Tag Archives: Japan

Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy’ and ‘The Many Not the Few’

The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy

The Many Not the Few

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy. Written by Sean Michael Wilson and drawn by Akiko Shimojima. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2121. 205pp, $14.95.

The Many Not the Few. Written by Sean Michsel Wilson and drawn by Robert Brown. Oxford and Lancashire: Workable Press, 2019. 200pp, $18.95.

Sean Michael Wilson: Left Comics Sui Generis

A marvelously talented Scottish script writer, Sean Michael Wilson, is notable in the fast-emerging world of the nonfiction graphic novel, with a handful of awards and some twenty graphic novels to his credit. Like the most talented of left-wing film screenwriters from Hollywood to London to Tokyo and far beyond—suffering blacklisting and severe persecution in the Cold War era and not getting many good jobs right up to the present day—Wilson knows how to prepare his work for the next step in production. The writer works behind the scenes, so to speak, and  becomes in a sense invisible, all the more so because the artist “adapts” any script, by necessity, to the demands of art and audience.

The Minamata Story. Art by Akiko Shimojima.

The first remarkable thing, from a comic art point of view, is that Wilson is  clearly as much at home with Manga styles as with mainstream visual narratives.  The Minimata story is fairly minimalist when it comes to dialogue, at least until the grim lessons must be drawn. The Foreword by environmental journalist Brian Small reminds us that the telling began long ago, in one of the early sagas of environmental contamination. A Japanese factory in the postwar years released large doses of mercury into a river near a fishing village, with ever more devastating effects. Documentary photographer Eugene Smith “iconized” the suffering of one family, and famed essayist/art critic John Berger devoted his talents to describing the photos.

Here, as we read the story, a Japanese boy grows up to college age, and looking for a topic,  learns that the story has been a sort of local secret. Although strange symptoms appeared in the poplation,  the fishermen could not or would not acknowledge the full effects of the discharge. The factory had brought a new vitality to the impoverished area. Our protagonist, with the help of his grandmother, learns that as death spread from the ocean to the people, panic ensued. Decades later, it remained difficult for survivors to prove their illnesses had come form the most obvious source, and the companies used the legal system to  pay little or no compensation. Toward the end, the story turns didactic, inevitably. Those who protested or supported the protests during the late 1950s and remain in the field, despite aging, are heroic for the campaigners to follow.

The Many Not The Few. Art by Robert Brown.

The Many Not The Few is the finest graphic novel history of a nation’s working class ever published, or at least I have not seen any better. It was the first book ever introduced at a session of the British Parliament, and carries the stamp of the wider work of the national union federation, a partner, so to speak, with Labour’s day schools, theater and song workshops in various parts of the UK. It begins with a quotation from my very favorite character (along with the mythical Robin Hood) in English history: John Ball, the street preacher with the message that becomes the Radical Reformation idea across Europe, centuries later. “Things cannot go well in England, nor ever will, until all goods are held in common, and until there will be neither serfs nor gentlemen, and we shall be equal.”  I could only complain, mildly, that I do not find here the famous bit of contemporary folk wisdom that became a favorite iconography of the socialist movement, thanks to an illustration by Williams Morris’s friend Walter Crane: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” That is; there were no capitalists or royals in Paradise. Never mind. The thought is felt throughout these pages.

Robert Brown, a veteran commercial illustrator with his own comics series (Killjoy, from 2011 onward) is more than equal to the task of moving from century to century, milieux to mileux. His adaptation has an old working class socialist sense to it  and includes a character important to the narrative who is a multi-racial granddaughter of Indian descent, who looks maybe 12 or 13. The fellow has been researching for years, on his own, and she is ready to hear what he has to say. She asks good, intelligent questions. Thus Wat Tyler of the 1381 Rebellion bearing the leader’s name and the message of John Ball, leads a seemingly successful rebellion against the Crown. Tyler was murdered through  conspiracy and massive suppression swiftly followed. History moves on. By page 30, we see famed historian E.P. Thompson and Karl Marx himself (no stranger to the British libraries) explaining the next step in oppression and fight back. “Enclosure,” the theft of the heretofore common lands to support and royalty and the expansive States brings misery beyond measure and deep resentments. Now we are in the sixteenth century with armed uprisings more intermittent but no less intense, leading to the famed Levellers and the Diggers of the English Civil War actually overthrowing the monarchy without themselves gaining power.

