There was a time when nobody knew who Vincent Van Gogh was. Nowadays, everybody knows about him. And in different versions too (like the Dr. Who Van Gogh or the Cumberbatch Van Gogh). Most representations of Van Gogh show this miserable soul whose art was either too early for his time hence he was ‘unloved’ as an artist. Hozumi, on the other hand, thinks that’s not the case. In Sayonara, Sorcier Hozumi shows us how loved Vincent was by his younger brother, Theodorus ’Theo’ Van Gogh.
Perhaps an art lover or a Van Gogh aficionado knows the story of Theo Van Gogh better than I do and would probably make a better opinion on how to read Hozumi’s retelling. In most stories showing Vincent’s life, Theo’s lost behind his brother or even forgotten altogether. I didn’t know anything about Theo prior to reading Sayonara, Sorcier. Hence, I read this manga with the only expectation that it would be a good read. It won as best girls’ manga for Kono Manga ga Sugoi a year ago. At the same time, I did enjoy Hozumi’s Shiki no Zenjitsu. That said, Hozumi’s writing for Shiki no Zenjitsu was emotionally heavy, the kind that required some heavy reading in between the lines and to be honest I don’t know if I can handle such an atmosphere for another Vincent Van Gogh story. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
The story opens with cheeky scene of Theo’s life as an art dealer for one of Europe’s top art dealers, Goupil & Cie. Early into the comic, we see Theo’s knack for unconventional things. He skips work, pisses of his boss, and manages to sell a humble painting of a loaf of bread. There was something amusing about Theo’s cockiness, enough to make me forget that this was Vincent’s story but is actually Theo’s story. I couldn’t help but feel relieved about that. I love historical retellings but if it’s the same drama again and again, I just can’t help but lose affection for the next one.
Now, back to Theo. It seems that Theo’s been getting some flack from Paris’ art circles because he has been known to support a group of emerging artists which we realise are the impressionists (well… some of them). We see the breadth of Theo’s passion for the arts until Hozumi ties this passion with Theo’s admiration for his brother’s talent.
Theo calls Vincent’s talent a gift. The kind of gift that captures the soul of his subjects. The kind that makes magic. I really love how Hozumi showed us the value of Vincent’s work through Theo. Her clean drawings also managed to divorce me from any preconceived notion I had about Vincent Van Gogh’s art. It allowed me to focus the story of the brothers, the memories they hold dear, and the affection they had for each other. Hozumi would only remind me of Van Gogh when it mattered. As such, the impact of seeing his paintings merge with his brother’s vision of his work was truly a gift.
As to whether things were historically accurate, well, it seems that this was the last of Hozumi’s concern. It seems Hozumi did a fair amount of research for this title however she took many liberties that veered away from som basic facts. Just by looking at her illustration of Vincent, it was clear that Hozuki did not aim for historical accuracy. Instead, she chose to capture what was clearly visible between the two brothers: love, respect, and legacy. Within this work, readers can feel the deep admiration the two brothers had for each other and I think that’s enough. In a world filled with so much tragic stories about Van Gogh, Hozuki’s story was one I enjoyed as it actually told me that there was someone who loved and admired Van Gogh. And given all the sad things in his life, the idea that Vincent Van Gogh was loved makes the world a little better.