Fanfare/Ponent Mon – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 A Zoo in Winter http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/05/a-zoo-in-winter/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/05/a-zoo-in-winter/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2011 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1877 By Jiro Taniguchi232 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I appreciate talented creators who have a wide range of styles, 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 the [...]]]> By Jiro Taniguchi
232 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I appreciate talented creators who have a wide range of styles, 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 the previous. A Zoo in Winter is his latest book to be translated into English, and it’s a loosely autobiographical book about Taniguchi’s early life and how he became a manga artist. It’s more A Drifting Life than Bakuman, and it makes me already hoping for a sequel.

Taniguchi uses a stand-in named Hamaguchi for himself, opening in December 1966 as he works in deliveries for a fabric wholesaler while hoping to break into a design position. As we watch him fumble through interactions with the boss’s daughter Ayako and his co-workers, it’s instantly obvious to the reader what a horrible match this job is for Hamaguchi. It’s a relief when the job goes sour and he finds himself needing to start looking elsewhere, needless to say, and that’s how we get Hamaguchi as a manga assistant to a creator. Even more so than Bakuman, A Zoo in Winter emphasizes the strange mixture of frantic pace and going nowhere nature of a manga assistant. Hamaguchi is forever being thrown into situations he’s not prepared for—both professional and personal—and it’s a reminder that this isn’t just an art form but also an industry.

At the same time, A Zoo in Winter isn’t just about how Hamaguchi becomes a manga artist, it’s about how Hamaguchi progresses from a boy to a man. Until Hamaguchi leaves the wholesaler, he’s just fumbling through life, slightly adrift. Not only does becoming a manga assistant give him purpose, it strengthens his character. When Hamaguchi’s brother visits, the brother admits that he feared the worst but was pleasantly surprised with what he found. The insinuation is clear that he’s become more responsible since last seen, that he’s turned what could be a weak or nothing position and turned into one that holds that much more. And when he meets Mariko, he learns a lot from her on how to deal with people, how to have a budding romantic relationship, and how to push forward in life and strive hard. Sure, he has some bumps along the way (like his first time drinking or being out with a woman), but as a coming-of-age story it’s a pleasant journey.

A Zoo in Winter also does a good job with fleshing out the other assistants, especially Moriwaki and Fujita. Each ultimately turns into a different path that Hamaguchi could go down; the former someone who struck out on his own and eventually came back to be an assistant forever, the latter getting the big chance in his hands and then fumbling it. Watching their experiences ultimately push Hamaguchi forward into getting his own work done ends up feeling real rather than forced, and even slightly inspirational. People who are aspiring creators of any artistic medium might find it hard to keep from getting a renewed sense of purpose after reading A Zoo in Winter.

The one constant in all of Taniguchi’s works is his amazing art, and A Zoo in Winter is no exception to that rule. His people are beautiful, with delicate lines coming together to form their figures in ways that look realistic and gentle. From the chapter portraits that open each section of the book to the individual panels of characters, there’s always a lot of attention and care put into every single drawing. Just as impressive are his settings, though; the primary location of A Zoo in Winter is the manga studio, and Taniguchi manages to both draw it as being close quarters, but never visually so cramped that you are lost. The rest of the locations are equally well drawn, from bars to streets to apartments, and of course the titular zoo with its wide open spaces and possibilities.

My one complaint with A Zoo in Winter is the ending, or rather, the point in which it stops. It feels like there’s still so much more to be told, even as you can see where Hamaguchi’s life will go from there. It says a lot about the book that even though you know what would happen next, you still want to see more. If Taniguchi ever does decide to tell more stories with A Zoo in Winter, I know I’ll be eagerly reading. Somehow, I suspect I’m not the only one.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Summit of the Gods Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/12/03/summit-of-the-gods-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/12/03/summit-of-the-gods-vol-1/#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 07:00:10 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1565 Based on a book by Baku YumemakuraArt and adaptation by Jiro Taniguchi328 pages, black and whitePublished 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 [...]]]> 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

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Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/03/korea-as-viewed-by-12-creators/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/03/korea-as-viewed-by-12-creators/#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 07:00:47 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1547 By Guillaume Bouzard, Byun Ki-Hyun, Catel, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Igort, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, Park Heung-Yong, Mathieu Sapin, Hervé Tanquerelle, and Vanyda224 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

Last year, I got a chance to read Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators and ended up finding it what I was hoping for—my own journey [...]]]> By Guillaume Bouzard, Byun Ki-Hyun, Catel, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Igort, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, Park Heung-Yong, Mathieu Sapin, Hervé Tanquerelle, and Vanyda
224 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

Last year, I got a chance to read Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators and ended up finding it what I was hoping for—my own journey from one end of Japan to the other, told through a group of talented French and Japanese comic creators. This year, a companion volume, Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators, was released and I was hoping for much of the same. What I found, though, was a rather different book and not at all what I was expecting this time around.

I think part of the initial shock I had with Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators was that I’d already read Japan. With the earlier book, each story was set in a very specific part of Japan, the book slowly shifting across the island nation’s geography as every creator tried to bring their area to life. Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators is much more generic in its approach to South Korea; there’s a certain sameness to a lot of the stories in terms of setting, while I was expecting to learn more about parts of South Korea that were not Seoul. So while I’m not saying that Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators is a bad book, I do think that people who have already read Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators need to adjust their expectations.

With that out of the way, there are some real gems in Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators that made the entire book worth reading. Vanyda’s "Oh Pilsung Korea!" is the story that made Seoul come to life the most through me, told through the eyes of a pair of French-Korean siblings who want to see the country their father left. The story is as much about them as Korea itself, but their struggle to fully comprehend Seoul and figure out their own personal connection to the city is fascinating. Vanyda’s art is great too, bringing not only the people but the streets, the parks, the bars, and the subway trains all to life in a detail-heavy style that is still easy to follow. Fanfare/Ponent Mon has also published The Building Opposite by Vanyda, and after reading "Oh Pilsung Korea!" I know that I’ll need to buy this other book from her, and soon.

Also of particular note is Byun Ki-Hyun’s "The Rabbit," which tackles the traditional view of a woman’s place in society, as a young woman finds a female (humanoid) rabbit having moved in with her. At first it looks like Byun is playing it for humor, joking about the pellets left all over the floor, but once you get past the conceit of the human/rabbit hybrid as the other character, it’s a serious and rather sad story. Several of the stories (Vanyda’s in particular) mention South Korea having changed rapidly in recent years, after the 1988 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul. "The Rabbit" without stating that issue is clearly bringing that problem up to life, with many people’s traditional opinions having not caught up with the influx of technology and globalization that had swept through Seoul. It’s a striking story, and drawn with such a soft, sleek style that it’s hard to not think about it after you’re done. Between "Oh Pilsung Korea!" and "The Rabbit," Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators has already justified its existence with those two stories.

Several other stories stand out above the rest. Choi Kyu-Sok’s "The Fake Dove" shifts its attention to the streets of Seoul where the tourists don’t go, showing gangs and the homeless while being drawn in a style that is soft and gorgeous in its detail. It’s an unusual opening story for the book, but the more I read the more I realized how different it was from what was to follow. Mathieu Sapin’s "Beondegi" is a humorous, cartoonish story in both script and art that doesn’t really so much bring South Korea or Seoul to life as it almost mocks the idea of a travelogue, told at a fast pace and whipping from one location to the next. It’s so deliberately breaking the mold for what you’d expect that I found myself respecting Sapin’s choices to tell the anti-travel-story here. Somewhere in-between the two is Hervé Tanquerelle’s "A Rat in the Country of ‘Yong’" which uses animals to tell its story, complete with rats flying in on dragons instead of planes, pigeons serving as taxis, and cats reading a copy of the Lupine Times. It’s a different way to try and translate the experience of visiting South Korea, with fanciful journeys into the past and monsters lurking in the hotel pool. At the same time, though, I found myself respecting Tanquerelle for making such a different take on the country work, and in a way that still ultimately "felt" like South Korea.

In the end, only three of the stories didn’t work for me, although two were not for the reason I was expecting. Catel’s "Dul Lucie" might have been more enjoyable had I read some of Catel’s Lucie graphic novels that she’s famous for in France, but here having Catel shift back and forth between herself and her Lucie-alter-ego as she visits Seoul never quite clicked. Every time we started to get an interesting glimpse into the country itself, the Lucie character would show up again and the mood was lost; had it solely been about Catel’s visit I think I’d have liked it much more. With both Chaemin’s "The Rain That Goes Away Comes Back" and Guillaume Bouzard’s "Operation Captain Zidane," I enjoyed the stories, but couldn’t help but feeling like they didn’t belong in Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators. Neither seemed to benefit in any way by being set in South Korea. Chaemin’s story of relationships and a hospital could just as easily be set anywhere in the world, and while it was drawn beautifully (and I’d definitely like to see more of Chaemin’s comics) it felt out of place. Bouzard’s story at least tied into the World Cup, which featured heavily in several of the stories. When the French artists visited Seoul, the 2006 World Cup was happening in Germany, and just four years earlier it was held partially in South Korea, so the fever over the game was still high. But still, once again, Bouzard’s story had nothing to do with Seoul other than it was mentioned as the location; it could have just as easily been set in Germany, for example, and not have come across any differently. It’s a shame these two stories are the final two in Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators because it ends on a bad note.

