Hello, Columbus

April 30, 2006

So I’m back from visiting my parents in their new house in Columbus. They moved to be closer to the rest of the family, and it’s a nice place. The previous owner obviously loved gardening and didn’t skimp, and the yard is really beautiful. I’m sure I’ll be scavenging bits of plants from their yard during future visits, because that’s just how we do things in the Welsh family.

One of the happy side effects of the move is that I’ll probably never have to see a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer again. Another is their new proximity to a really great comic shop, the Laughing Ogre.

I’ve been visiting siblings in Columbus for ages, but I’ve never explored the local comic shops. I didn’t see Laughing Ogre at one of its peak moments, as they’re in the middle of a remodeling and have confined themselves to about half of their available space in the interim.

But they still seem to have a great selection, even if it’s temporarily reduced, and the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful. They were in the midst of some serious inventory activity, but they still made a point of asking me if I needed help finding anything and answering questions. It was the first of many visits, and I can’t wait to see the place after they restore things to normal.

Plus, by some miracle, I actually managed to remember which books I’d been meaning to pick up and actually found them! (I never have a problem finding things to buy. I just get distracted by sparkly, shiny things and any pre-existing shopping list tends to fly out of my skull through one of the many convenient holes.)

So I came back with a copy of Amy Unbounded (which is delightful and certainly deserved Laughing Ogre guy’s very strong recommendation), Skinwalker, and a copy of the first issue of Or Else.

And there’s a Trader Joe’s right near my parents’ house. And a Whole Foods! (I’m distressed to find that the Whole Foods clientele in Ohio has the same problem as the shoppers at every other Whole Foods I’ve ever visited – running into people with their carts and similarly violating personal space as they talk on their cellular phones. Yes, they sell great challah and have an impressive selection of cheeses and organic produce, but what about the human cost?)


Grant writing

April 27, 2006

Steven Grant has a really interesting installment of Permanent Damage up at Comic Book Resources, where he offers some useful advice to would-be comics publishers. It all comes down to a relatively simple set of instructions:

“Unfortunately in most cases it comes down to starting out with enough capital to support whatever your game plan is. But even if you have the money to run whatever size business you opt for at no return for several months to a couple of years, at this point it’s worth your while to study the market, figure out a potentially profitable niche that no one else is serving, and fill that niche.”

It makes me think of the Publishers Weekly Comics Week piece on Central Park Media’s new efforts in the field of josei manga. Now, CPM is hardly the first manga house to publish josei. Tokyopop has a number of works by josei high priestess Erica Sakurazawa in print, and one could argue that the manga of Ai Yazawa leans more in the josei direction than towards shôjo (even though Nana is serialized in Shojo Beat), not even counting all the examples cited by Ed Chavez at Mangacast (found via Brigid’s MangaBlog). But they do seem to be taking more of an aggressive stance on marketing the category of josei.

I think Chavez makes some excellent points that dovetail nicely with what Grant was saying:

“I guess my point in the end is that while I know some publishers like the idea of just publishing manga without labels, sometimes the labels can work. Look at Shonen Jump or Yaoi Manga (for Viz and DMP respectively). With more exposure to more josei, it might be about time to start specifically targeting that market.”

I’ve been wondering when someone would make a concentrated appeal to the potential audience for josei works. I’m not entirely convinced that Dark Horse’s Harlequin line (even the “racy” Violet category) is the vehicle for it, given how dated some of the material seems. It demands that the audience be invested in graphics novels as a storytelling medium (or at least open to them as a vehicle for stories they like in prose form), fond of the Harlequin style of romance, and, in perhaps the biggest stretch, fond of Harlequin’s house style from something like a decade ago. Niche marketing is one thing, but wow, that seems to narrow things rather excessively.

I’m still disappointed that Tokyopop abandoned its “Manga After Hours” idea. With rights to Sakurazawa’s books, Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, Yayoi Ogawa’s very popular Tramps Like Us, and a bunch of other works, they could very easily have repackaged books from their existing holdings into a josei line without having to license anything new. It also would have presented them with the option of categorizing future OEL offerings in the josei line, giving them an extra bit of marketing distinction.

In the PWCW article, it’s interesting to see the comparisons between CPM and Fanfare/Ponent Mon. CPM obviously isn’t interested in matching F/PM’s production quality or the resulting price point (which has kept me from buying Blue, one of the few F/PM books I’ve seen at a chain bookstore), and I think that’s entirely sensible. I was flipping through the latest Previews, and noticed that F/PM had re-listed The Building Opposite, which was initially due out some time ago, at $22 for 168 pages. And, given my experience with F/PM books, it’s pretty much a given that it will be exquisite, but it’s still a luxury purchase. (When I was a the comic shop yesterday, I was sorely tempted by the fabulous Sgt. Frog cover on the latest issue of Newtype, but gas prices have reduced my discretionary spending.)

