Upcoming 11/21/2007

November 20, 2007

If I’m up to date with my reading, it’s only slightly, you know? I’m just about done with the second volume of Gilbert Hernandez’s wonderful Palomar stories, Human Diastrophism, which I’ll probably get around to reviewing later in the week. (It’s not that you need me to tell you how great these stories are. I just feel like it, okay?) This week, Fantagraphics is delivering the third volume, Beyond Palomar. (Don’t even get me started on New Tales of Old Palomar, or I’ll be forced to admit that I’m waiting for the trade.)

I’m not waiting for the trade with Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (also from Fantagraphics). Would it read better in big chunks? Probably, but patience has never been my strong suit.

Go! Comi sent me a complimentary copy of Aimee Major Steinberger’s Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan, a cute journal/sketchbook detailing Steinberger’s otaku pilgrimage. I like Steinberger’s friendly style of illustration, and I almost always enjoy travel comics. (Even ones that partake of the kind of travel I’d never consider, though Steinberger seems to be as much a fan of hotels and consumerism as I am.)

“Something a child could live with…”

November 19, 2007

This week’s Flipped is up, and while I know there are probably many manga out there with worse titles than Pumpkin Scissors (Del Rey), I still can’t think of any to top it. (And yes, I’m including Banana Fish.) Nifty book, though.

And burdened with a title as bland as plain microwave oatmeal is the otherwise charming Venus in Love (CMX).

From the stack: Kimmie66

November 17, 2007

Most of the books DC’s Minx imprint has published to date have felt like drafts to me, one or two serious edits away from seeming really finished. The notable exception is Re-Gifters, one of my favorite books of this year. Now it’s been joined by Aaron Alexovich’s Kimmie66. I’m not saying that it’s a great book, but it at least feels like a completed graphic novel.

First of all, it’s got a proper story, with a beginning, middle and end, and enough sidelines and flourishes to keep it from feeling too mechanical. It never goes off the narrative rails, and it executes its premise with welcome coherence and diligence.

It follows Telly, a 23rd Century, 14-year-old girl who spends most of her time in virtual reality. Lest you think she’s too much of a geek, this is a common, even pervasive pastime in the future. There are niche environments for just about every taste, and Telly favors the goth pastures of Elysium. The pleasures of online escapism are tainted when one of her closest virtual friends, the titular Kimmie, sends Telly a suicide note. So why does Kimmie keep popping up in various virtual neighborhoods?

Alexovich takes good advantage of the vagaries of online friendships as the mystery unfolds. Is Kimmie really dead? Should Telly violate her privacy by trying to match a real person to the avatar? Telly’s investigation is constructed well, and she doesn’t demonstrate any skills or insights that tax credibility.

Not all of it works perfectly. There’s apparently a ban of some sort on frequenting more than one niche community, though I’m never really sure why. Kimmie is never really a vivid presence, so the revelations about her on- and offline lives don’t have as much weight as they seem like they should. The characters generally have distinct voices, but some of the invented future slang is a little clumsy. And there are some weird little things that stand out. (Anyone can sink into an immersive VR environment but they still wash dishes by hand? “Homo” is still a slur 200 years in the future? The work of Patrick Swayze has survived the test of time?)

But it does hang together when all is said and done, and Alexovich is a very talented illustrator. His character designs are particularly appealing, and the virtual landscapes are interesting.

It sounds like I’m damning the book with faint praise, and I have to admit that’s partly true. Noting that a book seems ready for publication isn’t that big of a compliment, and it might not seem particularly noteworthy from another publisher or imprint. But it does seem to buck the trend of the current roster of Minx books, and it’s perfectly competent work on its merits.

From the stack: Fox Bunny Funny

November 15, 2007

“You looking for an answer or an argument?”

— Birdie Coonan, All About Eve

With its adorable animals and wordless storytelling, Andy Hartzell’s Fox Bunny Funny (Top Shelf) could be mistaken for a simple allegory about being true to yourself. It’s a lot creepier and more complex than that, with none of the certainty allegory usually offers.

It’s about a fox who, against all societal norms, yearns to embrace his inner bunny. His family is aghast, and truth be told, so is the fox. Received knowledge tells him he’s a freak, and the conflict between his deepest feelings and the prevailing culture can be agonizing. Hartzell certainly doesn’t flinch away from illustrating the manifestations of that conflict, and the consequences of the fox choosing to pass for “normal” are gruesome in ways that take full advantage of the Wild Kingdom dynamic.

In other words, Hartzell is blending human concerns without fully anthropomorphizing his cast of critters. It’s tricky storytelling, though its cleverness and visual appeal don’t diminish or trivialize the subject matter. Anyone who’s read a fair amount of the work of Osamu Tezuka will recognize the juxtaposition of familiar, even friendly cartooning tools with deeper, darker issues.

And Hartzell steadfastly refuses to fall back on moral clarity. If the fox’s attempts at passing tear him apart, his path to transformation is also challenging and frightening. Polarity and anxiety aren’t only found in the rigid constructs of fox versus bunny; the gray area, the place where creatures are freer to express and explore, has its own difficulties and sometimes contradictory rules.

It’s a challenging piece, one that Hartzell has executed with emotional frankness and a wonderfully fluid design sense. He seems to want an argument, and he sets the stage for a rewarding and complicated one.

Quick comic comments: King of Thorn Vol. 2

November 14, 2007

The second volume of Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn (Tokyopop) offers more of exactly the same – a small handful of thawed-out survivors of a deadly disease navigate a now-monster-infested medical facility where they were cryogenically frozen until a cure could be found for their affliction.

I’d write a proper review, but it would end up sounding just like the one I wrote about the first volume, only with increased impatience — exciting set pieces, great art, and flat characters. It’s probably an unfair comparison, but I think Mochizuki Minetaro gave Dragon Head (also Tokyopop) a much more effective launch. There were just as many thrills and chills, but Minetaro’s characters were instantly arresting and specific, in spite of the extremity of their circumstances.

Has anyone read this series in Japanese or German or French? How long does it take for things to get weirder and more interesting, or at least more personal? I really want to like this series, because Iwahara’s Chikyu Misaki (CMX) is one of my favorite manga of all time, but I really need some reassurance that quirkier developments are coming.

Food stuff

November 13, 2007

This week’s Flipped is up with a look at cooking manga (and some manga with cooking in it). I wish there were more books like these.

Upcoming 11/14/2007

November 13, 2007

So clearly, the release of the week is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together from Oni. The rest of the comics industry might be forgiven for just taking it easy in the face of such a formidable arrival, but they aren’t.

Heck, even Oni isn’t, and they’re releasing Courtney Crumrin and the Fire-Thief’s Tale from Ted Naifeh. (I’ve really got to catch up on this series, because I’ve loved what I’ve read.)

I’ll be covering it in more detail in next week’s Flipped, but I will say I really enjoyed Yuki Nakaji’s Venus in Love (CMX). It’s a sweet slice of college life about a girl and a guy who are in love with the same guy.

A new title from Fumi Yoshinaga is always worth a look, and Digital Manga offers Garden Dreams. I tend to favor her contemporary stories to her period pieces, but I generally can’t resist either, and I’m intrigued that this one isn’t part of the Juné imprint.

The previous volume of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop) offered the biggest bombshell in a while, and the eighteenth installment promises even more shocks. But really, the whole thing could be nothing but characters talking about their favorite onigiri filling and I’d still buy it.

And yes, I’m still a Shojo Beat junkie, thanks to the inclusion of Honey and Clover and Sand Chronicles. Well played, Viz.