The Eternal Smile

Overview

A fantastical adventure through the worlds we live in and the worlds we create. 

From two masters of the graphic novel — Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) come three magical tales –

The story of a prince who defeats his greatest enemy only to discover that maybe his world is not what it had seemed.

The story of ...

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Overview

A fantastical adventure through the worlds we live in and the worlds we create. 

From two masters of the graphic novel — Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) come three magical tales –

The story of a prince who defeats his greatest enemy only to discover that maybe his world is not what it had seemed.

The story of a frog who finds that just being a frog might be the way to go.

The story of a women who receives an e-mail from Prince Henry of Nigeria asking for a loan to help save his family – and gives it to him.  

With vivid artwork and moving writing, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang test the boundaries between fantasy and reality, exploring the ways that the world of the imagination can affect real life. 

The Eternal Smile is the winner of the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Short Story.

Includes "Urgent Request," winner of the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Short Story

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review in 3/1 Booklist

This dream-team matchup of Yang (American Born Chinese, 2006) and Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories, 2004) brings together three strikingly different graphic short stories. Which is accurate to a point, because in reality (or fantasy, depending on how you want to look at it) there are six stories, as each tale wends its way into a world-shifting denouement that reveals a mirror narrative. In the first, a comic fantasy adventure, a plucky young knight vanquishes monsters to win the princess’s love. In the second, a wacky cartoon spoof on Uncle Scrooge, a tycoon frog’s latest wealth-grabbing scheme leads him to create an entire religion around a mysterious smile in the sky. In the last, a lonely peon trapped in a humdrum working world falls prey to e-mail fraud. Revealing what each of the stories is really about would kill the fun, but suffice it to say that what unites them all is escapism, and not as a negative connotation. You can escape into creativity, flee the limiting confines foisted on you by others, or dream of a sunnier world to inhabit. Visually, each story is a world unto itself, drastically different from the others but defined by a well-polished sensibility that works wonders in concert with the multiple-layered themes being explored. Absolutely not to be missed by anyone who welcomes the leaps available solely to graphic storytelling.

— Ian Chipman

Starred Review in 4/1 Kirkus Reviews

A rousing and thought-provoking exploration of fantasy versus reality from the much-lauded comics veterans Yang and Kim. Three tales evince very different realities and viewpoints, though all are tied together by this common thread. Duncan, the hero of the first, is desperately seeking the approval of the Princess, though something in his kingdom doesn’t seem quite right. In the next, an anthropomorphized, avaricious amphibian named Gran’pa Greenbax seeks to be the richest frog in the land, only to discover that his domain isn’t quite what he thought it was. In the last, a painfully shy office worker distorts her own perception—and judgment—to create a reality more pleasing. Readers looking for another American Born Chinese (by Yang, 2006) may be pleasantly surprised: While a very different format both visually and thematically, this book offers similarly plotted ingenious twists. Begging for multiple readings, this exceptionally clever examination of fantasy and perception is one to be pored over and ruminated upon. (Graphic fiction. YA)

Review in 5/15 Library Journal

Duncan is trying to win throne of his kingdom and earn the love of his princess. Froggie zillionaire Gran'pa Greenbax just wants to pile up enough gold to dive in without bumping bottom. Janet, stuck in cubicle hell with a patronizing boss, is engaged in an Internet romance with (she imagines) a Nigerian prince. These three modern-day fables all feature lead characters who live in escapist fantasies but then are jerked rudely awake. Tragedy, angst, and anomie? Surprisingly, no. When the truth strikes, Yang's protégés actually seize the opportunity to go after what they really want. Kim's attractive color art varies for each story: classic storybook for Duncan; Disney-ducks-style kiddie comics for Gran'pa (but his cute froggette nieces sport manga eyes); a darker pastels alt-comics approach for Janet. Winning characters and unorthodox, compelling plot twists make this trio of tales highly recommended for teen and adult collections. Excellent also for educators as case studies to teach comics and short story writing. With a few mild sexual references.—M.C.

