Review: Leaf by Daishu Ma

Sentence transitions and paragraph structure are
feeling extremely difficult right now. I’ve been kicking around some thoughts
about the Fantagraphics book Leaf, which was published last year at the
tail end of the publishing season.

 So, I guess, a review in bullets:

  • There’s
    something to be said about the range of Fantagraphics’ recent publications.
    That this lovely all-ages wordless Daishu Ma book exists alongside Megg &
    Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann and Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver shows, if
    not an open mind, then at least an open eye.
  • This
    book is beautifully designed. The leaf cutout of the front cover is so
    wonderful. It makes me want to give this book to small children, who haven’t
    forgotten how to enjoy such things (I’ll get back around to this point).
  • I
    like the color in Leaf, the alternating cool and warm colors. Leaf
    captures light in a very smart way. The book feels illustratorly, if that’s a
    word. Despite it being comics, it feels like a children’s picture book, and I’m
    not saying that in a pejorative way.
  • Daishu
    Ma has, in my estimation, created some of the best two page spreads in comics
    I’ve read this year, and maybe last year. The imagery is lovely in this book.
    Complex, but not too complex, beautiful, but not overwhelming.
  • There’s
    a softness to this work, but it’s also frank, bordering on blunt. The worldview
    is optimistic, and I’m not sure I buy it.
  • It
    is easy to confront obsolescence when it is leaves and twigs; things that are
    freely abundant, and not of much value now. Much harder to address human
    obsolescence in the wake of advancing technology.
  • But
    it’s also precognitive, in a way, because if things keep going the way they’re
    going, then the catalogue of dead and dying species, locked up in jars and
    books, becomes more important. The more things die, the more the dead have
  • The
    publisher is Fantagraphics, but I’m wondering – is Daishu Ma aiming at a
    lower age range? If so, this is the second all-ages book that Fantagraphics has
    published (based on my poor memory) in the past year (the other being Robert
    Goodin’s The Kurdles, another lovely book). Perhaps they would benefit
    from a children’s imprint?
  • I think the best thing for Leaf is to get
    it into the hands of children and children’s librarians. I think it serves that
    audience very admirably.

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