“B” is for…
What are some of your favorite shôjo titles that start with the letter “B”?
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.”
This week’s Flipped takes a look at the latest translated example of Junko Mizuno’s jubilant, demented genius, Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu from Last Gasp. I want to know when Last Gasp is going to publish the other two volumes, and I want to know now. Really, who needs mind-altering substances when they’ve got Mizuno manga?
While I was writing the column, I came to the belated realization that Enterbrain’s Comic Beam is an absolute gold mine. Any magazine that acted as cradle to Pelu, Bambi and Her Pink Gun, Emma, and Astral Project is a magazine to be treasured. And while King of Thorn isn’t my favorite comic by Yuji Iwahara, Comic Beam at least had the good sense to serialize something by him.
In an high-security drawing witnessed by my dogs, Francene Lewis was chosen as the winner of the first volume of Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood. Congratulations, Francene, and thanks to everyone who entered.
Just for the record, I would probably go back to my senior year in high school, armed with the knowledge of who came out of the closet later. I would also use the timing to reconsider my choice of colleges, opting for something larger and more urban with a major in Japanese. Yes, I would relive my life based on boys and manga. I would also probably floss more often.
In a recent Unbound column at Robot 6, Brigid Alverson mentions books in what we might call the “Never gonna happen” category of comics from Japan… “culturally problematic series” “that are unlikely to ever be published in the U.S.” Brigid cited Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men as an example of this kind of book. While the logical part of my brain can accept that the publisher who tries to package this title for an English-reading audience has an uphill hike ahead of them, the part of my brain that is responsible for the vast majority of this blog’s content is reduced to muttering “want… want.. want…” with increasing fervor.
The premise sounds like a micro-joke that you might see on The Simpsons as the family talks about the new season debuts on Fox. Jesus and Buddha take a break from their lives as divinities to share an apartment in contemporary Tokyo and see what the simple folk do. So you’ve got not one but two presumably satirical renderings of religious figures right there, which is always a recipe for a long, unpleasant freak-out.
MangaCast’s Kursten reviewed the first volume, and her take leads me to suspect that the series is of the oddly reverent variety rather than the scathingly satirical:
“This manga is pure genius. The art may not be that exceptional or groundbreaking but the story is. I can probably understand some apprehensions in reading Saint Oniisan due to its religious implications, but the genius of the manga lies in how Nakamura manages to depict the two dieties in a real context without insulting their divinities.”
I think it sounds like a terrific series, with two divinities hanging out and experiencing the everyday (though not the sordid). Nakamura even gives them a bit of an Odd Couple twist: Buddha is frugal and kind of uptight; Jesus goes with the flow.
It’s being serialized in Kodansha’s Morning 2, and by some weird coincidence (or miracle), I actually have a copy of an issue with two chapters in it, which is the source for the terrible scans included with this article. I suppose it’s possible in some distant future that Kodansha Comics might publish it in English, but perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting. Given the likely density of culturally specific references and remedial religious studies, along with the publisher’s demonstrated ability to manage them well, I’d vote for Del Rey to helm this one. They’ve published manga that seems like it should have been untranslatable, and Kodansha still seems to like them.
And really, the definition of “Never gonna happen” is changing all the time. That goalpost has never been fixed, and it seems to shift a little bit month by month, year by year. I can buy Detroit Metal City at the mall if I want. Is Saint Young Men really that distant a dream?
Time’s running out to enter to win a copy of the first volume of Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood (Fanfare/Ponent Mon). Click here for details.
I find it harder to review pamphlet comics, since there’s less content to consider, but Underground (Image) is a lively genre piece with a number of promising elements. Here they are:
It’s got a strong creative team. Jeff Parker has established himself as a smart writer of a variety of snappy, satisfying genre comics, even finding fresh approaches to timeworn franchise characters. Steve Lieber has a great way of drawing real-looking characters and evocative settings. Ron Chan provides a solid palette of colors that support the visual environment.
It’s set in Appalachia. There aren’t all that many comics that consider rural environments without condescension, and Underground looks like it will be one of those. It’s Appalachia without the menacing banjo soundtrack.
It’s got interesting, setting-specific undertones. The driving conflict is between environmental protection and economic development which, again, isn’t normal narrative territory for comics. Park ranger Wesley Fischer wants to protect the fragile ecosystem of a massive cave. Locals want to make the cave more accessible to tourists, boosting the town’s economy. Self-serving mogul Winston Barefoot may be the most public face of the development side, but that doesn’t mean the effort is entirely unsavory. It’s the kind of issue faced by lots of Appalachian communities, and Parker doesn’t minimize or simplify the conflict any more than he can avoid.
It’s got a strong woman protagonist. Ranger Fischer has principles and the force of personality to act on them. At the same time, she isn’t insensitive to opposing points of view. (Her likely love interest is both a local and a ranger.) She seems more than layered enough to carry the series.
On the down side, the socioeconomic underpinnings seem likely to take a back seat to cave-bound risk and rescue. I don’t imagine they’ll vanish entirely, though, as the creators have demonstrated the ability to juggle various narrative elements.
On the nitpick side, there seem to have been some proofreading lapses in the production process. Some dialogue just doesn’t scan, no matter how you try to read it.
On the whole, it’s a solid first issue of a series with engaging characters and interesting ideas. I’ll stick around to see where things go.
That’s more like it.
Thanks to correspondent Jeff and his awe-inspiring image manipulation skills for this.