Kelly Chen’s most recent comic has all the makings of a happy little fantasy, but suffers from a breakneck pace and one too many anime tropes. A little girl’s daydream gone big, Fish is an ambitious undertaking for Chen, a young Toronto-based illustrator. The comic details protagonist Marie’s dream-journey with Tuff, an outcast spirit guide whose determination to “catch the biggest fish in the world” is only rivaled by his need to be accepted by his floating turtle island society. Marie, and the reader by extension, is only along for the ride, as fantastic as that ride may be.
Though ambitious, Fish is not without its flaws. Chen is skilled at having her panels flow naturally from one to another, but some of the illustrations feel disjointed from from the narrative as a whole. Furthermore, it is too easy to differentiate the images she spent time perfecting from the ones she scribbled out quickly.
Fish is drawn in what can be described as a Westernized manga style, and conforms to those rules accordingly. Figures resemble emotional caricatures in every panel (embodying fear, anger, confusion, etc.), and because those hardline emotions change multiple times on a single page, it is difficult to get a sense of character from the book’s two lone protagonists. This habit makes it difficult to tell what Tuff or Marie are like beyond their immediate and ever-changing impressions.
Still, it’s hard not to enjoy Fish to some degree. The comic is very likable, and rings similar to Wynken Blynken and Nod, or Little Nemo’s Adventures in Dreamland, though it’s not nearly as rounded as either. Chen has a penchant for this kind of nostalgic imagery, and while Fish is far from perfect, it’s certainly not bad. (Joel W. Vaughan)