The comic artist author of Zuo Ma has painted a realistic and magical picture of growing up in China with his detailed artwork in the graphic novel, Night Bus.
Despite the majority of the artwork being in black and white, the book contains an astonishing amount of details in the background environment. Those details paint a picture of how it is to grow up in suburban and urban parts of China. The happy sheep-themed rocking toy for children in front of a store, the big insulated water bottle in every Chinese household, and the elementary school slogan of “Today you are proud of our school, and tomorrow our school will be proud of you”, and many other details reconstruct an ultrarealistic image of growing up in China. And, by the way, yes, my elementary school had the exact same slogan as the one in book.
Meanwhile, the author created a world full of imagination and childhood mythical story elements. The axolotl principle, the speaking cat mom, and the night bus in the forest take you into the imaginary world of a child. The ultrarealistic elements and a vivid imagination are seamlessly woven together by the ink of the author.
The elements of Chinese do not just stop at the drawing’s details. The story also shows you a Chinese young adult’s life. The pressure of meeting not just your parents’ expectation, but the expectation of your neighbors and relatives. Wanting to go home to see grandma, but dreading going home on a holiday because people back home keep throwing questions like, “How much are you making?” and “When are you getting married?” The character’s constant struggle with anxiety of under achieving is felt by me very often, too. The story connects with me, a Chinese international student, on a personal level.
The book also touched on some Chinese contemporary issues from the view of the individual. The development that left the older generation behind, the impact of urbanization on the rural area are all issues that urgently need to be solved in China. The author does not offer statistics or opinions but offers a grounding and relatable personal perspective.
The narrative of the story is more like a diary or journal than a drama. Some parts of the story are the life story of the author, while some other parts are the imaginary story or vivid childhood memory. Because of the style of narrative, sometimes I needed to go back and forth to connect the story in my head. The book does not offer a convoluted or suspenseful plot, but it does offer a slow-burn, heartwarming and relatable story. This book is a gentle love letter to the world that author grew up in and remembers.
To be honest, the story can be hard to follow sometimes, but if you are willing to be patient, and invest your time, this book is a very beautiful and satisfying read.