Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Library Recommendations: Wandering Son

The School of Visual Arts Library is a sanctuary for students and comics lovers. While it's easy to get caught up in our work, it's important that we take advantage of this great resource to find inspiration, get a new perspective on our work, and to take a break and remember why we're working so hard. Join us as the Cartoon Allies recommend stories in our library that captivate and inspire us in these semi-regular Library Recommendations.

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako (published in the U.S. by Fantagraphics) is one of my favorite Japanese comics, and I can safely say it has contributed in changing my life.  The sensitive, well-paced, and down-to-earth storytelling coupled with Shimura's simple yet effective art only touch the surface of the reasons why you should pick up Wandering Son for an afternoon browse. 

Before I explore how much I love the art style and the characters in this series, I’d like to take a moment to mention how much I appreciate the effort Fantagraphics has put into publishing Wandering Son. The story is well-deservedly published with a beautiful spot-glossed hardcover in an oversized format; its larger than average printing helps the artwork's subtleties shine, while Fantagraphics treats the release with the same sophistication it does its Western comics. The book's editing offers many translation and cultural notes which target an audience new to reading manga, without assuming a patronizing tone that could shun other readers. My only complaint with this localization regard a few typos I encountered in the dialogue. The importance of Wandering Son matches the attention given to its presentation.

The book opens up to gorgeous colors from the character introduction, contents, and opening pages, Shimura’s gentle gradient watercolors bringing the reader into Wandering Son’s atmosphere right from the start.

Wandering Son follows Nitori Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Takatsuki Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy.  They are drawn to each other and form a friendship that helps guide them through finding their own identities and confirming who they want to be. 

The storyline is relatively low-drama, but by no means boring.  The reader is sometimes led into the mind of Shuichi and his thoughts and daydreams as he interacts with his fellow classmates as well as a couple other special people he meets outside of school.  All of the characters have distinct and realistic personalities, and as you read through and get to meet each and every one of them, you’ll probably be reminded of a similar person you’ve met in school before, too.  The story starts when they’re in fifth grade, a time where childhood innocence begins to end and complex thoughts begin.  In my eyes, the flaws and insecurities of the kids in Wandering Son are very pure.  Despite the chronological daily life style of storytelling, it’s definitely a page-turner.

Anybody could benefit from reading Wandering Son; whether you relate to the characters personally or not, the story shows a fair and accurate depiction of the train of thought these kids go through and the actions they take.  It focuses a lot more on their interactions rather than the drama that is most often attached to this genre.  Bullying is present, but it's not the main focus.  What's made important is the self-exploration of Shuichi and Yoshino (and of course, other characters do a bit of growing up, too).  

The first volume is available in the library for those who wish to check it out.  If you enjoy it, please consider purchasing a copy to support the series and help guarantee the printing of further volumes!  The second volume is not yet in the library, but it is available for purchase now, and the third volume is set to release in May.  The original series is still on-going in Japan, but hopefully it will be fully translated when it’s finished.

Kou Chen is a sophomore cartooning major who comes from Taiwan. He enjoys movies like The Fall, books like The Book Thief, and comics like Black Jack. His life goal is to overhear someone talking about something he created, because "by all means if my stories are interesting enough to share, I've done my job." He loves tea and fluffy things... like alpacas.