By the time we get to Pilgrim’s Progress, the granddaughter is the one who can do some of the teaching. More centuries pass and we arrive at something they both can chew on: William Blake, whose illustrations for the literary classic might be described as a proto-anarchist graphic novel. The old man is in his own with the rise of the Chartists, following the Tolpuddle arrests of peaceful marchers, a rare victory when 80,000 signatures proved too much for the authorities.  Asking only the simplest of democratic reforms, Chartists gathered three million signatures in vain. and then marched, in vast numbers. The ruling classes were put on the defensive through peaceful action, a major step.

Contradictions are not avoided in these pages. Craft workers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries too often shunned cooperation with the unskilled, through the rise and fall of unions and the often fractured organizations of the Left. Wilson plays to his own strong Scottish collective memory for a moment with the glories of the Clydeside shipbuilders of Glasgow and their 60,000 militants of 1919. Their struggle and the consolidation of the miners’ unions during the First World War set the background for the General Strike of 1926. No doubt, these events, however effectively suppressed in their own time, made possible the victory of Labour in 1946 and the creation of a modern welfare state, later diminished but never destroyed.

The coal miners’ defeat by the Thatcher government, the crushing conservatiism consolidated by the neoliberalism of Tony Blair’s Labour government, brings our story close to the present. Chapters earlier, granddaughter Arushi asks about the failures of the Left and “Granda” answers squarely: these are part of the old and long process toward liberation. Unions seem now, to many young people distant from them, no longer the building block of a better society. But as she says, “We should run our own lives, workplaces, communities. Have some real democracy.” It’s a good parting note before the pair head off for some fish and chips.

Paul Buhle

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, Manga, Paul Buhle

Review: THE NAO OF BROWN by Glyn Dillon

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

An aspiring writer does well to heed that famous Tolstoy quote about families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Cartoonists, many of them and I include myself among these wonderfully wretched souls, gravitate more often than not to stories about outsiders, people dealing with deep issues. It leads to glorious work like The Nao of Brown, originally published in 2012 by SelfMadeHero/Abrams. A new edition, from SelfMadeHero and Abrams, just came out and it’s a good time to revisit what has become a classic tale of a young woman finding her way.

Welcome to the world of Nao Brown.

Nao Brown, at 28, is still teetering along on the precipice that takes one from childhood to adulthood. Nao comes to understand that one can remain dangling on that cliff forever. This is the year that Nao makes it to the other side. The Nao of Brown is in the same spirit as Ghost World, the Daniel Clowes tour de force graphic novel that seemed, with its major motion picture version, to bring geek culture out of the closet back in 2001. The Nao of Brown is also, just like Ghost World, a crisp combination of exquisite art and writing. Where Clowes is more hard-edged and sarcastic, Dillon is more dreamy and bathed in soft watercolor washes. Our main character, Nao, is struggling to find her place in the world with one foot in her Japanese ancestry and the other foot in her Anglo-British ancestry. And she sees the world in the black and white extremes of an obsessive-compulsive. Her dark thoughts terrify her. Pop culture, hip and ironic, is an island that she can escape to.

The life and times of Nao Brown.

Will one more mix tape be able to save Nao? She works in a pop culture boutique run by Steve, a hapless nerd if ever there was one who has a crush on Nao. She cringes at the thought of the pack of teenage boys who frequent the shop only to worship her. She knows she’s too old for them. She intellectually knows her youth is relative. But she still thinks like a little girl. For most of the book, she works out her feelings for a man she’s developed a relationship with recently. Her initial interest in Gregory was triggered by the fact he resembles a pop culture toy she adores.

Steve, trapped in the friend zone.

This is a fascinating read, no two ways about it, as immersive as any of your most beloved movies, music, novels…or graphic novels! And, as an added bonus, alternating throughout the main narrative is a “story within a story” that is simply icing on the cake! All that said, it’s a crowded field these days with one amazing graphic novel after another. The solution sometimes, just as with any other art form, is a revisit or reissue. And so that brings us to this recent reissue of The Nao of Brown. This new edition, with additional production art, is a totally well-deserved relaunch into the world and will undoubtedly enchant a whole new crop of readers.

Searching for Nao Brown.

The Nao of Brown is a 216-page hardcover. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero and Abrams.

 

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Review: SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

Jean-Paul Deshong is a professional in the comics industry. SONS OF FATE is Deshong’s first independent series. As he states in his introduction, his goal is to bring all the excitement from reading comics as a kid to this project. If you like adventures with a martial arts theme, then this is for you.

Ah, fate…

A look at this book reveals a lot of passion behind the work. Deshong revels in details. The origins to our narrative involve a fleet of medieval Japanese ships that are attacked by pirates. The ambush results in heavy casualties. One particular sailor ends up ashore a tropical island. The indigenous people are dark and savage in comparison to what our hero is accustomed to. But he gains their trust and even becomes a guardian to a boy from the village. It is this fateful union that moves our story forward.

