Book Review: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

Despite having read comics all my life, every once in a while I come across a book that completely shifts my perceptions about graphic novels.

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is a collection of 10 tales by Hagio, compiled and translated by Matt Thorn. The themes are fueled by emotional drama and turmoil of the heart, and each story is a gripping page-turner.

Image courtesy Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

The young protagonist from Bianca (1970). Girls often take center stage in Hagio’s stories.

Moto Hagio is well known in the manga world for her comics aimed at women. The article and interview included in the volume tell the story of her and other artists known as The Magnificent Forty-Niners (a.k.a. The Year 24 Group) that formed a wave of new female manga artists in the early 1970s.

Learning about Hagio and her cohorts makes reading A Drunken Dream and Other Stories feel like uncovering a lost classic, and left me wondering what other literature I’m missing out on by only being fluent in one language.

If you’re familiar with what’s called “shoujo manga” (Sailor Moon might be the best known example), the art style in this shouldn’t surprise you. Hagio was a trailblazer for this genre that features visual tropes like large eyes that stare at the reader, floral accents here and there, and linework that just flows throughout each panel.

Image courtesy Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Characters from the futuristic short story A Drunken Dream (1985) discuss their strange nightmares.

My favorite tale in the collection was (not surprisingly) the titular adventure, A Drunken Dream. A beautiful and surreal duotone science fiction short story of two cursed souls caught in a time-space anomaly doomed to repeat their tale of unrequited love throughout history. The narrative culminates in the far-flung future where our star-crossed lovers find themselves in gender-bending bodies and centers around the hope that fate won’t doom them both. I was surprised to discover that what seems like such a modern tale was originally published almost 30 years ago in 1985.

The stories all feature social outcasts, and many focus on mother/child relationships and friction. Using these themes, the stories really drew me in and connected with me as a reader.

Seattle publisher Fantagraphics Books, Inc. has wonderfully collected these tales in a sturdy hardcover with thick paper stock. The lettering and design of the book was clearly no afterthought (unlike many other examples of English manga translations). The supplementary materials give insight into the author/artist without being too lengthy.

Fantagraphics will come out with another collection of Hagio’s works next month with the 528-page hardbound omnibus, The Heart of Thomas. A love story between boys set in early 20th century Germany.

Image courtesy Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is available at local independent bookseller King’s Books.