June 30, 2010

It seems just right that the manga chosen for Vertical by Adopt a Manga grand prize winner Alexa would be so very different from the manga she won. I’ll let her describe it.

“I’ve decided to suggest Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter.

“It’s a one-volume manga. The art might strike some as ugly (though I personally find it quite stylish), which is ironic considering the main character, Ririko, is searching for perfection. She’s selfish, volatile, cruel to those around her, but beautiful; a model who’s utterly afraid of becoming insignificant, old, and of course, ugly. Thus she undergoes mysterious modifications to keep herself beautiful at all costs and some of the consequences on her physical and mental state are quite shocking.

“If I was to compare Helter Skelter to other Vertical titles, I would liken it to Black Jack and To Terra. It’s similar to Black Jack in that it deals with the effects surgery can have on the mind and body, but from a feminist perspective. And like Keiko Takemiya, Okazaki is a female mangaka who continues to be relevant and revolutionary. Okazaki was hurt in a drunk driving accident years ago, and has been rehabilitating ever since. This saddens me, because I myself am a young woman, and want to see authors like Kyoko Okazaki who aren’t afraid to take on heavier subjects and portray women realistically as opposed to the soulless and stupid objects of desire.

“I think Vertical Inc is a company that isn’t afraid of diversity in the manga they release, and I think Helter Skelter is a smart and insightful josei title that can appeal to a variety of manga readers– from the polished critics to hipsters in need of showing off their varied literary diet.”

I’m persuaded! Now, let’s move on to the second-prize recipients.

Erica Friedman breaks out the classic yuri:

“I would very much like to see Paros no Ken (aka Sword of Paros.) It’s a trilogy that could well be printed in a single volume. It’s classic shoujo and since Rose of Versailles will not be coming to Western shores in this lifetime,and Ribon no Kishi is also not yet being brought over by Vertical, it would make a good stand-in.

“By Igurashi Yumiko and Kurimoto Kaoru, it makes a great ‘classic’ shoujo story that would appeal to the cross-gender fans, Yuri fans, the BL fans and straight romance fans all at once. It’s adult, dark, ambiguous and disturbing and, at the same time, is a touching romance between a poor, abused serving girl and her ‘prince.’

“It has all the bells and whistles.”

Jim Hemmingfield stays in the classic quadrant, wishing for:

Hakaba no Kitaro / GeGeGe no Kitaro (9 Volumes) by Shigeru Mizuki

Kitaro is one of the all time classics of manga by Shigeru Mizuki, one of Japan’s most beloved manga-kas. GeGeGe no Kitaro is a cultural phenomenon in Japan, and the franchise remains popular to this day over 50 years after his first outing in Mizuki’s manga series. It would not be hyperbole to say that Kitaro’s image in Japan is as synonymous with Manga as is Astro Boy’s. Despite this, apart from an impossible to find three volume bi-lingual release, Kitaro’s adventures in manga form have never been translated into English. Two factors that I would imagine contribute to this are the age of the manga (classic releases are normally not picked up by western manga publishers) and the subject matter, which is very much rooted in Japanese folklore/yokai which could be seen as to alien for non-Japanese readers, unfamiliar with the legends associated with the characters.

“I feel that Vertical Inc would be able to publish Kitaro and do it justice. The reasons for this are:

“1- Vertical has already gained a reputation for publishing highly regarded manga classics.

“2- Vertical is not known just for its manga, but also for various other Japanese books that cover a wide spectrum of Japanese culture, which I feel the addition of Kitaro would benefit from and enrich.

“I feel that if Vertical released Hakaba no Kitaro and provided good notes with each volume and, perhaps, some background on the mythology regarding the different yokai involved in the stories then it would surely be a success; hopefully not one that would only be restricted purely to manga fans but also fans of Japanese culture, people interested in folklore and mythology etc. And, basically, anyone who enjoys a classic piece of storytelling, with wonderful characters and art, that appeals to a broad spectrum of people, regardless of age.”

