True Religion

This review of Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim’s The Eternal Smile at The Comics Journal is smart, perceptive, and well-written, and yet I couldn’t disagree more with its conclusion: “this is a strong, well-executed, but modest work that feels like a warm-up for more ambitious future comics.”

I think the book is kind of genius, and anything but modest, seeing as it takes careful aim at the unhealthy escape from reality that can be sought in both comics and religion, two things which are both hugely important to the writer. I’d call that pretty ambitious. The central story, Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is a flat-out amazing (and sort of harrowing) story of the uses and abuses of faith, and contains this wonderful, stammering speech from an abused employee:

“You know, I used to come here wh-wh-whenever I felt op-opressed by my – uh l-life. Seeing the Eternal Smile w-w-would g-give me hope – hope that maybe, j-just maybe, the underlying p-principle of the universe isn’t m-m-monotony or fear or c-competition, but j-joy. I’d w-wonder if the Eternal Sm-Smile was the sm-smile of existence it-itself. And if existence itself c-could sm-sm-smile, then m-maybe s-s-someday I would too.”

The review calls it a “satire of organized religion (somewhat surprising, given the devout Catholicism expressed in Yang’s previous comics)” Or, you know, not so surprising.

Oh, and I should add: that Gran’pa Greenbax story is about a whole lot more than the uses and abuses of faith. It’s about man’s creations (tech and wealth) obscuring his heart’s true desire even as they approximate it. It’s about how even our sad little conceptions of the divine may still be aiming us toward the real thing. It’s about lots of things.


  1. Hey Matt. You wouldn't be interested in reviewing this for DT, would you? We wanted to cover American Born Chinese before, but the moment passed. I haven't read the book, but from the looks of it the reviewer you mention is about as thick-headed most modern readers seem to be these days. Honestly, I sometimes marvel at the incapacity of so many people to grasp what's right in front of their noses.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Ack – that would be totally fun, but I'm swamped. Send me an email about deadlines, etc.

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