Awards update

February 22, 2010

2009 is only over on our calendars, not in our hearts. At least that’s true until awards season is over, and that won’t wrap up until the Eisners this summer. Here are two nomination announcements:

First up are the nominations for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which includes a first-ever graphic novel category:

  • Gilbert Hernandez, Luba (A Love and Rockets Book) (Fantagraphics Books)
  • Taiyo Matsumoto, GoGo Monster (VIZ Media)
  • David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon)
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (Oni Press)
  • Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., LLC)
  • That’s a good launch list. The Times is understandably pleased with itself:

    “With the Graphic Novel Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes becomes the first major book prize in the United States to honor publications in this category, which is an expanding part of the book landscape, both aesthetically and commercially.”

    On the other side of the planet, Japan Expo announces its 2010 nominees for manga (via The Comics Reporter).

    Of all my reactions to that list, I’m most distracted by the bitter reminder that France has Vinland Saga and we don’t.


    Letter head

    February 22, 2010

    I can’t really say that I’m a huge fan of Yun Kouga’s comics. Earthian (Blu) was one of the comics that cemented my opinion that love stories between angels are relentlessly dull, and Loveless (Tokyopop) struck me as too melodramatic and confusing. I do find her art lovely in an odd way, so I keep trying.

    I might have liked Crown of Love (Viz), a tale of romantically entangled pop idols, but there’s an obstacle. The font choices don’t make any sense to me.

    As you can see in the image above, all of the dialogue is printed in upper-case italics. Internal monologues and asides use sentence-case italics. There’s no distinction between present-moment font choices and flashback font choices, so it can be a little confusing to determine when the story shifts to explore past events.

    So my biggest issue with Crown of Love is with the way the words are presented. In my experience, upper-case italics are the font of meaningful flashbacks. Italicized text seems best applied to either shouting or internal musings as opposed to run-of-the-mill dialogue. So the consistent use of upper-case italics puts too much import on moments that should read as breezy and conversational. For contrast, here’s a page from the third volume of Ken Saito’s The Name of the Flower (CMX) that I think uses varied lettering extremely well:

    Gradations of emotion seem important in Crown of Love, as the story shifts from classroom banter to industry scheming to intense and sudden feelings of romance. But the lettering bleeds the dialogue of visual nuance. It renders it in monotone. You can read it into the dialogue, but, frankly, there’s not that much nuance to be mined, and it seems like an awful lot of work to invest in a fairly slight outing.

    There is promise here. Kouga’s illustrations are as attractive as always, and they’re cleaner and clearer than I remember them being in other titles. I like the agent character, Ikeshiba, who uses his charges’ intense emotions to get his way and move them forward in their careers. He’s so forthright in his manipulation, which is refreshing in contrast to the scheming, capricious old pervs agents often are in idol stories. And Kumi, the boy Ikeshiba is trying to sign by dangling a female starlet in front of him, has a domestic situation that’s grippingly unpleasant.

    But the sameness of the lettering, its artificial, often misplaced urgency, flattens so many of the little peaks and valleys that could have been more meaningful. Dave (Comics-and-More) Ferraro notes that “Equal weight is put on everything as the book progresses,” though he doesn’t specifically mention the lettering. So it’s entirely possible that I’m the only person who has this problem, which suggests that I’m nitpicking. Here are a couple of links to reviews by other people:

  • Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey
  • Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney
  • There’s always the possibility that my deeply ingrained association of italicized all-caps comes from another source:


    Birthday book: Lost at Sea

    February 21, 2010

    It’s Bryan Lee O’Malley’s birthday. I can always happily recommend his Scott Pilgrim books, which Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey puts in the number one slot of her list of ten great global manga. (That’s a great list, by the way. I can’t think of a thing I’d add.) But chances are good you’ve already read all of the Scott Pilgrim books at least once.

    Fortunately, there’s a pre-Pilgrim book I can recommend without reservation, Lost at Sea (Oni). Here’s the publisher’s description:

    “Raleigh doesn’t have a soul. A cat stole it – or at least that’s what she tells people – or at least that’s what she would tell people if she told people anything. But that would mean talking to people, and the mere thought of social interaction is terrifying. How did such a shy teenage girl end up in a car with three of her hooligan classmates on a cross-country road trip? Being forced to interact with kids her own age is a new and alarming proposition for Raleigh, but maybe it’s just what she needs – or maybe it can help her find what she needs – or maybe it can help her to realize that what she needs has been with her all along.”

