Cartoon Alley: Reviews and commentary #18… Tim Bollinger

Some comics I’ve been reading lately…. Gogo Monster & The Bun Field

by Tim Bollinger

In a 2006 interview, Canadian comic writer Chester Brown – one of the greats – observed: “When I read a comic, I find myself drawn to scenes that have no words. I have a theory, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I think those sorts of scenes draw a reader into a story. So I try to include at least a few scenes like that in every book I do.”

Wordless pictures slow the pace of a comic story down and yet speed it up at the same time. Though they may be swiftly read, the content can take a lot longer to process than simple word balloons. Stand alone images can give the effect of time standing still as the reader is forced to pause and observe details that one might otherwise overlook.

A few comics I’ve read lately have taken a few reads just for me to be able to take in all the information needed to finally flick through them with anything like the speed and fluency they require.

Gogo Monster

by Taiyo Matsumoto
(Viz Media 2009)

Japanese comic language is very sophisticated, and this book is a real treat. It creates a visual geography from the motifs of an apparently ordinary urban environment – school buildings, weather, animals, passing aeroplanes and the changing seasons – to create a mundane, yet magical child’s-eye view of life in a Japanese grade school.

Each element recurs with repetitive familiarity, yet subtle evolutions of mood and context change and expand their meaning as the story progresses. There’s a tension throughout. The focus of the principal characters is upon a world which often only they and the reader can see – ‘monsters’ hidden in the dark recesses of these beautifully rendered scenes of otherwise ordinary daily school life.

There are some great characters, including a boy with a box on his head who views the world through a small cut-out hole – and the main character, Yuki, whose bizarre and disturbing fantasies drive the relationships in the story.

Children’s language and behaviour is depicted believably, often through expressionist rather than the photo-realistic drawing techniques that Matsumoto’s strong linework also often employs.

The artist draws on a lot of European influence in his work, yet there remains something distinctly Japanese in both subject and delivery. There’s a whole genre of Japanese high school ‘horror’ manga that ‘Gogo Monster’ alludes to, but in the end takes the reader somewhere entirely different.

It’s also a very beautiful book, right down to the cover and end pages.

Matsumoto is responsible for a number of other great and influential manga works, among them ‘No. 5’ (as yet untranslated) and ‘Tekkon Kinkreet’ (also known as ‘Black and White’). Each has its own distinctive drawing style, cartoon logic, and unique narrative approach. See for a bibliography and interview. And see what Same Hat! Blog had to say about the Japanese edition of ‘Gogo Monster’

***** # # # *****

The Bun Field

by Amanda Vahamaki
Drawn & Quarterly 2009
Drawn & Quarterly Showcase 5 (2008)

Another artist whose visual language I’ve been enjoying lately is Finnish comic writer Amanda Vahamaki. Vahamaki’s organic pastel drawings tell stories that, like those of Matsumoto, embellish scenes of apparently mundane everyday life with hyper-real or dream-like elements. Her stories project ideas and events in ways that only comic books can, and her distinctive drawing style is reminiscent of British writer Raymond Briggs, with elements of Joe Chiapetta and Timothy Kidd thrown in. I love it!

Here’s a link to Vahamaki’s biography, reviews and an excerpt from 2009’s ‘The Bun Field’( and below are some samples from her featured story in 2008’s ‘Drawn & Quarterly Showcase 5’.