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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Disappearance Diary by Azuma Hideo 
30th-Apr-2008 11:59 pm
Reading
Hideo, Azuma. Disappearance Diary. Trans. Kumar Sivasubramanian and Elizabeth Tiernan. London: Fanfare, 2008.
          Summary: Veteran mangaka Hideo Azuma presents a series of comedic autobiographical tales about various abject and humiliating periods of his life. Azuma's checkered past includes stints as a bum and a gas pipe fitter. But a career in manga wasn't necessarily a much better life. Later on, he also became an alcoholic and was forced into rehab.
          Comments: I don't know how we got it into our heads that tragedies are better than comedies or that misery is a more noble literary endeavor than mischief...but we're just kidding ourselves. Humor is hard--indeed, one the most underrated of creative skills--and those writers of quality who truly have the knack for it are few and far between. Azuma Hideo, who has had a long career churning out all manner of manga, from shoujo to seinen, is clearly one of them. His sense of comic timing is impeccable, and the way he draws himself as a cartoonish lump of a chain-smoking man is endearing. The extent of the abjection depicted here is extreme, yet I actually found myself laughing aloud again and again. And indeed, what is most remarkable about Disappearance Diary is the way in which the author has reached a point in his life where he can distance himself from the most trying times he's ever faced and arrive at that transcendent place where even attempted suicides and near hypothermia can become a resource to delight and entertain his readers. But despite the assured narrative and draftsmanship, writing this manga could not have been easy for him. In some ways, it's like a therapeutic exercise...especially since Azuma's wife, who was the one who actually had to deal with the consequences of all this bad behavior, also works as his assistant and drew this story right along with him. I admire their bravery.
          The Fanfare edition is attractively produced with original art flipped to read left to right. Creamy paper and french flaps that unfold to uncover an additional interview with Azuma are bonuses. Sound effects have been replaced with English, but those panels that have Japanese text in the artwork (street signs, etc.) appear to have not been reversed. I was a bit disappointed by the quality of the translation; certain cultural points are left unexplained and, more egregiously, certain comedic punchlines suffer from lackluster adaptation. (See, for example, the way the editor's letter to Azuma has been translated on page 6. I would have glossed it more liberally.) Guess what? Translating comedy is also harder than translating tragedy! In any case, this is the strongest Fanfare/Ponent Mon co-production I have seen so far, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in mainstream manga publishing or the lives of Japanese mangaka. It's just too bad that hardly anyone in the English-speaking world even knows who Azuma Hideo is or what he is otherwise famous for.
          Notes: trade paperback, 1st edition; first published in Japan in 2005
          Rating: 8.5/10 - Satirically smart, seriously silly...and among the most courageous manga I have ever read. Keep your eyes peeled for this one in the bookstores.

::THIS IS AN ADVANCE REVIEW. DISAPPEARANCE DIARY IS SCHEDULED TO SHIP FROM DIAMOND FOR SEPTEMBER OCTOBER AND SHOULD APPEAR IN BOOKSTORES BY THE END OF THIS YEAR.::
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