Growing up in Indonesia, I had a gigantic chunk of my life (hours after school and before bed) dedicated to reading Japanese/Manga comics. These were serialised, illegally reprinted I retrospectively realise, in monthly thick chunks of black and white illustrations. It would take me a while before I moved on to American (Marvel) superhero comics, and even more before I was confronted by alternative comics and a big wake up slap in the face, an analytical re-evaluation of comic illustration as an art form.
Until fairly recently, I thought this cultural shift was not only a natural hierarchy, but also a progressive one, whereby I sit in my high tower, never to delve back in the murky realms of Manga comics. Absurdly, to me Ghost in the Shell, Fist of the North Star, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the likes, were at best transitional, much like Preacher and Sandman, a bridge in your late teens to the richness of Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, and Optic Nerve.
However, as I have increasingly plundered the depth of my psyche for inspiration for my own work, I find myself rediscovering/regurgitating those years of pure joy, of sheer wonder at the sight of men in capes bludgeoning each other, explosions of colour in tiny dots of colour separation. Retracing my steps at last I’ve come home to roost at the door of Manga. Last week I found a modern example of the mastery of its style, and the reduction of its essence in beautiful, action packed, highly technical black and white illustrations. I hadn’t felt as moved, almost literally and no pun intended, as I did reading “Travel” by Yuichi Yokoyama.
Brooklyn based Picturebox Inc reprinted Yuichi Yokoyama’s “Voyage”, originally released in France in 2005, with the new title “Travel”. The plot is almost negligible, there is no dialogue, and in danger of sounding cliché the story is quite accurately in the journey. Three men (in fact, there’s not a single female character in the whole comic) start their journey boarding a train at a station. They continue to walk down the carriages, passing other characters, as the train travels the length of the countryside, through various landscapes, weather, and architecture. The book is action packed, every movement is deliberate, every act is with force and imbued with hysteria, every gaze is mysterious, and the movement of the train itself is almost cosmic. Characters and landscapes merge in a blur of thin lines, technical staples of traditional Manga re-contextualised. When it starts to rain, everything in sight literally bleeds. I was swept up in this roller coaster and my only wish was for it to never end. But when it did end, it ended so magically, so bizzarely, my head was totally spinning; never has anything been so silly and profound at the same time.
Of course, it would be pretentious and out of the line to say that this book represents the world of Manga in its mainstream configuration. It is obviously cutting from a somewhat different cloth. However, it has sparked the kid in me and reintroduced me to the magic of these long forgotten worlds, which in essence were full of wide-eyed wonder n bizarre intrigue. Therefore, I am now resting my Chris Ware, Hernandez Bros, et al, and becoming obsessed with the Watchmen, Earth X, Inhumans, and soon, perhaps… Dragonball Z.
Yuichi Yokoyama has another book, also released by Picturebox Inc, called New Engineering. It collects his two previous sets of works: Public Works and Combats. That’s definitely on my Christmas list. Here’s a much better and more thorough analysis of Combats by Chris Lanier at The High Hat