Back on the other side of the ocean and at the start of a new year, you know the only thing I am doing is going to bookstores, buying books, and then reading the books I buy. (And eating vegan ramen. It is my only love outside of books.) So within perhaps hours of my plane touching down at Haneda, I was fondly running my eyes over shelves of books that I have not yet read. Most of the things I’ve picked up so far have been the latest volume in ongoing series that I’m reading, like the new Deathco or Lady & Old Man, but I’ve grabbed a couple stand-alone books, like this weird BL about dentists, which is a first for me. (But I have translated BL about accountants, so I guess no dull profession is off limits in BL?) But the book that pushed a gasp of delight out of my mouth when I spotted it among the new releases was Uto Sousou by Takehito Moriizumi.
I have raved about Moriizumi a couple times before, but I am compelled to do it again. And again and again until someone listens to me and publishes his work in English already. (And hires me to do it; that is always the extra condition there.) He is doing work that is so utterly original and bafflingly beautiful, not just compared with other comics in the Japanese market, but any comics that I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been stumped by how he creates the images that filled the pages of his previous work, strange semi-watercolors that look like wood cuts. It turns out a lot of that work was done with water to which ink was added on the page, a process I cannot even begin to understand, but Uto is surprisingly easy to figure out. He drew the whole book in pencil. It’s amply clear from the pages themselves that these are pencils line drawings (or perhaps pastel), but just in case you don’t get it, the afterword by film director Nobuhiko Obayashi (who, in an unexpected twist, is Moriizumi’s father-in-law) spells it out for the reader: the book is done in 8B pencil. Moriizumi made a small dot on the blank page and then moved out with his line. Until he had fifteen short stories to put into a book. Continue reading
It’s like the powers-that-be in the world of Japanese publishing know what I want before I have even seized upon those nebulous desires myself. Even as I was remarking that I would love to see Moriizumi’s work in a beautiful slim hardback of some kind, that very book actually existed in the world, unbeknownst to me! I am truly the luckiest of readers. And yet I avoided this good fortune of mine. I would see this lovely edition in the shops, but be put off by its size (closer to magazine than book, awkward for stuffing into shoulder bags). “I don’t want to have to drag that home,” I would say to myself. “I’ll pick it up later.” Until finally, in my last days in Tokyo at the end of the year, I came across it once more. With my flight only days away, I knew there was no more “later”.
And it wasn’t just the size I was struggling with. The idea of adaptations of “classic” works was somewhat off-putting to me. I will always prefer original works over adaptations, and a volume of adaptations of stories by old white dudes (plus one old Japanese dude who occupies the same place of privilege in his society as the white dudes do in theirs) was especially uninteresting. My patience for stories by and for people occupying the most privileged ranks of their societies is threadbare. I have read and loved many of those manly authors (we all know how dear to my heart D.H Lawrence is), but I have been forcefed those stories for my entire life. Given a choice, I would much rather hear stories from other perspectives. Like Nigerian-American sci-fi fantasy! Continue reading
Last year, while living my Tokyo comics life, I ended up sitting across from Moriizumi at an izakaya. Tokyo might be one of the biggest cities on the planet, but you run into people there in the weirdest ways. I was at a manga event with fellow manga friends and in the course of moving through the evening, we ended up at an izakaya, as one often does at some point in a Tokyo night. Coincidentally, one of my manga friends had mentioned Moriizumi’s latest book earlier in the evening, and no doubt this title would have gone in one ear and out the other had we not met the man later. I felt bad that I hadn’t read any of his work or even heard of him until a couple hours before. I am a manga professional; I’m supposed to be up on these things. But, you guys, there are a lot of people making manga in this country. I can’t keep track of them all.
So everyone ate chicken and other izakaya food that I can’t eat (oh, lonely vegetarian), and talked and drank. Moriizumi seemed like an interesting, thoughtful kind of guy, so I made a mental note to check out his comics at some point. (Artists, take note! If you are a nice person to hang out with, you can make people curious about your work!) And then of course, I forgot all about that note and read a gazillion other books. You know that last part already if you have been following the battles of my brain over this last year. Continue reading