The natives want something.

This is an involved and dense story that moves at a contemplative pace and is punctuated by lively action sequences. You can have a long interval with some characters opening up about their motivations and then, for the next scene, there’s a rampaging rhino. That works for me. You can never go wrong with a rhino. What I find most interesting and admirable is the level of dedication Deshong has brought to his work. That will carry him, and the reader, forward on this series and with projects in the future. SONS OF FATE is a solid adventure comic that a wide spectrum of readers will enjoy.

Visit the SONS OF FATE website right here.

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Review: THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY by Toshio Ban

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban, published by Stone Bridge Press, is a work in manga fit for one of the greatest manga artists ever, Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989). Manga is a very particular experience and much can get lost in translation. One key trait to manga is that time constraints often go out the window, the format embraces extended scenes. I like this approach and find it can be quite effective in setting a mood. Like any other technique, it can be overdone. I thought this to myself as I began to undertake this behemoth of book clocking in at 928 pages. Could it have benefited from some restraint? Well, yes and no. Overall, I highly recommend it on many levels. It provides much needed context and general information. And, in the end, there is an enthusiastic spark throughout that lifts the reader.

Manga is inextricably linked to a different world view, as opposed to most Western comics. We Americans, even the most seasoned readers among us, have been conditioned to more tightly edited work. You just need to come into reading this biography with the same spirit you would approach a gloriously sprawling foreign film. Yes, expect to find many detailed scenes with the little boy Osamu. And, yes, expect various detailed scenes of Osamu, the man, at his drafting table.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Who exactly was Osamu Tezuka? you may ask. In the United States, Osamu Tezuka is not as well known as he could be. But, in Japan, he ranks as high as, say, Charles M. Schulz does in America. There is every reason to believe that Tezuka could become as beloved an artist as Schulz. And that adds to the importance of this biography. In America, a certain number of enthusiasts know Tezuka for his landmark Buddha series. In Japan, Tezuka is also celebrated for Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. Also covered in this book is Tezuka’s trailblazing work in animation. It is no exaggeration to say that Japan’s manga and anime owes greatly to the work of Osamu Tezuka.

Working for Osamu Tezuka

Working for Osamu Tezuka proves challenging.

Among the memorable detailed accounts: Tezuka, up to his ears in work, is literally fleeing anxious editors from various publications hounding him to meet his deadlines. The King of Manga, hiding out in hotel rooms from publishers, with the press not far behind, became a veritable cause célèbre. At the height of so many conflicting deadlines piling up on him, Tezuka had to devise various systems to cut down the time-consuming process of creating manga. This included hiring a team of assistants. The poor devils were left to do various bits of piece work without a clue as to what would ultimately go where. This would be just a taste of what it would be like once Tezuka began to work in his own anime studio.

You are in for a treat. Yes, here you are dealing with a mammoth book. Take it bit by bit and you will be rewarded. Frederik L. Schodt’s translation works smoothly with Toshio Ban’s original script and artwork which greatly emulates Tezuka’s own artwork. This is indeed a treasure trove. The original work was published in 1992, three years after Tezuka’s death. It originally came out as three books: Osamu to Osamushi (1928-1945), Dreams of Manga (1945-1959), and Dreams of Anime (1960-1989). With that in mind, it is more reasonable to see how we ended up with such a big book. I think a graphic novel should be as long as it needs to be. Some 300-pagers could easily be half as long. But, in this case, here is a story that is well justified in spreading out as much as it needed to.

"The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime," by Toshio Ban

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban

THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY is a 928-page trade paperback, published by Stone Bridge Press. Visit them right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under animation, Anime, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Japan, Manga, Osamu Tezuka

Kickstarter: BAREFOOT GEN for Schools and Libraries Campaign Ends 9/10/2015

Barefoot-Gen-Last-Gasp

Our friends at Last Gasp need that last big push to get them over the top for such a worthy goal: a new hardcover edition of a landmark in manga, “Barefoot Gen,” for schools and libraries. This is the story of the bombing of Hiroshima told from the perspective of a young boy. It has moved Art Spiegelman, creator of the masterpiece in comix, “Maus,” to call “Barefoot Gen” a prime example of how the comics medium can bring ideas to life.

Barefoot-Gen-Nakazawa-Hiroshima

All you Kickstarter supporters know that thrill of making it to the finish line. Let’s all do what we can, spread the word, donate to the campaign, and visit often (the campaign ends this Thursday, Sept 10th!) right here.

