Wednesday, October 9, 2013

At The Zoo: Tune Book 2: Still Life

The second (and hopefully not final) volume of Derek Kirk Kim and Les McClaine's Tune takes its time and really lets the reader marinate in its hero's dilemmas that get crazier and crazier. The first volume introduced art student Andy Go, who quit school anticipating a lucrative career in illustration and instead wound up living with his parents. Kim combined a love story, art school horror stories and spoofing stereotypes about demanding Asian parents while throwing a huge curveball at the readers in the end: the job that Andy gets is as a zoo exhibit in a parallel dimension. Everyone more or less accepts this matter-of-factly, but Andy is frustrated upon learning that his long-time unrequited crush in fact shares her feelings for him but is now apart from her. That's where this volume picks up: watching Andy adjust to life as a zoo exhibit.

This volume is illustrated by McClaine, who seamlessly takes Kim's character designs and makes them just a tad cuter. Otherwise, there's not much of a noticeable change between the two volumes. McClaine's characters are expressive and work well either as simple figures or more naturalistic ones, depending on what Kim calls for. Kim loves to use a lot of exaggeration to express feelings in his characters, and McClaine runs with that nicely, smoothly rendering Andy's frustrations, hopes and dreams. When Kim introduces a premise, he really likes to see just how far he can expound upon it before moving on to the next idea. At the same time, he also slyly lays some hints in what seem to be trivial scenes regarding story concepts that are explained later on. This keeps the reader off-balance in an interesting way. For the first part of this volume Kim explores Andy's solitary existence as a zoo exhibit. He learns to relax and even enjoy the job, thanks to the interdimensional aliens replicating his house exactly and filling it with all his favorite books, music and TV shows.

The first wrinkle thrown at Andy is that he was tricked into signing a contract that wasn't for a year: it was for life. He would never see any of his friends (or more importantly, the girl of his dreams) again. After initially trying to be friendly to the aliens watching him in the zoo, he instead grows angry at them. The next wrinkle is that he learns he can talk to his neighbor, whose advice may well be dubious. The third wrinkle is that he's due to get a female mate. Throw in one of the zookeepers being fascinated by his ability to draw (art is a concept foreign to the aliens), and there are all sorts of plot shenanigans that keep the reader guessing. Every one of those plot twists is earned by Kim's insistence on telling the story slowly, letting the reader get to know Andy warts 'n all. At the same time, some of the ethically dubious things that Andy does (like read his crush's journal to discover that she loves him) wind up getting punished in funny and unexpected ways. The volume ends with Andy and his new roommate plotting an escape and their next-door neighbor making himself known to them in person for mysterious (and probably sleazy) reasons. Whether or not there's a third volume will depend on how well the book sells. Tune was being published as a webcomic (as befits Kim's roots) before being published by First Second (not an uncommon move these days), but Kim is actually paying a real wage to McClaine in order to draw it, which is certainly a refreshing and professional approach in the world of comics. There's been no news that I know of regarding how the first volume did, but I get the sense that Kirk will need a couple of more to finish out this story. I hope he does, considering how adeptly he moves between slice-of-life fiction and science-fiction.

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