Fantastic art by Seth Fisher, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Shawn Martinbrough carries two separate stories about Americans in Asia.
Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights originally appeared as two separate comics in Vertigo Pop! Tokyo and Vertigo Pop! Bangkok, and are only loosely related by the theme of Americans abroad. Jonathan Vankin’s stories are engaging enough, but it’s the visually stunning style of the artists that make Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights worth perusing.
Culture Shock in Japan and Thailand
The first section of the graphic novel follows Steve, a young American working in Tokyo who encounters Maki and her gangster brother Ryuji. Maki is a wild-spirit teenager obsessed with a pop star. As Steve becomes intrigued and lightly obsessed with her she takes him on a whirlwind adventure that involves rescuing and kidnapping her pop idol while being chased by the Yakuza. This light tale hums along the disorientation of Steve and plays Lost in Translation albeit with a male lead in comic form.
The Tokyo that Vankin presents is the one popularized by the current media. The story is light, and Vankin brings a familiarity with the city. However, he fails to present new insights into Tokyo or the experiences of a young American there. While an entertaining story, it falls into the genre of “one crazy night” in Asia and is unable to move past surface impressions of Japan.
The section on Bangkok is darker, focusing on a couple trying to salvage a failing relationship against the back drop of the sex industry in Thailand. Tuesday, an idealistic American and her boyfriend Marz travel to Thailand to recover from infidelity in their relationship. They encounter a pair of sex tourists who involve them with a pair of sisters, one held in debt bondage at a brothel.
Moral ambiguities, idealism, and resignation turn the story which borders on the sensationalistic at times. Unlike the story on Tokyo, the American characters here exhibit deeper emotions as they change during the story. A dark tone and reprehensible characters show a slice of Bangkok though some representations remain off the mark. The story wishes to be taken seriously, but lacks credibility at times even though it attempts to show the seedy side of Bangkok.
Writing Asian Characters
Vankin captures the run of emotions experienced by Americans in Asia. However, many of his Asian characters remain caricatures. Vankin fails to capture Asian voices with what little dialogue he provides them. Although Asian landscapes and not characters figure prominently, the Asians featured in these stories lack any nuance and have no place other than as cartoony interlopers, read this post here.
Graphic Novel Art
Seth Fisher, the artist for Tokyo Days, creates a vibrant visual style. Every panel is engaging. His colorful rendition of Japan is stunning and shines life onto the story. A heavy manga influence provides the story a unique energy and is incredibly charismatic. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Shawn Martinbrough pencil and ink Bangkok Nights. The style is reminiscent of anime and their work conveys the emotion of the story. Although their art is not as engaging or distinctive as in Fisher’s Tokyo Days, readers will occasionally find themselves lingering over well drawn panels.