EYE BUDS: YOKOYAMA YÛICHI AND AUDIOVISUAL ABSTRACTION IN COMICS, PART 2
[…] we have already seen how Travel
elaborate on manga’s and especially gekiga
’s audiovisual tradition. Let me close with another example from his newest book, Iceland
(2016), which is particularly nice since it puts the question of comics’ audiovisual bombast in direct conversation with post-cinematic media. As a sequel to World Map Room
represents the further elaboration of Yokoyama’s foray into a «
» aesthetic. It is more Kirby-esque, à la Forever People
, than ever before. Since Yokoyama has never seen a Kirby comic, it is probably more accurate to say that Iceland
is more Steranko via
Saitô Takao and via
modernist figurative abstraction than ever before. While there are no outright gags in Iceland
, the over-the-top-ness of the action and sound effects color the entire manga with a wry sense of humor. Numerous dramatized stand-offs between tough guys over trivialities —
a stereotypical trait of mass-market gekiga
— further suggest that «
» as a practice is parodic at heart. This can also be felt in the scene in Iceland
’s audiovisual bombast is most exaggerated. Interestingly, this scene engages with audiovisuality through references to immersive theatrical and video game experience.
The men of the manga go to a bar in search of a friend. The bar is three stories high. As they approach the bar, they hear loud noises —
— reverberating from inside. Upon entering, they are confronted with an A/V extravaganza of the highest order. Page after page teems with images of booming artillery, rolling tanks, flying missiles, men with guns, spinning blades splitting lumber, jets firebombing cities, warships smashing through waves, and more. Giant sound effects —
DADADADA, ZAZAZAZA, BAM BAM BAM, DODODODO, KWEEE
— roar across each panel. Two men stand watching these images intently with their hands on their hips. The noise is so loud that the visitors have to ask for the volume to be turned down so that they can converse. Though one panel shows the action occurring on a largish screen of about 6
ft., other panels give the impression that the video imagery covers the walls from floor to ceiling. The bar’s walls themselves, in other words, are action- and sound-filled panels. Rather than a comics-themed space, Yokoyama offers a comics-engineered space. Since Yokoyama’s work is distantly rooted in Pop Art, imagine being told to view Lichtenstein’s Whaam!
(1963) as one should a big Barnett Newman: up close, intently, letting the colors and wakes and sounds flow over you.
Since Japan hasn’t had a tradition of combat-centered war movies since World War II, with the only exceptions —
animation and tokusatsu
— being genres Yokoyama has no apparent interest in, one is inclined to read this scene in relation to either video games and arcades (which we know Yokoyama once frequented) or gekiga
. While most gekiga
include long passages of dialogue and aspect-to-aspect changes to establish setting, character, and plot, in the popular imagination it is the moments of high action —
modern warfare, mortal combat by fist and blade, hyper-intense sports competition, aggressive fucking
— that define the genre. Thus, it seems to me best to understand the bar in Iceland
as a full-motion, full-sound, hyper-immersive, architectural version of the audiovisual regime of mainstream gekiga
, but with the influence of shooter-type video games narrowing the conception of gekiga
to its passages of fighting and action.
The men in the bar are also key. The bar’s visitors describe its patrons as «
», while a man outside describes them as «
». We can see them for what they really are —
embedded eyes and ears
— and the bar/theater for a supersize version of the rumbling voice box that is at the heart of all comics with sound effects. Indeed, one of the bar’s patrons lounges reading a book. At first, we only see its front and back covers, which are embellished with an image of a continuous range of steep mountains. «
How can you read with so much noise?
» the visitors ask him. He doesn’t explain, responding only that if the volume bothers them they should ask to have it turned down. At the end of the manga, we see the inside of the book. It is filled with pictures; we see a spread of smoking volcanoes.
This is a strange sort of scene of reading, similar to what Tezuka proposed with his machine manga —
in that a series of still pictures are viewed while listening to sound, physically feeling the rumbling, and watching moving images
— but shaped essentially by gekiga
’s audiovisual tastes and structure. While the old school reader of novels sat with his or her book in silence or amidst soft background music or unobtrusive white noise, the new school reader of picture books prefers an environment of chaos and din, for they supplement and fill out the experience.
How can he read with so much noise? Because the written word and the interiority of thought is not king when he «
», and because the human voice of sound effects is a welcome intrusion. Because he is a gekiga
-age consumer, and if he can’t take his image-sound system with him on the go into the landscape, he takes his collection of landscapes (in this case, mountainscapes) into a world of sounds and moving images. [-]