The medium of sequential storytelling, of comic books, is one that lends itself to a multitude of genres including science fiction, horror, noir and comedy. Most of those genres, when published today, find themselves disguised, wrapped in colourful capes and masks, as superheroes lead the comic book sales charts. But there was a time, not so long ago, when straight-laced western-themed comics were at the forefront of the North American consciousness, when war and romance-themed monthlies sold in large numbers.
Those sorts of artistic choices, those kinds of reading experiences are still around today – just not in the same number as they once were. It’s really a pleasure, then, to find a comic book that stands apart from the tried and true super-powered costumed characters that ubiquitously fill the store shelf racks, to enjoy a change of pace from the general, mainstream experience of reading comics.
The compilation hardcover graphic novel Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender (the first book of an expected trilogy) is one of those kinds of comics.
Yi Soon Shin is steeped in real-life human experience, mined from 16th century Korean history. Many from that side of the world will recognize his name immediately. Those of us in the west need to told the story of the war hero’s fascinating exploits during a dark time in Korea’s past. This is a historical graphic novel, one that embraces the genre of war, that tells of momentous events in the lives of a proud people – and it doesn’t feel at all out of place on any store shelf rack. This is because character and character-driven storytelling is the most important facet of Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender.
For those that don’t know, Yi Soon Shin was a brilliant Korean military naval strategist who single-handedly held back and defeated the invading army of Japanese samurai. Outnumbered and out-gunned, Yi Soon Shin continuously out-thought his opponents. He was one man who could not be defeated in battle.
Released as a four-issue series over the last few years, Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender was finally compiled as a hardcover graphic novel this past spring. It’s a bloody and riveting story, filled with characters both decent and despicable. Written by Onrie Kompan and published by his production company, Yi Soon Shin is a beautiful book that incorporates the artistic talents of people from all corners of the globe. Their love affair with the main character and his selfless acts of valour are evident on every page turn.
The well-researched illustrations of Italian artist, Giovanni Timpano, are rich, fluid and detailed. They recall an eastern manga aesthetic without ever alienating a western comic book reader. In fact, the costumes worn by the navy officers, the samurai or even the ninjas in this story, could very well be seen as the precursor to the superhero costumes that westerners are so familiar with in their comics and comic-related movies! Timpano’s action scenes engross the reader with riveting angles and facial and body expressions while never once looking hurried. The coloring work of Argentinian, Adriana De Los Santos, is all gold sunsets played against cool and deep blues. The sort-of-airbrush-styling gives the artwork a smooth, if somewhat diffused feel – as if the story itself were recalled from one’s own memory.
It’s evident that Onrie Kompan, with the assistance of co-writer and editor, David Anthony Kraft, put a lot of research into this story and that it fills a special place in their hearts. In addition to studying historical texts on the subject, Kompan also consulted historians and military advisors from the Republic of Korea Army and Navy. The graphic novel is rife with his findings. Included in the compilation are area and battle maps, fictionalized Yi Soon Shin journal entries as well as character biographies. A detailed account of the process of creating the series is also included as are artwork samples – from sketch to final, finished drawing, of that process. Interviews with the various creators also fill out this jam-packed and beautiful book, designed and lettered by another Argentinian in Joel Saavedra.
At its heart, Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender is a story about honour, war, betrayal and the love for one’s country and people. I found it refreshing that so much comic book reading enjoyment could come out of a historical narrative, drawn from events of over four hundred years ago, by a people half a world away.
I know that others would enjoy it too.
Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender is available at both Amazon and iTunes or visit www.yisoonshin.com to order a copy of the book, read more information or discover recent updates on the continuing project.