Book Review: ‘Life or Death’ by Frank Goodin & Youmin Park


Frank Goodin is an Emmy Award winning independent film-maker from Jacksonville, Florida, who has just published the first volume of his first graphic novel ‘Life or Death’. Without knowing what to expect, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to review his work while the ink was still fresh! I’m glad I did, I can’t wait for the other five volumes to appear!

If it wasn’t for Linkedin, I’d probably never would have heard of ‘Life or Death’. At least not this quick. After I finished my review on Barbara Stok’s ‘Vincent’, I decided to ask actual cartoonists via a Linkedin Group, which elements they thought are important to consider when reviewing a graphic novel. I got a lot of great responses. One of the people who responded was Frank Goodin, who then had just finished his work on his first graphic novel.

Teaser for ‘Life or Death’

Intended as a film
One of the things that surprised me about ‘Life or Death’, was that the story was not intended to be told in the form of a graphic novel. It was actually meant to be a movie. As Goodin explains it on Indiegogo, the fund raising page he created for this project: “(…) I’ve been sitting on this story – LIFE OR DEATH – for some time now, waiting for the right time to make the movie. It only recently hit me that the story is PERFECT for a graphic novel. When the idea came to me, I literally was like WOW!”

Much more than just violence
‘Life or Death’ is a crime drama about Caleb, a young man who struggles to do what he thinks is right when faced with tough choices. The story takes place in an urban ghetto. Violence is guaranteed, but luckily, the story offers way more than just that…

Scene from 'Life or Death'

Scene from ‘Life or Death’

Carefully elaborated characters are staged in a world with a lot of contrast. Good versus evil. Morality versus a complete lack of morality.

The opening scene sets the tone: The one moment you’re witnessing happy family life, the next you’re in a very cruel scene that you just could not have seen coming.
This story is not about the whizzing bullets though. What really fascinates, are the dilemmas and the motives of those whose life is determined by those bullets.

I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise, that reading this book, is a similar experience as watching a thriller movie. There are no grand sound effects to suddenly give you a fright, however, the turning of a page might even have more impact!
The storyline is non-lineair, which sometimes might be confusing. Above all it’s intriguing. Just like a movie, you’ll see and understand more when you read it twice. A good sign in my opinion, it shows depth and layering. Elements that can make a story stand out.

Scene from 'Life or Death'

Scene from ‘Life or Death’

Casual but realistic
‘Life or Death’ is illustrated and coloured by Youmin Park, a South African freelance illustrator and designer from South Korea. ‘Life or Death’ was her first contribution to a graphic novel. An achievement she can be very proud of! Her drawing style seems casual, yet realistic. She manages to create a world that feels very real, without losing her self in too much attention for detail. Also, by sometimes drawing really expressive and by using bright colors, she knows exactly how to add the right amount of drama to the story.

Well worked out
The faces of the characters are well worked out. They have a lot of space to show their emotions in a very clear way. She makes the surroundings fit in with the story really well, for instance by using fish bowl effects. Giving it a very street style kind of vibe.

Though she may have just graduated as a BA in Information Design, Park is very mature when it comes to her artwork. She has found a nice balance between form and function. Her drawings are a contribution to the story without distracting the reader from it.

This story is not about the whizzing bullets though. What really fascinates, are the dilemmas and the motives of those whose life is determined by those bullets.

‘Life or Death’ is a very strong debut that makes you want to eat popcorn while reading it. It is proof that a good story can be told in many ways. Does it matter whether it’s a movie or a graphic novel? The key to succeed is talent and dedication. And that’s exactly what Goodin and Park have. Lot’s of it. Chapeau!

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Geplaatst op: augustus 2, 2013
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