Thursday, June 9, 2011
Imagine my surprise the other night when all the people I was hanging with cut out just as the party was getting started! What's a boy to do? Well, I elected to ride out my buzz with the new Yuichi Yokoyama book, Garden. And twitter about it constantly. (This is what you're missing if you don't follow me on there, folks. Just click the button to the right!) For the uninitiated, Yokoyama is easily one of the top five cartoonists going, a visionary futurist with a sense of story and the mechanics of the medium that go a good century past everything else out there. The basic premise of the book is this: a group of people enter a garden and are mildly surprised to find it full of unfamiliar, apparently manmade geographic features. They explore the garden's seemingly endless terrain. That's pretty much it, though it goes WAY deeper than that -- I'll explicate it later, I promise! -- what makes it so compulsively readable is the relentless imagination Yokoyama applies to absolutely everything he draws, from forms right through to functions. It's as fully realized an alien world as anything that's ever been done in comics form, a "universe" as fleshed out and bristling with ideas as the world of Marvel or DC Comics. To explore it is to be completely immersed in something not of this world, but incredibly beautiful nonetheless.
The translation of any new work by Yokoyama should be considered an event, and as of now this 300+ page opus is definitely the book of the year. As I said, I'm going to write a lot more and a lot more in-depth about Garden in a sec, but for now here's a transcription of my little twitter rampage, with expanded ideas, images, et cetera. Enjoy:
- reading the new Yokoyama after a few too many right now, comeon follow along
- Yokoyama's drawing style, his geometric linework and the amount of white on the page, puts up a wall of noise without any "messiness". Like, Infantino used to to talk about "irritating the eye" a little bit on the page, using some discordant element to draw it in -- this is like a fully irritating page, just impossible to look directly at. You feel an IMPRESSION more than see the actual IMAGE.
Here's what I mean: the eye shrinks from white space, and Yokoyama just papers it on there before drawing the harshest, most unforgiving angular lines over it. It's really tough to "read into" most of these panels, to actually keep the eye on them long enough to rove around and appreciate the depth or detail. Those things are definitely there -- but Yokoyama wants you to move through these pages fast. The eye just doesn't stop looking for a more habitable environment, wicking over the pages like crazy. Yokoyama's work achieves fast-paced "page turner" status completely regardless of content -- you're turning those pages because he's forcing you to with his drawing. There are a few passages in here calculated as "resting places", where the blacks are spotted heavier and the panels are bigger and more inviting, but it's largely this same breakneck speed-inducing thing all the way through.
- This book is where Yokoyama finally masters the use of Japanese kanji-character sound effects: they're by far the thickest blacks on the page, they POP. It's more of a subtitles looking thing than the traditional "superimposition" comic book sound effects thing.
Yokoyama sent these same crazy scrolls of angular Japanese characters across his panels since his first book, New Engineering -- but while it was just another element of visual discord in that book, and absent from his next one, Travel, here it works beautifully with the action as separate but harmonious information. Those thick blacks pop it forward, like I said, like subtitles pop out from a movie screen. See above. Actually, I just thought of this: you ever watch the Japanese channel on TV? They pretty regularly will layer in ad text and icons over the images of the actual programming for brief bursts, creating a cover of text that you just read through to keep watching the show. It's the same thing here: these sounds are unmistakably happening and constant, but you're watching the action. The auditory is just another layer of input placed over the visual. You know, like in real life?
- Yokoyama's talked about being an "anti-humanist": his comix bear it out. The ONLY sense impression being communicated is the visual. Like, touch, taste, smell? just not there in the drawing on any level. They DESCRIBE them in the dialogue instead. USUALLY i'd find that was a detractor from the work, but Yokoyama's aesthetic incorporates it so well that it just works.
I know I just spent a paragraph talking about the incorporation of sound, but it's obviously separate, like I said -- not a part of the drawing. You get no sense from the compositions or posing that the characters have any sense reaction to the things they're seeing beyond the very seeing of them. This was the panel I was talking about in particular: that could be a drawing of people touching any texture -- the only way we know it's mushy is the words.
