The Night Bus is a dreamy, sometimes dark anthology of comics by Zuo Ma, one of the leading Chinese cartoonists. There are autobiographical threads and horror as well as purely surreal elements. Although the illusory world built by the author is extremely colorful and entertaining, while reading his stories it is impossible not to wonder what is behind this mysterious facade.
Some of the stories in the collection can be seen as generational experiences common to many Chinese – the memories of childhood spent in the Chinese countryside and the subsequent confrontation with progressive industrialization (Walking Alone) or the story of returning to his hometown after studying in a larger city (Catboy). The dominant theme of the collection, however, are the author’s personal dilemmas, most prominently in the titular and longest story, Night Bus. A mysterious night bus takes the protagonist into a world balancing on the border between sleep and reality, and the purpose of the journey is to try to understand the state in which the author’s grandmother, suffering from dementia, found herself. When it comes to the style and atmosphere of the drawings themselves, the world created by Zuo Ma is beautiful and mysterious, full of dense vegetation and animals accompanying the characters. The mood, in accordance with the logic of sleep, is sometimes magical and fairy-tale, only to turn into a nightmare full of anxiety in a blink of an eye.
The book was published not only in English, but also in French and Italian, and after reading The Night Bus, it’s clear why Ma is one of the most interesting contemporary Chinese cartoonists.