Made In Korea – Comics Review

Made In Korea

  • Writer: Jeremy Holt
  • Illustrator: George Schall

Grade: B+

One of the most interesting elements of Made In Korea actually comes after the story proper comes to an end. Not that creator Jeremy Holt’s latest is anything less than an engrossing, humbling narrative, but the graphic novel provides a fascinating outside perspective in its already expansive world. Throughout the course of the novel – a collection of the first 6 comics released in 2021, labeled as Volume One – Holt puts a fresh take on a familiar sci-fi conceit.

Bearing some similarities to Ex Machina and Blade Runner, Holt’s series explores what it means to be human, and finding inner acceptance. Set at least 50 years in the future, the story concerns a robotics company in South Korea that produces child-sized androids – here referred to as proxies – for parents that are unable to have their own children. Made In Korea splits its time between two narratives, initially focusing on Chul, an office drone working for the company that makes the proxies. He makes a breakthrough with the proxies’ code in the book’s opening panels, but we don’t learn exactly what that breakthrough entails until later. Meanwhile, Bill and Suellyn, an interracial couple in Texas, soon decide to “adopt” their own proxy.

Illustrator George Schall’s images offer an eye-popping way to bring the story forward. Drawn with a lithograph-inspired line aesthetic, and colored with muted pigments, Schall still manages to visually distinguish the two worlds when necessary. Bill and Suellyn welcome Jesse and begin to treat her as if she’s their biological offspring, but it’s not before long that they realize that Jesse has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, given her advanced brain power, enroll her in high school to give her the socialization she’s otherwise lacking.

The dueling narratives eventually collide when Chul realizes that imbuing Jesse with his new code was a mistake, and could eventually lead to some sort of proxy uprising. Thankfully Holt doesn’t veer down this familiar road, instead focusing on themes of identity in a coming-of-age setting. Holt, themselves a non-binary person, uses their own insight to channel the inner turmoil of someone who always feels different without dipping into shallow sentimentality. Soon after Jesse joins the school, she begins to question how she’s being raised versus how she feels on the inside. This is also when the narrative gets much darker, as she begins to bond with a select few classmates that don’t have her best intentions at heart.

But anyway, back to the ending: Volume One includes several “Proxy Stories” – short stories from different authors and illustrators that take place in the proxy world – in its final pages. Though all only last for 3 or 4 pages, they paint a vivid picture of the world at large, some darker in tone, some more existentially-focused. Made In Korea only makes occasional hints at what the world has become since the invention of proxies, these short stories flesh out those ideas while introducing a wider range of possibilities. Though it’s unclear whether more editions of Holt’s comic will be made, this broadens the scope of his relatively small scale to show a society that’s mostly familiar but contains unlimited possibilities.

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