One of the things I often try to do when I write critically is to divorce the work from my own personal biography or feelings, and try to write about the art as close to the art itself as I possibly can. I do this because I want to sort of wear the skin of the art, and allow it’s attributes to express themselves through me, and in doing so, hopefully find things in the work and myself that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. Which that last sentence sort of disavows the stated goals of the first–but it is accurate to say that I hold both thoughts concurrently. And that while I realize it impossible to ever divorce anything I say, or see from myself, what I’m really talking about is the relationship that I have to the work, and allowing the work it’s own space so that more can be revealed. And when I talk about revelation in art, I’m really talking about revelation of self, because the things I see in art are the things I am seeing in myself–so a lot of this approach is simply allowing for whatever sense of self that exists within the art, to be called forth and to be interrogated.
I’m writing this in front of planned writing on Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph book, published by Fantagraphics. I’m doing it because Inio Asano’s work, particularly this book and to some extent Oyasumi Punpun are deeply personal works for me, and it is perhaps much more difficult for me to set aside what I’m bringing to those works, than in other experiences.
The first time I read Nijigahara Holograph was maybe 2007ish. It was in the blur of time when I was moving back and forth from Rhode Island the first time. It was around when Obama was starting to run for president. I had tried to kill myself twice in the spring/summer of I think 2008. 2008 was also when I started making my first comic Ophelia, which was my collage comic made out of cut up images of Gemma Ward,Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, and iconography from the various tarot card readings I was doing each week to write the story.
I say this to say that the first time I read Nijigahara Holograph was during a really transformatory time. I kind of read all of Inio Asano’s work except Punpun and Girl by the Sea during that time period, and the sense he created of lost broken adults with no future was extremely palpable to me. Economically I was below the poverty line(I still am) and I had been let go from a job I was doing really well at simply because another company had bought them. So a lot of these messages resonated powerfully with me.
Most of Asano’s best work deals with the ways in which childhood trauma and untreated mental illness warp and destroy their way into these broken malfunctioning adults who then rehash those same traumas back into the world creating a new cycle for the next generation–over and over and over.
His work, particularly Nijigahara Holograph, depicts a kind of silent howl into an uncaring void. And if you’ve been in that space ever, you can see that familiar weight the kids walk around school with.
Coming up as a kid torn between two abusive religious families as a kid with body horror/gender issues I can see myself in the way Amahiko or Punpun stand or sleep. I used to throw tantrums when I was a really little kid about various toys I wanted, but the two tantrums I remember most, one was when my mom got married to my step-dad, and the other was this time when my dad was picking me up from my mom’s at a dog show, and ha, I’ll never forget that instead of just putting up with me, my dad just dumped me back off on my mom. I was maybe 4 years old, maybe 3. Really young. I learned early on that my emotions wouldn’t find their expression in family. And when you couple that with my transgender stuff and how that mixed with the uber-religious nature of my surroundings, and the crushing guilt of that, and not being able to find an outlet for any of that–I dove into art. In books, music, and movies I at least had a way to engage myself and try and find my own answers. The pressure of religion also drove me really early through existential works, and so I went through that whole period of questioning god, heaven, hell, and existence, on my own in my room, ages 8-10. I read philosophical works I had no way of understanding just to try to find the magical combination of words that would make me feel less shitty and less worthless. I remember as a 8 or 9 year old hiding under my bed with a pocket knife my grandpa had given me, for a whole afternoon, thinking about cutting myself with it, and what would happen if I did.
So by the time I hit my teens I was so numb and fucked up in the head, that high school was like…something that happened to someone else. It was around this time that I ran into Neon Genesis Evangelion. Eva combined all of my issues of depression, suicide, parental issues, and religious issues into one crazy mecha punch soup. And it wrecked me. Probably Eva and reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian were the two most devastating things I did as a teen.
This matters, because one of the things Nijigahara Holograph IS, is Evangelion sans mechs. So when there are all of these references to Eva in Holograph, besides already hitting up my mental health issues, it’s also connecting to a serious moment in my childhood.
Evangelion was one of these works that I experienced and it just made me hungrier for art, I wanted to find the thing that made me experience that rush and connection again, or hopefully in an even more severe way. From 17-22 this was mostly through movies and hiphop and some comics. So when I read Asano I would have been…25ish I think. Which I came out at 23 two years after a suicide attempt which put me in a mental health ward. An attempt which lost me most of my close friends that I had at the time–and being hurt and alone and responsible for only myself, I couldn’t bear to live another second also having to deal with being in the closet about who I was. One life was hard enough to fuck up. I wasn’t about that get to 50 with the wife and kids, and be like “guess what?” life. I’ve never been able to see much of a future for myself, but I think coming out was the first time I ever made an attempt at at least living in the present. There’s this moment in Nijigahara Holograph where Amahiko has collapsed in the snow and ash of the terrible world around him, and Khota is suddenly in front of him and he says, “And yet you still live”. That’s those mornings waking up with terrible headaches unable to really move, with your arm more a twisting ribbon of scarring flesh than anything resembling a human appendage, “And yet you still live”.
What Asano does better than anyone in any other medium is he captures the sensation of surviving horror and dissociation, and having to live in a world surrounded by so many people who are so much better at faking it than you. Sometimes depression is like caring about everything all at once, which is the same as being hurt by everything all at once–over and over, until you learn not to get up anymore. And while I think Punpun is his opus on the matter- Nijigahara Holograph is his most focused effort on it, his most concise treatise on it. And like I said, I read it at an impressionable time.
Though with Asano, he’s so good that every time you read his best work it becomes an impressionable time.
So yeah. All of that is what I’m trying to NOT bring to my critical writing on Nijigahara Holograph. It’s okay for you to know it’s there. In fact, I am writing this as part catharsis, and part because I do want to talk about the personal impact of the book in total. Plus I am very exhibitionist when it comes to the things which hurt or shame me. I enjoy the humiliation of confessional writing. If I ever do write an autobiography I’ll frame it as an apology, probably. Ha.