Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Okay, let's start with a bold statement, then slap a couple of caveats on, to thus produce an odd semantic sandwich to chew over whilst we get proceedings started.
This is now my favourite wordless comic ever. Given that puts it in the company of works like Erik Drooker's BLOOD SONG and Shaun Tan's THE ARRIVAL, I realise that could raise a few arched eyebrows, but this is quite simply stunning, inventive, ingenious and also absolutely utterly and ridiculously hilarious. So whilst it might not end up being your favourite wordless comic ever (THE ARRIVAL does take some beating, let us be honest about it, in fact I might have to amend that to joint-favourite heh heh) I am pretty confident it could end up being your favourite comedic wordless comic.
Semantics is a good word to invoke around wordless comics, I feel, given one of its usages is in the meaning or interpretation of words, sentences, or other linguistic forms. Comics are one of those other linguistic forms obviously, and wordless comics a very particular subset again which, to truly succeed, need above all for the story to be clear to the reader. Not that events shouldn't require some interpretation on behalf of the reader, for is that not the sheer beauty of THE ARRIVAL, putting yourself in the place of the émigré, who suddenly finds himself in a literally incomprehensible place, trying to make sense of the unfolding strange, new world around him?
ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN is not that dissimilar, as the poor unfortunate and unsuspecting salaryman, who we first meet quietly waiting to cross the road, is about to embark upon an unwilling expedition to weird and wonderful (plus several not-so-wonderful) realms, and various states of being, not to mention existence, which together will all make for the ultimate bad day at the office!
Things start off not relatively implausibly to begin with, partly to lull us into a false sense of security, I'm sure, as he gets caught in the crossfire of two Yakuza trading lead at each other from limousines on opposing sides of the road, and barely makes it past them intact. Unfortunately he walks straight into some sort of incident involving a raging customer at a sushi stand who promptly gets flattened by the giant sushi roll which falls off the roof when he starts shaking it, cue much panic and hysteria as passers-by frantically leap out of the way. As the businessman ducks to one side he inhales some escaping fumes from a nearby Biotech company and promptly starts hulking out into some weird blue monster and then goes on the rampage. And so on, and so forth... And if you think that sounds surreal, believe me, it's the absolute powder-coated tip of the iceberg!
So, what makes this truly nonsensical adventure shine then? Well quite simply, it's the construction of the work itself and Jose Domingo's art. It's done in a strict 2 x 2 grid, aside from the occasional whole-page splash. The book being a lovely outsize edition, by the way, so each individual panel is pretty huge in and of itself. Which is fantastic because they are all positively crammed with detail, and each page forms a little, well, gag strip in itself, I suppose, with the businessman frequently extricating himself from his current predicament only to be immediately dragged into the next situation in the final panel of each and almost every page. (I did wonder if the format was a little nod to the Japanese pre-modern-manga tradition, when comics in Japan were pretty much just that, just one-page gag strips, before people such as Tatsumi started producing 'gegika' like BLACK BLIZZARD, proper stories composed of literally 'dramatic pictures'. )
The art itself put me in mind of a neat and tidy Marc (HOT POTATOE [sic]) Bell, but rendered in beautiful full colour. (I have included a few interior pages for you to have a look at.) You may also see hints of others like Jim (CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS) Woodring and Jason (ISLE OF 100,000 GRAVES) in there, though, not least because of the surreal nature of the tale puts them in mind. Each panel typically has the same viewpoint, perspective-wise, so the story really just seamlessly flow on from absurd scenario to even more absurd scenario, and just when you think you've reached the zenith, or nauseous nadir from the point of the businessman, something even more truly bizarre occurs. And yet, it always does make creditability-stretching sense in the context of what has immediately gone before, which is another genius element of this work.
The businessman does get a few brief moments of respite and false hope along the way to catch his breath, but they always turn out to be false dawns before the next nightmare swiftly commences! As absurdist fiction goes, I can't think of anything comparable in terms of such a smooth, flowing read as this. The artwork is truly gorgeous as you would expect from a Nobrow book, of course, they really do seem to be managing to maintain a very high standard of output.
There's even a hilarious little epilogue just to round things off nicely. Initially the businessman is firmly clenching his briefcase for dear life like a protective shield or talisman, but eventually he is parted from it. Just as I was finishing the story I was found myself wondering what had happened to it, and so was greatly amused to find its ultimate fate is revealed in said epilogue! Near perfection, this for me, which when it's your wider comics debut, is clearly going to take some following up.