||[May. 8th, 2009|11:43 am]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#43 DISAPPEARANCE DIARY – Hideo Azuma
“It’s harder to draw stuff realistically, and it makes things gloomy!”
When the world got too much for manga artist Hideo Azuma and even his constant drinking wasn’t enough to keep it at bay, he disappeared into the woods outside of town to become a bum. The saga of his ensuing homelessness, menial labour and alcoholism is all drawn in the same comical style as his cartoons, giving him a jaunty look as he wanders the streets at night scavenging for food and smoking the butts of discarded cigarettes. The distance created by taking his moments of deepest hopelessness and abject patheticness and rendering them like jokes lets him tell a story that might otherwise be too painful. It begins with an inept and drunken suicide attempt – he can’t even kill himself properly – drawn in the same light-hearted style as the rest of the book.
Living off nothing but wild radishes for two weeks while shivering in the woods, he discovers that he can change the flavour by changing how much of the skin he removes. This is presented as a major breakthrough in hobo technology. It’s a life of simple pleasures like scrounging decent food or staying warm for a night. He adapts to this new lifestyle quickly, cutting away most of his dignity layer by layer like the skin of his radishes.
At first there’s no attempt to rationalise why Azuma wants to disappear from his life. After returning home to his wife – his poor, long-suffering wife who is also his art assistant – and his career for a while, he abruptly vanishes again, walking away with no explanation bar, “Something growing out of my head made me do it.” And yet, when he’s given the chance to work as a pipe fitter he takes it, adopting a pseudonym and starting a new life on his own. When the company newsletter advertises for cartoons he even starts drawing them, inadvertently stumbling back towards his real life.
At the end of describing this second period of disappearance he goes back to his younger days to explain his manga career and alcoholism and how well the two went together for a time, all-night deadline shuffles and binges going hand in hand. Comics – they’ll drive you to the drink. Over time, Azuma sees that he’s repeating himself in his desperation to churn out all the product required of him and it gnaws away at his insides. What drives him to escape is the pressure of creating escapism for others and the end result is a story that instead is painfully real in spite of the artifice. It just happens to be funny as well.