In a somewhat more contemporary vein, we have Nicole’s choice:

“I suggest Ami Sugimoto’s Animal X: Aragami no Ichizoku. There are three series covering 16 volumes in the Animal X story, but Aragami no Ichizoku’s four volumes make up the first series and stands solidly on its own. It has a somewhat older art style like some of Vertical’s releases, but in its own way is beautifully detailed, attention being paid to not just the characters, but the atmosphere and backgrounds. While released as a non-explicit BL series in Japan, this label becomes rapidly becomes fuzzy–while both ‘romantic leads’ identify as male, one of them is genetically engineered to be a fully functional hermaphrodite.

“Ridiculous premise, you say? Yes, it is. However, the way in which this character in particular deals with his gender and sexuality confronts societal norms. He sees himself as a man, but he doesn’t see himself as part of a gay couple as part of him is female. Would he have any interest in the man he learns to love if he were a normal man? Can he balance the male and female aspects inside him?

“The other characters have their own issues to deal with, as well as with each other; a woman whose fiancé isn’t who she thought he was. A scientist trying to cure a disease in a scientific community that shuns him. A boy whose whole community is razed to the ground in the name of public safety. A daughter bent on bringing honor to her family in the only way she sees left.

“Despite the off-kilter premise of Animal X in general, the stories of the characters in it are told so that one forgets the scientific implausibility of the world and see the highly personal, intertwining stories of the people therein.

“Even if some of those people happen to be able to morph into dinosaurs.”

Audra knows that you can’t go wrong with comics originally published by the creator of Emma:

“My suggestion is Kaoru Mori’s new series Otoyomegatari.

“The art is superb and her storytelling is second to none. I strongly believe there’s an audience for her work here in the US as I find her work transcends simply ‘manga’. She’s also had a lot of critical success with her work Emma. Since CMX will no longer be pursuing titles, this would be a wonderful opportunity to scoop this gem up!”

And last but not least, there’s Sam Kusek’s suggestion:

“I wanted to throw my two cents at you for a series called D-ASH with story and art by Miya Kitazawa & Manabu Akishige. It is the story of a young track star, who tries to balance his sexual awakenings & desires with actual legitimate relationships and the entirety of his future resting on the soles of his feet as he grows from a fairly idiotic young man into an adult. It is a series that runs 5 volumes and would require an adult rating or heavy editing, as they are some sexual scenes in it.

“I think this might be an interesting direction for Vertical to go in. It isn’t specifically a sci-fi or fantasy title by any means but deals more with the human condition and how our bodies play almost a larger part in our lives than our minds do. The track star element appeals to a lot of different crowds and the subject matter is not ostracizing by any means. In fact, it is just the opposite, a series that would attract a lot of readers outside the typical manga crowd.”

Thanks to everyone who entered and to Vertical for founding the feast.

Upcoming 6/30/2010

June 29, 2010

Poor Chi looks nervous about this week’s comic-shop debut! Yes, the eagerly-awaited first volume arrives Wednesday, though it may already be in bookstores. And if you would like to try and win a volume or two, you have until midnight (EST) tonight!

Speaking of eagerly awaited volumes, Tokyopop unveils a combined four-and-fifth-volume collection of Mari Okazaki’s Suppli, a series I discussed at length here.

The masochist in me will sometimes emerge when Marvel tries one of its hundreds of new takes on their Avengers properties. I really didn’t care for the self-referential and -congratulatory script and even less for the kind-of-ugly art on adjective-free Avengers, and while I thought Stuart Immonen’s pencils for New Avengers were terrific and witty, I had no patience for the script. (Um, Luke, do you have any idea what your property taxes will be like on a Fifth Avenue mansion? Not to mention the utilities? Tony Stark didn’t do you any favors.) I’d love it if Immonen was drawing Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers, as I like the set-up and cast a lot. I don’t dislike Mike Deodato’s pencils, but I do find them a little Swimsuit Issue for my tastes. They aren’t objectionable enough to keep me from checking out the second issue, because the first was written well, and I can’t believe it took someone this long to put Valkyrie and the Black Widow on the same team.

Art, commerce, and josei

June 28, 2010

If you haven’t already done so, please go read the excellent Komiksu: Marketing Art Manga roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian. As the week progressed, the manga under consideration was redefined as “awesome manga,” meaning stuff that falls out of the contemporary shônen-shôjo mainstream, so “art manga” ended up being only a portion of the comics under consideration, which is all to the good, in my opinion.

