I would never consider myself a “jaded” reader by any stretch of the imagination, but in point of fact there really is very little I haven’t seen done before in comics. I may have seen it (whatever the “it” we’re talking about is) done better or done worse, but that truly “out of left field” reading experience that one at least occasionally yearns for? It simply doesn’t happen for me all that often.
And then I came across Tetsunori Tawaraya.
The Tokyo native who spent some time in the US playing in various west coast punk bands before returning home has the kind of imagination that is best described as utterly unique, and the sheer artistic skill to bring his dystopian, hallucinatory visions to life on the page, but there are plenty of cartoonists you can say that about — what sets his work apart, besides its subject matter, is a downright mysterious authorial point of view, one that bobs and weaves between a kind of disarming earnestness and classic tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Yeah, he embraces the absurd as a matter of course, and his comics are hardly short on humorous content, but there’s also a sense that he genuinely believes the outrageous stuff he comes up with is really freaking cool — and on that score, he’s absolutely correct.
I guess I’m a little late to the party when it comes to Tawaraya, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, and fortunately, Hollow Press is helping me to play catch-up. The book we’re here to analyze (to the extent that such a thing is even possible) today, for instance, Crystal Bone Drive, originally saw the light of day in 2016, but a recently-issued fourth printing means it’s still readily available, and what a sight to behold it is — printed in stunning silver ink on jet-black paper, it’s a heavy-duty object that plays with some pretty heavy-duty concepts, but it never loses sight of its inherent batshit craziness : to the contrary, it embraces it, rolls with it, and isn’t afraid to let you know that it thinks it’s all pretty kick-ass. For the record, I’m in no position to disagree.
Setting : the future. A seedy neighborhood. An even seedier limbs-and-organs-for-cash “swap shop.” The protagonists : horrifyingly mutated post-humans who tear through the wastelands on souped-up motorcycles and equally-mutated beasts. The goal : scoring an illegal pulmonary drug known as LSREE. The shit : constantly hitting the fan. To say much more would be to say too much.
If you gave a 12-year-old kid a couple tabs of high-grade acid, I dunno — this might be like what they’d come up with, provided they could draw really well. The youthful exuberance here simply cannot be denied, even considering the utterly meticulous attention to detail that is Tawaraya’s stock in trade. There’s little by way of actual characterization on offer here, it’s true, but I’d contend that in this case such a thing would be counter-productive : maybe it’s just me, but when we’re talking about giant insectoid and reptilian and downright alien figures, I’m pretty cool with sketching out what makes them tick in fairly broad strokes. Some works simply don’t work when anything resembling subtlety enters the equation, and this is one of them — loud, brash, pedal-to-the-metal nihilism is the order of the day, and while it asks plenty of proverbial “big questions” about where we’re headed, it doesn’t slow down to actually answer them. In fact, Tawaraya strikes me as the kind of guy who would dismiss such things as strictly the province of squares. And they’re gonna be out of business on page one here.
And yet — bizarre as it may sound, I’m not ready to call this an unsophisticated comic in any way, shape, or form. Tawaraya’s presentation is direct, unmitigated, and without pretense, but it’s incredibly visually literate, and the plot, while staggeringly simple, is smartly constructed. You may not know precisely what you’re looking at all the time, but it’s still pretty damn easy to follow the overall thrust of events, even at breakneck speed. There’s not much time to slow down and think about this book, it’s true, but if you do? You’ll find that it not only stands up to scrutiny, it’s almost fiendishly clever.
And “fiendish” is probably a pretty damn good adjective to describe this entire reading experience, come to think of it. Tawaraya draws like a fiend, depicts a world full of nothing but fiends, and you’d have to be a real fiend yourself not to be equal parts flabbergasted and transfixed by it all.
Crystal Bone Drive is available for $15.00 from Floatiing World Comics at https://floatingworldcomics.com/shop/comic-books/crystal-bone-drive-by-tetsunori-tawaraya
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