Saturday , June 15 2024
20 km/h by Woshibai

Comic Collection Review: ’20 km/h’ by Woshibai from Drawn+Quarterly


20 km/h by Woshibai from Drawn & Quarterly collects surreal and dreamlike stories into a book that feels like waking up as the reader closes the back cover. Woshibai is one of mainland China’s most prolific and ironically recognizable underground cartoonists. Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, Woshibai can explore and create without being weighed down by notoriety, which also adds to the mystique that flows through each of his comics.

20 km/h by Woshibai

Woshibai’s style is strong and clear through each of the stories in 20 km/h. Most of the humanoid characters are extremely abstract, rounded-out forms of a stick figure that maintain their humanity without giving any distinguishing features. This abstraction allows for perfect insert-characters, drawing the reader into the story as if they themselves are experiencing the otherworldly strangeness.

To the person on the page, how their world works is perhaps mundane. But there is still magic we can recognize in the world, and how sublime it can be when we pause to look at it. The story “Clean Up” shows a janitor polishing Jupiter and other planets, walking through space until he slips out a hidden curtain to reveal another vast world beyond the sphere of inky darkness. There he finds an errant moon stuck to his back, and takes a moment to admire how it glows in the sunlight.

Thought-provoking minimalism

Not every story in 20 km/h is as abstract, but the minimalism of Woshibai’s art continues, driving the stories with necessary details. Some characters have hairstyles, wear hats, or don whole costumes. These distinguishing characteristics help to guide the reader’s eye in certain circumstances, such as when the story “Zoo” calls into question on which sides of the bars the human photographer and the hairy ape are.

Many of the stories in 20 km/h play with distance, size, and the sky, the ultimate end of perspective. In “New Light,” a fellow thirsty for something from the soda machine but with empty pockets reaches out a window to pluck up the full moon. Now a coin in his hand, it pops into the machine so he can enjoy a drink in a shadowy night. Another story, “Danger Crossing,” shows a man clinging desperately to the wall while he walks on a narrow, broken edge above a gray, wavy path. All the context clues point our minds to think of it as water, but it proves to be an optical illusion when someone else walks on it, looking at the struggling traveler as if he is a weirdo. “Chair” shows yet another perspective, of a woman buying a crooked chair, which is out of sorts in the regular world yet fits perfectly at her crooked table in her crooked apartment.

20 km/h reminds the reader to take a moment to explore the perspectives we take for granted. We might find out there is something more magical than we ever thought possible inside something as simple as a key, a full moon, or a comfy bed, if only we looked at it from a new angle.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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