Every week on “Sunday Page” an author has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the question: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».
This Sunday I’m out with Aatmaja Pandya a cartoonist and illustrator born and raised in New York. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2014 (BFA Illustration) and have been illustrating professionally ever since. She worked for Random House Graphic, Gumroad, Dark Horse Comics (Steven Universe Coloring Book), Boom! Publishing (Adventure Time Comics), Lion Forge Comics and Amazon.
Like a lot of cartoonist peers, I grew up reading western comics like Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes. But the first comics I read that made me start paying attention to storytelling and technique were manga. I read Yotsuba &! in my mid-teens, several years after I started trying to get better at drawing. The other manga I was reading at the time were very ornate, or set in complicated fantasy universes, and Yotsubato‘s simple drawings and down-to-earth setting seemed like something I could aspire towards. I would save my lunch money and use it to buy each new volume as it was translated. And every time a new one came out, I would reread the whole series from the start. I kept doing this for years, and even now I reread it once a year or so. Each time I read it, I’m a little older and a little better at drawing, and I realize again and again how incredible the cartooning in Yotsubato is. I value deceptively simple work a lot – stuff that seems lighthearted or effortless, but as you take it apart it’s clear how much care is put into it. To me, Yotsubato is the perfect example of this. The pacing of the comic is gentle and easy to digest. The environments are so specific and lovingly researched – the town titular character Yotsuba lives in is just an average suburb, but I always find myself wishing I could go do mundane things there instead of my own neighborhood. I want to ride my bike, or go to the grocery store, or go to the park and sit on the swingset like her. The character design is appropriate for the setting – lots of unassuming, pleasant looking families and elderly folks. However, Kiyohiko Azuma, the author, is exceptionally good at using clothing to give a character personality. Yotsuba, her father, her father’s friends, and each of her neighbors have a fashion sense so distinct it feels as if you could pick out clothes for them in real life.
Honestly, leisurely-paced stories with low stakes and lots of heart are my favorite kind of media. I used to be self-conscious about my “boring taste”, but in recent years I’ve found a huge audience for it among peers I really respect and chose to embrace it. Obviously I read and love other kinds of work, and I don’t like reading too much of the same thing, but comics like Yotsubato are comfort food for me. I come back to them again and again when I need something uplifting to read.
All this aside, the biggest strength of Yotsubato is its sense of humor. I distinctly remember reading a chapter of it in a magazine before I started collecting the books, and laughing out loud – like, ugly cackling laughter – at it. I had never had that experience with a comic before. I had never seen just a funny face or pose as a punchline, or sarcasm executed in a believable way.
This page I chose is one of my favorite jokes from the series. It’s held up for me after years and years. It’s crude, but that’s not why it’s funny. It’s funny because forgetting your wallet and panicking is a relatable situation, because Yotsuba’s dad is squatting in a funny way, because the camera keeps pulling back, because of Yotsuba’s oblivious reading of the situation, because the comedic timing of Dad’s realization is so perfect. I know the joke is coming, but I smile every time I see it. There are hundreds of beautiful, hilarious pages in Yotsubato I could have chosen. This is just one I remember very well, and to this day I know I use the same comedic tricks on this page in my own work.
How and when did you discover this manga?
I think I saw a preview of the comic in a magazine I borrowed from a friend, and then after a few volumes had come out I saw it at the bookstore and remembered that I liked the preview of it. That must have been when I was 13 or 14 years old.