Tag Archives: graphic novel

The Boxer – Reinhard Kleist / Pyongyang – Guy Delisle

The Boxer – Reinhard Kleist

The Boxer - Reinhard Kleist

The Boxer is another recent release by SelfMadeHero which I acquired soon after Vincent by Barbara Stok (which tells the partial life story of Vincent Van Gogh). The Boxer tells the true story of Harry Haft, a Polish who as a 16 years old was taken to Auschwitz. He was then fighting and surviving as a boxer, serving to amuse the German officers. It is clear to him, and to us readers quite early on, that to win the boxing matches was a complex choice, as the losers often, if not always, got killed soon after.

Though lots of literature and films have taken the subject of holocaust, I don’t think I have ever heard any surviving as a boxer, so the book piqued my interest. It’s interesting to learn about the untold stories, the minor paths that some people have taken. At the end of the book, there are a few pages of article titled “Boxing in concentration camps”: “For decades, these men were forgotten about, almost as though they had never existed. Journalists and historians have now started compiling information about some of the boxers…”

Half of the book was set in the camp, and the second half after the camp. Sadly, life after camp for Harry was almost as difficult as most of his family died and he set on a journey to find the girl he loved in America. The drawing is all in black and white, and at times felt harsh and cold, in many ways illustrating what Harry went through. So it was really unexpected when I teared up at the end. I thought the ending was especially profound.

Mee’s Rating: 4/5

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea – Guy Delisle

Pyongyang - Guy Delisle

I have a weird fascination about North Korea. I’ve been to DMZ (the South and North Korean border), I’ve read Nothing to Envy, and I’ve been wishing to visit the hermit country for a while now. In Pyongyang graphic novel, Guy Delisle tells of his experience living in the capital for a few months as a lead animator for work outsourced by his French company to a team in Pyongyang.

I have read many articles about the situation in Pyongyang and what you would find when you visit as tourist e.g. can’t go anywhere without a guide, how the city looks so empty and artificial, how so much part of the city is without electricity including the hotels the foreigners stay in, the godlike status of Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il, and so on — and these are all in the book as well. If you know very little about North Korea, many things in Pyongyang will surprise you, even for me I still find them informative, and not less fascinating!

This is the first book I read by Guy Delisle, and I’ll be looking out for more for sure. I love his simplistic illustration style. I look forward to reading his books on Burma, Shenzhen (China), and his latest: Jerusalem.

Mee’s Rating: 4.5/5

 

The Rest of the First Half of 2014

I believe I’m getting my reading groove back. Not to the level of my highest record in 2009 with 57 books (I wasn’t working in the first half of the year then), but hopefully to a decent level, relatively decent, considering my meager record in the past few years.

I also intend to take more time in writing my thoughts again about the books I’ve read. I haven’t been doing very well on this, again in the past few years. I won’t do book-per-book review as religiously as before, but I realized how important it is to step back and formulate my thoughts about what I read, and write at least a little about them. Pause, step back, think, write, instead of reading reading reading like an unstoppable train (!?). No matter how much impression you get out of a book, no matter how you think you’d remember it forever, you do forget. At times I even have a hard time remembering books that I read in the same year.

So I will try to write more when I can, but when I can’t, I’ll have a quick rundown like this post. Here are the books that I’ve read in the first half of the year but have not got the spotlight:

Murder on the Orient Express — Agatha Christie

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Christie-Agatha-9780062073501

I’m never a fan of detective stories, and I’ve only read 2 Agatha Christie books in the past, way way back in Indonesia, when I was in high school. I remember liking them, but I was just never compelled to read more, even though there were tons of Christie’s books in my library, rows and rows of her black books.

I spotted Murder on the Orient Express on Kindle daily deal, and I was traveling in Turkey at the time, so it was the perfect time to devour this one. As you might know, the Orient Express was a long distance train running from London to Istanbul (discontinued in 2009). I can’t imagine the more perfect timing, reading it in Turkey, and possibly also on my flight back to London. I love how I really got all the geography references in the book (including Syria where the train started).

