RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Straits Times

“Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi” / Straits Times / Grace Chua / November 2, 2008

Red Colored Elegy was produced between 1970 and 1971. This 2008 edition by cult Montreal comic publishers Drawn & Quarterly is the first English-language release. Seiichi Hayashi's timeless tale of a pair of young lovers is not an easy book to read.

The story of their doomed relationship plays out in a tumultuous, elegiac loop, over sparsely worded pages. Ichiro is an aspiring comic artist while Sachiko, who has escaped an arranged marriage, is a tracer for an animation company. She and Ichiro have left home to live together unmarried - less socially acceptable then than it is today - and they struggle to make ends meet.

All Ichiro wants is to succeed at his art and not be tied down by people and relationships. Sachiko, on the other hand, wants only what a woman was limited to in the 1970s - security, stability, someone to depend upon.

The grainy realism of Hayashi's woodcut-style backdrops, elaborately etched and cross-hatched, are juxtaposed with simple, almost cartoony figures of Sachiko and Ichiro. Their figures are flat and somewhat cubist; talking, making love, arguing and writhing in solitary emotional torment on their apartment's bare white floor. When finally, each ends up alone, the agony is far from over.

Hayashi draws from many deep sources: Picasso, Mickey Mouse, French film, classic Tezuka manga, James Dean.

Ultimately, this is a story about struggling to make art, about love, about communicating with, and hurting, your partner, about fighting to find the right words and then losing. Its story, regardless of time or place, is universal.

If you like this, read: Sleepwalk: And Other Stories by Adrian Tomine (1998, US$12.21 or S$17.91, Amazon.com). This book collects the first four issues of Tomine's award-winning comic Optic Nerve, in which people struggle to relate to each other as friends and lovers in an alienated world.

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