Even with a few misfires, though, I did ultimately enjoy Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I wish I had a greater feel for the country in general, especially locations outside of Seoul. The rare times the book journeyed outside the city, it was in stories that ultimately felt all too short. Still, as Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators is probably the closest I’ll ever get to South Korea on my own, and it was an interesting glimpse into a distant country. If Fanfare/Ponent Mon ever produces a third …as Viewed by Creators book, though, I hope it goes back more to the model of Japan. Korea was good, but my expectations were perhaps set too high by the earlier volume.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Years of the Elephant http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/05/years-of-the-elephant/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/05/years-of-the-elephant/#comments Fri, 05 Mar 2010 08:00:37 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1234 By Willy Linthout168 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I have to admit that I’ve been sitting on a copy of Years of the Elephant for almost five months now, having read it but not diving into writing a review. As strange as it sounds, it had to do with a sense of respect [...]]]> By Willy Linthout
168 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I have to admit that I’ve been sitting on a copy of Years of the Elephant for almost five months now, having read it but not diving into writing a review. As strange as it sounds, it had to do with a sense of respect that I had for the book. Based on Willy Linthout’s own experiences after the sudden death of his son, Years of the Elephant felt like a book that couldn’t be rushed into, couldn’t be taken lightly. After a while, I began to also recognize that some of my delay in writing a review of Years of the Elephant was a small bit of avoidance. And that, more than anything else, felt extremely apt when talking about this book.

Linthout creates Charles Germonprez as his alter ego in Years of the Elephant, a businessman in his 50s living with his wife Simone, whose son Jack has just leapt off the roof of their apartment building to his death. There’s no warning, no sign that this is coming, and Linthout appropriately starts the book with a one-page strip as a typical day is suddenly shattered by the arrival of police at the door bearing the bad news. As Charles is reeling from the shock, we get the title pages and introduction, almost like the opening credits after a teaser on television. In some ways, Years of the Elephant starts with a punch to the gut and never relents from that moment on.

It’s difficult at times to read Years of the Elephant, to see the grief, despair, and even delusions that Charles goes through in the days, months, and years that follow. Jack was Charles’s only son, and the loss quickly turns into a lingering specter that refuses to let go. Some scenes look at first to be played for laughs, as Charles tries to save the the pavement that Jack’s chalk outline was upon, or when the clicking noises of a breathing apparatus are believed to be a message from beyond the grave for Charles. The laughter, though, is almost a hysterical giggle more than anything else. As Charles goes through what appears to be a series of mental breakdowns, his precarious grip on reality slips bit by bit. What might initially look to be coping mechanisms rapidly turn into dangerous delusions, ones that help Charles avoid the sadness that threatens to overtake him, and as a reader you begin to wonder at what point things will turn back to normal for Charles. Except, of course, in some ways that’s the big message of Years of the Elephant; it will never be "normal" again for Charles. The suicide of his only child is most likely going to haunt him for the rest of his life, even if the degree to which it does so might change over time.

One of the most interesting aspects of Years of the Elephant for me was the position that Charles’s wife Simone has within the book. We see her in the first panel of the book, vacuuming the floor with an old canister machine, her face in profile and mostly hidden by hair. On the second panel she’s halfway out of view, stepping beyond the border even as there is an ominous "thud" sound outside. And then, from that point on, she’s gone, forever out of view to the reader. All we experience at that point is Simone’s words from off-panel, or once in a blue moon a hand extending into view for a split second. It becomes emblematic of Charles’s losing sight of the one life line he still has left as the idea of any sort of family becomes too painful to contemplate. Even when Charles realizes, finally, that Simone is the one thing he still has left in his life it looks to possibly be too late. The metaphorical chasm that has grown between them bursts into life within their apartment, perhaps impossible to ever cross and repair. It’s a revelation that is left up to the reader to decide the outcome of, even as Linthout lets the book fade from "Charles" to a brief depiction of his own life. It’s an uncertain ending that none the less is extremely fitting for Years of the Elephant.

Linthout draws Years of the Elephant in a slightly-rough, unfinished and uninked state. It’s a deliberate choice on the part of Linthout, mentioned in the introduction as a way to symbolize the life of Linthout’s own son that had stopped before it ever matured. It’s a sad but smart tribute, but perhaps more importantly it works well as a visual style for Years of the Elephant‘s story. With the art consisting of thicker pencil lines over loose pencil roughs, Charles and company look like at any moment their squiggled interiors are going to burst out of their shells and fly away. And for all of Linthout’s cartoonish style, there are moments of real panic hidden within them, from being enveloped by cords to the look of grief on Charles’s face as he tries to communicate with his dead son.