The story itself was quite enjoyable. There is a murder of course, then the train breaks down, leaving everyone trapped with a murderer. Hercule Poirot is on the case, having to weed the culprit out of the twelve passengers in the carriage. I could not guess the murderer, but I don’t read a lot of detective stories.

This is London — Miroslav Sasek

this-is-london-cover

This picture book by Czech M. Sasek was absolutely delightful. It was first published in 1959, and there’s a whole series done by the same author (This is Britain, This is Paris, This is Rome, This is New York, etc) which I’m keeping my eyes on. I absolutely adore the illustrations. Such a great classic.

Fun Home — Alison Bechdel

Fun home cover

Fun Home is an autobiography in graphic novel format (really, my favorite type of biography, and my favorite type of graphic novel), about how Alison deals with her father’s closeted homosexuality, and eventually her own.

This book is a good example of me forgetting, and it wasn’t even that long ago. I’d been wanting to read Fun Home forever, and finally did. I remember it as being quite dense and complex with lots of literary and philosophy references. I liked it, but wonder now if it’s because I felt like I had to, or because I really did.

Things Fall Apart — Chinua Achebe

things fall apart

I’d also been meaning to read Things Fall Apart for ages, and was glad when I finally got to it. There’s is always a kind of trepidation when facing a classic giant, as the book is often put forward as the epitome of African writing and colonialism, amongst many others. I was so relieved to find that I absolutely enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The central character of the story is Okonkwo, a revered man in a small village in Nigeria. He has three wives (and many children) living in three separate huts with his hut in the middle, at the entrance to the compound. He is very proud to the fact that he is a “self-made man”, that he gets to where he is by working hard, unlike his father who is poor and therefore he considers weak.

About half of the book tells of the day to day life of Okwonko, his family, and the people in his village. There’s a folktale quality to the book, and I felt like I was told a really good tale. You may be ready to judge Okwonko at the beginning (e.g. three wives, tough man persona), but soon you would start to see things from his perspective. By the end of the book, I really felt for him, and I’m not giving anything away, but let’s just say I was deeply, deeply sad and disturbed by the end of the book. The ending was very profound.

Oscar Wilde: The Complete Short Stories — Oscar Wilde

oscar wilde complete short stories

I read the Happy Prince and other stories (e.g. The Nightingale and the Rose, the Selfish Giant, etc) last year, and finally got to finish the entire collection in the book this year. I love them, I love them all. The more I read Oscar Wilde, the more my love is reaffirmed. No matter whether they are detective stories, fairy tales, more adult fairy tales, or a ghost story, I loved them all.

There’s one story titled The Portrait of Mr W. H. about the characters’ obsessive attempt to find out about the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (the Mr W. H.). It was the first time for me to hear about this dedication and I’m not even familiar with Shakespeare in general, and yet I was so engrossed in the story.

Thanks to the Hear, Read This! podcast (a monthly bookclub podcast) that gave me the push to finish this collection. A bit sad that there’s no more short stories of Oscar Wilde for me to read, but I really look forward to getting to Dorian Gray and his plays.

 

Spring Catchup Post

Once again this blog was seemingly abandoned for a while, but I actually have been blogging bookish things at my travel blog Wandering Mee, so here are some links:

When in Spring, Go See Plays: After my last post about “We are Proud to Present..” play, I went to another two. One was particularly bookish.

Reading the World: I am renewing my Reading the World project, in which I attempt to read at least one book from each country from the UN list. In particular, I’d like to concentrate on the countries I have visited, but yet to read, and at the moment they are: Spain, Austria, Turkey, and Morocco. (I also need to fill in Greece and Switzerland, but am finding these two to be difficult. I can only think of Heidi for Swiss author/setting.)

84 Charing Cross Plaque: in which I finally found the plaque, three years after I arrived in London.

Apart from those, I have also “recently” (if your definition of recent could be, say, 2 months ago) went to two bookish events.

