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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Roger Dahl's Comic Japan - Book Review

A few years back, my Chicago-area friend Steve Guzelis and I thought we'd become rich and famous doing a cartoon strip for the newspapers of our two countries (Canada and the U.S.)—as though that was something no one else had ever thought of before.

We already had the concept and had previously produced strips, but we had done a piss-poor job of marketing it (we didn't, actually)… so why not try and see if it could be something other than fodder for the dreaded Artist's Alley at a Comic Con (been there/sat through that - for seven years or more), and instead maybe aspire to one day have our work line the bottom of someone's canary cage?

But, as usually happens, talk is cheap and so are we.

It's why I have a high degree of respect and admiration and jealousy for those men and women who get off their collective ass and find a publisher for their comic strip.

I could list a plethora of cartoonists here that I have enjoyed reading, but instead, I'm only going to talk about one guy in particular… someone people outside of Japan may not have heard of.

Roger Dahl is the creator of the poignant and funny Zero Gravity cartoon strip, an almost too honest look at what life is like for a gaijin in Tokyo, published for many, many years by The Japan Times newspaper.

The Zero Gravity strip has such a following, that the folks at Tuttle Publishing figured Japanophiles around the world might get a kick out of seeing them: and voila!, we have Roger Dahl's Comic Japan, a collection of his wonderful cartoon strips.

This black and white and grey-tone collection of every day conundrums faced by the average gaijin via Dahl's discernible characters is highly amusing.

I wouldn't call it knee-slapping, because that's not really anything other than what stereotypes do anymore, but it is entertaining.

Of the 300+ cartoons presented over the 168 pages, excluding a mere handful, every scene and every befuddlement presented was indeed something I could relate to—even as an ex-pat from the previous century.

The art is clean, the lettering (when necessary) legible, the jokes are witty.

They aren't original—how could it be?—as Dahl takes the scenes from real life, exaggerating here and there merely to make a more comedic point. That's fine. That's comedy.

It's why I could look at each cartoon and crack a smile as I recollect just how bang-on-the-money Dahl's cartoon was/is.

It's not Peanuts, The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Prince Valiant or even The Yellow Kid (should anyone over the age of 115 be reading this).

But Roger Dahl's Comic Japan is a nice collection of Tokyo bon mots that will tickle the ex-pat and even the casual visitor to Japan.

Because of the inside-jokiness of the cartoons, I don't really believe anyone who hasn't been to Japan, or specifically Tokyo would enjoy it.

But maybe you would. Let's find out...

Here's one to try out (click on the image to enlarge it):

It's funny to me because, without saying a word, Dahl captures that spirit of Japan. It shows how when at work you are part of a team, and must work as one unit towards the common goal. In this case, the common goal is to fan as one while waiting for the public transport.

Obviously that isn't that true a case, but Japan is such a wacky place, there's a part of us that actually believes that such a ridiculous scenario could be 100% true! (I assume there is always a gaijin clause that excludes gaijin from having to follow Japan's rules to the letter.) But would one need to fan as a team? I wouldn't put it past the Japanese!

That's why this book is genius. Every cartoon by Dahl actually takes a look at the Japanese psyche and, if you are paying attention, will make one go 'huh'.

Oh! And another reason I really like this book, is that Dahl plays up on the Japanese inability to pronounce the letter L… no, not by having the Japanese pronounce the impossible to pronounce names, but rather simply allowing us, the dear reader, to be aware that our heroes are named Larry and Lily.

Rarry and Riry. Dahl is an evil genius! What a wonderful rife!

For those interested in ordering a copy of Roger Dahl's Comic Japan or other fine books on a plethora of Japanese topics, visit

Andrew Joseph

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