Tokyo is my Garden
Written by Benoit Peeters & Frédéric Boilet
Art by Frédéric Boilet & Jirô Taniguchi
Translated by Vanessa Champion & Elizabeth Tiernan
A while back, Chris Butcher of comics212 mentioned that he really liked Peeters and Boilet's Tôkyô is My Garden, and wondered why people really weren't talking about it. Brigid Alverson of Mangablog and I said that it seemed enjoyable enough, if slight, and asked Chris if he could expound . Since then, Brigid and Chris have weighed in with more detailed opinions, so I figure I might as well chip in my 2¢ while we're at it.
Brigid and Chris cover the appeal of the story quite well in their posts, and I mostly agree, so there's no point in covering that ground again. So let's talk about the art. Chris thinks it's lovely and captures a sense of place, and Brigid praises Boilet's grasp of form and gesture while decrying his "penchant for using black blobs to indicate shadows and contours in the characters' faces, which makes everyone look like they are breaking out with the plague."
There aren't really any sequences in the book that stand out as particularly outstanding, so I just grabbed one of the pages that Brigid used in her post. Let's take a look.
First off, Chris is right, Boilet really does capture the real Tokyo amazingly well in his drawings. Here he captures the feeling of a cramped Tokyo apartment to a T, and on other pages he really captures the feel of a subway car, the Asakusa Shrine, and Shinjuku, among other locations. He's clearly utilizing years of direct experience, careful observation, and great skill.
Boilet's draftsmanship here is actually quite masterful. He's got a great grasp of the human figure, and lays down their forms with rough ink lines in a way that's stylish without subtracting from their solidity. The "black blobs" Brigid doesn't like are perfectly spotted so that they add just enough detail to make the figures seem fully realized without over-rendering them, or becoming an element in and of themselves as in a Muñoz drawing. Each panel is perfectly composed — the first panel with a tiny David in the background, larger figures in the foreground, and a slight three-point perspective really captures the feeling of being the last person to arrive at a party.
But despite his superlative draftsmanship and compositional talents, Boilet's storytelling is only mediocre at best. Other than the regular grid, there's nothing here that leads your eye from panel to panel. The individual panel compositions may be great, but they're also composed with no concession to the neighboring panels. The spotted detail that works for individual images becomes a distracting pattern when repeated from panel to panel and image to image. And I do mean repeated — I count at least a dozen drawings where David has the exact same neutral facial expression and detailing as that last panel.
For that matter, David's expressions in the last two panel doesn't make him seem like he's telling a joke, even awkwardly. In fact, I'm not sure what he's supposed to be feeling or conveying at all. I suppose to some extent this helps underscore the feeling that David is an outsider at this gathering, that he's an impenetrable enigma to the partygoers — but it still seems unnatural. Fortunately, this isn't a problem book-wide, though the emotions can seem a bit superficial.
So while I admire Boilet's skill as an draftsman, I have to say that I don't think much of him as a cartoonist. Which probably explains why I prefer Mariko Parade, which is largely illustrated by Kan Takahama.