When I read that Pornsak Pichetshote, writer of the phenomenal comic “The Good Asian”, was recommending a trade paperback titled “Made in Korea”, written by Jeremy Holt with art by George Schall, I knew that I had to pick it up. “The Good Asian” is such a wildly good title that I knew that any book praised by its writer had to be equally as good, and I was not disappointed.
Set in the near future, “Made in Korea” begins in the software engineering division of a manufacturing company in Seoul. There, an engineer named Chul stays late, exhaustedly running code as he strives to achieve a mysterious, but seemingly all-important goal. However, when he finally cracks the code and excitedly tells his coworker, Chul is visibly upset to learn that any work done on a company computer automatically becomes company property. This means that Chul must now work quickly to hide what he's done.
Meanwhile, inter-racial couple Bill and Suelynn in Conroe, Texas, are invited to a neighbor’s house to meet the neighbor’s new “child,” a robot that looks and acts like a little boy. Termed “proxies”, these robots are created by the same company that software engineer Chul works for and are shipped all over the world for a hefty price. Although the book never explains why, it seems that humans in this future world are unable to reproduce, and these proxy children have begun to fulfill the desire for parenthood for any couple that can afford them.
Enamored by their neighbors’ proxy, Suelynn soon convinces Bill that they should look into getting one of their own. As luck would have it, Suelynn finds a female proxy that’s been drastically marked down in price, unaware that Chul has made a few upgrades on this particular model.
Two weeks later, Bill and Suelynn’s new proxy arrives at their home. Initially overwhelmed by the tech and detail that’s gone into her, the couple fall in love with their new daughter almost immediately and name her Jesse.
Remarkably intelligent, Jesse soon devours every book at the library. Her thirst for knowledge is insatiable, however, and she asks if she can attend school. Since the youngest generation of humans are now teenagers, high school is the only option for Jesse, despite the fact that was created to look nine years old. Still, Bill and Suelynn are determined to treat Jesse with respect and humanity and, after Jesse aces the school’s entrance exam, they enroll her at the local high school.
However, interacting with the other students soon makes Jesse realize how different she is from everyone else, and it’s not long before she falls in with the wrong crowd. Feeling angry and misunderstood by everyone, Jesse unwittingly turns down a violent path.
Meanwhile, Chul has realized the mistake that he’s made in setting Jesse out into the world alone with the modifications that he’s made and travels to Texas to claim her as his own. He confronts Bill and Suelynn, lying to them by saying that there has been a recall on Jesse and that he needs to run a test on her. The truth, however, is far more remarkable, as Chul has managed to turn Jesse into the world’s first true A.I.
Ultimately, ”Made in Korea” is a tale of identity and acceptance, as Jesse struggles to comprehend her emotions, her artificial body, and even her gender. While outwardly it’s a story about an A.I. robot’s endeavors to fit in in a human world, it’s actually a narrative about gender and sex identity and society’s views on these topics. Smartly written, the book examines what it is to not fit into the mold expected of you and finding happiness in being yourself.
Drawn with expressive characters and broaching important and difficult topics, “Made in Korea” is one not to be missed!
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.