In Britain, the late author Robert Westall wrote a book titled, "Blackham's Wimpy." It was a tale about British bomber pilots in the Second World War, and was published in 1982. A Japanese translation appeared in 1990, when it caught the eye of a certain famous filmmaker. Miyazaki was already familiar with Westall's other books, and since this one dealt with airplanes and the war, he became a dedicated fan.
Just recently (within the last month or so), the Japanese publisher reissued "Blackham's Wimpy" with a new 23-page manga written and illustrated by Miyazaki. Titled, "A Trip to Tynemouth," it chronicles his trip to England in order to learn more about the airplanes and history behind the novel.
Miyazaki's comic is short but extremely detailed and varied. We wouldn't expect any less. It's impressive that even with such a short space, he collects several themes and moods in his trademark episodic style. In a sense, we're being brought along with him on his pilgrimmage.
We see reenactments, with ongoing commentary, of one of the scenes from Westall's story, only to cut away just when the British plane is spotted by the Germans. Miyazaki then cuts away, instructing the readers to read the full story for themselves. He details his own impressions when he first discovered the novel, as well as his own childhood feeling towards WWII and his own country's involvement. There are detailed cutaways of the bomber planes, nicknamed "Wimpy's" by the British, and more commentary. In the final act, Miyazaki (portrayed as a pig, of course) finally meets Robert Westall, drawn as a Scottish Terrier, and they have a conversation together.
Westall has died many years ago, so this encounter is a fictional one, the kind of transcendent imagination we see so often in Takahata's work. It's like something straight out of Heidi, one of those things that artists can do. It's something we all do when we learn and read; we search out the authors and try to learn from them. What would we talk about if we could?
I found out about Miyazaki's Tynemouth manga just recently; a dedicated fan translated most of the text into English and posted the pages on the forums at Online Ghibli. I was going to compile those pages for my own collection and direct you to them once the project was finished. Unfortunately, the lawyers stepped in and ordered the removal of the manga pages from Online Ghibli.
It seems like we've just been getting hit left and right by the suits lately. That's unfortunate, because it means we're left in the dark once again. I'd like to hope that this book could find its way to a US publisher; in fact, there are a number of smaller Miyazaki comics created through the years, going way back to newspaper comic versions of Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island when he was part of Toei Doga in the '60s. There's a lot out there to still discover and read, and one of these days, someone has to be bright enough to spot them.