The first was Penguin Bloggers Night 2014 in March at Foyles bookshop. Apparently this was the 4th time Penguin held such event, and it was my first time joining (or being invited). I met a couple of bloggy friends (Jackie, Sakura) and we were all treated to a night of reading by authors like: Will Self, Rebecca Hunt, Nina Stibbe. There was a promise of Ali Smith but she was held off by last minute thing.

One of the most exciting thing was how there were two tableful of books for us to take any that we fancied, and they even provided a tote bag. I went a bit berserk and got meeself a proper haul.

Penguin Bloggers Night books

 

The second one was more properly recent. I went to European Literature Night at British Library on 14 May for the European Graphic Novelists. There was talk, reading (yes, reading from graphic novels, complete with drawings on the projector), and even a bit of drawing. I absolutely loved it. European graphic novels are such a breath of fresh air, everything from the subject matter and the style is completely different to the dark brooding super-heroic American style.

The graphic novelists for that night were Belgian Judith Vanistendael (Dance by the Light of the Moon, When David Lost His Voice), German Line Hoven (Love Looks Away), Spanish Max (Bardin the Superrealist), and Czech Lucie Lomová (The Savages). Some of them have yet to be translated to English, and hope they will be soon. It didn’t miss my observation too that three out of four graphic novelists were women! <3

During Q&A session, all of them agreed that comic is really a labour of love, as it really does not make much money, and most of them, if not all, have to do illustration or design jobs, for the main income I assume. Oh I also need to mention that the host Paul Gravett was absolutely entertaining – which made me want to go look for his books (about comics, graphic novels, and manga).

The ticket included the highly advertised Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition (a good deal!) so I went straight for it downstairs. It featured works by various artists across different eras (including Neil Gaiman and lots of Alan Moore, but  I thought they weren’t the most interesting parts of the exhibition). Lots of the works were quite old, and some of them could be quite shocking seen from our modern lens (think racism, sexism, and violence). The V (as in V for Vendetta) manequins scattered all around the exihibition added to the creepiness of it all. I found the exhibition to be highly informative and entertaining, and recommend you to go for it (open until 19 August 2014).

I have also been reading, and the blog needs to catch up. Stay tune!

 

Vincent by Barbara Stok

Vincent_Graphic_Novel

Ever since I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, I have a little fascination for Vincent Van Gogh, as an artist and as a man. As an artist his brush strokes are unusual, and as a man his life story is probably even more so.

There’s a huge difference in seeing paintings in person, compared to seeing them on computer screens or books. I must’ve seen many Van Gogh paintings before, but they were just brimming outside my peripheral vision. Until I saw them in person, and really looked — so many of them too as the whole Van Gogh museum is full of his paintings. I think I can now recognize his paintings no matter when and where I see them in the world. And I got to learn about his fascinating life on the side.

vincent-for-blog-1

Vincent graphic novel by Barbara Stok tells part biography of Vincent when he resided in Provence, France, in the town of Arles, and later Saint-Rémy when he admitted himself to the asylum. I find that the simple illustrations with bold colors and black outlines interesting choice to illustrate biography of Van Gogh, but it is very effective, as style that is too similar with the artist’s might get distracting I imagine. There’s very little text in the book, most of which are the letters between Vincent and his brother Theo – I assume they’re taken from real life records.

The life of Vincent Van Gogh that I knew was turbulent and sad, including the cutting of one’s ear and suicide by shooting himself. The graphic novel on the other hand, takes Vincent’s life in a very positive way, highlighting his gentle relationship with his brother, and Vincent’s passion about his art. His relationship with artist friend Paul Gauguin was also touching. Stok chose to end the book on a high note and not dwell on the dark aspects of Vincent’s life.

I had warm fuzzy feelings after reading this book, that life is colorful and that spending all one’s life for something one believes in is satisfying in many ways, and that everything will be okay at the end (Van Gogh was poor and hardly accepted as an artist when he’s alive, and his paintings only took off after his death). It may not be the whole truth, but it’s not a bad way to see things too. I personally loved this take on the life of Van Gogh, Vincent.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Barbara Stok on working on Vincent

Thank you SelfMadeHero for the review copy! I love checking their catalogue and am especially fond of their Art Masters series featuring Rembrandt and Vincent, with Picasso and Dalí coming out in the future. I LOVE Dalí — I wrote on my travel blog about the time when I visited Dalí museum in Figueres, Spain.

