The Eternal Smile Three Stories

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-04-27
  • Publisher: First Second

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With vivid artwork and moving writing, two graphic novel masters test the boundaries between fantasy and reality, in three magical tales of fantastical adventure that explore how the imagination can affect real life.

Author Biography

Gene Luen Yang is the author of American Born Chinese, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, the Eisner Award and a finalist for the National Book Award.  He teaches high school in San Francisco, California.  Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Same Difference and Other Stories, the winner of the trifecta of comics awards – the Eisner, the Ignatz, and the Harvey.  He lives in Portland, Oregon. 

Table of Contents

Starred Review in 3/1 Booklist

This dream-team matchup of Yang (American Born Chinese, 2006) and Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories, 2004) brings together three strikingly different graphic short stories. Which is accurate to a point, because in reality (or fantasy, depending on how you want to look at it) there are six stories, as each tale wends its way into a world-shifting denouement that reveals a mirror narrative. In the first, a comic fantasy adventure, a plucky young knight vanquishes monsters to win the princess’s love. In the second, a wacky cartoon spoof on Uncle Scrooge, a tycoon frog’s latest wealth-grabbing scheme leads him to create an entire religion around a mysterious smile in the sky. In the last, a lonely peon trapped in a humdrum working world falls prey to e-mail fraud. Revealing what each of the stories is really about would kill the fun, but suffice it to say that what unites them all is escapism, and not as a negative connotation. You can escape into creativity, flee the limiting confines foisted on you by others, or dream of a sunnier world to inhabit. Visually, each story is a world unto itself, drastically different from the others but defined by a well-polished sensibility that works wonders in concert with the multiple-layered themes being explored. Absolutely not to be missed by anyone who welcomes the leaps available solely to graphic storytelling.

— Ian Chipman

Starred Review in 4/1 Kirkus Reviews

A rousing and thought-provoking exploration of fantasy versus reality from the much-lauded comics veterans Yang and Kim. Three tales evince very different realities and viewpoints, though all are tied together by this common thread. Duncan, the hero of the first, is desperately seeking the approval of the Princess, though something in his kingdom doesn’t seem quite right. In the next, an anthropomorphized, avaricious amphibian named Gran’pa Greenbax seeks to be the richest frog in the land, only to discover that his domain isn’t quite what he thought it was. In the last, a painfully shy office worker distorts her own perception—and judgment—to create a reality more pleasing. Readers looking for another American Born Chinese (by Yang, 2006) may be pleasantly surprised: While a very different format both visually and thematically, this book offers similarly plotted ingenious twists. Begging for multiple readings, this exceptionally clever examination of fantasy and perception is one to be pored over and ruminated upon. (Graphic fiction. YA)

Review in 5/15 Library Journal

Duncan is trying to win throne of his kingdom and earn the love of his princess. Froggie zillionaire Gran'pa Greenbax just wants to pile up enough gold to dive in without bumping bottom. Janet, stuck in cubicle hell with a patronizing boss, is engaged in an Internet romance with (she imagines) a Nigerian prince. These three modern-day fables all feature lead characters who live in escapist fantasies but then are jerked rudely awake. Tragedy, angst, and anomie? Surprisingly, no. When the truth strikes, Yang's protégés actually seize the opportunity to go after what they really want. Kim's attractive color art varies for each story: classic storybook for Duncan; Disney-ducks-style kiddie comics for Gran'pa (but his cute froggette nieces sport manga eyes); a darker pastels alt-comics approach for Janet. Winning characters and unorthodox, compelling plot twists make this trio of tales highly recommended for teen and adult collections. Excellent also for educators as case studies to teach comics and short story writing. With a few mild sexual references.—M.C.

Starred Review in 6/1 Horn Book

In three graphic novellas, Yang and Kim explore the power of dreams and, more to the point, the power of waking up. The lowly monk Duncan, in “Duncan’s Kingdom,” is determined to win the hand of the princess by beheading the dreadful frog king and storming his pagoda fortress—wait, what? Why is the king hiding a bottle of...Snappy Cola? In the title story, Gran’pa Greenbax (another frog) uses the appearance of a giant smile in the sky to reinvent himself as a flock-fleecing preacher. But then the smile turns into an opening, and Gran’pa is plucked through the “sky” by a human hand and revealed to be a frog installed with a microchip, living in the Truman Show–like world of a children’s television show. Oppressed Janet Oh, in “Urgent Request,” finds respite from her dead-end job by answering the e-mail of a Nigerian prince who has $350,000,000 that “must be immediately transferred to the United States for safekeeping.” Janet loses all her money—but takes back her life. Kim gives each tale a different mood: Classics Illustrated noir for “Duncan’s Kingdom”; “Song of the South” for “Eternal Kingdom”; and “Urgent Request” drawn in small screen-shaped panels that televise the banal reality and Technicolor dreams of Janet’s existence. It’s an optimistic volume, with big questions growing out of superbly inventive storytelling. r.s.

