These reviews are getting shorter (and later) as the end draws near. But if you missed class on Monday evening, you missed a good discussion of With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe, the first volume of an eight-volume work. We spent the first part of class examining different kinds of manga–shonen (for adolescent boys), shojo (for girls), josei (for women) and historical (e.g. Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima by Keijo Nakazawa). We noted quite a few features of each genre, which included:
- Strong, contrasting ink in many shonen manga, a contrast to the soft mid-tones of the josei With the Light.
- Thick lines and sharp angles in shonen manga, a contrast to the thin, curving lines of WTL
- A more regular, symmetrical pattern of panels in shonen, a contrast to the open (and hence timeless) panels of WTL.
- The predominance of action and action-to-action transitions in shonen, a contrast to the focus on relationships (and occasional aspect-to-aspect transitions) in WTL.
- A “breaking of the fourth wall” of fiction in josei, as it appeals directly to mothers of autistic children through informational pages and resources.
- See the Manga overview handout for more.
As we noticed these differences, one argument that emerged had to do with genre and audience: each of the manga genres speaks directly to a particular demographic. It also reinforces sometimes traditional expectations about each demographic–that boys are supposed to like violence and conflict; that women are supposed to stay at home to raise children. In this regard, WTL might be considered ahead of its time: not only does it portray a career woman (Sachiko) and her progressive husband (Masato), it also takes on the socially taboo topic of mental disorder/illness, a highly stigmatized issue in Japanese culture.
After the break, we talked more specifically about WTL, examining individual pages from the tome (these were hard to find without page numbers!). A few consensus points emerged in our discussion:
- WTL was one of the most emotionally powerful work of the semester. Why was this the case? Does a visual medium speak more immediately to us than a verbal one?
- WTL seemed more direct and honest in its portrayal of autism than any other work this semester.
- On occasion, WTL gives us insights into Hiraku’s world, and it is especially effective in showing the sensory overload he experienced. Comics as a whole have the ability to show the sense of sight, smell, sound, and touch in a visual way, and this is an advantage over a strictly verbal form.
- WTL also exemplifies how manga can appeal to autistic readers in a range of ways–by showing strong emotions, by giving readers face after face after face, by including highly detailed backgrounds and patterns, and more (see my article on this issue in particular).
Onward to Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither. We’ll also spend time prepping for the final take-home essay.