I have been a fan of Jon Muth from his earlier comics days with his work on “Meltdown: Wolverine and Havoc” and the epic “Moonshadow” series. Fantasy writer Micheal Moorcock said of Moonshadow
“This is an outstanding graphic tale, told at a level of literary and visual sophistication which introduced new standards and aspirations to the genre”
Recently his storybook fiction has been equally stirring and eminently life-changing for me as both a former after-school librarian and a massive fan of zen tales and watercolors. Rarely does the poignancy of a koan combine with an emotional exploration as well as it does in Muth’s books.
His newest book, “Zen Ghosts” follows the haiku speaking panda Stillwater and his young friends through an American Halloween. In a fashion similar to his earlier books “Zen Shorts” and “Zen Ties”, Muth ties together Asian and Buddhist thought in a framework that is easily identifiable by children while engaging to adults with little or no interest in Asian philosophy or culture ( or like me, has a massive interest in both). A wicker basket to be enjoyed for its utility or for the surprises held inside.
In “Zen Ghosts”, Halloween serves as the backdrop to the Wu-men koan “Senjo and her soul are separated. Which is the true soul?” which was based upon the T’ang period ghost tale where the young girl Senjo appears as sick and lifeless to her parents after they refuse her wedding to the man she loves. The spirit of Senjo manifests into another form and runs off with her lover while her former self remains sick and listless in the house of her parents. Eventually, Senjo is reunited with her other self as her familial ties draw her back to her father’s household.