Kumayama Mountain, 1993
Did three children disappear into the forest during a school trip to Kumayama Mountain on May 19th 1993? That’s what McNee tells us on the first page of this new comic. But …. well, shall we chat about that later?
I’ve looked at McNee’s comics four times now, and each has been a visual delight, each slightly different, the minimalist stylings all hand crafted, a letraset love affair (or something like that anyway). And for three of the four, there’s an ability to transcend that minimalist style to something far more expansive.
All of that is true here. The art style might be just that little bit looser, but the familiar things are there, right from that drop dead beautiful cover. My crappy scan really does it a disservice, it’s super-smooth heavy stock, the colours rich and deep, the tiny letraset style dots creating a lovely shade/to ne effect. It’s a simple image, the forest in front of the mountain, but gosh, it’s lovely.
Anyway, the story is simple. Group venture out on school trip. Boys go into forest. Things happen. End. Epilogue.
But the thing is, there’s a level of uncertainty to it all. Firstly whether it’s based on truth or not. The temptation to google the event was impossible to resist. Nothing. You feel free to try as well. I figure it’s testament to the clever nature of McNee’s teasingly vague details.
But once that mystery passes, there’s more to consider, the tone of the piece for a start, all of it taking place in glorious black and white, very stark and always very bright, McNee not one to fill panels with layers and layers of black after black. Yet even with all this bright white detailing he manages to invoke a real sense of threat and dread as the boys venture further into the forest. And then there’s the uncertainty about what’s happening / when it’s happening…. I’ll not spoil it any more, you can go and read the book. But trust me, there’s a lot to ponder, making this something to read and re-read, experience certainly changing each read. And in that there’s a load of fun to be had. All very nicely, very cleverly done.
But as with so much of McNee’s comic and illustration work it’s the art I look at over and over again. The very deliberate choice to draw three long panels per page, some blank canvasses with simple (and very recognisably defined – different hair, face, clothes) characters, others a more detailed background…
And then there’s what’s inside each of those panels, the delicate effects, the tones really adding to the whole effect. We already talked of it with the cover, but it’s something to really look closely at.
Just like this…
Love, love, love that detail.
And then of course, there are those moments where McNee switches everything up, where we go from three panel pages, ensconced in white borders to full-bleed, full pages…
Oh. How lovely those are.
All in all, as with previous works from McNee, Kumayama Mountain, 1993 is a fine, fine thing. Lovely to look at, so much to see in those faux-minimal lines, and a small yet intriguing mystery of sorts.