Oh, I do so love getting unusual packages in the post. Every so often I’ll get a lovely care package froom Graeme McNee, a Brit residing in Japan. We’ve looked at his comics a couple of times now (Minimal Comics, An Afternoon in Ueno) and whilst you might describe his style as minimal I’d describe it as gorgeous. Seriously. Here’s the inside front cover double page spread to start you off…
See the ship on the horizon. Yep, the one from the cover. It’s the little details that make me beam sometimes.
This time it’s something somewhat related to An Afternoon In Ueno. This is a comic about Shioya, a small port town outide Kobe with a history of Western settlement, where some of the first European visitors arrived and made home. McNee was invited by the owner of the local gallery to create a comic set in Shioya town that would be exhibited in the gallery. According to McNee:
“I think he wanted some kind of warm community story but hopefully I could be a bit more subversive than that!”
“For the exhibition, I displayed the original comic art on the walls and we sold this zine. All the places and people in the story aare real so it was fun being in the gallery and seeing people’s reactions when they found themselves! Mr Koganemaru is the gallery owner and he didn’t know he was in the story until it was on the wall!!”
The 30-page 2 colour Risograph comic was published in Japanese, with McNee hand lettering (although there is an mini English translation included as a separate mini comic) . For those of you interested, you can get hold of the remaining few comics (and translations) at McNee’s site. It all starts with a cat…
McNee’s art style has altered since Afternoon In Ueno, his figures less abstract, still cartoon imagery, but a switch to full anatomy. It’s something that definitely works, feels and looks really good. The story is as minimal and gentle as McNee’s artwork, the cat stuck on a roof, a gathering crowd full of suggestions as to how someone can get him down, everyone having either an idea on how to rescue the cat or someone they could contact to assist.
“Have you tried fish?”
“It might make him come down.”
“I’m going to call someone.”
One by one we work through the possibilities…. the tall man’s afraid of heights, someone’s dad is off fishing and isn’t coming back, an old man on the hill is too far away, maybe fish would work? or a dead mouse? water? have you tried fish? Eventually someone in the ever-growing crowd of bystanders suggests Mr Koganemaru might be able to climb up there.
Put like that, it’s simply a procession of events. But what makes the work go so well is both the repetition and the scene switching. The repetition (“have you tried fish?”) gives it a lovely rhythm, and there’s so much to smile at on every page. Detail in a minimal comic… oh yes. It’s also full of a warmth and humour, a series of priceless little moments, McNee caturing reactions perfectly. Only a few lines perhaps, but wonderfully expressive nonetheless…
“We thought you could climb up and get him.”
“You can do it!”
Mr Koganemaru there, discovering just how persuasive an encouraging crowd can be. The gag is all in the expressions of poor Mr Koganemaru. Here…
So good, all in just the angling of a head, the move of a mouth.
It’s not all about the people though, this is the story of a town as well, and McNee uses each telephone call from the crowd seeking help to show us the beautiful vistas they’re existing in, simple full page pictures of houses, shrines, the harbour, views to take your breath away. Seriously beautiful things. But never better than the inside front and inside back covers, landscapes of the town in day and at sunset, two pieces book ending the piece, a simple yet heartfelt appreciation of a simple yet beautiful little town.
Mcnee’s work continues to impress. His art is tight and controlled, but has something of a minimalist beauty about it, something I find myself particularly partial to. Don’t let anyone tell you simple like this is easy, not a bit of it. Making images that tell a tale so well, even without the translation you can actually get the gist of the story, that’s some achievement.