The latest graphic memoir to take the world by storm is Bad Friends by Korean cartoonist Ancco. (We also recommended this for Cardiff Review’s Year in Culture). Lovingly translated with real personality and heart by Janet Hong, this book tells the heart-wrenching story of Pearl, a teenage girl growing up in the rough neighbourhoods of 1990s South Korea. This is a time of disillusionment, where Korea is very much being swept up in a tornado of modernisation by the winds of America, and its national identity is in crisis.
There is a tightrope act at play here, performed with expert precision, between the dangerously bleak art by Ancco and the delightfully poisonous translation by Janet Hong. Thanks to the execution of this double-act, we get a horrid, dreadfully real story of life far outside of happiness. It’s not a pleasant tale, but it’s one that takes place in a world we know far too little about. And learning can often be a painful but necessary experience. And cathartic, too.