Who hasn’t? You rummage in a bookstore, and a work catches your eye that appeals to you and whose creator is unknown to you. Igort – short for Igor Tuver – an Italian comic artist born in Sardinia, was responsible for Japanese Notebooks: A Journey to the Empire of Signs. In it, the artist documented his years in Tokyo, where he has been drawing very popular mangas for various publishers since the 1990s.
And Igort’s style is versatile, as you can see in his Japanese notebooks. Half comic, half narrative, he guides us through his personal experience with his longer and shorter stays in Japan, and introduces us to Japanese history, stories and special features. He changes his drawing styles to match the respective narrative level.
He explains to Western readers the popularity of chrysanthemums, the habits and also such delicate topics as the sad story of the ‘burakumin‘, people who had to deal with blood and body juices. These included furriers and leather workers, butchers and also prostitutes, and belonged to the lowest class of society. This caste thinking is so deeply rooted that even today, generations later, descendants of the burakumin are recorded in databases, which companies access and then usually exclude them from filling vacancies.
The Japanese notebooks show an artist at the peak of his abilities. He integrates traditional Japanese drawing with manga and Franco-Belgian comic styles, switching seamlessly between them. The accompanying texts explain Igort’s experiences, thoughts and stories in a calm voice, giving a deep insight into the Japanese psyche and culture.
The volume was originally published in Italian in 2015, the English version in 2017 by Chronicle Books and costs $29.95