David is a graphic novel that explores what it means to be different, a misfit caught between two worlds, and it does so through its half bird half man protagonist. The story opens with David as he goes about mundane human activities. These bird-man gags are mirthful and witty. It helps that author-illustrator Yi Li uses a delicate touch, ever maintaining a note of sympathy for the bird-man’s perplexing predicament. David’s encounter with a cat on the couch, for example, cleverly juxtaposes the two ideas of David-the-human (cats are cute) and David-the-bird (cats are predators) in a comically domestic setting.
As the story progresses, Yi Li delves deeper into David’s mind and life. It turns out that he, too, has no idea whether he is man or bird. We begin to feel for David’s desire to just live an ordinary life. We wince as he struggles to simply be ordinary in his professional and social lives. The narrative arc that recounts his childhood of being bullied and discriminated against is particularly poignant, and one of the first signs that the book is more than meets the eye – the graphic novel is actually a metaphorical exploration of what it means to be different, socially accepted (or not), and confused about one’s own hybrid identity.
Yi Li’s simple, sparse, black and white pencil illustrations are a perfect medium for this story. In the opening pages of the book, the sparse linework highlights the mundaneness of David’s everyday slapstick situations. As the narrative continues, the stark monochrome treatment reflects David’s internal bleakness as he attempts to fit into human society. The wide variety of page and panel layouts also make the story more lively, while the variable pacing effectively conveys David’s unconventional narrative structure, filled with both vignettes and chapter-length story arcs.
David began life as a student project while Yi Li was in graduate school in the US. There, she self-published an English edition of the book, which debuted at art book fairs in the US and in China. Shortly after, it was picked up by the mainstream comics publisher Houlang (后浪出版), who produced the Chinese edition of the book. That it was so quickly snapped up by a mainstream publisher speaks both to the strength of the work and to the growing acceptance of book-length comics in China.
Title: David 大卫 Release date: 2018, 2019 Publishers: Self-published (English edition), 后浪出版公司 (Chinese edition) Author: Yi Li