Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When Life and Comics Collide: The Misako Rocks! Case File...

I'm endlessly fascinated by all the ways my life in Japan seems to crash into my love for comic books. Surfing by a certain comic book blog, I found out Misako Rocks!, who I knew solely as the ace illustrator for the The Onion A/V Club of "Savage Love" (Dan Savage's not to be missed sex advice column), is writing for Archie Comics. And doing her own manga. I'm so behind on this stuff!

Her "Savage Love" drawings always tickle me. She takes the essence of whatever dilemma the most interesting letter presents and renders it in a cheerfully perverse way. I checked out her site and her blog and added a link to my "artists" link here at my own stupid little corner of the comic book fan blogosphere.

Actually, this led to something of a dilemma for me. She's an artist and a writer. Where to link her? What to do? In the end, I arbitrarily chose "artist."

Wow... Archie Comics. I haven't read an Archie story since I was about 14 or so. And I think it was a Little Archie, at that. One where Archie, Jughead and the gang found an alien a la then-current mega-sensation E.T. and took it home. If I remember correctly, the story included barfing. Barfing in an Archie comic. So I found the official Betty & Veronica blog with info about Misako Rocks!'s Archie stories in Betty & Veronica Digest numbers 190 and 192, in which new cast member Kumi comes to Riverdale from Japan.

And, interestingly enough, Rocks! (as I like to call her) has Kumi and her family face in reverse many of the things ex-pats like myself experience making the opposite move, from the U.S. (where I was indeed a comic book character inhabiting Archie's universe... now it can be revealed) to Japan. In much the same way she artistically boils down all those sexual dilemmas and produces singularly hilarious images for "Savage Love," Misako Rocks! knowingly expresses the newness of Kumi's experiences with a few well-chosen details.

For example, Kumi and her sister Ami delight in all the crazy American snacks in the same way we tend to freak out over all the bizarre Japanese snacks, and then marvel at the huge size and high ceilings of their new American digs. Yes, houses are generally smaller in Japan than in the United States, but I suppose it depends on the architectural style. I've been in tiny Cape Cods back home and roomy places here. This kind of culture shock is universal. And very entertaining. Comforting, even. If Kumi and Ami seem well-prepared for their cultural encounters, chalk that up to the popularity of American movies and TV dramas (The OC is a phenomenon here among high school girls currently) in Japan.

In another story, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Archie visit Kumi's house for some traditional Japanese snacks. Kumi warns the gang that her mother is something of a neat freak, and the first cultural tidbit Rocks! offers is that yes, people do take off their shoes before entering Japanese houses. I'm not sure how Kumi and her family are handling this in their American-built house which no doubt lacks the little entrance... er... shoe-removal area and step-up into the house proper, but I'm sure Misako Rocks! has them coping quite capably.

The one little hiccup is the art makes it kind of difficult to tell whether they're inside or outside both at Riverdale High and at Kumi's house. I wish they'd had Misako Rocks! draw the stories as well; her style might've added that little something extra the Archie Comics publishers seem to be looking for with their "new look" experiments. But no matter; these story snippets are super-charming. I've been involved in sending lots of people abroad for homestays or company transfers since I moved to Japan, and it's fun to see the Archie-universe version of what I've imagined life is like when they get to my home country.

Hopefully their real-life experiences are as delightful and gentle as Misako Rocks! Archie Comics stories!

No comments: