to bring to the table in this discussion is my inexperience with the medium. Unlike most of the posters, I have never been wild for comics. It's not like I ever rejected them, it's just never happened. In fact, I've never read a comic book. I bet I'm getting expressions like the ones I probably give when I meet someone who's never picked up a work of fiction. Well, and maybe I deserve them. But then maybe fresh eyes are a good thing.
First, I was amazed by how quickly I learned how to read the book. As in, my eyes went the wrong direction once, maybe twice, and then I had it. In other words, the medium is its own hook. A good novel can take a hundred pages to teach you how to read it. American Born Chinese took one. This might be an advantage and a disadvantage. The drawings make setting up meaningful characters instantaneous; I'm immediately invested in any character whose face I can see. Events unfold with utter smoothness. There's no going parsing and reparsing a dense sentence. There's no flipping back through pages to make sure I'm connecting the dots. ABC is a great story, and it's a lot of fun. I laughed, I empathized, and I enjoyed every page. On the other hand, I didn't often find myself stopping to think about deeper issues raised. How could I, with the carrot of exposition, explanation, or resolution only twenty minutes ahead? I mean, tis is a medium you can positively burn through, and it's difficult to resist that temptation. I wonder if anything's sacrificed for the medium's accessibility. Or rather, whether the hard mental work required to make meaning out of a self-obfuscating novel can influence or even enhance the meaning derived from that novel, and, if so, whether this space is available to the graphic novel. And whether the graphic novel cares one way or another about that space.
I noticed a couple things worked really well in this medium. First Chin-Kee. The dialog was clever... or was it? I would contend that exaggerating a foreign accent is as low as comedy gets, and on a simple printed page the l's and r's would seem tired and overdone. But here it works. Here, it makes me laugh. There's something mutually reinforcing about exaggerated language and caricatured appearance that pushes the mood effect of the Chin-Kee spectacle someplace very pleasant. There's space here for inventive interplay of different media, visceral, rather than subtle, irony and exaggeration. If not over-the-top, then at least near it. ABC worked on me on a visceral emotional level. It's like part of my brain turned off and the other part was flooded with some very expensive drug. There was no need for me to interpret; the drawings did that for me. I could concentrate on being entertained.
Finally, I want to comment on the multithreaded story. Novels do this all the time, and to some degree or another, it's hard to follow. It's effective, but it's imperfect. How am I supposed to remember who's on stage when the words printed on the page look the same from story thread to story thread? It's gonna take a page or two for me to situate myself in this subplot or that one. Unless a novel's meaning is enhanced by its obscurity, this can be a problem. A novel I love, Infinite Jest, gets around this problem by drastically altering the structure and diction of the language used to describe each individual thread. But there's no need to resort to extreme measures to get around this problem in the graphic novel. This is a medium perfect for multithreading. The panel art firmly anchors us in whichever thread we're inhabiting at the moment, and we're once again immediately drawn into the first frame in a sequence.