Monday, February 09, 2004


One of my pet peeves is the claim frequently made by fans of American comics that "all manga look the same." In the first place, while it's unquestionably true that much manga shares certain stylistic traits which to Western eyes are quite distinctive (the "big eyes, small mouths" look), even within these bounds there's room for a great deal of variation, as a clear-eyed look at the titles on American shelves makes apparent. I would guess that for Japanese readers, who have grown up with this style, manga artists' styles are as individual as superhero artists' styles are to superhero fans.

In the second place, there are plenty of manga which aren't in the "big eyes, small mouths" tradition at all. While examples of this have been published in the U.S., the subject of today's manga corner, Kushii-kun no yoru no sanpo (Mr. Xie's Night Walk) by Kamosawa Yuji is a particularly good example: it's an obvious and successful attempt to mimic the European clear-line style of Herge, Swarte, et al., which would seem as far from the "big eyes, small mouths" style as you can get. There's even a dog that's a dead ringer for Snowy. However, the short stories in this collection are not adventures like Tintin's but whimsical fantasy, with characters who live in a house shaped like a coffeepot, meet Santa Claus, ride in a scooter shaped like a duck, and are driven off the road by a shooting star (drawn with five points). On the other hand, several of Kamosawa's protagonists are boys, about ten or eleven years old, who smoke cigarettes. I'm not sure what to make of that. Only about forty pages of this 120-page book are comics per se; the rest are mainly illustrated text pieces in the same style. Four full-color, cryptic, slightly disturbing paintings open the book.

The book is part of a line called "Kawade Personal Comics," which seems to be a Fantagraphics-type operation publishing less commercial works by a variety of artists. (I have a couple of the other books in this line, which I'll get around to describing one day.) It's 118 pages long, and costs 880 yen, which is expensive compared to most Japanese manga, though not to American graphic novels. But it's printed on good paper, is about 6 1/2 by 8 1/4 in dimension (larger than most Japanese manga paperbacks), and is a visually attractive package all round. The publisher's actual name is Kawade Shobohshinsha, and the ISBN is 4-309-72503-1. Here's the book's page on www.amazon.co.jp, for those who can read Japanese. And here's a website devoted to Kamosawa, including a page showing the covers of his books (Midnight Walk is second from the top) and an image gallery.

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