Harmonic convergence

October 19, 2007

For a while now, people have been driecting a sometimes critical eye at the treatment of women characters in Marvel and DC comics, wondering if there might not be some unfortunate trends in evidence. (Latest example: half of one of a few happy super-hero couples was found dead in her kitchen, the venue of choice for such discoveries, by her husband, who’s really, really sad.)

Then, people were discussing the state of comics journalism and whether its practitioners might aim a little higher.

Then, prominent comics bloggers started to notice one of those cyclical mini-waves of people dropping Marvel and DC monthlies.

Now, Newsarama has posted an interview with Brian Bendis with the apparent purpose of congratulating him on avoiding that silly, knee-jerk feminist backlash that so often results from sequences like that found in New Avengers #35. After accepting the kudos of Matt Brady and bemoaning our excessively sensitive times, Bendis assures readers that he went out of his way to avoid the interpretation that…

“…something rapey was happening.”

Well, I’m convinced.


A little of this, a little of that

October 18, 2007

There are some new entries among the nominations for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, presenting the usual interesting range of entries. Self-published books, works from new and newish graphic novel arms of big publishing houses, spandex sagas, mopey autobiography, anthologies, manga and manhwa, fact-based, historical, chatty, wordless, highbrow, lowbrow — you name it, it’s there.

Last time I took a look, I predicted that Kazuhiro Oakmoto’s promising Translucent (Dark Horse) would show up before long, and my psychic powers are confirmed. Please ignore the fact that none of my other predictions have yet come to pass and gape in awe at my awesome psychic powers.

And hey, remember Spider-Man: Reign (Marvel), with its full-frontal nudity (later… um… excised) and toxic seminal fluid? It’s nominated, as is the collection of Marvel mega-event Civil War. And before you say, “It’s just a list of nominations,” remember that the defining capes bummer of last year, DC’s Identity Crisis, actually made the top ten in 2007. This would fall under the category of, “Shows what I know about what teens probably actually like.”


In threes

October 17, 2007

Digital Manga is having kind of an interesting week.

First of all, their Pop Travel Service gets a quick profile in the travel section of The New York Times.

Then they announce a contest to encourage sign-ups for their mail order catalog, though I’m not entirely sure what that catalog will offer. Seriously, is it for manga? Merchandise? Cosplay accessories? All of the above?

And this week’s ComicList notes the arrival of Yuno Ogami’s L’Etoile Solitaire, which the publisher describes as “its first original manga.” (It’s about romance in the hospitality industry.) The Juné blog partially answers a question before I can ask it, and points to Ogami’s English-language blog. I’m assuming the eventual plan is to “untranslate” the book and sell it in Japan, right?


Welcome to the DM

October 16, 2007

September’s Direct Market sales figures follow the familiar pattern – perennial sellers, strong performances for Dark Horse and Digital Manga’s boys’-love books, and just a couple of surprising items. (Are items still surprising if you can predict that they’ll crop up, even if you don’t know precisely how they’ll surprise you?)

There’s further evidence that Viz’s Naruto Nation strategy is paying off, with all three of September’s volumes in the top 10 overall and leading the manga entries in the top 100 graphic novel list. Then comes the chunk of the list where Dark Horse dominates, interrupted by the second volume of Tokyopop’s Start Trek manga (no surprise there, though perhaps I’m stereotyping the comic shop customer demographic) and the Fruits Basket Fan Book. (If Fruits Basket ships, it sells. It sometimes doesn’t even need to ship.)

I personally found the first volume of I Luv Halloween (Tokyopop) really mean-spirited and nihilistic, but I’m apparently in the minority, as new volumes keep showing strong sales. This isn’t really surprising, partly owing to writer Keith Giffen’s popularity in the Direct Market. (I feel like I should mention something here about objections to his adaptation of Battle Royale, but I can’t figure out how to make it fit.)

Another slightly surprising appearance on the list is made by the first volume of Death Note (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced). The entire series is available, but news of the imminent arrival of the anime on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block (I think the first episode airs this Saturday at midnight) has clearly given it a boost and is bringing in new readers.

And there’s probably something to be made of the strong performances of both Tokyopop’s Welcome to the NHK (a scathing parody of fanboys) and He Is My Master (Seven Seas), which proudly waves its fan-service flag. My socio-analytical powers are weak this morning, though.

The list of manga entries is after the jump.

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The Monday randomizer

October 15, 2007

I didn’t get around to putting together a Flipped column for this week. I read lots of horror manga, but I ended up being too paralyzed with fear to write about any of it! (Okay, the truth is I had a day-job event and a delightful houseguest. Sue me.)

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I also made oatmeal cookies, and after considerable scientific research and extensive comparison, I’ve decided that they just taste better with dried cranberries in them. Sorry, raisins, you dried fruit of the average palate. (I’ve never made them with dried blueberries or, dare I suggest it, dried cherries, so Craisins could be bumped off of the throne any week now.)

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Not long ago, I was pondering ‘tween-friendly musicals like Legally Blonde, and MTV was kind enough to broadcast a taped performance of the show. It was pretty awful, so of course I watched all of it. Aside from “Gay or European,” the songs were incredibly uninspired, and the performances were really competent but not quirky in the ways they needed to be to really sell the resolutely so-so material. The audience for the performance ate it up, though, cheering on cue like the center of the basketball team just walked on stage.

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I knew I wasn’t the only person who found the “Poor, Poor Tigra” stuff creepy, but there’s something incredibly reassuring about seeing that it also bothered Graeme McMillan. Not that I want him to be bothered, obviously, but you know what I mean.

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“This is the worst column ever by the way Chris. I’m going to build an underground railroad just to get you out of this column. To help you escape.”

— From Part 2 of Chris Mautner’s interview with Tom Spurgeon over at Blog@Newsarama.

