Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers is a fantastic read.
This volume (which is paired with Saints) follows Little Bao, a dreamer of a boy who is eventually drawn into rebellion against foreign forces, who seek to bring Christianity to China (among other things). The events that follow are a retelling of the Boxer Rebellion, a significant historical event.
With subject matter like this, it can be pretty easy to be historical and dry, or have artwork that’s dark, sinister, or brutal. Yang’s work is none of that.
The art is vibrant and the colors are well-chosen: in the story, the commoners who join the Big Sword Society are possessed by the spirits of China. The spirits are colorful and vibrant while the peasants are in dull, muted colors. The character designs are delightfully simple but unique to each and every character. While the landscape of the story is simple, that’s fine – the focus is on the characters, as it should be. In stories about war, it’s important to know the people that fought in them, even if they’re not big names.
The pacing throughout is brilliant. There can be several pages to a slow and thoughtful scene, but when the action happens, everything is bold and fast. The design of the panels is simple enough that you can read the story easily and not get lost (which is important to note, because there are an awful lot of comic artists that try layouts to be artistic – Marvel’s SIEGE, I’m looking at you – and instead it becomes an artistic mess. Boxers is not that work).
Ok, so obviously the artwork is great, but what about the writing?
The art is simple and classy to let the writing shine through.
This story is still posing deep and thoughtful questions in me three days after I’ve finished it. Questions like, What is worth fighting for? What would you sacrifice for the future? Love? Others’ lives? The concept of yourself as an individual? What is fundamentalism and how does it transform people?
If you haven’t read this yet, you should. Go get it on Amazon.com or at your local library (that’s where I got mine. I have no shame).
P.S. I have yet to read Saints, the companion book to Boxers. That review will be coming up soon!