Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #148 by Drew Barth

Take a Look

Making comics is difficult. I’ve only made a few scripts and that was difficult enough when not coupled with art duties. But when working with someone else, the work feels less solitary—the line dividing you from the rest of the world isn’t quite as harsh. But then what happens once you can no longer work with that someone else? In Look Back, Tatsuki Fujimoto explores that relationship between two creators—how they evolve with one another and how they are separated by circumstance, all while pondering what would have happened if they never met in the first place.

Fujino is in the fourth grade and, as the best manga artist in her class, holds herself in high esteem whenever one of her strips is published in her class’ fourth grade newspaper. Kyomoto is in the same class, but hasn’t shown up for school in months. But, to encourage her to return to class, one of her comics is published in the class’ paper. Where Fujino’s comics are hastily drawn with all of her focus on the comedy in her script, Kyomoto creates incredibly evocative realistic scenes without a single piece of dialog. So, of course, Fujino wants to work with her. From there, we have their manga career throughout high school before Kyomoto wants to attend an art college as soon as her and Fujino’s work is becoming serialized and popular. But it’s at this art college that a man attacks students with an ax and Kyomoto is one of his victims.

A story like this could end on tragedy and simply end. But Fujimoto is not that kind of mangaka. After Kyomoto’s funeral ceremony, Fujino visits her home with all of the sketchbooks piled up in her old room—the place where the pair first met. She looks at the simple comic strip that she wrote for Kyomoto when they were young, rips it up, and another world springs from this action. In this world, Fujino and Kyomoto never meet; Fujino never takes on manga as a serious career path, Kyomoto studies classical art instead of manga, but still ends up in the same art college. The same man with an ax attacks, but this time is stopped by Fujino, who happens to wander by on her way to her karate lessons. They recognize each other and plan to meet up as older friends. We’re then snapped back to the real world.

There is a particular way that Fujimoto deals with grief in his stories. In Chainsaw Man, despite the hot-blooded protagonist, we almost skip right to acceptance of his lot in life. But in Look Back, we see Fujino stalled at bargaining. She blames herself, and always will, for her best friend’s death. She can’t push a new timeline on the world to keep her alive—where she is now is all there is for her. And so she returns, alone, to her apartment to keep working on her manga.

Get excited. Get back.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.