On the road, though which one, I have no clear idea

May 30, 2008

What’s the deal with road signs in Virginia? I’ve never been lost so often in my life.

Anyway, there’s a new Flipped up at The Comics Reporter, which attempts to pull out the highlights from the recent wish list discussion. Evan Dorkin writes in to correct a point about one of the properties.

And over at Comics Should Be Good, Danielle Leigh follows up on the scanlation discussion, sparking some thought-provoking commentary from Lynxara and Danielle.

Upcoming 5/29/2008

May 29, 2008

Some highlights from this week’s ComicList:

It’s a good week for fans of Ai Morinaga, with the fifth volume of My Heavenly Hockey Club coming from Del Rey and the first volume of The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry Chan arriving via Media Blasters. I’m a fan of Ai Morinaga, so it’s a good week for me. (In fairness, I don’t really know anything about Gorgeous Life other than that it’s by Morinaga, but that’s good enough for me. Seriously, Media Blaster’s web site bugged the crap out of me after about two seconds, so I stopped digging.)

She can even make dumb, old jokes work for me. In the fourth volume of My Heavenly Hockey Club, she even pulls off the “dimwits put on glasses before undertaking a studious endeavor” and pulls it off. I swear I giggled.

Other than those, it’s a light week for me, which is fine, as I’ve hoarded a stack of comics to take with me on vacation. Packing will be like a game of Tetris.

For realz

May 28, 2008

Everyone’s weighing in on The Pact from Tokyopop. (I feel compelled to capitalize it, because it sounds like the title of a Japanese horror film.) For a solid link round-up, check in with Lea Hernandez, who broke the story in the first place. Brigid Alverson stakes out the middle ground in the argument over at Digital Strips, suggesting that it is possible to enter into the contract with eyes open and take advantage of the opportunities The Pact does offer.

I remember the first time Tokyopop’s contracts with global creators came up and a generational argument between veteran creators like Hernandez and newcomers who took Tokyopop up on their offer. The newcomers tended to insist that of course they knew what they were getting into, and that they had carefully weighed the pros and cons of whatever ownership they were sacrificing for exposure. (This contentious dialogue primarily took place over at Warren Ellis’s The Engine, and the archives are no longer available, so I’m reluctant to rely too much on my memory of the specifics of the discussion.) Since then, the tunes of some of the contracts’ staunchest defenders seem to have changed in the face of laboring under the contracts provisions, which only goes to show that you can carefully consider the pros and cons of a professional opportunity that has some pitfalls, make an informed decision, and still end up dissatisfied by circumstances you couldn’t predict or control. (Johanna Draper Carlson does a fine job of pinpointing some of the conflicts that have arisen for creators.)

Here’s my take: If I were a creator, I wouldn’t sign The Pact, nor would I advise a creator of my acquaintance to do so. If I were a teacher of art or creative writing who worked with budding comics creators or the advisor of a manga or anime club, I would print out a copy of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s reaction and keep it on file in case I heard my students considering the possibility and wanted them to be well informed. Because really, The Pact’s “accessible,” “hip” language is a screaming red flag. That approach may a sincere attempt to clarify legalese, but it’s not that hard to decipher legalese on one’s own. I’ve written about legal disputes that were stacked with this kind of daunting verbiage, and there are plenty of on-line resources that help you translate it into human language and teach you a bit about the process along the way. The outcome reads as a cheap attempt to manipulate inexperienced creators who want to be reassured that their interests will be protected. Like most attempts at hip marketing, it ends up seeming skeevy and predatory, even if that was never the intent.

And since I’m on the subject of creators’ rights and ethical dilemmas, I’ll point to Danielle Leigh’s latest Manga Before Flowers column at Comics Should Be Good, which takes a frank and comprehensive look at unauthorized, fan-created translations of manga and anime that are available online. I don’t know if I’ve every really articulated my position on those translations, so now’s as good a time as any. It’s kind of absolutist, which I’m sure shocks you all.

I don’t read them or view them, primarily because they deprive creators of the opportunity to profit from their work. I know the argument that the existence of these translations can present the abstract possibility of an official license and profit for the creator by drawing potential licensors’ attention to demand for the properties, but I can’t personally draw that direct line based on anything I know to be absolutely true. The “hack job” argument doesn’t persuade me either. If a reader thinks a license-holder’s translation and adaptation of a work is profoundly inadequate, I think the ethical response is to inform other consumers of those failings and to attempt to raise the production standards of the publisher in question.

I’m not going to think less of you if you consume scanlations and fan-subs, especially if you confine yourself to as-yet-unlicensed properties. But I do think that if you care about creators’ rights in the context of The Pact, then you should feel at least a little uncomfortable about consuming work with the knowledge that the work’s creator isn’t getting any compensation for it.

Put down that pen!

May 27, 2008

I’m sputtering with indignant disbelief at the moment, so I’ll leave it to Lea Hernandez, Hope Larson, and Christopher Butcher to discuss Tokyopop’s Manga Pilots Pact.

Update: And here’s Bryan Lee O’Malley for the win.

The game changes

May 27, 2008

I always enjoy new volumes of Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata’s Hikaru no Go (Viz), but I think the twelfth is the best of the series so far. After budding go player Hikaru achieves a significant milestone, he and his mentor, Sai, are forced to reevaluate their relationship.

Sai is the ghost of a go expert who died before he could achieve his full potential. When Hikaru found his grandfather’s antique go board, Sai latched onto him as an earthly vessel, a way to play. Over the course of the series, Hikaru has developed a passion for the game that’s entirely independent of Sai’s influence. Hikaru has his own goals as a player, and they’re at odds with Sai’s ambitions.

It’s a sad and rather lovely portrayal of the mentor-student relationship that seems perfectly natural but is rather fresh for this kind of comic. It’s inevitable that the protégé should outgrow his or her teacher, but that moment is usually greeted with tearful pride and a feeling of inevitability. The development between Hikaru and Sai is much more complicated and, in my opinion, more rewarding.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the dynamic between Hikaru and Sai develops from this difficult point. It gives weight to Hikaru’s increasingly challenging matches and adds depth of feeling to the narrative as a whole.

“And you know that their little lives can become such a mess”

May 26, 2008

I’ve got a big pile of comics I plan to write about, and many of them are much better than the second volume of Miyuki Eto’s Hell Girl (Del Rey). But it’s a marked improvement over the first, and I find myself a little fixated on the book’s weird morality.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book’s premise (originally developed by The Jigoku Shoujo Project), characters in distress can log onto a web site and consign their tormentors to hell. The cost for this service is rather high, as the consigners agree to spend eternity in that insalubrious locale as well. (What if they end up in the same part of hell as their victims? Awkward.)

In the first volume, there wasn’t a long-term thinker in sight. Otherwise decent people, pushed to the point of desperation, decided without hesitation that their own damnation was worth it if they could punish their enemies. If the book had been about the pitfalls of immediate gratification and the fruitlessness of revenge that would be one thing, but those subjects never came up in the first installment.

Eto is a little more nuanced this time around. There’s a charmingly nasty story about a conniving ice skater who’s trying to use the urban legend to her advantage without suffering the consequences of the bargain. Two other chapters present Hell Girl as a means of protecting the innocent from a malignant influence rather than avenging innocents after the fact. Best of all, Eto picks up a waiting-period aspect from the anime, giving clients time to do a costs-benefits analysis before committing themselves.

Hell Girl still isn’t brilliant by any means, but the added uncertainty does elevate it from being just a bizarre curiosity. And it’s still enough of a bizarre curiosity to maintain that kind of morbid interest.

(Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

At( )las(t!)

May 23, 2008

Publishers Weekly reports that Fanfare/Ponent Mon has a new North American book distributor, Atlasbooks Distribution, a subsidiary of BookMasters Inc. (via MangaBlog). AtlasBooks acquired Biblio Distribution in January according to this piece at ICv2, describing AtlasBooks as “the leading distributor (in terms of the number of client publishers) of small press books in North America.”

Dirk Deppey voices some pungently phrased enthusiasm for the development, and I certainly agree. Fanfare’s last North American distributor, Davis Marketing Services, never even built a web site, to my knowledge, and AtlasBooks’ small-press focus seems like a good fit on the surface of things.