Years of the Elephant is a deceptively dark book. A book about the death of one’s son is never going to be light fare, but Linthout drapes a light surface level of frivolity over top his story. The further you go, though, the deeper you sink into the depths along with Linthout’s alter-ego, and the more chilling the book becomes. It’s an honest, unflinching look at the journey of grief over a suicide, and while it’s not an easy book to read, I do highly recommend it. It’s a book that you’ll find hard to forget.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/10/26/japan-as-viewed-by-17-creators/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/10/26/japan-as-viewed-by-17-creators/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2009 04:00:26 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1077 By Moyoko Anno, Aurélia Aurita, Frédéric Boilet, Étienne Davodeau, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, Kazuichi Hanawa, Daisuke Igarashi, Little Fish, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fabrice Neaud, Benoît Peeters, David Prudhomme, François Schuiten, Joann Sfar, Kan Takahama, Jiro Taniguchi256 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I was delighted to recently pick up a copy of Japan as [...]]]> By Moyoko Anno, Aurélia Aurita, Frédéric Boilet, Étienne Davodeau, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, Kazuichi Hanawa, Daisuke Igarashi, Little Fish, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fabrice Neaud, Benoît Peeters, David Prudhomme, François Schuiten, Joann Sfar, Kan Takahama, Jiro Taniguchi
256 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I was delighted to recently pick up a copy of Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators; published several years ago, I’d heard nothing but praise for this collection of short stories by both Japanese and European comic creators, each set in a different location within Japan. It’s an ambitious, far-reaching project, with half of the creators flying over to Japan in order to learn about their assigned spot and then trying to convey its charms to the reader. What I found, though, was that some creators who I’d expected great things from didn’t quite hit the mark, while others surprised me with their strong contributions.

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators starts on the western tip of the island nation, and slowly moves its way east and north across the country. While if nothing else it’s a logical progression of the stories, it works out doubly well because it means that Kan Takahama’s "At the Seaside" opens the book. Takahama tells her story in the form of guiding a journalist around the remote village of Amakusa, showing him her house and talking about her childhood of staring out at the ocean. "At the Seaside" is more than just a travelogue, though; it’s about the relationship between the two characters with one another. It’s a short but sweet story, and I love how Takahama draws her story with soft shaded pencils and a strong sense of scenery. Reading "At the Seaside" made me want to go to Amakusa myself, and it’s a sharp way to begin the book.

While I’d never seen Takahama’s comics before, some familiar creators also delivered with equal strength. Jiro Taniguchi’s works like The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood did such a strong job of wrapping narrative with location that his "Summer Sky" is unsurprisingly good. I appreciated that he was able to marry details about the past and present together here, talking about returning to a home town, the importance of family, and the young girl that has grown up in his absence. Taniguchi’s art is sharp and defined as always, with its thin delicate lines that carefully bring every last bit into focus. The same is also true of François Schuiten’s art; teamed up with his long-time collaborator Benoît Peeters, the two showcase a potential future Osaka in the form of a guidebook. In typical Schuiten form, massive futuristic buildings are married with greenery, and strange details like the evolution of the insect within Osaka are highlighted.

There’s more than enough strong material to entertain. Nicolas de Crécy sets "The New Gods" in Nagoya, using a loose, scribbly style of art to talk about Japan’s mascots and icons as deities. It’s a sharp idea that really brings to life a specific part of Japan’s culture, one that works doubly so by having it being narrated by a new "god" that has come to Japan in order to gain focus. It’s easily one of the best stories in the book, and de Crécy’s art helps seal the deal by bringing the streets and stores to life in a way that might initially seem rough, but in fact contains a surprising amount of detail and care in detailing this Japanese city. Aurélia Aurita’s "Now I Can Die!" takes a slightly different tactic as well, merging what at a glance seems like three different subjects (the Japanese group baths, a journey to a remote island lighthouse, and a romantic relationship) into one larger piece that all connect surprisingly well. Her art feels very childish and youthful, and I think that works in the story’s favor, imbuing it with a lot of energy and fun.

I was a little surprised to see that several creators set their stories in Japan’s past. Moyoko Anno’s "The Sound of Crickets" is little more than a vignette about the practice of keeping a caged cricket, but Anno’s art is beautiful, and there’s a lot of charm in its few, short pages. Taiyo Matsumoto’s "Kankichi" is wonderfully odd, something that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read his other works like Tekkon Kinkreet or No. 5. It’s composed like a Japanese folk tale about a boy who grew up painting, and while it really does little to bring Kanagawa itself to life, its link to Japan’s fables is an important one. Daisuke Igarashi melds these last two approaches into one in "The Festival of the Bell-Horses," letting dreams and reality blend together in a way that showcases life in an earlier time, but also brings the fantastic briefly into the mix.

Some stories are stronger than others, though. David Prudhomme’s tale of shoes leaving the front entryway of a home and walking around town sounds better than the actual execution was. The same is also true of Emmanuel Guibert’s "Shin.Ichi," which marries text with spot illustrations in a story about friendship that seems to wish to be a Haruki Murakami short story but never quite connects. Joann Sfar’s story was also a bit of a disappointment, as he lets his friend Walteroo give the real lowdown on Tokyo. The idea isn’t bad, and some of the pieces of information about the idealized version of Tokyo versus the reality are interesting, but I never felt connected to Sfar’s narrator. Matched with some of the roughest Sfar art I think I’ve seen, it reminded me more of doodles dashed off into a sketchbook to be developed into something bigger down the road, but never quite got there.

