On the face of it, Herman is an introverted street cleaner who picks up garbage on the city’s waterfront. But what nobody realises is that Herman has a secret inner life. When auditions are held for a major new film, and the city’s population is swept up in an excited creative frenzy, Herman decides to try out. But after his first audition doesn’t go so well, Herman shows the director his truly remarkable hidden talent – Herman can transform his appearance at will. Now the director wants Herman to star in her movie, but it’s not only going to cost Herman his job, it’s going to trigger a city wide riot.
Herman by Trade is a neatly rendered low-key meditation on art, identity, self-expression, and our relentless hunger for fame. Chris W. Kim’s sketchy monochrome artwork is impressive, and works especially well in the panels when Herman’s transformations are almost-but-not-quite lost among the melee of the crowd. It is, by turns, surreal, socially realistic, and occasionally grotesque. There’s a Commedia dell’arte influence in there as well, which is fun. However, although Kim’s decision to keep dialogue to a minimum (often as barely heard snatches of bystander dialogue) gives the story a strange silent movie aesthetic and subtly underlines Herman’s sense of personal isolation, it also creates a disconnect which makes it hard to properly enjoy the tale. There are moments when Herman by Trade feels almost like a rorshach test, and rorshach test’s can be fascinating but they can also be frustrating. With a few more words thrown in to compliment the visuals, Herman by Trade could have been the kind of thoughtful, gently paced graphic novel that is always interesting to return to from time to time and seek new interpretations. As it stands, it’s an intriguing concept that is beautifully drawn but doesn’t make the psychological impact it should. A bit of a missed opportunity.
HERMAN BY TRADE / AUTHOR & ARTIST: CHRIS W. KIM / PUBLISHER: SELFMADEHERO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW