Upcoming 7/1/2009

June 30, 2009

There’s not much of exceptional interest on this week’s ComicList. Kate Dacey pulls out some of the highlights, so I can fix my gaze on one of the odder items. That would be the first issue of Marvel Divas.

divasWhy is Marvel Divas odd, you ask? Well, for one thing, it’s a story of friendship among C-list super-heroines coming from Marvel. For another thing, you could never tell that from J. Scott Campbell’s cover, which is unpleasant in that boob-sock way. You might also have trouble discerning the book’s true nature from its solicitation text, which blows the dust and cobwebs off of that “Sex and the City with…” pitch that has aged so badly. It concludes with “Let your inner divas out with this one, fellas, you won’t regret it.” (Even when Marvel comes up with a property that might appeal to women, the solicitation is still written for the “fellas.”)

Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s perfectly all right to judge a book by its cover, especially a comic book. If the cover is pandering and unattractive, I feel perfectly safe in assuming that the contents may well be pandering and unattractive as well. There are lots of comics in the world, and many of them have a lower cost per page of content, so screw you, boob socks. (There’s a “‘70s Decade” variant cover, and it’s kind of awesome.)

divasvariantOf course, the ugly cover and dumb solicitation have forced author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to hit the PR trail and explain that, no, the cover really has little tonal bearing on the contents. Still, as this piece at Jezebel indicates, that cover is a tough hurdle to vault. Then Kevin (Robot 6) Melrose went and muddied the water further by checking out a preview of the interior pages, and he rightly notes that they look kind of appealing.

Oddest of all is the fact that The New York Times actually covered Marvel Divas (with big story SPOILERS) on its ArtsBeat blog. Now, generally when the Times covers something super-hero related, they politely listen to what Marvel or DC has to say about one of their properties, nodding and murmuring, “Well, you’d know better than we would,” and repeating the PR verbatim. But George Gene Gustines summarizes the book’s story quite nicely, and one can hardly imagine that Marvel is devoting any of its promotional time to something that doesn’t have “Dark” in the title.

So, y’know, it’s all too much for me to be able to avoid. I love Hellcat, and I have a demonstrable fondness for comics about also-ran super-heroines. If the local shop ordered any shelf copies, I think I’ll pick one up.

Pest management

June 29, 2009


There’s a new Flipped column up at The Comics Reporter.

Prism offers Queer Press Grant

June 28, 2009

Hey, LGBT comics creators: Prism Comics wants to give you money so you can… y’know… keep making comics. The full press release is below, which includes details on Prism’s planned portfolio review at Comic-Con International. (Honestly, I’d scribble something horrible on hotel stationary just to meet the reviewers.)


San Diego, CA — Prism Comics is seeking submissions for its fifth annual Queer Press Grant, established to support and encourage new LGBT comics creators. In conjunction, Prism will again offer portfolio review at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International exclusively for those interested in applying to the grant.

“We were very happy to offer portfolio review last year,” says David Stanley, Prism Co-President. “It was terrifically helpful for the applicants and the reviewers enjoyed it tremendously, as well.

The application deadline for the Prism Comics Queer Press Grant is October 1, 2009. Application guidelines are detailed on the Prism Comics website at prismcomics.org/grant. Completed applications, along with queries about the grant, can be submitted by email to grants at prismcomics dot org.

Past winners of the grant include Steve MacIsaac (Shiftlifter), Megan Gedris (YU+ME), Tommy Roddy (Pride High), Justin Hall (Glamazonia), and Pam Harrison (House of the Muses). The grant award began with $1,000 for the first recipient and the amount has increased over the years depending on fundraising; last year’s award was $2,000.

Portfolio review will be offered at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con International exclusively to those interested in applying for the Queer Press Grant. Among the industry professionals offering advice and critique will be Phil Jimenez (The Amazing Spider-Man, Infinite Crisis), Bob Schreck (Editor, who has worked at DC Comics and Vertigo) and Colleen Coover (X-Men: First Family Class, Small Favors). Before attending the sessions, applicants are required to read through the application guidelines, available at prismcomics.org/grant.

License Request Day: Children of the Earth

June 26, 2009

Before I get into this week’s license request, I thought I’d belatedly offer my philosophy for this weekly feature. I’m not looking for properties that I think would be commercially viable or even for ones that fill a gap in the cultural or historical record. There are people who are much better qualified to address either of those concerns. My sole consideration is the English-language publication of Japanese comics that I’d like to read. I’m just that selfish.

fils1And really, why else would I request a comic that its original publisher (Shueisha) doesn’t even seem to have kept in print? I’m speaking of the three-volume Children of the Earth, written by Jinpachi (Benkei in New York) Mori and illustrated by Hideaki Hataji. I believe it was originally serialized in Shueisha’s Super Jump magazine, though I can find no mention of the series in the magazine’s Wikipedia entry. It was published in French by Éditions Delcourt under the title Les Fils de la terre. It was among the titles to receive the 2008 Prix Asie awards from the Association des critiques et journalistes specialises en Bandes Dessinées. But information on the book is thin on the ground; no one even seems interested enough in the book to steal it, which is kind of sad.

