Story & Art by Isaki Uta
Translated by Itsuki
Lettered by Tim Sun
Compiled and Formatted by CC Sū & Katarina Kunstelj
Quality Assurance by On Takahashi & Zhuchka
“All that’s left now is the barren landscape of a forgotten world with no one in sight.”
Isaki Uta begins and ends this story with the same image, that of a “barren landscape” littered with the ruins of buildings and statues. These constructions, built-in emulation of imagination, now lie half-buried in the dirt and crumbling to dust, worn out by age. But while this vision of a future of a bygone past is the same on both the first and last page, the context surrounding it and the sentiment accompanying it significantly differs. The first page is covered by a wispy veil of cloth draped in the sky. The narrator describes that the world “was once filled with everything I ever had. The source of [her] light.” Yet, with the veils replacing draping over the world, the implication is that they’re keeping out an external source of “light;” rather, her “light” is that which was filtered through the veil, which protected what it covered underneath. In this way, the protagonist is described as finding security and contentment by letting “light” through this filter, illuminating the world only as much, as specifically, and as brightly as she wanted to see it. The protagonist, then, is implied to be protective of a utopian view of her world, even if the reality is ruinous.
Which makes the final page of the comic, which revisits this image and sentiment, such a stark contrast. The veil has been lifted, and now an open sky full of wispy clouds can be seen clearly. Despite the landscape being essentially the same, Uta draws the clouds in such a pointed perspective that it draws attention to the vastness of the space, creating a new sense of distance in the environment and the world that was previously lacking. Even if the view has remained the same, the world now seems bigger and open to exploring than it was before. Moreover, the protagonist’s narration has significantly changed. While it still ends with the mourning of a “barren landscape of a forgotten world,” the protagonist now muses about how she saw, “beyond the mist of Ihatovo,” a person waving out to her and that “what used to be [her] everything” is now a part of her. The reference to “Ihatovo” is telling of the protagonist’s self-awareness of her worldview. “Ihatovo” refers to the abstracted world found in the novels of Kenji Miyazawa, one of the most acclaimed novelists of the Japanese literary canon. Ihatov was an idealized version of Miyazawa’s homeland of Iwate Prefecture, and has been described as a utopia akin to the “Looking Glass world through which Alice traveled” and “a dreamland in the author’s imagination.” By recalling Miyazawa’s “Ihavoto,” Uta emphasizes that the protagonist had been truly immersed in her idealized vision of her world, and is now self-aware that her fantasy is not the same as reality.
Even so, the message imparted by her narration is no longer one of defensive regret, but of peaceful acceptance. The protagonist was still able to see her lover beyond her abstractions, signaling her. Recognizing that what she was seeing was not just fantasy, that the person she feared she just imagined was truly there, she is able to take comfort in her memory of this world she’d believed in as real experiences. While her world no longer revolves around this person or their time together, the memories they shared are a part of her and will be carried by her through the rest of her life. Notably, the final page is framed with thick black borders, which contrasts with the first page, where the imagery took up its entire space. This effectively compliments the idea that the protagonist now has the perspective to appreciate her imagined world as a memory, one that she’s no longer immersed in but can still take a step back to appreciate. With this context, her remark about “the barren landscape of a forgotten world” transforms from a sentiment of regret to one of wistful appreciation. Yes, the protagonist’s dreamland is now empty. However, it’s still there, and there’s so much more she has left to explore, and so much she has left to find. In this way, Uta brilliantly and succinctly describes the protagonist’s entire emotional arc throughout this comic in two beautiful, affecting pages. Which just goes to show just how smartly written and drawn the rest of the comic is.
The motif of the veil describes how the protagonist’s perception of the world is obscured through a filter of her own imagination that prevents her from seeing the world for what it is rather than how she wants it to be. This motif is applied judiciously throughout the story, accentuating the wistful fantasy and romanticism of the protagonist’s love in happier moments and her disillusionment and resentment of reality in others. The cover sees the protagonist attempt to pull the veil over her and her lover while looking disdainfully at the reader as if she hopes to keep the intimacy of their story a private affair. In the story, both the protagonist and her partner are introduced framed by veils flanking either side of them, indicating that they are first made aware through an opening of artifice in the world, able to truly see and get to know each other at that moment in time. Later still, the protagonist, fantasizing about escaping her unhappy home life, is draped by a veil over her bed in which she dreams of her rescue. In the flashback in which her partner comes out to her, the protagonist and her partner are shown hiding behind a veil in their classroom. When her partner describes themselves as a trans-man, she imagines the veil lifting, which frightens her. Afterward, when they break up, she tears the veil apart with her own hands, her fantasy destroyed. Then, during her moment of self-clarity, the protagonist recognizes that she was seeing her partner behind the veil, as she was seeing her behind one. Even so, they are shown still approaching each other, even with the veil in between. The penultimate page of the comic shows the veil fluttering as the protagonist takes a step forward in her life; it’s no longer draped over her or in her way, but it’s not gone either.
For most of the comic, the veil motif reflects the protagonist projecting her idealized view of the world as a way to protect herself and the life she dreamed of living. This motif compliments her nature as an artist, as artists generally interpret and depict the world in an abstracted form, prioritizing their perceptions over reality. When she realized she was not seeing her partner and the world for what they are, the protagonist became disillusioned with creating art, believing it incapable of reproducing reality. However, by the end of the story, the protagonist has realized the way she saw the world and her partner, while imagined, was no less real to her. Even if they weren’t seeing each other for themselves, the love they shared was genuine. Her art, her fantasies, and her memories reflect not just her wants and desires, but real parts of herself. Ultimately, Silkscreen is a story about the intersection and barrier between imagination and perception, how we understand and interpret the world around us, and not losing sight of either our reality and fantasies as we carry forward in life trying to navigate them both.
