photo & text by nacrowe
the standalone graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS (ABRAMS COMICARTS, 2015) authored and illustrated by FUMIO OBATA is an interesting examination of how one's sense of identity and rootedness is transformed when navigating two cultures. in this case the main protagonist is a young JAPANESE woman named YUMIKO who works for a LONDON design firm and is engage to a ENGLISHMAN when she returns to JAPAN for the funerary rights of her recently deceased father. being the daughter of divorced parents and a stridently independent mother who left to pursue her educational goals and a career as an literary intellectual, YUMIKO is caught between traditional JAPANESE cultural prescriptions of passive femininity and the empowered WESTERN model of the self-sufficient woman.
in a sense she sees the benefits of both. this appreciation is seen through the visual metaphor of classical NOH THEATER, which finds a masked actor following her in her dreams. this deeply traditional style of drama, much like other JAPANESE pursuits, is intensely formal to the point that all GESTURES, POSTURES and MOVEMENTS have been passed down for generations upon generations. in fact, the formal elements of these performances are so entrenched that they subsume any sense of ego or expression on behalf of the actor.
going through the motions of participating in the traditional JAPANESE BUDDHIST funerary rites regarding her father, there is an implied connection to this sense of extinguishing the ego. these rituals are not about satiating the needs of the living. they are about continuing a pattern, fulfilling an expectation. FUMIKO seems to learn that there is comfort in the formal procedures and rituals not only associated with death, but with life as well.
having worked in YOKOHAMA myself for a year teaching LITERATURE at a private secondary school, i think it is quite impressive how OBATA is able to identify and explore this point of tension between EASTERN and WESTERN culture. i remember how seemingly difficult it was to navigate a culture where everyone was so impeccably polite. they werent being INAUTHENTIC, but there always seemed to be this distance. that is until there wasnt. i got the sense that once my JAPANESE peers realized that i was respectful of their culture and embraced the formal elements of their behavior (which is an adjustment for a WESTERNER), it was only then that i found myself joking with people. it was an interesting experience and something i often think about.
growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, you are perennially stuck between multiple worlds, multiple modes of being and understanding life. i'm still navigating it even when on "home" soil. its still an adjustment much like it is for YUMIKO when bridging ENGLISH and JAPANESE culture.
i thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and recommend it immensely.
photo by nacrowe
LOVE IN VAIN: ROBERT JOHNSON 1911-1938 (FABER & FABER, 2016) is lovingly constructed graphic novel depicting the basic narrative of doomed legendary DELTA BLUES artist ROBERT JOHNSON from the perspective of the DEVIL.
in terms of narrative there seems to be a heavy focus on the sheer physicality of the era, especially with evocative visual depictions of the thankless task of laboring in the cotton fields and carousing in the juke joints. you get a sense of how far outside of society JOHNSON was for pursuing a career in music that was unsanctioned by the BLACK BAPTIST CHURCH. you also get a feel for how all modes of escapism, whether they were musical, sexual or chemical in nature, where all just diversions from the harsh draconian reality that was being an AFRICAN AMERICAN in the JIM CROW, post-reconstruction deep south.
as with all types of narrative telling, choices are made regarding the subject that reflect more on the author/artist than the subject perhaps. this is true in the case of LOVE IN VAIN which was created by R. CRUMB acolyte MEZZO and finds interest in the extremity of the subject matter. in my mind, what i find more interesting about JOHNSON and his art are the ways that his upbringing and background informed his art. how they contextualized his lyrics. how those lyrics and that sound connected with generations of artists.
the devil at the crossroads gimmick is overblown in my opinion. it also is highly misrepresented as conversing with god in order to gain insight or wisdom is a hallmark of the WEST AFRICAN storytelling and oral history tradition than anything else. what gets perpetuated in well-meaning texts like this is the idea of a man who deserved to die for his talent, which is bullshit. the man was poisoned by a jilted husband of woman he was pursuing. shit happens. he messed with the wrong guy and due to his status as a societal outside, JOHNSON was left for dead without a doctor. his death was inevitable or a sign of anything.
i was a little let down that the narrator was the devil, even if he questioned the motives of several characters in the process (which is a bit of a head-scratcher when the lord of darkness finds you a bit duplicitous). seemed exploring WEST AFRICAN culture of HOODOO beliefs would have been more interesting, but hey the pictures are amazing.
photo & text by nacrowe
there is an interiority to SABRINA (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2018) by NICK DRNASO that i really appreciated. the idea that in an increasingly digital world where all of human experience is reduced down to IMAGES, SOUNDS, WORDS and VIDEOS emanating from a screen, that all of reality is really what we choose it to be. in essence our senses have been hijacked and our ability to trust our perceptions has been compromised.
SABRINA presents narrative surrounding the abduction and murder of a CHICAGO woman and how such gets played out online when the video of such goes viral. illustrated efficiently yet plainly with muted colors and faces with seemingly no emotion, this graphic novel ingeniously utilizes LANGUAGE as the locus of tension and action. language here serves to deliver these plainly depicted figures into a surreal psychodrama. in essence digital media has the transformative ability to make us all question our sense of IDENTITY and our relationship to each other. with relatives, friends and significant others thrown in the mix in the public square that is the internet, disinformation and false narratives are proposed and take hold in the collective consciousness, some forwarded by unsympathetic actors with personal agendas and others by professional journalists. it is all the same racket an loved ones of the deceased are merely products to be analyzed, investigated and questioned with contempt.
their humanity is compromised at the behest of public intrigue.
this book is less about a murder victim and more about the collateral damage that has befallen the families of tragedies such as SANDY HOOK who have been the target of disinformation campaigns by the likes of ALEX JONES and other nefarious conmen leeching off the body politic with their conspiracy theories under a false flag of patriotic fervor and the limits of free speech and personal freedom. funny how concepts such as CIVIC DUTY, PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY or even HUMAN DECENCY enters the picture with these bloodsuckers. but they are just a symptom of our collective appetite for tragedy from which we all vicariously experience at a distance. we are all vampires feeding off each other.
SABRINA even depicts the extended circle of the victim engaging in this sort of behavior, checking out conspiratorial blogs and websites, listening to right wing news in an effort to make sense or draw order from the nihilistic notion that there is no meaning or lesson to draw from such a senseless act of VIOLENCE. and for me that tension is the crux of this narrative and where DRNASO succeeds wildly in this subdued yet immensely affecting graphic novel. that very need to define what is undefinable rather than look truth in the face and realize that there is no greater intent or purpose for human suffering. anything else is a fabrication conceived out of existential pain. conspiracy theories, hope, religion are all symptoms of this nihilistic worldview. maybe the proliferation of information via the internet has only gotten us closer to that realization or distracted us from it with a renewed sense of creative abandon.
interesting book worth checking out.