The dark underbelly of Riverdale

April 24, 2010

Archie Comics were the first ones I ever remember reading, along with Harvey titles like Casper and Richie Rich. I can’t say with certainty that the presence of a gay character among the Riverdale populace would have enhanced my enjoyment when I was five, but the prospect delights me as a 42-year-old. I haven’t read an Archie comic in ages, even the wedding issues, but I’ll certainly pick up this one. (If you want to save energy and see the full spectrum of reactions to stories like this, please visit this comments thread at The Beat. You know what you’ll find, so I won’t waste time summarizing.)

I already like Kevin a lot for his ability to zero in on the core question of the sexual dynamics of Riverdale:

Don’t dwell on it, Kevin.

That preview page reminds me of an old Archie story I must have read in some station wagon back in the 1970s, though I can’t precisely remember when, or even which Archie comic featured it. In it, Veronica has been heaping abuse on Jughead, because that’s one of the things she does, and everyone accepts it as normal.

Jughead, however, privately conceives a revenge scheme. When no one else is around but Veronica, he slips into this predatory lothario mode that would have Reggie taking notes. He insists to Veronica that they’re meant to be together and that she knows it’s inevitable. She freaks out, as would anyone who rightly believed that Jughead could never muster amorous intent towards anything that didn’t come off of the grill at the Chok’lit Shoppe. No one believes her when she swears that Jughead is creepily wooing her, and she snaps by the end of the story as Jughead watches with malicious but concealed glee.

Has anyone else ever read this story? Does it actually exist, or has my memory started actually constructing twisted fan fiction?

Update: This story is described in Jughead’s Wikipedia entry, so I’m not crazy.

License request day: Bambino!

April 23, 2010

Given the performance of Oishinbo, is it reasonable to request another cooking manga from Big Comic Spirits? Perhaps not, but what can I tell you? I love pasta. That’s why Tetsuji Sekiya’s Bambino! caught my eye.

It’s a 15-volume series (here’s a link to the publisher’s listings) about an enthusiastic amateur cook who goes to work in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo’s fashionable Roppongi neighborhood. I don’t really have any more compelling reasons to want it than that it’s cooking manga set in a high-end Italian restaurant in Tokyo. Isn’t that kind of enough?

The art is attractive in a contemporary kind of way. The hero looks like a smirking know it all, but it seems fairly certain that he’ll be reminded of his place on the culinary totem pole, even as he rises in the ristorante pecking order. You can check out some preview pages in Japanese for the following volumes by clicking the green button under the cover image on these pages: first, second, third.

Bambino! tied for the 2008 Shogakukan Manga Award for seinen/general manga with Big Comic Spirits neighbor Kurosagi, written by Takeshi Natsuhara and illustrated by Kuromaru (it started in Shogakukan’s Young Sunday). Sekiya is at work on a sequel, Bambino! Secondo, in Big Comic Spirits. The sequel has three collected volumes so far.

While I still live in hope that we’ll get more Oishinbo from Viz (one of the reasons I’m begging people to vote for it in this year’s Eisner Awards), I’m always game for more cooking manga. What are some of your unlicensed favorites, or which ones just sound cool to you?

For your further consideration

April 22, 2010

Harvey Award nominations are due tomorrow, and as Heidi (The Beat) MacDonald notes, “Only WE can save the Harveys.” Last year’s nominees in the Best American Edition of Foreign Material were slightly better than those of the year before, though they’d almost have to be. I doubt that my whining had anything to do with that, but I will toss out a few suggestions, just in case someone is staring at an uncompleted ballot.

First of all, I think any of the titles listed here would be fine nominees. Here are a few more:

And since I’m on the subject of awards, I should note that online voting is underway for the Eisners. I predicted at least one winner last year, and let’s see if I can repeat the feat by suggesting you cast your vote for…

Beyond being very entertaining and informative, this was a really ambitious project on Viz’s part, to offer a taste of a massive, commercially counter-intuitive series, and I would love to see them get some bling for their efforts. But I’m always curious as to which way the winds are blowing, so here’s a poll on the subject of Best U.S. Edition of International Material-Asia:

Updated: Aaron Costain suggested a second poll, asking which title should win, and I admit I forgot the distinction. So here you go:

Feel free to mention another, un-nominated title in the comments.

Yen Plus goes digital

April 21, 2010

Yen Press just dropped a bomb on Twitter, with a pointer to the publisher’s weblog:

“As the magazine industry changes and old models are eclipsed by new, so, too, must YEN PLUS change, and it is with that in mind that I can announce officially that the July 2010 issue of YEN PLUS will be its last in print.

“Now before you despair too much, take a deep breath and focus on those last two words: ‘in print.’ Yes, the print magazine will be no more, but YEN PLUS will live on as an online manga anthology! As such, it will have the ability to reach more readers than ever before while giving those same readers an option to peruse manga (and maybe some light novels?) legitimately online.”

More details are to come, obviously, but it’s certainly an interesting development. In my opinion, the more digital anthologies, the better.

