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Red Colored Elegy
posted May 29, 2008
Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 240 pages July 2008, $24.95
I can't imagine any comics fan who can afford a copy of Red Colored Elegy
not wanting one for their library. I don't know that I've ever read a comic quite like this one. Seiichi Hayashi's seminal work examines a relationship between two young people set against a backdrop of disappointment and ennui and economic hardship that flows into the foreground in an almost suffocating manner. I found this at times to be the most depressing comic I've ever read, in the fragility of its two leads as they hope for better circumstances while being buffeted by lesser ones. It's also elegantly drawn and designed, with a lot of attention paid to figure work in terms of how the two relate to one another. Some of it, such as a trip to the beach where the pair never quite get on the same page, are as realistically observed as anything I've ever read in comics, and devastating for that emotional truth.
I don't have the insight to figure out how people in Japan latched onto this early '70s work; I'm too far away from these characters and the time in my life I could have looked at the world this way to figure out how anyone could have seen the pair as role models or the situation as anything than an invitation to start crying. What sticks with me is a lot of the cartooning solutions that Hayashi brought to the page, the way that very simple cartooning can be taken in bold new directions through something other than a prodigious display of old-school craft. I'm afraid to read more than a page again, but every page I will read likely holds within it a different approach to page than any I'm used to, and that's cause for happiness.