Guilt by association

September 20, 2010

Over at NPR, author David Lipsky identifies his literary guilty pleasure, Marvel’s Runaways. Setting aside the justice of whether or not comics should still be considered a guilty pleasure instead of just a pleasure (and right after Read Comics in Public Day!), there’s been some consternation over a portion of his commentary:

“But I bear the books a grudge. Marvel collected them — because their biggest fans were female teenagers — in tiny digests with girlish covers that were intensely embarrassing to read on the subway. I kept locking eyes with people I could swear had just shaken their heads.”

What do you think of the covers of the first three digests? Do you find them particularly gendered?

On a slightly different front, I’ve seen a few people mention that they’re put off by the covers of Vertical’s Twin Spica, noting that they read a little young. Thoughts?

Let us read cake

September 17, 2010

Owing to the fact that I know next to nothing about this week’s requested property, I’ll take you on a little tour through the process of determining what books I randomly decide I want.

Sometimes, I’ll start with a demographic. For instance, today I decided I might be in the mood for some josei.

Then I remember that there were some titles that sounded interesting in Shueisha’s YOU.

Then I see the word “patisserie” in one of the titles, and all is settled, especially after watching the debut of Top Chef: Just Desserts.

So, yes, I would like for someone to publish Kira’s ten-volume Patisserie Mon, basically only because it’s josei and features cake. I don’t really need any more substantial argument than that, do I?

I will add that the preview pages (some for each volume can be accessed here) look really cute. Is it possibly an Antique Bakery knockoff? I guess it could be. Should there be more Antique Bakery knockoffs in the world? Yes, there absolutely should.

Kira has also completed a 26-volume series told from the perspective of a dog and is currently working on a series that looks to be about competitive swimming.

And that is how this license request was born.

From the stack: Secret Avengers 1-4

September 16, 2010

It seems as though Marvel and DC had a bad month in August, seeing big sales drops which subsequently led some people to wonder if $4 is too much to expect people to pay for a 22-page comic. I don’t really have a position on that, as I don’t buy that many pamphlet comics and I flunked the one economics course I took in college. But I did feel like mentioning that there’s a Marvel comic I’m enjoying a lot. It’s Secret Avengers, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Mike Deodato.

I’m an Avengers fan from way back, and while I haven’t read any of their titles or crossover events with any regularity since Brian Bendis took over, I do like to check in from time to time when some new phase starts to see if any of them click with me. Avengers and New Avengers, both written by Bendis, didn’t click with me. New Avengers looks great, but it’s packed with pet Bendis characters and the kind of dialogue that I find grating after a while. Avengers looks horrible to me, and the cast is more thematically assembled than emotionally functional, if that makes any sense.

Secret Avengers has a few interesting things going for it beyond the fact that it isn’t being written by Bendis. It’s one of those “proactive super-team” concepts where a group of heroes tries to prevent problems rather than just reacting to them. This has never, ever worked to my knowledge, whether we’re talking about Extreme Justice or Force Works or what have you. But it actually works reasonably well here, at least in the first arc.

I think it works because the characters seem like competent grown-ups. They don’t have the kind of interpersonal chemistry that a lot of great Avengers groupings have had in the past, but they work well together, and Brubaker has collected an interesting mix of abilities, backgrounds and character types. That’s always a good choice, but it’s an even better one when there’s an actual narrative point to it. Steve Rogers, formerly dead Captain America who is apparently neither dead nor Captain America now, recruited people based on what they can do and what they know, and that makes sense to me.

This is also one of the more… well, only… interesting portrayals of Steve Rogers that I’ve ever seen. In the past, he’s been the ridiculously perfect icon that everyone tries to please. In Secret Avengers, he seems like an actual leader rather than an object of idolatry. The way Brubaker writes him, he strikes that confident position that suggests, truthfully or not, that consensus has already been achieved, that the people he leads are all on the same page, and that he trusts them to contribute to the best of their abilities. He’s the kind of figure you can see people wanting to follow.

