If the 2000s taught filmgoers anything, it was “comics are marketable.” Hollywood mined superhero classics, artier graphic novels like The Watchmen got their due, and even original franchises like Inception were comic book’ed.
Popularity opened up a space for edgier fare: Stan Lee and Alan Moore weren’t the only ones to profit. So did Derek Kirk Kim, the 37-year-old graphic novelist who took the industry by storm in the early 2000s, winning multiple prestigious industry awards, including the Eisner and the Harvey (the former the “Oscars for comics“). His key work, Same Difference, was a reserved, personal text about being young and Korean American.
His writing career stabilizing, Kim recently decided to do what many comic writers only aspire to: make a film! But instead of a film, he chose a web series. And instead of producing his novels — which have become quite sci-fi — he opted for a new story about a young comic book writer. Kim wanted to de-mythologize the quiet, solitary life of a graphic novelist, romanticized in films like Chasing Amy and shows like Caroline in the City.
“I wanted to do one that was super realistic and mundane,” Kim said. “I thought it was a really rich thing to mine in storytelling. I was surprised it’s never really been explored.”
The result was Mythomania, which follows Andy Go (Jeremy Arambulo), a twentysomething aspiring comic book writer, and his group of geek friends. There is a love interest, of course, and professional struggles and dreams, all familiar ingredients in many web series.
What distinguishes Mythomania is its wry and understated tone, a brave choice for the hyperactive web, and its focus on Asian American lives, which is still a rarity among scripted web series.
“In web time, it’s probably like hours to people…I kind of wonder if people don’t have the patience,” Kim said.
What saves viewers from boredom is Mythomania‘s vibrant, diverse cast, confident direction and humorous dialogue. In one scene, Andy debates the ethics of breaking off relationships with a girl he just met (and kind of likes). Andy would rather be dumped than do the dumping. She disagrees:
“I’d much rather be the dumper. It’s like, um, taking a really great shit, you know! … It’s like a great purging, getting the poison out of your system. Whenever I’m in a bad relationship, there’s really nothing like taking that control and ending it myself. I just feel really proud and empowered. It’s like a giant load has been lifted off of my shoulders after I commit ‘the dump.’”
That’s right, she said “giant load”!
Kim wanted to show the lives of creative professionals trying to make it, but in a way that felt natural. It was particularly important to him to cast Asian American actors and address race, especially after films like The Last Airbender and 21 revealed Hollywood’s persistent inability to cast Asian Americans as leads (Harold and Kumar notwithstanding).
“It’s worse than ever,” Kim said. “Instead of just complaining, I wanted to be proactive.”
With the first season wrapped up, Kim has more stories planned for his characters and a second season is a possibility. He also has hopes of a feature film for a different story. “There’s an infrastructure for film that there isn’t on the web.”
Kim enjoyed the communal process of filmmaking more than the lonelier life of writing and drawing (although he is now successful enough to hire an artist to allieviate the work).
“Making comics is like masturbation. Filmmaking is like sex,” he said. “You’ll achieve an orgasm either way, but one’s more fun.”