29 Nov / No One Else by R. Kikuo Johnson [in Shelf Awareness]
In the 15 years since his 2006 graphic book debut with the award-winning Night Fisher, R. Kikuo Johnson’s titles have been precious few even as his detailed art becomes increasingly recognizable on New Yorker covers. His third book, No One Else, might seem spare at just over 100 pages, but Johnson elegantly, effortlessly demonstrates that “a picture equals a thousand words.” Shades of greyish blue and white, with warning orange highlights, fill Johnson’s precise panels, revealing a multi-layered story of family dysfunction, stunted ambition, and thwarted independence, set in his native Maui.
Charlene does too much: she’s a full-time hospital nurse, her elderly father’s primary caregiver, her son Brandon’s single parent, a chef, housekeeper, her co-worker’s only ride (although the ingrate falsely blames their tardiness on Charlene). When an accident suddenly kills Charlene’s father, she withdraws into utter denial. Brandon is left to clean up, get organized, and feed himself while Charlene relentlessly taps at her computer – she’s quit her job and is applying to med school. Her peripatetic musician brother, Robbie, shows up, perhaps more hindrance than help. But family is family, and life goes on.
On almost every page, Johnson’s art-enhanced storytelling is a marvel: a smear of orange cheese puff slobber across Batman the cat’s head presages danger, at least temporarily; Charlene’s careful preparation of Brandon’s comical lunch mirrors her devotion; the bag of uncooked rice can’t save Charlene’s ramen-soaked computer; a dead man’s leftovers are displayed for sale; the replacement of quilt for sleeping bag on Brandon’s bed marks great change. Johnson visually manifests penetrating observations and textually adds lingering poignance, resulting in an undeniable graphic success.
Discover: R. Kikuo Johnson’s penetrating graphic novel insightfully encapsulates a Maui family’s multi-generational struggles after the sudden death of its oldest member.