Yuichi Yokoyama, writer/artist
PictureBox, October 2008
I love traveling by train, which is good because I’ve done a lot of it over the years: commuting to work from Long Island to Manhattan, traveling up to college in New Haven or down to visit my then-girlfriend in Delaware. Perhaps it’s just these positive associations that feed my affinity for the rails, but thinking about it, I get something out of the journey beyond the destination. A train is an interstitial space, where you can sit for hours in one spot but you’re not actually anyplace, where you move but stand still, where you see parts of the landscape normally as hidden as what you see when you turn your head around on a Disney World attraction to watch the animatronics reset and redeploy for others. Trains are magical.
So is Travel, PictureBox’s second release from Yuichi Yokoyama. I actually like this one better than New Engineering, much better, even. Not because New Engineering wasn’t quite good, because it was–maybe just because what I saw in New Engineering was alien, while Travel, for all its hyperstylization and hilariously deadpan spectacle, is something I can point to and say, “I know this.”
The idea of the book couldn’t be simpler: Three guys get on a train, ride it for a while, then get off. And yes, you read that page count correctly–you’re basically looking at around 180 pages of guys riding on a train. But as with Kevin Huizenga’s Fight or Run, that pared-down parameter gives Yokoyama free reign to indulge in some of the most dynamically staged and inventively drawn comics you’re gonna see all year. The 45 pages or so (!) the guys spend walking through the train to find a seat actually had me laughing out loud after a while, as each fellow passenger they pass looks more and more hysterically taciturn despite their outlandishly detailed clothing and hairstyles, and each attempt to squeeze through a crowded aisle or purchase something in the concession car is depicted from an angle that makes it look like something out of the Wachowski Bros.’ Speed Racer. (That’s a compliment.) When they finally do take their seats, we’re then treated to a tour de force recreation of nearly every possible thing you can see through your window on a train–cities and fields, sun glare and rivulets of rain, parallel trains and passing traffic, our reflection in the window and our reflection in the windows of buildings outside–or inside the train car itself–other passengers walking by, clouds of smoke from cigarettes, another traveler pulling a book out of his jacket to read in a manner so dramatically presented you expect him to whip out a gun and start shooting Colin Ferguson-style.
That something so plotless can remain so gripping for so long is a testament to Yokoyama’s ability to pick unexpected ways to show us everyday things, from the subtle effects of perspective and distortion he can ring out of his simple line to astute use of repetition and slight variation to convey passage through space and time. It’s early yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this near the top of my eventual Best Comics of the Year list. I certainly look forward to rereading it on the train.