Leaving China

An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood

 
 

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© 2014 by James McMullan; All Rights Reserved

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Praise for Leaving China

Jim,

What can I say? I finished the book at 8am, and now, an hour later, I still have tears in my eyes. As someone with more than a cursory interest in graphic story telling I sit here in awe at your muted but absolute authority over the reader, your control over how fast we get into the book, and then slow down, sometimes at a snail’s pace as we come under the spell of a simple, low keyed, evocative text on the left, and on the  right, your gorgeous art, keeping us at a distance, but still close, a hypnotic magic mystery tour presented to the reader with the lilt and lyricism of a fairy tale. "Leaving China" is a picture and prose poem, exotic and deeply personal. You've done what important books of my earlier years always did: you've made me into your family.                      

All my best, Jules Feiffer


Thank you so much for Leaving China. I have to say, I love this beautiful and slender and moving volume.  Each of its pages, both written and drawn are the surface of deep pools of memory, color, sensation, and emotion.  I felt a tremendous empathy for the boy traveler, the Little Prince, trying to find safe harbor, which you have done as a grown up. It reminded me how hard it is to be a kid. It is hard, but sometimes the hard childhood pays off. And those who do not become hard themselves, are rewarded with being able to see as you have seen, the orca, the hills, the sea, the sky and the inner currents that make those things vivid in our memories. Many people do not remember. Many people do not and can not begin to summon up the past, let alone anthologize and render that past so it can be shared. Your work is always a joy to me, with a very quiet magic and a gentleman’s love for the world.  This is a very special book, and for some people, it will resonate deeply. Those of us who travelled when we were young, and felt alone, and under pressure to be something we were not — people who understand that the present IS the past and the past is always present.  The books drawn with a kind of peacefulness, a repose.

Thank you so much. Living in art, unlike boxing, sharpens your faculties and leaves you with grace. Old boxers suffer dementia and the withering of their strength.  We, on the other hand, can march on, for a very, very long time if we are lucky.

We have been lucky, which you remind me towards the end in particular, with your appreciation for Sag. It changes, the world changes, but the coves are the coves, and it’s still ours.    

Jon Robin Baitz


What comes through so beautifully is a boy under whose feet the sands are constantly shifting, a boy who is attuned to every shift, a keen observer of the most subtle changes in the adults in his life and delighted by the physical beauty around him. Within, is a moving coming-of-age story that is both dramatic and subtle - and which is generous and compassionate to the adults who failed him and lifted him.

It is quite powerful to hear how this boy - who was bounced carelessly around - found a home. How he found his own mooring as an artist. And found his footing as a man.

The writing is elegant and graceful, economical yet vivid. There's not a note of self-pity. Nary a bit of blame. Instead, it's a calm, gently assessing voice that somehow manages to tell us the story from the safe distance of adulthood and yet is poignant and vivid in describing events as if in real time.

A very special memoir. Unlike anything I've ever read. 

Patricia McCormick


Leaving China is a beautiful book. I noticed immediately that your painterly point of view was from up on the ceiling or, when outdoors, looking down from a distance….only to discover on the back jacket your rationale –the distant time of the remembered events. The miniaturization of people made me think of Hiroshige. The selection of events and scenes is unerring. The prose and the art go together remarkably –the reader needs both. And the diction is of that time i.e. speaking of the aunt who has a “mind” for something or of the orphan women who earn a trade that makes them” sought after” as wives.  So whether you knew it or not, the language is of the period...  You and your mother really traveled. I’d forgotten how much travel was necessitated by the war. You are right that you had an unusual childhood. 

Edgar Doctorow


In his memoir, Leaving China, Jim McMullan’s watercolors of delicately outlined characters, illuminated by soft yellow light or swallowed by deep purple shadows, create a pitch-perfect visual language that is the embodiment of Memory: remote yet vivid.

His scenes from childhood zigzag narratively and compositionally through a time of momentous personal development set against a backdrop of imminent social, political and family upheavals.

Beautiful and poignant, Leaving China, although autobiographical, feels like a magical tale of an alien’s journey into the strangeness of a floating world.

Eric Fischl