James McMullan’s stunning 2014 book Leaving China is a childhood memoir told in watercolor, a beautifully rendered picture book about escaping the Japanese occupation during World War II. The original watercolors are now on display in the RISD Illustration Building.* From Tsingtao to Vancouver, Darjeeling and then to Shanghai, McMullan’s upper-class upbringing is explained in concise but incomplete detail. His grandparents were Canadian missionaries, though not particularly religious ones, leaving the reader guessing about their true intentions. The book is smart enough that the facts are rather hazy – about McMullan’s mother’s drinking, for instance, and the men (a sailor, a boxing coach) who later mentored him.
*I wasn’t at all convinced that the gallery would be open to the public without some sort of security rigamarole to get in the building, but the space is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 12-5pm. The entrance is on the river side of the building.