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Jinchalo: A Review

I was meandering in my local comic shop the other day when my eyes stumbled upon Matthew Forsythe’s Jinchalo. I was completely unfamiliar with both the author and the title, but the cover and a quick skim got my attention. I eventually picked up the book and read it through. Even when I skimmed it I could tell that Jinchalo was unique compared to most comics. How so you may ask? Well…

Jinchalo is an absurdist piece that brings together elements of Korean folklore and comic aesthetics, as well as western style themes. It bears resemblance to the lack of linear structure in other works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It focuses on the (truly) wacky journey of Voguchi after she eats all the food in the house and goes on a journey to replace it. There’s a great deal of wonder, shape shifting, and other bizarre things that she encounters before it all ends in an odd manner. There’s some threads that seem to make up a ‘plot,’ but they’re not the emphasis. The emphasis is on the experience itself.

The first thing that stands out in Jinchalo is the lack of ‘proper narration.’ There is no dialogue (or at least not in English), no narration boxes, nothing. While there is occasionally some dialogue boxes, they’re all in Korean, but they’re few and it’s easy to follow along without any proper narration. The story is laid out in a fashion that is understandable without any guiding text. While it’s understandable, the structure of the narrative is not linear. It’s also makes for a quick read do to its length and the lack of any proper narration (it took me about 15 minutes to read).

The art becomes the primary vehicle for narration because there isn’t a ‘proper one.’ Forsythe does a great job of creating a coherence of Voguchi’s journey even if it’s bizarre. There isn’t a sacrifice of the presentation for the wonder, and vice versa, to make sure the piece is readable. Even while Forsythe is using a grayscale palette he manages to create scenes that feel vibrant and spectacular. It all works together quite well. The art style is creative, lending itself well to Korean folklore as well as the other influences of the comic. Jinchalo definitely deserves attention for its art. In fact, I want to say that it doubles as collection of art by Forsythe on top of the story it tells. The art takes the center stage in Jinchalo not only as the means of narration, but the means of experiencing Voguchi’s journey.

Jinchalo is a wonderful piece in the world of comics. It sits in its own special place, influenced strongly by Korean culture, as well as journeys intended more for the experience rather than the outcome. Even without a proper narration it manages to tell a coherent story through its art. The art also helps bring out the wonder of the piece, making the journey truly fantastic. If you’re open to the idea of comics without more traditional styles of narrative framing than I recommend you give Jinchalo a try.

Jinchalo is created, written, and drawn by Matthew Forsythe. It’s distributed by Drawn and Quarterly.

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