The Color of Heaven (First Second)

colorofheaven-header.jpgThe final volume in Kim Dong Hwa’s "Color" trilogy completes Ehwa’s transformation from young girl to woman and wife.



320 pgs., B&W; $16.95

(W & A: Kim Dong Hwa)

The Color of Heaven completes Kim Dong Hwa’s "Color" trilogy tracing the maturation of Ehwa, a young girl living with her widowed mother in a small village in rural Korea in the early 20th century. It’s a fictional series based on Kim’s speculations about what his mother’s youth was like and is written with the obvious affection of a loving son.

Ehwa is now 17 and beginning to test her mother’s authority while falling in love with Duksam, a young man who leaves the village to seek his fortune as a fisherman. Mother and daughter share their feelings of loneliness and frustration: Ehwa pines for Duksam as her mother pines for the itinerant peddler (referred to as "the picture man" because he is also a painter) who is a regular visitor in their home.

The cover to The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa. Click for a larger image.Eventually Duksam returns to ask for Ehwa’s hand in marriage and the story ends with their wedding night which is presented sensually without becoming offensively graphic and draws on conventional manhwa euphemisms such as bells, water, and flowers as indications for sexual behavior. Ehwa’s mother is proud that her beautiful daughter has become a woman (and she’s eager to become a grandmother as well) but also mourns losing her companionship. Most conveniently the picture man returns and decides to settle in the village, leaving everyone with a happy ending.

The story of Ehwa’s maturation is beautifully told but the series is equally enjoyable for the amount of information about Korean culture which it conveys. So we learn that when a couple gets married, the groom supplies the house while the bride supplies the furniture and linens. Ehwa and her girlfriend Bongsoon banter about the traditional definition of female beauty: a woman must have black eyes, eyebrows and eyelashes; red lips, cheeks and nails; soft body, hair and hands; short teeth, ears and legs; skinny lips, waist and ankles; voluptuous arms, butt and thighs; and small nipples, nose and head.  The detailed portrayal of the Korean wedding ceremony is particularly impressive: an elaborate set of rituals convey the traditions and values of the culture as well as the expectations of each partner. Then for a little comic relief we follow the couple to their bridal night, with what seems to be half the village waiting just outside the walls and listening to the rustling as the groom removes the bride’s garments! Apparently everyone felt they had a stake in the success of a marriage, and the fertility of the partners, in those days.

Kim Dong Hwa draws in a detailed yet uncluttered style with great feel for the natural setting of his stories. His style of storytelling is unhurried and poetic while also strongly influenced by the cinema:  you can almost see the camera setups as his frames shift between objective and subjective points of view and from long shots to close-ups to inserts. It’s worth checking out the series just for his accomplished art, which you can preview here: The only extra in the volume is a nine-page reading guide which delves into the nature of graphic communication and Korean culture as well as the particular stories told in the Color trilogy. | Sarah Boslaugh

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