Wednesday, August 30, 2017

You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons

Greetings from Shanghai, China! School is underway, so I've been pretty buried in day-job work, settling into my new gig and figuring my way around this city of 25 million (!) people. I brought a big stack of comics from the US, a few new issues, and a lot from the massive unread backlog in our storage unit. I'll be starting to read an review those in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here is a book of travel cartoons that I recently finished.

Title: You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons
Date: 2006
Publisher: Hyperion Teens
Writer: Mo Willems
Artist: Mo Willems

Some years back, I was selling used books online as a side gig, and I would occasionally shop the dollar stores to add to my stock, concentrating on SF, fantasy, and graphic novels. This was one of those purchases, and it never sold. So this summer when I decided to donate most of the remaining stock, since we've been living overseas for a few years now and it looks like we're going to continue that, I saved a few of the to-sell books that interested me.

Mo Willems is best known for his childrens books (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!), and as a writer for Sesame Street. This collection of travel cartoons was drawn during a post-college backpacking trip around the world.

I found the cartoons to be a bit hit-or-miss in terms of humor and in terms of insights, but I appreciated the honesty of the project, as Willems presented the image that most inspired him to draw during each day of his travels. There were some familiar scenes here: vendors and motorbikes in Southeast Asia, crowded trains in China, the seemingly endless lists of fines and regulations in Singapore (in Willems' words, "Everything fun ends abruptly at Singapore").

The book also gave me glimpses of plenty of places that I have not had the chance to visit, and even spawned a few travel ideas.

The restriction of one cartoon a day for nearly a year results in some inconsistency, but also in some unexpected insights and surprising revelations. There is a bit of a privileged vibe, as you're going to have with any account of an American's post-college adventures abroad, but Willems mostly manages to temper that with his ability to laugh at his own situation while looking for understand of the people he meets.

Rating: 6/10