Keeping a journal can be a fun way to preserve thoughts and life experiences. Some people choose a traditional notebook to write down their history and others blog to share their stories, but Brittany Olsen decided to draw daily comics as a way to record her experience as an LDS missionary in Japan.
Olsen drew a comic page every day for the 18 months she served as a missionary in Japan. After two years of compiling and editing, she has now released her comic journal as what is likely the world’s first sister-missionary graphic novel. The 600-page book is titled “DENDO: One Year and One Half in Tokyo.”
Dendo means “missionary work” in Japanese, according to Olsen. From February 2012 to August 2013, Olsen served in the urban and rural areas of Tokyo.
Olsen has been journaling with comics since her freshman year of college in 2008. She first drew to record her own life and experiences. But as she started serving the people in Tokyo as part of her LDS mission, her comics evolved to focus more on the people.
Throughout her mission, Olsen wrote about the ups and downs of her journey as a missionary. She wrote about the wonderful people she met and taught, but she also described the challenges of serving with difficult companions and living in a foreign country.
“Lots of people don’t know what it’s like to be a missionary unless they’ve been one,” Olsen said. “With this book, I wanted to share my experiences for people who had an interest in Japan, other missionaries who could relate or people who were wondering about missions.”
Jenna Barrington met Olsen during their training at the MTC. Barrington later served with Olsen in Japan and has since followed Olsen’s comics. She said that while Olsen was a serious missionary, she also had a very humorous perspective on life and was never afraid to laugh.
“Brittany’s comics had a way of expressing the things we went through on a day-to-day basis in the mission field that just couldn’t be described using only words,” Barrington said. “They helped me learn to enjoy each day as a journey and had me always looking for adventures.”
Olsen said she continues to post comics on her blog daily, but her recent comics tend to focus more on her life as a newlywed. Her husband, Jordan, has been more than a support to Olsen; he has been part of her comics for a long time.
Jordan first saw Brittany draw her comics at the MTC, where they both learned Japanese and studied the gospel to prepare for service in Japan. “We were in the laundry room on P-Day. I saw her drawing in her notebook, waiting for a load to finish and got up close to see what she was drawing,” Jordan said. “I was blown away by how good she was.”
Like everyone else, Jordan wanted to say or do something funny enough to get Brittany’s attention and make it into her comics. Little did he know at the time that he was going to marry Brittany a few years later and be an important part of her comics and novel.
Olsen said because she drew about what she went through as a missionary, some of the things she drew were really raw and revealing about her mission, but she hopes people don’t dwell on the negative parts and will see the positive side of the experience. She hopes people can relate to her experience, laugh at the humorous insights she gives of the culture shock she experienced and come to an understanding of the blessings and challenges of a mission.
“She broke the standard journal mold of ‘Today I did this and that,'” Jordan said. “She brought to life experiences, spiritual thoughts and trying circumstances better than most people could in a regular journal.”
Jordan said he thinks this book will help people get a better look at the entire scope of what missionary life is like in all of its aspects, exciting or miserable, and also give an interesting perspective on life and culture in Japan.