It’s not clear from the article if CPM will be making a concerted effort to open up the josei market; they seem more focused on making their release of Kiriko Nananan’s Cream and Red Strawberries. There’s nothing wrong with that, though I’d love to see a manga publisher make that kind of josei-centric effort, and it could help give CPM a more distinct identity in the market. Still, there’s nothing wrong with approaching something cautiously. Go! Comi has taken a very measured approach with its initial line of shôjo titles, in spite of strong demand for the category, and it’s paid off handsomely for them.

I’m not entirely convinced that there’s a correlation between the audience for yaoi and potential fans of josei. Yaoi is striking me more and more as a genre of male-male Harlequin stories, while josei has more emotional complexity and nuance. But the success of yaoi does indicate that there’s potential in manga niches, even ones that don’t seem intuitively full of potential. (I’m stunned by the ever-increasing volume of yaoi being generated by Digital Manga, but it doesn’t seem to have led to market saturation… yet.)

But I really do want to see a publisher give shôjo fans someplace to go next. If CPM can generate more momentum towards that end, even if it’s just through the publication of one title, more power to them.

Now, when are we going to find out more about new manga player Aurora Publishing?


More floppies than usual

April 25, 2006

So what’s coming out this week? I’m glad you asked!

Slave Labor Graphics offers the fourth issue of Andi Watson and Simon Gane’s Paris, which has been a real treat. The Pulse has a preview here.

Speaking of treats, Oni delivers the fifth issue of Ted Naifeh’s absolutely delightful Polly and the Pirates. It reads awfully well in chapters, but I suspect it will be just as much fun in collected form.

Not being a big fan of stories where powerful women get brutalized by creepy nebbishes, I wasn’t all that crazy about the last issue of X-Factor (Marvel). We’ll see if Peter David can turn it around this month. It’s looking like a Layla Miller-centric issue, and she’s my second-favorite character after M, so that’s promising.

For the morbidly curious, Tokyopop answers the hypothetical question I don’t recall anyone asking: What if Chuck Austen wrote manga? The cover of the first volume of Boys of Summer suggests a sensitive examination of the character-building power of sport in a young person’s life. And bikinis. Woooo!

I already got my copy of Shinsuke Tanaka’s Wings from Amazon, but it arrives in comics shops tomorrow. I really enjoyed this sweet, beautifully drawn book.


More on Gravett’s MANGA

April 25, 2006

Svetlana Mintcheva, director of the Arts Program of the National Coalition Against Censorship, has written a letter to the San Bernadino County official who ordered the removal of Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics from local libraries. ICv2 posted the letter here. This is my favorite passage:

“The book is now unavailable to all readers, including adults. Whatever arguments might be advanced to justify denying minors access to non-obscene sexual content are inadequate to deny adults access to legal materials. As the Supreme Court has repeated on numerous occasions, ‘The level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox.’”

And over at Publishers Weekly (registration required, though hopefully it will appear in this week’s PWCW), Calvin Reid reports that there’s some admirable collaboration of like-minded organizations underway:

“Mintcheva said the NCAC is collaborating with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the American Library Association to create a brochure offering guidelines for librarians to build comics and graphic novel collections and to deal with censorship issues. The brochure is almost complete, she said, and will include illustrations by top comics artists like Phoebe Gloeckner, whose A Child’s Life and Other Stories has been censored by some libraries.”

This sounds like a terrific resource.

(Thanks to Gina Gagliano for pointing these out to me. Can someone convince her to blog?)


Monday links

April 24, 2006

Tom Spurgeon has a meaty, marvelous interview with Mark Siegel of :01 Books at Comics Reporter. It’s the first of two; the second will follow the launch of :01’s first wave of books at the end of this month. I really agree with this bit from the introduction:

“I think people are hopeful First Second’s experiment works, not just because the books are of a high quality, but because First Second’s success would say something wonderful about the audience for comics for everyone.”

I would count myself as one of those hopeful people. I’m even more in that camp after reading about Siegel’s experiences thus far and, in particular, his view of the potentially beneficial role of a good editor in the creative process:

“But there’s so much stuff that’s produced both here and in Europe where you get incredible artistry, brilliant characters, a totally dazzling premise, and then halfway through the story kind of falls apart. That’s the kind of stuff where a novelist would expect a good editor to ask tough questions and have that fine balance of how not to meddle with someone’s vision and be there coaching alongside, and sometimes being unpopular. In the second draft you might be the most hated person in their life, but you’re going, ‘Hang on, this relationship arc disappears halfway through the story. What about this?’ It’s not the same with everybody. Some people take to that, and some people really, really want to be left alone.”

I think the common perception of a comics editor is as continuity cop. Siegel’s take sounds like more of a case where an editor is a creative partner, not really guiding the artist’s work but maybe helping them mold it.

