You spin me right round, baby

August 30, 2006

It’s not fair, as the timing couldn’t have been planned, but I have to chuckle at the simultaneous arrival of the uproar over Tokyopop’s on-line exclusives initiative and the gushy profile of Stuart Levy in yesterday’s PWCW. (David Taylor has a balanced run-down of the piece at Love Manga. At Dangerous Beauty, Lea Hernandez takes a skeptical view of the warm fuzzies.)

And yes, I bitch probably to excess over the mutual love between Publishers Weekly and Tokyopop, but look at some of these excerpts:

  • “So you’re the prophet.”
  • “Tokyopop and manga have changed the bookstore environment completely.”
  • “Is Tokyopop still growing?”
  • “One thing about manga, and the American book market in general, is that people love to say something is impossible to do, until someone does it.”

And those are from the questions. Now, I’ve lobbed softballs in my time, but wow.

I was talking to a friend about the whole on-line exclusives deal, and we were wondering if (when?) Tokyopop might add a title that’s actually selling into this sales category. We couldn’t really think of any negative reaction that might prevent it, because they’re certainly getting plenty of negative reaction now, so why not try a book that might be more likely to turn a profit?

Kevin Melrose at Blog@Newsarama does a fine job collecting links to reaction to the initiative.

From the stack: KLEZMER

August 30, 2006

There are certain comics that carry tremendous nostalgia for me. The squeaky teens of the Archie books and the adorable deformities of the Harvey roster take me back to long childhood hours in the station wagon headed from Cincinnati to Massachusetts or Missouri. When I think of super-heroes, images by Johns Buscema, Romita, and Byrne and George Pérez illustrate those thoughts.

In spite of relatively limited exposure to his work (The Rabbi’s Cat, Vampire Loves, a short in Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators), Joann Sfar has managed to make his way onto the list of creators whose work I feel like I’ve been happily reading forever. There are plenty of cartoonists whose work I admire and will happily seek out, but there’s something special about Sfar.

The imminent arrival of Klezmer (First Second) provides another opportunity to figure out exactly what that special quality is. It’s the first installment of a story of a ragtag group of musicians who find their way together through a shared focus on traditional Jewish songs. In it, Sfar covers familiar territory – faith, the intersection of cultures, love, death, and art.

As with his other works, there’s no apparent precision to Sfar’s storytelling. He has a tendency to wander off point and riff on subjects seemingly as they strike him. The tendency can manifest itself as a surprisingly tender and romantic look at the history of Odessa or a who’s-on-first exchange about life after the Yeshiva. But the wanderings end up contributing to the whole. In a Sfar book, you can learn as much or more about the characters when they aren’t talking about themselves as when they are.

And the cast is linked in their shared flight. The band leader saw his companions murdered. The singer is avoiding the inevitability of an arranged marriage. Two have been thrown out of their respective yeshivas. The guitarist almost died at the end of a rope.

Each is ambivalent about the world around them and the sudden arrival of companions as they travel through it. For some, klezmer is a recent discovery. It’s a useful way to make some money or simply the thing that they’ve decided to do next after their original plans fell apart. But the music and the act of performing it has the power to sneak up on them. It’s something they and their audiences can share, even if it isn’t the product of their culture or if it holds no particular nostalgia for them.

It all unfolds in a lovely way that’s both casual and powerful. More than just about any other comic creator I can think of, Sfar folds in big ideas without ever turning them into Big Ideas. His observations can be absolutely scathing, but they don’t curdle things; the tone of Klezmer is ultimately expansive, even if individual moments can be bleak.

His illustrations, done in watercolors, are perfectly in synch with the story he’s telling. Sfar’s visual style is distinct but incredibly versatile. It can be simplistic, even crude, and wonderfully expressive at the same moment.

I’m still not precisely sure how Sfar has managed to make such an impression on me so quickly. It’s enough that he always creates inviting, imaginative worlds to visit, places that are both warmly familiar and surprising.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)