I also like the cast, which is filled with interesting second stringers like the Beast, War Machine, and Valkyrie. Some of them have no previous connection to the Avengers, but all of them bring something interesting to the table, and none of them seem like a ridiculous, meta-driven choice. I’m particularly pleased to see Valkyrie, as she gets to be the demigod muscle. That role usually goes to a guy, and it’s great fun to see a woman in the bruiser role, and to see it not being presented as any kind of big deal.

Deodato’s art is more on the competent side than anything else. It’s attractive enough, and I always understood what was going on, but his body types are disappointingly similar. It’s not just that gymnast Black Widow and warrior Valkyrie have basically the same physiology; almost all of the men look like they could swap heads without difficulty as well. It’s not offensive, just kind of dull.

But overall, if you’re craving an Avengers comic where the characters seem functional and heroic, Secret Avengers might be a good choice.

(I also like Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, but I like it for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s a good, accessible comic. I’d guess that it requires a doctoral level of familiarity with Avengers back story to make much sense, given that it references a good dozen major Avengers stories of varying vintages. A good half-dozen characters enter the fray every time you turn around. But I like it because it holds the promise that the Scarlet Witch will be redeemed after an unfortunate “women can’t handle power, especially when they’ve got babies rabies” turn, and also because Wiccan and Hulkling are the cutest gay couple in comics, bar none.)

The Seinen Alphabet: I

September 15, 2010

“I” is for…

Ikki, which has always struck me as one of those magazines that’s more about great, varied comics than about serving a specific demographic (like Enterbrain’s Comic Beam), and I would probably buy every issue if I read Japanese and lived somewhere it might appear on newsstands. Ikki is published by Shogakukan, and Viz is serializing a number of its titles online.

Among those titles are I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow, written and illustrated by Shunju Aono. It’s about a 40-year-old who decides to become a manga-ka to the horror of his father and daughter.

There’s also I Am a Turtle, written and illustrated by Temari Temura. It’s a slice-of-life look at a turtle who lives on a tea farm.

Daisuke Igarashi has a series on the SigIKKI site, Children of the Sea, which I like very much. His work also appeared in Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and I’d love for someone to publish his Witches in English.

Hisae Iwaoka is the creator of the charming Saturn Apartments on the SigIKKI site.

Takehiko Inoue is probably one of the best-known manga-ka with work published in English for the very good reason that his work is excellent. On the seinen front, there’s basketball drama Real and samurai epic Vagabond, both published by Viz.

Another well-liked creator is Hitoshi Iwaaki, who created Parasyte (Del Rey). I would love for someone to publish Iwaaki’s Historie.

Motoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (Viz) originally ran in Shogakukan’s Weekly Young Sunday. It’s about a government program to teach people about the value of life by randomly killing young citizens. It swings from smart satire to wild melodrama, and I rather like it.

Yukiya Sakuragi’s Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs (Viz) originally ran in Shueisha’s Young Jump. It’s about a goodhearted (but rather dumb) young woman who works in a pet shop.

Shuichi Shigeno’s Initial D was originally serialized in Kodansha’s Weekly Young Magazine and was published in English by Tokyopop, but Kodansha reclaimed the license. It’s about street racing.

Tsutomi Takahashi’s Ice Blade was (I think) one of the first manga to be published in English in Tokyopop’s MixxZine. It originally ran in Kodansha’s Afternoon. It’s about a violent cop who plays by his own rules, as they are wont to do.

What starts with “I” in your seinen alphabet?


I’m not sure of the exact provenance of the stories in here, but some of Jiro Taniguchi’s The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) must come from seinen sources, mustn’t they? On the unlicensed front, Taniguchi collaborated with Moebius on Icaro, which ran in Kodansha’s Morning. There’s also Taniguchi’s pet-centric Inu o Kau, collecting stories that originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic.

I’ve also forgotten Ryoichi Ikegami of Crying Freeman (Dark Horse) and Wounded Man (ComicsOne) fame.

