Reviewers aren’t supposed to toss hyperbole around lightly, but it must be said: I loved every cringe-inducing moment of Shoplifter. It’s been ages since a graphic novel spoke to me on such a personal level. I wish I had the cash to buy copies for every friend who reminds me of the protagonist: overeducated, unfulfilled, and stuck in a rut.
Shoplifter focuses on Corinna Park, a writer plagued with ennui and lack of motivation. Life hasn’t turned out as she envisioned it, and now she’s merely going through the motions at her ad agency job, where she gets to write copy for silly products that nobody needs. Corinna’s only thrill in life is minor pilfering. Corinna knows she has the potential to do great things; she just can’t fathom how to get there.
Having met a fair share of shoplifters and disenchanted copywriters over the years, I can sympathize with Corinna’s first world problems while wanting to hit her with a bat at the same time. Corinna’s doubts, fears, and failed attempts feel intensely real. I wish there were more stories like Shoplifter out there: short, elegant, and even a little groan-inducing.
The creators of Displaced Persons have a great love for San Francisco, as the book starts with Emperor Norton, who finds an abandoned child and promptly delivers him to the nearest orphanage. The orphan in the prologue is only one of the mysteries the reader’s invited to unravel: there’s a missing heiress, a love triangle involving twins, a drug bust gone bad, and an amnesiac. Clues include a locket, a photograph, and a house.
The main conceit of Displaced Persons, however, is that the mysteries cross three timelines, each with its own color palette. Only the cover and the last page break out into vivid color as the book tries to answer the main question: where do all missing people end up? Are they only lost to their loved ones, or are they also lost to themselves?
Displaced Persons is a high-concept, unusual work; it’s obviously a labor of love. Unfortunately, its ambitious plot is also mildly convoluted. This book might be more satisfying after a second reading. Even the sharpest reader might have difficulty keeping track of everything. Clarity does come at the end, but one might be too disheartened by the book’s melancholic outlook to notice it.