Two of the participants, Deb Aoki and Brigid Alverson, mentioned Mari Okazaki’s lovely office-lady comic, Suppli. It’s mainstream josei in Japan, but the category is still rather anemic in translation. After publishing three volumes, Tokyopop put the highly regarded but perhaps commercially shaky property on hiatus, but they’re resuming publication, and the (combined?) fourth (and fifth?) volume(s?) goes on sale in comic shops this week.

Since I love the book, I thought I’d re-run my Flipped column on Suppli, originally published at The Comics Reporter.

Update: In the comments, Derik (Madinkbeard) Badman points to his great, image-heavy look at the visuals of Suppli.


I like escapism in my comics. It’s fun to watch characters do amazing things in places I’m never likely to go, set in a vividly imagined future or carefully recaptured past. Sometimes, though, it’s just as pleasurable to settle in to a comic set in the here and now and get the sense that you could know the characters and live their lives.

That’s one of the qualities that’s so enjoyable about Mari Okazaki’s Suppli (Tokyopop). It’s about the uneasy balance between work and the rest of a person’s life, and Okazaki evokes that familiar tension with a lot of fidelity and detail.

Writers of contemporary fiction will at least know what their characters do for a living. It’s part of meeting the minimum hurdle of suspension of disbelief, of answering readers’ questions as to how these fictional people pay their bills and keep roofs over their heads. Many don’t go beyond that, though. Gainful employment informs everything about Suppli.

Minami Fujii, Okazaki’s 27-year-old protagonist, works in advertising. Her career is a lot of cubicle toil and drudgery spiked with infrequent moments of glamour and triumph. Okazaki takes the reader through the endless meetings, long hours, and petty frustrations that fill up Fujii’s average day. The young executive finds even more time to devote to her career when her longtime boyfriend dumps her.

Before you conclude that Okazaki is punishing Fujii for her professional dedication, she’d been waffling about ending the relationship herself. It was clearly in Woody Allen’s “dead shark” territory, and the end was inevitable, but nobody likes being beaten to the punch. Even if the relationship wasn’t inspiring, it was reliable, and its conclusion leaves a void. It also triggers a string of unpleasant realizations in Fujii.

Hard as she works, she senses that she hasn’t invested anything meaningfully personal in her work. She barely knows her co-workers, and she hasn’t really mapped out any kind of professional trajectory. While Fujii doesn’t settle on a specific destination (professional advancement, marriage, both, neither), she dedicates herself to work and to connecting to her colleagues. The development seems to be equal parts avoiding thinking about the break-up and a genuine desire to fully commit to work. It’s one of many examples of Okazaki giving her characters multiple, concurrent motivations, and she does so without judgment.

Fujii can look at an older woman co-worker with a mixture of admiration, pity, and fear for her own future. She can contemplate the romantic possibilities presented by her male co-workers without appearing calculating or flighty. She can invest herself fully in projects that go nowhere or let details derail a promising pitch. Even buying a purse can be a journey fraught with peril and indecision. In Okazaki’s world, there’s nothing wrong with ambivalence.

Okazaki has a lovely way of showing as well as telling. Panel composition and page layout almost function as a sort of mood ring, reflecting Fujii’s state of mind. Workplace sequences have a crowded angularity that communicates the frenzied demands of her day. Reflective moments have a more fluid quality, and a quietness that can relax into sensuality with the track of Fujii’s thoughts. The sexy moments (and Fujii does manage to have a sex life) combine all of those qualities, half hot, half awkward. Okazaki has a wide range of tools in her aesthetic kit, and she applies them all with style and a unifying sensibility.

Suppli conveys a specific woman’s life with both microscopic detail and emotional sweep. Fujii may feel like her life is out of balance, but Okazaki’s portrayal is keen and clear.

On the down side, it’s impossible to know when readers might see more of it. When Tokyopop experienced its drastic reversals last year, Suppli was one of the titles that wound up in scheduling limbo. Only three volumes are available in English, and there’s no indication of when (or if) the next will be released. That’s no reason to deprive yourselves of what is available, of course. As Okazaki argues so persuasively, uncertain outcomes are no reason not to try.


Aligning your Chi

June 25, 2010

Need more inducement to enter the Adopt a Manga Contest to win a copy of Chi’s Sweet Home? Here are a couple of favorable reviews for your consideration.

Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey highly recommends it for all ages:

“But Chi is more than just cute kitty antics; it’s a thoughtful reflection on the joys and difficulties of pet ownership, one that invites readers of all ages to see the world through their cat or dog’s eyes and imagine how an animal adapts to life among humans.”

Michelle (Soliloquy in Blue) Smith gives the book an A-:

“Although unusual for manga, the full-color artwork in Chi’s Sweet Home is absolutely gorgeous. It’s vibrant without being garish, and is such an integral part of the story that I find it impossible to imagine how this series must look when it runs in Morning, at which point in time the art is still black-and-white. I don’t think I even want to know!”

Click here to find out how to enter.

Announcing the Adopt a Manga contest!

June 24, 2010

The bound-to-be-adorable Chi’s Sweet Home, written and illustrated by Konami Kanata, arrives next week courtesy of Vertical, and that publisher has been kind enough to sponsor a give-away of some copies of the manga.

I haven’t read it yet, but Chi’s Sweet Home, featuring the charming adventures of an orphaned kitten, has a special place in my heart. It was the first of my license requests to be fulfilled by a publisher. The thought of that lifts my spirits in these dark and contracting days, so that’s helped me decide the theme for this contest: Adopt a Manga.

To enter, please suggest a manga that you think is particularly appropriate for Vertical and briefly explain why. (It’s wide open, really, as they publish both classic and contemporary works.) Ed Chavez and I will pick the ones that seem most suited to Vertical and, should more than one entrant suggest the same title, we’ll pick the entry that most succinctly and effectively makes the case.

One lucky entrant will receive copies of the first and second volume of Chi’s Sweet Home. Five other entrants will receive copies of the second volume. Deadline for entry is midnight Eastern Standard Time Tuesday, June 29, with winners announced on Wednesday, June 30. To enter, email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com.

Good girls don’t

June 23, 2010

I’m not sure why I’ve seen as many productions of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as I have. Social obligation tends to force me into a seat watching a play I detest. I mean, I really, really dislike this play. I can’t even credit the effort of various directors to contextualize the story of breaking a woman’s spirit in ways that make it tragically tolerable. (I’ve never seen this work.) I don’t have the inclination to accept the play’s plot as representative of its time, because there are other Shakespeare plays that don’t make me sick to my stomach, so why bother trying to squelch active disdain?

So I’m not really inclined to appreciate Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of… trilogy as an accurate representation of its time. I’m not a cultural historian, so I have no idea what things were like for women in pre-industrial Korea. I just know that I don’t really care for its portrayal of “good” women as passive and patient, no matter how elegantly drawn it is. “I think that the process of a girl becoming a woman is one of the biggest mysteries and wonders of life,” the creator said in an interview. I wish he had thought harder about that mystery and hadn’t imposed what strikes me as such a male notion of wonder upon it.

Young Ehwa lives with her widowed mother, who keeps a tavern in the countryside. Mom advises Ehwa on womanhood, pounding in the notion of the woman as flowering shrub, patiently waiting and gently blossoming until a male pollinating insect will deign to settle upon her, and all will be well. Just look at Ehwa’s friend, the porcine Bongsoon, who actually lets curiosity lead to action. Bongsoon is less attractive than Ehwa, and her mother clearly isn’t giving her the lecture on the botany of desire or instructing her that true love waits. You can be damn sure that, should Bongsoon find a man stupid enough to marry damaged goods, birds won’t fly from the trees and every bell in the countryside won’t ring when that marriage is consummated. Bognsoon is an object of ridicule and contempt because she has the nerve to act on her desires.

That’s so gross to me. And it unfortunately reminds me of an episode of The Gilmore Girls, another tale of a young single mother and a beautiful teen-aged daughter. The mother, Lorelai, is eavesdropping on a conversation between her beautiful daughter, Rory, and her daughter’s less beautiful friend, Paris, who is telling Rory about her first sexual experience. Lorelai breathlessly waits to see if Rory confesses any particular kinship with Rory, and while Rory doesn’t judge Paris, she reveals that she’s not ready yet. Later, Lorelai privately celebrates the fact that she has raised “the good kid.” I liked most of The Gilmore Girls a lot, but that sequence rang so endlessly false to me, given Lorelai’s circumstances and her honesty and willingness to act on her own desires. (Maybe the creators realized how icky this sequence was, given the circumstances around Rory actually losing her virginity.)

