Fit for independent reading? @ Large, a Hip-Hop Manga by Ahmed Hoke

@ Large by Ahmed Hoke

What happens when satire and social commentary fail to internalize in the audience the way the author likely hoped for? For example, what happened when less critical viewers misinterpreted skits on Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central? What about MTV’s Beavis and Butthead in the nineties? Did more analytical viewers cast these television comedies aside as trash, or were opinions about them more nuanced and accepting of the need for humor as a mirror for all human behavior – no matter how offensive or distasteful?

It depends on the viewer, right? We’re also told that it depends on parenting. My parents forbade me from watching Beavis and Butthead, but this didn’t stop me from locking my bedroom door to watch every episode. They even laughed when I insisted that they watch ‘The Great Cornholio’. Furthermore, while I disobeyed them, my parents knew that one television show wouldn’t turn me into an apathetic dumbass obsessed with fire, loud music, and petty acts of vandalism. Suburban adolescence and the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations all contributed more to that problem than any MTV broadcast, and besides, later on they were far more worried about the copy of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle they found on a dubbed cassette in the garage. It’s a good thing they never found the actual copy of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic that I mail-ordered through BMG’s record club.

I bring up these ridiculous pop culture icons of my adolescence as evidence that books like Ahmed Hoke’s @ Large will not magically turn your students into porn-obsessed, cursing, thuggish imbeciles who obsess over violence, sex, and video games. While I’m not necessarily convinced that the author’s sense of humor and subtle satire will rub off on most readers either, these texts are no more offensive than prime-time television in the year 2010.

Being a manga trilogy, @ Large is ideal for that special bookshelf behind your desk reserved for books that you keep around only for specifically interested parties. Thus far, I’m three-for-three with suggesting @ Large to apparent “non-readers”, but I still wonder why the text appeals to them beyond the obvious rap music cliches, large-breasted female characters, cursing, and occasionally well-penned verses. I guess it’s just familiar to teenage minds; I’ve given up trying to gauge the appeal. Another blogger notes the overall authenticity, claiming “Even though I don’t think @Large works as a comic, it gets the hip-hop vibe right. It’s not as… manufactured?… as other hip-hop elements in comics–it’s got more authenticity than the surface presentation of hip-hop slang that gets tossed into other comics.” In my mind, it’s no Sentences or Blockhedz.

Click here to view TokyoPop’s online preview of all three volumes. I simply gave up on trying to embed it here.

The trilogy tells interweaving stories involving: Rust, a graffiti artist with a chip on his shoulder; True Epic, a somewhat skilled MC whose ego generally outweighs his lyrical prowess; and Broke Rogers, the stereotype gangsta rapper. The plot thickens as Jungle Records signs True Epic, the mysterious and beautiful Skye captivates every male character in the story, Yuri (or Comrade) and Red Coast Records (some kind of Soviet attempt to capitalize on rap’s commercial appeal) attempt to take over the local rap industry working out of the same building as the @ Large internet/gaming cafe where Rust and the DNA crew hang out. Yes – you read that correctly. This is the plot here. Hoke signs off the series with “@ Large is dedicated to all the fallen soldiers in hip hop . . . stop the violence” (2005).

An even halfway conscious adult can read these volumes and see the author’s intended satire. Each rapper is a caricature of hip-hop stereotypes, and the supporting cast in the trilogy pokes fun at other common sights in the 21st century. An interview with the author shows that Hoke aims to critique a beloved and evolving art and culture when he says “I think that people are just starving for a new style. Hip-Hoppers have always been about flossing and showing off, that’s a big part of the culture. It’s possible to keep it real while still being flashy if that’s what you are about. The problem comes in when everybody is just biting, that shit is horrible. It’s nothing new, though. There will be a new style once people get sick of costume jewelry and huge rims eventually. Just like when dookey gold ropes and chains went the way of the dinosaur, it’s bound to happen, ha ha.” But still, the question remains: will adolescent readers pick up on the subtlety of the author’s intentions with this text? A Vibe Magazine review posed the same question: “Whether intentionally or not, Hoke expresses some serious commentary and observations on hip hop culture and life in general. There’s a small focus on the type of senseless violence that occurs when there’s beef. And also, though not specifically outlined, readers get the impression that Broke Rogers isn’t so caught up with the fun and fast aspects of being signed to a top record label. But in the end, as Hoke says, ‘I think (people) will basically get enjoyment from it in terms of entertainment. You know, (there’s) a good story line, good characters, lots of humor and just good artwork,’ if he does say so himself.”

The only reason that I will keep this text around the classroom is to provide downright stubbornly striving readers a last-ditch opportunity to engage with a somewhat meaningful text. I’m also sometimes stubborn and foolish, but I’ll admit that I found the books to be enjoyable enough to take the 25 minutes needed to reach each volume. If these texts can serve as a step toward something more challenging, I’m thinking they’re worth the $0.01 plus shipping.


About marcginsberg

I teach high school English in Athens, GA. I read graphic novels and catch live music whenever possible. I walk my dog Humphrey and kid myself that I'm a distance runner.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Pop culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fit for independent reading? @ Large, a Hip-Hop Manga by Ahmed Hoke

  1. Lauren Knowlton says:

    Have you read or heard anything about Cell Block Z by Ghostface Killah?

    • marcginsberg says:

      You mean this one?
      Cell Block Z

      My kids – dudes in particular – *LOVE* it … All kinds of readers … My one prodigy who actually wants to write graphic novels was explaining how it’s an extended metaphor for like 4 different things the other day … I’ll get him to comment here when he returns it on Monday. Seriously!

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