So why am I interested? Partly, it’s my fixation on stories set in rural Japan. Another point in the book’s favor is its subject matter: agriculture. While there’s a growing level of interest in where our food comes from and how it’s produced, it still strikes me that there’s a shocking amount of ignorance on the subject and a disregard for how hardworking and smart farmers need to be, especially if they want to engage in sustainable or organic production. Children of the Earth promises both; no wonder the French embraced it.

fils2Here’s what I’ve been able to glean of the book’s plot from the remnants of my shaky college French: a newbie with Japan’s agricultural agency is sent to a rural village, Takazono, to help local farmers “reform” Japanese agriculture. The bureaucrat, Natsume, butts heads with a local farmer, Kohei, who has no use for the government’s reformation effort. Natsume is won over by Takazono’s charms and the inherent dignity of farming and dedicates himself to encouraging young people to pursue education and careers in agriculture.

(If anyone has read the book in French or Japanese, please feel free to correct any of the above. Add my language “skills” to the often inaccurate shorthand of solicitation text, and you have a recipe for gross misinterpretation of a book’s content, you know? Ditto my inability to find it on Shueisha’s web site, which I suspect I would find difficult to navigate even with any Japanese fluency whatsoever. I did manage to find it on Amazon Japan, which leads me to suspect I could have found it on the publisher’s page if it was there. To summarize, I have strikethrough functionality and I’m not afraid to use it, so please don’t hesitate to tell me I’m wrong about just about anything.)

fils3Admittedly, the English-reading manga fan need not suffer from an absence of farming comics. The first volume of Moyasimon (Del Rey) was just listed in Previews, promising an opportunity to really get to know the microbes so essential to food production. Viz’s Oishinbo gang always seems to be ready to head out to the countryside to see food at the source. (I want their jobs and their expense accounts, don’t you?) But Children of the Earth seems like it would be right up my alley and, as I said, this is ultimately all about me.

(P.S. Okay, it doesn’t have to be entirely about me. I’m open to guest authors on License Request Day, so feel free to drop me a line if there’s a book you’re burning to see published in English.)

Previews review July 2009

June 25, 2009

There’s quite a bit of interesting material in the July 2009 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog. Whether it actually makes it to comic shops is always a question worth considering, but the theoretical abundance is certainly alluring.

First up is Reversible: A Dojinshi Collection by various artists, published by Digital Manga. I’ve never heard of any of the creators involved (“Kometa Yonekura, Shiori Ikezawa, Haruki Fujimoto, Goroh, and many more!”), but the prospect of a book full of fan-created yaoi is too intriguing to pass up. (Page 241)

Masayuki Ishikaway’s eagerly awaited, Tezuka Prize winning Moyasimon arrives courtesy of Del Rey. “You might think that life at an agricultural university in Japan isn’t exactly exciting. But Todayasu, a student, sees the world differently – he has the unique ability to see, and communicate with, bacteria and micro-organisms, which appear to him as super-cute little creatures.” I was sold on this before it was even licensed. (Page 244)

ayaIf you haven’t treated yourself to the first two volumes of Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s earthy, charming soap opera set in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s, then you should catch up, since the third, Aya: The Secrets Come Out, arrives via Drawn & Quarterly. “It’s a world of shifting values, where issues like arranged marriage and gay love have Aya and her friends yearning to break out of the confines of their community, while the ties of friendship and support draw them back into its familiarity.” (Page 246)

Every month is better with some Jiro Taniguchi in it, and Fanfare/Ponent Mon provides. In this case, it’s the second volume of The Summit of the Gods, illustrated by Taniguchi and written by Yumemakura Baku. The ascent up Mt. Everest continues, and I’m guessing Taniguchi draws the holy hell out of it. (Page 252)

