License request day: Doraemon

October 23, 2009

(I’m always happy to hand over the license request reins to an enthusiastic guest, so this week we’ll hand the proceedings over to Ed Sizemore, manga reviewer for Comics Worth Reading. Ed casts his gaze upon “Fujiko F. Fujio’s” much-loved robotic feline.)

By Ed Sizemore

DoraemonCoverFor this week’s License Request Day, our revered Curmudgeon has been generous enough (and saintly in patience) to let me discuss one of my biggest wishes, Doraemon. Spend enough time around manga or anime and you find numerous references to this robot cat from the future. Like Peanuts, Doraemon has become part of the air of Japan and all the main characters have been iconic symbols in their own right.

The original manga ran from 1969 until 1996 and has 45 collected volumes. The first Doraemon anime ran briefly in 1973. The second Doraemon anime series first went on air in 1979 and is still running today. In fact, the five main characters had the same voice actors for 25 years. They retired as a group in 2005, when the anime changed production companies.

The setup is pretty basic. Nobita Nobi is a good-for-nothing, lay about. One of his great-great-grandsons, Sewashi, travels back in time to give Nobita Doraemon. Turns out Nobita grows up to be an extremely irresponsible adult, piling up enough debt that his great-grandchildren are still trying to pay it back. Sewashi hopes Doraemon will help Nobita avoid such a mistake. I have to give credit to the creators, they do quickly address the classic time travel paradox this might cause, even if the solution isn’t very convincing. Here are some pages from the first Doraemon story.

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The manga is very episodic and formulaic. Doraemon’s greatest ability is him being able to pull an endless array of gadgets from the pouch on his stomach. It’s called a fourth dimension pouch and it appears to be limitless inside. Nobita has either gotten in some trouble or is trying to avoid some chore. He requests Doraemon manifest a gadget that gets him out of his current predicament without any effort on his part. Of course, Nobita begins to use the device beyond its intended design and this creates new problems. Below are two pages showing the typical results of Nobita’s adventures.

The stories I’ve read are very universal in nature and I can’t imagine American children having any difficulties comprehending and enjoying them. Nobita deals with bullies, homework, school trips, household chores, etc. So I’ve never understood why this series still is unlicensed. Won’t someone please think of the children and bring Doraemon to the US? We want to love that dorayaki scarfing robot cat too.

Kodansha has released 11 volumes of the manga in a bilingual format. You can buy them either from jbox.com or Kinokuniya bookstores as import books, but they’re a little pricey for kids books. You get about 150 pages for $12.50. I’d like to see the series offered at the same price point as most kids manga, which is about 200 pages for $7.99.

Wikipedia has an excellent Doraemon webpage with tons of detailed information on both the manga and anime series.

Thanks to David for letting me share this amazing series with you.

(And thanks to Ed for making this eloquent pitch. Would you like to sing the praises of an as-yet-unlicensed comic? Contact me, and we’ll see what we can work out.)


Recent reading

October 22, 2009

Interesting things I’ve read lately:

A roundtable on digital piracy of comics featuring representatives of Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Top Shelf: It kind of surprises me that Aaron Colter from Dark Horse never mentions the impact of piracy on the publisher’s licensed products, though it doesn’t surprise me that Fantagraphics experiences more piracy in its Eros line, a lot of which is translated product from Japan. I sometimes suspect that respect for a creator’s rights doesn’t always extend beyond one’s continent of residence, or it at least loses some of its ideological vigor.

Musings on the National Book Award categorization of David Small’s Stitches over at NPR’s Monkey See blog: This is a curious turn of events. I admire the book a lot, but I don’t think the hubbub over its nomination does it any favors, though it obviously doesn’t diminish Small’s achievement. As Tom Spurgeon has said so often, book publishing is gross. (And I also wanted to note that the Monkey See blog is generally a lively, entertaining read. I’ve been enjoying its comics content, though I hope Glen Weldon writes about manga at some point.)

The Robot 6 coverage of the Big Apple-New York Comic-Con situation by Sean Collins: The actual outcome of this is really only interesting to me in the abstract, because I’m unlikely to attend either event, much less both, but Collins approaches the subject with wry thoroughness.

A story at Publishers Weekly that provides some clarification on those Federal Trade Commission guidelines for blogger disclosure: Well, “clarification” is probably as optimistic a term as “guidelines,” but the story makes the guidelines seem less draconian. Or at least it presents the comforting notion that the FTC has no idea how to enforce the guidelines, if and when they figure out what those guidelines actually are.


Birthday book: Shirtlifter

October 21, 2009

shirtlifterYou know, this has been kind of a bishie-heavy day. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a balanced diet never hurt anyone. Fortunately, a birthday notice at The Comics Reporter gives me the excuse to point you toward an artist who renders menfolk with actual secondary sex characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of an Adam’s apple.

The creator in question would be Steve MacIsaac, who writes and draws about men who definitively left puberty behind ages ago and never looked back. In the twink-heavy world that guy-on-guy comics can be, this is a welcome addition to the eye-candy landscape. At least I find it welcome, I can’t speak for everyone.

So if you like this sort of thing (i.e., grown-up gay men doing what grown-up gay men do), I’d recommend as a starting point MacIsaac’s Shirtlifter, the first issue of which “concerns an expatriate gay couple stationed in Japan and the strain this cross-cultural adjustment place on their relationship.”


The Shôjo-Sunjeong Alphabet: B

October 21, 2009

“B” is for…

bananafish1
basara1
beautypop1
blacksunsilvermoon1
brideofthewatergod1

What are some of your favorite shôjo titles that start with the letter “B”?


Birthday book: Salt Water Taffy

October 20, 2009

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The Comics Reporter notes that it’s Matthew Loux’s birthday, and while I’m rather fried this evening, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to remind you that Loux’s Salt Water Taffy series of books (published by Oni Press) is an awful lot of fun. Here are my reviews of the first and second volumes. Need additional persuason? Here’s what Greg McElhatton had to say about volume one and volume two. And here’s Kate Dacey’s review of The Legend of Old Salty at Good Comics for Kids.


Upcoming 10/21/2009

October 20, 2009

Last Wednesday’s lean times are over, so check under your sofa cushions and empty the ash tray in your car, because it’s time for a look at the current ComicList:

real6It’s tough to pick a book of the week, as there’s interesting material in varied formats, but I ultimately have to settle on the sixth volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real from Viz Signature. This excellent drama looks at the lives of wheelchair basketball players so vividly and with such specificity that you don’t need to have the slightest interest in sports to become engrossed. I certainly don’t have any interest in sports, and I think the book is terrific and deeply underappreciated. So please give it a try.

whatawonderfulworld1Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the books in Viz’s Signature line and an admirer of the imprint in general. I honestly can’t think of one I don’t at least enjoy. That said I do question the wisdom of unleashing quite this much product on the market at once. In addition to the aforementioned volume of Real, there’s the fifth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, the fifth omnibus installment of Inoue’s Vagabond, and both volumes of Inio (solanin) Asano’s What a Wonderful World! That’s $71.95 worth of comics, retail before taxes. It’s a lot. But perhaps strong sales of books like the first volume of Rumiko Takahashi’s RIN-NE (which arrives Wednesday) will help carry Viz’s less commercial titles. And RIN-NE is a lot of fun, as you would expect from Takahashi. Kate Dacey has an enthsuiastic review of the first volume at The Manga Critic, and you can sample the title at The RumicWorld.

Noted just for the novelty of it, Del Rey launches its floppy comics line this week with The Talisman: The Road of Trials, based on a Stephen King/Peter Straub property, written by Robin Furth and illustrated by Tony Shasteen. Del Rey Comics doesn’t seem to have a web site yet, but you can see a preview at Entertainment Weekly’s site.

bookaboutmoominThe New York Times ran a Reuters story pondering the potential international appeal of Tove Jansson’s Moomin properties without ever mentioning the fact that Drawn & Quarterly has been releasing beautiful hardcover collections of Jansson’s comic strips for a few years now. Whether Reuters notices or not, Drawn & Quarterly continues to earn excellent karma by releasing Jansson’s The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My. (Scroll down on to the bottom of this page for more details and a preview.)

underground2I enjoyed the first issue of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground (Image), a five-part mini-series about socioeconomic machinations and spelunking peril in a mountain town in Kentucky. I fully expect to enjoy the second issue as well.

I also enjoyed the first volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool (Yen Press), collected after serialization in Yen Plus. It’s a complicated supernatural adventure about various factions of night creatures and the humans who oppose them. It’s got terrific art and a promisingly chunky plot. The second volume arrives Wednesday.


I am speechless

October 19, 2009

So today’s mail included a review copy of Christopher Hart’s Superheroes and Beyond: How to Draw the Leading and Supporting Characters of Today’s Comics (Watson-Guptill), which isn’t really my demographic, but you know… I flipped through it and found this:

“The Athletic Female Figure

“Always show a thin waistline with wide hips, which give her sex appeal and also make her physique powerful. Small, boyish hips are no good on female characters. Comic book action heroines don’t promote the unhealthy thinner-is-always-better images so prevalent in other media. The legs are always full and shapely but without the harsh, articulated muscles seen on male superheroes. The interior muscles on women’s legs are mostly left undefined.”