Garlands of Moonlight
Paperback: 86 pages List price $4.59
Garlands of Moonlight; Shoto Press; writer Jai Sen; artist Rizky Wasisto Edi---all represent the debut of a new phenomenon in the graphic novel world---a blossoming of talent, independently publishing their unique, unconventional and brilliant work and duly winning a well-deserved 2002 Xeric Foundation grant for quality from a small press.
Jai Sen and Rizky Wasisto Edi, of Japanese and Indonesian background respectively, who met while they were students in Indonesia, have teamed up to create innovative sequential art and storytelling projects using their Asian heritage for source material and inspiration. Their first effort, Garlands of Moonlight, impresses immediately just by its physical appearance and format. The story comes in a compact 5" x 7" trade paperback, perfect bound to be read horizontally and printed on smooth, shiny, sturdy paper. That not being sufficiently distinctive, the publication process also involves Mr. Edi's exquisite artwork getting further enhanced by a technique I've never seen before, but which works perfectly to suit the style and the mood of the piece---his detailed, black and white and shaded pencil drawings and inks are deftly replicated and liberally highlighted with metallic, silver accents in every panel, making the whole gestalt glisten and shimmer in a dazzling way!
The book's appearance may be very special and appealing and the artwork gorgeously renders the characters and their environs, but what about the yarn itself? Yes, the written contents fully live up to the fine packaging, for Garlands of Moonlight also features a fascinating background and dark fantasy plot set on a small island village in 19th century Dutch colonial Indonesia. The story focuses on Marsiti, a "jamu lady", a traditional healer and elderly wise woman who has recently come to the settlement, committed to tending to the inhabitants physical and spiritual health. Her friendly rival is a young man named Hidayat who wishes to eschew traditions in favor of Western ways of science and medicine. It doesn't take long for Marsiti to begin experiencing a growing sense of alarming disquiet accompanied by strange occurrences, (babies vanish, mothers are found murdered night after night), indicating that the village women have become the prey of a supernatural entity that leaves bizarre calling cards after each visit---oddly warped, shaped and thorny plants that sprout suddenly outside the windows of the victims' homes. Adding to the residents' woes, a greedy and exploitative Dutch colonial officer arrives, forcing Marsiti and those she cares about to deal with the dual, simultaneous threats of the foreigner's rage and destructive potential having been met with resistance, (encouraged by Hidayat), and the fearfully tragic turmoil caused by an otherworldly, vampiric force from the legends and beliefs of the islanders' mythical past.
The combined talents of Garlands of Moonlight's creators have produced an eerily stunning dark fantasy that skillfully blends vivid characters (the bold and challenging Hidayat questioning the traditional wisdom of the grandmotherly Marsiti); historically important events (colonial powers oppressing indigenous people); provocative ideas (how belief systems influence the perception of reality); and spine-tingling suspense when a supernatural creature from the legendary past sinisterly manifests in the midst of upheavals brought about by the clash of civilizations. That the weird being in question happens to be female in essence also raises important questions about the age-old fear of women's power in a patriarchal society and the emotional and intellectual costs when nearly all of the feminine half of the population (with exceptions like Marsiti), gets dominated by the males. The one-dimensional villainy of the Dutch officer remains the sole underdeveloped aspect of this otherwise superlative example of the creativity happening in independently published graphic novels.
That Garland of Moonlight delivers so much cultural complexity, storytelling skill (thanks to Jai Sen), and artistic richness (kudos to Rizky Wasisto Edi) packed into 85 pages in such an elegant, compact volume, and a first time effort at that, is nothing short of astonishing---and all for the price of $4.59! This book can be easily obtained through major online booksellers or directly from the publisher. Don't miss this one!
Shoto Press has ambitious plans to produce more innovative, exciting, Asian-themed work on a quarterly basis and their endeavors deserve the widest support and recognition. Garlands of Moonlight, with its ingenious and enthralling blend of the fantastic with harsh historical realities will hopefully be only the first flower in a blossoming garden of flourishing graphic novel delights.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu