Graphic Novels by Martinson and Wilson & Shimojima on Japan, plus Moore | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 7, 2017

starred review starMartinson, Lars. Tōnoharu. Pt. 3. Pliant: Top Shelf. Dec. 2016. 208p. ISBN 9780980102314. $24.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
tonoharu040717Expats writing about teaching and traveling in Asia: nothing new, but how many of them take years to capture the actual look of their surroundings alongside the expected culture clashes and the feelings of dislocation and loneliness? That’s the story behind writer/illustrator Martinson’s three-volume Tōnoharu, the saga of a young American working in the titular rural Japanese village as an assistant junior high school teacher. This third and final volume features the series’ most dramatic changes in the protagonist’s life, including relationship troubles, language barriers, deaths, and more. Martinson conveys alienation very well, often by placing characters in the lower corners of a panel, separating them from the rest of the content. New readers can start with Part 3, thanks to its summary of the previous two books. Fans will appreciate how the epilog mirrors the prolog, ending the trilogy perfectly.
Verdict Many readers of nonsuperhero comics will want parts one and two to see what they missed. Admirers of Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World will especially enjoy, owing to the similarly melancholy yet never despairing material, seemingly simple but detailed drawings, and black–and–pale blue palette. Some profanity and mature themes; suitable for YA and up. Highly recommended.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Wilson, Sean Michael (text) & Akiko Shimojima (illus.). Black Ships. North Atlantic. Mar. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781623170912. pap. $12.95. HIST
Black Ships (a term used in Japan for foreign vessels arriving in the country in the 16th and 19th centuries) depicts one of the most significant events in modern world history: the discovery of Japan in 1854 by the U.S. Navy under Commodore Matthew Perry. Author Wilson (Secrets of the Ninja) has previously adapted Japanese classic texts and history into the graphic form, including Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, as well as a biography of Musashi. Incorporating Wilson’s knowledge with the illustrations of longtime collaborator and manga artist Shimojima (The 47 Ronin; Cold Mountain: The Legend of Han Shan and Shih Te), this work expertly portrays the clash of cultures that occurred when Perry sailed twice to Japan and how the changes he set into motion fundamentally transformed the country’s past and laid the groundwork for industrialization and the birth of modern Japan.
Verdict Shimojima’s light manga artwork coupled with Wilson’s succinct, well-researched narrative will entice readers both teen and adult into learning about this seminal moment in time that helped to forge a world power.—Alger C. Newberry III, Genesee Dist. Lib., Flint, MI

Moore, Kieron (text) & Rajesh Nagulakonda (illus.). Buddha: An Enlightened Life. Campfire. (Classics). Jul. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9789381182291. pap. $16.99. BIOG
Writer Moore (“Doctor Who” series) and artist Nagulakonda (Krishna: Defender of Dharma) tell the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived and taught between the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. As a young prince, Siddhartha is troubled when he hears of the suffering in the world and sets out to find a way to end it. He travels the land studying various yoga and meditative practices and finding enlightenment determines to share his wisdom with others. He is tempted by demons, gives council to kings, reunites with his family, starts a religious order, and faces betrayal from within. Despite his trials, he is calmly resolute in his quest to spread peace around the globe. This biography has an adventurous, mythic feel yet never strays from relating the central tenets of Buddhism. The art is equally mythic, blending exquisite colors; beautiful, ornate line work; a clean narrative; and expressive characters in a way that evokes distant lands and times without being unfamiliar.
Verdict Those interested in history, mythology, and spirituality, or anyone looking for an introduction to the Buddha and his teachings will enjoy this book.—Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI