Big in Japan is Moogs Kewell’s diary comics account of her trip to Japan in April 2011 to attend her friends Masami and Taka’s wedding. It’s a whirlwind tour round the sights of Tokyo (and beyond) that combines visual records of trips to local landmarks like the Ghibli Museum, the Fuji TV building and the Tokyo Tower with anecdotal observations, and accounts of the usual touristy mishaps that befall us all on such jaunts.
Now, first up, I will confess that I’m something of a diary comic addict. I love these little windows into other people’s lives and I’ve reviewed a number of them in the past in ‘Small Pressganged’ (Sally-Anne Hickman’s diary comics here for example or Kayla Marie Hillier’s here). I’m also aware that, as a sub-genre of the slice-of-life comics strand of storytelling, they are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s fair enough – I can understand why some may prefer a more structured narrative style to their autobiographical comics reading than the random thoughts and throwaway observations diary comics often contain.
However, and stating the blindingly obvious for a moment, essentially it all comes down to a question of execution. An engaging raconteur can bring life to even the most pedestrian of everyday yarns and, in the case of a comics creator, an artist with a flair for visual wit and an imaginatively constructed themed approach on the page can transform the sequential art equivalent of looking at someone’s holiday snapshots into an engaging and immensely likeable travelogue.
And that’s exactly what Moogs Kewell achieves with Big in Japan. Not only is she an agreeable presence as a narrator but her hybrid technique to the visuals is a storytelling winner. In these pages she deftly switches between an overt manga style cartooning when depicting her own adventures to a sketchbook realism when it comes to the more tourist-oriented sightseeing records. It gives the comic a real feel of a holiday scrapbook with the landscape format letting her arrange images across the page in an affably scattershot way.
Those little personal touches incorporated into Big in Japan also add an individualistic feel to the proceedings. Each page is lettered in her own handwriting, and she has a penchant for self-deprecation that is quite appealing in its implementation. This is not a book that’s going to amaze you with incisive analysis of cultural differences but what it does provide is an amiable, gentle humour and a knack for fully immersing you in its author’s experiences. From the frustrations of lost luggage, to the sombre moments post-earthquake aftershock, through to the awe inspired by the majesty of ancient shrines, or the childlike glee of finding a Marie Antoinette action figure with a detachable head on sale in a tacky store, Kewell makes the reader feel like they are an integral part of her world for these forty or so pages.
I’ve no doubt that Big in Japan was created as much for Moogs Kewell as it was for a potential audience but that, in my most humble of opinions, usually makes for the very best autobiographical comics. If you dig diary comics and enjoy the escapism of losing yourself in somebody’s else’s life for a while then you’ll find an undoubted charm to Kewell’s pleasingly rambling ruminations on her holiday hi-jinks.
You can order Big in Japan priced £3.50 from Moogs Kewell’s online store here.