Starred Review in 6/1 Horn Book

In three graphic novellas, Yang and Kim explore the power of dreams and, more to the point, the power of waking up. The lowly monk Duncan, in “Duncan’s Kingdom,” is determined to win the hand of the princess by beheading the dreadful frog king and storming his pagoda fortress—wait, what? Why is the king hiding a bottle of...Snappy Cola? In the title story, Gran’pa Greenbax (another frog) uses the appearance of a giant smile in the sky to reinvent himself as a flock-fleecing preacher. But then the smile turns into an opening, and Gran’pa is plucked through the “sky” by a human hand and revealed to be a frog installed with a microchip, living in the Truman Show–like world of a children’s television show. Oppressed Janet Oh, in “Urgent Request,” finds respite from her dead-end job by answering the e-mail of a Nigerian prince who has $350,000,000 that “must be immediately transferred to the United States for safekeeping.” Janet loses all her money—but takes back her life. Kim gives each tale a different mood: Classics Illustrated noir for “Duncan’s Kingdom”; “Song of the South” for “Eternal Kingdom”; and “Urgent Request” drawn in small screen-shaped panels that televise the banal reality and Technicolor dreams of Janet’s existence. It’s an optimistic volume, with big questions growing out of superbly inventive storytelling. r.s.

Recommended Review in 6/09 Bulletin of the Center for the Children's Book

Deploying three very different artistic styles, Yang and Kim present three graphic tales that explore the ethical border between fantasy and reality.  In the first story, medievalist heroic fantasy meets teenage ninja turtles when a young man must kill the Frong King in order to marry the princess he loves, but a mysterious cola bottle lures him on to further deeds of heroism – and revelations about his identity.  Deep browns and blacks predominate in the fight scenes and dream sequences, alternating with sunnier scenes that celebrate the young hero’s provisional victories.  The second story follows the fate of a con artist frog who ties to capitalize on a mysterious smile that appears in the sky.  Stylistic nods to mid-century Disney and Warner Bros. comics combine with a high-tech storyline that is at once humorous, satirical, and sad.  Finally, a bored and underappreciated office worker indulges herself by pretending to believe that a Nigerian prince really does need her help transferring his fortune into an American bank account.  Her fantasy is complemented by her depiction as pudgy, doll-like figure moving through panels of grayed purple against a pale yellow background; her fantasy scenes then come to life in dreamy, pastel-hued watercolors.  In each story, the punchline tips the fantasy back to a surprising reality that is ultimately affirmative for the characters in different ways.  In the first instance, the boy abandons his fantasy for an unpleasant reality in which he must accept his responsibility; in the second, the frog is liberated from his enslavement in someone else’s fantasy; and in the third, the young woman’s fantasy strengthens her ability to cope with her real life.  Taken together, the stories offer opportunities for discussion about the multiple ways fantasy can enrich our lives, as well as some of its attendant dangers.  KC

Review in 4/2 Shelf Awareness

Then, to see two pros in action, readers can turn to The Eternal Smile. A trio of comics tales explores the same theme: happiness cannot come from following the path that others have determined for us; true happiness comes from discovering and following one's own path. Longtime friends Yang (American Born Chinese), who wrote the comics, and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories), who illustrated, open with "Duncan's Kingdom," in earth tones that emphasize its medieval flavor. After the death of a King, the princess declares that whoever can kill her father's murderer will have her hand and rule the kingdom. Duncan takes on the task because he loves the princess, but he is haunted by a dream that, when he finally confronts it, reveals his true identity and forces him to make a moral choice. As the character's name in the title suggests, "Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile," stars a money-hungry villain who's a frog. The palette effectively evokes classic Looney Tunes, a fitting backdrop for Gran'pa Greenbax's cathartic experience—which leads him to understand his true nature. And lastly, "Urgent Request," in an exquisitely drab yellow-and-black series of TV tube-shaped panels, follows Janet, a corporate member of the CommTech team. After she applies for a promotion at her computer company, she is ridiculed by her boss. Just when readers might think she's been taken in by an e-mail scam, Janet turns the tables. Each of these three comics acknowledge the human need for escape (in a clever twist within "Duncan's Kingdom," comics themselves are the escape) but also ultimately to own and make decisions about one's reality. Taken together, this pair of books widens the scope of the way comics work and their infinite potential for creativity and for teaching us about ourselves.

