A Single Match by Oji Suzuki

Posted by on February 17th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Drawn & Quarterly, 272 pp., $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-77046-009-6

Suzuki is an elliptical cartoonist — in both senses of the word.  The short stories within A Single Match approach the realm of poetry, given their fragmentary nature and devotion to the capturing of pure emotion.  Yet they also have an interconnectedness, with recurring symbols, locations and often even characters between its seemingly disparate vignettes.

With this volume, we see Drawn & Quarterly continue to mine the Garo roster and bring more unique gekiga voices to the English-speaking world.  Tatsumi has his grim urban realism, Sakabashira his noisy surrealism — Suzuki diversifies the genre yet further.  His visual style is not particularly distinct, playing close to the standard style of his contemporaries, giving us an innate sense of context to the school these comics are emerging from.

Where he distinguishes himself is in the experimental approach to his narratives.  With spare use of text and a proliferation of shadows, much of what unfolds lies in the gutter — the spaces between each panel resonating all the more in stark contrast to Suzuki’s gloaming illustrations.  Frequently he will cut away from a scene of dialogue to contemplative landscapes or isolated close-ups in an attempt to disrupt the narrative flow and demand that the reader pick between the lines.  Suzuki positively resists traditional storytelling in this way.

Often his stories become exercises in sheer formalism.  In one, he restricts himself to simple short captions in the corners of the panels.  The regularity of this technique builds rhythm in a very powerful way, like the hammering, thunderous meters of Blake or even fellow Garo contributor Michio Hisauchi.  Sometimes, though, the clockwork pace of the stories gets the better of him and the effect achieved is more one of bewilderment, rather than a surging swell of emotion.

One can’t help but wonder if something — perhaps much — has been lost in the translation.  The choice of language is very simple, presumably to capture the minimalist tone that Suzuki strikes in his work.  However, it often leaves the feeling that there should be something more to the text and dialogue, that connotations should ring louder and give a sense of depth to the language.  It invites us often to question what the author’s intentions were for the strips.  Certainly, they capture a sense of melancholy or whimsy or other lightweight emotions, but never does he seem to reach a theme or purpose.

The two strips about a brow-beaten father and his naïve son are where Suzuki best approaches a sense of literary intent.  They work in a beautifully layered way that at once captures the innocence and wonder of childhood and the struggles of parenting.  We have a similar sense of nostalgia in other strips, but here it is cast into stark relief with the poor father — at once trying to bring his child into the world, while also sheltering him from its harsh realities in an attempt to preserve the innocence that he himself wishes to return to.  This wish is cemented when, after losing his job and any sense of belonging to the real world, the two leave town in a giant rocket-ship straight out of a Miyazaki film. For all his formal inventiveness and recursive narration, it’s when he is at his most concrete that Suzuki really shines.

PS: I’d be interested if anyone can anyone offer an explanation for this panel, other than that a girl is watching a man pee into the river —

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3 Responses to “A Single Match by Oji Suzuki”

  1. [...] Also tackling A Single Match is Gavin Lees, who argues that, “for all [Suzuki's] formal inventiveness and recursive narration, it’s when he is at his most concrete that Suzuki really shines.” [The Comics Journal] [...]

  2. [...] 1 of Happy Cafe (Anime Diet) Rob McMonigal on vols. 8-10 of Ranma 1/2 (Panel Patter) Gavin Lees on A Single Match (The Comics Journal) Lori Henderson on vols. 1 and 2 of Speed Racer and Project X: Cup Noodle [...]

  3. [...] 1 of Happy Cafe (Anime Diet) Rob McMonigal on vols. 8-10 of Ranma 1/2 (Panel Patter) Gavin Lees on A Single Match (The Comics Journal) Lori Henderson on vols. 1 and 2 of Speed Racer and Project X: Cup Noodle [...]