Winter Books Issue - 2005

Unsentimental journey

R. Kikuo Johnson drops some science on Honolulu Weekly about the comic biz, busting up stereotypes and holding it down local style in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Winter Books Issue - 2005 /

Night Fisher has a noticeable amount of well-deserved hype behind it. How does that happen? Where does the momentum come from?

It’s been said that comics is the last medium where it’s the comics that count. Often, it’s pretty easy to tell a good comic with the first glance, and unlike other arts, getting your big break is less about politics and who you know than it is about making a well crafted book. I’d certainly like to believe this is true, but the more likely answer is Eric Reynolds, the PR wizard for Fantagraphics. He’s done an amazing job getting Night Fisher into the right hands.


Part of Night Fisher’s power comes from its brutal lack of sentimentality. Its characters live, work and play in an existential void. Does your visual style purposefully reflect this?

I don’t think so, no. I actually think of the style in which I drew Night Fisher as relatively warm and inviting despite the book’s often stark content. I wanted a very handmade feel to the whole book to emphasize the elements of memoir, so I made every mark with the same tool and never ruled a straight line. It’s dark and raw but also loose and painterly. In the end, I think the contrast between its intimate appearance and its unsentimental voice adds to its impact.

I bet a lot of the reviews of Night Fisher will ride on the idea that setting a story full of violence, alienation and ice addiction on Maui is somehow paradoxical, because Maui is part of ‘paradise.’ Why? Why is Hawai’i held to different rules than the Mainland when it comes to art?

Art often employs archetypes to convey abstract ideas without exposition. Hawai’i equals paradise is a pretty pervasive one and something that I was definitely working against. Comics is great at using archetypes because of its simple, paired down visual language of symbols and icons, which is one of the reasons Superman, Batman and other hero archetypes were invented in the comics pages. But comics can also convey the specific, something more and more new graphic novels are showing.

Night Fisher seems to run on metaphors: Loren’s lawn, Maui’s ecology, etc. What are you trying to tell us?

I don’t really have a message for anyone as much as I just wanted to present a story in which both the protagonist and the setting endure a similar struggle. I just hope I’ve put enough in there to spur readers’ own ideas.

How’s Brooklyn? Are you on the G? The L? The JMZ? What do people say when you tell them you’re from Maui?

I’m right smack in the middle of all three trains in the heart of gentrifying Williamsburg. I used to watch the beaches be replaced by hotels, and now I’m watching industry being replaced with luxury condos. The unanimous response when I tell people I’m from Maui is: ‘Why did you leave?’ I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve decided that you love Maui because it’s a beautiful welcoming place full of really warm people. You love New York because it’s an awful, dirty, crowded, stinking pit of hate that’s really pretty exciting to live in. But as much as I enjoy it here, I’ll always know Maui no ka oi.

Johnson will talk and sign books Thu 11/17 at the Kahala Mall Barnes & Noble, and Fri 11/18 at the Ala Moana Center Barnes & Noble. Both events start at 7pm and are free and open to the public.


Fresh catch

Night Fisher
R. Kikuo Johnson
Fantagraphics Books, 2005, $12.95

Ice. Kids. Cops. Crime. High school.

Maui native R. Kikuo Johnson, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design now living in Brooklyn, has done the near-impossible: produced a beautifully written and drawn graphic novel of life on Maui that blows conventional island images out of the water and is getting serious hype on the Mainland. Published by Fantagraphics Books, Night Fisher has received glowing reviews in Giant Robot and Bust, and has already sold out of its first pressing. Honolulu Weekly is stoked to present these excerpts.

[Click on the thumbnails to view.]