By Graeme McNee.
An Afternoon in Ueno is a delightful little comic, telling an important tale of one girl’s afternoon spent in a Tokyo park, one little quiet girl rebelling in her own quiet way.
This is the new book from Graeme McNee, whose Minimal Comics we looked at a little while back. Those were delightful things, minimal and restricted by a formal structure yet packed with imagination and humour. An Afternoon in Ueno leaves that formal structure behind, but there’s still plenty of imagination here in the more trad story. Just like Minimal Comics, this is very beautiful, a small hand drawn and risograph printed comic, black and white and a gorgeously delicate blue throughout, cover thicker card, insides very thin, very tactile and textured paper. There’s even a separate little map of Ueno Park so you can follow the progress of the girl’s afternoon if ever you get the chance to visit.
McNee’s art is simple once more, but not the bare, stripped back imagery of Minimal Comics, this is something more refined, more information necessary to convey his story, his figures tiny things, all heads and pinpoint eyes, yet still full of expression and character. Additionally, there’s more to this than just the cutesy simple figures, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The tale itself is very simple on the surface, just one afternoon in a girl’s life, going to band practice in an area of Tokyo called Ueno Park. McNee describes Ueno as “an area of Tokyo that has a kind of rebellious and retro atmosphere“, but this little girl, courteous and polite with her family, cleans her room, hangs out the laundry, does her homework, and doesn’t even complain when her father ignores her request to skip band practice, surely she’s not going to rebel, not even when this happens after dad drops her off at Ueno Park ….
Oh dear. What would a perfectly mannered, good child do?
Phone home of course, but when there’s no answer on the second attempt, we see just the very slight beginning of rebellion in her head, the idea that this afternoon, for just a couple of hours at most, she suddenly has the chance to do whatever she wants.
Which is why she exits the phone booth with the most wonderful smile…
That is just fabulous isn’t it? All of creation may as well be spread in front of her and the smile wouldn’t be any wider. She’s free, she’s off to explore the park, clutching her cello with her as she goes.
From here we get to follow her as she explores, such a simple afternoon, off to the Market, where a very important hat is purchased, to the Zoo, where a tear is shed for the animals, to the Ice Cream parlour, followed by a spot of impromptu bird feeding, to the Museum Of Western Art, back out into the park, a meeting of minds takes place, fun is had, new friends are made, and this little girl’s life changes just that little bit. But that little bit may be so important, so vital, the first step towards being her own person, individuality given chance to spring forth. The simplicity of the story, the very linear nature of it, a nature that can, and is, plotted out on a map of the park, belies the importance of what’s occurring. But you as the observer get the chance to make the connections, look at the character and realise what this day may mean.
Or I’m reading too much into it and it’s just a nice walk, a new hat and a bit of a moment with dad. Either way it’s lovely, but the more complicated rebellion version suits me more thanks very much.
I must admit, I found this little comic absolutely charming, wonderfully warm and gentle pushing at your expectations.
Right, onto the art. Minimal characters certainly are the order of the day here, but even those minimal characters manage to show great expression. But frankly I was looking past them much of the time, because on the very first story page McNee presented me with this breathtaking bit of scenery…
I love that. Absolutely love it. The switch next page to close confined interior panels of the girl and her family eating is a jolt, just as McNee means it to be. We want to experience the openess of that first page once more, feel that wonderfully open sky once more, look at the powerlines cutting across. So when we do get to venture with the girl into the park, we’re freed just as she is by the art expanding once more, and there are many equally thrilling vistas on show throughout the comic. But I’ll leave you with this double page spread, where you can see the big white wonderful sky once more, the sweep of the architecture and a little girl about to venture into a market shop to find a very important hat…
You can get hold of An Afternoon In Ueno at Graeme McNee’s website.