Free to a good home: Japan

Fanfare/Ponent Mon has re-offered Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, a marvelous anthology of short works by Japanese and European comic artists. To observe the occasion, I’m going to give away a copy of this great book.

Here’s what Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon had to say about Japan in his weekly “This Isn’t a Library” round-up:

“I don’t know why this is being offered again now, and don’t know of any length of time that this anthology of nouvelle manga wasn’t available, but it’s a killer line-up, a nice concept (manga creators doing places they live; French creators doing places they visit), it’s consistently attractive, and has to be one of the seminal books of the last decade. Like if you wanted to portray 2006 in shorthand, this is one of the comics you put beside your character’s bed.”

And here’s Jog’s take over at Comics Comics:

“I don’t usually mention items Diamond happens to be ‘offering again’ on a given week, since I probably somehow covered them the first time, but I think I’ll make a big, big exception for this excellent 2006 Fanfare/Ponent Mon anthology, unfortunately somewhat notorious for being hard to track down. No more! Probably the most expansive example of participant/co-editor Frédéric Boilet’s notion of nouvelle manga, the project devotes its 256 b&w pages to eight stories from residents of Japan about the area in which they live or come from, and eight stories from French visitors about areas they are assigned to visit. A big storm happens to arrive while the French artists are traveling, affording their contributions an extra linkage.”

So here’s the drill: to enter, simply send me an e-mail mentioning a comic or graphic novel from anywhere in the world that you’d like to see published in English. Nation of origin doesn’t matter, just the desire to be able to hold a translated version in your hands. Of course, not everybody’s first language is English, so if you’d like to see a comic or graphic novel translated from English (or any other language) to your language of choice, that’s obviously fair game.

You must be 18 or older to enter. I’m perfectly willing to ship internationally, though it will be cheap, and it will be slow, so I’m just warning you right now. Deadline for entries is 12 noon Eastern Standard Time Sunday, May 9, 2010, and entries should be sent to DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com. The winner will be chosen at random and receive a copy of Japan.

After the jump is a Flipped column I wrote on the book for Comic World News in March of 2006.


Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) is spectacular. It’s almost certain to be one of the best books of 2006.

How could it have been otherwise? Frédéric (Yukiko’s Spinach) Boilet has assembled some of the finest comics creators in the world (eight from Japan, nine from France) to share their varied perspectives on Japan.

If it sounds a bit like a travelogue or a class assignment (you have 10 to 16 pages to capture a culture… go!) it isn’t. There were no apparent constraints on the participants, other than that their contributions be inspired by their settings (eight cities positioned along the length of the archipelago).

And there are no constraints in the work that results, which runs from autobiography to slice of life to fable. Japan provides a canvas, but it’s ultimately about what the creators bring to the experience. Their contributions are varied and wonderful – funny, troubling, absurd, expansive, precise, and moving, by turns.

One of the greatest pleasures of the book is the opportunity to “meet” creators for the first time. I was prepared for the artistry of Kan (Kinderbook) Takahama, Joann (The Rabbi’s Cat) Sfar, and Jiro (The Walking Man) Taniguchi, but I was particularly thrilled to be introduced to participants like Kazuichi (Doing Time) Hanawa, Fabrice (Journal) Neaud, Moyoko (Happy Mania) Anno, and Aurélia (Angora) Aurita.

Aurita’s piece, “Now I Can Die!”, is a real marvel. It’s simultaneously exuberant, crude, and perfectly structured. Aurita plays with time, moving backwards through her stay in Tokushima as new experiences mingle with her oldest memories. She renders herself in a joyfully chibi fashion while playing straight with her surroundings. Past and present and reality and fantasy intersect in fresh and wonderful ways.

A concrete sense of place combines with a meandering, generous spirituality in Hanawa’s “In the Deep Forest.” The story follows a simple hike from a temple to the mountaintop above it, with musings on faith, nature, and hope. Hanawa’s illustrations are beautiful, and his perspective is compassionate and expansive.

Anno’s “The Song of the Crickets” is a sweet, simple meditation on a shared sensory experience. It’s almost too simple, but the pictures are so absorbing and the composition is so lovely that you’re drawn in anyways. Boilet does something similar with “In Love Alley,” a couple’s captured moment framed in a walk down a Tokyo street. The mundane mixes with the erotic as Boilet’s focus draws closer to the duo.

I’m particularly desperate to see more work from Neaud after reading “The City of Trees.” As Neaud explores Sendai, seeing its sights and eavesdropping on its people, he peppers his narrative with flashes of his inner life. Experiences can unexpectedly call to mind bits of his own pain or heighten his sense of isolation. But they can also please and soothe him. It’s three-quarter travelogue, one-quarter confessional, all rendered with a wonderful eye for detail.

There are playful pieces in Japan, and they’re charming in varied ways. David Prudhomme creates a fable about missing shoes in “The Gateway.” François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters combine conventional travelogue with absurdist social commentary in “Osaka 2034,” filled with clever observations on class, consumerism, and the abiding power of low culture.

Nicolas de Crécy’s “The New Gods” examines the power of pop culture in a different but equally imaginative way, cramming his pages with consumer sensory overload and human foibles. Little Fish’s wordless “The Sunflower” is a precise mini-parable about the place of nature in an urban landscape.

And what about the known quantities? Takahama kicks things off with “At the Seaside,” another of her emotionally precise but deeply felt meditations on love and ambivalence. Taniguchi’s breathtakingly detailed visuals beautifully serve “Summer Sky,” a tale of unexpected love penned in by cultural mores and expectations.

Having reveled in Sfar’s playful, humanistic The Rabbi’s Cat, I found “Waterloo’s Tokyo” to be a real surprise, though not an entirely pleasant one. It’s a scathing walking tour of cultural stereotypes, eastern and western. They’re presented largely without comment as Sfar records the observations of his friend, a Frenchman who has moved to Tokyo and married a Japanese woman. The counterpoint between Sfar’s endearing visuals and the rather ugly sentiments on display is certainly effective, but it’s a troubling piece. Still, it fits – like the rest of the contributors Sfar is using his unique skills as a creator to capture a mood or moment.

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is everything an anthology should be, with diverse and impressive talents exploring a shared subject that still provides them with all the space and inspiration they could need. Each piece is effective in its own way, and their collective artistic power is really, truly spectacular.

Now, if Boilet could only be convinced to do a companion piece, France as viewed by the same 17 creators. They could do a world tour, and I would happily join them for every destination.