Graphic Novel: Toronto artist's New Yorker short story powerful, colourful, too short

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I can finally admit the truth: The real reason I have a subscription to The New Yorker isn’t for the journalism, but the cartoons.

And there’s a doozy of a cartoon in the venerable weekly’s Dec. 28 issue, which is its annual cartoon edition, when the drawings normally found at the bottom of each page take over the magazine.

I’m talking about a gorgeous six-page piece titled Junban, by Toronto comic creator Jillian Tamaki. The story is adapted from notes written by Tamaki’s late grandfather and it is heartbreaking.

I gave rave reviews to Tamaki books such as Super Mutant Magic Academy and This One Summer, which Tamaki created with her cousin, Mariko (whose work I’ve also praised).

Here, Tamaki uses her grandfather’s voice to describe growing up fishing on the Fraser River in B.C.

Her immigrant family did not have it easy when it came to earning a living: “Our Japanese boats were smaller, with less powerful motors, because we were allowed to fish only in certain districts” while other families were given freedom to roam the river’s waters.

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Regardless of the obstacles, her grandfather’s life is idyllic. He speaks English for the first time at a local school and the fishing season lends a natural rhythm to the family’s life: “Some of my best memories are of summers on the Fraser.”

Then, the world comes crashing in on the Tamaki family.

“Sunbury was our home and our parents would have probably lived there forever. My father was making plans to build a new house on our farm when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and everything changed,” Tamaki’s grandfather recalls as he is forced to live in an internment camp in the B.C. interior. “The farm, boat, and equipment were seized by the Canadian government and sold for a pittance.”

What I love about Junban isn’t the fluid art, but the way Tamaki plays with panel structure and colour. The New Yorker isn’t exactly known for its vivid tones, but the purple and tan hues of Junban, supplemented with muted reds and greens, leap off the page.

My only complaint about Junban is I want it to be a whole book, not just half a dozen brilliant pages.

It would make the perfect companion piece to George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy.

danbrown@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/DanatLFPress

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