Review: Monokuro Kinderbook
In the early-to-mid 2000’s Kan Takahama was one of the key creators involved in the Nouvelle Manga movement that gathered Franco-Belgian and Japanese comics creators. The results of that movement have been published in part by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, and comics such as Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators as well as Sweet Cream and Red Strawberries have seen critical acclaim in the US. But my most-read of the works brought to the USA from the Nouvelle Manga movement is a collection of short stories by Kan Takahama called Monokuro Kinderbook.
Takahama’s illustrations are blurry, sometimes sketchy. Like the strangeness of memories gone by, and the clarity of those memories that are recent, Takahama deftly uses changes in style and illustration to convey mood, time, and the fogginess of the past. The comics in Monokuo Kinderbook were all written around 2001-2002, and in one comic, “Show Our Generation the Way to Survive,” Takahama drops the World Trade Center attacks into the midst of a birthday party with startling clarity. In another, “Over There, Beautiful Binary Suns,” Takahama’s characters, an older man and a younger woman, make a suicide pact and have sex on the beach while children look on.
Many of Takahama’s stories have this darkness, a tired worldliness. Through Monokuro Kinderbook, Takahama stares into the dark face of the world and does not flinch. Kinderbook exposes our caustic humanity in subtle and grandiose ways – through the reveal of a divorce, a child’s reaction to an aging grandmother. But the characters in Kinderbook smolder – Takahama has a preciseness about her construction, knowing exactly when to change the tone or scene in order to drive home her points.
I admit that this collection was far more influential for me during the beginning of my comics reading career than it is now – the despair of Monokuko Kinderbook is often too-real life now that the safety net of college has been stripped away. Still, Monokuro Kinderbook is a collection of manga completely unlike anything that’s in print in English – and its storytelling clings to you like the smell of a cigarette.