There are two great thrusts in the world of comic publishing at the moment – the standard paper sector consisting of periodical ‘floppies’ and graphic novel formats, and the digital world of web comics. Crossovers remain relatively few and far between and, with a few very notable exceptions, the web is the reserve of up-and-coming amateur cartoonists looking for an outlet that could lead to a big break into the significantly more lucrative world of print. Needless to say, this model could change at the drop of a hat, and there are plenty of anomalies on both sides, as pros embrace online and amateurs continue to self-publish on paper.
Having said all that, Moruskine is a good example of the kind of crossover we’re likely to start seeing more of: a web comic that has gathered enough momentum and critical acclaim to find a real-world publisher. The format undoubtedly helped – Dirk Schwieger travelled from his home in Germany to live in Tokyo for six months and, while he was there, made a comic-style travelogue in an ultra-trendy Moleskin notebook (pronounced Moruskine by the Japanese). This left the publisher with the option of producing an attractive Moleskin-alike book that draws heavily on the popularity of the notebooks.
There’s another twist too though. Publishing the book in five-page instalments on his blog, Schwieger got his readers involved by asking those who already have experience or some knowledge of Japan to tell him what to do. So each short section of the book is an unfolding rite of passage as Schwieger is challenged to sample another aspect of Japanese culture, and refrain from doing the standard foreign secondment thing of seeking out fellow Germans and living an ex-pat life.
The resulting book feels like a blog that’s been dragged into print and, thanks to its democratic nature, lacks a real structure. Like reading a collection of newspaper columns, these make great reading as a regular dip into another person’s travels, but there isn’t enough cohesion to hold them all together as a book. Because Schwieger is obligated to the whim of his audience, there’s no narrative pulling the pieces together, and we get remarkably little insight into his personality.
The book is rounded off with Schwieger’s challenge back to his fellow web comics creators, who he tasked with drawing their own strips about meeting a Japanese person or doing something Japanese. A selection of the best are published in the book. These are better though, utilising more story-telling craft and less of a documentary style, which work better as narrative pieces.
It’s an interesting book that just doesn’t quite work in book form, being neither guidebook nor coherent travel story. Readers keen on travel that like a book to dip into every now and then might find it of interest, and it’s a good example of how comics can create a more documentary feel. But Schwieger’s random exploits in Japan still left us feeling a bit cold and left out.