Having heard the name Haruki Murakami for a long time, I picked this book up in an expensive English-language import book shop in Bangkok. The realizaHaving heard the name Haruki Murakami for a long time, I picked this book up in an expensive English-language import book shop in Bangkok. The realization built in me that I *needed* to read this book, that this book was going to be important to me, and the thought finally popped out fully formed the moment I finished it....more
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the originI've wanted to read this for years.
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the original crop of shonen manga (boys' comics) artists inspired by Osamu Tezuka, published a 45-page autobiographical story entitled Ore wa Mita ("I Saw It"). The story outlined his experiences as a child survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - as an aside, it was translated and published in pamphlet form in 1982 by Educomics and is very much worth reading in and of itself, if you can get your hands on a copy. I found mine at the gift shop of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nakazawa's story was published as part of a series of autobiographical manga, and was apparently a success, as his editor asked him to start a long series on the subject. He did so, this time fictionalizing the story somewhat, changing names and tweaking events to suit the needs of the story. It ran to 10 volumes in the English translation, and I should say that as of writing this review I have read only four (in addition to I Saw It).
Barefoot Gen is a product of a time when long-form manga on serious subject matter was still a new thing, and it should be read with this in mind; Nakazawa was working with the visual vocabulary available to him at that point, which was still largely that of children's entertainments. The story initially ran in Shukan Shonen Jampu (Weekly Boys' Jump), an anthology magazine of comics for adolescent boys. It is drawn with a great deal of exaggeration and a substantial dose of humor, all of which the reader of grim historical tomes on Imperial Japan and Nazism may have some trouble swallowing, but such a reader may in turn be shocked that it does not shy away from or sugar-coat the subject matter one bit. Nakazawa's frankly adorable characters - Art Spiegelman correctly characterizes them as "dewy-eyed" - witness mounds of dead bodies, zombie-like half-dead atom bomb victims with their skin hanging off, mass burnings of human flesh, murder, rape. It is ordinary to see child characters dying of starvation, attempting to kill themselves, or wielding knives in defense of their parents. Sheer apathy towards the pain of bomb victims, really one of the wickedest crimes committed, is a constant theme. Nudity, too, is relatively commonplace - but this reflects differing ideas and standards of what is "decent" and appropriate for children between our culture and theirs. They, after all, are accustomed to communal bathing. We Americans are not.
Simple honesty, neither flinching nor lurid, has got to be this series' greatest strength. There is a sense of humanness that pervades the work, and that raw emotion - that straightforward communication of human feeling - is so effectively delivered that I am able to forgive with relative ease the obvious illustratorial shortcomings from which the work suffers - the artist's inability to properly depict a child's or baby's chest, for example, or his limited ability for posing and facial expression (a weakness from which I also suffer).
This is not to say that Nakazawa's pictorial style is without merits. The backgrounds and environments he provides for his characters can be vivid and rhythmically intense, reflecting both his own memory and his influence from Osamu Tezuka (whose highly textural and curvilinear environmental drawings could serve as musical compositions). While his Tezuka-influenced exaggeration of poses and expressions suffers greatly from his own inferior drawing ability, his environmental drawings do not. While not quite Tezuka-caliber, they serve admirably in a story which is fundamentally about an environment - a city, a homeland - which, both socially and physically, explodes.
Of course, I love the styles of the Japanese comics golden age for their retro charm, being the Japanophile that I am. The oversized eyebrows, heavily lined eyes, and blocky features of Keiji Nakazawa's male figures remind me of Takao Saito's extremely long-running classic assassin manga Golgo 13, which started at around the same time (and runs to this day!). Pioneering works and styles in any art form tend to hold a special charm, and the work of Keiji Nakazawa is no exception.
Barefoot Gen was not just a milestone in manga, but in the journey of Japanese comics to American shores, it having been translated and published here by a team of volunteer peace activists just a couple years after the end of its run in the mid-70s. This made it one of the first manga to be released in English.
The translation is okay, but the lettering is frankly nonexistent. It is hard at times to tell whether a block of preachy and simplistic dialogue is the fault of the translators (who were anti-war activists) or the author himself (who was an anti-war atom bomb survivor targeting a juvenile audience). Either way, if you're not part of the choir he's mostly preaching to, you really need to read this series - and maybe you'll be singing in the peace chorus by the end....more
This admittedly has additional stars from me simply because I harbor an aching love for Franklin C. Ware, and paging through his sketchbooks feeds thaThis admittedly has additional stars from me simply because I harbor an aching love for Franklin C. Ware, and paging through his sketchbooks feeds that aching love of mine by giving me a look into his creative process. Seeing both familiar and unfamiliar strips and characters in their gestational stages and watching Ware develop them in different directions, getting a looksee at his simple sketching practice, seeing him copy other cartoonists - Rube Goldberg, R. Crumb - and try out cartoon styles he never uses in finished work... There are many treasures here. One of the special features unique to the two Acme Novelty Datebooks (as far as I'm aware) is the plethora of more realistic figure drawings in various styles and media, including graphite, pen, and amazingly free and loose brushwork. I admire him all the more for his exceedingly tight work knowing that he is not chained to it - knowing that he can also be gestural, and can attain beautiful results in so doing.
It is also wonderful to be able to read his pages of miniscule notes, recounting dreams and experiences, outlining strip ideas, trying out layouts, and first developing the stories and characters that I have come to love so much. Many drawings have written criticisms beside them; many others have written griping: creative block, headaches, obsessions, sexual frustrations. Many of the same concerns that are so artfully laid out in the finished Acme Novelty Library editions are more directly and personally dealt with here: images of sexual frustration that are more direct and Crumbian than I'm used to from Ware are common.
This also makes Chris Ware more accessible and less intimidating to me as a fellow artist, and is inspiring in pushing me to pay more attention to my own sketching process and generally sketch more. Seeing this work seems to be the nudge I need to respect sketchbooks and take them more seriously as brewing pots for ideas.
That being said, much of the above is probably a bit obvious; if you're not a drooling fan like I am, you may well not care about the contents of the Datebook a whole lot.
The book is as beautifully designed and built as one would expect a Chris Ware book to be, and is done up in what I would call a mainstay Ware style. The main goody he's hidden in plain sight is a small circular timeline of his life on the front cover, which is exploded with added detail on the back.
Only His High Holiness Art Shpeegleman could get away with something like this: he goes for years without publishing a whit of comics, drums up all soOnly His High Holiness Art Shpeegleman could get away with something like this: he goes for years without publishing a whit of comics, drums up all sorts of hype and excitement, and then leaves us with what? Why, a board book! A fancily-printed pamphlet of newspaper pages, 38 cardstock pages total (including the frontispiece, introduction and everything), only 20 pages of which contain his actual original creations. Of course, those 20 pages are all newspaper-style double-page fold-out spreads, so it's really only 10 pages oversize. That means I spent two dollars per newspaper-sized page of comics on this. Mr. Spiegelman loves to be an ego, chain-smoking on stage while he gives lectures in smoke-free lecture halls, and I feel like this format is just another way for him to proclaim his self-importance.
That being said, the book is not without merit. His layouts can be pretty freaking excellent - very communicative, very inventive - and here, they did a smashing job of conveying his paranoia and capturing the general upendedness and gullibility of the nation at the time of the attacks. He seems to be a bit more okay with his own generally assish (I'm coining that word as of now) behavior than I would like, but I suppose that's to be expected. The pages do string together, but they don't really form a story; this book is more a mood-capture than anything.
Spiegelman always says that he views sequential communication skill as being of primary importance, and drawing as secondary. To a good extent, I agree; however, I feel that his work - not just in The Shadow of No Towers, but the rest of it as well - really does suffer from that assumption. He is not a bad illustrator, and had he simply put more effort and care into the drawings, he would have communicated the emotion behind his beautifully constructed pages that much better.
Last but not least, I thought the padding - in the form of vintage newspaper comics reprints - was unnecessary. His evolving relationship with vintage funnies around the time of 9/11 was better communicated by the (frankly well-executed) incorporation of those classics into the body of the comics themselves than by including them at the back in an attempt to make the book a bit thicker.
Both Spiegelman's talent and Spiegelman's hubris are quite present in this collection - the latter unfortunately moreso than the former....more