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Background Cues in With the Light (Vol. 6)

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In Keiko Tobe manga series, With the Light, one of the major strengths of her narrative style is the perspective in which we see the autistic child, Hikaru.  We follow many characters and hear many thoughts, none of which truly come from Hikaru.  This leads to the question of how this can be an autistic text at all if it does not allow him to voice his thoughts and perceptions.  The answer lies in the medium with which Tobe has decided to tell this story, the graphic novel (in manga style, to be accurate).  Subtle additions to the various scenes and panels give readers a clear insight on what characters are thinking and experiencing, including Hikaru. What at first seems like a character with no voice is suddenly filled with life when analyzing the artwork that Tobe has provided.

As early as page 9, Tobe wants to make clear the way in which we will see the world when we are viewing it through Hikaru’s eyes.  When the spherical time capsule is revealed for the school, Hikaru is fascinated by it.  This is clear through the use of a different shading technique for Hikaru, giving him a sparkling look, and a background filled with stars. As the book continues, the trend for the background to indicate what Hikaru is interested in emerges, but the hatched shading style holds a broader meaning that simple interest.  While pages 9, 74, 390, and 410 express the profound attention that he is giving something, usually associated with something that he really likes, page 13 seems to be showing a more introspective attention than the other scenes.  Page 175 and 347 also have this cross-hatched style which could be considered part of his inner thoughts or happiness, but one could also make the case that these are perceptions that characters around Hikaru are viewing him, with their own fascination.  Other cues that Tobe has placed to draw attention to the same things that Hikaru is can be found on pages 46 and 66 (long hair), 74 (soft “shoulder pad”), 19 (snail bus), and 174 (bells). The most common cues used for this purpose are stars in the background (as earlier on page 9) and soft balls of light (best seen on 46 and 66), though there are a couple exceptions.  Flowers are used on pages 234, 212, and 214, mostly in the presence of food.  One particular subtle background is used on pages 274 and 275 when Hikaru has just gotten off the phone with Nobuaki, a child hood friend.  This soft “stream of stars” seems to indicated his excitement at seeing his friends again, and perhaps connects to the “tingling sensation” that he also just experienced, though it is worthy to note that the “stream of stars” is decidedly faded when Hikaru is trying to get rid of the phone.  Tobe also uses graphical cues to help readers catch when Hikaru is upset, usually by darkening the scene and his face.  Pages 235 and 454 are excellent examples of Hikaru’s distress regarding the situation, whether that be a blank calendar or a too-noisy station. Stepping away from Hikaru for a moment, an Tobe draws an interesting scene on page 230.  As his father, Masato reflects on disability, the background around him seems to be washed out and hard to see.  This is a clear connection to Masato’s detached retina and shows that Tobe is not only interested in other health and disability issues, but also how to portray them so the reader understands what is really happening.

The effort which Keiko Tobe put into this text is phenomenal.  The attention to detail not only in the character’s interactions with each other, but also the backgrounds which they are portrayed in and the dialogue which adds to the way we see the characters, gives readers an excellent experience in living with Hikaru, Sachiko (the mother), Masato, and younger sister Kanon.  Each of these family members have their own concerns and challenges, and Hikaru, despite being largely silent, still has an important role, and voice, in this graphic novel.  The challenge for readers is hearing that voice, as it isn’t necessarily easy to find on the page.  The other characters of the narrative are treated with the same background and facial cues, but these are Hikaru’s only means of communicating to us, and in a book about raising an autistic child, Hikaru is a character to study carefully.  Keiko Tobe’s effort in creating a text about disability is a huge success and should be considered when studying the autistic spectrum.

word count: 764

Written by Spyden

December 8th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

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