Comics Time: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Moto Hagio, writer/artist
Fantagraphics, 2010
288 pages
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I frequently gasped, out loud, at the beauty of this goddamn thing. Pioneering Japanese girls’-comics artist Moto Hagio is not a world a way from the shoujo artists you might have seen elsewhere; theirs is a shared vocabulary of thin, beautiful women and men who look like their emotions could lift them off the ground. But Hagio’s line is just a little bit fuller, her character designs a little more lived-in, the endings of her stories a less likely either to pull punches or hit you full-force with maudlin tragedy. Most of them remind me of Jaime Hernandez, of all people, in that the force of the narrative is toward the protagonists coming to terms — with the damage done by a cruel mother, with the inspiration that arose unexpectedly from a childhood tragedy, with the sudden loss of a friendship through a shared mistake in judgment, with the death of a hated rival, with a necessary but traumatic decision, with the death of a parent. Or not! Some characters die, some characters are never afforded the rapprochement they seek, and one little girl gets zapped into nothingness by the conformist overlords of her suddenly science-fictional home. Either way it’s the visual journey that counts just as much as the destination, a journey in love with lush gray textures and stippled explosions of light, and in one memorable strip an array of red-based colors from horror-movie-blood red to rusty russet to hot pink, and portrayed through luxurious swooping lines that make the characters they depict look like Precious Moments dolls gone sexy. (A good thing, I promise you!) Each story’s big narrative and emotional moments seem to swell within and explode out of these textures and lines, like they’ve actualized the potential energy there all along. I dunno, I’m probably sounding a little ridiculous — my point is simply that this is the kind of book whose impact comes as much from simply soaking in the images as reading them, like great comics ranging from Kirby to Fort Thunder. Editor Matt Thorn, who also provides a lengthy essay on and interview with Hagio, is also the book’s translator, and he does a magnificent job; I can’t tell you what a relief it is to read manga with none of the clumsy, overly literal sentence constructions that frequently plague even the best and most well-intentioned such projects, ironically thwarting the author’s intended effect in the name of fealty. Really, really fantastic lettering, even — how often can you say that about translated manga? Reads like a dream, looks like a dream.

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