- Posted by Johanna on January 15, 2006 at 8:34 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Josh Neufeld
- PUBLISHER: Alternative Comics; $12.95 US
Josh Neufeld’s A Few Perfect Hours and Other Stories from Southeast Asia & Central Europe is a collection of stories covering his travels through those regions with his partner Sari Wilson, who writes the introduction.
Her text gives the book needed context. The trips pictured here took place over half a decade ago, and the world is now very different. Then, she says, they didn’t worry for their safety, only about connecting with those they met. Their stories have become historical, a diary of a time now past.
Neufeld’s clean, straightforward style supports his journalistic approach, and his rounded lines make it all seem friendlier, which helps during some of the more unpleasant reminiscences. Panels that convey the foreign or claustrophobic are crowded with detail. Those that tell of calm and peaceful experiences are open with clear focus. Between the longer stories are one-page travel tips that capture some of the more exotic elements of extended voyages, like bathroom practices.
Lessons gained are shared with the reader without judgment or preaching. Neufeld presents himself, his partner, and his experiences with honesty, especially when he challenges his fears and preconceptions. The bigger theme is the nature of faith, with the travelers visiting religious festivals, staying with a missionary family, and attending his grandmother’s funeral. Instead of fear, the overwhelming emotions are curiosity and exploration.
Neufeld’s stories provide a street-level view of other cultures, with nothing whitewashed. The lessons learned are basic but universal, made more relevant through seeing exactly how the travelers came to them. They’re often quite humorous, demonstrating how Americans and Europeans are perceived by others. Moreoever, the stories often remind us of the point of traveling — to experience and come to terms with the unknown, and ultimately to address our own spirituality and reason for being.
Comics are ideally suited for travelogues, since the author can show with pictures what would otherwise take pages to describe (and possibly still not be understood). Those who would never imagine grabbing a backpack and setting off across the world can experience the unusual and the eye-opening. When the world seems a much smaller place, books like this one remind the reader how wonderfully diverse our planet is.