The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is a collection of Kuniko Tsurita’s short manga from Drawn+Quarterly. An attached essay by translator Ryan Holmberg and Mitsuhiro Asakawa dives deeply into the life of manga’s most fascinating creators. Tsurita was truly dedicated to creating manga. She skipped her graduation and moved to Tokyo, working whatever jobs she could find while breaking into the industry. She worked alongside artists such as Shigeru Mizuki while continually developing and redeveloping her own style. Thanks to the chronological organization in The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud, readers can see a lifetime of work laid out at once.
Much of Tsurita’s work would be published in Garo, an anthology magazine focusing on expanding the medium with wide appeals across genre and looking for what might be called alternative artists. Working in the dawn of the gekiga era as manga was “growing up” by experimenting with darker themes than the early days of kids’ adventures, Tsurita’s art explores the corners where people often do not look. Stories touch on premises such as making snuff films, a self-made assassin deciding to kill all evil men in the world, and a Kafkaesque look at someone who exists only as a voice, asking what becomes of them when they are quiet.
Because The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud runs the breadth of Tsurita’s career, readers are able to follow her development as an artist. Her early work taps a great deal into the simple lines and rounded forms that could be found throughout manga in the 1960s. Her work takes on more and more detail as she continues, turning nearly to realism by the 1980s. No matter the style through the decades, Tsurita always shows a captivating eye with close-ups, sudden large panels, and heavy inking that frames the light with much darkness.
In addition to Tsurita’s evolution in art, The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud hints at shifts in her perspective. Her early work explores defining things, such as what makes a killer kill or how has a woman been treated since prehistory. Stories later experiment with narrative, focusing more on character and feeling than specific structure. By the final stories, Tsurita combines that boldness of emotion with captivating plots for her most powerful work. Each of these stories carries a feeling of a twist worthy of the Twilight Zone, such as the man wondering where everyone is on such a lovely day when the sky is blue with a single cloud and that cloud proving to be a mushroom cloud.
Tsurita died in 1985, only thirty-seven years old, and the shift in her work as she approached the end is clear. While her early stories carry an overwhelming sense of bleakness, even seemingly depressing stories show there is hope. Her comic “Flight” transcends death when a man who disappears in a plane crash shows up again to his lost love through ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Just the same, though her life may have been cut short by illness, Tsurita still impacts anyone reading her work on a level so deep it seems she might well have been a pen pal.