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June 17, 2011

Book Notes - Thien Pham ("Level Up")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Gene Luen Yang became one of my favorite cartoonists when I read his graphic novel American Born Chinese in 2008. His book The Eternal Smile also impressed me, so his new graphic novel Level Up was one of my most anticipated comics of this year.

Written by Gene Yuen Lang and illustrated by Thien Pham, Level Up lived up to my lofty expectations. Lang and Pham cleverly explore the pressures of growing up alongside the expectations of immigrant parents, with a dash of magical realism thrown in (angels come to life from a greeting card).

Thien Pham's artwork, understated pen and watercolors, provides the perfect accompaniment to the tale. Reverting to monochrome for flashbacks to the past and color for the present, its marriage to the narrative speaks highly to the power of graphic storytelling.

At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow wrote of the book:

"Yang's got a gift for characters who understand their duty but don't fully believe it; Level Up is a great example of that dilemma. It's a manifesto for everyone who's ever wrestled with the expectations of their family, their friends, and their society (and who hasn't?), and it's ultimately both humane and inspiring. "

In his own words, here is Thien Pham's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Level Up:

Everything to me is an 80's romantic comedy. Level Up, which is a graphic novel written by Gene Yang and illustrated by me is no different so when I went about scoring this novel, I did it as if I was scoring an 80's movie. Level Up is about Dennis Ouyang who has to choose between his love of video games, and doing what his parents want and becoming a doctor. Along the way he is aided/hampered by a group of intrusive angels, and a tight study group. So get your play list ready, open the book and begin!

"Cat's in the Cradle" - Harry Chapin.

This song about the growing distance between a father and is son is a perfect somber beginning for the opening flashback scene.

Saved by the Bell theme song

I love this show, and I like the abrupt school bell ring that start this theme song to wake us up from the flashback and introduce to the present of Dennis being at school.

"Welcome to the Jungle" - Guns n' Roses

"Welcome to the Jungle" is my all time favorite song , and I feel that its perfect for Dennis descent from college kid into a devious, tire-slashing video gamer that descends into the Hades Arcade.

"Send Me An Angel" - Real Life

I love this song. And I think perfect for when the angels appear I know it's very literal, but hey it's an 80's movie!

"Lets Hear It For The Boy" - Deniece Williams

Made popular by the film Footloose this is perfect for any training/ studying montage. So it's perfect for the part where Dennis, with the help of the angels, studies to get into medical school.

"Baba O'Riley" - Who

You can't have an opening scene into a school like the one where Dennis first arrives at medical school without this song. You just can't.

"Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" - Jefferson Starship

Like "Let's Hear it For the Boy" this song is perfect for any montage of achievement, this one however is used for times when it's a group of friends. That's why its perfect for when the study group is going through a the trials and tribulations of medical school together.

"Oh Yeah" – Yello

The go to 80's song for stressful horniness. Perfect to represent Dennis's uncomfort when drawing on the body of his crush for an assignment.

"On My Own" - Stan Bush

This song is from one of my favorite movie Bloodsport. Its written and performed by one of the most underrated songwriter of the 80's: Stan Bush, who also wrote "You Got the Touch" for the Transformers movie. As I drew the scenes where Dennis, after losing his friends, has to go through school by himself. This song was playing in the background.

"Pac-man Fever" - Buckner and Garcia

This is a no-brainer for the chase scene, again very literal, but hey!

"Losing My Religion" - R.E.M

Again another one of my favorites, I read somewhere that it's actually about unrequited love. I like to think it's a good companion to the final emotional battle with Dennis's father.

"You're the Best Around" - Stan Bush

When you are in competition like Dennis is when he is a professional video game player, this is the only song you want.

"Unwritten" - Natasha B

This song is the cheesiest song ever written, so of course I love it. Its also the perfect ending for this book.

Thien Pham and Level Up links:

the illustrator's blog
excerpt from the book

Boing Boing review
BookDragon review
BSCKids review
Geekdad review
Guerrilla Geek review
Playback: Stl review
Publishers Weekly review

8Asians interview with Gene Yuen Lang
Diversity in YA guest post by Gene Yuen Lang
East Bay Express profile of the collaborators
Legends of the Joystick comics by the collaborators at
Secret Origins of Level Up comic by Gene Luen Yang

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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