Thanks!

November 25, 2010

To celebrate Thanksgiving in the laziest way possible, I thought I would mention some ongoing comics that debuted (if only in print and in English) in 2010 so far for which I am grateful. And there’s still more than a month left.

And here are some stand-alone works that made the year sparkle.

The manga industry may be correcting itself, but we’re still getting great books, don’t you think? The images above are all linked to commentary of varying lengths. And added thanks to everyone who makes the comics blogosphere and twitterverse such a delightful place to visit.


From the stack: There’s Something About Sunyool

September 13, 2010

The title of Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool (Netcomics) is accurate, though it takes a while to figure out what that something is and if you’d like to see more of it. By the time I’d finished the first volume, she had gone from blandly quirky to confidently madcap, and I was very much in her corner.

Sunyool is the illegitimate daughter of an ambitious politician, and she joins his family rather late in life. She’s an unruly, borderline cynical teen-ager before she goes to live with her dad, but her father eventually sees the advantages in having an attractive, marriageable daughter in his political arsenal. When she reaches her early 20s, he offers a slate of matrimonial candidates for his now fully cynical daughter to evaluate. Any of them could further his career, so it’s only a matter of which beau strikes her shifting fancy.

I always feel a certain resistance to arranged-marriage comedy, particularly when it isn’t a period piece, but Youngran Lee approaches it with such a bemused smirk that it’s hard to get too bogged down in my western perceptions. Sunyool sees the set-up as an unavoidable lark, a chore with benefits. While there are bits of her selection process that are kind of cute, it isn’t until she selects and weds the nicest of the candidates, Sihyun, that things really fall into place in a comedic sense.

The newlyweds address the fact that they don’t know each other very well, and they admit that they’d like a real marriage, at least in contrast to all of the marriages in their immediate circle. Sunyool may be in it mostly for the laughs, but she’s not immune to romance or lust, for that matter. She and Sihyun come to appreciate each other’s attractive attributes, and they eagerly anticipate the moment when their marriage of convenience will become a real love match. (They’re so eager and ardent that they make their respective best friends kind of nauseous, which is funny and reassuring to readers who might have been feeling the same way.) Then things fall apart through no fault of the lovebirds, and Lee’s capacity for cynicism fully reveals itself.

Through it all, Sunyool displays a withering capacity for bluntness and an uncanny instinct for deflating the smug, the bullying, and the deceptive. And since she moves in political circles, she never suffers a shortage of victims. This mutant ability to prick a hypocrite’s balloon is likely the “something” of the title, or at least it is for me. It might also be her ability to adapt to given circumstances, which is also charming and enviable. She’s cannily playing a game of low expectations, which even she admits, but she’s not immune to possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing her refuse to suffer new fools and roll with life’s nastier punches as the series progresses.


Upcoming 7/14/2010

July 13, 2010

It’s a momentous, manga-influenced week for the ComicList! Let’s take a look.

I can’t do any better than Oni in describing the sixth and final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wonderful Scott Pilgrim Series, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour:

“It’s finally here! Six years and almost one-thousand pages have all led to this epic finale! With six of Ramona’s seven evil exes dispatched, it should be time for Scott Pilgrim to face Gideon Graves, the biggest and baddest of her former beaus. But didn’t Ramona take off at the end of Book 5? Shouldn’t that let Scott off the hook? Maybe it should, maybe it shouldn’t, but one thing is for certain — all of this has been building to Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour!”

O’Malley could be said to embody one version of the dream of creators who list manga among their influences. He’s got a hugely successful series, critically and commercially, with a major movie adaptation about to hit theatres. Another enviable outcome went to Felipe Smith, who first saw print as one of Tokyopop’s Original English Language manga creators with MBQ. He then went on to secure a spot in Kodansha’s Morning Two line-up with Peepo Choo. The three-volume series is now being released in English by Vertical, and the first volume arrives in comic shops tomorrow.

I read a review copy from the publisher, and I wish I liked the book’s narrative as much as I like the story behind the comic. It falls into the category of comics that aren’t really for me. It’s about a young American otaku who wins a dream trip to Japan. The kid has romanticized Japan beyond all proportion, picturing it as an Eden of manga- and anime-loving cosplayers who can all get along by virtue of their shared love for a particular character. Little does the kid know that he’s going to be mixed up with vicious gangsters, assassins, brutal teen starlets, and the far-less-idyllic reality of indigenous otaku.

Smith shows terrific energy as a creator, and I appreciate his satirical intent, but Peepo Choo is a little coarse for my tastes. I know that’s weird to say, given how much I love Detroit Metal City and Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, but Peepo Choo doesn’t quite have the precision with which those books use their gross-out material. The vulgarity doesn’t say as much as it could, and the satire is a little too broad to be as effective as I’d like. Still, this book should have no trouble finding an audience of comic fans who like to see their hobby tweaked and their fandoms punked, and it’s amazing that Smith has been published in a highly regarded manga magazine by a major Japanese publisher.

Over at the Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi is running a mid-season poll on the year’s best new manhwa so far. I’m hoping that I can include Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool (Netcomics) on this list, as it looks really promising. Here’s what Melinda had to say:

“Born the illegitimate child of a big-time politician, Sunyool has been accepted officially into her father’s household as an adult and thrown straight into negotiations for arranged marriage. While the premise seems rife with cliché, the execution (so far) is anything but. What could easily be a typical rags-to-riches or fish-out-of-water story actually appears more likely to be a thoughtful, wry look at two young people from vastly different backgrounds learning to make a life together within the cold world of politics. Sunyool’s smart (occasionally cruel) sense of humor and self-awareness make her a very appealing female lead, while her pragmatic young husband is still a bit of a mystery.”

I also might have to pick up a copy of the Young Avengers Ultimate Collection (Marvel), written by Alan Heinberg and penciled by various people, mostly Jimmy Cheung, just so I can have all those stories in one convenient package. I really enjoyed the first issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade that came out last week, mostly for the adorable gay super-hero boyfriends being adorable with each other, and also because a Marvel character finally suggested that there might be more to the Scarlet Witch’s behavior than her just having a bad case of babies rabies and not being able to handle her powers because, well, chicks. Also, no one suggested killing the Scarlet Witch, though her fair weather friend Ms. Marvel seems like she’d be more than happy to do so. Shut up, Ms. Marvel.


Previews review April 2010

April 5, 2010

The first thing I’d like to note about the current edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog is that the addition of new “premier publishers” to the front makes the midsection look even sadder and slimmer. That said, there are still many promising items contained there.

CMX offers a one-shot, The Phantom Guesthouse, written and illustrated by Nari Kusakawa, creator of the well-liked Recipe for Gertrude, Palette of Twelve Secret Colors, and Two Flowers for the Dragon. It’s a supernatural mystery that was originally published by that stalwart purveyor of quality shôjo, Hakusensha, though I can’t tell which magazine serialized it. (Page 127.)

It’s been some time since the last collection of Tyler Page’s Nothing Better (Dementian Comics), the story of college roommates with very different backgrounds and personal philosophies. I’m glad to see more of the web-serialized comic see print. (Page 279.)

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we got the fourth volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s lovely collection of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, but here comes the fifth. According to the blurb, “this volume features the final strips drawn by Tove Jansson and written by her brother Lars for the London Evening News.” It’s utterly charming stuff. (Page 280.)

Speaking of utterly charming stuff, how can you possibly resist a book subtitled The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans? Well, okay, knowing nothing else, that’s pretty resistible. But what if I told you it was the new installment of Rick Geary’s outstanding A Treasury of XXth Century Murder? Singing a different tune, aren’t you? (Page 298.)

Netcomics busts out what seems to be the manhwa equivalent of josei with the first volume of Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool. It’s about a pastry chef who gets dumped just after her trip to the altar and, rebuilds her life, and then is faced with her “lawyer ex-husband and her gay would-be lover.” I hate when that happens. (Page 299.)

In other josei news, Tokyopop spreads joy throughout the land (or at least the corner of it that I occupy) by listing the fourth volume of Mari Okazaki’s glorious office-lady drama Suppli. (Page 317.)

Vertical really brings the joy, though, offering not only the first volume of Kanata Konami’s eagerly anticipated Chi’s Sweet Home but also the second of Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica. I’ve already discussed Chi’s Sweet Home at perhaps monotonous length, but you should really consider this the eye of the storm, because I’m sure I’ll natter even more as we approach its summer release. I read the first volume of Twin Spica and liked it very, very much. It’s the kind of low-key, serious, slice-of-life science fiction that will probably appeal to fans of Planetes and Saturn Apartments. (Page 324.)

Did you enjoy Natsume Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso (Viz)? I did. If you did, you can learn more about the mysteriously handsome, bespectacled restaurant staff in Ono’s Gente and “follow these dashing men home and witness their romances, heartaches, hopes and dreams.” (Page 325.)

That’s a good month right there.


Saturday speculation

March 6, 2010

I don’t really want to wade into the whole scanlation argument. It’s been ably covered by people on all sides of the issue, and if I started fixating on interesting or (in my opinion) arguable points, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop until Wednesday.

I would like to restate my position, which is that I choose not to read unlicensed translations. I prefer to consume comics in ways that directly benefit the creators or at least have the creators’ consent. It’s entirely possible that, had I come of age when download culture was first emerging instead of later much, much earlier or had more of an interest in the kinds of media that were a big part of the first wave of illegal content (like music), I might have a different opinion on the subject. There’s no way for me to know. Another factor is that I tend to prefer reading physical comics rather than reading them on a computer screen. And last, and probably not least, I don’t have the time to read all of the actual comics I want to read, so the prospect of adding a great volume of legally questionable content to the stack isn’t really alluring to me.

I would also like to restate that I find those aggregator sites that keep cropping up in online advertisements perfectly revolting, and if I never see one of those ads again, it will be too soon. If people discussing this issue can agree on nothing else, I would hope that we can all concur that those for-profit piracy sites are completely indefensible.

But I’m all in favor of people being able to sample series online, provided all of the elements of creator consent and participation are in place. I like sampling comics of varied provenance over at the Netcomics site, and I like plunking down my micropayments for series I enjoy. I also have high hopes for Viz’s various online initiatives, the simultaneous release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne and the magazine-specific SigIKKI and Shonen Sunday portals.

I would love it if Viz developed a similar infrastructure for its Shojo Beat imprint. Since the demise of the magazine, they’ve lost some exposure, and I think online serialization would be a good idea. Viz does have a large number of preview chapters available for online perusal, so that’s a start. But there is a huge catalog of Shojo Beat titles. Some of them do very well in terms of sales, but some really terrific books could probably benefit from online serialization, especially when full runs get squeezed off of bookstore shelves by longer, more popular titles.

I know there are complications to developing this kind of initiative. In one of the many contentious comment threads that have cropped up over the last week, Erica (Okazu) Friedman noted that many manga-ka aren’t keen on digital distribution of their work. Getting permission to digitally serialize any of the Shojo Beat titles would probably require complicated renegotiation with the creators and original publishers. (Viz was able to do this with the Shonen Sunday books, many of which have been in print for ages, and for a number of series at The Rumic World, some of which were virtually out of print, so it’s not impossible.)

Then there are potential publisher rivalries. Unlike the Shonen Jump magazine (all Shueisha titles) or the Shonen Sunday site (all Shogakukan), the Shojo Beat imprint is composed of a number of different publishers, including Hakusensha. The Sunday-Jump content divide indicates to me that even co-owning a stateside publishing outlet isn’t enough to negate publisher rivalries, but perhaps the shôjo scene is a little more cordial. The Shojo Beat magazine simultaneously serialized titles from Shueisha, Shogakukan and Hakusensha, so maybe they’d be a little more open to sharing web space. I have no idea. They might go at each other with broken bottles when not in the public eye for all I know.

But if they do decide to pursue something like this, I think the Shonen Sunday composition of titles would be ideal – one brand-new title with the allure of simultaneous release, a scattering of series that are new to an English-reading audience rolled out before print publication, and a healthy quotient of long-running or completed series to invite new readers to sample stuff that’s already available. And since Viz seems determined to fold some josei into this imprint, I think an online venue would be a great way to build an audience for that tricky demographic.

It goes without saying that I have no idea if this would be beneficial in terms of building audience or reducing piracy. You need only to look through my license requests to realize just how shaky by commercial sense can be. But a number of reasonable people seem to agree that the best way to minimize the reach of pirated content is to offer a legitimate alternative. This would build on an existing infrastructure and engage another demographic.

