Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mizuki Shigeru: Rabauru senki (1994)

One from the vault:

Mizuki Shigeru 水木しげる. Mizuki Shigeru no Rabauru senki 水木しげるのラバウル戦記 (Mizuki Shigeru's account of the war in Rabaul). 1994. Chikuma Bunko ちくま文庫, 1997.

Kind of a memoir, the truth behind the fictionalized version of his war experiences that he published as Sôin gyokusai seyo! Illustrated, and the illustrations have their own history. The Senki itself is in three parts. The first two parts were drawn right after he got back from the war, and in shape they look like they might have been intended for the kami shibai format. They go chronologically from his arrival on Rabaul, but they don’t go up to the end of the war. As he explains it, he had to stop drawing them and concentrate on making a living. He continues the chronology with some illustrations he’d drawn for a children’s book much later, long after he had established himself. This section takes the story through his wounding up to the end of the war, and the end of the Senki proper. This is followed by a section of sketches he made on the island of Toma, where he was transferred to await demobilization.

The main attraction here is the art. The memoir itself, which sort of sways between trying to explicate each picture as it comes up (they don’t exactly speak for themselves - they’re illustrations, not comics panels) and simply narrating his war experiences, is not as interesting as I’d expected it to be. Partly it's because he’s just not that captivating a prose writer - there’s a certain artless charm to his prose, but it wears thin quickly, and there’s no sense of pacing - and partly it's because the illustrations themselves are of moments, almost idylls most of the time, which makes the verbal memoir kind of static, too.

The art, however, is great. The first two parts of the Senki are in a style very different from what he’d settle on for his comics. Kind of rough - almost impressionistic (I lack the vocabulary to discuss art, I find). Quite evocative. Mostly pencil, some in color. The third part is his mature comics style, but with a level of detail and texture his comics usually dispense with - these are meant to be appreciated slowly, rather than zipped through to get on with the story. The Toma sketches are really, really good - carefully executed sketches made with the limited resources (scrounged paper, hoarded crayon nubs, etc) he had at the time.

Both the narrative and the sketches spend a lot more time than the comic did on his relationship with the natives. He spent a lot of time getting to know the various villagers he was encamped near, and came to really long for their kind of life. This seems to have gone beyond the familiar romanticizing of the simple life of the savage, although that certainly enters into it: he seems to have seriously considered demobbing in Rabaul and just staying there. The villagers offered to set him up with fields, and he says he came this close to accepting.

Anyway, the book is worth it for the art. The writing is good as background info on the art.

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