    And here’s a bit from my review of the book:

    “It’s a fairly universal state of mind, but O’Malley portrays it [in] articulate, sensitive ways that are entirely specific to his protagonist. He gives Raleigh a barbed, revealing stream-of-consciousness narration that never becomes tiresome. It’s not some dreary poetry journal; it’s the often jumbled thinking of a smart young woman who doesn’t know if she’s actually in crisis or is really just like everyone else, or which of those states would be less comforting.”

    If you haven’t read Lost at Sea, celebrate O’Malley’s birthday by picking up a copy. I think you’ll really enjoy it.


    License request day: Mint na Bokura

    February 19, 2010

    After a few weeks of relentless gray skies, I feel the need to ask for something sunny and sparkly this week. In my experience, Wataru Yoshizumi is a reliable purveyor of sunny and sparkly. She’s had two series published in English: Marmalade Boy (Tokyopop), which is out of print, and Ultra Maniac (Viz), which is adorable in a really good way. It seems fairly safe to assume that her other unlicensed work might help lift the serotonin levels of snowbound shôjo fans.

    So let’s take a look at the six-volume Mint na Bokura, originally serialized in Shueisha’s Ribon anthology. It’s got inappropriate sibling closeness, boarding-school antics, and cross-dressing, and none of the covers seem to suggest domestic abuse, so I think it sounds like a winner.

    It’s been published in French by Glénat, which describes the plot thusly:

    “Twins Maria and Noeru have always been very close. When Maria decides to enter to the Morinomiya School to get a closer look at the beautiful eyes of the coach of its tennis club, Noeru, who refuses to be apart from his sister, decides to enroll in the same establishment. Unfortunately, there aren’t any more places for boys. He decides to pass as a girl!

    “But school life isn’t easy when one must constantly play the fool! Especially when Noeru quickly falls in love with Miyu, a classmate, then is courted by another pupil… Wataru Yoshizumi concocts a deliciously funny story, with the talent and the sensitivity which has already made her famous throughout the world.”

    You know, I don’t think Yoshizumi is famous enough. If she was really as famous as she should be, Marmalade Boy wouldn’t be out of print. Perhaps a step towards that would be getting Marmalade Boy back in print. If only the Japanese publisher of the series co-owned a major stateside manga publisher with a big shôjo imprint. Oh, wait… they do.

    Surely a gender-bending twin comedy set in a boarding school could also help push Yoshizumi to the next tier of creator fame. Here are some preview pages from the first volume of Mint na Bokura at Shueisha’s site.


    Finally

    February 18, 2010

    I’m ridiculously excited by the news that MTV will release a DVD collection of Daria: The Complete Animated Series in May 2010. It’s the best thing MTV ever did. It’s also quite possibly my favorite animated series of all time.

    That’s not because it had terrific production values. It was a spin-off of Beavis and Butt-head, for pity’s sake, so what could you expect? But maybe it was less of a spin-off than a refugee, with its titular heroine escaping the moronic orbit of her former hosts to find new morons to observe.

    I was going to write a long appreciation of the series in anticipation of the DVD’s glorious arrival until I remembered that I’d already written one a couple of years ago for Martin Kretschmer’s blog. I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I wrote then, to be honest.

    The only addition I might make is that the thing I most admire about the character is her sincere indifference to the shifting sands of adolescent popularity. She’s not blind to the benefits of being sociable or outgoing, and there’s always the sense that she could work within that system if she wanted to do so. She’s certainly smart enough, but her principles and dignity keep her from it. She’s a conscientious objector, and an uncommonly funny and intelligent one at that. She’s the kind of teen-ager I wish I’d had the resources to be when I was that age, which is probably a little sad to admit, but it’s true.

    Okay, one other addition would be that Daria also contains one of my very favorite constructs in fiction: when two women who are very temperamentally different manage to form a meaningful friendship from an adversarial starting point. In the case of Daria and her popularity-obsessed sister Quinn (vice-president of the Fashion Club), it’s a series-long evolution, and it doesn’t really pick up momentum until the last few seasons, but it provided some of my most lasting fond memories of the show.


    IKKI has returned

    February 18, 2010

    Viz’s SigIKKI site is back up and running after a hiatus with new chapters of my two favorites series, Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves and Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow.

    Update: Post title changed due to a spam wave.


