Sunday, July 5, 2009

Me and the Devil Blues, vol. 1

The story: RJ is a farmboy in the South, but he yearns to play the blues. While he tries his best to learn from the guys at the local speakeasy -- this is during the Prohibition, mind you -- he can't seem to wrap his head around the blues. Of course, the local bluesmen tell him there's one way to learn if he can't any other way -- wait at the crossroads, play a song on a guitar and wait for the Devil. One night, RJ does just that and sells his soul to the Devil. Without a soul, RJ travels through the South, playing the blues and running into characters all along the way.

Reaction: This story is both surreal and real at the same time. Based on the story of Robert Johnson, an actual blues guitarist in the 1930s who was rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil for his talent, this story explores the possibility of "what if." Life in the American South is depicted well here and I loved the "heart" on display throughout this tale. When RJ or others were playing, I could almost hear the music through the pages.

Deep thoughts: Robert Johnson's music, along with the blues, are quintessential American music. Inspiring the rock n' roll sound that would come much later, many bands, both stateside and in England, used the blues as a basis for the new sound which would eventually take over the airwaves around the world. While I've heard a lot of blues and took a course on the history of rock n' roll in college, the two articles chronicling the life of the real Robert Johnson were also highly informative and get those not familiar with the blues up to speed quickly.

Artwork: The illustrations throughout this large tome are both dark and sketchy, while being simultaneously realistic, providing a contrast of sorts. While drawing the Devil is a challenge, Akira Hiramoto handles it well enough with abstractions and visual supposition. However, those same illustrations of the Devil were just vague enough that I found myself flipping back again to see if I had missed an important detail. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as it gave me another moment to appreciate Hiramoto's work.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I liked this volume, which collects the first two Japanese volumes, quite a bit. Bringing a historic sensibility to an unreal story is Hiramoto's gift and, while it is perfect for any student of the blues, it's a rollicking ride through one of the most interesting "what if" stories I've read in a long, long time. Me and the Devil Blues is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.


  1. (got here from shojo flash)

    Wow, this sounds really amazing. I'll definitely check it out. =D

  2. @galimagery Thanks for visiting! This was an amazing manga and, as a big music fan, I was blown away by this concept and its execution.

    While other Japanese manga have gotten a bad rap for their portrayal of African-Americans, I felt this was a true-to-form depiction and didn't cheapen their image, despite the use of the Southern dialect. It's obvious the mangaka did a considerable amount of research in order to show historical accuracy, and it made it easier to get lost in this slightly supernatural tale.

  3. omg I know. Um, I'm not sure if you read Eternal Sabbath, but the lil bit did ruin the series a bit for me, even though I loved it up till that point. Also, I find that Japanese manga isn't really that good at portraying anyone who isn't Japanese in general. You have to dig in order to find something. =/ lol I could go on about how/why this might be the case, but I don't want to take up all the comment space, lol... ^^;

    *is excited to start on this manga*

  4. @galimagery I haven't read Eternal Sabbath yet, but I know it exists in other manga, particularly Moon Child. I think the distorted view of African Americans in Japanese manga is related to their view of gaijin in general, their homogeneous culture and, at one point, the idea that caricatures of African Americans in particular were more entertaining than offensive. Thankfully, this manga suffers from none of those.

    I'm sure you'll really enjoy it, especially if you're a music fan. It's a really interesting premise and is a great, dark read.