Sunday, November 04, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #308: The Complete Geisha by Andi Watson

Andi Watson, I think, started off expecting to tell stories of action and adventure in comics, with a fantastic flair, but kept finding those stories turning more personal and character-focused as he told them. (I could say "more mundane," but that sounds like an insult. It isn't: life itself is mundane. But it sounds that way.)

That happened on a large scale with his first major series, Skeleton Key, which I re-read earlier this year. And it happened on a smaller canvas with Geisha, the four-issue series that he created in between the main run of Skeleton Key and the four-part "Roots" coda in 1999.

The Complete Geisha is the 2003 book that collects all of the Geisha work up to that point -- I think there might be some later short stories, but this could be it. It collects the main four-part story from the fall of 1998, a one-shot follow-up from 2000, and a few short related stories.

There's no geisha in the book -- at least, not any obvious one. Jomi Sohodo is an android raised in a human family -- this seems to be rare, if not unique -- who wants to be an artist, even though it's heavily hinted that her line was designed as sexbots. She doesn't want to work in the family bodyguard business, as her three human brothers do, but it's paying work, and she has a hard time selling her paintings, so she ends up, over the course of the original story, in the family business. And that leads to drama and complications, as the body she guards is a top model with an angry ex-manager/boyfriend and her new art patron is a nasty gangster.

I don't know if Watson expected to tell a story of androids in human society, or if the sexbot thing was ever supposed to pay off. But Jomi is the only android we see, in a society that I think is supposed to be full of them, and he seems less interested in the running around and bodyguarding than he is with Jomi's struggles to get into the art world and the compromises she has to do along the way.

The one-shot, two years later, is in Watson's softer mature style -- and I could mean both the art and the story. There's more shading in the art, rounder edges , and very little "action" in the usual comics sense. And it's about Jomi as a person, particularly her relationship with one brother starting a new band, rather than anything plottier.

So this is transitional Watson, starting from the story he thought he wanted to tell (or that he thought the market wanted, or someone told him to make for that market) towards more individual stories like Love Fights or Little Star. Transitions are quirky, individual things, and Geisha shows some of that in its shape, but it's still a good Watson comic about art and family and finding your place in the world.

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