Geisha literally means “art person”, and that phrase has several meanings in Geisha by Andi Watson. Jomi, our hero, is herself a work of art: she’s a synthetic construct, raised as part of a human family. She’s also a painter, although she has to work in the family business (as a bodyguard) to pay the rent. Her client is a supermodel, a woman whose person appears as street art (advertisements). And her search is for a patron, a person to support her creation of art.
This collected volume is the smaller size traditionally used for manga, which suits its Japanese-influenced art style and the culture portrayed therein. In addition to the four issues of the original miniseries, the book contains two follow-up stories and four comic strips with the same characters.
Andi Watson’s work continues to grow in skill as his style becomes more minimalist. A full, deep world is built out of black, white, and grey tones. Individual scenes are beautifully set up with establishing shots. The scene changes are perfectly clear and yet so subtle the reader doesn’t notice how she’s led through the story unless she’s looking specifically at the craft involved. These transitions through the city streets also work to pace the story. It’s very cinematic and very thought-provoking.
The real depth of this book occurs in its explorations of fundamental questions of identity and creation: what does it means to be a real person? what does it mean to be an artist? how important is a label? In her society, bigoted against androids, Jomi’s art is rejected as “rigid” and “synthetic”. The critics know too much about the artist and allow that knowledge to bias their reaction to the art. Ironically, the same critics see her style completely differently if a more acceptable name is attached to it. (This problem is eerily paralleled in Matt Wagner’s introduction, wherein he reveals his impression of Watson’s work was influenced by his mistaken assumptions about Andi’s gender.) These questions of authenticity, authorship, and marketing in the art world are fascinating, especially when explored within comics, a medium where ghosts are traditionally used to protect the right names.
These questions are of particular importance to Jomi, who wonders if she lacks a “unique spark of inspiration” because of her origin. Her agent reassures her that she’s buying into their inaccurate assumptions: they see what they expect to see and don’t recognize true art. She ultimately has to answer these questions for herself.
I also appreciated the wonderful way Jomi’s gender is handled. She’s definitely female, but she doesn’t make a big deal out of her gender or obsess about how this makes her different. Her client’s pursuit of beauty through body modification is compared with her android nature, but they both have bigger problems to deal with when people start shooting at them.
The followup story, Out of Tune, is quieter. Jomi and her neighbor, a gossip columnist, go out to hear her brother’s band at the Angry Penguin. Both of them are looking for inspiration after being blocked in their respective creative endeavors. It’s interesting to see an artist use an artistic character to explore the nature of creative blocks and how to get around them.