[5 July 2006]
Perhaps it’s the Kevin Smith-esque, characters, dialogue, and situations. Or maybe it’s that The Wang: Who’s Your Daddy?, the second entry in Stan Yan’s The Wang series, was my first foray into this world. But whatever the reason, it’s hard to not feel disengaged and slightly off-put by Who’s Your Daddy?.
The book follows the post-graduate real-world exploits of Eugene Wang, navigating his way around an entry-level stock broker job, an ex-girlfriend who is now also his mother’s ex-girlfriend, and a know-it-all friend who’s charismatic enough to get girls and employment with little effort. And in this second entry in the Wang series, Eugene is also attempting to answer the titular question of who his father is. For the most part, Eugene’s problems could be those of any recent college grad in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. Maybe we can’t relate to our mother dating then breaking up with someone who used to be our girlfriend, but we certainly have friends like the ones Eugene says and we have, at one time or another, have had to deal with the dread and angst Eugene feels at his job, in conversations, and just trying to make a place for himself in the world.
But that familiarity ultimately works against Who’s Your Daddy? because so many other artists and filmmakers and writers have mined that material. Going through sections of this lean, efficient book is like reading Clerks or Mallratsif they were graphic novels. The opening seven-page first chapter is so overwrought with swearing, dorm room philosophy/economics/political discourse, and care-free reminiscences of what girl Eugene’s friend George banged when that it’s hard to take those crucial first steps to caring about what’s going to happen in the book.
This problem persists in various forms throughout the rest of the scant 95 pages of the book. A mainstay of the book is Eugene’s fantasy world in which he gets back together with his ex, Chief, and, later, where he and Chief are involved in a horrific car accident. The latter dream lasts nearly 22 pages, or roughly over 20 percent of the book’s length. That is far too much time to dedicate to a sequence that reinforces Eugene’s loyalty and commitment—things that are bolstered a couple times prior to this—when the purpose of the book is to have him find his father.
What ends up happening is that the climactic discovery of his father’s identity comes on page 91 with nary a whimper. This comes after a very rushed, haphazard, underdeveloped narrative thread about the possibility that Eugene’s mother murdered his father, which itself starts on page 75 and ends on page 90—though not every one of those 15 pages is dedicated to that subplot. It seems as if Yan remembered midway through that Eugene should maybe start looking for his father and therefore rushed what was seemingly the point of the book. That is no way to tell a story.
Who’s Your Daddy? is disappointing because, admittedly, it’s a well illustrated book. With its black-and-white panels, stark contrasting, and chiaroscuro framing, Yan’s work recalls to a certain extent Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes. Similarly, Yan’s protagonist, Eugene, is a wonderful cipher for the aloof, oft-misguided paranoia that characterizes so many twentysomethings carving out a life for themselves in the 21st century. Wade Busby from The Guide to Self-Published Periodicals compares Eugene to a grown-up Charlie Brown on the back cover of the book. A more appropriate description there couldn’t be.
The first book of the Wang series, The Big One, was highly touted for its realism and irreverence. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the follow up. Who’s Your Daddy is an enjoyable read at points, but its problems far outweigh its successes. Perhaps if it were a longer book, or maybe if Yan planted the seeds of Eugene’s search for his father in the second installment for them to blossom in the third book, this second entry would have been more successful. But, as it is, it’s rushed and a bit shoddy, and no amount of admirable illustrative work can compensate for a lack of a narrative thrust.