Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!
Best Translated Non-Manga
Every year wonderful comics are made all around the world, but we tend to focus on stories that were originally written in English. So we created a category for best translated work, only for that to be dominated by Japanese imports. We wanted to rave about all of those wonderful Japanese comics while also giving a space to celebrate the rest of the world. Here are some of our favorite 2020 comics that were originally written in languages other than English or Japanese!
3. The Adoption – Volume 1
I was staying at my parents’ house while I was trying to narrow down my list of Best Translated Material to three votes. My mother, who never reads comics other than the occasional “Calvin and Hobbes,” was curious about what I was working on, so I showed her some of the front runners. With each, she admired them for a little while, then passed my tablet back to me. Except for Zidrou and Arno Monin’s “The Adoption.” She got sucked in immediately, and proceeded to read the whole thing. By the end, she was tearful and wanted to launch into the next volume straight away. I can think of no higher praise than that. My mum, who never has more to say about a comic except, “The art looks nice in this one,” was utterly transported by this story.
Zidrou and Monin’s “The Adoption” is very much about the difference faces its characters wear and the roles they play. There’s frequently an interplay between what we see and what’s being said. Smiling faces can be casually callous and a joke can mask a vulnerability. “The Adoption” invites the reader to explore the contradiction between image and text, for that’s where the story lies. That my mum, who has very little experience decoding the visual language of comics, could read this story and not just follow it, but become immersed in it, is a testament to Zidrou and Monin’s storytelling. ―Mark Tweedale
2. Siberian Haiku
In the chaos of World War II the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Lithuania. Those who dared to speak out or criticize the Soviet invaders were deemed “enemies of the state.” Families were separated and thousands of Lithuanian nationals were exiled to work camps in Siberia. Author Jurga Vile’s father, a child at the time, was one of those who were exiled.
Vile notes in the introduction, “Most of this story is real. Only some of it is made up.” Using his father’s memories as a factual launch point, the imaginative story that follows is told from the first-person perspective of Algis, the book’s fictitious protagonist, along with his constant companion, Martin the goose. Vile’s narrative never pretends to be strictly factual, but it always rings true. With simple, but powerful prose and captivating artwork that feels painfully authentic, this gentle, elegiac tale often reads more like a personal journal than a graphic novel. The text, for example, is entirely hand lettered, with a personalized, quirky look that combines upper and lowercase letters within various words. Similarly, the book’s episodic structure, with unnumbered chapter titles and occasional tangents, gives us the feeling it was written in bits and pieces, most likely in secret.
Visually, illustrator Lina Itagaki alternates between pages that feature traditional paneling, with word balloons for the dialogue, and other one- and two-page spreads that look more like a child’s picture book. Either way, the text and illustrations feel completely in sync, interweaving the magical realism of folktales with reflective, autobiographical details that keep the story well grounded. The result is nothing short of an instant classic, deserving of a spot on your shelf next to master works like “Maus” and “Persepolis.” “Siberian Haiku” is a rich, multilayered book you’ll want to return to time and time again. -John SchaidlerContinued below
1. We’ll Soon Be Home Again
“We’ll Soon Be Home Again,” written and translated by Jessica Bab Bonde with art by Peter Bergting, is a Swedish graphic novel about six different Holocaust survivors (Tobias Rawet, Livia Frankel, Selma Bengtsson, Susanna Christensen, Emerich Roth, and Elisabeth Masur), who settled in the country after the war. Like many comic books about the Holocaust, it is an incredibly emotional read, and I’m not ashamed to admit I wept several times reading the testimonies contained inside the book.
It shouldn’t really have worked though, as it’s very repetitive: each of the interviewees has a similar background, primarily coming from Jewish families in Eastern European countries, whose paths lead them to new lives in Sweden after the war. However, this reinforces to the book’s intended young adult reader that, yes, this atrocity did happen, and we know that because of the trauma they share, which outweighs whatever a coward on the internet may claim.
What surprised me while reading it was what exactly made me emotional: it wasn’t the sadly all-too-familiar depiction of families being dehumanized, torn apart, and murdered, but – as implied by the title – seeing the protagonists return home, only to always find that, though they have survived, their old lives are gone, shattered, permanently. We must always mourn those lost to fear and hatred, but we must not ignore the living either: fascism is the philosophy of losers, but the survivors’ grief reminds us its very presence harms, ruins and destroys lives, even when its believers aren’t in power.
Bergting’s richly textured coloring perfectly conveys the mood of the events in the book, and lends an air of realism to his simple, Mignola-esque linework. It also helps make the subject more believable for its intended audience, helping convey that, while the photographs and footage they may see from the war are faded black-and-white images, the experiences of the Holocaust’s victims and survivors were anything but. How extraordinary that, thanks to the efforts of Dark Horse, the creators, and the Swedish Holocaust memorial groups who recorded the memories of the six subjects, that this book can help build a bulwark in the minds of young English-speaking readers against Holocaust denial, and truly ensure, “never again.” – Christopher Chiu-Tabet