Also, if you missed last week's William Bazillion, here it be.
Okay, late as this update is, I think there's still time for a quick Overlooked Manga Festival!
Lately I've been on a Fanfare/Ponent Mon kick. I blame my good friend Jason Thompson for dumping a big stack of their manga at my apartment. Ponent Mon is a European publisher that focuses on alternative Japanese comics, with particular focus on the French/Japanese "Novelle Manga" movement. Its output provides a reminder that manga is a massive, eclectic art form, and there's a lot more going on than radtastic cyborg battles and hot men making out.
No, seriously, every once in a while you might want to look at something else.
Doing Time is an autobiographical manga by an alternative/horror cartoonist about life behind bars. Kazuichi Hanawa was sent to prison for three years for possession of firearms without a permit, a serious offense in Japan. It's not like America where they assume everyone's got five or six unregistered Saturday Night Specials in the glove compartment. Hanawa doesn't comment much on his crime or debate the fairness or unfairness of his sentence. Nor is this an expose of horrific prison conditions; on the contrary, the prison to which Hanada is sent seems tidy and well-run, and Hanada's biggest recurring complaint is that he gets fed too much.
Instead, the manga depicts, in painstaking detail, all the little ins and outs of daily prison life.
In Hanada's account, the greatest danger of prison is monotony. The prisoners fall into routines. They find a handful of repetitive ways to kill time. Tiny events, like getting something different for dinner, take on enormous significance. I cannot stress enough the massive psychic space occupied by food in Doing Time; Hanada often fills entire two-page spreads with careful drawings of every meal he ate for days.
Occasionally, the prisoners talk, and Hanada shares their stories.
Aside from a few such anecdotes, however, we never hear very much about the crimes that put these men in prison. More often, we just see them working, eating, chatting, hanging around, and generally waiting out their sentences.
An alumnus of the legendary alternative manga magazine Garo, Hanawa is a distinctive storyteller with a detailed, obsessively textured and crosshatched style. He often filters events through his own skewed perceptions, as he fixates on food, sweats out the prison's prescriptive rules (there's an entire chapter on how much he dreads having to raise his hand to go to the bathroom during work time), and goes through nicotine withdrawal.
Doing Time is more a collection of vignettes than a cohesive narrative. Instead of building a story, Hanawa drifts from subject to subject, day to day, creating the sense of an endless, featureless stretch of time. But within that monotony he finds a wealth of fascinating detail, all of which he fastidiously records. It's all strangely absorbing and haunting. I can't think of another comic remotely like Doing Time, so if manga is starting to look the same to you, this is one to track down.
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
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms