A Manga for Experts, Enthusiasts, and the Uninitiated

 

Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma, translated from Japaneses by Kumar Sivsubramanian  and Elizabeth Tiernan. 2005, English edition, 2008. Ponent Mon, edited by Fanfare (U.K.) 194 pp., appended with excerpts of an interview by Miki Tori with the creator.

Question addressed: What do I know of the background of this book – about its author, how it came to be written, or the place where it is set, and so on – that might interest the reader and stimulate their desire to read?

 

Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma is the author’s account of his life in the 1980s and 90s during which he worked and gained acclaim as a manga artist, twice “dropped out” and “lived rough” by himself in the woods and on the streets, did manual labor as a gas pipe fitter, and received long-term treatment at a rehabilitation hospital for his  alcoholism. Although it is a “personal manga” that recounts abject situations, as the interviewer Miki Tori notes, it is told via images and text with a “delicate distancing” that allows humor to carry the reader through the concerning and disturbing undercurrents of its “reality”.

Disappearance Diary and its creator are highly acclaimed in the Japanese manga industry. In 2005, the book won the Grand Prize from the 9th Japan Media Arts Festival Manga Division and the Excellence Prize at the 34th Japan Cartoonists Association Awards. The author, Hideo Azuma, is a revered manga artist who is credited with being the “father of lolicon” a popular if controversial subgenre of manga.

While appreciated by manga experts and enthusiasts, Disappearance Diary is also ideal for readers unfamiliar with manga. Azuma’s interesting, absorbing, funny, and unsettling story is told as manga and is largely about manga. Throughout the book but especially in the second section which covers Azuma’s early years and rise as a manga artist, a reader is almost unconsciously learning about manga, both the industry and its visual language. For example, a reader new to manga learns something about “roughs”, inking, adding backgrounds, editor’s expectations, other artists, subgenres and consumers demands. At the same time, readers are exposed to many of the stylistic and formal aspects of manga. For example, Azuma depicts himself as a “chubby little guy” with one overlarge and hooded eye. Both his “cuteness” and his distinctive eye are aspects of the visual language of manga. Similarly, many of the females in the book are depicted in a “cute and sexy” manner common to a lot of manga and explored/ exploited more fully in the lolicon subgenre. The publication of the English edition of this manga as a left to right read also enables new readers to learn and perhaps become more curious about manga before wrangling with the awkwardness of reading a book from right to left.  

In his introduction, Azuma tells the reader that “This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” Despite Azuma’s cool and distanced look into his life, a sense of his physiological anxiety comes through in the drawings of himself and textual observations. A reader does not come away feeling they now know Azuma. In fact, his story leaves a reader more curious than ever about him (as and artist and person), his wife (how does she put up with him!), and manga.

 

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Pro-Comics Statement by Tom & Eileen

Pro-Comics Statement for a public library supervisor

We believe comics belong in libraries because a diverse range of readers want to read them. Like traditional print books, ebooks, and audiobooks, comics are a format that covers fiction, including genre fiction such as fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and adventure, and, nonfiction, including  biography, memoirs, and narrative nonfiction. The quality of specific comics can be judged using the same professional evaluation standards applied to other library materials, most obviously picture books (fiction and informational), that use text and images to convey meaning to the reader. The American Library Association (ALA)  has recognized excellence in comics with Caldecott, Newbery, Printz and Sibert awards. The comics industry’s Eisner awards recognize excellence in the comics format in a broad range of categories (best artist, best webcomic, best teen comic, etc.) and are respected by comic experts and enthusiasts as well as library professionals. Library and publishing industry journals review comics and routinely include them on general or format specific annual “Best Books” lists.

Library professionals agree that picture books, which convey meaning through text and images, are the fundamental building blocks of the early literacy mission of libraries. To become literate in the twenty-first century, readers of all ages must be able to navigate, interpret and analyze multimodal formats that combine text, visual images and graphic elements (Serafini, 2012). Comics are an impactful component for building multimodal literacy among readers from elementary school through adulthood. The visual components of comics are also a bridge to struggling readers and new or second language learners and can build both literacy skills and confidence. Most importantly, comics can evoke the full range of emotions and satisfaction that defines the reading experience, including  joy, empathy, contemplation, curiosity, and the acquisition of knowledge. Comics are an integral part of well-rounded library collections.

 

References

“Book & Media Awards”, American Library Association, November 30, 1999. http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia (Accessed April 2, 2018) Document ID: 71433187-a9a4-c294-6185-08e41c6ff0d6

Serafini, Frank.(2012). “Reading Multimodal Texts in the 21st Century.” Research in the Schools 19, no. 1: 26-32. http://queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu/docview/1284528261?accountid=13379

 

Facing My Fear of Superhero Comics

Question addressed: What happen to me as I read?

As a reader, I am not a fan of the superhero genre although I do have some basic familiarity with a few of the most popular characters. As a librarian seeking to know more about superhero comics, I feel intimidated. Where do I enter? Which stand-alone volumes, series, or sub-series are essential or pivotal to understanding the characters and storylines? The changing covers, compilations and intermixing of the characters make it difficult for me to determine with confidence where I am in a series or storyline. Library cataloging and shelving practices are not always helpful. Here are some reflections on what happened to me as I read two comics featuring female superheros.   

She-Hulk: Deconstructed, vol. 1 by Tamaki (writer), Leon (artist). Marvel Worldwide, 2017

Fluid artwork and uncluttered text and panel/page design made it easy to enter into the story of the emotionally scarred Jennifer Walters as she tries to resume “normal life” as a lawyer while keeping her She-Hulk persona at bay. The straightforward plot is laced with humor and pathos and Jen’s backstory is alluded to throughout. Still, questions nagged at me as I read: What exactly happened to leave Jen so emotionally damaged? How did Bruce Banner die? Who is Hawkeye? Even though this comic is volume one, I kept wondering if I should have read something else first? After reading this comic, I discovered a short introduction that addressed most of my nagging questions. Unfortunately, this introduction is easily overlook (small text and oddly located on the title/publication information page). If I had read this introduction first, I would have been more confident in my reading and enjoyed the comic more. Obviously, superhero fans do not need this introduction but if attracting new readers is important, relocating this introduction so that it is more conspicuous seems a small concession.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal. Vol. 1  by Wilson (writer), Alphona (artist).  Marvel Worldwide, 2014.

Although I had some familiarity with the basic “Hulk” superhero, I know absolutely nothing about a superhero called “Captain Marvel”. Despite or because of  this ignorance, I never felt bogged down with questions about the backstory of this superhero and its relevance to this Ms. Marvel comic. Also, I could enter this comic with confidence since it is the beginning of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel’s superhero story with the main theme being Kamala claiming this new identity as another component of her multifaceted identity. Kamala emerges as a complex character with a range of emotions surrounded by similarly “realistic” characters. There is not much of a plot but as a series opener it successfully drew me in and made me want to read more. As a librarian, this is a comic that I could recommend with confidence to other newcomers to the superhero genre from early teens through adults.

Censorship: Managing Professional and Personal Convictions

The existence and activities of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) underscores the need for libraries to remain vigilant and ready to counter challenges to comics professionally and quickly. Critchfield and Powell’s (2012) account of a comics challenge orchestrated from within by nonprofessional public library staff is a cautionary tale on many levels but perhaps most importantly on the consequences of losing control of the narrative as it plays out publicly. With the exception of having a challenge policy in place, the Kentucky Library in this account dealt with the challenge professionally, yet the challengers were able to cast themselves to the public as righteous victims of unfairness rather than employees undermining the library’s mission and abusing the responsibilities of their position. Forced to assume a reactive stance, the Library eventually regained control of the narrative but at what longterm cost to community and employee relations? In today’s polarized and sensationalized media climate, losing control of the narrative (facts and emotions) can happen quickly and be exponentially consequential.

In reviewing the CBLDF Case Files of more recent challenges, it is disheartening that legitimate professional dialog can be used to propel challenges based on hate or intolerance. When This One Summer by Tamaki was honored with a Caldecott in 2015, legitimate discussions about the unconventional application of the traditional age range of the target audience for this award became fuel for challenges to this book rooted in an anti-LGBTQ agenda. Of course, librarians and others should embrace passionate professional dialog, but given the history of challenges and censorship associated with the comics medium, framing and keeping positions contextualized is essential. (Note: Just to be clear, I enthusiastically applaud the choice to honor This One Summer with a Caldecott.)

Librarians must also be mindful of self-censorship. Are collection decisions for comics impartially based on budgets, collection needs, and community interest or does a review reference to a controversial subjects depicted visually have an unspoken impact?  When censorship debates emerge, is silence a form of support? Professional librarianship calls upon practitioners to be “against censorship” but it is naive to think that as individuals we will never find ourselves called upon to collect and/or defend materials that we find personally offensive. It is only professional guidelines and practices (and respect for the First Amendment) that prevent us from becoming the “well-intentioned” censors described by Critchfield and Powell (2012). If we step out of our professional role while practicing our profession, we must be honest with ourselves and willingly accept the consequences.

References

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (n.d.) Resources. Retrieved from http://cbldf.org/resources/

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (n.d.) Case Study: This One Summer. Retrieved from http://cbldf.org/banned-challenged-comics/case-study-this-one-summer/

Critchfield, R. & Powell, D.M.(2012). Well-Intentioned censorship is still censorship: The challenge of public library employees. In Valery Nye and Kathy Barco (Eds.), True stories of censorship battles in America’s libraries (pp. 8-13). Chicago: American Library Association.

Librarians Are Part of Support Systems

Why is this book worth my own and the reader’s attention?

Green, K. (2017). Lighter Than My Shadow. St. Louis, Missouri: ROAR.

Understanding and Empathy

In Lighter Than My Shadow, Katie Green gives the reader an intimate look into her experiences with an eating disorder, sexual assault, and recovery. The book is not an informational text and  does not pretend to provide a road map to recovery. Instead, it is a quietly unfolding portrait of the inner and outer world of a young girl growing up with an increasingly serious mental health condition surrounded by mostly supportive people but still vulnerable to ignorance and abuse. The reader will gain a contextualized understanding of an illness and its impact that according the the National Eating Disorders Association is widely misunderstood and underestimated. The reader also builds empathy for Katie and anyone who is beset by this condition and must travel the tortuous road to recovery.

