Avril showers

January 31, 2007

Simon Jones rounds up reaction to Del Rey’s announcement of its inaugural foray into global manga and offers his own perspective at the probably-not-safe-for-work Icarus blog:

“Whatever one may feel about such transparent marketing-oriented books, the silver lining of such appropriations of the medium by big multimedia companies is that it advances the cache of manga as a culturally relevant phenomenon…

“I wasn’t all too thrilled with Tokyopop’s CineManga, but I’ve mellowed out over time… if those books manage to give manga more exposure to young kids, that’s one in the win column. Make 5 Wishes will hopefully do the same.”

I tend to agree. Make 5 Wishes doesn’t immediately sound like it promises to be an artistic triumph, and in spite of my well-documented fondness for manga aimed at tweens, I probably won’t be rushing out to snag a copy. But if it sells well with its target audience, it might give Del Rey more leeway to take chances with global creators who don’t have to collaborate with the TRL set.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Del Rey demonstrates excellent taste in the manga it chooses to license, and its production values are among the best in the category. But I sometimes have to remind myself that they aren’t some plucky boutique publisher. They’re part of a huge publishing empire, Random House, and they’ve got a partnership with one of the largest Japanese manga publishers, Kodansha.

In other words, they’re a corporate division. Miraculously, their status as such has not resulted in crappy titles, indifferently produced, but in really, really good manga. I don’t love everything they publish, but I love a lot of it.

At the same time, corporate divisions have to show results, particularly when they’re trying something new. Del Rey isn’t just trying to sell the audience on global manga; they’re selling Random House on it as well. So, as Tina Anderson suggested in comments over at MangaBlog, if it seems like they’re skewing the experiment in an excessively populist direction to guarantee initial success, they probably are.

If they keep rolling out global manga inspired by collaborations with pre-rehab pop stars or the cast of Hannah Montana, then I’ll gladly grab my torch and pitchfork. But as an opening gambit, this seems sensible.


Previews review

January 31, 2007

It’s time again for a trawl through the current edition of Previews. There’s lots of interesting new stuff, but there are also new versions of excellent comics that have been published previously and re-lists of some great books.

The first in DC’s Minx line of books, The Plain Janes, rolls out in this edition, and DC provides some preview pages that look nice. It’s interesting to see how much effort DC is devoting to getting these books in comics specialty shops, but I sure hope there are concurrent efforts in the kind of outlets where the target audience actually shops.

On the CMX front, there are a few attractive preview pages of Tomomi Yamashita’s Apothecarius Argentum, another period poison piece. But will it be completely insane?

The solicitation for 801’s Affair by Shiuko Kano catches my eye with phrases like “real adult relationships.” It’s also a collection of shorts, which is one of my weaknesses.

I’ve already enjoyed David Petersen’s terrific Mouse Guard (Archaia) in floppies, but I’m glad to see that the publisher hasn’t wasted any time in putting out what will surely be an attractive hardcover collection.

The manga-with-princess-in-the-title wars rage on as Del Rey debuts Yasunari Mitsunaga’s Princess Resurrection. The tiara and the chainsaw balance each other out rather nicely, don’t they?

Also from Del Rey is the first volume Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, which has generated considerable anticipation. It’s one of their “older readers” books at the $12.95 price point.

Drawn & Quarterly re-lists the first volume of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip for anyone who may have missed it. I’m crazy about this book and will mention it at any opportunity.

The story described in the solicitation for Gipi’s Garage Band doesn’t immediately grab me, but First Second has demonstrated impeccable taste in the books they choose to publish, and I’ve been wanting to sample Gipi’s work.

I like the idea of the multi-generational story described in the blurb for Morim Kang’s 10, 20 and 30 from Netcomics. I’ll have to swing by the publisher’s site and sample a few chapters when they become available.

Oni focuses on new versions of already-published material, collecting Scott Chantler’s terrific Northwest Passage in an omnibus edition and delivering a “Definitive Edition” of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s bottom-of-the-world thriller Whiteout. They also re-list a bunch of great books from their catalog, so if you’ve missed stuff like Past Lies, Capote in Kansas, or Banana Sunday, now’s your chance.

New from Oni is James Vining’s First in Space, a 2006 Xeric Grant recipient, telling the tale of “a chimpanzee Americans trained for the first sub-orbital spaceflight.” I’m intrigued, but my “sad animal story” radar is pinging.

Say what you will about the prospect of OEL from Avril Lavigne. It’s bound to be The Rose of Versailles compared to the Bratz Cine-Manga (Tokyopop).

Tokyopop’s Blu imprint delivers more Fumi Yoshinaga in the form of Lovers in the Night. How many of her titles are left to license? It’s like we’re in the middle of a Yoshinagalanche. That’s not a bad thing, obviously. I didn’t like the opening gambit of Gerard and Jacques, but the series of explosions in the second volume was one of the funniest pieces of cartooning I’ve seen all year.

Top Shelf delivers a new volume of Andy Runton’s Owly, A Time to Be Brave, which would be generosity enough for one month. But after taking a look at the preview pages for Christian Slade’s Korgi (via Blog@Newsarama), I realize that they’re determined to spoil me.


Shôjoverload

January 30, 2007

I thought Dark Horse was supposed to be continuing its crusade to make me love them this week with new volumes of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Mail, but it doesn’t look like that’s meant to be. I can wait, because the rest of the manga publishing industry is wooing me with a vengeance this week.

I’ve already read a preview of the second volume of Penguin Revolution (CMX) and found it as solidly funny and adorable as the first, so that’s a lock.

Del Rey delivers the eighth volume of Nodame Cantabile, which always manages to charm me in spite of what I realize is very little in the way of overarching narrative movement. Kitchen Princess offers the twin inducements of cute shôjo and culinary content, and I have very little resistance to either.

Didn’t Go! Comi just release the fifth volumes of their first four series? It feels like they did, but new installments of Cantarella and Tenshi Ja Nai!! are always welcome.

There’s been considerable enthusiasm over at Tokyopop for Wild Adapter, and while you’d expect a publisher to be enthusiastic about its books, this endorsement comes from Lillian Diaz-Przybyl. Books that Diaz-Przybyl really, really likes (like 12 Days and Shout Out Loud) tend to be books I really, really like.

I’m not quite up to volume 17 of Bleach (Viz) yet, so I’ll have to content myself with the fifth volume of Nana, which is more than adequate compensation.

And it’s not manga, but I found Marvel’s Defenders mini-series (by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire) to be really entertaining. I can’t seem to find a page on Marvel’s site for the Indefensible trade paperback, but here’s one for the first issue of the floppy version.

(Quick housekeeping question: Is it useful to throw these posts into the various publisher categories, or is it just kind of irritating to have a laundry list of categories at the top of them? I can’t decide.)


The marketplace

January 29, 2007

In this week’s Flipped, I try and work out the last of my fixation on the inaugural Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, at least until YALSA starts posting the this year’s nominees. I also kind of shrug over the whole Wal-Mart situation because… well… it’s Wal-Mart.

In these comments at MangaBlog, there’s some interesting discussion about the relative success of manga and other kinds of trade paperbacks both in chain bookstores and local comic shops. The back-and-forth made me think back on what graphic novel shelves looked like before manga started to gain ground — generally a couple of shelves stuffed between the end of the science fiction paperbacks and the beginning of the role-playing game guides.

Maybe non-manga graphic novels actually have it better in bookstores now? In my limited and completely anecdotal experience, they do seem to have more space in better locations, even if they don’t have quite as much as the digests enjoy.


Quick comic comments: CMX’s dead girls

January 28, 2007

I’m not what you’d call a big fan of vampire fiction, though there are certainly individual examples that I’ve enjoyed (Buffy, Fright Night, and, to my shame, The Lost Boys). What always interests me most is what bits and pieces of vampire mythos the creators will adopt or abandon to serve their narrative purposes.

That’s part of the fun of Chika Shiomi’s Canon (CMX). Shiomi has her own take on essential elements of the bloodsucking undead – the necessity of feeding, the effectiveness of religious iconography as a repellent, reversibility of turning, and so on – and her choices make sense for her storytelling ends.

Beyond the relative mechanics of vampirism on display, Canon’s titular heroine is an intriguing addition to the legion of vampires with a conscience. Sickly and sheltered in life, her traumatic conversion (which featured the death of 39… that’s 39… beloved classmates) has toughened her up without eliminating her essentially compassionate nature.

She’s on a mission to find and stop the vampire who turned her and used her class as a buffet, and she runs into various denizens of the vampire community in her quest for justice. Some share her aims, and others object to her existence on principle. (They favor vampires who are born to those who are made.) Perils come at Canon from every direction, which is always a promising starting point for a manga series.

Canon does bear a striking physical resemblance to another Shiomi heroine, Aria from Go! Comi’s Night of the Beasts. Though they look alike and both have names derived from music theory, their personalities are entirely distinct. Shiomi seems to have a knack for creating interesting and independent female protagonists.

(Review based on a preview copy provided by the publisher.)

*

While writing about the offerings in a recent volume of Previews, I think I had mentioned that the premise for Keiko Yamada’s Go Go Heaven!! (CMX) – “Smitten by the newly deceased [Shirayuki], the Prince [of Hell] grants Shirayuki 49 days to relive her life and resolve any unfinished business.” – sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the manga itself doesn’t live up to the bare-bones description.

Based on the first volume, it seems as though Shirayuki’s extra lifespan will be devoted to a series of purportedly comic humiliations visited upon her by the insufferably bratty Prince and his stereotypical entourage of beautiful boys. If Shirayuki had any gumption in the face of adversity, it might be more bearable. She does have one or two transcendent moments of perfectly understandable outrage, but her reactions are mostly restricted to bafflement and weeping, neither of which generated a great deal of sympathy or even its sickly cousin, pity.

I’ve liked what I’ve browsed of Yamada’s Vs. (also from CMX), but I’ll have to pass on Go Go Heaven!!

(Review based on a preview copy provided by the publisher.)

*

I’m a bit disappointed by how much I liked the first volume of Toru Fujieda’s Oyayubihime Infinity (CMX), as I really don’t relish the prospect of typing “Oyayubihime” every time I write about it. I’m also not charitably inclined towards reincarnation romance. Some might cotton to the idea of destined love spanning the centuries, but I find it a little stifling. (What’s the point of reincarnation if you keep running into the same people over and over again?)

Still, I was completely charmed by the characters in this quirky comedy. The fact that surly heroine Kanoko gives a skeptical stink-eye to destined love made me an instant fan, but her flaky, needy suitor Tsubame won me over as well. And Fujieda strongly suggests that pacts made by past-life predecessors may not entirely determine the course of their contemporary incarnations.


What he said

January 27, 2007

John Jakala wrote an excellent post in response to the semi-regular flurries of complaint that “All manga looks the same,” a subset of “All manga is crap.” He notes some of my favorite manga-ka in the process, but I wanted to throw out a few other names of creators whose work strikes me as particularly distinctive:

  • Hiromu Arakawa: Yes, Fullmetal Alchemist is popular shônen adventure, but the look of Arakawa’s work doesn’t remind me of anything else in the category.
  • Junko Mizuno: Mizuno may appropriate most of the elements of the “cutesy manga style,” but she makes such a psychedelic hash of them that her look crosses over into something entirely unique. Just look at Princess Mermaid.
  • Kaoru Mori: Not a flowery or sparkly background in sight, but Mori still manages to pack her panels with emotion, but she does so through understatement and specificity. Mori also delivers the best “chat with the author” pieces in the business.
  • Kiriko Nananan: Nananan’s “Heartless Bitch” and “Painful Love” were some of my favorite pieces in Secret Comics Japan, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by Blue, I always find her visual style very arresting. If CPM ever actually releases Sweet Cream & Red Strawberries, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.
  • Kan Takahama: Kinderbook remains one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever read, and I’m sure Awabi won’t disappoint. (The first thing Fanfare/Ponent Mon needs to do is get its distribution sorted out. The second is to revise its web site to make direct links to individual titles possible.)
  • Jiro Taniguchi: Gorgeously precise and detailed and able to put his style into the service of a wide variety of stories, from the everyday (The Walking Man) to the historical (The Times of Botchan) to the violent (Benkei in New York). The Ice Wanderer is due to be released by Fanfare/Ponent Mon sometime soon.
  • Ai Yazawa: One of the most stylish artists in print. Also a wonderful storyteller, as evidenced by Paradise Kiss and Nana.

  • This just in

    January 26, 2007

    And the Marshall Democrat-News provides an update on last night’s final meeting of the library’s materials selection policy development committee. The group approved the new policy unanimously, and the draft will be brought before the library board Feb. 7 for discussion and possible approval.


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