I want a bean feast

September 30, 2006

The latest Previews catalog has me in a Veruca Salt kind of head space.

David Petersen’s splendid Mouse Guard (Archaia) concludes with issue #6, but the solicitation text describes it as “the first Mouse Guard series,” all but promising there will be more.

I hadn’t noticed that Housui Yamazaki, who provides illustrations for the excellent Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, has his own book, Mail, also coming out from Dark Horse. This demands further investigation, particularly since the protagonist from Mail will apparently cross over into KCDS. (I don’t like typing “cross over” when discussing manga, but I’ll reserve judgment.)

As I like Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World!, and I’m also a fan of collections of shorts, chances seem good I’ll also like Endo’s Tanpeshu, also from Dark Horse.

DC – Wildstorm gives me the opportunity to enjoy a comic written by Gail Simone without having to try and wade through seventy-three different crossovers with the debut of Tranquility.

DC – Vertigo revives a book I enjoyed a lot, Sandman Mystery Theatre, with a five-issue mini-series, Sleep of Reason. Based on the pages shown in Previews, I’m not entirely sold on the art by Eric Nguyen, but I love the protagonists in this series.

Do you like Masaki Segawa’s Basilisk? Del Rey gives you the opportunity to read the novel that inspired it, The Kouga Ninja Scrolls.

Evil Twin Comics unleases another Giant-Sized Thing on the comics-reading public with the second collection of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s excellent Action Philosophers!

Dave Carter notes that the singles of the second volume of Linda Medley’s marvelous Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics) series aren’t doing that well, despite strong sales of the beautiful collection of the first. Fantagraphics gives you the opportunity to correct this sorry state of affairs with the December release of the fourth issue.

Go! Comi rolls out its seventh title, Train + Train by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma. (In the future, all manga publishers will have a book with “train” in the title.)

I’ve heard a lot of good things about SoHee Park’s Goong (Ice Kunion), a look at what Korea would be like if the monarchy was still in place.

Last Gasp, publisher of Barefoot Gen, offers another look at life in Hiroshima after the bomb with Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.

If Marvel’s current efforts at politically observant super-heroics make you roll your eyes, you might find respite in Essential Defenders Vol. 2, which includes mosst of Steve Gerber’s mind-bending Headmen arc. It strikes me as idiotic not to include the entire arc in one place, which this book just misses. It has Defenders 15-39 and Giant-Size Defenders 1-5, but not #40 and Annual #1, the conclusion of Steve Gerber’s deranged masterpiece of deformed craniums, clown cults, and women in prison.

NBM offers two books that go onto my must-buy list. The first is the paperback edition of the eighth installment of Rick Geary’s superb Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Madeleine Smith. The second is Nicolas De Crécy’s Glacial Period. De Crécy contributed a marvelous short to Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and I’ve been hoping to see more of his work in English.

Oni Press rolls out Maintenance, a new ongoing series from Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez. I reviewed a preview copy earlier this week; the book looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Seven Seas unveils another licensed title, Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, a gender-bending comedy by Satoru Akahori and Yukimaru Katsura. If you’ve been waiting for some shôjo-ai to come your way, now’s your chance.

Tokyopop – Blu promises that Tarako Kotobuki’s Love Pistols is “too crazy to be believed.” Human evolution isn’t just for monkeys any more, people.

Kiss her now

September 29, 2006

Dirk Deppey takes a look at Nodame Cantabile 6 (Del Rey) in today’s review. While I agree with him generally about the book’s merits, reading the review made me realize that the potential for romance between Chiaki and Nodame was maybe the least compelling aspect of the book for me. As Deppey puts it:

“Its two ostensible romantic leads are so wrapped up in their own little worlds that they themselves become the obstacles. It’s a wonderful display of delayed expectations, as situation after situation that a lesser writer might have played for sentiment instead becomes another lost chance, advancing the story but not necessarily the leads’ would-be relationship.”

