Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #287: August Moon by Diana Thung

At this point in the year, I've run out of clever openings for these posts, especially for a book by a new creator. That's not necessarily a bad thing: you could say that Diana Thung's work has left me speechless, and that wouldn't be too misleading....

August Moon is the second graphic novel by Thung, whom I believe is still pretty young; her first was Captain Long Ears, which I haven't seen. She was born in Indonesia, now lives in Sydney, Australia, and went to art school -- some of that is semi-standard, but the Indonesia-to-Australia (with a long stopover for childhood in Singapore) gives her a different perspective on the world than most of the graphic novelists we see in North America. And that's lovely to see; this book takes it time getting where it's going, and spends its time creating a sense of place more than feeding a tediously linear plot.

August Moon is clearly influenced by the films of Hayao Miyazaki, but that's not an influence we've seen a lot in comics: everyone likes Miyazaki's work, but telling that kind of mostly quiet story about the numinous and indescribable through imagery and allusion is less common. It's set in the small town of Calico, somewhere on the outskirts of a large and peaceful and relatively rich country -- it could be Australia, or Indonesia, or even China. Or none of them, or no defined nation. It's the town that matters.

That town has a tradition that "Soul Fires" -- the spirits of their ancestors -- can be sometimes seen in the skies. Skeptics thinks it's just fireflies. But we know the truth: those are lanterns held by round, fuzzy creatures -- like teddy bears with rabbit ears, or like Totoro. And a company named Monkey -- whose employees all look identical, wear the same suits, and carry handguns -- has just bought a shop in Calico, with plans to take over in an underhanded, supernatural way, and kill all of those creatures along the way. We don't know exactly what they're doing, but we know it's bad, and we know they need to be stopped.

Calico has an unlikely champion: the street kid Jaden, who may be from the moon and may be from the tribe of rabbits. (Eternally opposed to the monkeys, of course.) And it has the scientist, Eric Gan, called in to do an autopsy on one of the creatures killed the night the monkeys began their plan -- or, more importantly, his daughter Fiona, just eleven years old.

Thung doesn't explain the rules of her world, but it's clear that adults aren't supposed to see the creatures -- though Jaden does, all of the time, and he leads Fiona to them in his elliptical, distracted way. And it's the two of them who will have to save Calico from the monkeys, if it's to be saved at all.

Thung has an indy-comics drawing style, just a hair cruder than you'd expect, and shows facial expressions through tiny changes -- her people, especially her adults, look serious to the edge of stoic, making the laughs and nonsense rhymes of the kids stand out that much more. August Moon would make an interesting and evocative animated movie, if a Miyazaki could be persuaded to make it -- and it's already made a lovely and creepy graphic novel, the story of the mysteries of childhood and the joys of a hometown.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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