Tangled webs

April 30, 2008

At Manga Xanadu, Lori Henderson looks at some of the ways manga publishers can use online resources to promote their material, and she makes a number of good points. The piece is framed at least partly around a certain kind of title that needs the help:

“Even if most of the sales of titles come from brick and mortar retail, getting the word out about titles shouldn’t be such an issue in the internet age. If manga publishers would make better use of their online resources, C list titles would have a better chance.”

Coincidentally, Viz has redesigned its online store, and it does seem like an improvement. Viz’s press release promises easier navigability and better search functionality, and a couple of quick tests seem to confirm those claims. Viz’s manga titles are listed by imprint on the store’s front page, which is handy, and there are some web-only discounts running down the sidebar.

There are a few odd things going on. Clicking randomly through series, it seems like some volumes from some series aren’t available. (Just at a glance, some with only partial runs available are Kekkashi, Aishiteruze Baby, and Maison Ikkoku. Poor Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs and Yakitate!! Japan aren’t there at all yet.) Maybe Viz is still finishing up its listings, but that seems like something that should be corrected as quickly as possible. If a publisher is going to have an online store, which is never a bad idea if it isn’t going to be too burdensome to manage, then the publisher should have its entire catalogue available for purchase.

That seems particularly important for the C list titles. If a book is having trouble finding space on bookstore shelves, then it’s not unreasonable for a customer to seek it out online. The publisher’s online store might not be the first place they look, but a certain percentage of them will wind up there sooner or later, and it would be best not to discourage them in their inquiries.

And speaking C list titles and the Viz store, there seem to be some missed opportunities to give those books a push. Viz’s best-selling properties (Naruto, Death Note, Bleach, and the like) tend to eat up most of the front page’s visible real estate. I’m guessing you would have to work pretty hard to find retail markets where books and DVDs from these properties aren’t available. It’s not a bad idea for a publisher to brand itself with its successes, but why not use their rising tides to lift a few dinghies in the process?

I’m thinking about something along the lines of Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” widget, but with a more activist bent. I’m not all that crazy about suggestive selling, but I’m less bothered by it when it’s in service of underperforming but worthy books. Offering discounts on those C list books with purchase of an A list property might be a good idea as well.


April 29, 2008

Does anyone know how to turn off the “Possibly Related Posts” function on WordPress? I kind of like to have a say in what’s linked from my blog, and this surprising feature makes me a little uncomfortable.

Updated: Found it. It’s under the “Extras” link in the “Design” category of the dashboard.

Upcoming April 30, 2008

April 29, 2008

Glancing at the ComicList for Wednseday, April 30, 2008, I can’t help noting that it’s a strong week for Good Comics for Kids:

Dark Horse delivers the entire Dayan Collection, four hardcover children’s books by Akiko Ikeda. They’re about a mischievous cat, and Ikeda’s full-color illustrations look absolutely beautiful.

CMX delivers the fourth volume of Masashi Tanaka’s Gon, wordless, beautifully drawn stories about a tiny dinosaur with a big appetite for life.

Skewing slightly older is the fourth volume of Alive (Del Rey), written by Tadashi Kawashima and illustrated by Adachitoka. This series started with two gripping volumes that propelled its primary story – malevolent forces surreptitiously invade the planet and trigger a wave of suicides, and only a handful of people suspect what’s truly happening. The third volume was sort of a digression, with the heroic principals sidetracked from their quest by tangentially related perils. That threw me a bit, but it’s still a very entertaining comic with great characters and eye-catching art.

Would I hand the first volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (Vertical) to a kid? I’m not really sure. On one hand, it’s Tezuka, and everyone should read some Tezuka. On the other hand, it’s on the gruesome side, packed with bloody battles and some seriously dark content. It’s about a young man, Hyakkimaru, who lost all of his body parts thanks to his father’s ambition and greed. Hyakkimaru is forced on a quest across a war-ravaged landscape to seek and destroy the demons who took his body in trade. He’s joined by young thief Dororo, whose background is almost as harsh. But it’s Tezuka. So I’ll recommend it to everyone else, and they can decide when their kids are ready for it. How’s that for evasion?

Take me to Chowder Bay

April 28, 2008

One of the phrases I overuse to describe comics I really like and admire is to say that they cohere. I don’t know if I’ve ever adequately explained what I mean by that, so I’ll take another shot at it.

What I basically mean is that all of the elements work together to achieve a specific, worthwhile effect. Plot, dialogue, characterization, illustration, tone – everything clicks into place. There can be discordance in the way the elements come together, and I think it’s generally preferable that there is some appealing, diverting clashing going on. (Look at how Fumi Yoshinaga’s lanky, sexy art jangles so pleasingly against her chatty, airy dialogue, or how Joann Sfar’s bursts of philosophizing amiably derail a conventional narrative.)

Added to the list of “books that cohere” is Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy, due May 7, 2008, from Oni. It’s an all-ages comedy-adventure about young brothers on a family vacation to a decidedly unpromising seaside town. Jack and Benny discover that Chowder Bay, Maine, is a lot more interesting than it initially seems. I’m extremely reluctant to describe the plot in any more detail, because the fun of the book is discovering the town’s weird secrets with them.

I can say that I really, really love the look of this book. It just lopes along, visually speaking. The kids are charmingly gangly, and they seem to run everywhere. Character design and facial expressions are spot-on. The detailed settings are familiar but cozily odd, and the action sequences are clear and sharp.

Tone and timing are also just right. Loux is able to introduce likeable characters quickly and without fuss, and he can throw them into endearingly odd scenarios right off the bat. The comedy is very organic and very funny, which is no small feat for a story set in a quirky small town. There’s an overall feel of effortlessness, of everything falling serendipitously into place. It all just works.

What works best, I think, is that Loux gives the kids ownership of the weirdness. The discoveries are theirs, and grown-up skepticism only makes those discoveries more appealing. They’re rewarded for being open-minded. Boredom is vanquished; imagination and adventure win.

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

More summer reading

April 25, 2008

There’s a nice mix of promising items in the May 2008 Previews catalog. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Dark Horse gets a jump on a 2009 movie with the release of a repackaging of the first two volumes of Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. It’s probably Tezuka’s best-known property, and I’m grateful that Dark Horse has made so much of it is available in English, but honesty compels me to admit that I haven’t felt any burning need to read all of it. (Page 56.)

I’ve heard good things about Kerry Callen’s Halo and Sprocket, and Amaze Ink/SLG releases the second volume of the series and offers the first again. Any series that inspires fan art by Andi Watson must be worth a look. (Page 206.)

Broccoli offers a series that looks both adorable and odd. It’s Honoka Level Up!, by Akiyoshi Ohta and Matsuda98, and it features a really young character developer “getting caught up in the confusing politics, crushing responsibilities, and difficult developmental aspects” of the video game industry. Salary ‘tween manga? Why not? (Page 247.)

Have you been suffering through Kio Shimoku withdrawal since the conclusion of Genshiken? Del Rey is here for you, offering the Genshiken Official Book and the first volume of Shimoku’s Kujibiki Unbalance, the property that inspired microscopic obsession among Shimoku’s gang of geeks. (Page 266.)

Fantagraphics switches gears with the work of the very gifted Los Bros. Hernandez, going straight to the trade with Love and Rockets: New Stories. I’m partial to Gilbert’s work, but both are gifted, and this sounds like an appealing way to consume their work. (Page 298.)

I can’t say I’m entirely sold by the premise of Ray Fawkes and Cameron Stewart’s The Apocalipstix, due from Oni Press. Josie and the Pussycats after Armageddon? I just don’t know. But I’m crazy enough about Stewart’s art that I’ll certainly have to sample it. (Page 320.)

I sort of glazed over on a lot of the manga announcements that came out of the New York Comic-Con, but when Kate Dacey takes the time to point out a title, and when it’s a title that Lillian Diaz-Pryzbl heartily endorses, I’m game. It’s Natsumi Itsuki’s Jyu-Oh-Sei (Tokyopop), and it’s described as having a classic shôjo sci-fi feel. (Page 353.)

Speaking of Kate, I’m guessing she’s as excited as I am to see Yen Press release the second volume of Jung-Hyun Uhm’s Forest of Gray City, originally published by ICE Kunion. A working woman takes in a sexy male roommate to share expenses in this beautifully drawn josei-style manhwa. (Page 389.)

Upcoming 4/23/2008

April 22, 2008

Some highlights from the ComicList for Wednesday, April 23, 2008:

It’s Go! Comi for the win this week, with new volumes of three of my favorite series arriving simultaneously.

I’ve almost run out of good things to say about Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, which is probably one of the best Japanese comics currently in release, and certainly one of the best examples of the shôjo category. The cover of the seventh volume, due tomorrow, is particularly creepy for regular readers of the series.

While the second volume of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution didn’t have quite the same feeling of discovery I found in the first, it was still a lovely reading experience. It’s got a sweetly old-fashioned feel as it explores the relationship between humans and robots. The robots are hunky, the humans are quirky, the stories are comforting and varied, and the art is gorgeous.

Train + Train, by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma, got off to something of a weak start, but it’s become one of my favorites over its six-volume run. Likeable kids Arena and Reiichi get more education than they bargained for as they travel across a teaching planet on the “Special Train,” learning lessons in the form of dangerous missions. I’m not sure Takuma ever fully realizes the visual possibilities of this set-up, but the development of characters and themes is strong.

Misplaced weekend

April 21, 2008

This is almost entirely unrelated to anything in terms of comics, but I really feel the need to convince myself that I didn’t waste the entire weekend playing Westward II. I wasted a lot of it, but I didn’t waste all of it:

1. Mowed lawn, or more accurately, mowed onion field masquerading as lawn.
2. Clipped male dog’s toenails without incident or injury.
3. Cleaned stove top.
4. Went to Lowe’s without excessive eye-rolling.
5. Went to supermarket without strangling any of my fellow patrons.
6. Read The Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke, which was pleasant and competent and contained cookie recipes, though none of them sounded life-changing. (Minor grumble: I’m always disappointed when a writer hints at a mysterious relationship between people of the same sex, then it turns out to be the most un-sexy relationship possible.)
7. Read the preview of Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy that Oni sent me, and wow, is that a good comic. More on that subject later.

Okay, I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

Over and done

April 17, 2008

This week’s Flipped is up, and I’m still on a “Hey, that series that I really liked just ended, so I think I’ll write about it” jag. The latest manga from this weirdly large category is Fuyumi Soryo’s ES: Eternal Sabbath (Del Rey).

Speaking of series that I really liked that just ended, John Jakala takes a thoughtful look at the conclusion of Minetaro Mochizuki’s exciting and thought-provoking Dragon Head (Tokyopop), and picks some highlights from the series as a whole. What he said, basically.

I’m scared

April 16, 2008

Every time I go to Comic Book Resources, the floating head of Stan Lee stalks me as I try to scroll down the page.

I hate pushy web advertisements.

Theoretical hounding

April 16, 2008

I’m not going to make it to this year’s New York Comic Con, but if I were there, I’d be hounding Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Stephen Robson as much as possible. And just because I love their books, here’s Fanfare’s press release about convention plans and upcoming titles. Commence squeeing after the cut. (And if you’re going to the con, buy one of Fanfare’s books. You won’t regret it.)

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