Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
by Brad Sun. The term “sequential art” is popular among certain circles wishing to elevate the comics medium to the respectability of such hallowed disciplines as literature or film. And while it’s true that most funny books are meant to be consumed in a certain sequence from cover to cover, the straightforward progression implied in the term is ultimately limiting. Comic books are not slideshows, and the narrative action-focused style that has traditionally dominated the medium is becoming increasingly challenged by new storytelling methods.
Which brings us to manga, a vast sub-genre of sub-genres, each with their own rich visual language and history. Browse through the manga section of any bookstore and you’ll find fantastical sci-fi/adventure alongside zany slice-of-life comedy and disturbing psychological horror. You’ll also find comics that defy categorization, like Kenji Tsuruta’s Wandering Island, a deceptively simple adventure story far greater than the sum of its parts.
Wandering Island is a book about waiting. But unlike the dreaded cliffhanger that increasingly plagues much of our pop culture landscape, Tsuruta isn’t teasing the reader with unanswered questions or stringing them along for a climactic payoff that never comes. Even as pilot Mikura Amelia is feverishly focused on plotting the details of an upcoming voyage to an island that may or may not exist, the reader is meant to revel in these moments of anticipation, contemplation, and even boredom. Long, wordless sequences stretch on for pages as Mikura, still in mourning for her deceased grandfather, goes about her days: sometimes obsessively planning, sometimes lying in thoughtful stillness.
Within the thin white gutters that separate these moments in Mikura’s solitary life could pass an instant or an eternity. Such is the nature of waiting. To return to academic definitions, Scott McCloud would refer to these as “aspect to aspect” transitions, a progression of images that is more concerned with a change of perspective than the passage of time. But such dry terminology does no justice to the depth of Tsuruta’s craft. When viewed panel by panel, we’re presented with a mundane chronicle of Mikura’s routine activities between flights. But when taken as a whole, understanding comics as not just a sequential series of images but as a unified artistic statement, we begin to understand the overarching truth of Mikura’s very human struggle.
Life is, after all, taken up mostly by waiting. Waiting at the bus stop, waiting for the weekend, waiting for that phone call that could change your life… any way you slice it, far more time is spent waiting for things than actually experiencing them. It’s a little sad, sure, but Tsuruta finds the beauty in this revelation. From the delicate, highly detailed linework of Mikura’s propeller plane and charmingly cluttered home, to the bold broad strokes of the beckoning endless ocean, Wandering Island is filled with visual splendor. And yes, there is beauty in Mikura herself. Not just physically (though she spends most of the book in various states of undress), but in her single-mindedness, her self-reliance, and her unwavering spirit.
My internet research tells me that, in a strangely fitting twist, we may be left forever waiting for a second volume of Wandering Island. Yet this first chapter stands on its own, a wistful and loving meditation on the human condition. “Discovering a mythical moving island would be grand,” Tsuruta seems to be saying. “But so too is preparing for that discovery, feeding your cat, getting teased by your friends, and mourning your grandfather.” Of course it would be nice to one day learn whether Mikura was able to complete her quest to that mysterious wandering island. But hey, that’s life.
Dark Horse Comics / $14.99
Story and art by Kenji Tsuruta.
Translation by Dana Lewis.
Lettering and touchup by Susie Lee and Bettie Dong with Tom2k.