Upcoming 7/30/2008

July 29, 2008

Hey, why didn’t anyone tell me it was Weird Manga Week? At least that’s what it seems like after a quick glance at tomorrow’s ComicList.

Fortunately, this week’s Flipped at The Comics Reporter looks at the strangeness that is Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues (Del Rey). Weird enough for any week, you say? But wait! There’s more!

Del Rey also delivers the fourth volume of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, for that tried-and-true, old-school manga weirdness.

And you can pretty much guess that anything released by Last Gasp is going to be at least a little bit unusual, and it will probably also be pretty great. At least that’s my theory about Yusaku Hanakuma’s Tokyo Zombies. And the title is apparently entirely accurate. And Ryan Sands, of Same Hat! Same Hat! fame translated it, and his credentials in the area of weird manga are absolutely impeccable.


July 28, 2008

NPR’s All Things Considered has a nice piece on librarians at Comic-Con International:

“The librarians at Comic-Con report that the manga shelves at their libraries are often nearly empty because the comics get checked out so quickly. Many manga storylines have multiple volumes, so kids come back to the library to keep up with the plot. Librarians select manga titles with staying power that they hope will attract new readers of different ages.”

It’s a nice alternative to “People wear costumes!”, “Hollywood courts nerds!” and “San Diego prefers medical conventions!”

Because we all know that super-heroes don’t really die

July 24, 2008

Writing for The New York Times, and serenely ignorant of the comics-and-movies key party underway on the other side of the country, A.O. Scott wonders if super-hero movies have said all they have to say:

“Instead the disappointment comes from the way the picture spells out lofty, serious themes and then … spells them out again. What kind of hero do we need? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? How much autonomy should we sacrifice in the name of security? Is the taking of innocent life ever justified? These are all fascinating, even urgent questions, but stating them, as nearly every character in ‘The Dark Knight’ does, sooner [or] later, is not the same as exploring them.”

I’m guessing he’ll make Manohla Dargis review Watchmen.

In fairness, I don’t think a lack of novelty or gravitas has ever hampered a genre to the degree that it kills the thing entirely. Over-saturation is a likelier culprit when it comes to putting a genre in a persistent vegetative state, as it did in the ‘80s with slasher films, a genre that got revived via ironic self-awareness in Scream, which triggered a wave of ironic, self-aware slasher movies, which is now over for a while, but probably not forever.

Choice cuts

July 23, 2008

I meant to mention it yesterday, but ICv2 has a thorough, three-part interview with Jason Hoffs, Amblin-Dreamworks-Sony veteran who’s taken the helm of Viz Productions, the manga publisher’s new film arm. There are some really good bits.

From part one:

“Where I think manga is truly extraordinary (and I’m a fan, but a newcomer to your world–I’m not quite an otaku) is the level of characterization, which I think is exceptional. It typically exceeds the level of characterization, and in a way, sophistication, of many American graphic novels. I suspect one of the reasons for that is that these properties are initially serialized in magazines like Shonen Jump and in order for them to continue their readership they need to have these heightened, addictive characterizations.”

From part two:

“What I’m also finding at the studio level is that the executives that are 35 and under, or maybe more 32 and under, are very familiar with manga. The really young executives that are just coming up, and some of the agents too, they’re growing up with manga to some degree with a level of comfort and familiarity that almost equals their experience with American comics and graphic novels. At the chairman and head of production level, those people still need to be educated somewhat. If someone’s in their mid-50s, they’re unlikely to be an otaku.”

From part three:

“There are thousands of different manga titles that our corporate parents have published. I’m sure this is one of the largest pools of largely untapped–at least in the U.S.–international properties that exists in the world.”

Upcoming 7/23/2008

July 22, 2008

In honor of Entertainment Weekly’s recent redesign, I’m going to start putting random phrases in boldfaced type. Okay, no, I’m not. Well, maybe just this once.

Now, on to this week’s ComicList:

Yen Press releases the first issue of its anthology, Yen Plus, featuring licensed work from Japan and Korea and original series from the likes of James Patterson and Svetlana Chmakova. (How often do you get to type phrases like that? Maybe I should bold it.) Is anyone else frightened by Pig Bride as a title? Outside of VH1’s slate of reality shows, how can a series live up to that name?

The thing about Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series (NBM) is that I’ll mention every book in the series every time it shows up on a shipping list, because Geary is just that good. This week’s re-release is the paperback version of The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, which I reviewed here.

Del Rey rolls out two new series this week. First up is Kasumi, written by Surt Lim and drawn by Hirofumi Sugimoto. It’s about a girl who can turn invisible, and Leroy Douresseaux liked a lot. Deb Aoki interviewed the creators for About.Com.

The other debut, Kujubiki Unbalance, created by Kio Shimoku and Koume Keito, is about as meta as it gets. Those who read Shimoku’s wonderful Genshiken will recognize the series as the oft-referenced touchstone property of a bunch of the characters in that book. (If you can’t be counted among those who read Genshiken, you might want to correct that.)

Last but not least is the second volume of Yuko Osada’s fun travel adventure, Toto. Sure, it’s got plucky ‘tweens with big dreams, but it also has an adorable, weaponized dog.

Purely theoretical

July 21, 2008

This week’s Flipped is up, and since I’m a hopeless follower, I scan through the Comic-Con International programming for the manga highlights. It does look like I wouldn’t have any trouble filling my time, even beyond fending off panic attacks.

