At first glance, I wasn’t sure what to make of author Ancco’s graphic novel Bad Friends, as the artwork is a bit wonky, and I thought it would be about some teens growing up and doing bad things. Well I was partially right, as it does follow two young ladies growing up in South Korea and trying to have fun whenever possible, but it also touches on loads of abuse they go through to make one of this year’s most touching and depressing reads.
While the book follows both ladies equally, the main star seems to be Jinju, a young woman in 1990’s South Korea that smokes, drinks, runs away from home thanks to a highly abusive father that beats her within an inch of her life everytime he sees her, and she tends to make trouble for her mom and sister at every turn. While out on one of her many misadventures, she comes across another girl named Pearl, who also has her fair share of abuse and problems. Without giving anything away, what follows is a touching and interesting look at the two of them sharing a close bond while also going into what life can be like growing up during this time in a different country, and all of the highs and lows that come with it.
I’m a sucker for slice-of-life stories, so to read this one taking place in South Korea was a very nice change of pace. I have to admit first off that the amount of physical abuse in the book may turn some away from finishing it, as it very difficult to read through and process. Not that I’m making light of it, but it seemed that the girls were getting the stew beat out of them on every other page or so from their parents, teachers, and whoever felt like it. If you’re able to press on through, you’ll find a very touching story about two young ladies just trying to figure out life and where they fit into it as they grow into adults.
Author Ancco does a great job tying all of this together in a land and time where women are already born into a disadvantage from the start, and how these two ladies do their best to survive through the pain together and decide on what they want from life. As I mentioned earlier, the artwork may not be for everyone, and the book is presented in black and white, but I found myself quickly growing used it as I grew ever fixated on the story of Jinju and Pearl and how they were going to get out of one bad spot after another.
If you can push through the heavy, depressing abuse presented here, you’ll find a very touching and interesting story of friendship in Bad Friends. It’s tough read thanks to the violence, but it’s also one of the more fascinating pieces I’ve read that shows having a close and special friend is never a bad thing.