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Charisma Man, 1998-2002: The Complete Collection

Charisma Man, 1998-2002: The Complete Collection - Larry Rodney Who is “Charisma Man”?From the name, you might guess that he’s a super-hero, and in a way you’d be right. Charisma Man is author/cartoonist Larry Rodney’s alter-ego -but only when he’s living in Japan. Charisma Man looks to stand about 6 foot 6, he's got a chin like Jay Lenno's, a smile like Carley Simon's, Schwarzenegger's physique, and wears a skin-tight red body suit that has a cape, and a giant “C” on the chest. He's got a million-dollar personality, and oozes with confidence. The real Rodney looks a lot more average: he's less than 6 foot tall, wears glasses, and has bad posture. The Charisma Man series, published from 1998-2002, details Rodney’s life as an expatriate Canadian living in Japan during those years. As it happens, I was an expatriate American living in Japan during that period too (2000-2003), and I can tell you that Charisma Man was sold in probably every Tokyo bookstore large enough to have an English section. It was popular (dare I say beloved?) among many of the city’s foreigners. So what’s it all about? Why was Larry Rodney suddenly “Charisma Man” when he lived in Japan? Well, what he ‘s describing is a phenomenon which a lot of foreigners experience in Japan, and I suspect there are a lot of similar experiences the world over. Back in the States, maybe you were nothing special. Maybe you weren’t one of the “cool kids”. Maybe you were never “the life of the party”. Maybe attractive girls would never give you the time of day. None of that matters. When you get off the plane in Narita, you become Charisma Man. No man can oppose you, no woman can resist you! After a lifetime of being a wallflower, suddently everybody in your workplace wants to be your friend- partly because Japanese on the whole are very friendly people, but unmistakably also because you are "that fascinating foreign guy". You can speak perfect English! You know all the words to rock songs! You can quote from movies like The Godfather! You can explain what idiomatic phrases like “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” mean! You know the rules to American football (sort of)! Etc, etc, etc.I was easily invited to more parties in the three years I lived in Japan than the ten year preceeding that. I was also frequently invited to go out to sing karaoke, because I knew the words to so many English-language songs (and when I messed up the Japanese songs, it was perceived as "cute"). True story: Whatever my Japanese friends used to invite me out to sing karaoke, they always wanted me to sing “House of the Rising Sun”, by The Animals. I could never figure out what their fixation with that particular song was, until just about the last time we went out together, I finally realized that they thought the song was about Japan. Land of the rising sun… House of the rising sun... I didn’t have the heart to tell them what the song was really about. And as far as the ladies go… no, I’m not going to make this a locker room discussion, but suddenly 5’8” seemed tall, and my haircut wasn’t bad- it was funky-fresh, and my old T-shirt from the 1985 “RUSH- Power Windows” tour wasn’t dorky, it was super-cool.True story: My American friend, Steve, was very shy, and not exactly "Mr Suave" with the chickies. We wanted to fix him up with a nice girl, so a bunch of us took him out to karaoke in a large group. After a couple drinks, he loosened up and was singing Eye of the Tiger (seriously, Steve?...) when this really gorgeous woman we worked with came up and started to sing along with him. They ended up dating, and once when I was out with them together, we met this older American ex-pat at a club. He took a look at the unlikely couple, shook his head, and laughed “Only in Japan, my friend! Live it up before you have to go back to the real world.” As anecdotes like this began to accumulate over time, it became obvious that we had a situation going on akin to what happened with the Cane Toad. Those were toads originally native to Hawaii, but introduced to Australia. In Hawaii, the Cane Toad population was kept in check by natural predators, but in Australia, no predators existed, so the Cane population exploded and became something of an environmental catastrophe. I think that’s what the dating scene was like in Japan: you have this stable society which developed over centuries an elaborate system of social checks and balances to select for certain traits (translating to dating success!) Then suddenly, this foreign entity is introduced, and it's kind of accepted that the traditional conventions don't apply... things that would normally be held against you, don't count. It short-circuits all those checks and balances, resulting in a (probably undeserved) competitive advantage. It's like there were no natural predators. If teen comedies are to be believed, "jocks" are the natural predators of nerds- which my friends and I definitely were. Well...not predators, but they definitely out-compete nerds in the dating world. With those old conventions out the window, my friends and I ran wild, like so many Cane Toads. Yes, that's a very juvenile interpretation, but you get what I'm saying. This all sounds great, but of course it’s no fun to be on the other side of the "cool foreigner" phenomenon- a fact that several male Japanese friends have told me, and which in fact many American guys have also experienced with foreigners here in the US. The 90’s band “Too Much Joy” has a song called "Long-haired Guys from England", which laments their conviction that American girls always seem to go for guys with cool British accents. Is this “foreign advantage” some sort of mate-selection behavior designed to keep the gene pool diverse? At the zoo, I read that adolescent male chimpanzees are often driven from their birthplace by the dominant males. They are forced to look outside their group of origin for mates. I guess the females in those outside groups go for the foreign guys too. Well, to wrap this up, Charisma Man is a fun comic that will probably make you wax nostalgic if you've ever lived as a foreigner in Japan.