That said, a convention that would require me to spend hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket, additional hundreds of dollars on lodging, plus the hundreds of dollars I’d spend on stuff, plus the cost of the extra checked bag to get it all home… I don’t know. I’m not much for big, crowded events to begin with, and I’ve gotten really picky about how I spend my travel dollars. I either want natural splendor or rich culture, and while both certainly have their place in the comics medium, it’s still a convention center in a California city that isn’t San Francisco. I’ll go some year.

And a partridge in a pear tree

July 21, 2008

The tenth volume of Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse) offers the following diversions:

1. A desperate race to find a bomb planted by terrorists
2. A shocking double execution
3. A shocking single execution
4. A high-speed chase
5. The introduction of new characters
6. The return of old characters
7. Weighty discussion about the nature of life, sentience and evolution as they pertain to a creepy virus that turns people into crystal
8. Two big explosions
9. Inter-agency tensions in the criminal justice arena
10. Citizen protests
11. Subdued but affecting portrayals of grief
12. Mildly gratuitous nudity that manages not to seem exploitative or too forced, which is probably the best kind of gratuitous nudity
13. Giant robots

I think it’s fair to say that’s a whole lot of stuff to try and put into even 232 pages of comics, but Endo manages it with his customary confidence and force. I continue to be amazed at how he can weave from thread to thread and theme to theme and not lose me even a little. He’s clearly managed to craft characters with enough specificity and depth that I remember them even after a long absence, along with scenarios and arguments persuasive enough to linger and resonate as they propel the story in new directions.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting with volume 10, because you’d probably end up being impressed with Endo’s craft and Dark Horse’s production values but hopelessly lost by the story. I would recommend starting with volume 1 and enjoying the story as it progresses, demonstrating forbearance during the shockingly trite drugs-and-hookers mini-arc in the middle, and celebrating as the series returns to form after the pushers and pimps are dispatched.

Manga Yente

July 20, 2008

As we near Comic-Con International, Variety has run a piece that reminds me strangely of an old-fashioned debutante announcement in a local paper. Film executives looking for your next super-hero franchise, meet Jason Hoffs:

“Hoffs will serve as a liaison between Japanese creative licensors and Hollywood, and the company will develop to produce some of the titles inhouse.”

Hoffs lists some of the more alluring properties, and, really, even if a live-action Hollywood version of Naruto flat-out sucks, it might still make its money back on its opening weekend.

And while the article never specifically says that Hoffs will be at SDCC, could the subtext be any clearer? Exploitable properties will be lined up like trust-fund babies at a private-school reunion, and an experienced movie executive is available to play matchmaker. And unlike publishers who have tried to line up movie pitches before they sent a single PDF to the printer, Viz has a catalog full of properties that people actually read.

Cold, Vulcan logic

July 18, 2008

Tom Spurgeon, for the win:

“I’m baffled why it should take anything more than prominent people in the comics industry declaring they’re uncomfortable with a business this year to make folks consider with seriousness and respect the courtesy of a bare-minimum effort to patronize another place until the situation shakes out. Instead, the response from many people seems to be finding ways to justify continued patronage as if this were a very, very precious thing. In fact, most of the rationalizing being done on behalf of continued patronage not only invests it with importance, it seems to presume one’s decision to hang out and drink in a certain location comes as the fulfillment of an expectation for received business that no entity on earth should get to claim or have claimed on its behalf. The end result: no one simply disagrees. Rather, there seems to be a compulsion that one agree with the spirit of the objection being made and explain why they can’t do anything about it.”

No birds were harmed in the writing of this post

July 17, 2008

Chris Butcher offers some excellent advice on nurturing the next phase of the manga industry:

“If you’ve got a store that believes in the material, and that keeps it in stock, not just makes it available for pre-order, then you can sell the material. In short, we have to invest in the industry we want, not just as retailers, but as journalists and pundits by covering the material we like, and as consumers by supporting the books we like with our dollars.

“That’s my prescription for the manga industry: let’s make the industry we want, do our best to convert fashion into function, and celebrate our successes where we find them rather than complain that we’re not quite successful enough.”

I’m all about combining errands, so here’s a possible way to kill two birds with one stone. (Sorry about the inherent animal cruelty of that phrase, but I haven’t had enough caffeine to recall a more benevolent alternative.) If you’re attending Comic-Con International and find some extra spending money in your pocket because you don’t feel like giving any to the Manchester Grand Hyatt, you could swing by the Fanfare/Ponent Mon booth (C04) and buy some of their lovely, lovely books. As Deb Aoki noted, Fanfare’s distribution system with Atlas isn’t quite 100% yet, so SDCC is probably your best chance to browse the publisher’s catalogue, gape in wonder at books like The Walking Man, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and Kinderbook, and to pick up a copy of Hideo Azuma’s nothing-else-like-it Disappearance Diary (which I reviewed here).

Now, as for “supporting the books we like with our dollars,” Brigid Alverson works in an excellent way to do that in a recent post at MangaBlog: ordering titles via your local bookstore, especially if they’re books that might not otherwise get shelved. This strikes me as a great way to put offbeat titles on a store’s radar, and I’ve heard from various people that many stores will order a couple of shelf copies of a title when they get a special order. Also, you don’t have to worry about potentially climbing shipping costs from online retailers, though you still have to pay for gas to get to the local big box.

At Comics Should Be Good, Danielle Leigh gives a fine example of “covering the material we like” with her latest Manga Before Flowers column on CMX, DC’s stealth manga division:

“But CMX made me a fan for life by bringing over really extraordinary titles that no one else ever has and published them on a very consistent schedule over the past few years (Even though three of four volumes of Eroica a year isn’t a lot, it is enough to make me happy).”