Walking together after work, Herman’s co-workers discuss their plans for the rest of the evening. “What about you, Herman?” Pam asks. “Oh, just staying home,” Herman says. Terry tells Pam, “You didn’t have to ask.”
That’s where Terry’s wrong. You do have to ask. Otherwise, you can’t presume to know the answer. Terry’s the kind of guy who would argue he’s doing Herman a favor. By not asking, Herman doesn’t have to admit he has no plans. Asking isn’t a gesture on Terry’s part, but a judgment, but there’s a lot about Herman’s life he doesn’t know.
For one thing, Herman’s a street cleaner whose house is a mess. For another, Herman’s a shapeshifter who transforms his appearance at night. Dressed in a white sheet, that transitions well between body types, his body can morph into any shape or figure. He enters his home through the front door as Herman, but leaves it by hopping the back fence as Bruce.
With that kind of power, Herman wants to go to the cinema. There’s a remastered movie playing, and the long line for tickets catches his eye. The question becomes why Herman needs a different face in order to attend. Would he have wanted to see the film without a line? Is he there to be a part of the crowd? And if he wants to be a part of the crowd, why the disguise?
The film’s director appears at the screening to announce an open casting call. Another giant line is born but it’s during the day, while Herman’s at work, and the line disperses at night. If he wants to audition for the director’s next movie, he’s going to need a plan.
Herman By Trade is Chris W. Kim’s debut graphic novel and it’s a knockout. Settings are given prominence, words are used economically, and the narrative tension encourages deep inspection. Fears are stirred in order to to be refuted. The ticket booth at the front of the line is masked in shadows, but when Herman (as Bruce) walks up to it, the angles reverse to give him dominance. The dangers posed by the booth have been exaggerated.
The lettering used for Herman is sobering. He doesn’t need narration to have privacy. Herman speaks his thoughts aloud and nobody pays attention. His dialogue bubbles cut off and cover over, but they have to in order for Herman to compete with the background conversations
Herman doesn’t have the floor but Chris W. Kim will. Herman By Trade takes time to digest but doing so occupies the wait for Kim’s next, big follow-up.