Upcoming 9/15/2010

September 14, 2010

It’s precision vulgarity week on the ComicList! By this I mean that there are a bunch of comics out this week that use shocking, potentially distasteful material to very good effect.

First up is the second volume of Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo (Vertical). I agreed with Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey on virtually every point regarding the first volume, but especially this one:

“Yet for all its technical virtuosity, there’s a hole at the center of Peepo Choo where its heart should be.”

Smith rectifies that in the second volume, and he endows his ensemble of losers and freaks with a level of sympathy notable in part for its near-total absence the first time around. It’s not that he’s any kinder to his cast. He dangles possibility in their paths only to yank it away. But their pains and disappointments feel more like a properly moving experience than a dazzling exercise in narrative cruelty, and Smith rounds out even the type-iest of members of his cast. The characters in Peepo Choo – the nerd who finally gets to go to his otaku holy land, the creepy jerk who just wants to lose his virginity, the spree killer who yearns to embody American phrases he doesn’t even understand, the smartest girl in class who’s undermined by her own body – all edge closer to a full, possibly crushing understanding of and liberation from their own misery (or at least the teasing promise of liberation).

The book is still brutally violent and creepily sexed up, but there’s nothing clumsy about the application of this kind of content. Smith knows exactly what he’s doing when a character spits a tooth in someone’s eye and another gets aroused watching it happen. I had my doubts that he was going anywhere particularly, peculiarly interesting with this kind of effect based on the first volume, but the tone really clicks this time around, and I’m abidingly curious as to how things will wrap up in the third and final book. For me, good satire, especially satire of individual obsessions and cultural fetishes, has to have a beating heart, something that pushes the reader past pity and into empathy, however limited, with the satire’s objects and victims. Smith makes that leap. (These remarks are based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. Oh, and Melinda [Manga Bookshelf] Beasi agrees with me, which I always take as a good sign.)

It isn’t nearly as dense or ambitious as Peepo Choo, but the sixth volume of Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) is likely to be as coarse and funny as the previous installments. If you’re in the San Francisco area on Saturday, Sept. 18, you can catch the live-action movie adaptation of the death-metal satire, which is supposed to be pretty great.

It’s not on the ComicList, but the shop in my area lists the sixth volume of Adam Warren’s hilarious and smutty super-hero satire, Empowered (Dark Horse), as due to arrive tomorrow. This time around, Warren looks at the often transitory nature of death among the spandex set.

And the 11th volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, is a very welcome arrival indeed. This series takes a satirical look at ghost stories, people who help the dead reach their final reward, and pokes fun at the ambivalent ways we respond to the shuffling off of our mortal coil.

What looks good to you?

Making my day

September 13, 2010

I can all but guarantee that your Monday will be improved by reading Deb (About.Com) Aoki’s expanded transcript of the Moto Hagio panel from this year’s Comic-Con International. She talks about her career, her individual works, and manga in general. It’s hard to pick a quote that I like best, so I’ll pick the one that makes my head spin at the creative possibilities:

“I recently saw Henry VI by Shakespeare, and found that to be very inspiring. In Shakespeare, the stories tend to focus around the men, but there’s not a lot in these stories about the women. I’m interested in telling the stories about the women.”

I would now like an entire book of comics featuring Hagio’s take on the women of Shakespeare’s plays.

From the stack: There’s Something About Sunyool

September 13, 2010

The title of Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool (Netcomics) is accurate, though it takes a while to figure out what that something is and if you’d like to see more of it. By the time I’d finished the first volume, she had gone from blandly quirky to confidently madcap, and I was very much in her corner.

Sunyool is the illegitimate daughter of an ambitious politician, and she joins his family rather late in life. She’s an unruly, borderline cynical teen-ager before she goes to live with her dad, but her father eventually sees the advantages in having an attractive, marriageable daughter in his political arsenal. When she reaches her early 20s, he offers a slate of matrimonial candidates for his now fully cynical daughter to evaluate. Any of them could further his career, so it’s only a matter of which beau strikes her shifting fancy.