In other words, it’s the just-kiss-already complex, but handled much more deftly by Tomoko Ninomiya than is the norm. It isn’t that I have any objections to a love match between the two, which would be pointless anyways, given its inevitability. It’s just that other elements of the book are more engaging to me. Deppey succinctly identifies these as well:

“With the conclusion of exams and subsequent graduation, the students find themselves wondering what their next step will be. There’s a wistfulness in the presentation in these sequences, perfectly capturing the sense of a tight-knit group of students facing the end of an idyllic period in their lives.”

It’s the vibe of the school and the ability of the setting to believably accommodate such an appealing group of eccentrics that draws me back volume after volume. And maybe it’s the very inevitability of the Chiaki-Nodame relationship that makes me discount it as a draw. It’s such a given part of the landscape that my attention wanders to the parts that are unexpected.

And it isn’t as though I’m immune to the just-kiss-already. I’m an unrepentant ‘shipper when it comes to Kasukabe and Madarame in Genshiken (Del Rey). They’re opposites in obvious ways, but they click for me because of their similarities. Each has an ingrained prejudice against the other’s type, but they’re prejudiced in exactly the same way.

It isn’t a case of wanting them to see past their respective surfaces and find the wonderful person underneath, because I’m not convinced either of them is a wonderful person. I think they’re both hostile narcissists, prone to disappointment in the people around them but pleased that it presents them with the opportunity to be critical. They’re united in their virtually identical contempt. Swoon!

Genshiken also offers an element of suspense. It isn’t the kind of book that seems inclined to focus on anything as direct as will-they-won’t-they, so the Kasukabe-Madarame relationship could exist entirely in my head. That seems like the perfect side-effect for a book about obsessive, overly analytical fandom.

Manga U

September 28, 2006

In my occasional wanderings through the wonders of Lexis-Nexis, I’ve found an article on Kyoto Seika University’s six-year-old manga program. It’s appeared in both The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Mad About Manga,” July 28, 2006) and the South China Morning Post (“Magic Manga Mania,” Sept. 23, 2006). Neither version is available for free on line, so let’s hope I don’t violate the Fair Use principle too badly in quoting from Alan Brender’s work.

Several universities in Japan have started similar programs since, but KSU was the first, graduating its first class in 2004 (and granting someone a doctorate in manga this spring):

“About 10 percent of them now work as professional manga artists, while others hold jobs in related fields such as illustration and advertising. [Manga artist and KSU instructor] Ms. [Keiko] Takemiya says the fact that some graduates were able to immediately find work bodes well in a low-paying field that still relies heavily on proven talent and graduates of technical schools.”

One thing every manga program seems to need is a name: a professional manga artist to lend credibility to the institution’s academic offerings. The manga-ka-in-residence also influences student demographics:

“About 80 percent of the students in Seika’s program, for example, are women, to whom Ms. Takemiya’s work seems to appeal the most. The majority of students at Takarazuka [University of Art and Design] are men, drawn to Mr. [Reiji] Matsumoto’s macho characters [from works such as Galaxy Express 999].”

Despite somewhat limited job prospects, enrollments tend to be high, and new programs are popping up all the time. And they’re drawing significant interest from international students:

“About 10 percent of the students at Seika’s manga school are international students, mainly from South Korea and China. There are no Americans in the program, but Manabu Kitawaki, director of the international office, says he receives several serious inquiries every week from the United States.”

This is all fascinating to me as someone who works in higher education marketing. It can be worrying when a discipline becomes a bandwagon program (it’s hot, and everyone has to have one, even if the graduate placement rates aren’t great). But arts education isn’t known for the vast majority of its graduates working in their field of study (as my dust-covered theatre diploma will attest).

But the selfish part of me hopes that someone from the United States does enroll in Seika’s program. And then starts keeping a blog.

From the stack: MAINTENANCE #1

September 27, 2006

I wonder why there aren’t more workplace comedies in comics. Television sitcoms have certainly mined the genre with great success, and some of my favorite movies have been built on workplace dynamics. But as far as graphic novels go, I can only think of a few.

Digital Manga Publishing has Antique Bakery and Café Kichijouji de, and I suppose you could count Iron Wok Jan (DrMaster) and Yakitate!! Japan (Viz). (I’m noticing a trend towards the food service industry here.)

Maybe it’s because comics creators tend to work in isolation? That the ideal working state of the cartoonist doesn’t involve time sheets, endless meetings and productivity memos? Whatever the reason, I would like to see more comics that explore that particular territory.

So I was glad to find a preview of Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez’s new ongoing series Maintenance (Oni Press) in the mail the other day. It takes the frustrations of everyday employment to an appealingly absurd place.

Doug and Manny are janitors who work for TerroMax, Inc., a research and development firm that provides new breakthroughs in evil science for despots who just don’t have the time to cook up their own man-sharks. It’s a dirty job, and mad scientists aren’t the most appreciative of co-workers. But hey, it’s a paycheck.

Massey and Rodriguez have happily avoided the choice to make their protagonists idiots. Doug and Manny are just average guys who happen to work in an extraordinarily weird setting. They’re a little grumpy, but who wouldn’t be when their job description includes cleaning up after toxic spill monsters?

Despite the absurdity, Maintenance is a very easygoing book. The first issue sets up the premise by following Doug and Manny through an average day, introducing the TerroMax setting, surly superiors and out-of-whack experiments. The pace is leisurely, but the thirty-two pages are packed with a nice mix of situational and character-driven comedy.

Sometimes the jokes can be a little labored. (There are a few more references to Porky’s 2 than are strictly necessary.) But the gags are generally good-natured and successful. There are plenty of chuckles here.

Maintenance doesn’t really have a whole lot on its mind, and that’s fine. Massey and Rodriguez have created a nice mix of the everyday and the weird, generating plenty of appealing comedy in the process.

(This review is based on a preview copy provided by the publisher. Maintenance arrives in comic shops in December. There’s an interview with the creators over at Comic Book Resources.)

More of the same

September 26, 2006

I know, I know… more linkblogging. What a surprise! Let’s start off with a round-up of manga reviews:

  • At PopCultureShock, Erin F. (of Manga Recon and MangaCast fame) takes a gander at Densha Otoko (Train Man) phenomenon, and Katherine Dacey-Tsuei reviews Omukae desu (CMX).
  • Back at the MangaCast mother ship, Jack Tse reviews Suzuka (Del Rey), D. Gray-man (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced) and Q-Ko-Chan (Del Rey).
  • Updated to note: I missed a bunch, but Brigid didn’t, so go ye to MangaBlog.

At Crocodile Caucus, Lyle synthesizes much of the recent talk about manga anthologies and takes a look at comics anthologies past and present.

At Love Manga, David Taylor filters through the week’s ComicList for manga offerings. At the risk of repeating myself, god, finally.

Other Wednesday highlights include the concluding chapter of the first volume of Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni Press), which I may have previously mentioned in passing. Or ad nauseum. And before I’ve even gotten around to reading Pyonyang: A Journey in North Korea, Drawn & Quarterly releases Guy Delisle’s Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. A PDF preview of Shenzhen can be found here.

In truth, I’m still fixating over some of the books I bought over the weekend, particularly Dokebi Bride (NETCOMICS). I liked the first volume so much that I had to hit Amazon for the second.

On an unrelated note, I’m developing a horrible case of WordPress envy. I crave tags, but I worry that my web haplessness would lead to disaster if I tried to transition. Many others have survived the experience, so I’m sure I wouldn’t make too much of a muddle of it. We’ll see.


September 25, 2006

I have to admit to some disappointment that Paul O’Brien didn’t review Civil War #4 in this week’s X-Axis. Nobody takes a controversial and/or dreadful Marvel comic out for a spin like O’Brien. He does neatly address the issue of continuity in this Usenet thread. And John Jakala fills the void with a look at potential pro-registration contingency plans still lurking in the shadows.

Moving on to the topic of superhero comics that aren’t sickening, ICv2 notes that Bleach (Viz – Shonen Jump) has been gently blessed with the Cartoon Network Effect. David Taylor at Love Manga and Brigid at MangaBlog both offer some analysis.

Here are even more manga reviews:

  • It will probably never climb too far in the BookScan charts (since it hasn’t already), but Dragon Head (Tokyopop) keeps getting love from the blogosphere. This time, Bill (Pop Culture Gadabout) Sherman praises the book over at Blogcritics.org. (Found via The Comics Reporter.)
  • At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson looks at Day of Revolution (Digital Manga Publishing).
  • Updated to add: TangognaT looks at manga and graphic novels for younger readers at Chicken Spaghetti.
  • Updated again because: It’s Manga Monday over at Comics-and-More. Dave Ferraro takes a look at two titles from Viz’s Editor’s Choice line, Blue Spring and Flowers & Bees.

At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald sets up a comments area for SPX planning. At CWR, Johanna notes that the show is still looking for volunteers. I had a great time volunteering last year, and the show as a whole was a lot of fun. I won’t be able to make it to the show this year, though.

In this week’s Flipped, I chat with David Wise about Go! Comi’s first year on the eve of their next round of releases.

I had great luck doing some manga shopping up in Pittsburgh on Saturday, finding titles that just didn’t seem to make it over the mountains into West Virginia. The only mild irritation came from those stupid theft-deterrence tags that Borders insists on sticking into their inventory. I can appreciate the need to discourage shrinkage, but I live in fear of ripping out a word balloon with the sticky backs on those things.

From the stack: 12 REASONS WHY I LOVE HER

September 24, 2006

12 Reasons Why I Love Her (Oni) has a lot going for it. Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones have carefully crafted something that feels very real. Maybe it feels a little too real for my tastes, but more on that later.

First, I have to mention the structure. The book is composed of vignettes of the romantic relationship of Gwen and Evan, two urban twenty-somethings. Rich and Jones have abandoned conventional chronological order for emotional sequence. The individual moments of Gwen and Evan’s relationship are laid out in a way that maximizes cumulative effect.

But the book’s structure doesn’t distract from the content. It doesn’t seem like mere cleverness, a reader comprehension test. It’s unconventional, but it’s a natural fit for the emotional arc that Rich and Jones have built.

Then, there are Jones’s illustrations. Like the narrative order, they suit the material without overwhelming it. She conveys body language and facial expressions with lovely precision, but she avoids any tendency to overstate. She doesn’t restrict herself to conventionally realistic depiction, either. The style varies from straightforward to expressionistic depending on the vignette, and she peppers the pages with appealing, shôjo-esque touches.

The script is much the same, largely conversational but heightened in small ways. The voices of the characters are distinct and specific, and the tones of their conversations are suited to the individual moments being depicted. Those tones range from playful flirtation to raw confrontation, but the voices hold within that wide range. Gwen and Even always sound like themselves.

Rich and Jones have successfully crafted a work that feels very believable without lapsing into the mundane. Their protagonists and their world are entirely credible. Maybe they’re too much so. In an interview at Broken Frontier, Rich expressed the following sentiment:

“My initial concept was trying to imagine my ideal couple for a romantic story. I am kind of a sap and I really enjoy romantic movies, and I think they live or die based on how much you like the two people falling in love. The movie could be clichéd and kind of crappy, but if you have a genuine affection for the actors, you get into it anyway and want them to be together. I wanted Gwen and Evan to be that perfect couple.”

I agree with him. Unfortunately, my dislike for Evan, carefully created as he is, is fairly intense.

Evan’s behavior demonstrates an all-too-familiar blend of insecurity and aggression. When Gwen makes a sweet, unconventional gesture towards him, he fixates on the ways it makes his own efforts seem inadequate. He shifts conversational goalposts, lightly tossing off a serious question and then becoming hostile when Gwen’s reaction doesn’t meet his expectations. Instead of dealing with points of conflict directly, he creates further opportunities for Gwen to disappoint him.

All of this makes Evan cohere into a believable, real character, though not an especially likeable one. Gwen has her own foibles and failings, but it’s still entirely possible to wish her happiness in her current state. I can’t extend that wish to Evan, because he’s too immature.