- this dude writes the HIGHEST dialogue...
Ever had that, where all you can do is just verbally state your sense impressions? Drug states are the only ones where that's happened to me personally, but I seriously doubt that's what Yokoyama's depicting. The guy's mind is just permanently on another level. I do make a joke about it later though.
- Yokoyama's characters wear helmets and shit on their heads to stay SAFE, man! They do some dangerous activities! Jousting with sticks?
Later they climb monkey bars over a waterfall, slide down hundreds of feet worth of firepole, climb through tiny tunnels... there's a palpable element of danger to the entire journey that only grows the longer the book progresses without anybody getting hurt.
- Page 10 panel 5: as much depth as I believe I've ever seen in a comic book panel.
Beautiful. When he wants you to see in-panel depth it's definitely there.
- yo @grantmorrison - this is a true "comic of ideas". you'd love it
- page 12, yah i gotta write tomorrow's Wednesday Sequence about that
I totally did!
- Yokoyama's dialogue has SUCH a subtle but persistent sense of humor. It's the dryest words, but spoken in solid "punchline rhythms".
The literality of the dialogue can be hilarious sometimes: check this out and picture funny, overdramatic voices to yourself. Or I mean, if you read this whole book assuming these guys are all stoned, it's pretty funny too. That thing where you have to talk even the simplest actions through logically to understand how they work. Like I said, they're not high though.
- the "footnotes" to other pages Yokoyama's including have just incredible potential as a storytelling device.
The end of the book is all follow-up scenes to pages of the main narrative, showing what happened to certain characters or how certain structures were built. It's a very "comics" way of structuring things, asking readers to skip over whole chunks of book and fill in the blanks, panel-over-gutter-to-next-panel style.
- book reminds me of THIS http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/david-smith-cubes-and-anarchy-0 which i saw a while back
Copy-paste that link and check it out. That David Smith sculpture exhibit was completely amazing, a massive airplane-hangar size room full of massive, alien metal objects. If I had treated it as a playground instead of an exhibition, I would have been living this book, basically. I see a big crossover between Yokoyama and avant-garde sculptors like Smith: both are primarily concerned with creating unfamiliar new forms and forcing people to confront them in physical space, Yokoyama just does it on the page. It'd be billions of dollars to build this place in real life, after all.
- yo i thought dis new coldcave record was wack but its the perf soundtrack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb7hRZyT6SE
No it isn't, you were just wasted. The new Cold Cave record is indeed dope after you get used to it -- especially that one song above -- but the only thing it shares with Garden is an intermittent sense of really bad vibes laid over a placid surface. After that record was over I put on Cornelius, which is a million times more appropriate: another Japanese weirdo artist creating invitingly unfamiliar landscapes, only with sound. Listen; the video is great too.
- these "camera flash" pgs are SO psychedelic
Here's the twitpic I took. This is one of those "resting points", where the eye can stop to take a breather, really dig into the drawings. Yokoyama's use of gray tones is incredible.
- there's an EXTREMELY palpable sense of menace around these pages. this is a TRULY alien environment. that would breed fear, for sure
- All the humor starts to feel just a LITTLE like nervous, desperate humor - you can't decipher its emotional content so that reads
- yeah, this could so easily turn into a horror comic. but it doesn't, so it just carries this protracted, unrelieved tension.
Like I said, bad vibes. You start to wonder after you realize how long these guys have been in the garden about what this place means, who's behind it, what's going to happen to them in there. You can only explore for so long until something happens. Is the bland statement of visual input that makes up the dialogue an expression of complete terror? There's just nothing to suggest any of the sentiment behind it so you can't say for sure one way or another.
- oh my god, WINSOR MCCAY on the 2-pg spread at 36-37!
Nobody drew processions like McCay -- I mean real epic ones, with lines of people and objects stretching back and back. Yokoyama summons that spirit beautifully in a few places in Garden. He has McCay's facility for simultaneous architectural innovation and structural realism too. He invents new structures like crazy, but none of it would be impossible to build with enough time and money.
