Jul 20, 2016
The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 16 - Ghost Talker's Daydream v.1, July 2008
Most of the manga I've reviewed here so far has been stuff that I've found at thrift shops in town, and this one is no exception. I've never been able to really find my "in" with manga. No one else I know is that into it, and when I've had series recommended to me, a quick glance through has put me off. It took a while for me to recognize the similarities and differences that Japanese comics have with North American comics, and to recognize the ways these stories are told that are, in many ways, fundamentally different from the comics upon which I've grown up.
This series, for example, features a lead character who is (and this from the backmatter) "a dominatrix and writer for a sex magazine...[who] moonlights as a necromancer. If that isn't odd enough, Saiki is an albino. And a virgin." So there's that. What we have in Ghost Talker is part sex comedy, part slice of life drama, part downright spooky horror comic. And the horror part goes in for the same kind of aesthetic as things like The Ring, or the weird, spirit-world parts of Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. We're catching glimpses of a world that is far more powerful than we are, and that doesn't appreciate our interference. And Saiki recognizes this, and honestly thinks her first two jobs are far more productive and interesting than the ghost talking. But there's an interesting part of her character that recognizes that she has an ability that no one else does, and with great power...yadda yadda yadda.
But then there's these odd moments of complete farce, of Saiki forgetting to wear underwear when she goes out, and accidentally flashes a garage full of male mechanics. And her sidekick, a bureaucrat (did I mention that the necromantic missions are given to Saiki by her father who runs a municipal office in charge of ridding places of ghosts?) who is an utter, utter badass fighter but is paralyzed by the mere mention of ghosts, and turns into a wide-eyed, screaming, nose-running chibi at times. It's these kind of stylistic moments that always put me off - why could these artists not choose one aesthetic and stick to it? Until, of course, I realized that I was layering an aesthetic over the stories that made no sense in the context within which they were being told - that is, manga.
I am coming, more and more, as my son exposes me to mind-bending animes, as I take chances on thrift store manga, to understand, as much as I can within my cultural dissonance, how these stories are working, how the particular stylizations across series, across styles within manga itself, are shorthands for reactions, for states of mind for which we have no visual shorthands in North American comics. And it's really, really cool.
To be continued.