Also, don't miss Andrew's latest installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion. Poor Fatty.
T Campbell interviewed me for Blowing Bubbles, his podcast on BrokenFrontier.com, so don't miss that.
What else? Ah, yes. Overlooked Manga Festival!
Last week I talked a little about the nouvelle manga movement, wherein a group of Franco-Belgian and Japanese cartoonists attempt to blend the best elements of their respective comics cultures. Last week's OMF, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, was one collaborative effort from the nouvelle manga gang. Here's another, very different collaboration, by two central figures of the movement: Frederic Boilet, the founder of nouvelle manga, and Kan Takahama, arguably the most gifted of the group's core members.
I'm a little hesitant about recommending Mariko Parade, because it helps to have read Boilet's previous comic, Yukiko's Spinach (also available in English from Fanfare/Ponent Mon), first. Both books involve Boilet's relationship with his Japanese art model and lover, called "Yukiko" in the first book and "Mariko" here (neither book attempts to explain how much, if any, of the story is real, and how much is fictionalized). Yukiko's Spinach is one of the key texts of the nouvelle manga movement, and my good friend Jason Thompson and I have devoted much time to serious debate over whether it should be categorized as manga. Jason's argument is that, since "manga" is simply the Japanese term for comics, a comic should be classified as manga if it was originally published in Japan and the creator considers it "manga." My argument is that a cartoonist doesn't get to call himself Japanese just because he moved there to boink Asian women. As you can see, we each make a strong case.
Mariko Parade links miscellaneous illustrations and short comics by Boilet, all featuring Mariko, with a framing story drawn by Takahama and cowritten by the two creators. In the framing story, which takes up the bulk of the book, three years have passed since the events in Yukiko's Spinach. In fact, Yukiko's Spinach has just been published, and, as Mariko Parade opens, Mariko is reading it.
Boilet and Mariko hook up again. briefly, while contemplating their relationship and relationships in general. But where Yukiko's Spinach was unabashedly romantic, artistically melancholy, and just a little bit cutesy (the title comes from the Frenchman's mispronunciation of the Japanese for "belly button"), Mariko Parade is breezy, sardonic, and, well, still pretty melancholy, actually. The change of mood is partly due to Takahama's art. Both she and Boilet draw in a restrained, naturalistic style, with gray washes and heavy use of photo reference, but Boilet is more photorealistic, Takahama more expressive and slightly cartoony.
This makes her characters seem more human than Boilet's; we look at Boilet's Mariko, but we relate to Takahama's.
In fact, Takahama's contribution changes the entire context of the Boilet sequences. Yukiko's Spinach was about Yukiko/Mariko. Mariko Parade is about Boilet's fascination with Yukiko/Mariko. That's a crucial difference. The artist's gaze takes an extra step back, and is now looking at the artist himself. (Of course, we never see Takahama, the second artist, as she examines Boilet.)
Boilet, capturing Mariko:
Takahama, capturing them both:
The Takahama-drawn material consistently and deliberately changes the comics from being about Mariko to being about Boilet looking at Mariko. One of the Boilet comics reprinted in the book uses Mariko as a model, seen from the neck down with her skirt pulled up, in a humorous piece about the ways the Japanese censors might conceal her crotch (standard pixellation, a cartoon mascot, corporate logos, etc.). Near the end, Takahama interrupts with a panel showing Mariko's laughing reaction to the routine. She's suddenly not just a faceless model, but a character in the comic.
The comic is beautiful throughout. I think Takahama is marginally the better artist, or at least the better cartoonist; her characters are wonderfully expressive, and she knows how to evoke a mood. But some may prefer Boilet's starkly realistic illustration style and experimental visuals, and it's great to have a sampling of his work sprinkled throughout the book.
The story itself is romantic, nostalgic, sexy (there's plenty of nudity, and it's appropriate that, while only Mariko appears nude in the Boilet sequences, both Mariko and Boilet go full-frontal in the Takahama sequences), and wryly cynical, as the lovers bask in the sweet sadness of a relationship that isn't going to last much longer. It's Mariko who puts their feelings into words and tutors Boilet in the harsh lessons of love, again a reversal of the situation in Yukiko's Spinach.
This is a comic that sticks with you. As I'm sure you can tell from my comments, I found it deeper and more satisfying than the more straightforwardly romantic (and straightforwardly erotic) Yukiko's Spinach, but it does help to read both books to get the full arc of the characters' relationship, not to mention the changing point of view. I also recommend Takahama's other manga, particularly her short-story collection Kinderbook. Mariko Parade is a remarkable collaboration between two great cartoonists, playing off one another like kids on the playground, or lovers on a lazy afternoon.
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
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators