I could not pass up the opportunity to read this book of lolita fashion-centric comics and essays when I learned that my public library had a copy! ♥ So Pretty / Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen was published by Koyama Press in May 2017, so at the time I was able to read it the book was still quite recent!
I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I picked this up. I didn’t do much research on it prior to placing my hold with the library. I knew based on the description of the book that it would contain both essays and artwork. That was really it.
The book is arranged with comics drawn and written by both parties, supplemented with essays. The essays are based on research performed as part of An Nguyen’s thesis project. The comics are independent stories rather than illustrations of the research, although clearly the various interviews performed and other information gathered throughout the research period played a role in the comics as well.
I found that personally, I preferred the comics to the essays. Most of the essays offer explanations but not necessarily personal insight of the author (although there are some exceptions), so while there is a contextual use of having notes on the development of the fashion in Japan it didn’t necessarily enhance my readings of the comics or other essays because I am already familiar with that information. It wasn’t boring or poorly-written, but simply it was not new information for me to read. (Those who are just beginning their enthusiasm for lolita fashion may find those same pieces to be very interesting!)
The notable exception to this is the article and interview with Novala Takemoto. I am exactly from the right “era” of lolita fashion to have familiarity with (and adore ♥) Novala’s works. The English translations of his writing for magazines like The Gothic & Lolita Bible that existed when I was starting out in the style are still things I reflect on after all these years. I didn’t always agree with his statements, some of which seemed very dramatic (often a reflection of Japanese cultural elements rather than literal adherence), I very much enjoyed that he thought of these things and wrote to share his thoughts. Being able to read additional modern commentary from him, along with a teaser about his current project, made me very happy.
(I must say, it was extra thrilling to see that Helena Stenberg translated these pieces! She’s one of the many people I feel very lucky to have met through the fashion, so seeing her name in print was a bonus bit of excitement and joy! ♡)
The comics absolutely appealed to me in all ways. I appreciated the distinct and complementary art styles of both Jane Mai and An Nguyen. The varied themes of their illustrated stories (with those from Jane tending towards darker themes, reminding me of Gothic horror fiction, contrasting against the heartwarming sweetness of those from An) and the art styles that ranged from simple to more elaborate kept me engaged throughout the stories within. The comics lean towards the philosophical, pondering questions of why people participate in (or decide to cease to participate in…) this fashion rather than merely following some character along a plot line. Some of it I identified with; some of it I did not. I found myself smiling as I read the comics of both categories.
The book as a whole was very enjoyable; I’m happy to have been able to read it! ♥
I love to see niche works like this reach publication, and I wish both authors and artists the best in their future creative endeavors! It’s something I will certainly consider reading again, and it got me thinking afresh about the reasons that I participate in this fashion.
If you’re interested in reading an excerpt of what is contained within, the opening of the book can be enjoyed here: “Lolita Fashion” by Jane Mai and An Nguyen for The Paris Review.
You can also find an interview here: The TCAF Interviews An Nguyen on So Pretty / Very Rotten!
And here’s an article that was written after conversations with the authors and artists: “The Complex Femininity of Japanese Lolita Fashion” by Lilian Min on VICE.