From the very beginning, Yokoyama Yūichi’s Baby Boom declares itself to be different. Released to English-language readership by Breakdown Press in late 20221, the book distinguishes itself from the rest of Yokoyama’s corpus in two very obvious ways: its 39 vignettes are drawn in a cruder style than the cartoonist’s usual, and using color markers rather than black ink. The latter, incidentally, was not Yokoyama’s own idea—his editors, upon seeing Yokoyama’s unusually-loose linework, suggested that he work in color as a form of compensation, a preemptive defense against readers instinctively regarding it as a throwaway work. In both the simplicity of linework and the employment of this occasionally-assaultive color, Baby Boom is perhaps most easily compared to the works of Joe Kessler (himself tangentially involved in this project, as Breakdown Press’ co-founder and art director); Yokoyama’s mark-making balances intensity with immediacy, with instinct. This approach certainly pulls its weight in terms of tying the book together on a thematic and formal level: it is a book that discusses the minutiae of the parent-child dynamic, and it looks, fundamentally, childish.
This is not, to be clear, meant in any derogatory fashion; on the contrary. Allow me to explain what I mean by “childish” here: a major part of what constitutes our growth as sapient beings, I think, is our gradually-increased capacity for the abstract. A child’s communicative sensibilities are, above all else, representational and direct; they seek, to the best of their abilities, to communicate exactly what it is that they mean. In most of his works, one of Yokoyama’s chief characteristics is his depictions of kinesis as a stretching of the geometric figure into the realm of the abstract; Baby Boom, however, demonstrates a different urge: the urge to communicate, the urge for clarity. His objects are more recognizable; his sound effects, while still obtrusive, are reedier in their strokes, taking up less of the art.
It is worth noting that, in terms of original bibliographic sequence, Baby Boom was only Yokoyama’s fourth longform work at the time of its original Japanese publication in 2009; in English, by contrast, this comes as the eighth translation of his longform work. Given this a-chronology, the English Yokoyama reader has, relatively speaking, expectations twice as rigid, thus lending more impact to their breaking while also broaching the question of what these divergences achieve beyond the initial aesthetic shock.
Part of why Baby Boom works as well as it does is because of the way it depicts the figure of the child. Yokoyama himself describes the inspiration for the project as a sudden interest in Japanese ‘cute’ (kawaii) culture, and, indeed, this feels less like an engagement with an aspect of humanity and more like an engagement with an aesthetic-cultural phenomenon; given that his corpus hardly exudes a romanticizing air to begin with, he cannot be expected to fall for the trappings of Winsor McCay or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. By taking the more clinical approach, Yokoyama eschews the cliché framing of children as almost extra-human objects signifying an out-of-the-box wonderment; instead, he approaches his character as a creature of nascency, a being that is, in itself, a liminal thing; with still-rudimentary (and thus often dissatisfactory) tools with which to engage with the world, the dynamic between the child and its surroundings is one of a mutual estrangement—a perfect vessel for an artist whose chief interest is portraying the pure exteriority of the anti-personal.
It is in this way that remnants of the ‘familiar’ Yokoyama assert themselves; if anything, his unusual employment of color and looser linework contribute to his typical methods of kinetic overdrive. “Airport” is one of three vignettes in the collection that center the artist’s interest in movement, and one of the most recognizably-Yokoyamaesque pieces in the book; it can very much be described in one sentence: “the father and child go through the tedious steps of flight check-in, from arriving at the airport to boarding the plane.” Yet it is presented with a breathless, frantic urgency that one could hardly associate with the actual airport experience. It’s an excitement that feels manufactured; it feels less like a real experience—and more like a game version thereof, reality mediated for the child through a lens of play.
Another short, “Disco,” retains “Airport’s” ecstasy of motion while disposing of its utility; there is no determined goal or endpoint, no departure for the sake of arrival, just sheer momentum. It operates as something of a self-escalating movement: what starts as a simple (and charming) scene of the parent and child dancing together under a disco ball becomes an entire collective affair, as they are gradually joined by more and more characters until the last page depicts a veritably packed dancefloor. Yokoyama, of course, gives it a visual restlessness: the first few pages are relatively sparse, showing the two characters drawn in simple orange marker, with their movements added in brown, in a simple fixed one-point perspective; it is rhythmic almost to the point of repetition. As more characters join, he adds more colored markers to signify movement and flashing lights. His angles shift, as does his panel layout. It’s not just a parent and child having silly fun in a living room; it’s a veritable party, sweeping and heart-thumping, and you want to join in on the fun.
“Catch” is a similar affair, centered on the two characters and a baseball. It’s much more rhythmi, eight pages of fifteen panels each, though that doesn’t mean much to Yokoyama, being the sort of narrativist to whom time is so elastic so as to become meaningless; a gag could take five minutes or five hours and it will still be entertaining under his hand. The parent and child throw the ball back and forth, each toss with just a bit more force than the one that preceded it; catching becomes more and more of an effort (the ball, of course, gets lost in the process, but is recovered quickly enough to retain the momentum of the cycle), and again the escalating movements are complemented by increasing use of color as Yokoyama makes use of his entire palette.
Although its leisure certainly takes up a chunk significant enough to feel idyllic, Baby Boom isn’t all play. In “Housework,” the two characters clean their house to perfection, and with great enthusiasm, the child being extremely eager to be part of the process; “School” shows the child attend (and take active part in) math class. Whether the given story depicts times of indulgence or of necessity, Yokoyama’s overarching narrative, at least insofar as it can be described as such, is a communal one: even when the parent does not appear in the story, the child is always surrounded by their peers and by a figure of authority. It is, at its core, a romance of social cohesion. A given character’s surroundings are not alienating but motivating; engagement with them leads to growth, or at the very least catharsis.
As a complete work, Baby Boom serves as a foray into simplification, through which Yokoyama, perhaps inadvertently and subconsciously, interrogates who he himself is, what his work is. The book’s parent-and-child duo serve as a conduit for that elusive force long evaded by Yokoyama—interiority, and the shared human connection that sprouts as a result. Where his other works depict groups of people pulled together by circumstance, like some underlying social magnetic force that defies any explication, Baby Boom declares its purpose outright; its presence within the cartoonist’s larger body of work reenergizes its surroundings. It’s a strange world out there, it says, and it’s not always easy to understand—but at least we’ve got company to lead the way.
- For those keeping track at home, that was the second English edition of a Yokoyama book to come out that year; for those keeping a different sort of track at home, it was the first English edition of a Yokoyama book to come out that year from a publisher not affiliated with accused sexual predators and narratives of racial paranoia. ↩︎