In Night Bus, Zuo Ma puts a surreal twist on autobiographical storytelling. The graphic novel is a series of imaginative short stories that connect to Ma’s real life. Timelines happen alongside each other, dreams seamlessly flow with reality, plants and wildlife overtake urban settings in unnatural ways. Ma’s writing style feels like reading someone’s personal memories. Memories don’t always bend to reality, and our lives intermingle with our dreams.. [T]his is an enjoyable read that will have you looking under rocks like a kid again.White Wall Review
By Zuo Ma. Translated by R. Orion Martin. Published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Softcover, 412 pages, B&W, 2021 (originally published 2018)
JOURNEY THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE IN THIS MAGICAL REALIST DEBUT FROM AN UNDERGROUND CHINESE CARTOONIST
TRANSLATED BY R. ORION MARTIN
In Night Bus, a young woman wearing round glasses finds herself on an adventurous late night bus ride that constantly makes detours through increasingly fantastical landscapes. Meanwhile a young cartoonist returns home after art school and tries his hand at becoming a working artist while watching over his aging grandmother whose memory is deteriorating. Nostalgic leaps take us to an elementary school gymnasium that slowly morphs into a swamp and is raided by a giant catfish. Beetles, salamanders, and bug-eyed fish intrude upon the bus ride of the round-glasses woman as the night stretches on. Night Bus blends autobiography, horror, and fantasy into a vibrantly detailed surreal world that shows a distinct talent surveying his past.
Nature infringes upon the man-made world via gigantism and explosive abundance–the images in Night Bus are often unsettling, not aimed to horrify, but to upset the balance of modern life.
Zuo Ma is part of a burgeoning Chinese art comics scene that pushes emotion to the forefront of the story while playing with action and dreams.
Praise for Night Bus
Ma [is] a structured creator producing incredibly detailed illustrations, with scenery, whether urban or rural, very important to him. His greatest artistic strength is the definition of location... [Night Bus is] well worth dipping into.Slings and Arrows
Readers will awe at Ma’s transporting visions.Publishers Weekly
[Night Bus explores] memories of a vanishing China and track[s] the dramatic changes wrought on the landscape by industrialization.The New Yorker
Deftly translated by Orion Martin, Zuo Ma's tales are literally eye-opening trips... By scrutinizing the world through 'the eyes of another,' Zuo Ma explores the porous and surreal boundary between fiction and autobiography, familiar and otherness, human and animal, untamed nature and rampant development.Thuy Dinh, NPR
Layered, poetic, deeply personal stories about a young artist and a country in transition. The dream-like, sometimes uncomfortable stories and highly rendered environments feel like echoes of Tsuge or Tatsumi updated for a new generation.Matt Forsythe, Pokko and the Drum
Elements of reality and unreality are interwoven and fused in powerful, visceral ways, capturing intense emotions of anxiety and dread, but also evoking a sense of nostalgia. Night Bus is an unsettling, riveting, and compelling collection.Manga Bookshelf
Night Bus depicts sleepy, starry, bug swarmed countrysides, far away from the turmoil I currently experience. The book sparked far off memories of catching bugs and chance encounters with strange kids and adults doing things I found puzzling and objectionable. These memories make me want to fall into a coma and escape the oppressive stress of city life. The depictions of mundane existence, concerns about the elderly, and Zuo Ma’s own career path drift seamlessly into moody creature fantasies that at times escalate into full-on kaiju sequences. The darkened, cinematic faces linger.Jesse Moynihan, Forming, Midnight Gospel, Adventure Time
China has a pronounced presence on these pages, its cities and countryside appearing in lush detail, vying for attention with anthropomorphized cats, giant snails, assorted insects, and huge fish that weave in and out of the anecdotes... There is a point being made here with these elements of magic realism, when lines between the quotidian and grotesque blur. It is an artist’s attempt to address an imbalance; to set right what clearly isn’t.Broken Frontier
Ma—a leader in China’s alternative comics scene—thoughtfully annotates each story with provenance and original publication, layering context and personal experience into his graphic memories. In this homage to familial storytelling, Ma—translated into English by small comics publisher Martin—succeeds in creating an intriguing portrait of an artistic young man showcasing his well-earned individuality.Booklist