And Andrew has a new installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion:
Also, the deadline is nearing for the nominating round of the Harvey Awards, one of the comics industry's big three awards. If you're a comics creator, and you enjoy our fine comics, please consider nominating Narbonic, Smithson, and/or William Bazillion in the Best Online Comics Work category. Since Narbonic ended in December 2006, this is the last year it can be nominated.
What else? Oh, right! Overlooked Manga Festival!
Other bloggers have been talking about this one, but that doesn't mean I can't, right? Right. Okay, let's do this thing.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms just came out in a lovely edition from jaPRESS and Last Gasp, with color pages and endnotes and a map and everything. It won crazy awards in Japan, while attracting some controversy for its subject matter. The slim volume comprises two stories by Fumiyo Kouno about her hometown, Hiroshima, and the ghosts that still haunt it.
The first story, "Town of Evening Calm," is set in Hiroshima in 1955. Ten years have passed since the atomic bomb was dropped, but in the dirt-poor "atomic slum," families are still decimated and people still die of radiation sickness. As grim a backdrop as this is, Kouno creates a warm, fond portrait of the devastated city, full of sweetness and small pleasures. Her art is lively and cute, brightening her drawings of Minami, a young woman who survived the atomic explosion, as she goes about her day.
But beneath the joys lie unbearable sorrow and pain, as both Minami and the city itself suffer from a gnawing wound that refuses to heal. This is a sweet story, but also a deeply sad story. To the Japanese mentality, this is not a contradiction.
The second story, "Country of Cherry Blossoms," is divided into two parts. The first takes place in 1987. Nanami, a baseball-loving tomboy, lives in Tokyo, but she's the daughter of a hibakusha, an atomic bomb survivor, and the spectre of death and illness drifts over her family even in its happiest moments.
In the second part, set in 2004, Nanami secretly follows her father on a trip to Hiroshima. Nanami's afternoon adventure is interspersed with flashbacks depicting how her parents met in the atomic slum.
Discrimination against the hibakusha (there are over 250,000 living in Japan today) is a recurring theme in "Country of Cherry Blossoms." Valid fears about the long-term effects of radiation get muddled up with superstitions, half-truths, and a general attitude that the people who walked away from the atomic bomb aren't quite right and should be avoided.
But neither half of the story is about Hiroshima, per se. The first half is about moving and losing a friend, and the second is about reconnecting with that friend in adulthood. Hiroshima is just there, an unavoidable part of the scenery, like a mountain or the moon.
Hiroshima stories have long been a part of manga, and particularly a part of manga in America. One of the first manga published in English was Barefoot Gen, a heavily autobiographical account of the bombing of Hiroshima by survivor Keiji Nakazawa. What Kouno brings to the genre is a sense of distance and a quiet, conversational, uninsistent tone. This is not, for the most part, a book about the horror of the atomic bomb. It's a book about the sad and lovely and aching city that grew up around that horror.
It's not quite accurate to say that the charming artwork and gentle mood of Kuono's stories provide a counterpoint to the darkness of the atomic bomb, or that they mask it. It's more that Kuono finds beauty and sweetness within that darkness. I'm reminded of a snippet of dialogue in Mariko Parade, a Japanese-French coproduction and probable future Overlooked Manga:
"Though you know, for the Japanese, there is a feeling that is stronger than love itself..."
"Do you think I'm not fully aware of that? It's been a few years now that I've been living here among you! Stronger than love itself is...the decline of love. A flower is never more beautiful than at the very moment it begins to fade..."
The Japanese term for this is mono no aware, an awareness and love of transience, of mortality, of the beauty of things that are doomed. It suffuses not only Japanese art and literature, but much of the Japanese sensibility in general. The cherry blossom is the most beloved flower in Japan precisely because it dies so quickly.
Manga fans may be a little taken aback by Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. In stark contrast to the fast-paced, plot-driven approach of most mainstream manga--and, for that matter, a lot of alternative manga--it's slow, casual, subtle, and largely plotless. Kouno invites you to spend some time with her characters and their city, and then she steps aside. But what a visit.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here