Eye candy

November 30, 2006

Four things of beauty for the day:

  • Bryan Lee O’Malley offers his take on Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream.
  • MetroKitty assembles brilliant collages of the clenched fists and parted lips of Essential Tomb of Dracula.
  • John Jakala shares a page from Tintin Pantoja’s pitch for a manga-influenced Wonder Woman.

The suspense is killing me!

November 30, 2006

Well that was a pleasant surprise. I thought NBM was only shipping a new printing of Rick Geary’s The Borden Tragedy, but a copy of the paperback version of The Case of Madeleine Smith showed up in my reserves yesterday. New installments of A Treasury of Victorian Murder are always gratefully accepted.

Speaking of the accused Glaswegian, she’s made her way onto the list of nominees for the American Library Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. (Yes, I’m still obsessively tracking those. Thanks for asking.) Nominations are now closed with a projected drop date for the final list in mid-winter of 2007.

It’s a little hard to tell what joined the list when, but accounting for my shaky memory, recent additions include:

  • Action Philosophers: Giant-Sized Thing #1 (Evil Twin)
  • American Born Chinese (First Second)
  • Brownsville (NBBComics Lit)
  • Chocalat (Ice Kunion)
  • Crossroad (Go! Comi)
  • Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall (Vertigo)
  • Infinite Crisis (DC)
  • Inverloch (Seven Seas)
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse)
  • Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo! (Marvel)
  • Pride of Baghdad (Vertigo)
  • Same Cell Organism (DMP)
  • To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel (Simon and Schuster)
  • Young Avengers Vol. 2: Family Matters (Marvel)

I hope the nomination list is still available after the final roster is chosen, because there are some great books on it. But barring some bizarre failure of decision-making, it’s hard to see how the final list could be anything but excellent.

(Edited to note: If I missed anything new to the nominations, let me know, and I’ll add it to the list.)


Millions of tourists are churning up the gravel

November 29, 2006

The subsidiary industries of manga just keep expanding. This time it’s tourism, according to a piece in the Daily Yomiuri. Sure, Tokyo has its butler cafes and otaku ghettos, but Kyoto has history:

“The Kyoto municipal government and the university have played important roles in establishing the nation’s first comprehensive manga facility. The museum collects cartoons of historical value and other materials, cultivates people wishing to work in the animation industry and offers lifelong learning courses for local residents.”

In other news of cultural exchange, ICv2 picks up on part of the Times Clamp interview:

“As Clamp spokesperson Agetha Ohkawa put it, ‘It used to be difficult to find American comics in Japan, but they’ve become more accessible. As creators in Japan, we’re very curious about American work and are pretty sure we’re influencing each other.’”

Now I’m picturing Japanese children cluttering the floors of the local equivalent of Barnes & Noble, reading Identity Crisis, and putting it back on the shelf.


Edited

November 29, 2006

ComiPress offers a translation of an interview with Naoki Urasawa of Monster fame, focusing largely on the role of the editor in manga creation. It’s an interesting reminder of the strong role editors play and some of the associated problems:

“Although the relationship is like collaboration, ‘Manga artists don’t realize the importance of editors.’ Urasawa insisted. ‘If I build a good relationship with an editor who is in charge of me, the editor will be transferred away in the future. I have felt it odd that a companies’ convenience should affect the art of manga.’”

It’s an interesting companion piece to the recent interview with Clamp in the New York Times, since the group seems largely free of editorial influence aside from the group’s producer-director, Ageha Ohkawa.

And even legends like Moto Hagio have both bristled at and benefited from the influence of an editor, as demonstrated in this interview that ran in The Comics Journal. On Kodansha:

During that time they gave me a new editor [25], but both editors followed company policy, which was not to let artists do whatever they want, but to have artists do something that fits the theme of whatever project they are currently doing.”

Hagio had a happier relationship with Junya Yamaoto, who attained his own legendary status for his work with Hagio and the other members of the Year 24 Group of innovative shôjo manga-ka.


Short list

November 29, 2006

Once again, ComicList courteously offers regular and manga versions of the week’s offerings, which feature a focus on new printings of good books.

Evil Twin provides a second printing of Action Philosophers: Giant-Sized Thing #1. NBM rolls out a revised version of the soft-cover of A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Borden Tragedy, promising “a whole new section of newspaper clippings of the day!” And while I’m not familiar with the book, having been deep in spandex country during its initial printing, people are sufficiently excited about the new collection of Ragmop from Big Bang to make it their pick of the week.

But there’s plenty of brand-new material too.

A new issue of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (#3, in this case, from Fantagraphics) is always welcome.

I’ll throw in my lot with MangaCast’s Jarred on the manga front, singling out volume three of Fuyumi Soryo’s ES: Eternal Sabbath (Del Rey) as the pick of the week. It’s intriguing, character-driven science fiction.

Antique Bakery (DMP) has left me incapable of ignoring anything by Fumi Yoshinaga, even if I wasn’t crazy about some of the story elements of the first volume of Gerard & Jacques. But it’s Yoshinaga, so volume two is on the shopping list.


Hohopeful

November 28, 2006

As a general rule, manga licensing rumors and announcements tend to wash over me, mostly because of their volume and frequency. But please, please, please let it be true that Tokyopop is about to announce another title from Iwahara Yuji. Since reading Chikyu Misaki, he’s been roughly tied for first with Iou (Sexy Voice and Robo) Kuroda on my list of manga-ka whose works I really, really want to see in translation.


From the stack: HOUSE OF SUGAR

November 28, 2006

Before I get around to going through the latest edition of Previews, I wanted to make a special note that Rebecca Kraatz’s House of Sugar (Tulip Tree Press) is among the solicitations. This is a good thing, as it’s indicative of Diamond’s willingness to reconsider a title that it had previously rejected. It’s also a good thing because House of Sugar is unusual, delightful reading.

It’s unusual for me because of what I find to be Kraatz’s plain-spoken approach to storytelling. It’s not that she skimps on detail, or that her work doesn’t have a point of view. It’s just that there’s simplicity, even bluntness to her delivery. She doesn’t coat every observation with irony, and the strips have a gentle, subtle wit as a result.

Take the concept of “treal.” It’s an acid-induced teen contraction of “true” and “real,” and Kraatz experienced a brief obsession with it in the 1980s. It’s the kind of admission that might lend itself to ironic detachment (“I’m not that dumb anymore.”) or sentiment (“But wasn’t I sweet?”), but Kraatz offers neither. It’s a snapshot of how she felt at a given moment, but there’s no slide-show narration giving it more weight than it can sustain. It’s a clear-eyed presentation without any ostentatious framing.

Kraatz has a wonderfully unique authorial voice, and it’s portably applied to the wide range of subjects that wander into her path. The four-panel strips run from autobiographical moments to observation to flights of fancy, held together by Kraatz’s distinct point of view.

Her rhythms are unconventional. There are no obvious punch lines, though House of Sugar is often very funny. The moments Kraatz captures don’t always need a familiar shape or even conventional closure to succeed as observational pieces; I think they work better without them.

Kraatz’s illustrations are of a piece with her writing voice. She composes the strips with imagination and wit. (A priest stops by the house and seems to be trailing a corona; the effect of a bad kiss is framed in crime-comic extremity.) I don’t know how her work would hold up in a longer narrative, but it’s ideal for the captured-moment quality of these strips.

This is a lovely inaugural book for Hope Larson’s Tulip Tree Press, comforting and thoughtful but spiked with weirdness and imagination. It’s observational humor without any self-indulgence or strain.

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


Minx in Chief

November 27, 2006

Newsarama’s Matt Brady interviews DC’s Karen Berger about Minx. Berger provides additional detail on some of the titles and the philosophy behind the line.

“There’s no one out there, when you think about it, doing a line of graphic novels for teenage girls. You have manga, but it’s import and, while there’s a lot of really great stuff, it’s not fully for teenage girls.”

Discounting the heavily branded Shojo Beat.

“Scholastic has a few titles, but those are skewing younger or older. No one is really attacking this area in a full-fledged way with a major imprint, and we’re doing it.”

And I suppose it’s true that, while Tokyopop’s global books do feature a number of teen-girl-friendly stories, Tokyopop has always resisted the kind of categorization that Viz employs (Shojo Beat, Shonen Jump, Signature, etc.). She never actually mentions Tokyopop, though perhaps there might be some coded references:

“We’re not bringing in manga storytelling devices, we’re telling clear straightforward stories in a way that we feel they should be told, but we’re not adapting any manga. We’re looking at this as an alternative to manga – as an alternative to young adult fiction – we’re trying to find a new area of contemporary fiction.”

Consider me torn. I would like for this line to succeed, because more good comics for young adult readers always makes me happy, and in spite of the fact that I’m staring 40 square in the eye, I tend to like a lot of the comics already available for young adult readers. I’m glad that DC finally decided to engage this audience in a serious way and handed the enterprise to people who, as Warren Ellis put it, are “more curatorial than editorial.” And the quality of the talent attached certainly seems to bear that out; I’m genuinely excited by the possibilities of the books.

But there’s just something about the way it’s being framed that’s making me stompy. Tons of publishers have released great material for this audience, whether original or licensed. Stamping “Minx” on it and hiring a marketing firm doesn’t make it new, no matter how shrewd the execution.


Go north

November 27, 2006

There’s a nice profile of Scott Chantler, creator of Northwest Passage, in the Toronto Star (found via ¡Journalista!), tying in with a Beguiling-sponsored event at the Toronto Reference Library. I mention this only because I love the book and will bring it up at any opportunity. The article is an enjoyable read:

“’There’s a real movement within the comics medium into that sort of middle ground, between corporate superhero comics and the independent artsy comics that veer toward mopey autobiographies,’ says Chantler.”

And that movement’s name is Minx! Oh, wait… never mind.

Back on the subject of Northwest Passage, Chantler shared some good news in comments on a previous post:

“You’ll be glad to know that a collected edition of NORTHWEST PASSAGE is scheduled for spring (good thing, too, because vol.1 is sold out.) It’s going to feature an *enormous* section of sketches, script excerpts, and commentary.”

One of the rare comics that I’ll have to buy twice. I can always give the individual volumes to the library.


“Vixen” was taken

November 26, 2006

Remember that advertising campaign that NBC had for its reruns, cheerfully suggesting that “It’s new to you!”? I’m often reminded of that when The New York Times covers comics. This time it’s about DC’s new line of graphic novels for teenaged girls, the horribly named Minx.

As Johanna Draper Carlson and Chris Butcher have already noted, DC is rather late to the party (and already showed up in a different outfit), but they’ve previously managed to convince the Times that Identity Crisis represented the maturation of the graphic novel, so it’s not surprising that they’ve passed this initiative off as innovative instead of belated.

It’s always mildly irritating when a comics publisher gets away with it, though, and frankly odd in this case. Draper Carlson noted at her blog that she mentioned Scholastic’s year-old Graphix line when interviewed, and she could just have easily brought up Tokyopop’s significant output of girl-friendly global manga, but the article sticks to the impression that DC is breaking ground.

DC VP Karen Berger’s first quote, “It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” reminded me of Dirk Deppey’s “She’s Got Her Own Thing Now” from The Comics Journal #269:

“It has now been conclusively demonstrated that the young female reader is, in fact, quite willing to buy comics. She just doesn’t want yours.”

I wonder if another quote from Berger isn’t an indirect (and reductive) swipe at available shôjo:

“Teenage girls, Ms. Berger said, are smart and sophisticated and ‘about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.'”

But perhaps I’m overly cynical. And what better name to express assertiveness, individuality, and a focus on more than mating rituals than Minx?

Admittedly, this bid for that sector of the audience seems likelier to succeed than any of their previous efforts. I like a lot of the creators involved, listed at Butcher’s blog, and I’m pleased to note that, for the most part, they’re talented and versatile graphic novelists, even if they haven’t written specifically for this audience before. Mike Carey is the closest thing to a “house DC writer” in evidence, but the prospect of him reuniting with My Faith in Frankie partners Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel is welcome news, no matter who’s publishing them or under what imprint.

Andi Watson is a versatile writer, and I’ve liked a lot of his comics, whether he’s worked as a writer-illustrator or just provided the script. (He also had the good sense to stand out of the way and let Simon Gane wow everyone in Paris from Slave Labor.) And the world needs more comics from Derek Kirk Kim, so First Second will just have to share.

Butcher notes the manga-esque packaging and pricing, which are eminently sensible, as it increases the likelihood of the target audience finding these books in places where they’re already going for their manga fix. (In my experience, bookstores tend to shelve by size when it comes to graphic novels. If it’s shaped like manga, it’s shelved with manga.)

I don’t know if I can really take issue with his assessment of CMX, DC’s manga line, as “designed to fail,” though I do think they’ve been making conscientious efforts to improve their product. They’ve spruced up the trade dress considerably (though it could hardly have been more generic at the outset) and are publishing intriguing titles like Emma, though marketing in general could be much stronger. (I’ll always be steamed by the fact that the wonderful Chikyu Misaki seemed to have to rely entirely on word of mouth.)

Given recent claims about DC’s corporate culture, neatly summarized at the Newsarama blog, it would be easy to view this as a cynical cash grab. It probably is, but at least it’s targeted at a burgeoning audience that’s still underserved by traditional U.S. publishers instead of another bid to shake more money out of dedicated spandex fans. And it seems likely to produce some good books, so count me in the “cautiously optimistic” column.