Last but not least, there are some straight travelogue pieces that all work well. Fabrice Neaud’s "The City of Trees" is about Neaud’s trip to Sendai, but mixing details of his own life into his observations about Japan. The introductory paragraph about Neaud mentions frankness as a quality of Neaud’s work, and I have to agree. Nothing is hidden here, from boyfriend troubles to talking about how someone looks like Vermeer painting. His art has a beautiful grace to it, and I definitely would like to read more of Neaud’s journal comics. Kazuichi Hanawa’s story about hiking up a mountain brings to life his story of remote life in Japan, and while it doesn’t say much about Hanawa (unlike Neaud’s piece), it’s a pleasant story that shows a slightly different side of the country. Last but not least is Étienne Davodeau’s "Sapporo Fiction," which cleverly has it narrated by a Japanese man showing the slightly clueless Davodeau around Sapporo. Seeing Davodeau’s mistakes and triumphs through the eye of a local is a smart way to handle what might have otherwise been ordinary, and it’s a sweet way to end the book.

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is a nice book, and I’m tickled at the idea of seeing Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators later this year as well. While like most anthologies the quality of contents goes up and down, there’s far more to recommend the book than not. And, by using creators both from within and outside of Japan, the mix of perspectives stays fresh and diverse. For those of us who can’t afford a real trip to Japan, this is a nice (temporary) substitute for the experience.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/05/01/a-distant-neighborhood-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/05/01/a-distant-neighborhood-vol-1/#comments Fri, 01 May 2009 04:00:15 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=907 By Jiro Taniguchi200 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I think of Jiro Taniguchi books, it’s quiet stories like the aimless strolls of The Walking Man, or the day-in-the-Meiji-period vignettes of The Times of Botchan. As a result, getting an advance copy of his book A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 made me joke [...]]]> By Jiro Taniguchi
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I think of Jiro Taniguchi books, it’s quiet stories like the aimless strolls of The Walking Man, or the day-in-the-Meiji-period vignettes of The Times of Botchan. As a result, getting an advance copy of his book A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 made me joke that perhaps it was a sequel to The Walking Man where the main character got seriously lost on a walk. And at first, A Distant Neighborhood seems like it’s just going to be another quiet story about a man absorbed in his childhood memories. Once the book takes a distinct turn, though, Taniguchi finds a way to keep that aspect around while upping the proverbial ante in a fun way.

Hiroshi Nakahara is a businessman in Tokyo who one day boards the wrong train, finding himself heading to his childhood town of Kurayoshi. As the train nears the small town some three hours outside of Tokyo, Hiroshi begins thinking of his deceased mother, and how it’s the twenty-third anniversary of her death. With several hours until his return train leaves, Hiroshi visits the cemetery to pay his respects—and is suddenly 14 years old once more, back in his old life in 1963. With not only his mother’s death but also the sudden and mysterious disappearance of his father on the horizon, can Hiroshi somehow change things in his life for the better? And if it’s possible, should he?

A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 is an odd book because it’s almost two stories in one. There’s the obvious time travel aspect to A Distant Neighborhood, with Hiroshi struggling to make right the opportunities that he squandered as a teenager, as well as try and understand things that as a child were beyond his reach. If the book was just this alone, it’d be an entertaining read. Taniguchi moves over familiar territory but in a way that entertains and feels fresh; Hiroshi is unapologetic as he rewrites his own history, striving to be so much better. So often stories where the protagonist gets to be younger again involve some great relationship or decision that slipped away, but I love that Taniguchi hits the smaller moments from Hiroshi’s school-age days as well. The part that tickled me the most in that regard was Hiroshi trying to much harder in gym class, perhaps because it made me wonder how hard I’d really "tried" back in the day and if given a second chance I’d also be able to improve the way that Hiroshi does.

The other half of A Distant Neighborhood is more familiar territory for Taniguchi books, though. Small town 1960s Japan comes to life under Taniguchi’s script; even if there wasn’t the time travel aspect to the book, watching Hiroshi fumble his way through relationships, talk about Natalie Wood in West Side Story, or look forward to the 1964 Olympics is all fascinating stuff. Taniguchi really understands how to make the mundane feel interesting and important, perhaps because there’s always a clarity and confident focus on even the smallest of moments. It’s so sincere in everything from a race around the track to illicitly drinking alcohol with friends, that it ends up being captivating. There’s an old cliché that there are singers that you’d listen to belting out a grocery list. In the case of Taniguchi, you’d absolutely want to read a story focusing around someone shopping off of their grocery list, because somehow he’d make it fascinating.