Update: Gia (Anime Vice) Manry gets some more details from Yen Press co-founder Kurt Hassler.

The Shôjo-Sunjeong Alphabet: Miscellaneous

April 21, 2010

Because not everything starts with a letter…

And a little Korean josei…

And some manga-influenced sort-of yuri…

What are some of your favorite shôjo and sunjeong titles that don’t start with a letter at all?

Update: Alas, +Anima had to be bumped for its unrepentent shônen-ness, but I’ll make it up with a license request:

Upcoming 4/21/2010

April 20, 2010

This is one of those weeks where all of the ComicList heavy lifting is done by Viz Signature, whose offerings include two titles that would make any Wednesday an exciting one all by themselves.

It seems like it’s been ages since we got a volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, but the wait is over. (Well, the wait is over for those of who you aren’t subject to that weird one-week delay that Diamond sometimes inflicts on Viz fans in the northeastern United States.) Ôoku recently won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award “for science fiction and fantasy that expands our understanding of gender.”

I simply do not understand why more people aren’t reading and raving about Takehiko Inoue’s glorious drama about wheelchair basketball players, Real. It’s beautifully drawn and brilliantly written, and while I know that’s never a guarantor of commercial success, it would be nice if this title got some of the level of buzz it richly deserves. The eighth volume is due Wednesday. And if you want to double your Inoue pleasure, you can pick up the seventh VizBig collection of Vagabond. I’m so behind on that one. Oh, god, I’m part of the problem, aren’t I?

I love it when I can be lazy and pull a “What she said,” and I do that a lot with Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey. I share her sentiments about Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books, which debuts this week but has been running on Viz’s SigIKKI site since its launch. Take it away, Ms. Dacey:

“The series’ episodic structure cuts both ways, see-sawing between being a fun exercise in formula — which manga will feature prominently in this story? who will be drawn into the store? — and a frustratingly obvious collection of beats culminating in a character’s decision to make a change in her life.”

What looks good to you?

Second looks

April 19, 2010

I thought I’d kick the week off with quick looks at a couple of second volumes of series that made promising first impressions. One is a shôjo title that’s off the beaten track (a male protagonist, no romantic plot elements, and a supernatural, episodic vibe), and the other is a josei series that plays around with that old shôjo spirit.

The second volume Yuki Midorikawa’s Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz) has all of the charms and strengths of the first. All of the four stories are solid, and the art is still lovely and delicate, but there’s one chapter that really resonated with me.

In it, protagonist Natsume has an entirely unexpected experience. He meets an adult who can do the same things he does, namely see and communicate with supernatural creatures known as yôkai. Natsume has been steadfast, even a little paranoid, about keeping his abilities a secret. Experience has taught him that he’ll be ostracized if he reveals them, so finding another person like him is jolting. Natsume moves through phases of suspicion, curiosity, hope, disillusionment, and eventually acceptance and relief.

As a gay kid entering college, I felt something very similar to Natsume’s sense of isolation and strangeness. Mercifully, even in a small-town college in the Midwest, I managed to meet gay grown-ups who were living the kind of productive, happy lives I had only cautiously imagined. They had good jobs, and some of them had partners, and the fact that they were gay wasn’t a hindrance to any of that. Even if I didn’t end up liking all of them or finding them entirely admirable, the examples they provided were a tremendous comfort to me. Midorikawa captures that process and those feelings with accuracy and sensitivity. I have no idea what her intent or inspiration for the story were, but the argument she makes for the power of an adult role model is persuasive and moving, so much so that I think I’ll nominate it for the Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.

Another nice element of this series is the added value of the creator’s notes. These sidebars often run to the drippy and chatty, but Midorikawa makes good use of them. She talks about her process, the challenges of trying to craft stand-alone stories with recurring themes, and the hooks that she finds for herself that help characters and stories fall into place. She also explains her resistance to larger panels, and while I get it and think her compositions are often lovely, it would be nice to see the occasional blown-up spread.

The second volume of Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers (Viz) settles into a pattern of mildly smutty silliness that I very much enjoyed. In the first volume, we met former rich girl Choko Kuze, whose family’s financial decline led her to the life of an office worker. She quickly discovered that her borderline-insane boss, Masayuki Domoto, used to be one of her family’s servants, and that his boyhood devotion still lurks within her demonic supervisor.

With the set-up out of the way, Yoshihara can really dive into the R-rated shôjo goofiness. Buttterflies, Flowers runs in a josei magazine (Shogakukan’s Petit Comic), but it has all of the mechanics of a high-school romance. The antics just have a slightly more adult flavor. Instead of a school festival, Choko must participate in a company competition for office newbies. Instead of a Domoto fan club full of sempai, there are senior office ladies to seethe with jealousy. And the question of sex is addressed a lot more frankly, though not with anything resembling seriousness.

There are some great bits amidst the generally okay bits, and it’s undeniably good natured. It’s not josei in the way that books like Bunny Drop or Suppli are, but it’s fun and does its best to make sex silly. There’s nothing wrong with that.