THOUGHT BUBBLE 2023! It really is the mark of an artist’s talent when a reissue of their debut comic feels so fresh, exciting and innovative as Jason Chuang’s The Boy does five years after its initial publication. To try to summarise the plot of The Boy is a pointless task because this is a graphic novella that has been made to be absorbed as much as to be read. But in his own words Chuang says “It tells a story of a boy with a lively imagination but feels trapped in life, and how eventually his imagination takes over for better… or for worse…”
What The Boy portrays across its 68 graphic novella pages, then, is a series of vignettes of moments in the boy’s life where reality and his own internal flights of fancy metamorphose and merge, allowing us insights into his state of mind and feelings of entrapment. It’s difficult not to assume that there are elements of the autobiographical to this but whatever each scenario’s specificity (or not!) to Chuang’s life these often silent sequential segments always feel like they are concealing existential truths that could apply to any of us.
Whether it be a transposition of the boy’s life with that of a bird whose cage suddenly becomes the house of the protagonist, or a near Where the Wild Things Are sequence of the organic creeping into the domestic The Boy is a book of fascinating contrasts, ironies and contradictions. His imagination allows him to escape the mundane in a superficial sense and yet its ethereal nature means it is also encasing him in a cocoon of unreality, His efforts to avoid the quotidian aspects of his world are actually effectively encasing him in them all the more firmly; release and retreat paradoxically becoming one and the same thing.
This is such a confident book and it underlines everything we have been saying about Jason Chuang’s vision as a comics creator since we named him as one of our Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ back in 2020. His practice plays with our expectations of what comics can do, imbues visual metaphor with a profoundness that is felt rather than simply observed, and crafts narrative that incongruously is simultaneously oblique and yet universal. Jason Chuang is one of the most important shining stars of the new wave of UK indie talents. I will do more than suggest you pick up a copy of The Boy in Harrogate. I’d implore you to do so.
Jason Chuang (W/A) • Self-published, £15.00
Jason Chuang is at Table B6 in the Redshirt Hall at Thought Bubble 2023
Review by Andy Oliver