While history books generally eschew personal stories and take a just-the-facts approach, memoirs tend to provide the broad strokes of major events to give context to how those moments affect the main players. Elder-statesman manga cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki mixes the two in his Showa 1926-1939: A History Of Japan (Drawn And Quarterly), alternating between a rather dry recounting of historical information—the book opens with a huge bank crisis and ends with Japan on the brink of World War II—and comedic, slapstick-tinged looks back at his own childhood, particularly his relationship with his grandmother.
Mizuki’s art similarly whips back and forth stylistically. With occasional exceptions, the history sections have a photorealistic feel, and at times the artwork is simply a reproduction of photos from the era. The memoir elements, on the other hand, have highly stylized, comic-strip-style art, with rubbery, big-featured characters that sweat giant beads of perspiration in classic manga style.
Mizuki openly breaks the rules of stylistic and tonal consistency in Showa 1926-1939. That could be grounds for criticism, but it works in a piece that functions as both historical text and memoir. Much of that success is thanks to Mizuki’s personal experience living through the era and his passion for what the big events of the time meant for Japan as a whole. The small, cartoonish world he inhabits and the bigger, more realistic world just beyond the horizon manage to co-exist within these pages, and what could be a bland history text becomes a story full of flavor. [MW]