A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Written & Illustrated by Moto Hagio
Translated by Matt Thorn
Published by Fantagraphics
Although there are hundreds of manga titles for youngsters and teens, and even a handful of violent genre titles for older readers, on American shelves, Drawn and Quarterly (with gekiga-originator Yoshihiro Tatsumi) and Vertical (publishing latter-era Osamu Tezuka tomes) seem to be among the few publishers interested in providing mature, adult material. So I’m happy to see Fantagraphics step up to the plate and deliver another such offering: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, a collection of ten Moto Hagio short stories.
Compiling comics originally published between 1977 and 2008, A Drunken Dream showcases the full range of Hagio’s short stories, while also granting readers insight into the themes of lost innocence, family dysfunction and perseverance in the face of abuse that underscore much of her work. Two of the best pieces are “Hanshin: Half-God” and “Iguana Girl.” In the former, one conjoined twin appears healthy and happy, but never developed beyond the most simplistic (yet upbeat) personality. The other half, Yudy, processes all the nutrients that her sister’s body takes to appear healthy, while Yudy herself, her mind and personality fully developed, remains sickly and ill. “Iguana Girl” shows a mother’s disgust with her own child (depicted as an iguana) and the trauma of emotional abuse. Yet the tale also depicts the strength to persevere, to find something better and to, maybe, understand the emotional failings of another.
Using sci-fi and fantasy settings, Hagio balances the splendor of fanciful settings against the turmoil of the human condition. But amid the phantoms of the past, the space stations, or the elaborate backdrops, each story retains an emotional core.
With distinct character designs, detailed backgrounds and emotive character acting, Hagio’s artwork conveys the full emotional range of her stories, with dollops of humor mixed into sagas of sadness, survival and hard-won contentment. Crisp black and white artwork is abetted by occasional use of greytones to add depth and texture. The title story also uses a blend of reds and pinks to enhances its sci-fi and fantasy backdrops, while “Iguana Girl” contrasts the emotional abuse within by introducing itself with a vibrant and colorful title page.
Also in the book, translator and editor Matt Thorn provides two text pieces: an article on “The Magnificent Forty-Niners,” a group of women cartoonists (Hagio among them) who changed the creative lifeblood of shōjo manga (girls’ comics); and a longish, somewhat disjointed, but highly enlightening interview with Hagio, whose family history clearly forms the basis for much of her creative work. Although neither piece is essential for appreciating the strong cartooning work, each – particularly the interview – provides depth to the themes of the work and creative environment into which the stories were born.
Under a sturdy hardcover, with the manga unflipped and Thorn’s text pieces running from the back cover (you can read from both covers!), A Drunken Dream and Other Stories finds another important voice in Japanese comics history washing up on American shores. One hopes that Hagio, whose work manages to be both stark and beautiful, finds a welcoming and receptive audience.