Pictures Do It Better

The comics format, and Green’s delicate monochrome artwork in particular, is suited to conveying the thought processes associated with eating disorders and sexual trauma. The reader can see the Katie’s distorted perceptions of her body, her mental anguish as her head cracks into pieces while she struggles to understand “why she is like this,” and the slow recovery of her memories of the sexual assault on her by a person she trusted. These ethereal renderings of Katie’s inner world enable readers to connect intellectually and emotionally with a depth and immediacy that would be hard to replicate in text alone.

 

Librarians Are Part of Support Systems

Green begins her story with a letter to readers that expresses her regret that there was no book like this for her to “see herself” amidst the confusion and anguish that illness and abuse brought to her struggle to take hold of her identity and life.  While acknowledging that each person’s experience and life circumstances are unique, the author offers a personal testament that recovery may not be easy but it is possible. While this book can provide a moving reading experience to readers ranging from young teens to adults, it speaks directly to those who those who may be the most vulnerable to eating disorders and sexual abuse, as well as their support system in family, friends, school, and community organizations. As librarians, we are also part of this support system and this book also offers us a means to reach patrons that we observe may be struggling to find a path to understanding and recovery for themselves or a loved one. Resources at the end of the book are invaluable, providing authoritative information and options for treatment.  

Introducing Vincent by Barbara Stok to an Adult (Over Fifty) Reader

Questions Addressed: Which would be the most appropriate way of introducing this book to the reader I have in mind?

The Book

Vincent by Barbara Stok is a refreshingly modern, compassionate, at times humorous, look at the impactful period of van Gogh’s life in Arles and St. Remy (1888-1890) where the artist created many of this most iconic works (Sunflowers, Starry Night, Wheatfields). Stok uses primary colors and a simple style of drawing to evoke the highs and lows of the artist driven to create a lasting legacy while succumbing to mental illness. Stok does not try to recreate van Gogh’s paintings but evokes them in the landscapes, interiors, and personalities that comprise the lived life of the artist.

The Reader

Stok’s book can be enjoyed by a range of readers but some familiarity with van Gogh’s art and life is necessary to appreciate the layers of this thought-provoking biography. It is a great candidate for recommendation to older adult readers (over age fifty but not elderly) who are frequent users of library books, read some literary fiction and non-fiction, but never consider reading comics. These readers may be unfamiliar with the range and appeal factors of modern quality comics and retain notions of the medium as frivolous, too difficult to decipher, or simply “not for me”.

The Introduction

Three appeal factors of Vincent can be emphasized when introducing the book to the reader described above: authoritative, accessible, and relatable. Vincent is a well-researched thoughtful biography published in a joint initiative with the van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Well- and lesser-known facts of the artist’s life (struggles with money and mental illness, the “ear” incident, community proceedings to evict him from his beloved yellow house) seamlessly lend authenticity to the narrative. Primary sources are used in the selections from correspondence between van Gogh and his brother Theo. The brevity and simple style of the art and text in this comic make it easy to read. Also, the modern perspective provokes discussions relevant to today’s issues (mental health and family/community responsibility, support of the arts). Finally, conveying  that the comics format of this book provides a uniquely visual view into van Gogh’s world that adds a new dimension to present day experiences of his art, builds a bridge between the reader and the medium. Indeed, who would not be moved by the panel showing a sleepless van Gogh in bed in the room depicted in his much loved painting, Bedroom at Arles.

Stok, B. (2015). Vincent. London: SelfMadeHero.

Book Review: Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost by Keezy Young

 

 

Young, Keezy. Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost. St. Louis, Missouri: The Lion Forge, 2017.

Grade 7 and up. Young brown-skinned Hamal is an exceptional gardener. He also possesses the unusual ability to see and interact with “in- betweeners”, the blue-green ghosts of the dead who still busily but invisibly inhabit the living world. When Hamal meets Blue, the ghost of an impish but tenderhearted young brown man, their fraught friendship belies unspoken love. Then Blue and some of the other ghosts start sporadically disappearing into the Reaper’s dark otherworldly forest and Blue is told that the source of an imbalance between life and death must be dealt with to restore harmony. Reluctantly acknowledging that the trouble stems from Hamal’s extra-gardening abilities, Blue and Hamal devise a plan that puts their relationship in the balance between risk and reward.

Young’s manga-like artwork makes exceptional use of color in the variegated greens and blues with splashes of brightness in a lush living world and the dark greys and stark whites of the necromantic forest. Transitions between the worlds is paced by a series of overlapping horizontal panels receding from light to dark and back again. Edginess in themes are subdued in this sweet paranormal romance where even the faceless Reaper turns out to be more business-oriented than evil. Although some plot points may be under-explained, it is a gentle and engaging read.

This review was written in accordance with School Library Journal’s guidelines.

http://www.slj.com/about-us/guidelines-and-application-for-reviewers/#guidelines