Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe
By no means is Jinchalo your conventional manga/manwha/graphic work. Not to be going around in circles, but its title – which, in Korean, means something akin to ‘really?’ ‘is that for real?’ – works rather appropriately as a response to experiencing this adventure … you just can’t be totally sure what happened! According to the book’s front flap, creator Matthew Forsythe was “partly inspired by Korean comics and folk tales,” to which he was probably exposed when living in Seoul, where he was a kindergarten teacher (his bio also reveals he was a database programmer in Dublin and a motorcycle courier in London – no xenophobe, he!).
Virtually (English-)wordless with a smattering of Korean characters (signs on buildings, onomatopoeic additions, occasional nonsense compounds), Jinchalo is something akin to a Rorschach test, but surely more engagingly inventive. Ultimately, only you get to decide what you think you just ‘read’…
Here’s what I thought: A little girl protagonist – whose name, Voguchi, you would only know if you read that informative front flap – lives in a seemingly traditional Korean house in a remote village. She’s got quite the hefty appetite, in dreams as well as in real life. She’s willing to share, though, and gives a begging stranger who looms in the front door a bowl of rice. Having eaten everything, she’s sent by her father (grandfather?) to the nearest town to buy more supplies.
She encounters any number of unique beings, and during a run-in with a giant bird, inadvertently picks up the wrong egg … which soon enough hatches, and suddenly she’s eye to eye with the eponymous shape-shifter Jinchalo (again, another name you wouldn’t know without that very useful front flap!). Her journey home is filled with all sorts of surprises, not to mention some shape-shifting of her own [her transformation from adorable little girl to older woman, complete with the signature Korean old-lady perm and oversized-brim visor cap (you Koreans know what I'm talking about!!) is just too funny for words, all irony intended!]
Somewhat reminiscent of graphic artist/author Shaun Tan’s spectacular titles, Jinchalo is a shape-shifting treat for the imagination. Every time you read it, you’re bound to discover something new, something different. And you’ll soon enough be asking yourself, “jinchalo?”
Tidbit: Jinchalo has a companion text, Ojingogo, which I haven’t yet read, which for some reason is only available from used booksellers in the U.S., although readily available new in Canada. Yes, the publisher – fabulous graphic specialist Drawn & Quarterly – is Canadian, but most of their titles have not been stopped at the shared border. Hmmm … good thing for back door options!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult