March 31, 2008

I went to Columbus to visit relatives over the weekend. As usual, I had a delightful shopping experience at The Laughing Ogre – good selection, friendly staff, etc. While wandering around the city, I happened upon two other comic shops that weren’t open during their posted hours. It was pure chance that I stumbled upon either store, so I’m not outraged or anything, but it did strike me as an odd and not at all encouraging trend. I’m just saying.

I also did an informal Barnes & Nobel/Borders compare-and-contrast. The Columbus Borders reinforced my perception that they have a better selection of comics and graphic novels. Again, if Barnes & Noble takes over Borders, I hope they let Borders set the course for graphic novels and manga. I tend to pre-order anything that I suspect won’t ever show up in a Barnes & Noble, but the last thing anyone needs is a smaller number of outlets that will carry interesting graphic novels. Just ask Dark Horse.

Also, this struck me as kind of depressing. There once was a funky, interesting neighborhood called The Short North in Columbus (think Dupont Circle in Washington) that seems to be kind of a victim of its own success (as is Dupont Circle, which has too many pricey shoe stores to be funky and interesting any more). It’s kind of gone mall, if you know what I mean. The great gay bookstore that was there forever has been shoved several blocks north of its former neighborhood.

Drama, drama, drama

March 28, 2008

Over at Comics Should Be Good, Danielle Leigh once again demonstrates her great taste, listing her top five current shôjo series. This reminds me that it’s time to make a few more Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominations.

The sixth volume of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi) features some juicy forward plot motion and some ruthless character development. Back when I used to watch soap operas and participate in that branch of online fandom, many of us would decry what we called “Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome.” Mizushiro thrills me to no end by ripping one of her characters to shreds for indulging in this kind of behavior. Seriously, you won’t find a more psychologically acute melodrama in this category.

The 19th volume of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop) makes me geek out a round of “The Gang’s All Here.” After some extensive focus on individual characters, Takaya rounds everyone up for what feels like the beginning a very satisfying endgame. It’s a testament to the excellent work she’s done developing her cast that I’m delighted to see so many of them return and that their complex dynamics are still so clear and emotionally effective. As usual, threads that previously seemed extraneous are woven into the story’s larger tapestry, which tells me that I should just assume that everything matters. It’s a marvel, and it really shouldn’t be dismissed on the basis of its commercial success.

“Mature Content” rating be damned. Teens are probably reading Ai Yazawa’s Nana (Viz) anyways, so I’m throwing the ninth volume into the mix. More to the point, if there’s a better portrayal of the fallout of capricious behavior, I can’t think of it. The happy, shiny world of the entire cast has been thrown into disarray by an unexpected turn of events, and friendships, romances and careers are fundamentally changed. Yazawa doesn’t give the material anything resembling a punitive quality, but hard choices and hurt feelings abound, taking the well-crafted soap opera to a higher level. And Yazawa even reveals the secret origin of Trapnest. (I have to watch the movie, as Kate Dacey swears they’ll seem less cheesy. I don’t know how that will alter the reading experience, to be honest.)

Mergers and acquisitions

March 26, 2008

There’s so much food for thought today.

  • I agree with Tom Spurgeon that the notion of an unholy alliance between Borders and Barnes & Noble is not displeasing. There are significant differences between the two chains that I wouldn’t like to see lost, though. I wouldn’t want to see Borders follow suit with Barnes and Noble’s approach to graphic novel buying. I’d much rather see Barnes & Noble’s offerings expand than Borders get trimmed.
  • I could be wrong, but when a key part of a comic publisher’s marketing strategy seems to be the plugging of unsanctioned leaks of future plot developments, there’s a problem.
  • That said, I would probably favor Marvel’s Secret Invasion over DC’s Crisis thing if I were still reading American super-hero comics. Of course, the fact that Secret Invasion is being written by the person who made most of my favorite Marvel characters unrecognizable to me in the first place would probably mute my enthusiasm, as opposed to if it were someone else cleaning up after that person. That whiff of apologetic desperation would be as irresistible as sautéing onions. (I couldn’t stop myself from taking a look at the preview pages at Entertainment Weekly, and wow, some of that dialogue is hilariously awful.)
  • Okay, speaking of that hilariously awful dialogue, Luke Cage’s “Hey, man, I need a solid, ASAP” prompted a friend to wonder if I wasn’t quoting slash fiction. I am deeply disappointed that there don’t seem to be entire sites devoted to Power Man/Iron Fist slash, but maybe it’s too easy.
  • Steve Bennett’s ICv2 column on Marvel’s and DC’s reluctance to embrace a manga aesthetic (and Direct Market retailers’ varied willingness to stock the product at all) is interesting, but I think it overstates things a bit. I agree that Marvel and DC show a bunker mentality with regards to their franchises, but I think Marvel’s project with Del Rey for a separate line of manga-style X-Men treatments is a promising model for the kind of product Bennett is talking about. I think a lot of the Marvel’s and DC’s existing audience would scoff or howl at the strategic introduction of a perceived manga aesthetic to the product they buy with such regularity, and I’m unconvinced that either company could convincingly bring successful elements of whatever that aesthetic might be to the table to begin with. That leaves the Marvel-Del Rey outsourcing model as the obvious solution – don’t change your primary product, but offer targeted side products to a different audience with the assistance of people who already know how to reach that audience. It just seems much more likely that the target audience for a shôjo-styled treatment of the X-Men or Wonder Woman would be prompted to pick up the “real” version than the other way around.
  • As for the Direct Market missing the manga bus, I’m decreasingly of the opinion that all retailers are fools if they don’t stock manga. Entrepreneurs seem to function on something of a financial razor’s edge to begin with, and there are probably plenty of places that already sell manga in their communities. It seems like it would take a remarkable amount of strategizing and effort for a local comic shop to compete with a Borders or Barnes & Noble. Do I like to walk into a comic shop and find a healthy selection of manga? Sure, but only if someone on the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the category. Token efforts lead to neglected stock, which seems worse than not bothering with manga at all. (I do think such retailers are dumb if they don’t make it a widely-known practice that they’ll order any kind of comic their customers want if they don’t see it on the shelves, but that applies to all kinds of comics.)

  • Rumor patrol

    March 25, 2008 has some additional information on the potential for a Borders takeover, highlighting some recent corporate developments that might make such an acquisition attractive. Apparently there are rumors that none other than Barnes & Noble is eyeing its rival, which did wonders for the price of Borders’ stock shares.

    Update: ICv2 follows up on the stock story here.

    Upcoming 3/26/2008

    March 25, 2008

    Some picks from the ComicList for Wednesday, March 26, 2008:

    Do you need anyone else to tell you that Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail (Del Rey) is a very entertaining fantasy adventure? Probably not, but I’ll chime in with my agreement anyways. Mashima isn’t aiming exceptionally high here, offering unapologetically mainstream entertainment about quirky wizards and their comic quests. It’s a very good example of an increasingly crowded field of comics that offer storytelling that’s as amiable as it is accomplished. The characters are lively, the art is eye-catching, and the stories are fast-paced and varied.

    I think it’s smart of Del Rey to introduce the series by releasing two volumes at once. Endearing as it is, it’s also fairly lightweight, so doubling the quantity available should help to cement it in readers’ affections to a degree that a single volume couldn’t, at the same time drawing more critical interest than the series might have enjoyed otherwise. As I said, there’s a lot of competition in the field of amiable, accomplished, mainstream entertainment, especially on the manga shelves.

    So yes, there’s nothing wrong with a comic that only wants to entertain. Allow me to contradict that assertion by wondering if Eiji Otsuka and Sho-u Tajima’s MPD-Psycho (Dark Horse) has enough on its mind. Part of the reason I’m so fond of Otsuka’s The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is the writer’s ability to fold deeper issues into superficially engaging stories. Imaginative gore and varied psychoses aside, MPD-Psycho seems to be vamping along, and I’ve got the feeling that it’s really going to need some larger purpose to keep me from losing patience. Up to this point, it’s read like a collection of creepy grace notes (like barcodes on people’s eyeballs) in place of a driving, meaningful narrative.

    Along with Charles Berberian, Philippe Dupuy has created the wonderfully entertaining Mr. Jean, star of Get a Life (Drawn & Quarterly), and Maybe Later, a nicely modulated look at their creative process. Drawn & Quarterly offers a solo work from Dupuy, Haunted, which sounds a lot less down-to-earth but very intriguing.

    Villard offers a handsome paperback collection of David Petersen’s first Mouse Guard mini-series. In addition to the beautifully rendered, smartly told story of courageous rodents, there are plenty of extras that make the $17.95 price tag very reasonable.

    Best. Analogy. Ever.

    March 24, 2008

    Tom Spurgeon on Osamu Tezuka’s MW (Vertical):

    “It’s like Vincent Minelli’s Taxi Driver, or Frank Capra’s Deer Hunter; I had a hard time taking my eyes off of it, although I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of the reading experience.”

    If he’d likened it to Ethel Merman’s disco album, that would obviously have been going too far, but as it stands…

    On the third day…

    March 22, 2008

    … our hardwood floors shall glow with renewed finish. In the interim, my brain will be addled with the residual rattling of the sander and the polyurethane fumes.