    Birthday book: Ohikkoshi

    February 17, 2010

    Hiroaki Samura may be best known for Blade of the Immortal (Dark Horse), but if you want an easier (and less expensive) way to observe his birthday, I strongly recommend his one-volume Ohikkoshi (also from Dark Horse). It’s a unique collection that includes the titular novella and some appealing short stories. But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s see what some other reviewers have to say:

    Brigid Alverson of MangaBlog:

    “Samura doesn’t give us clever plot twists or neat endings. His characters are messy, and the stories are as illogical as real life. This work is full of caricature, exaggeration, and just plain ridiculousness, but in a way, it also feels more real than other manga.”

    John Thomas of Comics Village:

    “A romance comedy by the writer of Blade of the Immortal with cover art based on a Thin Lizzy album cover…translated into English? Yes, yes, (the album ‘Fighting’) and an enthusiastic yes! Welcome to the unique and rarely explored modern world of Hiroaki Samura’s Ohikkoshi.”

    Jarred Pine of Mania:

    “I definitely applaud Dark Horse for not only supporting one of their top artists and rewarding fans of Samura’s, but also for releasing a manga that while still niche, is also something off the normal beaten path of dudes and swords.”

    Jog:

    “So this is a turbulent, endearing work. I think it’s very flawed, but also very interesting in the way that only a real talent’s hazardous steps toward something not entirely familiar can be. Surely there’s no self-delusion: in that Afterward, Samura himself deems the works collected here as ‘just another average achievement.’ He’s both right and wrong, but his honesty will take him places, with the skills he obviously has.”

    If you’re looking for something a little unexpected, particularly from Samura, give Ohikkoshi a try.


    The Shôjo-Sunjeong Alphabet: R

    February 17, 2010

    “R” is for…

    And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the great yet-to-be-licensed shôjo titles:

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


    Light housekeeping

    February 17, 2010

    You don’t need to do anything if you already follow me on Twitter, but I’ve changed my user name to @MangaCur. I like it. It makes me sound like a junkyard dog with a paperback clenched in my jaws.

    Update: Oh, and I’m still tracking the great guest reviews that Deb Aoki has been hosting at About.Com.


    Upcoming 2/17/2010

    February 16, 2010

    Now that the Sexy Voice and Robo Manga Moveable Feast has pretty much wound down, things can return to what passes for normal here at The Manga Curmudgeon. (Though if you want to add your thoughts on Kuroda’s book, I’ll happily add them to the roster.) So let’s take a look at this week’s ComicList along with a quick recap on last week’s neglected offerings.

    If a week’s shipping list includes a new volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, then that volume will very likely be the book of the week. It’s just that simple. Here are some thoughts on the seventh volume from Johanna Draper Carlson at Manga Worth Reading:

    “Urasawa’s use of standard action manga elements demonstrates that it’s not the raw material, it’s what you do with it. He draws so well and he’s so clearly thought through what he’s doing with these elements that cliched scenes, such as a prison escape chase, become interesting all over again.”

    This is easily one of the most enjoyable series of any provenance that you’re likely to find in a comic shop or bookstore.

    Also out from Viz is the first volume of one of their IKKI series, Bokurano: Ours, written and illustrated by Mohiro Kitoh. It’s about a group of classmates who end up piloting a giant robot. I’m not going to lie. This one runs at about the middle of the pack for me of the titles serialized at the IKKI site, but perhaps reading it in book form will leave me with a more enthusiastic impression. It just feels kind of standard to me next to all of the other series on offer.

    CMX offers new volumes of two series from a category that’s a particular strength for the imprint, endearing shôjo. I preferred Natsuna Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown to A Tale of an Unknown Country, but the latter is charming enough that I’ll certainly snag the second volume. I am seriously behind on Yuki Nakaji’s Venus in Love, so I’ll likely have to do a big catch-up order at some point before I can commit to buying the eighth volume. It’s an endearing college love triangle-quadrangle-pentagram, so I’ll definitely make the effort.

    As to last week, here are some of the retrospective highlights:

  • Little Nothings vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim, NBM: Funny, smart observational comics available for your perusal at NBM’s blog.
  • Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit vol. 4, written and illustrated by Motoro Mase, Viz: Mase has got your death panels right here, Palin. I like this series. I don’t think it’s one for the ages or anything, but I always pick up new volumes in a timely fashion, which has to mean something.
  • Juné’s Reversible anthology, which I reviewed yesterday.