Thursday, April 15, 2010
HEY GUYS! Lets talk a little bit about...
NOT SIMPLE by Natsume Ono.
True to it's name, be that referring to the relationships of the story, or to the involved people themselves, Not Simple is a lot to take in. I've read things before that were definitely more complicated. Longer, more difficult plotlines, more complex drawings to look at, etc... but for some reason this graphic novel struck me as one of the best and most perfect examples of the saying, 'less is more'. In this case more. A LOT more.
Ian, a seemingly homeless hitchhiker, spends his life traveling the world attempting to track down his missing sister, who may or may not also be his real mother. He befriends a gay novelist who is amazed by his life story and begins to chronicle it. Split into two halves, the first part is told from Ian's perspective as he rehashes old memories. The second is lived through the lens of his novelist friend, Jim.
The story itself is excessively depressing, and left me feeling both contemplative and disquieted. Not because reading it was unpalatable... It was merely a sad story with a sad ending, made obvious to the readers within the first ten pages. Much like Grave of the Fireflies, the reader already knows the main character dies from the very beginning, and it is a slow, painful ride from an opportunistic beginning to the dirty, ruthless end. With incest, child prostitution, alcoholism, divorce, homelessness, and disease all weighing down the migrant main character, Ian, our hearts break a little every time we see his childlike optimism worn down. I got the impression, also, that Ian may have suffered from some sort of mental disorder, keeping him simpleminded and sweet even as he grew older, in the face of especially horrible adversity. This might be an offshoot of his DNA, or it may not be. A sudden change in his mood at the end of the book however makes it confusing, suggesting just extreme mental duress more than anything else. Regardless, your heart goes with him %100 of the way, to the very bitter, and strangely ambiguous end.
The linework, which is stark and simple, is barren enough to simply reveal the facts. Anatomy is guesstimated, backgrounds are drawn as more of a suggestion than a fleshed out world. And the faces are both traditional manga with their simple, overly-huge eyes, and yet nothing like that at all. (strangely, Ono draws stuff that looks like this the rest of the time. whattttt?) More than anything, the art feels hungry to me, as if asking the reader to fill in the missing space with their imagination. Much of the book is in the minutia, between looks and quiet pauses. Ian's eyes are two vacant, scribbly circles, that seem to get wider and hungrier as you go, in stark comparison to everybody else's lidded, suspicious stares.
The way Ono approaches family relationships, sex, and the infinite number of cruel daily human interactions is bold and straightforward. She doesn't pull any punches, making me feel sometimes like I'm intruding on someone's really personal business, as opposed to the feeling of falling into another world that I like so much about reading comics. It was definitely a strange, absorbing experience, sort of like watching a nature documentary where you're rooting for the dying gazelle, that ends up getting eaten by the alligators in the end anyway. But it was an experience that I found profoundly interesting, and that, after I've let the story process a little, I will return to for a second and third read. Despite the stark drawing style, I feel like there are still some things I missed, and I expect to pick up on the minutia even more the next time around.
you can read the first chapter online here. Though it took me a little bit of time to warm into the story, I really suggest this for people who like indie manga and have a taste for sad stories. It's one of the best character studies I've read all year.