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Fleen Book Corner: From The Hallowed Halls Of Iron Crotch University, Pàng, The Wandering Shàolín Monk: Winter Worm, Summer Grass

Editor’s note: Ordinarily I’d have an image of the front cover of the book here, but since that’s how Ben Costa’s bio at the back of the book describes him, I had to design a business card for him. I think it’s at least as good as Chen Guangbiao’s.

This past week I picked up a copy of Ben Costa’s Pàng, The Wandering Shàolín Monk: Winter Worm, Summer Grass, the second collection of his story of Shì Lóng Pàng, a rather doughy and unimpressive monk trying to a) stay alive; b) stay true to his monastic ways; c) find his lost brothers, in whichever order makes the most sense right now. He may not feel himself a very righteous Buddhist, but given the way that he bounces from crisis to crisis — enemies becoming friends and friends enemies — and somehow finding his path as life buffets him Pàng would make a hell of a Daoist (just don’t tell him that).

There’s actually not much I can tell you about PTWSM:WWSG‘s story if you haven’t read at least some of Pàng’s earlier adventures: the period of Chinese history he occupies was laid out in the early pages of Vol 1, the history and legend of Shàolín (and the political context in which these were developed) was presented immersively and resists any quick summary. I can tell you that Costa has done his homework … if your understanding of Gōngfu was developed from watching Black Belt Theater on channel 11 out of New York on Saturday afternoon in the ’70s (as mine was), there are details here that are far deeper than secret techniques and impressive martial arts moves.

Costa’s art is on the thick-lined cartoony side, but it fits the story well; characters are instantly distinguished by silhouette, posture, and color palette, and lengthy visual sequences are always easy to follow. Costa’s especially good at environments, with rain, afternoon sunlight, murky hut interiors, fog, mud, and the dark of shadowed forests (as opposed to the dark of gloomy night) all adding extensively to the mood of the story.

One quick note — the story of Pàng is on pause at the moment, as he wants to develop the third part of the story completely before starting to put pages up at his website. In the meantime, the Supreme Ultimate Chancellor has been busy, working on a fantasy graphic novel¹ in the meantime. This means it’s the perfect time to get caught up with the more than 350 pages in Pàng’s journey.

¹ Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Cube, more info available here. And can I say that I love Costa’s titles? Awesome stuff.

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