Review: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream
and Other Stories

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I didn’t buy that much while I was at Comic-Con. Yes, a good portion of that was because I lost my wallet on Saturday (and it never turned up, by the way. I’m going to assume it’s in a landfill somewhere now) but I really didn’t have that much money to spend in the first place.

But it was a privilege to purchase Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics, 2010, with translation by Matt Thorn). It should go without saying that if you’re at all interested in women’s comics or manga, you should buy this book. But in all honesty, I think even if you just like comics and beautifully-told stories, this should be a part of your bookshelf.

Most of the stories here revolve around loss. Sometimes the loss is a physical death or departure. Sometimes it is more psychological as characters try to come to grips with who they are or aren’t. Often, it’s quite a bit of both. “Angel Mimic” has a young woman coming to terms with her choices and “The Child Who Comes Home” has a family facing pain they’d rather forget. Hagio treats her characters with affection and sympathy and rarely is anyone ever completely right or completely wrong. Through their anguish, she show tenderness for the human spirit.

Hagio does deal quite a bit with what it’s like to be a girl or woman in a changing world. The earlier “Girl on the Porch with a Puppy” focuses on a little girl who does not behave in the way her family expects, with a disturbing ending. “Hanshin: Half-God” focuses on conjoined sisters. One is beautiful but empty-headed and the other is ugly but intelligent. Told from the perspective of the “ugly” sister, it deals with how she perceives her own worth in the world, especially once she and her sister are separated and she is the one to survive.

The centerpiece of the book is Hagio’s “Iguana Girl” about a girl, Rika, whose mother can only see her as an iguana and subsequently shuns her. As Rika grows up, she has to find her own self-worth (even she believes she’s an iguana) and make peace with who she is and her relationship with her mother. It’s a powerful story — Rika is strong and funny despite her mistreatment and Hagio makes the wise choice of drawing Rika-as-iguana as cute rather than realistic. It gives the story a lightness and humor that balances the thoughtful tone.

Hagio’s art is, of course, constantly gorgeous. This is evident throughout the collection, but very much so in the title story, “A Drunken Dream.” The lush scenes of this romantic tragedy are shaded in white, black, gray and red and transition from space to ancient Rome. Her talent for expressive faces and small, every-day details from the interiors of homes to clothing make all these stories feel like they’re populated by real people.

Thorn’s translation definitely seems to be true to Hagio’s stories. He is obviously a great admirer of her and he does her justice.

Also included is an overview of the manga scene Hagio was a part of, “The Magnificient Forty-Niners,” and an extensive interview with Hagio. Both are by Thorn and originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of The Comics Journal.

This is a beautiful book by an incredible creator. Whether or not you knew of Hagio before or this is going to be your introduction to her, it’s a book you need to have.

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