Review in 4/1 VOYA – 4Q 4P

A trio of stories from Printz Award winning author Yang and Eisner Award winning author Kim make up this delightful graphic novel.  In Duncan’s Kingdom, a young man dreams of becoming a hero.  When he succeeds, it is on levels far deeper than he realized.  Elias McFadden’s Grand’Pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is a Truman Show-like comic about a greedy frog who winds up seeing behind the smoke and mirrors of his life to seize upon simplicity.  In Urgent Request, an office drone decides to send money to a Nigerian prince.  Positive results come from her response to the spam. 

The three tales are dark in tone, but they are leavened by hope.  They never go exactly where the reader expects and the results are compelling.  Duncan’s Kingdom is fully of tiny details that charm, such as a frog eating from a Chinese take-out container.  The second story begins in a very gloomy manner but offers wonderful redemption.  The third story uses color in a lovely way, enabling the main character’s drab world to become golden and warn with soft washes of color.  The art is distinct to each story, whether old-fashioned comic book, manga, kiddie-comic, or a limited palette indy comic.  The title is fitting – these dark stories end with a smile and some hope.  All is not totally well, but you get the feeling things will be okay.  – Geri Diorio

The Eternal Smile entwines fantasy and reality with remarkable ease into a delightful story.  Surprise twists will keep readers engrossed to the very last page.  Yang and Kim cater to fans of all genres, as they gracefully touch on nearly every subject imaginable.  The artwork is simple, yet perfectly reflects the mood of the plot.  Every element of this graphic novel is woven together into a flawless masterpiece. – Lucy Freeman, teen reviewer

Mary Quattlebaum
Printz medalist Gene Luen Yang and Eisner winner Derek Kirk Kim rise masterfully to the challenge…What they're doing here, with wit and grace, is heady stuff for smart teens: exploring the way fantasy sustains (and sabotages) three very different characters.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This collaboration between multiple-award winners Yang (American Born Chinese) and Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) is an eagerly awaited event that actually pays off. Yang writes and Kim illustrates in a medley of different styles united by meticulous detail, almost throwaway beauty and riveting storytelling. All three stories deal with levels of fantasy and how humans use it to escape or transcend everyday tedium and suffering. In "Duncan's Kingdom," a fairy tale about a brave youth, beautiful princess and dastardly frog king is played out; the fantasy is so note perfect that the truth of the situation comes as a shock. In "The Eternal Smile," Gran'pa Greenbax is an avaricious frog whose moneymaking schemes are first boosted then dashed by the appearance of a mysterious, peaceful smile in the sky. Riffing off classic Disney comic books and evangelical clichés, it's a sharp satire far more complex than it first appears. In "Urgent Request," Janet, a schlumpy drone at a tech company, answer a Nigerian scam e-mail to liven up her drab life. However, her motives are not as they originally appear. Shattering the borders between our real and fantasy lives, these bold, masterfully crafted fables have real staying power. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Michael Jung
Comic book creators Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim offer three very different stories about the nature of reality and happiness in The Eternal Smile that are by turns humorous, poignant, and painful. In Duncan's Kingdom, young knight Duncan sets out to kill an evil Frog King to win the hand of a princess but starts to wonder about the secrets of his kingdom when he discovers a bottle of Snappy Cola behind a hidden door. Then, in Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile, greedy cartoon frog Gran'pa Greenbax uses a mysterious smile-shaped object in the sky to start a church and make enough money to build a pool of gold only to discover that the smile leads to a bizarre secret about his world, as well as the key to his happiness. Finally, in Urgent Request, lowly office worker Janet receives an email from a Nigerian prince asking for help in liberating his family's fortune and winds up sending a con man thousands of dollars to fuel her romantic fantasies. Written by the creator of the award winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile manages to constantly surprise readers with its unexpected plot twists while also offering a fun exploration of existentialism. Comic fans will also appreciate Derek Kirk Kim's versatile artwork, which ranges from superhero-style art to animal cartoon drawings to picture-book quality illustrations. Thought-provoking and wonderfully offbeat, The Eternal Smile can encourage both repeat readings and group discussion. Reviewer: Michael Jung
Library Journal

