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Level Up – Review

There is a close relationship between comics and video games that is seldom utilized well. Although that is not the case regarding the comic Level Up. Level Up is a comic book written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Thien Pham. The book was originally published in 2011 by First Second Books and has just recently been released in a new paperback version.

Gene Luen Yang is a New York Times best seller who has written several critically acclaimed books such as his American Born Chinese series. I’ll be honest that I hadn’t actually heard of Luen Yang until it was announced that he would be the writer for the New Super-Man series being released this year. So really this book was my first time experiencing his writing.

I tend to enjoy going into a comic knowing very little about it, other than the basic summary of course. I think a story should grab at you and make you want to read it, which is exactly what happened with this book. I was pleasantly surprised as I flipped through it.

I say flip through because that is exactly what it felt like.

At some point we all dreamed in pixels.
At some point we all dreamt like this, yeah?


The story itself is very simplistic and straight forward. Dennis Ouyang is an Asian-American kid who feels pressured by his parents expectations, but really only wishes to play his video games, and he struggles to find a medium between the two.

I’m sure it seems odd that such a deep idea could be defined as simple, but Luen Yang keeps his narrative concise, short, and easy to follow. The raw emotion and deep thought is layered gradually through each chapter (Level) until it eventually hits you like a sudden wave of reality. Even with all this intricacy, the pace of the book makes it seem like no time has passed at all as you flip through each page.

I mean look at that coloring. Simple and yet layered. Awesome!
I mean look at that coloring. Simple and yet layered. Awesome!

Thien Pham’s art only adds to this feeling with her cartoonish style. Pham does an incredible job of creating a great environment for the story, utilizing simple “Sunday Funnies” styled characters that also seem plausible for a video game. I think the coloring is the cherry on top of this creative sundae; the faded water colors give a children’s story book feel that give off nostalgia, while breathing life into each panel in a unique way.

After reading this book I can only imagine what Luen Yang’s other works are like, but I know that I certainly want to find out. It is incredibly difficult to try and explain this comic because of it’s depth, which is why I suggest that everyone read it for themselves. It’s enjoyable, and at just under two-hundred pages, is a quick read.

The new paperback edition of Level Up is available now in stores and online.


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