If you’ve ever read or even seen a Taniguchi-drawn book, then it goes without saying that the art is gorgeous. Taniguchi draws crisp, beautifully detailed scenes, both people and the things around them. Nothing is left to the imagination, from the buttons on Hiroshi’s school uniform to the tiles on the town roofs. I think that’s certainly part of how Taniguchi is able to draw his readers into what could be such an unremarkable story, because he’s able to bring the scene to life not just in terms of script but also visually. He immerses his readers in the moment, making them feel almost like they’re part of the scene as well. If Taniguchi ever decided to switch to just drawing visual guide books of Japan, I have no doubt that not only would he make a mint, but Japanese tourism would skyrocket. I know that wherever he draws, I always end up wanting to visit by the end of the book.

At the end of the first volume of A Distant Neighborhood, Taniguchi has managed to hit the perfect "to be continued" moment. It’s hard to not be dying to see what happens next, even as Taniguchi avoids hitting a melodramatic or artificial cliffhanger. It makes me happy to see books like A Distant Neighborhood translated into English; we’d be all the poorer without Taniguchi’s delicate and beautiful comic creations. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/02/18/my-mommy-is-in-america/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/02/18/my-mommy-is-in-america/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2009 05:00:28 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=801 Written by Jean RegnaudArt by Émile Bravo128 pages, colorPublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

One thing I’ve always been impressed by is when a book can really depict what it’s like to be a child. So often, authors write children as nothing more than very short adults, using the same mental patterns and words that the author [...]]]> Written by Jean Regnaud
Art by Émile Bravo
128 pages, color
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

One thing I’ve always been impressed by is when a book can really depict what it’s like to be a child. So often, authors write children as nothing more than very short adults, using the same mental patterns and words that the author would use as well. So while that’s not the only thing that immediately struck me with Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo’s My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, the fact that Regnaud (and translators Vanessa Champion and Elizabeth Tierman) nailed it so perfect is alone reason to celebrate.

Jean is starting first grade, and he doesn’t know anyone. Even worse, the first thing she did was ask everyone what their parents did—and how do you explain that your mother is traveling very far away and you’re not entirely sure where? And if a new school and classmates isn’t enough, there’s his younger brother Paul that drives Jean crazy, the girl next door who he’s forbidden to play with, and a slightly cold father. It’s not easy being a little kid in a big world, after all.

As I mentioned before, Regnaud completely nails the child mind set in My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. Leaps of logic that would escape an adult are absolutely present here, and in the reverse there are things that would never even occur to Jean that would no doubt immediately jump to mind as an adult in terms of how to turn a situation to Jean’s advantage. Jean’s innocence is sweet but not cloying or unrealistic, here; you can see him start to learn about not only his family (and why his mother is traveling all over the world), but also how to deal with things like school, authority figures, and strangers. In other hands I can’t help but think that this story would be annoying; there are certainly similar books out there where I’ve just wanted to shake the kids and yell, "Just how dumb are you?" (I’m sure everyone is relieved that I currently have no children of my own.) With Regnaud, though, there’s just the right mixture of what Jean understands and what the reader understands that it never comes across as unrealistic, or frustrating, or trite. Instead we are very much a part of Jean’s world, from how he gets around the restrictions of playing with Michele, to having to visit family friends that scare him.

Bravo’s art is beautiful, a graceful usage of minimal lines and coloring to make his pages often feel like portraits of the characters at specific moments throughout their lives. While many pages of the book do use a traditional comic book grid method of storytelling, Bravo is just as easily able to move off of the strict and formalized, often dabbing little pictures across a borderless page. When Bravo does that, your eye still moves across the page easily, everything laid out in such a way that there’s never any confusion. Bravo uses his colors to great effect here as well; each chapter has a single color that’s used for all of the backgrounds, and he matches the rest of the art to integrate with it quite well. It’s a simple but strong technique, making each chapter feel unified, but never gimmicky. It’s a beautiful final look for the book, and it makes me want to see more of Bravo’s work.

My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is a really charming book, through and through. It’s not until I got to the afterward that I suddenly realized that My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is actually a non-fiction story of Regnaud’s own childhood, and that moment made everything fall into place that much more. It’s impressive how well Regnaud captured his own childhood, and how gracefully it’s presented on the page. I love getting the chance to read a book by two creators whom I’ve never heard of before, but who absolutely grab me in a matter of seconds. I’d definitely read more comics by either of these creators; this is a really excellent book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Walking Man http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/01/19/walking-man/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/01/19/walking-man/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2009 05:00:21 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=758 By Jiro Taniguchi160 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

A few months ago, I finally replaced a book of mine that had gone mysteriously "missing." I say it that way because I am pretty sure I lent it to someone else who then conveniently never returned it. Normally this drives me mad, but when [...]]]> By Jiro Taniguchi
160 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

A few months ago, I finally replaced a book of mine that had gone mysteriously "missing." I say it that way because I am pretty sure I lent it to someone else who then conveniently never returned it. Normally this drives me mad, but when the book is Jiro Taniguchi’s The Walking Man I almost have to understand. After all, when a book this wonderfully good yet simple crosses your path, it’s hard to not instantly fall in love with it. If nothing else, the fact that I ended up buying a new copy says that this is the kind of book that I’ll enjoy re-reading again and again, doesn’t it?

