Writer / Artist
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Breakdown Press – 978-1-91108104-3
  • Release date: 2009
  • English language release date: 2018
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781911081043
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Abstract, Conceptual, Manga

Outdoors takes its title from the location for three stories by Yuichi Yokoyama that all take place in a landscape of trees, hills, lakes, various kinds of foliage and big skies. These woodlands and waterways are being experienced by three of Yokoyama’s typically masked protagonists, who carry out a series of activities which at first seem like the dramatic secret missions you’d expect when you see a team of men carrying specialised gadgets in a purposeful way. But as usual Yokoyama’s comics unfold to reveal a very different agenda to their initial outward appearance.

Story one begins with the launching of a drone missile into the sky from an installation on the edge of a forest. The drone pilot in his remote cockpit pilots the drone through his screen, steering from his console as it flies at great speed through the landscape, photographing the terrain it passes through. We are so used to these instruments of remote destruction now that we expect the missile to be heading for a target. The urgency of these panels that are overlaid with the spiky giant sound effects feel tense and dangerous and the various features of the countryside it passes through are just scenery, of no importance. But there is something else going on here. When you reach the end of this short story, you realise the forward motion is a simple device to make the reader pay attention, expecting or anticipating what might come next. So then you have to start again, rereading with a different eye, to simply dwell in the panels moment by moment as they present their observations without judgement, allowing for the dispassionate presentation of images to absorb your attention. It’s almost meditative.

The other two stories are equally deliberate but much slower as they take place over longer timespans in smaller areas, staying focused on features of the natural world. As with New Engineering and Garden, Yokoyama wants you to notice how particular objects and phenomena interact with each other in a variety of settings over time. Outdoors is almost documentary in style as he fixes on details such as the shape water droplets make running over different surfaces, or how materials expand under pressure. One interesting feature of this almost purely ontological approach to comics is that his normally seamless drawing features quite a few ink smudges and blots that haven’t been erased. It may not mean anything except that he was less meticulous than usual, or it might be an indication that he wants you to remember these are the product of a human hand despite the machine-like style.

All of this makes a lot more sense when you come to Yokoyama’s short interview about this book where he explains its origins. Outdoors is not a long book, but you can spend quite some time in its pages if you are able to read these stories by letting the imagery take you through each page enjoying the progression rather than racing to the ending, much like a walk in the woods or a fishing trip.