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Comic books of compassion

by Chris Mackenzie

Two new and welcome comic anthologies join the wide range of work that has sprung in response to the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

SPIRIT OF HOPE. Comic Book Alliance. 2011, 114 pp., £14.99 (paperback)
AFTERSHOCK: Artists Respond to Disaster in Japan. Biguglyrobot, 2011, 135 pp., $12 (paperback)

“Aftershock” and “Spirit of Hope” employ a range of approaches and styles unique to comics to choreograph the feelings and, in some cases, the experiences of artists and writers based in Japan and internationally. Both projects were initiated to raise funds for relief efforts for Tohoku and also, in the case of “Spirit of Hope,” Christchurch.

“Spirit of Hope,” which counted on contributions from more than 90 of the most established artists and writers working in comics, carries cover art by Jimmy Broxton and a further limited edition cover featuring art by Michael Allred. Printed on beautiful stock, the stories pulsate with color and with a characteristic urgency and energy that has driven both initiatives without compromising quality. As well as an impressive array of stories by the likes of Alan Grant, Peter Hogan and Tony Lee, there are a number of striking full-page artworks by artists such as Mark Buckingham, Al Davison, Simon Coleby and Natalie Abadzis.

“Aftershock” features work by over 35 contributors and a number of stories, such as those by Jason Young, Ben Snakepit and Abby Denson, take the autobiographical approach that is familiar to independent comics. In the same spirit, the book benefits from a number of longer strips such as “When Japan Shook” by Barry Lancet and Akiko Shimojima, which provides a telling insight into the reactions of people in Tokyo in the aftermath of the disaster.

Both collections feature adroit and original takes on familiar cultural tropes such as samurai, sakura and Japanese legends. At their heart is the very human desire to reach out, as in “Aftershock,” in which Jeffrey Brown ends his story with the view that “culture isn’t things, or even ideas, it’s people.”

Liam Sharp’s atmospheric and brilliant “Amongst the Trees” addresses “Spirit of Hope’s” aim to reach out and challenge the dislocation we often feel toward victims of disaster. His character reflects: “in seconds she was a memory, then, less than a memory.” The idea of making a connection is central to stories in both books that juxtapose benign everyday life with scenes of unfolding catastrophe.

In “Walking to Japan,” one of the final stories in “Aftershock,” Ben Hutchings bridges this divide with a character that literally and figuratively strides across the sea to Japan.

It is the message again that resonates in both books and an apt metaphor for the steps that these initiatives have taken to reach out.

“Spirit of Hope” is available from www.comicbook.org.uk. “Aftershock” is available from www.biguglyrobot.net.