And I won’t lie, it would be cool for me personally, which is really the only reason I suggest anything in terms of business models or licensing decisions. There are lots of Shojo Beat series I’d like to be able to sample in this way.


Second chances

February 28, 2010

I mentioned yesterday that Fanfare/Ponent Mon is re-offering Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators in the new Previews catalog, and I felt like I should note some other “offered again” items of note:

  • Dining Bar Akira vol. 1, written and illustrated by Tomoko Yamashita, Netcomics. I’ve heard great things about this boys’-love series.
  • Mail vol. 1, written and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, Dark Horse. Supernatural sleuthing and a nice mix of humor and horror make this a fine companion series for The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
  • Manga: The Complete Guide, written and edited by Jason Thompson, Del Rey. This is a terrific buyer’s guide filled with succinct reviews and informative essays. I can’t tell if this is an updated edition or just a reprint, though.
  • Satsuma Gishiden vol. 1, written and illustrated by Hiroshi Hirata, Dark Horse. This series got a lot of praise but fell off of Dark Horse’s schedule halfway through. Three of its six volumes have been published, the last in March of 2007.
  • Translucent vol. 1, written and illustrated by Kazuhiro Okamoto, Dark Horse. I like this series a lot. It’s a coming-of-age drama about a girl who turns invisible against her will. It was originally serialized in a seinen magazine (Media Factory’s Comic Flapper), but I think it would click with the shôjo audience. Dark Horse just solicited the fourth volume after a long hiatus.
  • As you may have surmised, Dark Horse is re-offering just about all of their first volumes.


    When nerd worlds collide

    August 10, 2009

    I love the “Five for Friday” feature over at The Comics Reporter, but I very rarely remember to respond when the question goes out. This is because I’ve usually shut down the computer and curled up with Mr. Hendrick by the time the call goes out. I even forget when I’ve suggested the week’s topic in a previous Five for Friday; in this case, I suggested Tom ask contributors to “Name Five Comic Properties That Should Be Adapted Into Broadway Musicals.” So here are my choices:

    Fumi Yoshinaga's "Antique Bakery" Vol. 2Antique Bakery, by Fumi Yoshinaga (DMP): I think just about anything by Yoshinaga would translate well into a musical, because her characters could just as easily burst into song as they burst into monologue. I do think Antique Bakery would be a great starting point, as it’s got four solid male leads and a whole bunch of Tony-bait supporting roles in the mix. The leads also lend themselves to different musical styles for solo pieces, and their number holds promise for bizarre barbershop sequences. I admit that food-based stage productions are hell for the props crew, but there are ways around that.

    pollyPolly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh (Oni): Given the quantity of apparently horrible family-friendly stage musicals Disney has unleashed on Broadway in recent years, it’s probably cruel to suggest an adaptation of this delightful but underappreciated mini-series. Still, it’s got a lot of things going for it: a spunky ingénue part in the title character, a big chorus of rowdy pirates, an exciting plot, and some fun staging and design opportunities.

    10203010, 20, 30, by Morim Kang (Netcomics): Swinging in the other direction in terms of production scale, this look at the lives of three different women muddling through three different decades of life (teens, twenties, and thirties) would make a nifty chamber piece that would be very portable to university and community theatres. All you really need are interesting characters with distinct voices, I think, and this book has them.

    palomarPalomar, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics): Hernandez’s Palomar stories have an embarrassment of riches for composers, lyricists, librettists, and directors. A cast bursting with great characters, a community that could easily function as a formidable chorus, a lovely setting with just enough of a magical-realism quality to justify the bursting-into-song aspect, and a magnificent “Big Lady” lead role in Luba all suggest a musical that would write itself.

    dragonheadDragon Head, by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop): Okay, this is probably me just being perverse, undoubtedly influenced by that PBS special on the Lord of the Rings musical that aired on PBS. In my defense, history has shown us that Broadway will adapt anything – ANYTHING – into a singing-and-dancing extravaganza, so I see no reason for them to shy away from this post-apocalyptic treasure. And someone’s probably still got that helicopter from Miss Saigon lying around, so there’s a cost savings right off the top. It could be Carrie: The Musical or it could be Sweeney Todd, and I think it’s worth it either way.


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