Anyway, the interview is great, and there are lots of little nuggets about future projects, creators who have signed on with :01, and plenty of insights from both Siegel and Spurgeon.

*

Another fun interview comes from Lyle (Crocodile Caucus) Masaki, who talks to Mark Andreyko over at Prism Comics. Andreyko, creator of the latest (and most interesting, in my opinion) version of DC’s Manhunter character, talks about where the book is headed, the office politics of killing villains, and just why it took Obsidian so long to come out of the closet. Fun stuff, and it makes me wish DC would pick up speed on releasing Manhunter trades.

*

In today’s Flipped, I take a look at the Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics controversy.


And on Earth Day weekend, no less

April 23, 2006

I can’t quite figure out Erik Larsen’s latest One Fan’s Opinion column at Comic Book Resources. The teaser text on the front page pitches it as Larsen putting the Asian comics market “in perspective for fans and readers alike,” but I don’t think it quite achieves that.

“(Japan’s) comics are 240-pages long (or more), weekly, black and white, and printed on shitty recycled newsprint. Their best selling books sell in the millions and their cover price is about $2. The stories are clipped into 20 page bits much like our comics are, only their weekly comics have 12 to 20 different features and those are what is collected as the small single volumes that we see here in the United States.”

Well, yeah, but those weekly comics are widely viewed as loss leaders for the end product, the collected volumes of individual stories. American comics seem to have two end products: what Larsen describes as “small, neat, trim, pretty little books with colorful covers on a thicker stock,” and trade paperbacks that collect those individual pamphlets. A better comparison would be the western creators who initially offer their comics online and later collect them in sturdy volumes rather than individual floppies.

As for the “shitty recycled newsprint,” there’s a sound reason for the quality of the weekly and monthly anthologies published in Japan. As Tony Leonard Tamai explained in an interview at Slushfactory.com:

“I do know that the Japanese print industry has also been using Soy ink, so less chemicals end up seeping into the ground, and, more importantly, into your body. You’d be surprised if you knew how toxic some printing inks and varnishes were involved in printing a spiffy 4-color deal…. Japan is roughly (not true scale) about the size of California. It is a crowded, congested ecology with only so much natural reserves, and it would suffer a serious burden if it did not make efforts to control natural resources and ecology. The same follows for energy, air quality & fuels, etc.. If you could imagine in the States, how many individuals would follow a strict program of separating plastics, paper, burnable, and organic trash? Hell if you get it wrong here in Nagoya, the trash men will put a refusal sticker on it and leave it there. So, Manga fits into that same recycle effort.”

Larsen seems to be tripped up by the comparative delivery systems:

“Years ago, I subscribed to a few manga weeklies. Through a (then) local Japanese bookstore in the Seattle area, I had them ship me comics on a monthly basis and they were terrific. I didn’t understand a word, mind you, but the art and the storytelling and the energy was inescapable. Those manga books added up so quickly that they threatened to push me out of my apartment so I had to put an end to my subscriptions.”

It’s an interesting illustration of the opposing collector mentalities evident in different cultures. Floppies here are viewed as collectible objects in their own right, and the notion of throwing out comics is seen with varying degrees of horror.

Larsen also suggests that manga “suffers from being excessively padded. Dozens of pages are devoted to things that would get a page or panel in an American comic — if they made the cut at all.” It’s a matter of taste, but one reader’s padding is another’s nuance. I love the willingness of certain manga-ka to focus on a seemingly small event or emotional moment, describe an event with almost ridiculous specificity, or wander off of the driving narrative to explore thematically supportive subplots and sidelines.

In the same Slushfactory article mentioned above, Frederick Schodt (author of Manga! Manga! and Dreamland Japan) takes a more balanced view of the different publishing models:

“I don’t see any reason for the U.S. industry to import the disposability aspect of Japanese Manga. It would help, however, if U.S. comics were priced lower for children, and if they had more pages, so artists could tell more complex stories. The catch here, of course, is that in order to bring the price down, the publishers require an economy of scale that would be difficult to achieve in the U.S.”

I certainly agree with Larsen’s basic desire for a good story, no matter where it comes from. And I can’t argue with his observation that “the contradictions and inconsistencies [of shared-universe comics] have become insurmountable and overwhelming.”

But overall, if you want an overview of the manga market and its increasing place in the western comics formula, I’d recommend the latest offering from Paul Gravett at his website.


Playing favorites

April 21, 2006

There’s a thread going on at The Engine where Warren Ellis is asking forum members about their favorite manga. I always enjoy discussions like this so I can see what other people are reading and what I might be missing.

And since I haven’t done it in a while, I’ll offer a list of some titles currently in release that I’m really enjoying:

Antique Bakery (Digital Manga Publishing): There’s an abundance of quirkiness, creativity and generosity of spirit that I find lacking in most other yaoi titles. See yesterday’s comments for more.

