Written by: Samuel Teer
Art by: Hyeondo Park
Published by: Dark Horse
Veda: Assembly Required is a very creative and moving graphic novel that is very sweet and wears its influences on its sleeve. The book follows a little girl whose mother is tragically killed in a factory accident. Due to her nameless child being illegally stowed in the factory, no one knows to take care of her and she is left to be raised by the factory’s machines. From here, we watch her take on the name “Veda” and grow up in the factory, learning hard truths of life and the meaning of family in a very emotionally charged book. For a first time graphic novel, Teer and Park work seamlessly together to create something beautiful that feels very fresh while paying tribute to writers such as Neil Gaiman and Bill Waterson.
What I think works to the book’s advantage is its simplistic approach to such a big concept. It would’ve been easy for first time creators to want to focus on building a huge world for their story to take place in and get bogged down in useless details, however while there is definitely a larger world present in the story, Teer chooses to focus on a small cast of about three main characters and therefore allows the emotion to shine through. He takes this simplicity even further, by often times reducing the dialogue to simple pictures in order to convey meaning. You see, in this book machines speak their own language, which we perceive on the page as pictograms. While this may seem confusing or off putting there wasn’t one instance where I didn’t understand what was being conveyed, in fact I think this works even better than if there had been lots of dialogue as I was able to bring my own inferences of instances similar to those happening on page and therefore had a stronger emotional connection with the events. Of course this could’ve failed if Park was not such a skilled artist. He brings so much personality to the characters, even the machines that it almost feels like the story could work as a silent comic. There’s so much life in the book that make it a pure joy to read, it shows how comics can convey so much using only images and captures what makes them special.
The story itself brings across a wide range of emotions that kept me invested and made the book hard to put down. There is a very adorable Calvin and Hobbes-esque humour to Veda and Assembly’s (her robot guardian) action, lots of physical humor and wit usually done with charming cartoons in the speech bubbles. A lot of the time however this gives way to a very emotional story dealing with issues of family turmoil and choosing the wrong crowd. When Veda falls in with a bad gremlin I found myself becoming quite upset by her actions. Teer and Post had made me care about the characters so much that I genuinely worried for them. It helps that they make the gremlin an absolutely despicable villain, everything he does warrants shock and hatred. There is the hint that he has been through a troubling ordeal which offers the potential for an explanation of his actions, however this is left ambiguous. Veda herself generates a lot of sympathy, her situation is a bad one but she never seems mopey or angsty about it, instead she seems rather upbeat and adorable. It’s because of this that it’s so tragic to see her lead astray, you sympathise with protective father Assembly and really feel emotional while he loses his connection to her. The rapid emotional changes grip you throughout the entire story, with the humour and personality making the emotionally charged scenes all the more involving.
There are a few small quibbles I had with the book however. For one, as much as I loved the expressiveness of Park’s art, he doesn’t really capture Veda’s age or her growing up very well. At first I felt she looked a bit too much like a large head on a small body (a common problem when drawing children), however as the character stuff started clicking with me I soon got used to it. That said, I didn’t really get a sense Veda was physically growing up. There are details and symbols that he uses in order to show how her character has changed throughout the story, but her actual physical appearance doesn’t change much throughout the course of the story. The ending also seems to come a little too fast. It’s hard to describe, as the story feels pretty well paced through the first four chapters, but in the fifth and final everything seems to get resolved and dealt with a little too fast. I think if the content in the finale had been split between two chapters rather than one I would’ve enjoyed it more, or even if we’d had a chapter on the goblin’s origins to give us a break in the main story to breath before going into the conclusion. As it stands we get a lot of really good emotional build up and then it all concludes so fast I couldn’t really take it all in. It’s not a bad ending or anything, on the contrary, I liked the ending and think it brings all the themes of the book to a nice close, I just wish it had had a little more room to breath and gently ease me out of the story, as it feels more like a band-aide being ripped off.
Overall though, Veda: Assembly Required is a fantastic debut OGN that you should definitely check out. It feels fresh and new while simultaneously paying homage to some of the all-time great all ages storytellers. It captures the uniqueness of the medium and shows how you can use different tools of comics to tell a story. Samuel Teer and Hyendo Park work perfectly in sync and have created something beautiful, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.