Our main character is a salaryman, one of those numerous white-collar businessmen that live and work in Japan. When he’s not at work, though, one of his favorite things to do is to go for a walk. Around the neighborhood, or perhaps somewhere new, there’s always something lurking around the corner just waiting to be found.

There aren’t many creators out there that I think could take the concept of, "Mostly wordless stories about a nameless businessman walking through his neighborhood" and make it really succeed, but Jiro Taniguchi does just that. If you read The Walking Man and don’t instantly want to go for a walk of your own, I’d be shocked. It’s funny, because most of the walks are hardly full of big events or surprises. A walk up a steep hill, or observing students, perhaps lying under a cherry tree with the petals from its blossoms carpeting the grass. With each story, though, it’s a quiet and almost lyrical sense of peace that permeates the story. You can’t help but want to be with our main character, from getting locked out of his own home, to helping kids with a toy up top a tree, to a furtive skinny dip in a closed pool. Our character clearly revels in enjoying every moment of his day, both alone or with his wife or dog. It’s a great feeling.

If you’ve ever seen Taniguchi’s art before, you won’t be surprised to know that this book is also full of meticulously detailed drawings of anything and everything. Thousands of blades of grass and leaves on trees, individual lines on every house’s roof, carefully detailed wires coming off of telephone poles, it’s all there. In a lesser hand this might come across as distracting, btu it’s anything but the case here. Instead it just adds to the feeling that you’re not reading a comic, but rather watching someone’s life. Every little nuance of our protagonist’s face and movements come across here, and it’s such a natural and well-drawn end result that it’s actually a little surprising at times that Taniguchi isn’t a bigger deal outside of Japan.

The Walking Man can be hard to find at times in North America, but if you walk into a store that has a copy, buy it right away. You absolutely will not regret it, but make sure you have a good set of walking shoes ready. You’ll be itching for a stroll before you know it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Disappearance Diary http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/10/27/disappearance-diary/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/10/27/disappearance-diary/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2008 04:00:12 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=630 By Hideo Azuma200 pages, black and whitePublished by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

At some point in time, I think everyone’s wanted to "get away from it all" and just escape. It’s a pretty normal urge—even if most people don’t actually follow through on it. Maybe that’s why I was almost instantly attracted to the idea of Hideo [...]]]> By Hideo Azuma
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

At some point in time, I think everyone’s wanted to "get away from it all" and just escape. It’s a pretty normal urge—even if most people don’t actually follow through on it. Maybe that’s why I was almost instantly attracted to the idea of Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, an autobiographical story of how a manga artist suddenly snapped and decided to become a homeless man. The reality of his situation? Perhaps not what you would expect.

Azuma is a mid-to-low-level manga creator, stuck drawing stories about schoolgirl characters in sexually charged situations. Then, one day, he just gives up. After burning bridges with his editors, he finds himself heading into the woods one night and not coming back home. What initially is one night of homelessness becomes many—but that’s just the start of Azuma’s escapes from society.

One of the things I liked the most, right off the bat, about Disappearance Diary is Azuma’s frankness when it comes to his situation. He doesn’t seem to ever sugarcoat his circumstances, or try and make himself come across as particularly glamorous. Instead Azuma presents his life in a "warts and all" sort of attitude. We get him scrounging for cigarette butts, digging through trash bags for food, and mixing together drops of alcohol at the bottom of empty bottles in order to get a fix. It’s actually more than a little horrifying as you read it, realizing that this is someone who’s lost almost all of his self-respect and hit rock bottom, yet still finds a way to survive. Through this all you get to see the harsh reality of what it’s really like to be homeless; both through Azuma’s early assumptions proven to be wrong, as well as how he adapts his life to keep on going.

It’s not until the end of Azuma’s first bout of homelessness, though, that I think Disappearance Diary begins to really cater to its strengths. Up until then you’re seeing Azuma interact with no one, and it’s primarily about Azuma’s way of learning how to deal with being homeless. Once he’s picked up by the police and his wife comes to collect him, though, you begin to really get a sense of what sort of person Azuma is like. He’s been homeless for well over a month at this point, and it’s only now that we even discover he has a wife; there’s been no thoughts about her presented to us, no worry about what she might be thinking. It’s a really eye-opening moment, and it challenges the reader’s assumptions about everything that’s happened up until this moment. Previously the assumption presented to the reader is that Azuma’s actions are only harming himself, that no one (well, aside from his editors) would really be too bothered.

