When I originally wrote my review of La Quinta Camera, I mentioned Natsume Ono’s conscious choice of style as a strong point of the book. One of the things I admire greatly about Natsume Ono is her ability to determine a specific voice for each of her written works, and varies her illustration technique with each work to match that voice. Some books like Gente and Restorante Pardiso are more expansive, more expressive, and more proportionate, and in a sense, “less cartoony,” while other works use a larger, rounder, sketchy style.
Some of the other reviewers in the mangasphere have decided that this conscious choice in style is a harmful one (at least if she is going to not illustrate in her more serious style). I disagree with this, and since this is a Manga Moveable Feast, I feel the need to address these comments as a way to discuss Ono as well as express my counter argument. A review by Snow Wildsmith at ICV2 has said that the style of La Quinta Camera makes it seem as though “the creator herself didn’t consider these characters to be overly important creations,” which not only do I find preposterous, but I also think it completely ignores the subtle intricacies of Ono’s illustration and asserts that only the most life-like illustrations can bear any critical weight.
Unlike many artists who use one voice for a majority of their work, Natsume Ono has two that she uses frequently – the more realistic, lanky, ultra-lean and long style that is evident in Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, and House of Five Leaves, and a more rounded, shorter, simplified style best expressed in La Quinta Camera. There are mixes of both – Ono’s not simple is both rounded and simplistic, but takes on some the lankiness of her other voice. These two voices play a key role in the way that Ono constructs her narratives.
I think that we can agree that La Quinta Camera has a simple art style, but it should also be mentioned that this book is less focused on the long term and developing storyline, and more interested in showing snippets of an ongoing story. This is a real slice of life, but it is generally speaking less serious in tone than Ristorante Paradiso. La Quinta Camera does not take itself quite as seriously, and its simpler artwork exemplifies that.
The simple art has a function for La Quinta Camera, and I think that is what Snow overlooked as part of her review. Just because something is more simplistic in its looks does not make it less tragic, poignant, or significant. As an example, Chester Brown, in his transition from Louis Reil to Paying For It, crushed down his fairly detailed black and white detailing into something more sparse and charged. Some might even say insectile:
(Click to enlarge)
Does this mean that Paying For It is less of a comic book, or that Chester Brown cared about it compared to his earlier work? Most certainly not – the choice of style is an artistic choice designed to create a look and feel that the artist wants to embed into the comic, just like the choices that Ono has made to differentiate La Quinta Camera and Ristorante Paradiso.
As far as Natsume Ono is concerned, yes, the imagery from La Quinta Camera is simpler than the imagery from Ristorante Paradiso. However, Ristorante Paradiso was a complex emotional grind for the main character who looked to reconnect with her estranged mother and make a name for herself in an Italian restaurant. This story demands a less whimsical attitude, and an art style that conveys the seriousness of tone that Ono wishes to convey.
La Quinta Camera is more fluid and open in its construction, and also in its storytelling. Charlotte, in the first character, introduces herself as a transient part of a story of a five-room apartment where 4 unusual men live. The story itself is as connected to the apartment as Ristorante Paradiso is to the restaurant, but the feeling is different – the people that move in and out of this apartment see into its existence like a person looks through a window, and the book follows suite, giving the reader a window into the life of these characters. The vignette-like moments are designed to do something completely different than the long form of Ristorante Paradiso and House of Five Leaves, and a different style of illustration suits that change.
While certainly I cannot fault illustration preference (I assume that many would prefer the art of Ristorante Paradiso to that of La Quinta Camera), I reject the notion that one has more heft or critical weight because it is more complex and realistic, or that an author would care less about a piece of work because of the chosen art style. Style, just like every other part of a comic, is just another piece of the story that Ono tells, and I think that the story and mood conveyed in La Quinta Camera are both beautiful and simultaneously different than those of Ristorante Paradiso. And, I think that is just how it ought to be.