The Nichimandoku project started taking shape about half a year before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe.
One surreal morning, I received a phone call from the German ambassador in Japan. He had read my book MORESUKINE, and with an anniversary marking 150 years of diplomatic exchange between Germany and Japan ahead, he asked me to create a comics project that would reflect upon the common history of both countries while attracting a young Japanese readership.
I declined, assuming I was bound to miss the right celebratory note while retracing a history deeply rooted in nationalism and colonialism. Instead, I proposed a re-enactment: a contemporary comics dialogue between me and a Japanese mangaka, this time at eye level and on neutral ground – the internet. To my surprise, the ambassador was intrigued and things started to get going.
Matsuoka Waka turned out to be the perfect fit for the role of my Japanese counterpart, her polished mainstream manga style complementing my crude Western indie comix lines.
And in an effort of counterbalancing all the exoticist clichés implicit in this structure – “feminine, delicate, emotional” Japan meets “masculine, dominant, cerebral” Germany – we brought our secret weapon into the fold: Christina Plaka.
When Christina joined the project, she was not only a German citizen of Greek descent living in Japan, but also one of the best and most renown “Germangaka”, creating original German language manga. And being the third party in this dialogue, she was our way of breaking up the dichotomy between two supposedly monolithical cultural blocks, and taking the question of how to pigeonhole her – or anyone of us, for that matter – ad absurdum.
And so, on January 24th 2011, the first installment of Nichimandoku was published online.
Content-wise we were given a carte blanche – there was absolutely no script and, more importantly, no behind-the-scenes communication between us artists. Everything was supposed to take place on the pages, so that we could respond in realtime in case something newsworthy happened.
Then, Fukushima happened.
And in its wake, chaos ensued. The Goethe Institute in Tokyo, a German cultural association hosting our blog, immediately shut down – some of the staff fleeing back to Germany, others evacuating their offices to Osaka. Christina took the next plane to Frankfurt, abandoning her studies in Kyoto. Our editor, my friend and comics sensei Jaqueline Berndt, dissolved her household in Yokohama, despite its 200 miles distance to Fukushima too close for taking chances.
After consulting with her, we dropped two pre-produced blog entries and hastily put together a joint reaction to the disaster. And despite our infrastructure being all but broken (the lady who used to upload my blog entries had hurriedly left the country), we finally managed to publish it on our Japanese blog two days after the catastrophe:
From that day on, there was only one topic on our minds – reporting from two countries whose political reactions couldn’t have been more different: While Japanese officials tried to assuage fears by engaging in piecemeal tactics, German media coverage was panic-stricken, the government finally giving in to a definitive nuclear phase-out.
Only Christina, having returned to her studies in Japan and still struggling with that decision, soon felt the need to counterweight our gloom-mongering with a more light-hearted approach through topics like women’s soccer or gender stereotypes.
For our last blog entry of 2011, we staged a genuine reenactment: Just like the Prussian delegates of yore, I travelled to Kyoto and met Matsuoka-san and Christina in person. And just like 150 years ago, when a friendship and trade agreement was signed, we drew our last double page of this terrible year together on one piece of paper.
The anniversary celebrations might have faded away, Fukushima, however, will remain a pressing concern for ages to come. According to operating company Tepco, the dismantling of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site should be completed by the time I turn 70 years old. In the meantime, I hope to be able to continue our long-term project every now and then, exchanging views on our lives, culture, and the catastrophe crawling through the decades.
Update: I have set out to translate the existing pages into English in order to make their content accessible to a larger audience. My time is somewhat limited at the moment, though – if you have basic Gimp or Photoshop skills and would like to help out, please say hi.
Bit by bit, the English-language pages will be published here:
(Come to think of it, I could also use some help migrating from wordpress to Ghost, but who doesn't.)