Graphic novels and comics form a regular part of my reading diet but manga, by and large, remains an area in which I have relatively little confidence or knowledge. However, I’m a curious reader, and I want my kids to be curious readers, and so when opportunities to read (and in my case, review) outside our comfort zones come along, I welcome them. Indeed, I love the recent encouragement from Gene Luen Yang (National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US) to:
Mizuki, who died at the end of 2015, is widely regarded as a master storyteller and artist, who specialised in the stories of Yokai, the supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. He is best known for his manga series GeGeGe no Kitarō, in which the last survivor of the Ghost Tribe, the eponymous Kitaro, has all sorts of spooky – and funny- adventures as he tries to stop powerful yokai from spreading terror across Japan.
The Birth of Kitaro is the first of seven volumes of Kitaro stories, now available in English translation for the very first time. It starts with Kitaro’s origin story and introduces us to the main characters who populate the series. Having laid the foundations, we move on to all sorts of spine-tingling encounters with ghostly, ghastly monsters, ranging from a buru-buru (who “looks like a white cloud, shaking with a bad cough”) to the gyuki (a crab-bull monster mashup worthy of a real nightmare), via a nozuchi (a giant eyeless, earless sucking mouth) and even more terrors. As a cultural introduction it’s wild and exciting, with just the right mixture of humour and gross-ness to make the stories super kid-friendly. Indeed these stories are hugely popular with children (and adults) in Japan, prompting multiple adaptations for the screen, with a new anime series having been made every decade since the 1960s.
Apart from the funny, culturally eye-opening, thrillingly spooky stories, I love how Drawn and Quarterly, the publishers, have put together this book. It’s got a really helpful and well pitched introduction to Japanese supernatural phenomena (yokai), helping readers from other cultures find their feet and get their bearings. There’s also a brief biography of Mizuki, and – where western readers would turn to start a graphic novel – a clear explanation about the direction of reading in this book; it is presented in the traditional Japanese manner, so you start at what many of us would normally consider the back, and then read right to left rather than left to right. There are also a few quizzes and other activities, all adding up to an edition which is an ideal starting point to try the genre (whatever your age). I’d especially recommend it for those who already have an interest in spooks and ghouls (for example fans of Lockwood and Co, but also for anyone who is simply curious. I’ve found it a great way in to learning a little more about Japanese culture and one of the all time greatest manga artists.
When I asked the girls what they wanted to do to play by the book they were unanimous: “Turn YOU into a Zombie Mummy!”. Yep, just like the one on the cover of the book.
The kids were clear. They didn’t want dress up as zombie mummies, but they very definitely did want to transform me into one (I’ll happily take the fact that they presumably don’t see being a zombie mummy as my natural state 🙂 ). So with the help of a few loo rolls, here’s what happened:
It’s amazing how much fun can be had with just four rolls of toilet paper and one willing adult…
Whilst turning me into a zombie mummy we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Birth of Kitaro include:
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Drawn & Quarterly.