Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #56 by Drew Barth

The Comic Nebula

I mentioned last week how Nextwavewas unique due to its theme song, so what can we do with a graphic novel that includes a tiny vinyl record that can accompany a reading? Quite a lot, actually, as John Pham’s J+K has shown us.


J+K is the most unique graphic novel I have ever seen or read. From its pages, we have the story of Jay and Kay—two friends living together in a world of oddity and spectacular color. But hidden among the book’s covers are the other materials—a full issue of Cool magazine with subscription inserts and a pull-out poster, baseball cards, an ad for the local mall, a poster for the video game Dance Warrior, and a vinyl single for the band Gaseous Nebula. These materials assist in creating a sense of place within the world of J+K, and take this book from a graphic novel to a box of culture from another dimension.


As an illustrator, Pham utterly disarms throughout J+K’s stylebright, colorful, and the kind of cartoons that recalls Peanutsand Hanna-Barbera. The world Jay and Kay live in mirrors our own in its veneer of simplicity hiding a dimension of emotional, dramatic depth.


In a world filled with sapient back acne, bookstores with shelves larger than many buildings, and characters whose faces are primarily eggs, there is a sense throughout that feels fantastical until the world comes crashing down upon the reader. J+K is one of the best graphic novels due to how it uses that complete world to build up characters who make us feel their joy, sadness, and nostalgia so effortlessly. Get excited. Build a world.


Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.