It may at first surprise readers familiar with Inoue, who usually tells wonderful stories about basketball (Slam Dunk, Real) and historical samurai (Vagabond), that he’s chosen to explore the life and works of a Spanish architect who died in 1926; but he quickly explains himself by comparing looking up at the intricate, undulating facade of Gaudí’s Casa Milà in Barcelona to lying beneath a long-overlooked tree near his own home and taking in the beauty and organic structural perfection of the whole as every element, down to the tiniest leaf, plays its part. In that attention to detail, and in the appreciation and incorporation of the natural world in his art, Inoue finds kinship with Gaudí as well as inspiration to continue to develop and explore his own creativity.
To better imagine himself in his object’s shoes, Inoue seeks out not only the churches, parks, homes, and other structures that Gaudí designed, but numerous other tangible points of reference for the experiences that may have helped shape the architect’s ideas. He walks the streets Gaudí walked, gazes in awe at the mountains of Montserrat where Gaudí worked, and stands in the olive grove-bordered yard of Gaudí’s childhood home. He wonders about the personalities and relationships of Gaudí’s family, friends, and colleagues, including the Pepita (or “seed”) of the book’s title. He chats with scholars, curators, and the craftsmen tasked with carrying on Gaudí’s unfinished masterwork, the massively complicated and evolving church, La Sagrada Família. Throughout, Inoue expresses his respect for Gaudí, his curiosity regarding the man and his artistry, and his hopes and concerns for the future of the architect’s aging and in-progress works.
With sketches, photos, interview snippets, and personal reflections, along with the occasional factoid or timeline, Inoue documents his experiences and impressions as he follows in the footsteps of a fellow artist whom he admires and wishes to understand more deeply. He freely admits he is no Gaudí expert, yet he is clearly more than a tourist.
Neither a practical reference resource, nor strictly an art book, nor even a biography of either architect or manga-ka, Pepita is a difficult book to categorize and for which to pin down a target audience.
Although the text blocks, captions, and unaltered photos can be interesting and informative, the book is at its most fascinating when Inoue lets his artist’s imagination play with the information and experiences he’s absorbing: Gaudi’s beautiful “fractured glass” mosaic style incorporated into Inoue’s watercolors (“It’s addicting! Please do try this at home.”); detailed ink-washes and penciled portraits; quick impressions of the craftsmen in their workshop; airy, eye-filling landscapes; thumbnail sketches of Gaudí and his acquaintances, complete with thoughtful ponderings and amusing speculative dialogue (“He’s not really my type…,” says the smiling woman who declined the architect’s marriage proposal); and photos supplemented with Inoue’s conception of an adolescent Gaudí or cartoonish doodles of fantastic creatures or himself (such as one with a scribbled Inoue giddily scaling Casa Milà’s facade while his real image warns, “You’re gonna get in trouble.”).
Ultimately, the book is a collection of visual and verbal observations distilled from an accomplished artist’s self-directed journey of discovery.
While Pepita may not be a necessary addition to most public library collections, it will likely find a welcoming home on the personal shelves of fans of Inoue’s work. And while it may not reveal anything particularly groundbreaking about its author or its subject, it will pique the reader’s curiosity about both and encourage her to look at them and at the world around her more closely and with renewed appreciation for its everyday extraordinariness, an end result with which one gets the feeling Inoue, and perhaps Gaudí himself, would be more than satisfied.