MANGA: Body Tree, by Susumu Higa
A heartbreaking silent manga, debuting on Mangasplaining Extra.
Content Warning: This manga contains scenes of death and environmental destruction. While it is not gory, it is intended to be upsetting and discretion is advised.
When Jocelyne Allen and I first went to visit Susumu Higa at his home in Naha, Okinawa, back in 2016, to discuss the possible publication of the two works that would eventually become Okinawa, it was intended for that work to be published as a crowdfunded effort. Crowdfunding also demanded ‘stretch goals’, i.e., additional material besides the core product that, if backers ‘stretched’ and contributed more money, would be included in their rewards. So I asked Higa-san if he had any recent comics that hadn’t been published anywhere, that we could perhaps do a small print run of and include if the crowdfunding effort was successful. He produced for us this silent, 80 page graphic short story, “Body Tree.”
“Body Tree” is a raw work, both visceral and contemplative. Dated December 12th, 2013, the work is a clear response to the March 11th, 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami that ravaged north eastern Japan, and to the environmental catastrophe that resulted from the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It is also about more than that too, about some of the cycles of behaviour around catastrophe. It is a ‘dreamlike’ comic in that I feel it has the cadence of a nightmare from which you can’t awaken.
There have been many, many, many responses to 3/11 (as its known in Japan) since the incident, as well as to the events that have followed. In fact these events are still unfolding today, with the release of Fukushima wastewater this week causing a significant controversy and protest in East Asia. I paused for a few days to consider if the planned release of this story this week, which was always meant to accompany the publication of Okinawa, was now more complicated due to Fukushima being in the news again around the world.
When we went back to visit Higa-san in June of 2023, I reminded him again of “Body Tree” and asked if he would still allow us to publish it online, with hopes of eventually finding an outlet for it in print. He readily agreed, and urged us to do so. I think we Higa-san knew in both June of 2023 and back in 2013 when he wrote this story that we will all be living with the consequences of that disaster for a long time to come, and there’s perhaps no better time to release this story than now.
A formatting note: Susumu Higa conceived of this story as a series of double-page spreads, and due to the nature of Substack’s email-based distribution system, spreads don’t work quite as well as single-page images. We would highly recommend reading this comic on a desktop computer or ipad, on the MSX: Mangasplaining website at mangasplainingextra.com.
MSX - The Mangasplaining Extra Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. We have made this comic free to read due to the message it espouses, but your support is appreciated.
By Susumu Higa
This story reads in the Japanese orientation, right-to-left.