Pham, on the other hand, is an artist whose instincts seem to be almost directly contrary to Yang’s. He’s minimalist and almost childlike in his renderings. He’s essentially a minicomics guy given slick paper and the opportunity to use watercolors. His main flaw as an artist has always been his sloppiness, especially in terms of lettering and balloon placement. Working with Yang tightened up some of those flaws, while working with Pham helped loosen up Yang and let his pages breathe a bit more. It’s perhaps not coincidental that Level Up features Yang’s best-realized, most human set of characters.
It’s awesome to get a mostly positive review from The Comics Journal, especially considering the kick-in-the-nards reviews I’ve gotten from them in the past*, but I am going to hear about this one from Thien over and over and over again for the next few months. And over again. Especially this line:
That said, Level Up represents a step forward in his development as a writer, in part because of his choice of Thien Pham as his illustrator for this story.
I can already see his smile now. He is just not gonna let that one go. Read the whole thing here.
*Side note: Kick-in-the-nards reviews hurt, but I am grateful to The Comics Journal for their courage in printing them. No medium can truly mature without reviewers who are willing to do that. And the comics industry, especially indie comics industry, is so small that you’re usually kicking the nards of someone who’s two degrees away from you at most.
Pamela Paul recently reviewed Level Up for The New York Times (NEW! YORK! TIMES!):
There are the cartoonish headline tales of Tiger Moms and their obedient, violin-playing daughters and dutiful, Intel STS-prize-winning sons. And then there are the often more complicated lives of real Asian-American sons and daughters, recently explored by Wesley Yang in his much commented-on article “Paper Tigers” in New York magazine.
Now, with both delicacy and emotional heft comes a graphic novel, “Level Up,” written by Gene Luen Yang (no relation to Wesley Yang) and illustrated by Thien Pham, a book so good it’s hard not to fall back on reviewer’s clichés.
DUUUUUDE. The review’s so nice Thien and I will be blushing for a week. Thanks, Pamela Paul! Read the whole thing here.
Level Up, my new graphic novel with illustrator Thien Pham, was recently reviewed on the Geek Dad blog:
Even though my own story isn’t like Dennis’ — my parents encouraged me to find my own path and didn’t push me into medicine or law — Level Up still struck a chord with me and it’s a really amazing story. Pham’s simple, watercolored line drawings and the fantasy elements of the cutesy angels belie a much more serious theme, and it’s definitely worth a read.
Thanks, Geek Dad! Full review here.
Kirkus Reviews, aka The World’s Toughest Book Critics, just reviewed Level Up:
Pham’s slyly muted art, infused with console-game design, gives Dennis an appropriately (given his issues) childlike look. Those creepy angels will stay with readers. As narrative, Yang’s immigrant-parent theme—like the “be yourself” message of his Printz Award–winning American Born Chinese—is conventional; braided with parallel strands of startlingly original imagery, though, it becomes more. A piquant, multilayered coming-of-age fable for the wired generation.
Read the whole review here.
This review was published last year, but it’s still worth bragging about. Gaming Bits, the popular gamers’ website, likes Level Up!
Level Up is an upcoming graphic novel from First Second Books. The story of Dennis is one that many can relate to. Whether you are an aspiring professional gamer, game developer, game reviewer, or just have a dream locked away in your heart, you can definitely relate to the trials of Dennis. Each chapter is presented as a level, where Dennis struggles with his father’s desire to see him succeed as a gastroenterologist. Soon after his father’s passing, the pressures only haunt him more. Four guardian angels, manifested by a long lost card from his father, guide Dennis through his trials of study as he questions his own dreams.
Thanks, Gaming Bits! Full review here.
Scott Pilgrim might have opened the doors to comics that can co-mingle with video games, but no one wants to redo what’s been done and that one took a big bite into the conventions and ideas of gaming, comics, and story telling in print. Yet in Level Up, another way of incorporating games gets used and it’s more realistic and playful. Written by award winning comics man, Gene Luen Yang “Eternal Smile” and “American Born Chinese” teams up with indie comics sweetheart, Thien Pham in a story that feels and smells Asian American without beating your head down in a cultural story – yet, it is.
Full review here. Thanks, Giant Robot!
Level Up is a graphic novel written by me and drawn by Thien Pham. It will be released in June 2011 by First Second Books. Check out a preview here!
Earlier this week, Caroline Luzzatto gave The Eternal Smile a nice review over at The Virginian-Pilot:
Can comic-book frogs really ponder the nature of God, organized religion and the meaning of life? Actually, yes. But you have to read it to believe it.
Thanks, Caroline Luzzatto! Full review here.