When Azuma "disappears" again a few years later, we see Azuma get a job as a gas-pipe layer and really have to interact with others. This, to me, is the real heart of the book. We’re learning more and more about Azuma, his new job, and his co-workers. It’s enthralling reading, despite (or perhaps because of) its mundanity. His later trip to a hospital for alcoholism, as well as his stories of what it’s really like to work in the manga industry, connect perfectly to this narrative; suddenly you begin to really understand what forged Azuma into the exasperated, escapist, easy-to-quit person that he becomes. When he finally has to go to the hospital for alcohol detox, it’s not surprising in the slightest. (I do, incidentally, recommend reading this book for anyone who has any sort of romantic notion about the Japanese comics industry. It’s rather eye-opening in terms of the draconian tactics and near-slave-labor that exists there.)

The art in Disappearance Diary is cartoonish and simplistic, but I think that works well to Azuma’s advantage. He still does a good job of drawing his surroundings, bleak or otherwise, but there’s a sort of everyman quality to them. It’s easy to substitute yourself or someone you know into any and all of these roles, for better or for worse. And, for such a simple style, Azuma does a really good job of bringing the streets of Tokyo to life. From trash bins to restaurants, it’s almost like a seedy edition of a walking guide to the city. The style also helps keep up Azuma’s forever-cheerful and upbeat tone to Disappearance Diary. It never plunges into the obvious realm of self-pity, instead visually having a big grin always plastered across its face.

Disappearance Diary isn’t as good as you may have heard; it’s actually even better. One of my favorite books to be published this year, it’s an engrossing story about what happens when someone gives up on society and responsibilities to "disappear." I never thought I’d be laughing at a story of someone’s hard times, but Azuma’s attitude is almost infectious. Engrossing and intriguing, you’ll want more Disappearance Diary the second you’ve finished it. Definitely check this book out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Doing Time http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/09/01/doing-time/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/09/01/doing-time/#comments Wed, 01 Sep 2004 04:00:46 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/09/01/doing-time/ By Kazuichi Hanawa 240 pages, black and white Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I heard about Doing Time I got really excited. The idea of comic creator Kazuichi Hanawa going to prison for three years (over an illegal private gun collection) and then creating a comic about his experience sounded really intriguing. After seeing sensationalized [...]]]> By Kazuichi Hanawa
240 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

When I heard about Doing Time I got really excited. The idea of comic creator Kazuichi Hanawa going to prison for three years (over an illegal private gun collection) and then creating a comic about his experience sounded really intriguing. After seeing sensationalized accounts in the media like HBO’s Oz, or the comic book series Hard Time, this promised to show what the real deal was, at least in Japan. Well, the truth is now out there thanks to Doing Time and let it be known: prison is boring.

Hanawa’s life in prison is one of monotony and being controlled. Do not turn your head without receiving permission. Do not write in your books. Do not own too many books. Finish your meals. Be prepared for your routine inspection. Do not pick up a dropped tool without asking. Do not exchange contact information. The list goes on and on, and Hanawa shows us in explicit detail what it’s like to live this sort of life. There’s absolutely no confusion on what it’s like to be in prison in Japan, and how the sameness of it day in and day out is enough to drive a prisoner mad. Unfortunately, the same is also true for the reader.

Every now and then Hanawa gives us something interesting, like a theoretical vision into the future where, free from prison, he still finds himself trapped in the same routines and having to beg for permission from others to do the most simple of things. The problem is that these sparks of interest are few and far between, with the majority of Doing Time focusing more on what it’s like to live in prison, down to the most minute detail. Do we really want to know every single meal they ate for several weeks, or every single fold used to construct a paper bag in the prison work program? While Doing Time is a fantastic book for anyone needing to do research on Japan’s prisons so they can get all the details correct, it’s mind-numbing for the reader. Perhaps that’s what Hanawa is trying to get at—a prison sentence is years of boredom for the person being sentenced—but one shouldn’t have to slog through 240 pages to discover this simple fact.

The art in Hanawa, ironically, reminds me a lot of instruction manual illustrations. (“How to Survive in Prison in Ten Easy Steps!”) They’re very clinical, labeling everything in a room from flypaper and mirrors to a garbage can and a tea urn. Once again, Hanawa’s doing a great job of capturing exactly what the interior of a prison looks like, but there’s almost too much detail to keep one interested. There are only so many times you can see Hanawa draw a bowl of rice for it to be interesting, for instance, and most of his people look so nondescript that I had real trouble telling anyone apart. There are exceptions that kept me reading, but they were few and far-between. Having Hanawa clutch his head and moan that his brain is turning to sawdust while we see metaphorical sawdust pour out of his head was amusing, but that’s about the highest point of imagination we get in the art.

In the end, Doing Time was informative and good to read on a “this is knowledge I never had before” level, but in terms of entertainment it just doesn’t deliver the goods. I wanted to like this a great deal, but if to get enjoyment I need to watch the over-the-top Oz DVD sets, well, there are worse fates in life.

Purchase Links:

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