Let Matthew Forsythe’s Jinchalo take you on a wordless nonsensical adventure
How do we illustrate? Let me count the ways: with our bodies, with our hands, with a brush or with a pen. Before language and the written word, there was illustration. We told stories with our bodies and with images drawn on cave walls. Today, we continue to use the technique of illustration when words fail us, but would you read a story without any words?
Before you make a decision, you may want to consider picking up Matthew Forsythe’s Jinchalo. Based on Korean folktales about parental loyalty, this 120-page paperback is made entirely of wordless drawings that tell the story of a little Korean girl, the gluttonous Voguchi, and her adventure with a shape-shifter.
After eating all the food in her father’s house, she’s sent to the market to buy more. In the market, Voguchi buys a large egg, and as she’s leaving she collides with Jinchalo, who is holding the shape-shifter egg. In the resulting chaos, the eggs get switched and Voguchi walks off with the shape-shifter egg. On her way home, the egg hatches and adventure ensues as she chases the shape-shifter through a tumult of nonsensical and fantastical worlds.
It may seem daunting to read a story completely in pictures, without any words to guide you. However, Forsythe draws crisp, animated images that perfectly illustrate the characters’ emotions and actions. The sequence of events and the exact nature of the plot are less concrete and hinge on the reader’s ability to interpret and formulate the narrative based on the illustrations. As a result, it’s possible that every reader will be reading a different story, one that is perhaps entirely different from Forsythe’s conception.
Forsythe, however, doesn’t see this as a disadvantage, but the opposite. “The great thing about nonsense and surreal works is that they leave you space to interpret things however you want and it isn’t patronizing to the reader or the audience,” he said. “The audience participates in it.”
Forsythe has worn many career hats in his day and interestingly enough, being an artist wasn’t originally one of them. He studied political science with a minor in religious studies at McMaster University. He’s been a part-time professor at Concordia’s department of journalism and he’s taught English as a second language. However, unlike many children who draw as a pastime and then stop, Forsythe has been drawing since he was a child and has continued to do so despite the different paths he’s explored.
While teaching English in Korea, he was inspired by the graphics, cartoon culture and comics of the country to draw his own comics based on the nonsense logic and aesthetic style of Korean comics.
“It was really fresh to me. There’s a sort of nonsense logic in a certain strain of manga, just sort of surreal comics for kids. I was teaching kids and I noticed that they weren’t afraid of nonsense, because it’s so much fun and it’s a different way of looking at the world, so that really inspired me. I was drawing with my kids in class and we would tell each other stories and make up stories, so it came out of this experience,” said Forsythe.
The title Jinchalo means “really” in Korean. Forsythe explained that oftentimes he would be in a conversation, speaking in Korean, but he wouldn’t quite understand what was going on, so to appear as if he did know, he would ask, “Jinchalo?” and his conversation partner would reply, “Yeah, Jinchalo.”
This can be paralleled to how some readers might react to this book, not quite understanding everything, but sort of nodding along as if they did. Jinchalo is also a character in the book. He is the mysterious fate figure that sets the plot in motion, but by the end of the story we are still left with the question of who he is.
Voguchi is funny and lovable; her personality jumps off the page. Other characters, such as the furry rectangular monster that comes begging for food, are harder to interpret, but this oddity simply adds to the nonsensical fun. Jinchalo is a delight both artistically and narrative-wise. Spend an hour with this book and you’ll feel like a little kid again—free, playful and joyous.
Jinchalo is available from Drawn and Quarterly and other fine book retailers. For more information, visit comingupforair.net.