Reading comics teaches us an amazing amount of skill when interpreting a story. They teach us to think logically, translating still pictures into active motion; to understand how actions progress from one panel to the next only through temporal context of the page. They teach us how to understand a story from a combination of prose and imagery, and they teach us how to culminate all of those abilities into a complete comic reading experience. What happens when a comic experiments with that formula, forcing an extra burden onto the reader? The experience as a whole transcends to a personal connection between comic and reader. Gon by Masashi Tanaka achieves such a feat through an entire series of wordless, animal kingdom adventures. By removing the elements of dialogue and sound Tanaka not only increases the burden on himself to accurately convey emotions, and on a base level plot, the reader is also forced to make interpretive leaps during the reading process. Thankfully a number of Tanaka’s artistic talents ease the burden on the reader and also make Gon a fantastically unique and fun read.
The most prominent aspect of Tanaka’s work is his unbelievable attention to detail. The world is presented with meticulous attention to creating an accurate and realistic presentation, to the point that every story borders on being a study of the natural world rather than a comic. Animals and nature in general are drawn with textbook-worthy detail, giving the story an intense feeling of realism. It’s through this realism that our first connection to the story is formed.
Gon exists in a world of ridiculous possibilities, his presence in the world is proof enough of that. But through constructing a world so starkly based in reality, Gon’s existence and victory over extinction is a foundation for the suspension of disbelief. If everything but him behaves according to the standard rules of reality, his behavior outside those rules never seems so outlandish. Gon’s nigh invulnerability, Superman-level strength, and insatiable appetite are outrageous, but not entirely unbelievable. Nature itself operates within the limits of reasonable expectation, so with an entire world behaving as it should, Gon’s silliness is really just an inconsequential blip on the radar.
Because of its realistic presentation, nature’s standard operating procedures provide agency to Gon’s ridiculousness. Once Gon is added to the equation of any natural setting, all creatures involved are allowed to break outside of their normal roles, even if it’s only for a short time. He is an instigator, an aggressor, a rabble-rouser and, as a result, lots of fun to follow on an adventure. As an enabler, the critters around him immediately take on similar outlandish qualities. Gon unlocks the wacky potential of everything around him, turning a study in nature into a Looney Tunes cartoon.
With all this working together, the matter of story is presented in a simpler yet complex manner. A lack of dialogue, or even characters capable of speech, means there’s an extreme hurdle to jump in telling a compelling story. Without words, expositional expression comes down to a singular effort of facial articulation. Here, Tanaka’s artistic abilities also excel. The entire animal kingdom, despite their adherence to reality, is imbued with a level of humanity that requires absolutely no dialogue to supplement.
Despite a more cartoony look in most expressional situations, animals speak in a way no amount of dialogue could improve upon. Their thoughts and motivations are always on the surface to gleam with such clarity there’s never any question about what’s happening in the story. Faces and body language serve as a proxy for dialogue and exposition, combining with the action to create drama. Of course, there’s a fair amount of interpretation placed on the reader, but the precision Tanaka brings to the process makes it a piece of cake.
This entire complex process is completely broken down when it comes to the core of Gon’s adventures. Mostly revolving around him acting on an empty stomach or getting into absurd situations, Gon finds himself in the middle of some very serious and heavy situations. He finds himself in the middle of the circle of life, face to face with life and death. Through these grave adventures, Gon’s absurdness is reconnected to the natural order of Tanaka’s art. Gon may prevail through all situations by hyperbolic means, but the gravity of his more serious predicaments never escapes him.
Above all else, what makes Gon so exceptional to read is that it can teach us to read and understand comics as a whole. The adventures in Gon explore fundamental aspects of what it means to be human, and does so through the eyes of the animal kingdom. Gon experiences friendship, loyalty, and a whole lot more, all without saying a single word. His adventures are perfect for any reader, young or old, and have the depth to be worthy of rereading years down the line for a new perspective. It may seem like a fast read at first, but once you really sit down with these books, they open up in ways comics are seldom able to do.
Gon is available now for readers of all ages from Kodansha USA.