Upcoming 12/22/2010

December 21, 2010

It’s a jam-packed ComicList this week, so much so that I must engage in speculation: if I could only pick one of the thumping stack of Viz Signature titles that are arriving this week, which would it be? Keep in mind that I’ll buy all of them at some point, but that’s a lot of books, you know?

So, to start, I would theoretically postpone purchase of the SigIkki titles on the assumption that I’m up to date on having read them online and thinking that a little more distance between reading them on the web and in a physical book would improve the experience. That’s three out of the mix, and they’re really good, so ouch. And there are still three left.

There’s no shame in losing to Fumi Yoshinaga and Naoki Urasawa, so I’m afraid that Natsume Ono’s charming Gente would have to wait. Much as 20th Century Boys is my favorite Urasawa series, I’m not quite as starved for a new volume of it as I am for the next installment of the final contender…

… the fifth volume of Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers. Yes, it’s got some adaptation issues, but I find that it takes fewer and fewer pages for me to adapt myself to them and throw myself into the very beguiling story.

And, just for clarity, here’s the order of choice for all of Signature’s avalanche:

1. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 5, Fumi Yoshinaga
2. 20th Century Boys vol. 12, Naoki Urasawa
3. Gente vol. 2, Natsume Ono
4. House of Five Leaves vol. 2, Natsume Ono
5. Children of the Sea vol. 4, Daisuke Igarashi
6. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow vol. 2, Shunji Aono

Vertical isn’t making things any cheaper.

I think the fourth volume of Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home is the best yet. Konami really seems to have found a rhythm by this point and a solid handle on the comic potential of human-feline interaction. And I’m really looking forward to how Felipe Smith wraps things up in the third and final volume of the deranged cross-cultural theater-of-cruelty comedy, Peepo Choo.

And if you’ve never much cared for Marvel’s comics, I don’t know how meaningful this will be for you, but I’m really, really enjoying Secret Avengers. Last issue, Valkyrie, the Asgardian chooser of the slain, kicked the asses of a whole bunch of ninjas. That will either light a spark in your soul or not. The eighth issue comes out Wednesday, written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Mike Deodato.

What looks good to you?

Update: Major omission alert!

Drawn & Quarterly gets its gekiga on with Oji Suzuki’s A Single Match, a “collection of hauntingly elliptical short stories.”


For your 2011 Eisner consideration

December 16, 2010

Submissions are being accepted for the 2011 Eisner Awards! I enjoyed cobbling a list of suggested manga nominations last year, so I thought I’d try again.

There could be a number of Japanese works that make it into the Best Short Story category, as both Fantagraphics and Top Shelf published highly regarded collections of short manga. If forced to pick just one story from Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, I think it would have to be “Hanshin/Half-God.” There’s a lot of terrific work in Top Shelf’s AX anthology, but the one that keeps coming to mind would have to be Akino Kondo’s “The Rainy Day Blouse & the First Umbrella.”

Whether or not any Japanese titles show up in the Best Continuing Comic Book Series category is always kind of a crap shoot. If one shows up, there’s a good chance it’s probably by Naoki Urasawa, so I wouldn’t be surprised or at all displeased if we saw 20th Century Boys or Pluto (Viz) in this roster. I would be surprised and delighted if we saw that stalwart, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, take a slot. The same goes for Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz), which experienced a big push this year and put Oda’s multifaceted gifts on flattering display.

The Best New Series category is tricky for similar reasons. You never know how they’ll define the category, and, hey, it’s not like the rest of the comics industry is hurting for good new titles. But if they want to mix it up with some newly launched (here, at least) manga series, here are four they might consider:

  • Twin Spica (Vertical), Kou Yaginuma’s heartfelt examination of a school for astronauts
  • Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Yumi Unita’s observant take on single fatherhood
  • House of Five Leaves (Viz), Natsume Ono’s alluring tale of an unemployed samurai who falls in with the right/wrong crowd
  • Cross Game (Viz), Mitsuru Adachi’s coming-of-age baseball drama.
  • Technically speaking, neither of the following titles was originally conceived of for kids, but I have no problem putting them forward as likely candidates for the Best Publication for Kids category. Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical) is charming and funny, and it offers a point-by-point run-through of the responsibilities of pet ownership, which is a great thing to hand a kid. Very few people don’t like Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! (Yen Press) for the simple reasons that it’s hysterically funny and wide open to just about anyone who cares to read it. It’s the kind of book that I think people want to read with the kids in their lives, which is certainly an enticement for voters.

    If there’s a category that’s hard to pin down, it would probably be Best Publication for Teens, partly because I don’t think teens really like being told “We know you’ll like this.” So I’ll go with two that are rated “Teen,” because I’m lazy like that. Cross Game has pretty much everything you could ask for from a coming-of-age novel: joy, sorry, confusion, comedy, great characters, and completely recognizable slices of life. Yuki Midorikawa slices up a more supernatural life with Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), but it has hearts and smarts in common with Adachi’s baseball comic.

    Not much has changed as far as my Best Humor Publication recommendations go, at least in relation to Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey). The aforementioned Yotsuba&! is routinely one of the funniest comics I read, and Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) has a lot of vulgar high points.

    Unless there’s some utterly arcane bit of rules of which I’m unaware, there’s no reason on Earth for AX not to snag a Best Anthology nomination. It’s everything an anthology or collection is supposed to be, isn’t it? Purposeful, varied, significant, with bonus points for being frequently entertaining and nicely produced.

    Nominees in the Best Archival Collection apparently need to focus on work that’s at least 20 years old, so I suspect that might disqualify A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, but there’s plenty of material to choose from. Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako (Vertical) is perhaps not my favorite of his works, but there’s always Black Jack from the same publisher. There’s also Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly), which offers a worthwhile glimpse into his earlier, long-form works.

    Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material — Asia opens its own can of worms for me in terms of recommendation, because what I’d suggest would depend on what’s nominated elsewhere. I’m always for spreading the wealth, if possible. Assuming there’s an absence of comics from Japan in the other categories, I’d say these five are essential, though: A Drunken Dream an Other Stories (Fantgraphics), AX (Top Shelf), Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Twin Spica (Vertical), and Cross Game (Viz).

    It’s unfortunate that the Best Writer/Artist categories are divided into Humor and Drama, because the greats balance both. I would love to see Fumi Yoshinaga nominated, possibly in the humor side of the equation. Still, her year included All My Darling Daughters (Viz), new volumes of Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz), and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy (Yen Press), which seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to nominate her for an award she’s deserved for years. I’d feel fairly secure in placing Moto Hagio in the Drama category, since that is the essential nature of the short stories collected in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. They aren’t entirely void of humor, but…

    Chi’s Sweet Home’s qualifications for Best Publication Design may not be immediately obvious, but the care with which its reading orientation was flipped and color was added to each page are worth noting, especially in the ways that they opened the book up to a larger audience. There seem to be a lot of gorgeous, immense package jobs this year, slip-cased volumes that you could use as an ottoman, and there’s some snazzy design for books that doesn’t really enhance the actual comic in question, but the design for Chi’s Sweet Home served the product and was subtly beautiful at the same time. [Update: I'm reliably informed that the book was in color before it was flipped and translated.] The cover designs for 7 Billion Needles were perhaps less cumulative work, but their style and texture are real winners.

    What did I miss? What books and creators would you recommend for Eisner consideration?


    From the stack: Genkaku Picasso vol. 1

    December 14, 2010

    Between my fondness for Usumaru Furuya’s “Palepoli” strips in Viz’s Secret Comics Japan and my abiding love of episodic “psychic helper” manga, Genkaku Picasso (also from Viz) seemed likely to be a slam dunk. It’s not.

    It’s about a high-school student who suffers a near-death experience and resumes life with the ability to see traumatic auras around his classmates, then capture their distress on his sketch pad. If he wants to continue to fend off premature death, he has to help these shrouded people with their issues. He’s the self-isolating type, so this isn’t a natural set of responsibilities for him, but at least he’s got the nagging, tiny ghost of a dead friend to prod him into doing the right thing.

    There aren’t many surprises in the various adolescent traumas that our hero must confront, so the book’s interest is reliant on Furuya’s ability to layer compelling weirdness onto things like eating disorders, over-identification with pop idols, and daddy issues. There are some intermittent flourishes, some dollops of lurking nastiness, but the kids are on the dull side, and their woes need more verve than Furuya seems inclined to provide.

    In fact, I sometimes found myself wondering if Furuya hadn’t determined on creating a satire without having any particularly novel observations on his subject other than “these are things that routinely happen in these stores.” The chapters sort of ramble through a set number of pages, not in an idiosyncratic, arrhythmic way, but in a “I have 20 pages of story to fill 50 pages of magazine” manner. I invariably lost interest before each tale’s conclusion, and I ended up concluding that, with Furuya, less may be more. He seems at his strongest when he’s being concise.

    Part of the book’s problem might be that the protagonist, Hikari “Picasso” Hamura, isn’t especially pleasant company. He’s crabby when engaged, which can be a fun quality in a fictional character, and I wanted to like the fact that he doesn’t yearn for his classmates’ approval like so many of his shônen peers. But Hamura needs to be dragged into things too much, and he carps too much about how difficult his lot is. Beyond being annoying, it doesn’t read as organic. It feels more like a vamp, and a routine one at that.

    The apparent time-killing gives me occasion to actively look for things that annoy me, even though I find Genkaku Picasso to be drawn very well. By volume’s end, I was improbably put out with Hamura’s pouty, blush-bruised lips. I know that the lips should barely have registered, that I had been given time to fixate on something minor and off-putting while so little was actually happening, and that it was less about the lips themselves than the fact that I’d had so little else to fill in the gaps of a rather lazy satire of a familiar formula.

    I’m still looking forward to Furuya’s Lychee Light Club, due out from Vertical in April. It promises a much higher degree of adolescent perversion without any filter necessitated by placement in a shônen magazine while still being able to twist shonen conventions into knots. Maybe it was overly optimistic to expect that from Genkaku Picasso?


    Upcoming 12/15/2010

    December 13, 2010

    Yen Press rules the anticipatory roost this week, at least in my neck of the woods.

    Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy arrives fashionably late to the Best of 2010 mixer, I suspect. I haven’t read it yet myself, but it’s by Yoshinaga, but it seems to be in her “irresistibly, effortlessly charming” mode. Some early responses are available from Johanna (Manga Worth Reading) Draper Carlson and Manga Bookshelf’s Off the Shelf duo of Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith. The book inspired Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey (who reviews the book here) to host a contest, asking readers to name their favorite culinary comics.

    Still on the topic of irresistibly charming comics, Yen will also release the ninth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!, which really requires no additional endorsement beyond just saying that it will soon be available for sale. Kind of like new Yoshinaga manga, come to think of it.

    I don’t really know anything about it qualitatively, but there’s something about the cover of Yuuki Iinuma’s Itsuwaribito (Viz) that would probably make me pick it up in a store and browse a few pages. I suspect it’s the cheerful woodland creature.

    What looks good to you?


    Crossing the Pacific either way

    December 11, 2010

    Here are a couple of articles to enjoy on what I hope is a relaxing Saturday morning for you:

    Over at The Comics Journal, Roland Kelts finds a new way to look at an old, old topic, “Manga versus Comics.” Kelts talks to Felipe (Peepo Choo) Smith, agent Yukari Shiina, and Tokyopop’s Stu Levy. (That last source is especially interesting, because I can’t be the only person who assumed the creepy, opportunistic North American publisher in the first volume of Peepo Choo had to be based at least a little on DJ Milky, right?)

    “Smith’s is an exceptional story, to be sure, as is the story of Peepo Choo itself—a US-Japan culture clash comedy that both mocks and celebrates fans of comics and manga, illustrated in riveting and sometimes surrealistically violent detail. His achievement would seem many a foreign manga fan’s dream. But the artist remains frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality pervading the manga industry in Japan and overseas.”

    It’s a solid article, not least for whatever subtext you may be inclined to add to the formal narrative. (Peepo Choo ran in Kodansha’s Morning Two, a seinen anthology spun off from, yes, Morning.)

    So that breaks down some of the stumbling blocks for comics moving westward across the Pacific Ocean. What about in the other direction? At The Hooded Utilitarian, Sean Michael Robinson ponders the difficulties comics about sports have when trying to gain traction with North American audiences, as viewed through the prism of Mitsuru Adachi’s glorious Cross Game (Viz).

    “With the exception of some very popular young adult sports fiction in the fifties and sixties, there’s not a very long tradition of sports fiction in America, and certainly little to no tradition of sports comics. In the eyes of many marketing strategists, a general audience uses a genre label as an aid to enter the story, a convenient short hand that serves as a hook on which to hang the other elements of the story. How do you sell a piece of fiction that most easily fits into a genre that doesn’t exist for its target audience?”

    Purely based on my own experience, comic books were something you were interested in instead of sports, not in addition to sports. Being a gifted jock isn’t routinely an aspirational thing for comics fans here, I don’t think. Since comics reach a less specific audience in Japan, there’s more crossover between the kids who read them and the kids who admire sports stars or want to be them, possibly since comics are significantly less uncool among kids in Japan and (I suspect) professional jocks aren’t quite as glorified there. Just a theory. And Cross Game is great, and you should buy it.

    Oh, and if you’re in the Manhattan area tomorrow (12/12/2010) and want to hear about Kodansha’s plans to release comics in English, swing by the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 2 p.m.


    One Piece MMF: Appendix I

    December 9, 2010

    Here’s a round-up of some posts on One Piece that arrived shortly after the conclusion of the Manga Moveable Feast:

    Jammer’s AniMovie Blog begins to unravel “The Threads of One Piece.”

    Connie (Slightly Biased Manga) compares One Piece and Dragon Ball.

    Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek thinks Usopp looks a little jaundiced and asks you to vote for your favorite Straw Hat Lantern.

    The gracious Ed (Manga Out Loud) Sizemore hosted a One Piece podcast with me, Erica (Okazu) Friedman and Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney.

    Update:

    DeBT (Sunday Comics DeBT) marvels at the sometimes astonishing displays of violence in One Piece.


    Previews review December 2010

    December 9, 2010

    Hey, what’s this phone-book thing lying here on my coffee table? Why, it’s the Diamond Previews catalog! Let’s look inside!

    Okay, the excitement doesn’t really begin until we reach page 275, specifically the Fantagraphics listings, specifically the debut of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. What’s it about?

    “The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Written and drawn by one of today’s most critically acclaimed creators of manga, Shimura portrays Shuishi and Yoshino’s very private journey with affection, sensitivity, gentle humor, and unmistakable flair and grace. Volume one introduces our two protagonists and the friends and family whose lives intersect with their own.”

    Any value-added aspects worth mentioning?

    Wandering Son is a sophisticated work of literary manga translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn.”

    Sold! Wandering Son is up to 12 volumes in serialization in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which is clearly one of the most fabulous magazines in human history.

    Flipping onward to page 284, we discover that NBM is publishing another of the Louvre comics, produced in partnership with the legendary museum. This one’s called The Sky over the Louvre, written by Bernard Yslaire and illustrated by Jean-Claude Carriere. This one sounds a bit less fanciful than the previous three, Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert. This time around, readers are taken “back to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution.” I don’t think we have enough comics featuring Robespierre.

    Ever onward to page 288! We’ve got sensitive drama and art history, but how to round that out? Why, with gritty, contemporary detective fiction! In this case, I’m talking about the hardcover collection of the first volume of Stumptown (Oni Press), written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Southworth. It’s about a down-on-her-luck private eye in the Pacific Northwest named Dex who gets the chance to cover a gambling debt by finding the casino owner’s missing granddaughter. Dex is a fun, tough character, and the mystery is twisty and amusingly grimy.

    Toward the back of the only part of the catalog I bother to read, we learn that two manga publishers will be launching new series that originated in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume magazine. This is generally a good sign for a shôjo series.

    On page 300, we encounter the first volume of Touya Tobina’s Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped (Tokyopop), which tells the undoubtedly heartrending tale of a mysophobe going on his first school trip. On page 312, we learn of the first volume of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher (Viz), which sees the leader of a girl gang exiled from the city to an isolated school in the countryside. Wackiness presumably ensues.


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