Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero by Fred Chao.
Tor, New York, 2012 (some materials previously published in other formats).
Everyday superhero graphic novel, 190 pages.
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.
Johnny Hiro is your average half-Japanese busboy with a knack for running into the absurd on the streets of New York. He works in a sushi restaurant and dreams of one day being a chef, but is content to come home to his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi Murakami.
This was a fairly random find. I had never heard of this book, never read a review of it or seen a promotion of it before coming across it at a local used bookstore. The half Asian in the title and a cursory glance through the pages, combined with the price, was enough for me to purchase this delightfully whimsical book.
The pages are in black and white ink drawings with a few different shadings of gray. The artwork is done in a solid style, balancing the cartoonish (Hiro’s oversized boss, the business samurai, a giant monster) with realistically realized elements such as the buildings or subway, stage equipment, or sushi restaurant.
Hiro is at times an antihero (the lobster) but we are always rooting for him even as his own impatience leads to further misunderstandings. The first story (where Godzilla seeks revenge) sets this book clearly in science fiction, but the rest of the stories are more like exercises in exaggeration, slowly pushing our limits into the absurd. It’s a bit like magical realism in ways, because at several points Hiro is telling stories to his friends at parties, and the end one-pagers include several dream sequences. Is Hiro just dreaming or exaggerating all of these unusual events? Or are they really occurring?
Added to this is the fact that as unusual events occur, little asterisks give news articles with information related to the oddities of the story (a mayor with a listed phone number, a pair of rush tickets under $20), lending credulity to even the quite odd events.
A list of the stories follows:
Big Lizard in My Backyard – The story shown on the front cover, this is a Godzilla story with a cameo from a Japanese goddess. A certain mayor guest stars, and the trend of taking real magazine articles and developing them into stories beyond plausible belief is established.
Lobster Run – Your average day at work always involves stealing a lobster from another restaurant to prepare a special dish for a critic, right?
Let’s Go to the Opera! – Rush tickets mean even busboys can attend the opera (if their girlfriends avidly read the newspaper at least). But when Hiro runs into an old friend, they’re each jealous of the other’s success in different aspects of life. That’s before the rōnin-businessmen run amuck in their samurai outfits.
Smack My Fish Up – From being a loyal sidekick in his boss’ dreams about fishing to making it rain fish, it’s another day at work. This was probably my least favorite of the five storylines, because I didn’t like how Hiro took the blame on himself.
The Comeback! – Following through from the events of the first story, Hiro and Mayumi are in a court battle, with Judge Judy presiding and some other special guest appearances.
One Page Snapshots – After the end of the book, the bonus content includes almost a chapter’s worth of single-page six-box vignettes illustrating strange dreams and other side moments from the book.
There is some swearing in this book. Hiro and Mayumi live together, and a few scenes show them in their underwear or pajamas, but there is not much to keep a mature middle school student from enjoying it. I’d recommend it for high school up to the adult audience it’s intended for. It seems like this book has gotten very little buzz, and I’d love to see some of my blog friends read it and tell me what they think.