15 Jan / Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian and Elizabeth Tiernan
“This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” Thus begins award-winning, prodigious Japanese manga artist Hideo Azuma’s tri-part reminiscences that capture three highly difficult periods of his life, indeed presented with so much “realism removed” as to provide plenty of giddy (and guilty) Schadenfreude entertainment.
Azuma’s alter-ego is a squat, one-eyed-ish, comical character who miraculously survives two extended bouts of runaway homelessness and another of incarcerated alcoholism. His debilitating “depression, anxieties, and delusions …” cause him twice (in 1989 and again in1992) to quit all his manga assignments, leave home, and set up what must have been a miserable subsistence in the woods. But Azuma presents his dumpster-diving, liquor-searching, cigarette-butt gleaning days with a light, tongue-in-cheek attitude that never sinks to gloom and doom … even when his alter-ego decides suicide might be the best option of all.
From his aimless vantage point during his second time out, Azuma notices, “Everyone’s working. Maybe I oughtta be, too,” and ends up getting a job with the gas company. His “blue-collar” stint leaves him in great physical shape after a year-plus of hard labor, but soon he’s had enough and quits that, too: “I had nothing to do [so] I went back to drawing manga.”
Five years of a different kind of hard labor creating endless manga for others leaves Azuma a delusional alcoholic mess. His shockingly patient wife (she must be a saint!) finally rescues him from himself and commits him into a psychiatric hospital. His road to redemption – paved with IVs, arm and leg restraints, cyanide (a painful inhibitor against alcohol consumption), AA meetings, and an endless parade of wacky characters – eventually leads to the promise of true release. “Maybe another two months here,” he ponders on the final page. But he’s also planning ahead: “There are a lot of other things that happened and strange people I met here, but I’ll save that for next time … ” We’ll be waiting …
Published: 2008 (United Kingdom, United States)