Moresukine in Japanese translates as “Moleskin,” the kind of sketchbook/ journal/ notebook favored around the world for recording notes, quick sketches, and keeping a record of one’s life. Think of it as an old-school blog. This makes sense when one considers what Dirk Schwieger’s Moresukine is: is a collection of comics from his online blog in the from of a black-and-white graphic novel drawn in a Moleskin sketchbook about Dirk’s experiences in Japan, and a dare he made at his blog:
“Here I am in Tokyo. Tell me what you’d like me to visit, experience
And I will DO it, no questions asked and whether I like it or not!”
Dirk made good on his promise to his readers, taking each dare in order, never skipping over any. The result is an entertaining look at his interactions with Japanese people, society, and culture. Most of the dares are interesting and fun to read about, though few are all that strange, bizarre, or dangerous. For instance, he takes a dare involving sleeping in one of Japan’s “pod hotels,” where you sleep in a closet-sized space. He goes to a dance club where everyone practices “para para,” which is trance-dancing in unison. He hikes up Mt. Takao to escape the crowded madness and masses of Tokyo for a while, and he tastes food like the potentially poisonous and deadly fugu, the fiery condiment wasabi, and a dish called Okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki is made from raw egg, pork, squid, red ginger, cabbage and shrimp. When all mixed together and cooked, the end result resembles an omelet. None of the ingredients sounds very disgusting or gross to me, except possibly the squid. I couldn’t help but think as I read this particular dare that, while it is an interesting one and Dirk is very good at drawing comics, it is not all that much of a dare. Heck, I wouldn’t mind taking a dare like that, a potentially delicious one lacking any danger except perhaps indigestion.
Still, that’s the nature of the dare that Dirk made, and it’s not his fault that some of the dares he accepted are more tame than others. His drawing skill is above the norm of much of what passes as graphic comics on the Internet, and the close-ups he often uses in Moresukine aid the dramatic quality and make them more personal. One of my favorites is an apparently relatively tame one, that of commenting on fashion in Japan, particularly the Harajuku kind.
Harajuku is an odd blending of styles. No translation is given in the book; maybe there isn’t a literal one, or maybe it’s because Harajuku encompasses so many diverse elements. It includes people dressed as fairy tale characters, people wearing face masks and mismatched socks, Hello Kitty! paraphernalia, Mohawks. One drawing is of a Japanese young man whose hair is in long with an English-style crown on his head next to “a blonde Elvis with cat’s ears.” I suppose I like this dare because it shows some Japanese people who are trying to break from standards of conforming to society, and it showcases Dirk’s ability to draw a wide diversity of people and their clothes.
Beside Dirk’s drawings, Moresukine includes toward its end comics from other bloggers who utilize comics and are known around the world. Dirk chose some of the comics artists he knew of and sent them a dare of meeting with a Japanese person and documenting the experience as a comic at their blogs. Some of these, you might well imagine, are better than others - it’s sort of a mixed bag. Two I like the most are one by Ryan North of Toronto, Canada, which shows two dinosaurs discussing one having taken the dare and his asking a Japanese person where the subway is, and one by the creator of the French comic Monsieur Le Chen, which the anonymous author titled “The German, the Dog, and the Japanese.” It’s well drawn and contains moments of genuine humor.
Moresukine is, you might say, a graphic travelogue presenting the culture clash of East and West and depicting in a unique format some oddities of Japanese culture and society. What’s more, it’s drawn in an actual Moleskin sketchbook, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. It looks like one, smells like leather, and comes complete with a ribbon to bookmark your place as you read it. Its dares might not all be very, well, daring, and some of the other comics included might be better than others; but on the whole it’s an interesting, enjoyable graphic piece worth checking out.