Duncan is trying to win throne of his kingdom and earn the love of his princess. Froggie zillionaire Gran'pa Greenbax just wants to pile up enough gold to dive in without bumping bottom. Janet, stuck in cubicle hell with a patronizing boss, is engaged in an Internet romance with (she imagines) a Nigerian prince. These three modern-day fables all feature lead characters who live in escapist fantasies but then are jerked rudely awake. Tragedy, angst, and anomie? Surprisingly, no. When the truth strikes, Yang's protA©gA©s actually seize the opportunity to go after what they really want. Kim's attractive color art varies for each story: classic storybook for Duncan; Disney-ducks-style kiddie comics for Gran'pa (but his cute froggette nieces sport manga eyes); a darker pastels alt-comics approach for Janet. Winning characters and unorthodox, compelling plot twists make this trio of tales highly recommended for teen and adult collections. Excellent also for educators as case studies to teach comics and short story writing. With a few mild sexual references.
—Martha Cornog

School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Yang and Kim are expert storytellers and work well together here to present three tales with fablelike takeaways. "Duncan" seems to be a hero story set in a lush medieval Europe, with the titular character embarking on an iconic quest to win the hand of the fair lady-except for odd visual details that crop up, such as the frumpy and definitely modern woman holding her bespectacled head in her hands and the apparently magic Snappy Cola bottle. The turn from fantasy to Duncan's reality is made smoothly and doesn't ask readers to appreciate its cleverness so much as to recognize how fantasy can, indeed, aid real healing. The volume's title story starts off as a riff on capitalism and religious gullibility involving talking frogs and then makes a hairpin turn with the revelation that a broadcast tycoon has blended America's tastes for Saturday morning cartoons and reality shows. In "Urgent Request," a contemporary cubicle inhabitant allows herself to fall for the fraudulent Nigerian royalty email plea for cash, but thereby gains the strength she needs to confront her abusive boss. Artwork in each of the stories is stylistically different and wholly appropriate to the theme of the specific tale. Smart teens will enjoy this thoroughly and will push it into friends'-and hopefully even adults'-hands for discussions around topics ranging from political insights to how narrative creates personal identity.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

Kirkus Reviews
A rousing and thought-provoking exploration of fantasy versus reality from the much-lauded comics veterans Yang and Kim. Three tales evince very different realities and viewpoints, though all are tied together by this common thread. Duncan, the hero of the first, is desperately seeking the approval of the Princess, though something in his kingdom doesn't seem quite right. In the next, an anthropomorphized, avaricious amphibian named Gran'pa Greenbax seeks to be the richest frog in the land, only to discover that his domain isn't quite what he thought it was. In the last, a painfully shy office worker distorts her own perception-and judgment-to create a reality more pleasing. Readers looking for another American Born Chinese (by Yang, 2006) may be pleasantly surprised: While a very different format both visually and thematically, this book offers similarly plotted ingenious twists. Begging for multiple readings, this exceptionally clever examination of fantasy and perception is one to be pored over and ruminated upon. (Graphic fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596431560
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 579,945
  • Age range: 14 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.44 (w) x 6.12 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he received a Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan’s Kingdom, The Rosary Comic Book, Prime Baby and Animal Crackers. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. He also won an Eisner for The Eternal Smile. Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he teaches high school. He got his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, where he wrote his thesis on using comics in education. 

 

Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Same Difference and Other Stories, the winner of the trifecta of comics awards – the Eisner, the Ignatz, and the Harvey.  He lives in Portland, Oregon. 

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