A Tana Oshima Double-Bill : “Filthy”

For some cartoonists, 16 pages is all it takes to fully transport readers into a new and unfamiliar frame of mind that they come to know as intimately as their own (for good, ill, or both) by the time it’s over.

Well, okay, maybe for one cartoonist — that cartoonist being the remarkable Tana Oshima.

I raved about one of Oshima’s previous self-published efforts, Vagabond, on this very site in the none-too-distant past, but now she has two new minis soon to be released, both boasting superb production values (heavy-duty paper between thick, card-stock covers) and yours truly is genuinely honored to provide you, dear reader, with advance reviews of both. Filthy is the logical of the two (the other being Masquerade) to start with in that it both expands upon and, remarkably, deepens themes that carry over from Vagabond — namely the alienation, isolation, and de facto ostracization (is that even a word?) that are, depressingly, part and parcel of the immigrant experience — but does so in a manner more surreal, lyrical, and visually poetic than its predecessor.

Stop and consider that for a minute if you would, please, because Vagabond was already one of the “more surreal, lyrical, and visually poetic” comics in recent years.

Our unnamed protagonist this time out (although one, as always, in safe to infer it’s more or less Oshima herself) inhabits a shifting physical landscape that retains an aura of squalor and borderline-hopelessness whether it’s “presently” constituted as a motel, a movie theater, or an elaborate rocketship-style construct, and I put quotation marks around “presently” quite deliberately : time, you see, moves differently in an Oshima comic, and tends to circle back on itself rather than simply “progress” — which is probably a purely academic concern anyway given that the motel, the movie theater, and the rocketship-style construct are all, as it turns out, the same place.

Which, trust me, only sounds confusing — the dream-like character of this story actually makes a highly intuitive type of sense, and contains enough recognizable “real-world” elements for just about anyone to relate to it immediately. Struggles with hygiene, intimacy (with both others and oneself), gainful employment, affordable housing, and crushing student debt are a sad reality for millions, and while only some people are confronted with all these challenges at the same time, reading about a person facing them concurrently doesn’t feel so much like a case of “piling on” as it does an honest accounting of the lives of millions that we at least know about, maybe even know personally.

Sparse and expressive imagery complements the fluid-but-austere internal monologue that makes up the entirety of the narrative for a very holistic piece of sequential-art storytelling here, and the blue-gray tones Oshima contrasts her economically-deployed black lines with gives this “world” a feeling that’s appropriately bleak, but not without its charms. Rather, I suspect, much like the day-to-day lives of far too many “twenty-somethings” to count. Yes, elements of the fantastic abound herein — those tubes Oshima populates her strips with sure do bring to mind Jeff Nicholson’s criminally under-appreciated Through The Habitrails — but they feel like they “belong,” whereas the protagonist/authorial stand-in herself frequently doesn’t.

Which, of course, is the point — it could probably even be argued that it’s the entire point. And no one communicates the perspective of the genuine “outsider” with more sympathy and authenticity these days than Tana Oshima. Filthy represents the purest distillation of her ongoing artistic project to date and is not to be missed under any circumstances.


Austin English should have this one up for sale on his Domino Books site fairly soon. Check for updates at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.htm

Find out more about Tana Oshima’s other comics and ‘zines at https://dostoievskiswife.bigcartel.com/

Please support me on Patreon , as well — I’ve recently lowered the price to a buck a month, and you get three pieces of exclusive writing every week on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. I’d very much appreciate having your support and promise you great value for your money.

Oh, here’s a link for that, too :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


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