Mark your calendars

February 28, 2007

It’s Manga Month again in Diamond’s Previews, and while that’s not all the volume has to offer, there’s plenty of noteworthy new stuff from all over.

Del Rey debuts the first volume of Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club. I keep hoping someone will pick up the rest of Your and My Secret, which vanished after one volume from ADV. Maybe this will provide a satisfying, substitute Morinaga fix. (Page 269.)

None of this month’s listings jump out at me, but it’s really nice to see Drama Queen’s offerings on the pages of Previews. (Page 288.)

The Comics Journal #284 (Fantagraphics) will include an interview with Gene (American Born Chinese) Yang, and interviews with Yang are always worth reading. (Page 292.)

:01 First Second unveils their spring season highlight (for me, at least): Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert’s The Professor’s Daughter, a Victorian romance between a young lady and a mummy. (Page 294.)

I know printing money actually involves specialized plates and paper with cloth fiber and patent-protected inks, but it seems like there could be a variation involving delicately handsome priests at war with an army of zombies. Go! Comi will find out (as will we all) when they release the first volume of Toma Maeda’s Black Sun, Silver Moon. (Page 298.)

Last Gasp promises “catfights, alien safari adventures, evil experiments, and a girl who dreams of becoming a pop idol singer” in its re-release of Junko Mizuno’s Pure Trance. Since its Mizuno, I’m sure that description doesn’t even begin to describe the adorable, revolting weirdness. (Page 313.)

Mike Carey’s work as a comics writer is hit and miss for me. I’ve loved some of it, and found other stories to be pretty tedious. One of my favorite examples is My Faith in Frankie (Vertigo), illustrated by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel. So I’m inclined to give the creative team’s Re-Gifters (Minx) a try. (Page 109.)

Pantheon releases a soft-cover version of Joann Sfar’s sublime The Rabbi’s Cat. This was my first exposure to Sfar’s work, and I’ve loved it ever since. And in some cultures, the release of a soft-cover means a hard-cover volume of new material might be on the way, which would make me deliriously happy. (Page 324.)

The Tokyopop-HarperCollins collaboration bears fruit with the release of Meg Cabot’s Avalon High: Coronation Vol. 1: The Merlin Prophecy. The solicitation doesn’t include an illustrator credit, which is an unfortunate slip, and neither does the publisher’s web site. Maybe Cabot drew it herself? (Page 333.)

I’ve been hoping to see more work from Yuji Iwahara since CMX published Chikyu Misaki. Tokyopop comes through with Iwahara’s King of Thorn. (Page 335.)

Top Shelf offered some all-ages delights last month, which made me happy, and presents a new (I think?) volume of work from Renée (The Ticking) French. Micrographica is a collection of French’s online strip of the same name and offers “pure weirdness.” I don’t doubt it will deliver in a lovely, haunting way. (Page 352.)

Vertical rolls out another classic from Osamu Tezuka, Apollo’s Song, displaying the God of Manga’s “more literate and adult side.” For readers wanting something a little more contemporary, there’s Aranzi Aronzo’s Aranzi Machine Gun, featuring plush mascots on a tear. How can I choose? Why should I? (Page 355.)

I can’t read every series about people who see dead people. I just can’t. I wouldn’t have any money left for food. But Viz ignores my attempts at restraint by offering Chika Shiomi’s Yurarara in its Shojo Beat line. Shiomi is enjoying quite the day in the licensed sun, with Night of the Beasts (Go! Comi) and Canon (CMX) in circulation. (Page 372.)

And here’s an oddity, but an intriguing one: edu-manga from Singapore. YoungJin Singapore PTE LTD (you’ll forgive me if I hold off on adding a category) releases manga biographies of Einstein and Gandhi and adaptations of Little Women and Treasure Island. (Page 375.)


Shipping, shopping

February 27, 2007

There’s ample interesting reading arriving via Diamond this week, from classics to award-winners to fresh installments of favorites.

I got Aya (Drawn & Quarterly) last week and reviewed it here. It’s got charm to spare, and I’m glad to hear (via Jog) that a sequel has already been published in France.

Vertical unleashes the first volume of its translation of Keiko Takemiya’s science-fiction classic To Terra… I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far, and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

New volumes of two of my favorite Del Rey series arrive: the fifth of quirky romantic comedy Love Roma and the fourth of intelligent, character-driven sci-fi ES: Eternal Sabbath.

The demented scholars at Evil Twin keep coming up with great names for installments in their Action Philosophers series. Number eight answers to Senseless Violence Spectacular.

And The Comics Journal delivers its “Best of 2006” edition, which is always worth a look.


Times-liness

February 26, 2007

At No Flying, No Tights, Jen ponders censorship and stereotypes evident in some recent coverage of comics and librarians. Particularly interesting are thoughts on a recent piece in The New York Times about Susan Patron’s The High Power of Lucky, an award-winning novel for young adults with the word “scrotum” on the first page. I particularly like Jen’s sum-up:

“Yet librarians doom themselves when they base their collection decisions on fear… I’m more worried that the people who flip out over a single word will make it impossible for librarians to buy anything that pushes the envelope…what would they say if they knew I put Same-Cell Organism in my library’s young adult collection?”

Edited: The original Times article on the controversy is here (and thanks to Dave Carter for sending the link), and there are several letters to the editor available for perusal.

At The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon takes a comics-centric approach to another Times topic, discussing books you haven’t yet read:

“In comics, saying you haven’t caught up with something yet has the regular advantage of letting the person who just spoke know that what they brought up is of interest, and the added advantage of flattering the art form in terms of there being so many things out there to explore.”

And if you haven’t had enough linkblogging from me, I basically devote all of this week’s Flipped to it, doing a drive-by of some recent events in the manga realm.