Silkscreen explores the struggle between being true to yourself and living as how others perceive you. It’s curious that Uta chooses not to name the protagonist or her partner in the story, as if asking us just to identify and understand them through the events of the story. Both the protagonist and her partner are depicted as wanting to be with an idealized version of the other. The protagonist imagines her partner akin to the princely woman archetype, a la Oscar from The Rose of Versailles, Princess Sapphire from Princess Knight, Haruka Tenoh from Sailor Moon, etc.; she wants a heroic, masculine woman to sweep her off her feet and rescue her from her unhappiness. When her partner instead reveals himself as a trans-man, she lashes out at him for not being the savior she thought he’d be. Meanwhile, her partner wants the protagonist to dress and look a certain way, like keeping her curls, even though the protagonist would prefer to straighten them. The protagonist is also shown dealing with further conformity to her parents’ demands of her, as they see her as a chaste virginal child that must be strictly monitored until adulthood. The protagonists’ rift between her and her girlfriend also forms out of a lack of understanding of the other person’s wants and needs and the protagonist’s insecurity over her partner not acquiescing to her desires.
Consistently, we’re shown characters expecting others to play a role comfortable to them regardless of how they are, rejecting them when they refuse to conform.It’s because of this disconnect that the protagonist gives up on her artistic dreams for a long period during the story. However, in seeing her former partner now thriving as his authentic self, she realizes that she shouldn’t squirrel away her own desires and live unhappily doing what she doesn’t love. This clarity encourages her to pick up drawing again, potentially reforging a stronger bond with her girlfriend by drawing her portrait and showing her how she sees her. It’s a hopeful, encouraging message about striving to live as your authentic self and finding a greater fulfillment and happiness in that pursuit as opposed to retreating into conformity and maintaining a protective wall between reality and your dreams.
Silkscreen’s themes of self-acceptance and transforming dreams into reality compliment queer experiences and the arc of its genderqueer trans-male character resonantly. It’s always wonderful to see stories empathetically explore trans-masculine experiences, and the relationship between the partner and the protagonist is both sweet and bittersweet, even veering into the uncomfortably real when the protagonist lashes out at him with a transphobic outburst. I’m glad this character unflinchingly chooses to live his truth rather than stay with someone who couldn’t accept him for who he is, and is shown thriving as an adult, now taking testosterone and having found a new girlfriend. However, I find it interesting that this is the second story of Uta’s that explores a gender non-conforming character from a cis person’s perspective. Both Mine-kun and Silkscreen center their stories on cis protagonist’s in an ill-fated relationship with a gender non-conforming parter, who are used to reflect upon and develop the protagonist’s own growth as a person, while the gender non-conforming character’s arc is more on the periphery.
This isn’t a criticism so much as an observation of an interesting pattern I’ve noticed in Uta’s stories exploring queer characters so far. I feel like Uta is interested in gender non-forming queer characters and their stories, but much like the protagonist of Silkscreen, puts up a veil to abstract their stories from being the central focus, putting a distance between them and those characters by describing them through the perspective of a cisgender protagonist. While I found both Mine-kun and the partner in Silkscreen empathetically drawn and written characters, I would be interesting in seeing Uta open that veil and write a story from the perspective a non-cis queer character sometime. Regardless, I appreciate Uta’s interest in exploring queer identity and the feelings of isolation and frustration that come from being regarded as “different” in a societal context, and I’m excited to see how they’ll continue to build upon these themes in their future works.
I’ve explored the depth of Uta’s usage of visual metaphor through the veil motif and bookended illustrations already, but it’s worth reiterating that their art is beautifully evocative. In their afterward, Uta describes their art for this comic as something of a rush-job they don’t feel is of the same level of quality as a commercial work, and I couldn’t disagree more. The entire comic is brilliantly composed in terms of layout and intelligent usage of motif and metaphor to communicate the themes and feelings of the story. So many of Uta’s illustrations are incredibly striking and envelop you in their mood and emotion, be it the distraught rage of seeing the protagonist rip to shreds the veil encompassing her imagined world, or dreaming of her prince with a griffin in her fantasy world, and of course the bookended visuals of the barren landscape. Uta’s expressions are hyperreal too, really communicating the emotions of the characters in a powerful way, especially during the tense coming out scene and the furious breakup. Uta’s linework can be loose and sketchy at times, but this line sense compliments the blurred lines of imagination and reality the comic explores. I think it’s just a gorgeously, smartly-drawn book all around. My kudos also goes out to letterer Tim Sun’s airbrush-like font choices for the sound-effects, which perfectly compliment the art and content of the story. I also love the hand-drawn lettering of the protagonist’s freak-out at her partner in the breakup flashback, which really communicates her chaotic, frantic fury in that moment. For a story exploring how the way we see the world evokes certain feelings in us, every visual element of the book succeeds in communicating a volume of emotions.
Isaki Uta has quickly become one of my favorite artists to keep up with, as their work is always full of interesting visual and thematic ideas centered around exploring the experiences of outsiders and outliers to a societal status quo. Silkscreen is no exception, depicting the struggle between living in conformity to social pressure or living authentically in defiance of them in a compelling, thoughtful way. Even if they feel their art is simpler than normal, I think Uta masterfully employs their visual metaphors with great depth, heightening the impact of the beats of their story and the themes they’re communicating. They’re a phenomenal storyteller that knows how to make the most of their art to leave an impact on their readers, and I’m excited to see what kinds of stories they’ll tell next. I look forward to the next time I can lift the veil up on Uta’s work and explore the boundless worlds of their imagination once again.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible through a complimentary review copy provided by Irodori.
You can purchase Silkscreen and learn more about Irodori here.