Writer: Jeremy Holt
Illustrator & Colorist: George Schall
Letterer: Adam Wollet
Publisher: Image Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A sci-fi coming-of-age drama about a Texas family that adopts an artificially intelligent robotic child from South Korea.
Made In Korea combines the dark, twisted smarts of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina with the empathetic heart of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. to explore identity, assimilation, and the joys and fears of sophisticated, hyper-real technology.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Engineer Kim Dong Chul has cracked the equation for self-aware, robotic consciousness at his desk at Wook-Jin Industries in Seoul, South Korea. Rather than inform his employer, makers of child-like robots for families, Chul hides his life-changing discovery in a lone robot—one he facilitates the purchase of to the Evans family in Conroe, Texas.
After unboxing the proxy, Jesse, the Evans quickly discover she’s unlike any models they’ve ever seen. Jesse's not just there to fulfill their needs as new parents—she has her own mind and it has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Jesse isn’t happy to just stay at home: she wants to go to school, socialize and be a real kid. But how does a robotic child with just days of life experience fit in with a bunch of high schoolers? How does she make friends? What if she falls in with the wrong crowd? Could she be a danger to herself or others?
Writer Jeremy Holt is one of comics' great young voices and, with Made In Korea, they deliver their most nuanced and personal work yet. The topic of artificial intelligence has been tackled countless times before, but Holt's take feels completely fresh because it never focuses on a grand apocalyptic doomsday (thank you, Terminator), but on the minutiae of identity. Identity is both the heart of this story and the center of its many conflicts.
Artist George Schall's set and character designs are a feast for the eyes. Small details like the wavy, "S"-shaped cubicles in Seoul or the Evans' triangle-shaped attic library are startling in their simple, geometric beauty. Schall's signature geometric shape in the series is the rectangle framing of Jesse's long black hair and short bangs that form hard right angles around her wide-open, information-hungry eyes.
Letterer Adam Wollet plays perfectly off Schall's geometric style with crisp, symmetrical balloons and thin, evenly-weighted tails that look like curved rectangles. The tails are particularly enjoyable to read: it's a very clear and well-executed stylistic choice.
Writer Holt's series title, Made In Korea, playfully elicits so many possible interpretations. Is it a commentary on consumerism and its dehumanization? Check the underside of your coffee mug or the tag on your t-shirt: do you know where it was made or who made it? Or maybe a message about the long journey of an adopted child? The dichotomy of Jesse's individuality versus her mass-produced, engineered form? The title is simple yet communicates so many complexities.
Artist Schall bathes the scenes set in Seoul's Wook-Jin Industries in the blue and green lights of computer screens and Texas in contrasting warm and sunlit yellows, pinks and oranges. As the story jumps back and forth between locations, the colors help place the reader.
Schall's cover art has been a series highlight. Every issue's cover uses all grey tones except for Jesse and the red backdrop of the Made In Korea logo. This visually isolates Jesse and puts the spotlight on her very unique differences.
While the series is never laugh-out-loud funny, Holt and Schall excel in subtle sprinkles of humor on nearly every page. In one panel, Jesse walks into a school interview with her small 8-year-old-sized head buried in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest with a stunned faculty member looking confusedly down at her.
Spoiler alert: Jesse's evolution as an individual takes a dramatic visual turn at the end of issue 3 as she finally puts her own fingerprints on her identity, which sharply contrasts with the form that was engineered for her. It's an expertly placed curveball by Holt that's visually rendered seamlessly by Schall.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: While there's been zero violence or explicit content through the first 3 issues, there're hints that a school shooting may occur, so those sensitive to the topic please be aware.
We're only 3 issues in but we haven't spent a lot of time with Jesse's adoptive parents. Why was Jesse so quick to rebel from them? It's unclear whether she was mistreated or just feels that way and more time inside the relationships would have clarified that point.
Why does Jesse's adoptive dad, Mr. Evans, have such an aggressive Abe Lincoln-style chin strap beard? The lack of any semblance of mustache is really quite startling.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Made In Korea is a high-concept book that delivers on its exciting premise with well-paced tension and big philosophical challenges and questions.
Do we shape our own identities or are we made a certain way? How much control do we have over who we are?
While science-fiction and artificial intelligence are the big genre umbrellas Made In Korea falls under, it's primarily a story about adoption, assimilation, and the difficulties of finding yourself when you fail to fit in anywhere. Writer Jeremy Holt and artist George Schall expertly explore and execute this journey of a weeks-old, cognitively self-aware robot with thoughtful narrative turns, beautifully rendered linework, and enveloping washes of color.
Holt, in particular, has a knack for putting a new spin on familiar concepts (see Southern Dog for generational racism through the lens of a Klu Klux Klan-devouring werewolf, or Virtually Yours, which deflates the societal pressures of dating via a mobile app that allows you to pretend you're in a relationship). Made In Korea puts a much welcome spin on the plentiful canon of A.I. stories by focusing on all of the little details that make up existence and all of the little choices we make to become who we really are.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Made In Korea characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Jeremy Holt, George Schall, or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED