R. Kikuo Johnson's Night Fisher

I came across R. Kikuo Johnson's debut semi-autobiographical graphic novel Night Fisher: A Comic Book Novella (Fantagraphics, 2005) at my public library while re-shelving books as a volunteer.

I hadn't heard of the book before, but apparently it was critically-lauded when it came out, and Johnson is definitely considered a force among younger graphic novelists and illustrators. (Google his name, and you'll find a number of illustrations he did for the New York Times.)

The novella is set in Hawai'i with an adolescent male protagonist who attends a private high school. His father, a hard-working dentist, seems to be raising him alone and is seldom around since he must work long hours each day to pay for the school's tuition and for their extravagant house in a rich haole neighborhood.

I love the black-and-white illustrations in the novel. Johnson often makes use of silhouettes and high contrast between shadow and light (many of the scenes take place at night, making such depictions logical).

Johnson captures adolescent angst well, particularly as it manifests in morally-dubious behavior and a general kind of anomie. The protagonist Loren Foster finds himself hanging out with a friend and his crew who steal things to fund their drug use. Without over-analyzing or over-narrating it all, the novella also touches on some themes more common in this genre such as the relationship between the father and son; rebelling against the importance of grades, school, and getting into college; and feeling unable to talk to girls and being made fun of for being a virgin.

One of the things the novella points out briefly is the history of plant and animal species migration to the Hawaiian islands. I loved those moments, tangential as they are to the narrative. They remind me of the Chamoru poet Craig Santos Perez's fascinating long poem From Unincorporated Territory, which features these kinds of ecological narratives entwined with colonial and cultural narratives.

The Honolulu paper Star Bulletin has a nice article on the author (Reid Johnson) and his background growing up in Hawai'i and going to college in Rhode Island. "R. Kikuo Johnson and The Strip Life" offers a profile of the author, and you can find the author's web site at http://www.rkikuojohnson.com/.
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just added his two books to my amazon.com cart! thanks for the review; love anything related to graphic novels! YAY!