 

Barbara-Stok_Self-Portrait

Understanding Comics – McCloud / Princess of Mars – Burroughs

Nearing the end of October, I got a sudden panicky feeling that the year almost ends. Two months! Plans made at the beginning of the year all went out the window, and think of all the books you don’t get around to read this year – some you have planned to since years ago! And so year after year we’d be pondering over the same thing, that there’s not enough time in the world to read all the books you want to read. But I’m going to leave my full year of reflection for the first post next year, as always.

For now, two books, one I super loved, one was a meh. I’ll start with the Love.

Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud was the book I’ve been meaning to read for years. In fact, it was published in 1994, so really quite old already. I started knowing about it after this blog, so that’s only in 2007.

And just a second ago I realized that Bookie Mee is now SIX years old! OMG.

Since I haven’t been blogging much for a while though, I’m just going to let that slip by quietly. It still surprises me how long this blog has gone on. And how I feel still connected to the whole book community in the Internet, even though I have stepped far back. Will I keep this blog as long as I’m still reading? Only time can tell.

Back to Understanding Comics, I wonder why it took me so long to read it. It is the most thorough the most informative book on understanding comics (I haven’t read Eisner’s book on the topic, will do that next), that I’d highly recommend it to both people who love comics and those who misunderstand comics.

Comic has suffered long enough as a “low art” form, and people should start seeing it as what it is, a media, not a genre. You can use any media to convey your ideas, to express your creativity and views of the world. What you say is the content of the medium. So for example if you don’t like super-hero comics, it doesn’t mean you hate comics as the media (or I hope you don’t), you just don’t like the content. You can still like comics with other contents.

The book covers history of comics and comparison between American, European, and Japanese comics (which I’m especially happy for – since I grew up with Japanese and European comics). Also covered is how to read comics or how to understand comics. Many of these come very intuitively for me, but I grew up reading comics. From talking to a few people who have not grown up reading comics, apparently it may not come intuitively – which I found very interesting, and it may be the things that put them off.  (The same with playing games. If you don’t grow up with it, it may not come intuitively for you.) If you’re one of them, this book is such a great way to “teach” you to read comics. Also have I told you that it is all told in comic form? — comics as in combination of text and pictures. It is so much fun!

5 out of 5 stars! I finally read this with the nudge from Comic Books and Graphic Novels course on coursera.org.

princes of mars

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

In the effort to finish the Fantasy and Science Fiction course on, again, my-favorite-online-course-platform-on-the-planet coursera.org, I read Princess of Mars. On a side note, did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan? That was a nice discovery.

I watched the movie adaptation John Carter when it was out. Kind of enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of it. It was done by Disney so it felt Disney-ish…? (doh) The book though is somewhat an important pillar in the history of FSF, as it is a pioneer in inter-galactic, or in this case inter-planet (Earth and Mars), romance. Could this be a seed of Star Wars? It started the rise of pulp fiction, and one of Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.

The book was readable, but overall it was just meh for me. With John Carter as hero and his adventures to save the princess of Mars, slaying aliens, it all felt too boy-ish. I don’t remember much about the movie, but it seems to capture the book quite well (was thinking to re-watch it after reading, but naah…).

This time, watch the movie, skip the book.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

Mee’s Summer Reading 2013

Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!

Books Read

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818,  4/5)

I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.

metamorphosis

Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)

Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!

The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)

An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.

don quixote comic

Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)

As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.

Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)

What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)

It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.

The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)

Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.

In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.

A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)

I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.

C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently

moreau.jpg

The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)

In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.

ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.

Short Stories

Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike,  more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.

I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.

Currently Reading

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)

Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.

On the Pipe

I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.

I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.

