I make it a point to buy indie comics every once in a while. Call it my donation for the betterment of the arts or whatever, but I think it’s important to look beyond mainstream comics for something that challenges your visual sensibilities. Same thing when it comes to manga, although independent titles are still hard to find on bookshelves.
Kan Takahama is well-known for her involvement in the Nouvelle Manga movement, and Monokuro Kinderbook is an excellent example. The Nouvelle Manga movement crosses the Franco-Belgian tradition of fantastical comics with Japanese “slice of life” manga, one of the genres less likely to be translated into English. Thus Nouvelle Manga is essentially alternative, slice of life manga from creators around the world (but usually specifically Japan and France), written in English and marketed around the world in Japan, Europe and the US.
I’ll say this right now. Monokuro Kinderbook is a really depressing book, as I find many alternative books to be. Each chapter is a story unto its own, each one a slice of a rather depressing life full of regrets or of future tragedy in the making. The titular story, “Kinderbook: A Picture Story for Melancholic Girls,” is about child pornography, while “Over There, Beautiful Binary Suns” involves the real/mock suicide of a pair of illicit lovers. It’s ugly, but it’s life unblemished. None of the stories have any conclusion, but then again, that’s how life is. The characters are rough and fully fleshed, with loves and hates and the problems that they create.
Takahama drops the reader in the middle of these lives without much explanation, if any at all. It’s like watching a TV drama twenty minutes into the show. A very disconcerting feeling, but sometimes, being uncomfortable is good.
The art style is something of a jump for regular readers of mainstream manga, as Takahama could easily fit under the banner of an independent American comic company, such as IDW. Her style is sketchy, with faded watercolors and backgrounds that blend in, clashed by strong, dark black inkwork, filled in with wavy pencils. It’s a very distinct style. Either you will love it or hate it.