- it's HILARIOUS when they finally notice the sound of the sound effects that have been goin on the WHOLE TIME after 40pgs ...like i said, no sense fed but sight!
- You get the sense there's all this wild stuff Yokoyama wants to draw, and he just creates the most literal situations to propel it. Like they just go, "oh, here's one of these! oh, here's one of these!" that is the plot.
- hey @BRIANMBENDIS - THIS is how you do parenthetical dialogue! http://www.pictureboxinc.com/products/921-garden
Expand your reading habits, fanboy.
- man, you get SO sucked into the action in this thing but when you actually look at the characters they are such wicked drawings
It doesn't really translate just how fast and furious the book reads from just a few scans, but you hardly even notice what the characters look like, just what they're doing and where they're going. It probably also has to do with their lack of typical human features. But Yokoyama's way with character design is just as wacked out and innovative as his architectural creations. Look at these motherfuckers!
- oh shit, this is totally a drug narrative, the 35 different protagonists just had to run and hide from the cops
- seriously, if like mathy dmt trippers ever discover this book it'll be a bestseller: "Yokoyama creates a completely convincing depiction of drug states, a world in which everything is foreign and unnatural"
Like I said -- not serious, people! But if you do happen to read this in an altered state of consciousness, the scene where mysterious "security forces" roll through on a lone train-car and there are like a million guys hiding from them in every possible place is just wickedly suspenseful. The book's sense of not knowing how to work anything or correctly negotiate anything's presence in space -- of total novelty -- is a facet of some drug experiences too. Just putting it out there.
- page 57, world's most avant garde portrait of Humphrey Bogart
- yeah there are no soothing spaces in this book at all, nothing like the beautiful landscapes of Travel. it's the modern manmade world. This is a post-apocalyptic landscape.
More on that in the actual article I'm going to write -- but yeah, these chaotic masses of building material and familiar objects reassembled into baffling new configurations seem at times like the product of total destruction, like a particularly artful tornado blew through a supermodern city. It's the lack of purpose to any of it: we build things to "work", to do stuff, and none of the constructions in Garden seem even remotely conducive to the ongoing process that is human habitation. What could be their creator then but chaos?
- you know, this would be the most entertaining movie ever, but the element of work involved in reading comics makes it way better
True words. It's a mental workout and a visual one. Never exhausting, but refreshing and exhilarating, like a solid session at the gym. There are almost no other comics you can say that about, and this is coming from somebody who loves the things.
- I love how obvious it is in every panel that Yokoyama's drawing this whole thing with a ruler
Check out the way the straight edges of everything crisscross over each other. It's evidence of craft, the tool on the page, just as much as CF's dusty pencil lines or Gary Panter's raw ink strips are.
- whoa, @GardenHighlights is now following me because of this nonsense
- the further you get into this book's travel through unfamiliar territory, the more apprehensive you get about getting home...
It's an interesting question that gets a fascinating answer by the end -- but there's no sense of destination to this journey, only the tour through things never before seen. There's never any mention or even allusion made to going back to where everybody came from. It's a spiritual journey as much as a a physical one in that sense: wherever it ends up, that's going to be the new place everyone is.
- when the environment actually harms them for the 1st time at pg80, it's TERRIFYING (they fall down a hill, ha ha, bloodcurdling)
Seriously, when the increasingly dangerous maneuvers through this place actually let off a little tension and end in a situation that could potentially hurt people, it's incredibly gripping, just because of how long we've been waiting for it to happen.
- cool, he drew a panel the wrong shape for its borders on 86
Never seen it done before, way into it.
- if im ever rich enough to have a bill gates style fantasy house ima tell yokoyama to design it
And that's where I cut it off because I was getting too into it to want to bother about making comments anymore. Like I said, a longer article about the whole book will be around soon enough. The last third or so is one of the most beautiful, fascinating things I've ever seen in comics, so you should probably just go get a copy before that post hits in order to know what I'm talking about. Seriously -- book of the year, people.
Before I go, though, I had to text one of my friends this panel from a few pages later, with the subject line "satanic messages in the new Yokoyama":
Is that legal?