10 May, 2007

10, 20, and 30, Vol. 1

By: Katherine Dacey

By Morim Kang
NETCOMICS, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

The interlocking vignettes in 10, 20, and 30 focus on three women: sixteen-year-old Rok Na Lee, her 26-year-old cousin Belle Woo, and Rok’s 36-year-old mother Krumb. Krumb, widowed at 32, works full-time as a clothing designer for a large retailer. The stress of reporting to a shrill, mean-spirited superior has reduced Krumb to a permanent state of absent-mindedness, forcing Rok to become the de facto parent in the household. Temperamentally, too, the two women are utterly different. Rok is fierce and judgmental, quick to lash out at family members and hapless male admirers who, in her estimation, are weak. Krumb, on the other hand, is timid, avoiding confrontations with her ball-busting boss and frequently bursting into tears when criticized. (She’s also a spectacular klutz.) Belle, Rok’s cousin, falls somewhere in the middle: she’s feisty and assertive, but mindful of the fact that her more traditional parents are eager to find her a husband. While assuring her parents that she’s a respectable, marriage-minded girl, Belle has been dating a reporter on the down-low.

As one might guess from the set-up, the story lines in 10, 20, and 30 explore some oft-traveled terrain as Rok, Krumb, and Belle fumble their way toward self-knowledge and—naturally—Mr. Right. There’s a dash of Much Ado About Nothing in Rok’s uneasy friendship with her neighbor (and ardent admirer) Dawoon, a hint of Sex in the City in Belle’s sexcapades, and a bit of Stella Dallas in Krumb’s budding romance with her company’s president. What distinguishes 10, 20 and 30 from, say, Sex in the City, however, is that the series’ humor remains firmly rooted in the everyday. Mundane moments are never the jumping off point for outrageous plotlines, implausible mix-ups, or over-the-top slapstick. (Well, I should qualify that remark by noting that there is a rather crude running gag involving Belle. I won’t spoil the joke, but suffice to say that Belle could solve the problem by (a) locking her door (b) limiting the number of keys she distributes to family members or (c) moving to a doorman building.) Instead, these scenes liberally mix humor with darker emotions. That’s not to say that 10, 20, and 30 doesn’t have its share of goofy moments, just that there’s often an undercurrent of melancholy or loneliness in stories that, on the surface, have plenty of pratfalls and punchlines.

For many readers, the primary obstacle to enjoying 10, 20 and 30 will be the artwork: you’ll either find it charming—as I did—or crude. The layout and character designs reminded me more of a comic strip than the kind of manga/manwha that’s been licensed for the American market. Yet I found the boldness and simplicity of Kang’s style to be a perfect fit with the stories. Those deformations, oversized sweat drops, and flapping arms capture the way we really experience embarrassment, fear, betrayal, and attraction: in the moment, one’s own sense of self is grossly—even cartoonishly—exaggerated, even if that moment seems trivial in hindsight.

Much as I liked the artwork, what I liked best about 10, 20, and 30 is Kang’s knack for creating compelling characters that, at first glance, might not seem particularly remarkable or, at times, likeable. They make mistakes; they overreact; they misjudge the men in their lives; they sometimes hurt loved ones with selfish behavior. To be sure, these kind of flawed women populate the pages of chick-lit titles like Bridget Jones’ Diary and TV shows like Ally McBeal. But there’s a qualitative difference between Bridget and Ally and the ladies of 10, 20, and 30: Rok, Belle, and Krumb aren’t neurotic. Beneath their quirks and anxieties, all three women display genuine strength and self-determination, even if they don’t always make smart choices about the men in their lives. And that makes them the kind of sympathetic, appealing characters that readers like to root for.

Volume 1 of 10, 20, and 30 will be published in July. The first three chapters are currently available online through NETCOMICS’ pay-per-view system.

2 Responses to "10, 20, and 30, Vol. 1"

1 | David Welsh

May 10th, 2007 at 8:12 am

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I’m glad to hear good things about this series. The premise really sounded intriguing.

2 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

May 10th, 2007 at 11:23 am

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Do check it out. It has some sitcom-y moments (especially with the twenty-something’s plotlines), but it’s not all wacky farce and chibis. There are some really nice, quiet scenes that really reveal a lot about the characters without them having to declare their state of mind out loud. I’ll be curious to read your verdict on it!

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