From the stack: The Adventures of Blanche

May 20, 2009

blancheI’m not really sure how comics have managed to keep Rick Geary to themselves. It’s not that I expecting him to move away from the medium; I’m just surprised that the admiration for his work hasn’t cracked beyond the comics audience and into wider venues. Where’s the interview on NPR or a spot in a group profile in the Times? I’ve never met him, so I have no idea if those sorts of things interest him in the slightest, but it seems like comics-friendly journalists are missing one of the medium’s best creators.

I’m most familiar with Geary’s non-fiction work, specifically his Treasury of Victorian and XXth Century Murder, published by NBM. They’re terrific, meticulous accounts of gory and intriguing crimes from bygone eras, combining true-crime detail with great art and insightful observations of those eras. I’m less familiar with his fiction works, so Dark Horse’s collection of The Adventures of Blanche was a welcome arrival. Geary always demonstrates a sly sense of humor in his true-crime comics, but he applies it with a freer hand here.

When readers first meet Blanche, she’s a contented grandmother in a small town, but we learn in short order that she wasn’t always so provincial. She left the family farm to study piano in New York, then moved to Hollywood to conduct for the budding motion picture industry, then found herself in Paris, providing musical direction for an avant-garde performance piece at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Any of those experience would qualify as an adventure, but Geary raises the stakes by folding in secret societies, labor unrest, and international espionage. Curious and compassionate, Blanche is game for just about anything her unexpectedly adventurous life throws at her.

Her story is told through letters home, with Geary illustrating the events. As usual, he revels in the detail of time and place, folding in tidbits of history without derailing the adventurous aspects of the book. Like his heroine, he’s an efficient, engaging storyteller. And Blanche is the perfect kind of heroine for these kinds of stories. She’s modest but not prudish, inquisitive but not foolhardy, and just sure enough of herself to get in trouble (and plucky enough to get herself out).

Maybe Geary’s sterling track record of smart, snappy comics has led to him being taken a bit for granted. He makes it look easy.

Upcoming May 20, 2009

May 19, 2009

The quantity of really good product in this week’s ComicList has forced me to flee to an undisclosed location. Okay, not really, but I will be on the road, and I’m not really sure how much connectivity I’ll enjoy. I’ve got some posts lined up, but tweeting and email may be at a minimum. Now, let’s move on to the haul:

kurosagi9Johnny Hiro vol. 1, by Fred Chao, AdHouse: Charming genre mash-up comics grounded by a wonderful romantic relationship between young lovers trying to make their way in the big city. It includes three stories that saw print as singles and two that didn’t.

Clover Omnibus, by CLAMP, Dark Horse: 512 un-flipped pages from the hit-factory manga-ka collective. Kate Dacey is quite excited about this, which is always an excellent indicator.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Serice vol. 9, by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki: More afterlife adventures with the otherwise unemployable. One of the most reliably entertaining and smart series out there.

The Lapis Lazuli Crown vol. 1, by Natsuna Kawase, CMX: Endearing, well-executed shôjo fantasy-romance, which I reviewed here.

Flower of Life vol. 4, by Fumi Yoshinaga, DMP: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think this is Yoshinaga’s funniest series. It’s a smart, endearing look at high-school students with all of the customary Yoshinaga flourishes – great characters, quirky twists, marvelous dialogue, and stylish art.

Mijeong, by Byun Byung-Jun, NBM: You can click here for a preview of this likely lovely manhwa from the creator of Run, Bong-Gu, Run!

Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 18, by Hiromu Arakawa, Viz: One of my favorite shônen series keeps plugging along.

Oishinbo vol. 3, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, Viz: The A la Carte collection has offered an introduction to Japanese cuisine and sampled sake and other libations, and now it moves on to noodles and dumplings. I always like carbs after drinking too much.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka vol. 3, by Naoki Urasawa, Viz: I can’t wait to find out more about Urasawa’s take on Astro Girl. The brief introduction in volume 2 was very, very promising.

Wishful thinking

May 18, 2009

That’s pretty much the entirety of this week’s Flipped. No, seriously.

From the stack: Future Lovers

May 18, 2009

futurelovers2Saika Kunieda’s two-volume Future Lovers (Deux) is an unexpected treat. It’s a title in the yaoi category, which is focused on romantic relationships between men but doesn’t customarily concern itself with nuances of sexual orientation. There are some fine examples that do (and some fine works that don’t), but none incorporate the layers of a gay relationship – family, politics, work – as seamlessly as Future Lovers.

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume over at The Comics Reporter, it’s about an unlikely couple. Conservative Kento was a late bloomer in terms of sexual orientation, not even considering the possibility that he was gay until he met cynical, campy Akira, who probably twigged to his gayness in the womb. By the end of the first volume, chemistry teacher Kento and art teacher Akira were reasonably settled in a steady relationship (after some roadblocks, obviously.)

The second is dedicated to solidifying that relationship. Roadblocks persist, but they’re very down-to-earth. Kento’s doting grandparents still don’t like Akira. Akira’s trust issues, the disparity in the couple’s levels of experience and the simple awkwardness of being out as a couple all thread through the chapters of the story. Fortunately, their chemistry is enduring, and Kunieda has done such a fine job of establishing the characters’ individual identities that the relationship never feels like a documentary or case study.

I’m of the opinion that it’s easier to dramatize the build-up to a relationship than the day-to-day realities, so Kunieda’s accomplishment here is particularly impressive. They’re a sexy couple, but they also deal with relatable, everyday issues. And I don’t think I can recall ever reading a comic about a couple talking about being recognized as a couple, not just emotionally by their families and colleagues, but legally.

I’m one of those people who tend to bitch when GLAAD announces its annual Media Award nominees for comics that require you to squint to actually spot the gay content. I’m fairly certain that GLAAD will probably ignore Future Lovers, in spite of the fact that it incorporates as good a portrayal of the value of legal recognition for gay relationships as you’re likely to find. And beyond that, it’s wonderfully entertaining – sexy, funny, dramatic, smart. It’s even triumphant by the end – a little ridiculous, but even that feels intentional, and it supports the moment.

Seriously, Future Lovers may not have been designed that way, but it ends up being one of the best gay comics I’ve ever read.

License Request Day: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikô

May 15, 2009

ykkcoverWhere will this week’s trip on the Wish List Express take us? Not to a restaurant at the end of the universe but a diner after the end of the world. Commenter badzphoto pointed towards Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikô. It’s science-fiction slice-of-life, which is always a promising combination. Here’s Japanese publisher Kodansha’s summary:

“Set in a near-future world, which is slowly sinking beneath water, Alpha is a coffee shop on the edge of the Miura peninsula that is run by a robot called Alpha for a long-time absent owner. Alpha lives like a human being: She is on good terms with her neighbors and especially friendly with the gas station owner and Takahiro, the boy who lives with him. Another robot and good friend, Cocone, is a delivery girl. She brings Alpha a gift of a camera from the estranged owner of the coffee shop.


“In a world of fewer human beings with no major industry, mankind faces extinction. Each day is taken as it comes. Everyone is proud of their easygoing life. Alpha is understanding and mindful of this situation.”

So basically, it sounds tonally and structurally similar to Kozue Amano’s Aqua and Aria (Tokyopop), though more densely written. And honestly, how bad can that be?

The series scores “in good company” points for being serialized in Kodansha’s Afternoon, a magazine that has given English-reading manga fans such titles as Genshiken, Parasyte, Love Roma, and Eden: It’s an Endless World! In fairly short order, English-reading manga fans will also be able to enjoy Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, also originally serialized in Afternoon. (Correction: Moyasimon was actually serialized in Kodansha’s Evening, not Afternoon. I must have confused it with Mushishi, originally serialized in Afternoon, available in English, and wonderful.)

Maybe I should just ask for an English-language version of Afternoon and be done with it?

From the stack: Gakuen Prince

May 14, 2009

gakuenRise Okitsu and I have something in common. We both loathe her classmates at the prestigious Jyôshioka Gakuen Private High School. We both also harbor a burning desire to go full-on rage monkey on the unbalanced, entitled herd. Poor Rise is too meek, but I’m a prudish blowhard with a blog, so I’m a little freer to express myself about the cast Jun Yuzuki’s Gakuen Prince (Del Rey).

Jyôshioka Gakuen used to be an all-girls’ school, but it’s slowly incorporating males into the student body. This sounds like a set-up for a reverse-harem comedy that might feature some stuttering nerd plunged into a baffling sea of cuteness. And Gakuen Prince does feature a new student, Azusa Mizutani, navigating these strange waters. Yuzuki distinguishes her series from the reverse-harem herd by opening it with a gang of girls sexually assaulting a male student.

You see, this is what the girls of Jyôshioka Gakuen do. Deprived of male companionship for so long, they’ve devolved into vicious, infighting bands of sexual predators. Smart boys either get a girlfriend or, like Azusa, pretend to get one (poor Rise, in this case), as taken boys are off limits. Of course, this targets the girlfriends (even pretend ones, like poor Rise) for vicious bullying – razor blades in their notebooks and other high-spirited antics. For bonus points, Rise’s vicious classmates set her up to be assaulted by the school’s troglodytic lesbian to teach Rise a lesson, because that’s always funny.

I’ve seen Gakuen Prince described as satire, but I don’t think it makes the cut. In my definition, satire needs to have something meaningful or observant to say about its object, and Yuzuki merely takes familiar tropes to nasty excesses. For me, going over the top doesn’t really count as commentary.

I’ve also seen the goings-on in the book described as joyless, and I totally agree. They’re raucous, yes, but it feels more like the set-up for a particularly sordid episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit than a comedy. But maybe I’m weird in finding stories about minority populations living in a climate of terror where they could be assaulted at any moment to be really, really bleak.

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

Go. Read. Now.

May 13, 2009

Writing for ComiPress, Lawrence A. Stanley provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of the prosecution of Christopher Handley for possession of obscene images:

“It is often said that ‘bad cases make bad law,’ but here the bad law is being made by legislators and judges alike who climb over each other in an effort to prove their moral uprightness and supposed concern with protecting children.”

Over at MangaBlog, Brigid Alverson considers the chilling implications:

“This case is frightening on a number of levels: The eagerness of state and federal authorities to invade someone’s privacy for a victimless crime (remember, we’re talking about drawings here), the disregard of the constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of speech, and the government’s treatment of Handley, which reads like something out of a dystopian novel.”