Monday, April 13, 2009

Manga Monday: The Color of Earth

The Color of Earth GN
Kim Dong Hwa
The Color of Earth is the first of three books in a trilogy of manhwa from Korean creator Kim Dong Hwa. First Second Books is publishing it in English for the first time, with the two subsequent books, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven, coming out soon.
This beautifully-illustrated graphic novel is a coming-of-age tale that follows Ehwa, a young village girl that comes to understand the relationships between men and women as she grows up in a house with a widowed mother. While most of the focus is on Ehwa, her mother has her own interesting story, being the owner of a tavern, and falling in love with a traveler who leaves a brush every time he passes through. Ehwa learns a lot about love from observing her mother, but also from her friends: the boys who ask to see her private parts and the girls who compete for the affections of a young man with a broken arm (and hope to see his face in a reflecting pool that's rumored to show the face of your future husband). There are plenty of cute little stories throughout this book that, as adults, we're well aware of the answers, but it's interesting to see how young Ehwa and the other village children interpret things from their naive points-of-view, and uncover truths that slowly bleed away their innocence. Unfortunately, a lot of the explanations for love and sex told toward the beginning of this graphic novel are bogged down with meandering metaphors featuring flowers, quite heavy-handed and silly. Only when Ehwa starts to grow old enough to experience these things herself do things get interesting and Hwa leaves the cringe-worthy round-about explanations that are passed as wisdom, behind.
This book is very blunt with sexuality as it progresses, which is fine with me. We all have to make our own discoveries about sexuality growing up, and this is just Ehwa's particular journey down that road. The loves that come and go are cute, but never seem too serious, as she's still quite young, and everything is quite innocent and flowery. But it's nice, very well-executed and illustrated simply and lovingly, with lush backgrounds, by a talented creator. I'm anxious to see how Ehwa grows over the next two books, and I'm invested enough in the character to hope that she retains a certain amount of self-respect and innocence.

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