Hot take: the best setting to read comics is while waiting for something. To me, comics are a transitive medium, to occupy your hours on your way to a destination, on a train, on a bus, on a subway, on an airplane, in a waiting room. You are uncomfortable, you are impatient. You sit down, you settle in, for an hour, for ten minutes. You sink into sequential art with ease. You are at peace. And then the comic goes back into your bag. You had a bit of time to rest your mind somewhere else. You feel relaxed, don’t you? Your muscles are not quite so tense. You had a break. It might not be a coincidence that sophisticated comics readership developed in countries like Japan and Italy where comics for all ages can be found on newsstands at every station.
Recently, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, I started to have a regular weekly commute. About half an hour each way. I know, you’re rolling your eyes, because I’m fortunate to have gone this long with my regular labors either indoors or within walking distance. But, I will say, I am realizing how much I missed reading comics while on public transit. I am an anxious, scatterbrained, busy person, settling down in the comfort of my apartment with a comic takes work. I have to decide to do it. But when I’m traveling, I don’t have much else to do, really. I’m moving, so I don’t feel stifled like I might at a laundromat. I’m at ease in a way I rarely am. The comics I read when I travel have to be light enough to carry, accessible enough to slide into reading with ease – and put down just as easily – and substantial enough to last me at least half the trip. So, manga paperbacks have been my main companion. Here are some of my thoughts on the comics that kept me company along the way the past few months.
The Invisible Parade, Mississippi (translation by Anna Schnel, Jocelyne Allen, MISSISSIPPI, Andy Jenkins, Jun Kitamura and Emuh Ruh), Glacier Bay Books
Mississippi’s short comics are deceptively incidental – stories sketched with a minimal, organic line unfolding in a lightly mundane, magical realist register doomed to be described as “slice of life” by manga critics. However, their focus is somewhat grander. Many of their stories are set in a near future or alternate present in which elements of science are accepted as normal and mundane, just as dryly not-good as any part of the world we live in, but touching on our lives in all the intimate settings of our dearest relationships and private joys. The arrival of a UFO or the proliferation of artificial intelligence is as exciting to Mississippi’s subjects as the ability to make a video conference call, and yet the same little beautiful fleeting moments we never forget when we make a video call to our long-distance lover or play a song we love through an internet app keep being found in these little stories of boring futures. Mississippi explores the tenderness of our lives at their most quietly intimate – seeing the sunset, taking a walk, seeing family for the first time in a while, holding someone’s hand – in contrast with the awkwardness of the tools society provides us to facilitate those moments. It’s possible in any world
It’s funny – I had always thought of Mississippi as an artist best suited to short anthology contributions, and yet here, collected over 160 pages, I feel a deeper appreciation of their work than ever before. Hopefully The Invisible Parade puts to rest the diminutive characterizations of their works as slight or mundane. This is a beautiful collection of comics by a versatile artist with a powerful literary voice.
Maison Ikkoku vol. 6 (Perfect Edition), Rumiko Takahashi (translation by Matt Treyvard), VIZ Media
If you’re a reader of SOLRAD, you may already know how I feel about Maison Ikkoku. However, what I did not exactly say in my barn-burner of an essay is that Maison Ikkoku becomes agonizing to read after about halfway. It’s not so much that the relationship stops advancing, so much as the circumstantial wrenches in Kyoko and Godai’s budding affections get larger and more irritating to keep these characters who Takahashi loves to show growing and changing in mid-growth stasis. Each new obstacle hits like nails on chalkboard – you start to want to scream “JUST BE HONEST WITH EACH OTHER ALREADY!” Because of that, this volume sat on my unread pile for months.
Reading this now, I appreciate that this is simply a consequence of reading these comics in one sitting. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want to read Maison Ikkoku at a dripped out pace of once a month, collected editions of Takahashi are ideal, but these are characters you always want to be happy to come back to. With some time, their lives and their anxieties are welcoming, like visiting old friends. In one or few sittings, an omnibus of mid-series Maison Ikkoku is a claustrophobic experience of proximity to relatable problems not being solved, like living in a tiny apartment with three friends from high school. If you don’t have a commute, make yourself an Arsene Schrauwen-style reading schedule.
This particular volume focuses on two new characters to instill jealousy and confusion in our not-quite lovebirds, a new tenant named Nikaido and a high school girl named Yagami. I remember desperately wishing ill on both when I read Maison Ikkoku as a child. Now I appreciate these two simple-minded jerks for what they are – nominal antagonists who enter the established social space of the ongoing melodrama with none of the context the devoted reader has. Cynically, this means reintroducing the characters and relationships to a new magazine reader, but what’s more interesting is how these characters’ very presence forces the not-yet-lovers to reinterrogate their own affections – “why am I jealous?” “why did I get so defensive?” – great questions to have a character asking alone in a room after a crowded confrontation. And these characters are also a bit like the audience for the series, and their troublesome ignorance might be how the reader would act if they found themself at Maison Ikkoku – the college freshman Nikaido intrusively wonders aloud who loves whom while gawking at the abundance of beautiful women, Yagami pines for the mysterious sadness that her handsome student teacher Godai bears while shooting jealous daggers from her eyes at the clearly appealing Kyoko who can only get in the way of her romantic fantasy. Readers can ask themselves – if we were around these fictional people and connected to them in our life as we do as readers, how much trouble would we cause? Fun stuff!
Sensei’s Pious Lie vol. 1, Akane Torikai (translation by Morgan Giles and Arthur Reiji Morris), Kodansha USA
I think that’s enough column for today. Kick back, relax, take it easy, you deserve it. My friend Nina is still crowdfunding her laser treatment and could really use some help. Cartoonist and printer Ruby May Valentine is still fundraising for the purchase of a risograph printer. Read comics, love and support each other, be good, find peace. LOVE COMICS XO