 

Oishinbo: Vegetables by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

oishinbo vegetables

In this volume of Oishinbo the topic of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer is very prevalent throughout. Organic grown vegetables is the way to go. Which is all nice and everything, but I’m not sure if it’d change my grocery shopping habit. I find it hard to justify the double or triple price of organic food for daily consumption. Occasionally, maybe. Or if I cook only for myself, not for a bunch of family members who eat a whole lot more than me and may not appreciate the whole organic thing price-wise.

Perhaps I should read more on this topic?

4 stars
2009, 268pp

This month’s task for Hello Japan is about Japanese cooking. Contrary to the lack of cooking post in Bookie Mee, I actually love to cook (who doesn’t if you love to eat?!). And Japanese is my favorite type of cooking, at home or outside. Will try to post something else before the end of the month, but if not, I have this post for submission :).

bacon wrapped asparagus

Bacon wrapped asparagus yakitori. My favorite! Yum! (photo source)

My next Oishinbo is Izakaya: Pub Food which I’m currently reading. I’ve committed to reading the whole series and only have a few more to go!

More in the series (links to my reviews):
Oishinbo a la Carte 1: Japanese Cuisine
Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake
Oishinbo a la Carte 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Oishinbo a la Carte 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Oishinbo a la Carte 5: Vegetables (this post)
Oishinbo a la Carte 6: The Joy of Rice
Oishinbo a la Carte 7: Izakaya: Pub Food

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Oishinbo (美味しんぼ, lit. “The Gourmet”) is a long-running cooking manga published between 1983 and 2008, but only in 2009 it is published in English in thematic compilation volumes (7 volumes so far), which means they contain “best of the best” and do not follow the original manga chronological order. There are a few minor storylines that jump forward and back. But I guess in the big picture of things, it does not matter that much, because the food is really the central of excitement!

The big question throughout this volume is What constitute real Japanese cuisine? What menu is essentially Japanese? In Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine we learn more about sashimi, rice, and green tea. (I love sashimi. I can keep eating sashimi if it’s not so expensive!) There are different cuts of sashimi, different fish (obviously), and even different way of “cooking” it, one of them with a complex method of using a special type of rice paper and pouring boiled water over the rice paper and the skin side of the fish so that only the skin is cooked, not the flesh. Definitely not something you can do at home! Then there’s one chapter about cooking rice competition. It’s later revealed that the winner hand-picks the rice so they are all the same size and cooked evenly at the same time. Talking about serious cooking!

So yes they can go a bit over the top, although are seemingly realistic at the same time. As a foodie, I just found it a joy to read a book that treats food with so much respect. The green tea ceremony at the end of this volume was a nice closure that reflects how respectful the Japanese are.

sashimi

delightful sashimi (source)

4.5 stars
2009, 272 pp

The volumes in this series (links to my review):
Oishinbo a la Carte 1: Japanese Cuisine (current post)
Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake
Oishinbo a la Carte 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Oishinbo a la Carte 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Oishinbo a la Carte 5: Vegetables
Oishinbo a la Carte 6: The Joy of Rice
Oishinbo a la Carte 7: Izakaya: Pub Food

A rather late shout for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge IV which runs until the end of January 2011. I’m not sure if I get a chance to read a Japanese novel before the end of January (so far I’ve read only manga), but I’ll try!

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

mouse guard fall 1152

I am never a fan of war stories. I avoid them like a plague. I don’t exactly hate them, just have very little to no interest in them. Unfortunately war stories with mice made little difference to me, as Mouse Guard was far from rocking my boat.

The illustration is very beautiful and the mice super cute that I could enjoy it as a picture book. But the mice look so much alike with each other that it’s almost impossible to distinguish them if not for the fur colours, and the storyline somewhat choppy (on top of it being a traditional war story to begin with). At times I wasn’t sure who was who doing what at what time. It also bothered me that the actions were not drawn to simulate movements (no action lines or blurry ends for speed). The images are far too clean. Stillness instead of excitement, which is the complete opposite of exaggerated movements and emotions in manga. I once mentioned my observation of “static” drawing that I often found in Western graphic novels or comics, and the weakness couldn’t be more emphasized in what is supposed to be full-action comic like Mouse Guard.

Overall, I was underwhelmed. Mouse Guard is part of a series and I don’t think I’m rushing to get to the next book. Recommended if only for the illustration, but don’t expect too much for anything else.

3.5 stars
2007, 176 pp

Challenges
Graphic Novels Challenge 2010

Also reviewed by
In Spring it is the Dawn
| Sasha & the Silverfish

The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

The Push Man - Yoshihiro Tatsumi

This must be the bleakest graphic novel/manga I have ever read. I was intrigued when I saw this copy at Sydney Japanese Foundation Library. The book is designed and edited by Adrian Tomine (whose Shortcomings I have yet to read), and includes Tomine’s introduction.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is known as “the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics”. In 1957, he coined the term gekiga to differentiate the gritty, naturalistic style of cartooning he helped pioneer from that of the more commercial, youth-oriented manga. From the Introduction by Tomine:

“As plans for this translation project began to get off the ground, it soon became apparent that a comprehensive reprinting of Tatsumi’s work would be literally impossible. With a career spanning from the 1950s to the present day, and with a work ethic that yielded up to twelve pages in a week (and, with the help of assistants, fifty pages in one night!), Mr. Tatsumi has produced a mind-bogglingly immense body of work. So this will be a selective survey of his best work, beginning, at Mr. Tatsumi’s request, with the year of 1969. Our hope is to release one volume per year, each focusing on a single year in Mr. Tatsumi’s career.”

Yoshihiro TatsumiSo Push Man and Other Stories is Tatsumi’s best-of collection from 1969. It contains slice-of-life portrait of grim life of Japanese working class (or what they literally call “salary-man”). The stories were originally published in a bi-weekly magazine called Gekiga-Young, a minor young men’s magazine with limited print runs. Tatsumi was only given 8 pages per issue because he had no reputation as a manga artist at the time. So most of the stories in this collection (16 altogether), except for a couple, are super short. Too short in fact that I found myself flying through the pages, hungry for more. I read this thick volume in almost one sitting, almost unheard of me.

Going back to my impression at the beginning of the post, the book is surprisingly grim, with numerous sexual elements and violence, “both refreshing and unsettling” according to Tomine, to which I have to agree. The illustration style is very simple. The main character is always a man, who almost looks the same in all the stories, and eerily, rarely talks, which makes the underlying silent resignation from and frustration of life strongly resonate throughout the book. The title story is about a pushman (you know how in Japan they have official pushers to push people into the overcrowded trains?). Many, if not all, of the stories revolve around hopelessness of everyday’s life and often end in death, murder, or suicide.

There’s an interview with the author at the end of the book and when asked about his influences in general that had a significant impact of his work, Tatsumi answered police reports and other human interest articles in papers, and that he hardly read any manga. Little wonder then that reading this book almost feels like reading crime newspaper, full with events and crimes that are hard to believe, but you know they must be happening somewhere in the society. The stories are highly unsettling, but really addictive. I likened it to watching a train-wreck. You know it’s horrible and probably haunts you for a while, but you can’t look away.

a drifting lifeI think it needs a lot of courage to produce this kind of work and I commend Tatsumi for that. He himself doesn’t feel very secure however, noting at the end of the interview “I myself am a very normal person. Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author’s personality.” I’d be worried too if I were him. I mean I don’t even dare to summarize you the stories. If you’re curious, Drawn Quarterly, the publisher, provides one complete story as a preview (click the pdf file on the side), so you can check that out.

The Push Man and Other Stories is quintessentially Japanese, the darker, perverse side of it that is. Recommended for the freshness, the boldness, and the absurdity of it all. But the sensitive and the faint of heart must stay away. Will I read more Tatsumi’s works? Uum.. YES. I’m dying to read A Drifting Life, his massive 800+ page autobiography (in comic form, of course).

4 stars
1969 (Japanese), 2005 (English), 202 pp

Pushman and Other Stories is included in Time’s Top Ten List for Comics.
Star interview for 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival
About.com 3 pages interview (also at 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival)

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #9)

Have you read the book or Tatsumi’s other books? Let me know!

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