Pantheon Books, part of Random House’s Knopf Doubleday group, appears in this year’s San Diego Comic-Con at booth No. 1515 to showcase Canadian illustrator/cartoonist/writer Michael Cho’s debut graphic novel “Shoplifter.”
This wonderful combination of imagery and words revolves around a young woman’s search for true happiness and self-fulfillment in the big city; meanwhile, she busies herself with small-time shoplifting in order to cope with her conflicting emotions.
“Shoplifter” is a skillful testament to Cho’s potential as a graphic novelist, and that same skill resonated within the questions I had for him in advance of SDCC.
There is no such thing as a work without an origin story. Which inspiration(s) encouraged you to create “Shoplifter”?
A couple of different things went into it. I’ve worked primarily as an illustrator in my career, doing assignments for magazines and drawing book covers, etc., but had started to move towards writing and drawing comics stories.
I’ve had a lifelong love of the comics medium and, over the last few years, I’ve written and drawn shorter comics on a variety of different subjects.
I finally wanted to tackle a longer format story, so “Shoplifter” came out of that impulse.
As for the story itself, it was something that had been percolating for a while. I knew a lot of people like Corrina, the protagonist of the story, who were in their 20’s and well-educated, intelligent and eager to pursue their creative ambitions but trapped for whatever reasons in a job and a path that might not get them there. It seemed like a great setup for a graphic novel.
I can imagine the transition you made from illustrator/cartoonist to graphic novelist must’ve been an interesting experience. When you decided to combine beautiful imagery with brilliant writing in what would become your first graphic novel, how did it feel?
First, thanks for the kind words. It was a very rewarding but very challenging experience working on this book.
I tend to have more confidence in my drawing than I do in my writing, but the writing has to come first for me.
So there was a lot of gnashing of teeth as I worked on revising and polishing the story to a point where I could then sit down and draw it.
Also, comics are a medium that values the economy of words, so I spent a lot of afternoons doing things like cutting 30 words in a panel to just 10, or replacing them with a wordless picture.
Drawing the story had its own challenges, like figuring out how to convey interior states and subtle emotions in pictures, but it also had its own rewards.
I like to get lost in the drawing when I work, and it was easy to do so with a story that I had written myself and knew intimately.
Overall, I was extremely grateful throughout the process to be able to work on a project that was self-initiated and which I had complete freedom to tackle as I saw fit.
What is striking about “Shoplifter” is its natural ability to speak to our generation about self-fulfillment and happiness, and it explores those themes through the eyes of one Corrina Park. During the character creation process, what did you need to consider with respect to conveying that sense of purpose via the heroine’s journey?
This is a tough question! My main consideration was trying to create a living, breathing character that was believable and relatable.
I didn’t want Corrina to be a stand-in or the “voice of a generation” or anything awful like that, I just wanted her to be a complete person with the contradictions and complexities inherent in anyone interesting. I think her struggle, however, can resonate with a lot of people who are sharp enough to critique but, for whatever reason, feel unable to create.
The entirety of “Shoplifter” is presented in black-&-white, which proves to be effective in painting a lively portrait of the setting and characters. As you were applying your artwork to the story, were there any other reasons you opted for the resulting choice of color?
The book is actually drawn and printed in two colors — a magenta tone and black ink.
I’ve worked in two-color quite a bit, and it’s an approach I felt was appropriate for this book. I just find focusing on things like atmosphere or mood easier with a limited palette than in juggling harmonies in full color and I’m more confident in depicting subtleties in two-color than with a harsher black & white approach.
Now that “Shoplifter” is on its way to reaching the eyes and ears of the world at this year’s Comic-Con, what’s next for you?
I’m just continually working on growing as an artist and story-teller. “Shoplifter” was originally planned as the first of five interrelated stories featuring different characters, so I have four others that I’ll be working on over the next few years.
The next book is much longer and incorporates many of the lessons learned while working on “Shoplifter.” Hopefully it’ll find an audience as well.