Review by Frank Plowright
Shoplifter is a polarising graphic novel. Everyone can agree that Michael Cho draws beautifully, but his meditation on disenchantment with the modern world has a greater resonance with the regular graphic novel buyer than the casual reader. It’s easy to speculate why, and the primary cause is reader alienation. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Corinna, drawn as an immensely attractive young woman who holds down a job in an advertising agency where a co-worker can casually talk about alimony payments of $7000 a month. She’s disillusioned, as while she makes massive amounts of money she saw herself writing novels by now, and hasn’t made the friends in the big city she thought she would. In order to add some little spice to her life, she occasionally steals a magazine from a shop.
This is a slim graphic novel, so by the time we’ve come to learn about Corinna and a situation that could be a dictionary definition of first world crisis, we’re a third of the way through. By the time Corinna’s called in for a meeting with the head of her agency who refers to their purpose as “the dreamers of capitalism” it’s hardly uncharitable to wonder who Cho is aiming at. It’s certainly not the vast majority of people who flinch when a bill is due and wonder if they’ll be taking a holiday this year, nor the people for whom even that’s a dream and whose contact with Shoplifter will come via borrowing it from their local library.
Mitigation is offered to some extent by the sheer joy of seeing Cho’s artwork, timeless graphic styling in three colours creating locations you could just walk into, and making the most mundane of them a palace of wonder. His people resonate, each distinct, not just a variation on a single face, and folk you can look in the eye. Eventually one of them also proves to be a recognisable human being in another sense, and amid the pages of introspective whining provides the story’s best moment. It’s otherwise hollow and unsympathetic.