I do hope this means that Fanfare’s catalog will start showing up in mainstream bookstores, because so many of their books are surpassingly lovely. Here are a few favorites:

Monokuro Kinderbook, by Kan Takahama: Sexy, intelligent stories about women from a variety of age groups and stations.

The Walking Man, by Jiro Taniguichi: An average salary-man type walks around his beautifully rendered suburban neighborhood. (I reviewed both Walking Man and Kinderbook here.)

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, by… 17 creators: Fabulously talented Japanese and European storytellers craft varied portraits set throughout the country. (I reviewed the anthology here.)

And to be honest, I’ve yet to read anything from the publisher that isn’t at least very, very good. Kiriko Nananan’s Blue is a little emo for my tastes, but her illustrations are glorious, and it has the distinction of being the only Fanfare title I’ve ever seen in a Barnes & Noble. If I haven’t yet become too absorbed by Taniguchi’s Times of Botchan (created with Natsuo Sekigawa), it’s more a matter of limited availability than disinterest.

Really, Fanfare’s name on a book is really a sign that you’re in for an absorbing, intriguing reading experience. Hell, I paid for shipping from Canada to get my hands on some of them. I hope AtlasBooks helps them crack the North American market.

This skyscraper walks into a bar…

May 22, 2008

My look at this year’s Eisner nominees continues in the latest Flipped over at The Comics Reporter. This week’s focus is Yuichi Yokoyama’s New Engineering (Picturebox), which I found more admirable than enjoyable, which I suspect is just a matter of taste.

Speaking of TCR, columns, and matters of taste, Chris Butcher has rounded up the most-requested items from that Five for Friday thread and added some thoughtful commentary. This should stop me from trying to squeeze a column out of the subject, but it probably won’t.

Upcoming 5/21/2008

May 21, 2008

There wasn’t much room for manga in the April graphic novel sales figures at ICv2. Only eight titles cracked the top 100, and only one (the 10th volume of Path of the Assassin from Dark Horse) cracked the top 50.

There isn’t the metric tonnage of new manga arriving in comic shops this week, which is kind of a relief, to be honest.

My personal highlight is the fourth volume of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (Del Rey). Gorgeous, episodic fantasy stories about a wandering shaman who helps people cope with their environments and the powerful, primordial bugs that share them.

I’m glad I have a vacation coming up, because it means I’ll have time to catch up with series like Yuki Nakaji’s Venus in Love (CMX), which releases its third volume Wednesday. It’s a sweet, low-key romantic comedy about a boy and a girl in love… with the same boy. I think I’m going to fill a whole tote with “wallow manga.”

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books) has gotten some good some good early response, and I must say I’m intrigued by the premise: “Depression, love, sexual identity, crushes, manipulative peers–teen life in all its dramatic complexities is explored in this touching, pitch perfect, literary graphic masterpiece.” Now that’s the high school I remember.

And not to beat an undead horse, but if you must spend money on a comic by Jessica Abel this summer, go for the paperback collection of La Perdida (Pantheon). It’s about a young woman who tries to find herself in Mexico and ends up in dramatically over her head. No vampires, but lots of flesh-and-blood drama.

Death Kitty!

May 20, 2008

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition takes a look at the two-day, 300-screen run of the live-action Death Note movie. It will definitely be interesting to see the results of this programming experiment. (Here’s Viz’s press release on the event, and here’s the event site from Fathom, which will shout at you if you let it.)

Now, if Sex and the City does well at the box office and film executives decide that women like going to movies, what are the chances of a similar blitz for the live-action adaptation of Nana? (In all seriousness, I really hate these obnoxious “can women drive commercial success at the cinema” think pieces that crop up every time a Sex and the City or Devil Wears Prada or Enchanted promises to make more than a dollar, because the answer has been a resounding yes every time. The only summer movie I’m excited about is Mamma Mia, because what healthy person with the capacity for joy doesn’t want to see Meryl Streep sing ABBA songs?)

Oh, and just because someone at NPR likely wanted to unnerve me on the way into work, they also ran a short piece about Hello Kitty’s new role as tourism ambassador.

If Hello Kitty is unable to complete her term as tourism ambassador, she will be replaced by her runner-up.