Taiyo Matsumoto is tough for me to write about in any kind of formal fashion. Not sure why. I think maybe some of it may be that he’s such an old influence for me—like I came into his work before Nihei or Daisuke Igarashi—maybe even before Inio Asano-though Asano hasn’t really influenced me artistically—but I think how I got there was I was reading Stray Toasters because when I was first sort of starting to figure out how to draw, I practiced by redrawing Frazetta and BWS, but I was looking at like Sienkiewicz and Ashley Wood—anyways so I was reading Stray Toasters, and my wife of the time saw one of the panels in it, and was like “oh wow, that’s Klimt”—so I went and looked up Klimt and was like “whoa” which led me to Schiele which was a life changing moment. As soon as I saw Schiele I knew there was something in there that I just FELT, and I wanted to explore that feeling through my own work and find my own expression through it.
So in trying to figure out how to take Schiele into comics I ran into Taiyo Matsumoto’s work. I think Tekkinkinkreet was the first work of his I read, then No. 5, then Gogo Monster, then Ping Pong, then Takemitsu Zamurai, and now Sunny. Ping Pong and Takemitsu Zamurai are prolly my fave works by him, with Gogo Monster a close third. But these works were huge to me, and I mean eventually I found Daisuke Igarashi—and I think Daisuke is even closer to my like platonic ideal of comics than even Taiyo is—but Taiyo was key. Maybe THE key. At least after Schiele. So there’s a lot of emotional investment with Taiyo.
So I was really ready for Sunny when I first saw the scanulated pages and once I learned it was coming out officially in the US, I stopped reading those pages and just waited. What excited me with Sunny was that in Takemitsu Zamurai Taiyo really found this incredible dynamic and expressive way to really sort of put his line in the forefront. And he ditched a lot of the heavier rendering techniques that were kind of holding that line down, and just trusted his brush for textures and tones— and it was amazing.
So when I first saw Sunny, I was like—well this is the logical end point of this like 30 year progression of his style. So I was crazy for this book.
But when I finally got it, that first volume was really brutal for me. The dynamism that I expected, and the expressionism was really paired back, and I thought the first book really started to highlight for me Taiyo’s inadequacies as a writer compared to someone like Igarashi, or Inio Asano.
I thought that the over abundance of these water color inks with just a lot of heavy black—and less sort of body bending compared to previous works that it looked like a children’s book almost. It had this “literary” stuffiness to it that really lacked the psychosis of Taiyo’s older work. Which was a shame, because Sunny was meant to be such a painful personal story of Taiyo’s own upbringing—but it seemed even the story had a restraint—like the dark corners of what was really going on were very hemmed in and restrained—almost sanitized. The whole thing had me really down on his work as a whole, and I was really considering how I thought about Taiyo’s work as a whole, and what role it would play for me going forward.
But out of trust I kept up with it, and…oof it was rough for awhile. It took me four months to read the second volume just because it was so demoralizing to me how much I didn’t like it—and I was just going to be done with the series there—but the last story of the second volume it finally hit me. This is the story about Haruo visiting his mother in Tokyo. And finally, FINALLY I had what I needed to hold on with the story. Haruo is absolutely the star of this book, and it’s because he is in some ways the most unrestrained character in the book—even as he is the most kind of fucked up and emotional too. He is a type of character that Taiyo has done really well in a lot of different books—he is kind of a combo of both black and white—because he has the coolness of black, even as he has the manic-ness of white. And initially Junsuke is kind of set up as the white character of this book—but I don’t think it really works quite the same, and anyways—so this Haruo chapter largely works in the loud unsaid howl of Haruo’s whole way of being. And really after this chapter it feels like Taiyo has finally found his footing with these large cast of characters—because after that there’s the great Megumu chapter, the Makio chapter—he’s figured out that this book is kind of about this kind of emotional frailty of these children, even as they are intensely strong in their abilities to adapt—but that that adaptation has it’s cost, and for as much as the adults around the star kids do their best—the damage of being discarded by your parents is real.
I also think by the third volume the stylistic choices by Matsumoto are much more in balance. After all of these styles he can approach a panel in any number of ways—and where the first volume I thought was quite rigid, and maybe it was just about nailing down the baseline style of for the book—there seems to be more of the sense by volume 3 of a master using his whole toolkit and knowing when to kick this kind of style in one panel vs. another.
I think fundamentally the strength of Taiyo’s work for his whole career is that he doesn’t just tell you here is a boy doing this thing—he gives you something more about the boy at that particular time just in the way his line jitters, or the way the shadow will cloud a face—and maybe the shadow will be these impressionistic brush strokes—or maybe it will be more traditional cross hatching techniques? But the choice always was about communicating something beyond simply what is physically there in the scene.
The Makio chapter in vol. 3 is an excellent showcase for this versatility of skill, and the pointedness of Matsumoto’s choices. We see this impressionistic jittering of styles that shift and change depending on the role that Makio is performing—so when he is more of an adult with his girlfriend at the restaurant—everything is very stable and adult, makio has his really heavily hatched sports coat which really restrains his form and constricts him. But later when he is playing baseball with the star kids, the coat is gone, and his form is stretched and bending and has less weight. That beautiful panel of Makio as a mountain climber. His face rendered heavily, inside of just these really beautiful loose lines and brush strokes. We don’t know exactly what he’s thinking in that moment—but it still is the climax of the chapter. It is the most truthful expression of Makio as the man he has become. It is his most honest portrayal so far in the book(though the earlier Makio chapter in Sunny is also pretty good).
It was interesting I started to watch the anime adaption of Ping Pong that Masaaki Yuasa is directing and while it is it’s own weird thing separate from the manga—it’s interesting to see other artists try to duplicate what Matsumoto does, and copy his lines—-and while I’m enjoying it all, and it is gorgeous—it isn’t Taiyo. When you have a style so hinged on an almost signitory movement of the line—it is uncopyable in that way. A line like that is so personal and so expressing and so singular. And it’s different to see the comic where Taiyo is just expressing himself, vs. an anime where others are trying to express Taiyo to others—and the effect is really interesting and bizarre. But it speaks to my own convictions about the line and how the line is everything. To really get up close with an artist’s line, it’s like…a fingerprint. And I love that with Taiyo that element is so up front. These are stories and they come from a place inside of me and all of my experiences to this point. That’s on the page. You don’t need to bring anything outside to glean that. You look at it and it tells you everything. It’s the same thing I think that causes some people to not be able to look at Schiele’s work. Because that line is so disturbing. There’s a deep psychosis there that can make people really uncomfortable. But it’s so beautiful to me. So simple but so beautiful. So yeah, I’ve come back around on Sunny.