Recommended Review in 6/09 Bulletin of the Center for the Children's Book

Deploying three very different artistic styles, Yang and Kim present three graphic tales that explore the ethical border between fantasy and reality.  In the first story, medievalist heroic fantasy meets teenage ninja turtles when a young man must kill the Frong King in order to marry the princess he loves, but a mysterious cola bottle lures him on to further deeds of heroism – and revelations about his identity.  Deep browns and blacks predominate in the fight scenes and dream sequences, alternating with sunnier scenes that celebrate the young hero’s provisional victories.  The second story follows the fate of a con artist frog who ties to capitalize on a mysterious smile that appears in the sky.  Stylistic nods to mid-century Disney and Warner Bros. comics combine with a high-tech storyline that is at once humorous, satirical, and sad.  Finally, a bored and underappreciated office worker indulges herself by pretending to believe that a Nigerian prince really does need her help transferring his fortune into an American bank account.  Her fantasy is complemented by her depiction as pudgy, doll-like figure moving through panels of grayed purple against a pale yellow background; her fantasy scenes then come to life in dreamy, pastel-hued watercolors.  In each story, the punchline tips the fantasy back to a surprising reality that is ultimately affirmative for the characters in different ways.  In the first instance, the boy abandons his fantasy for an unpleasant reality in which he must accept his responsibility; in the second, the frog is liberated from his enslavement in someone else’s fantasy; and in the third, the young woman’s fantasy strengthens her ability to cope with her real life.  Taken together, the stories offer opportunities for discussion about the multiple ways fantasy can enrich our lives, as well as some of its attendant dangers.  KC

Review in 4/2 Shelf Awareness

Then, to see two pros in action, readers can turn to The Eternal Smile. A trio of comics tales explores the same theme: happiness cannot come from following the path that others have determined for us; true happiness comes from discovering and following one's own path. Longtime friends Yang (American Born Chinese), who wrote the comics, and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories), who illustrated, open with "Duncan's Kingdom," in earth tones that emphasize its medieval flavor. After the death of a King, the princess declares that whoever can kill her father's murderer will have her hand and rule the kingdom. Duncan takes on the task because he loves the princess, but he is haunted by a dream that, when he finally confronts it, reveals his true identity and forces him to make a moral choice. As the character's name in the title suggests, "Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile," stars a money-hungry villain who's a frog. The palette effectively evokes classic Looney Tunes, a fitting backdrop for Gran'pa Greenbax's cathartic experience--which leads him to understand his true nature. And lastly, "Urgent Request," in an exquisitely drab yellow-and-black series of TV tube-shaped panels, follows Janet, a corporate member of the CommTech team. After she applies for a promotion at her computer company, she is ridiculed by her boss. Just when readers might think she's been taken in by an e-mail scam, Janet turns the tables. Each of these three comics acknowledge the human need for escape (in a clever twist within "Duncan's Kingdom," comics themselves are the escape) but also ultimately to own and make decisions about one's reality. Taken together, this pair of books widens the scope of the way comics work and their infinite potential for creativity and for teaching us about ourselves.

Review in 4/1 VOYA – 4Q 4P

A trio of stories from Printz Award winning author Yang and Eisner Award winning author Kim make up this delightful graphic novel.  In Duncan’s Kingdom, a young man dreams of becoming a hero.  When he succeeds, it is on levels far deeper than he realized.  Elias McFadden’s Grand’Pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is a Truman Show-like comic about a greedy frog who winds up seeing behind the smoke and mirrors of his life to seize upon simplicity.  In Urgent Request, an office drone decides to send money to a Nigerian prince.  Positive results come from her response to the spam. 

The three tales are dark in tone, but they are leavened by hope.  They never go exactly where the reader expects and the results are compelling.  Duncan’s Kingdom is fully of tiny details that charm, such as a frog eating from a Chinese take-out container.  The second story begins in a very gloomy manner but offers wonderful redemption.  The third story uses color in a lovely way, enabling the main character’s drab world to become golden and warn with soft washes of color.  The art is distinct to each story, whether old-fashioned comic book, manga, kiddie-comic, or a limited palette indy comic.  The title is fitting – these dark stories end with a smile and some hope.  All is not totally well, but you get the feeling things will be okay.  – Geri Diorio

The Eternal Smile entwines fantasy and reality with remarkable ease into a delightful story.  Surprise twists will keep readers engrossed to the very last page.  Yang and Kim cater to fans of all genres, as they gracefully touch on nearly every subject imaginable.  The artwork is simple, yet perfectly reflects the mood of the plot.  Every element of this graphic novel is woven together into a flawless masterpiece. – Lucy Freeman, teen reviewer

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