I first experienced artist Yuki Sakugawa’s work in the 2014 Best American Non-Required Reading anthology, in which high school students from San Francisco and Ann Arbor pick their favorite ‘texts’ from the year, chosen anywhere from The New Yorker magazine to underground zines. This year was the first to incorporate short comic ‘texts’ (I’m using quotes because they have pictures, though we all can agree they’re texts, right?) alongside essays and short stories. It’s a good anthology, and Sakugawa’s piece, a chapter from her latest work, Your Guide To Becoming One With The Universe, is on of the highlights—about inviting your demons to tea, and is a very wise piece, both cute to read/look at, but also ‘true’, in not denying or suppressing your inner demons, but acknowledging them.
I’m still trying to track to Your Guide To Becoming One With The Universe, though I’ll come right out and recommend it now. I also learned (from my local comic book dealer, showing the power of people who know what they’re talking about making recommendations) about a whole series of smaller inexpensive chapbooks by Sakugawa, which you can probably find at your very own local comic dealer. But in the meantime, you can pick up her first book, which came out earlier in 2014, I Think I Am In Friend Love With You.
I Think I Am In Friend Love With You is a strange, magical little book. It’s square 6”x6” thin hardcover, in the form of a letter, from one friend to another, confessing a desire to be closer friends, that you may or may not take at face value. That is, is the desire to be closer friends actually just straight-up desire? Do we the readers maybe know more than this possibly unreliable narrator? Or is it in fact really just a desire to be closer friends, something that we humans seem not to have a way of conveying without bringing straight-up desire into it.
One of the magical parts, maybe the main magical part, is that the narrator is what might be called a monster, though this is anything but a scary book. This narrator is certainly not human, or at least appears not, though the feelings and desires are, very.
I’m being very careful with pronouns, because nowhere in the story does artist Yumi Sakugawa give any of the characters genders, though the whole premise, the letter and the feelings of course feel like they come from a young woman or teen girl, a theme Sakugawa is basically known for in her other zines. Though maybe not. Sakugawa’s point, I think, is that these emotions could belong to anybody, so with the power of the comics format, her cute monsters serve as stand-ins for humans of either gender.
I Think I Am In Friend Love With You is a small book, necessarily. Though it originally appeared online, the book format suits it: each page is a panel, allowing for a close-up intimate feel at times, when necessary, especially with the text, though allowing too for wider views of the ‘beings’ interacting. The pictures and text are separated. That is, the text appears in its own panel, and is minimalist, being only ever one sentence.
The effect of turning pages, moving from text to text to picture to text to picture is the maybe the main point of the book: there’s a certain inherent hesitation in the process of reading it, similar to the effect some poetry can have with line breaks. This adds to the hesitation the main character’s, the ‘I’ of the story, confession and feelings. And as I type that it makes me realize that there’s also an ‘eye’ of the story too, both the one-eyed main character, and the I of us, the readers, our eyes.
And while I Think I am in Friend-Love With You is a first-person confession-letter (either fictional, and/or maybe something based on Sakugawa’s real life (which may not be fair to say, though it feels true, which is a testament to her writing and presentation)(and isn’t it being and/or cool? Meaning both fictional and ‘true’?)—while it’s first person at least in the letter/text, the pictures of the creature writing the letter are third-person. And, because the text is a letter, addressed to a ‘you’, which could be us (that is, Yakugawa makes us feel as if it could be addressed to us) the book is therefore also, strangely, in second person. It’s a book that’s in first, second, and third person all at the same time, something possible only in the comic book/graphic novel format.
At $14, it’s more than twice as much as Sakugawa’s zine/chapbooks, but the format of the small hardcover book really is almost necessary to the overall effect. For example, while I’d love to read a Collected Works-type book of Sakugawa’s work, something would be lost if I Think I am in Friend-Love With You appeared in bigger format, or with multiple panels on a page.
I should have had this review in at the beginning of December, since this book would make a great gift to a friend of your own. Well, Valentine’s Day is coming….