Sky Hawk by Jiro Taniguchi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved this book, and this story. It is a wonderful homage to both bandes dessinées “westerns” and also western films that were popular in the 1960s. Westerns are one of my favourite film genres (bet you didn’t know that). I think Taniguchi is really successful at capturing the feel of these types of films. Even in the introduction Moebius says we don’t need Hollywood when we have books like this… I completely agree.

But the type of western that Taniguchi is trying to portray is all but extinct in Hollywood. This isn’t just because the western world would rather watch action films set in different worlds and futures, but also that the attitudes of those films is antiquated and overtly racist. Unfortunately, that undesirable element is also captured in Taniguchi’s book.

I’m not blaming Tanguchi for this inclusion. How was he to know? He didn’t live on this side of the world. But, I do somewhat blame the publisher (or even a tiny bit the translator). It’s their job to eke out the correct language to use. And because it has been included, even reviewers here are repeating this language, as though it’s the most okay-est thing in the world. It’s not.

I wouldn’t even have cared as much if this was originally written back 20 years, but this was written in the 21st century, and translated in 2019. The dialogue about antiquated language has been ongoing in the West for at least this long.

I think the translation could use a bit of finesse. What could have been done?

1. Leave the dialogue as is. As unpretty as the language is, it’s trying to capture the attitudes of the white settlers and invaders in the West in the 1870s. It’s ugly. But history is ugly.
2. Change all of the narrative and descriptive text to reflect more sensitive and appropriate modern language. If this text is supposed to be told from a so-called omniscient narrative perspective, that means they know about the history, but they can tell it in the context of appropriate language usage.

My second objection to this comic is that it ends with this sense that this history that has no baring on the present. That Indigenous Peoples were scourged from this earth. And though, while brutal, it’s all in the past. This is a dangerous sentiment people. Please inform yourself on these issues by reading up on Indigenous history (as told by Indigenous peoples). And if reading prose isn’t your favourite, there are several comics histories written by Indigenous artists that are worth your time.

But, is this comic worth reading? Yes. Of course. I loved the humanity of the people. I loved the landscapes, Taniguchi was truly a master at drawing setting. I loved the storytelling.

And my favourite was the way Taniguchi drew parallels toward his Japanese and Indigenous characters. That there was something more than personality that drew them together. I’ve read a few comics by Indigenous creators which have reached the same conclusions. I’ve always wondered if a Japanese artist would do the same. Here’s my answer.

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