It’s not true at all, obviously. If you want to see Spurgeon in action as a critic, he thoughtfully provides more comics reviews in a single weekend post than I seem to manage to write in a year. Not that I’m feeling inadequate or anything.

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Still on the subject of reviews I enjoyed reading, check out Katherine Dacey-Tsuei’s look at With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child over at Manga Recon.


“vague, debatable, slippery, disingenuous”

October 14, 2007

When you feel ready, I want you to use these dolls show me how Houghton Mifflin hurt the comics you love.

Okay, that’s kind of tacky as opening gambits go, but you can count me among those baffled by Heidi MacDonald’s piece on the apparent tyranny of the highbrow as embodied by The Best American Comics 2007, edited by Chris Ware and published by Houghton-Mifflin.

The thing that really throws me is the level of currency imposed on the anthology, which I really don’t think is borne out by the reality. Title aside, does anyone actually think this book is meant to be a wide-ranging evaluation of a year’s worth of comics?

Here’s a bit from the press release for the 2006 edition:

“Series editor Anne Elizabeth Moore has a gift for seeking out relatively unknown writers who are doing amazing work and deserve recognition. In addition to better-known comic artists, she was able to find rare work that mainstream readers might not otherwise discover.”

So it serves kind of a missionary function, placing worthy but not necessarily commercial creators in a somewhat brighter spotlight. And there seems to be a fair amount of consensus among the editors that the series’ title is sort of unfortunate hyperbole. Here’s a passage from Ware’s introduction to the 2007 edition, which Chris Butcher referenced fairly extensively in his review of the collection:

“First of all, the title: it’s misleading. Though I haven’t taken a survey, I’d imagine that a good number of the guest editors of all the Best American series have felt compelled to take issue with it, too. To presume that my personal taste defines an objective by which all living cartoonists should be judged is absurd. On top of that, any public competition is antithetical to the spirit of real art, and labeling a widely disseminated collection of artwork as ‘the best’ veers perilously close to suggesting that artists should gauge what they do against some sort of popularity contest for an ancillary reward — notoriety, money, or even inclusion in an anthology — other than the artwork itself.”

Okay, it’s probably easier to minimize the critical popularity contest when you’ve been winning it for most of your creative life, but Ware is right about the level of discomfort with “Best” among his peers. Harvey Pekar, editor of the 2006 edition of the comics collection, put it a little less generously, but he made essentially the same point:

“Now listen, I’m not claiming these are the absolute best comics issued in a given twelve-month period. I haven’t seen all the comics published in that time and neither have the hard-working, painstaking people I’m working with. But there’s good, often original stuff in this collection that I hope will open readers’ eyes to the breadth of subject matter that comics can deal with effectively. I hope you can understand, even if you don’t like every choice in this collection, that they don’t have to be about costumed superheroes, cute little kids, and talking animals.”

My favorite disclaimer, at least of the ones available on Houghton-Mifflin’s site, comes from David Foster Wallace, editor of The Best American Essays 2007:

“I feel free to state an emergent truth that I maybe wouldn’t if I thought that the book’s sales could really be hurt or its essays’ audience scared away. This truth is that just about every important word on The Best American Essays 2007’s front cover turns out to be vague, debatable, slippery, disingenuous, or else ‘true’ only in certain contexts that are themselves slippery and hard to sort out or make sense of — and that in general the whole project of an anthology like this requires a degree of credulity and submission on the part of the reader that might appear, at first, to be almost un- American.”

Houghton-Mifflin has been publishing “Best American” books since 1915; I mean, they’ve trademarked “Best American.” It’s a prestige gimmick and a brand identifier that’s been in place for 92 years, and while the title isn’t ideal, it’s no more worthy of outrage than, say, the slate of nominees for the Wizard Fan Awards. Each has its target audience, and each has its aims.

But beyond the semantic issues, there’s what I perceive to be the market reality of the collection. I honestly don’t believe the collections have that much power. They may induce some of the Fresh Air crowd, who saw Ware’s cartoons in the New York Times Magazine or went to see American Splendor, to pick them up and, at a stretch, to seek out other works by the featured creators, assuming they can find them with the same ease involved in picking up the latest issue of Dwell. And that’s great, because the collections feature talented creators “who readers might not otherwise discover.” But I really, really don’t believe it has the kind of crushing taste-making force that MacDonald seems to bestow upon it. I don’t think the existence of a clumsily named series hampers the popularity of the burgeoning array of more mainstream books. The “Best American” series seems to not even expect to compete

The best evidence of my argument is the actual physical placement of the books in the series when I’ve seen them in chain stores. They’re generally stacked on the tables in the graphic novel section for a bit before being shelved with the rest of the books, so they do get some face-out time for browsers. But they’re on that table with DC’s 52 collections or the pulchritude of the busty Anita Blake or Bone trade paperbacks or collections of classic comic strips or the work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez or Lat or whoever else, and the table itself is perhaps slightly obscured by the Naruto stand-alone display or the Tokyopop spinner rack filled with licensed and original manga. In other words, it’s sitting in a sea of material aimed at just about every elevation of brow, affixed to the heads of people in just about every demographic. If anything, it’s overshadowed by the crushing mass of fun and exciting comics that Ware didn’t mention because it wasn’t his mandate.

I honestly don’t think anything is wilting in its chilling shadow. I don’t think it has the intent to do that, and from what I can tell, the guest editors would cringe if that were the result. It doesn’t seem to be telling anyone to read these comics instead, but in addition, and that’s fine. Really.


The feline mystique

October 12, 2007

Because I’m a big nerd, the whole “Poor, Poor Tigra” thing has led me on a pointless journey down memory lane. And I don’t even like Tigra that much. I’ll spare you by putting it after the jump.

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