Oni Press is wise enough to devote a two-page spread to Lola: A Ghost Story, written by J. Torres, because you get to see some really lovely sample pages illustrated by Elbert Or. It’s about a boy named Jesse, who “sees dead people, monsters, demons, and lots of other things that no one else can see,” and must take up his grandmother’s mantle as protector of a small town. The mere promise of “pigs possessed by the devil” is reason enough for me to jot it down on the order form. (Page 278 and 279)

alecTop Shelf drops a massive omnibus, available in soft- and hardcover versions, of Eddie Campbells Alec comics, called The Years Have Pants (A Life-Size Omnibus). It “collects the previous Alec books, as well as a generous helping of rare and never-before-seen material, including an all-new 35-page book, The Years Have Pants. The softcover is $35, and the hardcover is $49.95, each coming in at 640 pages. (Page 296)

wawwI saw this on Twitter yesterday, and there it is in the catalog. Viz releases two volumes of Inio (Solanin) Asano’s What a Wonderful World! “With this series of intersecting vignettes, Inio Asano explores the ways in which modern life can be ridiculous and sublime, terrible and precious, wasted and celebrated.”

stitchesI automatically become nervous when buzz about a book reaches a certain pitch, so I’m glad I read a comp copy of David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) before that buzz became too frenzied. It really, really, really is an extraordinary book. Small fearlessly renders childhood horrors with restraint and dignity, re-creating “a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka.” That isn’t hyperbole, and the advance interest in the book is entirely deserved, as will be the raves after it’s released. Seriously, it’s the kind of book that will end up on Best Books of 2009 lists in addition to a whole lot of Best Comics of 2009 lists. (Page 311)

yotsuba6Last, but certainly not least, Yen Press brings boundless joy to the world (at least the world occupied by people with good taste) by releasing the sixth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s hilarious, completely endearing Yotsuba&! Yen also releases brushed-up versions of the first five volumes, previously published by ADV. “Yotsuba recycles! She gets a bike, learns about sticky notes, and drinks some super-yummy milk which she then decides she has to share with everyone!” Bless you, bless you , bless you, Yen Press. (Page 312)

From the stack: Real Vol. 3

June 24, 2009

real3It must be some kind of testament to the volume of good comics currently in release that I’ve allowed myself to neglect one of the finest. I was trying to make a dent in my “to read” pile and randomly grabbed the third volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real (Viz). Seriously, what kind of embarrassment of riches are we experiencing that this book can slip my mind, even briefly?

realscan1For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s about wheelchair basketball. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s about wheelchair basketball in the same way that Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery (DMP) is about pastry entrepreneurs. Real is about people, their choices and struggles, and the means they use to get through the day. Some of these people happen to play wheelchair basketball. That’s more like it.

The first two volumes were excellent, but the third goes to an even higher level. It focuses on Takahashi Hisanobu, a high-school athlete and entitled jackass left paralyzed from the waist down after an accident that’s entirely his fault. Needless to say, his expectations are entirely overturned. He’s powerless and frustrated, and he lashes out at everyone around him. But he also begins to take baby steps towards adapting to his new circumstances.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in other contexts, but I’m not one to be persuaded by the redemptive power of trauma, where a horrible thing happens to a terrible person, leading that terrible person to become a good person. It always strikes me as at least a bit lazy. Inoue doesn’t reinvent this particular narrative wheel, but he executes it so scrupulously that it’s impossible not to be engrossed. And Inoue is gutsy enough to allow the reader to still think Hisanobu is a jackass, no matter the difficulties the character is enduring.

realscan2This kind of material lends itself to melodrama, but it doesn’t feel like Inoue indulges in it. Each moment feels authentic and even understated, even if someone is screaming. It’s riveting to watch Hisanobu’s arrogance mutate into bitterness and to see his mother’s nerves become increasingly frayed. A comic with good intentions can be a mine field of tonal hazards, but Inoue doesn’t step on a one. His execution is almost startlingly poised – not stuffy, or dignified, but utterly economical and expressive.

And honestly, you are unlikely to see a better example of a creator showing instead of telling. Part of me wishes I could see the pages with no dialogue or narration, because I strongly suspect that every essential of the story would still be communicated. The physicality of the characters, their facial expressions and the composition of the pages deliver each beat.

No interest in basketball is required to enjoy Real. You only need to appreciate compelling human drama and splendid comics artistry.

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

Upcoming 6/24/2009

June 23, 2009

Let’s take a quick spin through this week’s ComicList, shall we?

remakeI can’t remember if it was in Mad or Cracked or Crazy, but many years ago there was a great parody of Casper, the Friendly Ghost called “Casper Kaspar, the Dead Baby,” where Wendy convinces Casper to take revenge on the irresponsible parents who let him die. I swear this comic exists somewhere. It lingers with me because it was a punchy, successful attempt to insert some kind of logic into a beloved children’s property. (Updated: Tony Salvaggio points to the story from Crazy, which was written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Marie Severin, of all people. Thanks, Tony!) AdHouse sent me a copy of Remake by Lamar Abrams, which is a venture into roughly similar territory. Abrams applies certain realities to Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, reimagining him as a powerful but otherwise average robot kid called Max Guy. Max is an average little boy in the vaguely unpleasant ways little boys can be average – easily bored, self-indulgent, prone to tantrums, and given to sadistic curiosity. It’s a nice conceit, and Abrams executes it with a notebook-in-study-hall style that suits it well. Unfortunately, I’ve never found average little boys to be very good company, even when I was one. Your mileage may vary.

Much more to my liking is the sly, sweet, smutty super-hero satire delivered by Adam Warren in his ongoing Empowered series, now in its fifth volume from Dark Horse. This time around, our heroine continues to face the disdain of her obnoxious heroic peers and some fractures in her relationship with best-friend Ninjette and boyfriend Thugboy.

I’m less likely to love but equally likely to buy the fifth volume of Hiroya Oku’s violent guilty pleasure, Gantz. I’m not proud.

Enthusiastic praise from folks like Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey has finally penetrated my thick skull and driven me to check out Taka Amano’s Kiichi and the Magic Books (CMX). Its fifth volume is due out tomorrow, and I have a couple of the earlier ones winging my way via standard delivery.

Del Rey has lots of manga on the way. My personal favorites are Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (now in its eighth volume) and Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (which reaches volume seven).

hellcatUpdated: I almost never look at the Marvel section of the ComicList, so I missed the listing for the collection of the Patsy Walker: Hellcat mini-series, written by Kathryn Immonen and illustrated by David LaFuente Garcia. I liked the first issue and made a mental note to pick up the trade eventually, as the shop cut back on its orders after the first issue and there were never any shelf copies by the time I got there. Anyway, it looks to be a refreshingly fun take on one of my longtime favorite C-list characters. (Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for giving the list a more careful perusal than I did. And thanks to Marvel for passing on the hardcover collection of this series and going right to paperback.)

PR: Children of the Sea approaching

June 22, 2009

I try not to run too many press releases, but I’ve been enjoying this book online, and I really hope it does well:


San Francisco, CA, June 22, 2009 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, announced the release of Daisuke Igarashi’s surreal and riveting manga series, CHILDREN OF THE SEA, releasing July 21st in North America. The manga is rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens and will carry an estimated MSRP of $14.99 U.S. / $17.50 CAN.

Read the rest of this entry »

Go to DMC!

June 22, 2009

There’s a new Flipped up at The Comics Reporter. I think you can guess the topic. For added value, I wanted to get your opinion on an important matter:

From the stack: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

June 22, 2009

ikigamiMotoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (Viz) has one of the more chilling opening sequences I’ve read recently. A group of first-graders are attending their school’s opening ceremonies. They receive their vaccinations from a team of smiling nurses. Then the principal lets the other shoe drop: some of them won’t live to be adults.

The principal knows this because a very small percentage of the vaccinations include a nanotech device that will kill them sometime in their late teens or early twenties. The government has concocted this scheme “to instill a fear of death into the citizens of our peaceful society… so as to encourage them to value life.” It’s absurd, but it’s creepy at the same time.

A lot of creators would soften the absurdity by fabulizing the setting – storm-trooper cops, hover cars, a memorial hologram where Mount Fuji used to be. Mase keeps things flat and entirely recognizable, aside from a government that tries to teach perspective by randomly murdering .1% of the people it serves. He even devotes an unexpected but welcome number of pages to the bureaucracy that runs the nano-death system. The pedestrian details of the system of blinds between agencies and the management of the soon-to-be deceased actually add to the eeriness.

The story is framed around one of those bureaucrats, Fujimoto. He delivers “death cards” to the unfortunates 24 hours before their microscopic time bomb is set to go off. Fujimoto seems to take his work seriously more for the benefit of the condemned than out of belief in the system. He even demonstrates a small amount of skepticism as to its logic and value, though it isn’t really his story, at least not yet.

Mase’s primary interest lies with the condemned, exploring how different personalities will react to the knowledge that, through no fault of their own, they have one day to live. First is a brutally bullied nebbish who seeks revenge on the classmates who abused and humiliated him. Second is a young musician who abandoned his friend and partner for a career opportunity. The drama is more ostentatious here than the bits about how the system works, and it’s strangely less compelling.

I have no idea if Ikigami will evolve into a series about a moral struggle against the death-card system or if it will continue to extrapolate on the experiences of the recipients. If it’s the former, it could be something really special. If it’s the latter, I’ll probably keep reading for the inter-office memos.