I wouldn’t be inclined to excuse The Color of… as a period piece. It’s relatively contemporary in terms of when it was created, so it reads more as an exercise of nostalgia for a time when good girls remained pure. I’d much rather read something like Morim Kang’s 10, 20, and 30, another tale of a single mother and daughter, that actually respects female desire and development and the ways unique women deal with it.

(The Color of… trilogy is the subject of the inaugural Manhwa Moveable Feast. Visit Manga Bookshelf for a list of links and resources.)

Upcoming 6/23/2010

June 22, 2010

The current ComicList might be described as the “Not Dead Yet Edition.”

Cherish these last few CMX releases while you can. This week sees the arrival of the 17th volume (of 19) of Musashi #9, the sixth volume (of seven) of Two Flowers for the Dragon, and the fourth volume (of five) of Venus Capriccio. So close, and yet so far. And the web site is gone, as has been noted previously. Screw you, DC.

Del Rey publishes more than one licensed comic this week, including one that it rescued from another publisher. They continue to wrap up Samurai Deeper Kyo with a collection of the 37th and 38th volumes, and we finally see the second volume of Moyasimon, plus the 11th volume of Fairy Tail.

Eight months after publishing the first volume, which had been in print for ages, Kodansha re-releases the second volume of Akira. They still don’t have a web site.

License request day: Love My Life

June 18, 2010

During yesterday’s discussion of manga Rachel Maddow might like, Dirk Deppey pushed the boundaries by suggesting manga that Rachel Maddow might like were it to be published in English. (For all I know, Maddow might read Japanese or French fluently in addition to her other super-powers.) He pointed me in the direction of Ebine Yamaji, and while I resisted the siren call of scanlations, her comics do sound pretty great.

I would particularly love it if some kind soul were to pick up Love My Life. To be honest, if I was in the lead character’s situation, I’d love my life too. (Not that I don’t, but you know what I mean.)

“Ichiko Izumiya is an eighteen-year-old woman who goes to language school in university and works part-time at a music store. She lives with her father, Housei Izumiya, and he translates English novels into Japanese for a living. Her mother died seven years before the story begins. Ichiko also has a girlfriend named Eri Joujima. When she comes out as a lesbian to her father, her father shocks her by telling her that both he and her mother are also gay. They had wanted to raise a child, and had agreed to marry in name to raise a child in Japan, while mutually being in their own relationships. The rest of the story shows Ichiko meeting her parents’ lovers, her everyday life and love with Eri, in a slice of life, upbeat and positive style.”

Okay, just… Sold. Want.

It’s one volume long and originally ran in Shodensha’s Feel Young magazine, which has published josei by some really fabulous creators. It’s been published in French by Asuka. You can also look at some preview pages (in Japanese).

Manga for Maddow

June 17, 2010

I really admire Rachel Maddow and think she’s brilliant, and I’m thrilled to learn that she loves comic books and graphic novels. But her list of favorites? The usual suspects.

So this has me wondering what manga I’d recommend she read. She seems to like stories with political underpinnings (no surprise there), so here are some starting points:

  • 20th Century Boys, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. You could basically recommend anything by Urasawa, but I like this series best.
  • Real, written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue. It’s not especially political, but it’s really good, and I just like recommending it to people, especially if there’s a chance they might mention it in a YouTube video.
  • Ooku: The Inner Chambers, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga. It doesn’t get more political than this, really, Fakespeare aside.
  • Tekkonkinkreet, written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto. GoGo Monster is actually better, but I think this title’s urban underpinnings might appeal to Maddow.
  • Thoughts?

    All things eventually considered

    June 16, 2010

    I really enjoy reading NPR’s Monkey See blog, particularly Glen Weldon’s occasional musings on comics and graphic novels. I do find myself wishing he’d write more about manga, and while there’s a little “Be careful what you wish for…” in the mix, I think he offers a very readable overview of the current State of Things:

    “The next time I came into work, I saw that he hadn’t given the books more prominent placement or allotted them any extra shelf space. Instead, he’d simply slapped a fancy embossed shelftag under them, reading:


    For bonus points, the blog is run by Linda Holmes, who wrote for Television Without Pity back when it was really, really good.