now appears to be either silly or made sense now that I am an adult. Am I making sense here? Perhaps not, but sometimes living as a kid isn't. I guess the book took me back to a time when I was with my parents, all too often they drove me crazy and yet, now that they are not around I really miss them. I guess this was the author's intentions, as there was a touching moment when the author did reminisce about his mother (yes, the book has some drama).
Now is it necessary to be a fan of Boey's current online comic/blog to appreciate this book? Tough call. I mean it would be easier to get into the book if you had a handle on the blog, but I think this book can stand on its own because of its entertainment value and can certainly encourage folks to check out his blog. “When I was a Kid” is all about a “coming of age” of sorts, and it is the author before he became who he is now. I am curious to know whatever happened in the 13 year gap between the book’s ending and the blog. Hm…a second book? I hope to review that one day.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars] Images were used with permission by the author
Remember when we were kids, the whole world felt so mesmerizing with so many things that could be discovered? Remember when we were kids, that our biggest worry was when and what to play? Remember how we were doing silly stuff and yet we thought we were being clever? The Graphic novel "When I was a Kid" takes us down memory lane. A great read that appeals to those memories within us. See Full review by clicking here.