Summit of the Gods Vol. 1

Based on a book by Baku Yumemakura
Art and adaptation by Jiro Taniguchi
328 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I love that Jiro Taniguchi’s projects vary wildly from one to the next. One day it’s a story about a businessman who is transported back to his childhood (A Distant Neighborhood), the next it’s about someone who goes on long, almost entirely silent walks through his town (The Walking Man). Summit of the Gods is yet another jump for Taniguchi’s works translated into English; an adaptation of Baku Yumemakura’s novel about the world of mountain climbing. In many ways, I think it’s my favorite of Taniguchi’s works yet, because for the first time I found myself actually holding my breath while reading one of his comics.

Summit of the Gods Vol. 1 opens with photographer Makoto Fukimachi discovering in Kathmandu a 1920s style camera that could quite possibly be part of George Mallory’s doomed attempt to scale Mount Everest. What starts as a simple fact-finding mission turns into not only an organized effort to fleece Makoto by the locals, but Makoto finding himself drawn into the life of a mysterious Japanese mountain climber and his rise and fall some twenty years earlier. It’s a good story structure from Yumemakura, letting us start in the "present" (in this case 1993), pulling us into the mystery of the camera and how it’s connected to the stand-offish Habu, and then turning the narrative into a series of flashbacks detailing Habu’s climbing history. By the time I was done reading Summit of the Gods Vol. 1, I’d actually forgotten about the earlier intrigue and what should have in theory been the "riveting" portion of the story; I was absorbed by the flashbacks and Habu’s story.

Of course, a lot of that has to do with Taniguchi’s adaptation into comic form. While I can’t speak to what Yumemakura’s original prose was like, I can say that Taniguchi’s drawings of the impressive mountain faces are awe-inspiring. Reading about climbing up the "Demon Slab" is one thing, but to see Habu and Inoue reaching for impossibly small handholds in the dead of winter? It’s a mixture of terrifying and enthralling, and this is keeping in mind that we know it’s a flashback and that Habu and Inoue will both survive. Taniguchi’s high level of detail and texture in his art is well known, and it serves him well here. The icy mountain ranges feel like you’re there with the climbers, and when things get difficult you can see it not only on the people’s faces but in their posture and movement.

Taniguchi also does his best to make sure that non-climbers (like most of the readers, I suspect, including myself) understand exactly what’s going on. Taniguchi takes the time to explain the additional steps needed for solo climbs, as well as the sort of hazards they face in different weather conditions and seasons. At the same time, it never feels like you’re being lectured or having huge amounts of exposition dropped onto your head. Information comes across naturally and smoothly, offered up only when it’s needed and in just the right amount. I’ve seen movies involving mountain climbers before, but until reading Summit of the Gods Vol. 1 I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a story about the sport where I found myself genuinely interested and wanting to experience more about it.

Summit of the Gods Vol. 1 is another knock out from Taniguchi and Fanfare/Ponent Mon. I can’t stand that there are four more volumes waiting to be published in English, because this was so good I’m already dying to find out what happens next. And even once we finish reading about Habu’s history (and the rivalry that started brewing at the end of the first volume), there’s still the part of the story involving the camera that might be from Mallory’s expedition, just waiting to be rediscovered. There’s a lot of good times ahead of us. Until then? I’ll probably read this first volume a few more times. I don’t think I’ll ever climb a mountain face, but thanks to Summit of the Gods I feel like I’ve already done so.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

9 comments to Summit of the Gods Vol. 1

  • Justin B.

    Greg, do you have any inside info on when future volumes are expected to be released? This has actually been out for a while and I’ve been anxiously awaiting volume 2 with no release date in sight. That said, this is a beautiful book well worth checking out for anyone who is interested.

  • Alas! I wish I had a date to give you… I’m hoping Fanfare/Ponent Mon will update its website soon with some new information on their publishing schedule. It’s too good to not see more of!

  • I love comics themed around doing stuff in the real world. Manga is so good at that and this book looks excellent. Thanks for the heads up.

  • I’ve already translated all five volumes.

    I think Fanfare is hoping to put out 2 vols next year and 2 in 2012, if all goes according to plan.

    Volume 5 is mind-blowing. Possibly the best last-50-pages-of-a-comic I’ve ever read in my life.

  • Justin B.

    Thanks for the news Kumar!! Crossing my fingers that it happens!

  • Dave F.

    As info, a little while back I emailed a rep from Fanfare and they advised Vol.2 should be released sometime around Christmas time in the UK. And hopefully it’ll make it’s way to Diamond and others for distribution in the USA. So possibly (hopefully) by late Dec – early Jan.

  • Ryu

    @ Kumar

    Thanks for the update! Great news that the volumes have all been translated into English! I was afraid we’d never get the other volumes.

  • cq

    This book had me hooked from the first page. Strangely, it was the sound effects that did it. Of course the art no slouch either. I ripped through vol 1 and immediately picked up vol 2. As I read it, I panicked at the idea that there would be no vol 3. glad to know it’s on the way!

  • […] and Jiro Taniguchi definitely falls into that category. From the nail-biting tense mystery of Summit of the Gods, to the quiet and contemplative Walking Man, each new Taniguchi project is slightly different than […]