Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao

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Johnny Hiro
By Fred Chao
Adhouse Books

fredchaojohnnyhirovol1coverOn a whole few entire mediums have been forced to fight as uphill a battle for legitimacy as sequential art. The past quarter-century has seen a number of breakthroughs in the battle, of course, with graphic novels of various stripes racking up lauds from academics and practitioners of high art and literature alike. In the process, however, one fundamental aspect of the art form has, perhaps, more often that not been sacrificed in favor of critical recognition: fun.

In the oft self-serious world of alternative comics, that once-essential cornerstone can prove rather elusive, and while we’d certainly be the last to decry graphic novels for being “overly serious,” it’s important not to lose sight of the humor and adventure that first drew so many of us to comics in the first place—both qualities that Johnny Hiro possesses in spades.

What artist Fred Chao has created with this volume is a rather graceful balancing act, focused a 20-something food service employee with little in the way of long-term career planning (in those respects a rather stock character in an independent comics scene so often focused on the insular troubles of their creators), who is rather clumsily thrust into adventure scenarios that often arrive in the form of real life manifestations of Asian pop culture—Hiro’s world is poplulated by giant lizards, Voltron-like robot teams, and samurai tech employees in business suits.

The book’s references expand beyond that continent as well. Chao’s book is a rollicking love letter to boundary-less pop-culture, which, by the end, has embraced everything from Night Court to Brand Nubian, with a clean visual approach that seems something of a cross between contemporary Manga and Herge, accented by some rather both layouts thanks to Chao’s keen eye for cityscapes and action scenes.

Chao shoves a lot into Johnny Hiro, sometimes at the expense of a cohesive storyline, but such indiscretions are easy to forgive—or even overlook entirely—in a book that’s this much fun.

–Brian Heater

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