Monday, February 7, 2011

Graphic Novel of the Month: Barefoot Gen Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima

Its 1945 in Hiroshima, Japan & W.W. II is starting to close. That is the setting for Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa. Nakazawa tells the story of young Gen & his family's struggle during the war. Japan is suffering a food shortage & Gen & his siblings, Shinji & Eiko, sacrifice their portions so that their pregnant mother can eat. Gen's father, Daikichi, suffers persecution from the authorities because of his anti-war stance. Gen's elder brother joins the air force, only to learn that he has enlisted to become a kamikaze pilot. It seems that the war has engulfed every aspect of Gen's life, but Gen's family holds on to what is important & stick together through the worst of it. That is, until August 6th.

Barefoot Gen is similar to last month's graphic novel pick, Persepolis. They both follow the themes of family ties & resisting the hegemony during a time of change that devastates a country. Nakazawa draws heavily on his experiences of growing up in Hiroshima. He shows what everyday life was like during his childhood & that may be the reasoning behind the cartoony nature of the novel. It follows traditional manga (a Japanese comic) cartooning, with the rounded faces & big eyes (think Mickey Mouse,) but Nakazawa also uses every comic convention, from speed lines, sweat beads (to represent emotion like embarrassment or confusion,) & "cross popping" veins (to represent anger or irritation.) Still, the drawings are simple, which is suitable to here; the story doesn't need elaborate illustrations. This is the first volume out of an epic 10 volume series, but Volume One works greatly on its own as a modest, emotional & anti-war piece of fiction.

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