Cantarella (Go! Comi): You Higuri’s beautiful art helps elevate this supernatural retelling of the twisted lives of the Borgia clan. It’s tense, tawdry, and really easy on the eyes.

Death Note (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced): Constant twists and turns of plot, caustic humor, and twisted morality make this a real page-turner. You think it can’t get much crazier, but it does.

Fruits Basket (Tokyopop): Murderously manipulative shôjo filled with secrets, hopes and all those good things.

Fullmetal Alchemist (Viz): It’s just a great blend of adventure, suspense, and comedy with indelible characters. There really does seem to be something for everyone in this book, and it deserves its excellent sales.

And here are three that are jockeying for position:

Anne Freaks (ADV): I feel a little bit guilty about being so taken with an ultra-cute, ultra-efficient teen assassin, but I’m eager to see where this goes next.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse): Anyone who enjoyed Planetes (Tokyopop) should probably give this a try. It’s complex science fiction with a humanistic bent. Plus giant robots!

Nana (Viz – Shojo Beat): I’ll happily read anything by Ai Yazawa. I’ve found it a little slow to start, but I can easily see this book becoming a favorite in short order.

Plus two that don’t come out nearly often enough:

Sgt. Frog (Tokyopop): With only one more volume to come, I’m torn between wanting to put off reading the final chapters of the invasion of Pokopen and wanting the book yesterday.

Yotsuba&! (ADV): Pure bliss. It’s adorable and very funny without being a bit saccharine, a great choice for all ages.


From the stack: ANTIQUE BAKERY Vol. 3

April 20, 2006

I’ve been enjoying Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery (Digital Manga Publishing) a great deal. It’s beautifully drawn, gently funny, and has a cast of engaging characters, plus lots of pastry. I haven’t quite understood why it merited the Kodansha Manga Award, though.

Now that I’ve read the third volume in the four-book series, I get it. The rather slight sweetness of the earlier installments is used to build something more complex and challenging, with interesting twists and a quirky but layered look at sexual identity (plus lots of pastry).

Yoshinaga’s approach is very similar to the one Natsuki Takaya takes with Fruits Basket (Tokyopop). Moments that seemed like oddly pleasant little grace notes in previous volumes recur with greater impact or clarity. You see where they fit in Yoshinaga’s bigger picture. More significant past events are reframed in different ways as well, giving them more dimension and revealing more about the characters involved. It’s structurally impressive and, more importantly, very effective on an emotional level.

And the book is still very funny. A big chunk of the volume is devoted to the trials and tribulations of “busty female announcer unit Haruka & Tammy” as they try to maintain their dignity (a lost cause for this tier of television personality), balance the pulls of career and personal life, and manage to give some valuable advice to gifted pastry chef Ono in the process. Satire of popular media, gender stereotypes, and even yaoi fangirls mingle with nice character moments.

On the gentler end of the spectrum, Yoshinaga provides more of bakery owner Tachibana’s back story. Past and present intersect through some creative storytelling, and Tachibana gains a great deal more depth in the process. At the same time, it’s consistent with everything that’s gone before; it’s just richer, and it makes me more eager to know what happens next.

There’s just so much to like about this book. Much as I enjoyed Antique Bakery when it seemed like an amiable, meandering workplace comedy, I’m really impressed with the way Yoshinaga’s seemingly disparate story elements are coming together as things move towards closure. It’s work that’s worth an award.


Canada, California, and other places

April 19, 2006

Remember that delightful Batgirl meme that ran for a while earlier this year? It came to mind when I saw this piece of art that’s being auctioned off to support the Doug Wright Awards. (The auction ends April 27, and the bids had passed $400 the last time I looked.)

*

Brigid at MangaBlog has picked up one of the regular features at Love Manga, the weekly rundown of what’s new in manga in your local comics shop.

She’s also done a sterling job following the California library controversy in a number of posts.

*

I can’t say I’m too crazy about the new format at comiclist.com. I think I’ll peruse Chris Butcher’s version instead.

The highlight for the week (if it actually arrives at the shop) will be The Japanese Drawing Room from Boychild Productions. (I’m crazy for Victorian travelogues.)

I’m looking forward to Jeremy Tinder’s Cry Yourself to Sleep from Top Shelf. Jog offers his thoughts on it here.

I’ve read the second volume of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Viz Signature) and found it to be a lot stronger than the first. As Jog puts it, “More suspense! More characters! Less sap than last time!” He goes into greater detail here.


A day late

April 18, 2006

This week’s installment of Flipped is up. This time around, I talked with Alexis Siegel, who has provided translations for books such as The Rabbi’s Cat for Pantheon and Deogratias, Vampire Loves, and Klezmer for :01 Books. Chances are, if you’ve read something by Joann Sfar in English, Siegel had a hand in it.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57 other followers