Recently–at STGCC, in fact– I bought Gone Case, a graphic novel by Dave Chua and Koh Hong Teng. I proceeded to read it on the bus ride home that day. I am not embarrassed to say that I teared up multiple times on that bus ride, as the story poked little holes in all my emotional defenses. It was so good, in fact, that I became determined to write a review about it. So that I could spread the love. Review under the jump!
Gone Case tells the story of Yong, a boy peering over the edge where his teen years wait,as he grows up in an old HDB estate that seems trapped in time between the end of the twentieth century and the start of the twentyfirst. The comic is the most accurate depiction of life growing up in a middle-class Chinese Singaporean background that I’ve ever seen. At points I thought the story might have been made out of snapshots of my life, exactly as they happened: the obsession with school grades and the playgrounds of your youth being boarded up and upgraded to plastic things with foam floors instead of sand. Sneaking to the highest points of your flat after school to gaze out at the entire estate laid out before you. The aunt who converted to Christianity and goes around pushing it on everyone, the squabbling and blame-pushing that goes on before and during an eldery relative’s funeral. For me, the recognition and connection with these little vignettes suckerpunched me in the chest: this was exactly how it happened. It felt so real I could almost smell it.
But the comic also has plenty to offer those who don’t identify with such experiences. The story is beautifully and poignantly told. The narrative crafted by Dave Chua is quiet and introspective, capturing flavor and attention without falling either side and becoming either boring or overdramatic. The nicely paced storytelling allows Koh Hong Teng’s perfectly-realized art to shine, interspersing tightly-drawn snippets of family drama with long contemplative sequences that feel like a breath of morning air. The details in the art are the best part of it, capturing the little things that flavor our otherwise monotonous lives.
This is not the first collaboration by Chua and Koh to come out in print; the two also have a short featured in Liquid City vol. 2, the excellent graphic novel anthology edited by Sonny Liew. The short likewise focuses of themes of life and death, tradition and modernity, against a heartland backdrop, so if you liked that short, you’ll probably like Gone Case. The book is available in various bookshops including Kinokuniya, Prologue, BooksActually, Woods in the Books, Basheer and Comics World. You can also follow the exploits of the creators here: http://gonecasecomic.wordpress.com/