And that constitutes a fatal flaw for me as a reader. Despite the craft and imagination that Rich and Jones have poured into 12 Reasons, I simply don’t care if one of their protagonists is happy in love, because I don’t necessarily believe he’s capable of that yet.

(This review is based on a preview proof provided by Oni Press.)

Wee hours linkblogging

September 23, 2006

Pata weighs in on the delivery system issue, focusing on the reading experience and user convenience issues:

“(In regular Engrish: If I try to fit the whole page onscreen, I can’t read the text. If I want to read the text, I can’t fit the whole page onscreen. GAR. )”

Can’t argue with that.

And speaking of reading comics on your computer, MangaCast finds a couple of on-line previews from CMX: Kaoru Mori’s Emma and Wataru Watanabe’s Densha Otoko. (The latter shouldn’t be confused with Hidenori Hara’s Train Man: Densha Otoko from Viz or Machiko Ocha’s Train Man from Del Rey.) I think it’s awfully nifty of the MangaCasters to start assembling these previews in a tagged, easily browsed category.

And I like the re-design of Del Rey’s manga site. It’s more visually interesting and the organization is somewhat clearer, with a prominently displayed “Series” button right up on the top.

Many manga reviews

September 22, 2006

At Postmodern Barney, Dorian makes a strong case for toddler assassins and Akira Amano’s Reborn! (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced).

Because my anticipation was not yet eager enough, Greg McElhatton reviews Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki’s Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse). Update: The weekly e-mail from the local comic shop says this will arrive next Wednesday. Huzzah!

At Completely Futile, Adam Stephanides looks at Risa Itoh’s Konnan de ikka, a four-panel gag strip that features, among other things, shinigami disguised as kittens. Why can’t I buy this right now?

At MangaCast, Jarred Pine peruses on-line previews of some Dark Horse titles including Seiho Takizawa’s Who Fighter with Heart of Darkness, Kim Young-Oh’s Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man, Hiroshi Hirata’s Satsuma Gishiden, and Hiroaki Samura’s Ohikkoshi.

Blogfonte’s Mitch H. isn’t especially impressed with Christopher Volger and Elmer Damaso’s Ravenskull (Seven Seas), where Ivanhoe meets Ladyhawke.

At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson is impressed with Tania del Rio’s Sabrina the Teenaged Witch #78 (Archie Comics).

And while this has been up since Saturday, I’ve been meaning to mention the latest offering from Jeff Lester at Savage Critics, which includes comments on a goodly number of recent volumes of manga titles such as Beck, Death Note, Dragon Head, Golgo 13, and Monster, and debuts Abandon the Old in Tokyo and The Drifting Classroom.

Updated to add a couple of reviews from Dave Ferraro’s Comics-and-More. Ferraro and Patrick offer Double Take reviews of two excellent books, Kazuo Umezi’s The Drifting Classroom (Viz – Signature) and the seventh volume (the craziest yet) of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced).

Free and easy

September 22, 2006

Queenie Chan follows up on some issues and clarifies others raised in her excellent LJ post of the other day. She raises some additional excellent points about consumer psychology and makes an argument about the kind of audience e-providers should be targeting:

“The holy grail of e-marketing is not capturing the money of the obsessed fans. It’s capturing the money of the vaguely interested people, in the hope that for a little money, they’ll find something that can convert them into paying fans. Because in the Internet age, if that ‘cheap alternative’ isn’t available to people, they’ll just download it for free.”

On the subject of products I probably wouldn’t even read for free, wow, Civil War #4 sounds just awful. And apparently Mark Millar strikes another blow against character diversity with a Nordic-clone death machine as his instrument. Yikes! (Spoilers abound at all of these links, obviously.)

If only I were in San Francisco, I could cleanse the mental palate by stopping by tonight’s signing at A Different Light, featuring Justin Hall, Andy Hartzell and Steve MacIsaac. Of the three, I’ve only read Hall’s work (he was at SPX last year), but I liked his comics a lot. And I’ll just have to catch up with the other two, won’t I?