Although comics and graphic novels come in all shapes, sizes, genres and styles, it’s still the creators in the far east who have had the most success in making comics appeal to women. Just how far this has come in certain corners of the comic creating world is evident in The Color of Earth, the first volume in a trilogy of Korean manwha (comics), which is so appealing, so feminine, so gloriously gentle and pretty and lovable, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a flower. That it was written by a man, and also holds what I believe is genuine appeal for men too (I enjoyed it and I’m a man), is just mind-boggling.
The story is set in a rural Korean village. Ehwa lives with her widowed mother, eking out a living running a tavern serving alcohol and food to the local men. While her mother is teased mercilessly by the men, who would secretly like to bed her, she remains a tower of dignity and strength, providing a role model for her daughter that could barely be improved if there was a whole family involved. One day a travelling artist drops in to the tavern, stealing Ehwa’s mother’s heart. He comes and goes throughout the rest of the book, and while dewy-eyed romance dances across this young widow’s heart, the transient nature of his coming and going strikes an almost perfect balance with her full-time requirements to feed and fend for her family.
Meanwhile, Ehwa is coming of age. Her breasts are swelling but painful, she experiences her first period, and while her friends are chasing boys, her own feelings for the opposite sex are confused and private. However, she suddenly finds herself both attractive and attracted to the local boys as she starts her journey into womanhood.
Kim Dong Hwa’s writing is wrought with symbols of nature. Ehwa’s rural life is governed by seasons and weather, and her passion for flowers interweaves her life. Boys become blooms in her mind’s eye, associating themselves with the scents of where she first met them. Ehwa’s own blossoming adulthood and her mother’s regenerated romance are linked to nature too, perhaps beating the reader around the head with metaphors of gourd flowers and tiger lilies. But it makes for an intense, pungent mix; the artwork mixing clear-lined eastern characters on the occasional exquisitely detailed backdrop.
The book is deeply poetic, a generational tale of two women who are intertwined by relationships and family. The characters are deep and complex, yet the backdrop is peaceful and pastoral. This is a book to read in quiet contemplation, perhaps under the dappled shade of a tree in blossom. Gentle and peaceful, yet fascinating and engaging, it’s as unusual as it is graceful. Nothing happens and everything happens – an extraordinary book.
Read more The Color Trilogy reviews: