A few notes: Okay, I combed through my archives and basically I just have to do two posts a day for the next week to make up for lost time. Second, I know I don’t cite every post, so I’m changing that to “References” so that I can at least cite the primary source. I know this doesn’t mean much to the casual reader, but it is an important distinction. I link to sources when I quote them and cite them if I quote from books, so I think that’s sufficient. Third, this has been a continuous study in learning how to cite and write about comics, and I think I finally found the proper system for citing trade paper backs, so expect some changes there as well.
Alright then, first up we have Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer! This book deals with heavy subjects like teen pregnancy, severe depression, and hints at divorce, but it’s all handled quite wonderfully. The moments of sexism are pointed out, making it quite respectful. Any fan of coming-of-age stories or expanding the graphic genre outside of USA-centrism will find something to enjoy.
Plot: Rose learns about family, friendship, love, and the tensions between adulthood and childhood one eventful summer.
Initial thoughts: I really enjoyed the Tamaki cousins’ Skim, so my expectations were high for This One Summer. Ultimately those expectations were to my detriment, since this book is very different and has a more youthful tone. This isn’t to say that This One Summer was by any means less touching; I merely think the themes in Skim were more relatable to me.
I definitely suggest trying to find a physical copy of This One Summer rather than reading a digital copy because there’s just something about it. I noticed that the digital copy I found displays in black ink whereas the physical copy has this really pleasant navy color, which really sets a bittersweet and somber mood. Combined with Jillian Tamaki’s simple yet poignant faces and detailed backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that Rose and Windy are so young and that the young adults they aspire to be aren’t as old as Rose and Windy perceive.
Itty Bitty Research: I really enjoyed the Canadianisms of this play, so I’ll start there. Some of them are obvious, like how Rose’s father wears a Maple Leaf’s shirt. Others are more subtle, such as when Rose and Windy find an abandoned party site and only the branding of Molson’s can be seen. As a reader from the USA, I think it’s easy to overlook the cultural artifacts when they are not USA-centric because I don’t even notice they exist, so I challenged myself to watch out for them while reading this book.
I’ll begin with what I’ve already mentioned, namely the Blue Leafs. The Maple Leafs (and yes, it is Maple Leafs not Maple Leaves) is the NHL team based in Toronto. Hockey is practically synonymous with Canada, though many other countries are serious about their hockey like Sweden, Finland, and the USA. The Maple Leafs in particular are iconic in Canada, and they have a big rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. It makes sense that Rose’s father would root for the Maple Leafs because although it is never confirmed, Awago is in Ontario and it is likely that the city referenced is Toronto because it is the closest major city to the Great Lakes (rather than, say, Ottawa or Mississauga). Although Awago is fictional, as if to stand in for any sort of Ontario summer getaway beach town, the cultural of this world is clearly based in Ontario. We never question if we are in British Columbia or Newfoundland, for example.
Other indicators of being in Canada are the foods and drinks. As with any culture, food and drink are important to Canadian identity, especially beer culture in Canada. Elk Head and Molson’s are the two brands of beer that appear in the book. Molson’s is a Canadian flagship beer and needs no explanation, but Elk Head is actually a USA microbrewery from Wisconsin. This still makes sense, especially when the story is situated in Ontario because of Wisconsin’s proximity to Ontario and the likeliness of being able to acquire that beer. (Writing from Las Vegas, Nevada, I can assure you both Molson’s and Elk Head are extremely hard to find here.) As far as food is concerned, Wagon Wheels are mentioned, which as a USA reader, I was completely unaware was a foodstuff. They’re the brainchild of Dare Foods, which is a Canadian snacks company based out of – you guessed it! – Ontario. These items, while seemingly insignificant, actually help to create a true-to-life representation of Ontarian life.
The significance of it is that the English graphic market is drenched in representations of the USA and UK, but mundane stories about Canadian life are not so widespread. Rush, also mentioned in the book, might be a source of Canadian pride to Canadians, but their worldwide fame has perhaps distanced audiences from their cultural roots. The location and cultural artifacts mentioned in the book are ways to ground it in Canadian identity. While there is a significant message about growing up that could be understood to be universal, this book should not be overlooked in how it expands to the geo-cultural richness graphic novels are capable of representing.
References: Mariko Tamaki, writer. This One Summer. Art by Jillian Tamaki. New York: First Second, 2014. Print.