Koko Be Good (First Second)

A chaotic hedonist tries to transform herself into a do-gooder in this highly recommended new coming-of-age tale.


304 pages, color, $18.99
(W / A: Jen Wang)
You know that phase in your life where you wanted to be a research scientist or an astronaut or a novelist or a social worker or whatever because you really wanted to change the world and then, eventually, you ended up dropping out of college because you didn’t really want to be a research scientist and weren’t sure what you wanted to do but you needed to figure it out and then your friend actually became a research scientist and you felt like a jerk? And, slowly but surely, everyone in your life had a plan and you were just kind of adrift?
Koko is a girl who would feel that way if she stopped being a chaotic hedonist long enough to think about it when she runs into Jon, a budding do-gooder that inspires her to follow in his footsteps. She has a sidekick that she’s using in a con game at bars, a landlord of sorts that loves her so much he doesn’t charge rent, and a group of former friends and coworkers who hate her. Jon is getting ready to move to Peru with his girlfriend and plans on eventually joining her in working at an orphanage. Koko, tired of living from one messy moment to the next, latches on to Jon’s seemingly serene life by deciding that she, too, can do good. Yes, she decides, she is going to be good. Flashily good. Soup kitchen and nursing home good. The very best. Saint Koko of the Fire Escape. Things go a bit askew, Koko’s efforts to give life direction go a bit more off-the-rails than she can handle, and she’s brought to a screeching halt.
See, here’s the thing about Koko Be Good that I can’t really describe very well without spoiling the whole damn thing for you: everyone is good. Deep down, in their heart of hearts, everyone in this book makes the right call. Everyone does the right thing. After the questioning and the hand-wringing and the maybe-possibly-wrong-turns, everyone ends up being someone I would be proud to claim as a friend. One might wonder, then, if the moral of the story is that we can all be good without having to change who we are at a fundamental level. Can we be good, honest to gosh good, just by being true to ourselves and faithful to our friends and not performing sweeping, grandiose acts of showy selflessness but putting tiny splashes of love out there? Is that painfully naïve or have all the things I’ve ever hoped are true been true all along?
Koko’s story is interwoven with a few other tales, notably that of Faron the Sidekick and Jon the Do-Gooder, and the stories change enough along the way to keep things moving nicely. The three stories weave in and out of each other seamlessly (if a bit well-woven but chaotic in Koko’s case) and writer/artist Jen Wang is given room to sprawl. Fortunately, sprawl is an excellent thing in this case since Wang’s art is all done in a gorgeously muted and mostly monochromatic watercolor style that serves to emphasize the story while being stunning in its own right. Both aspects of the book, text and art, are almost strong enough to stand alone, and together, they’re sublime. The book itself is a little pricey but is beautiful right down to the textured covers with French flaps. Fittingly, most of Wang’s previously published stories have been part of the Flight anthology series, traditionally a haven for beautifully quirky and deeply moving works.
I would recommend this story for anyone in the world who has ever thought they could just do a little more for the Universe. It presents itself as another coming-of-age story but has enough of a twist in characterization and story to make it interesting. We all know someone with a little bit of Koko in them and we all know someone with a little bit of Jon in them and we’ve all had a Faron. We all have friends who actually became research scientists or psychologists or other people saving the world. Maybe, just maybe, those of us who didn’t quite hit the mark need to give ourselves a break and start thinking about the ways we all save the world just a little every day. | Erin Jameson
Click here for more information and a 17-page excerpt from Koko Be Good, courtesy of First Second.


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