Manhwa-ga: Kim Dong Hwa
Publisher: First Second
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: March 2009
Synopsis: “First love is never easy. Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbors and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.”
The Color of Earth is in essence a coming of age story. This first of a three-part book series follows the youth of Ehwa, a young Korean girl learning what it is to be female both physically and emotionally as she grows from young child to young woman.
Symbolism plays a large role in the story with nearly every new question and discovery delivered in parallelism with nature. Flowers in particular are a largely used analogy, used by both Ehwa and her Mother as comparisons to themselves as well as to the boys of Ehwa’s affections. The constantly used symbolism also allows the story to keep its innocence, showing children learning new things and trying to understand them as best they can without using reference or vocabulary that they wouldn’t know, such as the physical differences between boys and girls and the ‘secret door’ that woman possess in place of a ‘gochoo’.
I liked this handling of the stories’ elements because it not only suited the first-person focus of a young girl in the story’s setting, but also how it allowed open discussion and display of sexual subject matter without feeling like its deviated far from the whimsical and emotional tone that the majority of the book maintains.
Ehwa begins this volume as a young girl of about five years old. By the time the book ends she has reached puberty. Along with her maturing views of how her mind and body change, as well as those of her friends, she also pays particular attention to her Mother who has fallen for a man whose visits to their quaint tavern are ever constant on her mind. Kind and patient, Ehwa’s mother answers and addresses Ehwa’s concerns and curiosities while at the same time maintaining her daughter’s youthful innocence. At times the story is as much about Ehwa’s Mother as it is her, contrasting two women at very different times in their lives.
While interesting in its close-track following of Ehwa’s growth, this book also suffers from its stiff linear plot. Though individual scenes can prove charming, reading all of them back to back can occasionally get tiring. While I enjoyed the book as a whole, I had to take several breaks and come back to it, not for any real lack of enjoyment, but simply because a story that remains this low-key and straight-lined begins to become, well, a little dull all in one sitting.
First Second publishes the Color of Earth, and this would be my first time reading a publication from them. The book itself has a pleasantly large cut size (a little larger than Digital Manga’s releases) and an attractive stiff faux-coverslip. I especially liked the cover design, which is simple and elegant, and uses an interior piece of art that really embodies the apprehensive curiosity that makes up a large portion of the book’s focus. At the book’s end is a pleasant to read after word that lyrically explains the book much better than I have. My only real complaint is the quality of the interior paper, which doesn’t often bother me much, but in this case was rough and coarse, making page turning a surprising hassle at times.
Overall I generally enjoyed this first-of-three book. Color of Earth offered a cute story of Ehwa and her Mother’s life while delicately touching on a couple key side characters. Though the book has its slogging moments, all in all I thought it was a nice read that depicts growing-up in a way that, while sugar-coatedly innocent at times, still had a sense of endearing honesty.