FUNDING GOALS

Last Gasp estimates that $36,000 is the minimum needed to create and distribute 4000 copies (1000 each of four volumes). The cost would cover the following:

Redesigning the books for hardcover
Printing hardcover books
Mailing rewards to backers
Kickstarter and credit card processing fees

ABOUT BAREFOOT GEN

Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen in the original Japanese) is a semi-autobiographical story about wartime Japan and the bombing of Hiroshima. For many years, Last Gasp has published the English edition of this classic manga story.

Visit the BAREFOOT GEN for Schools and Libraries Campaign right here.

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi, RIP

Yoshihiro-Tatsumi

“Sensei is dead.” When he clicked on the email, that is all that the esteemed comics authority Paul Gravett had to read to know what had happened. Some will say that the work of the master cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi (1935-2015) has brought them to tears. That’s quite a tall order. But it is certainly plausible. The world of comics, as you may know, is more than one thing. One aspect of it can be so rarified to make the most glamorous and refined creatures on this planet pale in comparison. That’s what you get when certain people communicate with, “Sensei is dead.”

Just imagine getting a text with, “The king has died.” It’s a bit surreal. And, I’m sure, not what Tatsumi would have wanted. Yes, for authorities on comics, and regular everyday fans, Tatsumi knew his manga. He was a master of the more introspective gekiga. He was no king and yet he was a king. Take away the veneer of reserve from the most venerated authority on comics and you’ll find a child looking up in wonder. At least, I hope so. That would have come easy for Tatsumi. His comics are down to earth and irreverent. But, then again, he would likely have respected any goodwill gesture. “Sensei is dead.”

Gekiga-Yoshihiro-Tatsumi

“A Drifting Life” is the epic autobiography of the manga master. Arguably, it is Tatsumi’s work that has inspired graphic novels as we know them today. With “A Drifting Life,” you follow Tatsumi on his journey of self-discovery spanning 1945 to 1960 as he strives to attain the skills of his own manga idol, Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Apollo’s Song, Ode to Kirihito, Buddha). The book is designed by one of today’s leading cartoonists, Adrian Tomine. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Gekiga, Japan, Manga, Paul Gravett, Yoshihiro Tatsumi

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP: ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’ and Pokemon

Pokemon-World-Cup-2014

The World Cup kicks off this Thursday, June 12, 2014, and unleashes the world’s biggest sporting event. You can celebrate right along with Pokemon, the official mascot for the 2014 Japan National Football Team. But you won’t see J-Lo. She couldn’t make it, even though she was scheduled to perform at the Opening Ceremony. Oops. Some production issues got in the way.

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Review: The Last Broadcast #1

Last-Broadcast-Archaia-Boom-Studios

“The Last Broadcast #1” is brought to you by Boom! Studios’ Archaia line and lives up to its promise of being “an urban exploration adventure.” Spelunking has been the subject of comics before, believe it or not. That goes back to 2009 and Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s “Underground.” That comic is a character-driven action adventure, which is saying a lot. Either you’re one or the other most of the time. Well, lightning strikes twice with “The Last Broadcast.” And all of the action is not just underground.

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EAST and WEST: The Significance of Plot Without Conflict

Western narrative, from Still Eating Oranges

Western narrative, from Still Eating Oranges

How do we change the world? It can be as simple as how we see the world. There are numerous influences we need to consider. One is as simple as how we tell stories. In the West, for example, there is a rigidly ingrained method for storytelling, and for communication in general. It has conflict built in that must be confronted and resolved. While it may sound like an overstatement, this method embraces aggression, and violence. Why not try another method and see what results?

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Filed under China, Comics, Japan, Kishōtenketsu, Manga, philosophy, Yonkoma

Comics in 2014: NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, published by Fantagraphics Books

nijigahara-holograph-fantagraphics-books

Inio Asano is a Japanese manga superstar. He is known for such works as “Solanin,” which was nominated for the 2009 Eisner and Harvey comics awards (and which was made into a feature film in 2010). For 2014, Asano’s manga classic, “Nijigahara Holograph,” is published in an English translation by Fantagraphics Books.

Butterflies signal impending doom as children confront a dark entity in a nearby tunnel. Years later, these same kids must confront themselves for how they responded to an unknown terror. “Nijigahara Holograph” is a complex supernatural thriller, like something out of a David Lynch film. It is due out in February 2014. For more details, visit of friends at Fantagraphics Books here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics News, Fantagraphics Books, Inio Asano, Japan, Manga, news