Living in a foreign country can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak the language. You might miss out on a lot, especially if you’re only there for a short period of time. Which might be why, back in 2006, German artist Dirk Schwieger proposed the following to his readers while living in Tokyo: send him suggestions for places to go, people to meet, or just interesting topics to investigate, and he will go out and do it. No questions asked, and he doesn’t have to like it. Then he chronicled each “assignment” in the form of a webcomic on his blog.
In 2008 these comics were collected into a book, Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly From Tokyo. The name “Moresukine” comes from the Japanese method of pronouncing “Moleskine,” the brand of notebook the original comics were created in, which the printed book sought to emulate in its design. The book is the size and cut of a Moleskine notebook, and if not for the illustration on the blue band wrapped around the cover, it could easily be mistaken for one.
The book consists of a brief introduction and story, followed by the stories of each assignment, from fashion to fugu. He covers topics as diverse as the Studio Ghibli Museum, love hotels, and Japanese slang. Each story is short but sweet; few overstay their welcome, while some, like the entry on religion, might not be long enough. He plays with the passage of time on a few assignments; the rooftop roller coaster entry tells the story of riding the roller coaster while simultaneously recounting the events leading up to that ride. The gender entry is actually a fold-out page; a series of random, yet interconnected thoughts are spread across a sheet two pages wide and two pages tall. It can be confusing, but greatly satisfying once all the pieces fall into place.
As all of the main Moresukine strips have previously appeared on the web, Schwieger attempts to sweeten the pot by offering bonus material in the published book. The last section consists of a series of strips created by other artists, chronicling their responses to a challenge issued by Schweiger: talk to a Japanese person and write a strip about it. The selection of artists is mostly European, with a few from Canada and the United States. Some of the choices are rather… interesting, including Steve Havelka of Pokey the Penguin! and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. These two are not what you think of when you talk about “artistic” or “worldly” comics, but they produce interesting and entertaining results nonetheless. My favorite was the story by Monsieur le Chien, who took the time out to draw a strip chronicling not only his search for and encounter with a Japanese person, but also his previous thoughts on the Japanese (and also stereotypes of Frenchmen driving through the countryside in a Citroen Chevaux 2).
Moresukine is a quick read that can be confusing at times, but it provides an interesting and non-judgmental look at the culture of Japan through the eyes of a foreigner, all while not being afraid to experiment with the layout of a traditional comic.
Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly From Tokyo
written and illustrated by Dirk Schwieger
published by NBM Publishing (New York, 2008)