Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buddha, Vol. 1 and Palestine

    Well, it was bound to happen. I'm sort of surprised it hasn't happened sooner. Regardless of the generally good taste of my friends, co-workers, and blog-followers, there was bound to come a book or two that I didn't enjoy. In fact, two books. In a row. The third and fourth picks from this month's What Should Kester Read? selections.
    I came to Buddha with a personal bias that made for an enjoyment barrier. I don't love manga. And Tezuka is the king of manga. Astro Boy is Tezuka. Speed Racer isn't Tezuka, but might as well be. Which is fine, but it's so distinctive that I end up seeing Speed Racer even when I'm supposed to see the boy who will be the Buddha.
    The story doesn't help. Not the story of the Buddha, but Tezuka's take on it. Unless I'm missing something, it's just the classic myth writ "cool" for a new audience. The time and place are right, but the vernacular is updated to the tastes of a 12 year old boy. It's like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet in reverse. And it doesn't work. It makes the myth less mysterious. It makes it seem like an episode of Astro Boy, starring everyone's favorite action hero, the Buddha.
    Palestine I also disliked, but for different reasons that are more difficult to pin down and articulate. It wasn't that I didn't like the art and it wasn't that I didn't like the story, which seem like the main factors in enjoying a graphic novel. This had more to do with layout and form. If Palestine were a film, I wouldn't blame the screenplay, I'd blame the director. The whole thing feels shot wrong, or maybe just not shot in a way I like. Either way, I didn't like it. I'd actually have preferred to have read it as a straight piece of reporting and not reporting in a graphic novel format.
    What's sad is that both stories, in different hands, would have made for excellent graphic novels. The story of the Buddha, especially, I would still love to see done as a graphic novel, but done better. Unfortunately, most folks who have read Buddha don't share my opinion of it and won't be clamoring for someone else's take.
    Fortunately, my fifth and final selection was better. Blankets.

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