Written & Art By Danica Novogorodoff
In China if a man dies unmarried it’s a great travesty. A man must have a wife to be by his side in the afterlife to keep him company. Deshi is charged with finding his recently deceased brother a wife, but there is a shortage of fresh, female corpses. Deshi travels to find a dead body, except he finds a living Lily Chen. Lily is running away from an arranged marriage to become a movie star in the city. Deshi lies to Lily and plans to kill her, but the pair fall in love instead.
A well-written prose novel about China opens a window to a culture on the other side of the globe. Danica Novogorodoff accomplishes this with great insight into a death rite that’s medieval in western thought. She marries an old tradition with a modern story of hope and filial piety. Deshi is a likeable chump, who’s biggest fault is being a second son. Lily has the problem of being a poor beauty with parents in debt. She doesn’t have a lot of options, but neither does Deshi when it comes to finding a corpse. Novogorodoff weaves their fates together with a little bit of drama, suspense, and comedy. Their story is told in actionable moments as they travel through rural China. Conversation is also sparse in certain parts, impressing upon the readers the importance of letting characters rely on their actions to communicate.
While the story is compelling, the art pulls the reader into the graphic novel. Novogorodoff uses watercolors in milky tones with bright shocks of color. It doesn’t have a Chinese feel to it nor does it fit the western idea of what China is. Her depictions are a modern China that is truer than most depictions of the country.
The Undertaking of Lily Chen is graphic novel journey that is both a written and visual feast.