Target locked

February 25, 2007

It’s not easy identifying a target audience, is it? Be too specific and you run the risk of excluding people outside of your base or even alienating the base by reducing them to a stereotype.

Here’s DC’s Karen Berger at the “Capturing the Female Reader” panel at the New York Comic Con:

“Berger said Minx was being positioned ‘to the left of manga and to the right of YA’ and called Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis a ‘watershed book’ for young female comics readers. She also cited Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and described the ideal Minx reader as a girl who is not interested in young adult novels that are either overly girlie or guy-centric, ‘a smart girl interested in different stuff.’”

So, Minx is the graphic novel line for non-conformist centrists? I’ve heard worse.

(If you’re looking for the passage on the panel, it’s right next to the picture of the girl with the whip and the one in the belly shirt.)


Faking it

February 24, 2007

The question of how comics fans can get their wives and girlfriends to share their interest has come up again recently, but what about those poor targets of hobby evangelism? Why doesn’t anyone offer any strategic advice to guide their responses to this unsolicited knock at the door from believers bearing pamphlets? What should they do when the men in their lives give them a Fables trade for their three-month anniversary?

Perhaps the answer will come from France. A Parisian literature professor has developed a methodology that might help: just pretend you’re better-read than you really are.

The New York Times talks with Pierre Bayard (free registration required) about his not-yet-available-in-English primer, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?

“Domestic life is another potentially hazardous zone. People often want their spouses and partners to share their love of a particular book. And when this happens, Mr. Bayard said, they can both inhabit a ‘secret universe.’ But if only one has read the book, silent empathy may offer the best way out.”


From the stack: Aya

February 24, 2007

My best memories of high school are populated by people like the title character of Aya (Drawn & Quarterly): smart, strong-willed young women with a healthy skepticism of the more conventional obsessions of the people around them. Consequently, I find Aya enormously likable, even if the book that bears her name is kind of a trifle.

In spite of her many charms, Aya is just too sensible to get into the kind of mischief that can really drive a narrative. That’s good and bad – good because her character is admirable and endearing from beginning to end, and bad because she ends up being incidental to the action.

Fortunately, she’s surrounded by people who don’t share her grounded quality. Her best friends Adjoua and Bintou are as boy-crazy and fashion-forward as Aya is level-headed, and they’re surrounded by suitors who are just as dedicated to living in the moment. Their flirtations are marked by a recognizable mixture of playfulness and cynicism that can be very funny, though it’s hard to get too invested in any of the potential outcomes.

Aya is a conscientious objector in the battle of the sexes. She’ll reluctantly help her friends out of a jam, but she’s too ambitious to waste much time or consideration on the slackers in her circle. Her indifference marks her as an oddity in the 1970s Ivory Coast society portrayed here; almost everyone just expects her to marry, and she’s routinely criticized for being too studious when there are boys to date and style to maintain.

She generally resists the urge to return the criticism in kind, though illustrator Clément Oubrerie gives her ample hooded glances and rolling of the eyes. And writer Marguerite Abouet smartly resists the urge to make her a paragon. When Aya’s patience runs too thin, she delivers common sense with blistering directness, as in a scene where she subjects herself to a decoy date on a friend’s behalf.

But for my taste, there’s not enough of her. There are charms in watching the foibles of decent but flawed people look for love (or just fun) in all the wrong places, but Aya is so captivating that she makes the rest of the crowd seem trivial by comparison. It’s not the worst flaw a story can suffer, but it makes me want to read a story that’s actually about Aya to a greater degree than the one I’ve actually got in my hands.

It’s very likable, though. Abouet’s writing combines sharp observation and generous spirit, and I’d love to see more of her stories. Oubrerie is a talented illustrator, matching Abouet’s script note for note and mining plenty of comedy and warmth out of familiar scenarios.

So, how about a sequel? Aya did say she wants to be a doctor.


Low blow

February 22, 2007

It seems to me that the marketing meme of positioning manga as an empty-calorie gateway for “real comics” is getting a little out of control. It’s like manga is nothing but mashed peas or strained apricots, perfectly fine until you have all of your teeth and can start enjoying solids, but nothing a person of discernment would ever favor, provided they knew what else was out there.

The latest example comes from a surprising source. Towards the end of the piece on the resurgence of comics for kids in this week’s PWCW, there’s a quote from First Second’s Mark Siegel that really annoyed me:

“Manga indeed remains a force to be reckoned with, but if fans find themselves wanting something more substantial, the new wave of titles will be waiting for them. Siegel said the design aesthetic and quality control at First Second is consciously aimed at rising above the quality bar set by manga. ‘We want children in the young section of graphic novels to be able to reach for something that isn’t just junk food,’ he said. ‘A lot of the manga is just that, and it does very well, but it’s disposable. Our books are meant to be for keeps.’”

In terms of production quality, yes, First Second sets a very high standard, superior to the average manga paperback. But is that all Siegel is talking about here?

I hope so, because in the imprint’s relatively short history, Siegel has managed to concentrate of the quality of First Second’s output without denigrating the output of other publishers, even by implication. I admired that position, because I don’t generally find that bashing the competition says anything constructive about the basher’s own product. (I remember being sorely and similarly annoyed by a Progresso campaign that focused entirely on the deficiencies of Campbell’s, even though I generally preferred the former when spending my canned-soup dollars.)

I’m not immune to the behavior, obviously, because I do have very clear preferences in what I like to read (which includes both manga and a lot of books published by First Second). It’s natural to look at the proverbial eighty-pound gorilla and be tempted to kick it in some sensitive spot. Hell, one of my favorite songs from Avenue Q is “Schadenfreude.”

But it seems really counterproductive to insult the very audience you’re trying to lure.