I always feel a certain resistance to arranged-marriage comedy, particularly when it isn’t a period piece, but Youngran Lee approaches it with such a bemused smirk that it’s hard to get too bogged down in my western perceptions. Sunyool sees the set-up as an unavoidable lark, a chore with benefits. While there are bits of her selection process that are kind of cute, it isn’t until she selects and weds the nicest of the candidates, Sihyun, that things really fall into place in a comedic sense.

The newlyweds address the fact that they don’t know each other very well, and they admit that they’d like a real marriage, at least in contrast to all of the marriages in their immediate circle. Sunyool may be in it mostly for the laughs, but she’s not immune to romance or lust, for that matter. She and Sihyun come to appreciate each other’s attractive attributes, and they eagerly anticipate the moment when their marriage of convenience will become a real love match. (They’re so eager and ardent that they make their respective best friends kind of nauseous, which is funny and reassuring to readers who might have been feeling the same way.) Then things fall apart through no fault of the lovebirds, and Lee’s capacity for cynicism fully reveals itself.

Through it all, Sunyool displays a withering capacity for bluntness and an uncanny instinct for deflating the smug, the bullying, and the deceptive. And since she moves in political circles, she never suffers a shortage of victims. This mutant ability to prick a hypocrite’s balloon is likely the “something” of the title, or at least it is for me. It might also be her ability to adapt to given circumstances, which is also charming and enviable. She’s cannily playing a game of low expectations, which even she admits, but she’s not immune to possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing her refuse to suffer new fools and roll with life’s nastier punches as the series progresses.

License Request Daily: Sailor Moon

September 10, 2010

Since I’m clearly in a shôjo place, it seems only appropriate to devote this week’s license request to one of the blockbusters of the category. And since Fantagraphics talked smack about it in its efforts to market Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, what better choice is there than Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon?

I’m not quite sure how many of the comic’s 18 volumes were published in English by the company that would eventually become Tokyopop, and I know it was serialized in Tokyopop’s MixxZine, but the collected volumes are out of print and kind of pricey, so it’s well past time to make it readily available. I think the license for it actually expired before original publisher Kodansha took all of its licenses back from Tokyopop.

It’s credited with breathing new life into the magic girl manga genre in Japan, and it’s also credited with really firing up the demand for shôjo in the United States. Do I need to tell you what it’s about? I do? Okay:

“The protagonist of Sailor Moon, Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary ditsy middle-school girl- or so she thinks- discovers a talking cat named Luna, who reveals Usagi’s identity as “Sailor Moon,” a special warrior with the destiny of saving the planet Earth, and later the entire galaxy. Usagi, who is the reincarnation of the Moon Princess, must now protect Earth from a series of villains, beginning with the Dark Kingdom that had appeared once before, long ago, and destroyed the kingdom of the moon.”

Basically, Usagi assembles a team of really powerful, astronomically accessorized friends who discover their destinies and save the world from people who have no love in their hearts. (They know who they are.)

The series was published in French by Glénat, though it seems like it might be out of print. As to who should republish it in English, well, that’s always a tricky question with Kodansha. They seem interested in keeping their classics back in print, especially if it requires no real effort to do so. But at the same time, it would be kind of fun if Fantagraphics, known in part for its archival impulses, would atone for its earlier snark by putting Sailor Moon back on the shelf in a prestige format.

Come on… The Complete Sailor Moon… Tell me that’s not an awesome idea.

Thursday thoughts

September 9, 2010

I’ve had something on my mind lately, and it seems like I’m not the only one. It’s the notion that the creative work of women, particularly when that work is created for women, is critically undervalued. I’m also wondering if that’s an overreaction on my part, so I thought I’d throw out some relevant links and try and open the topic up for further discussion.

I’ll start with a piece that Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi wrote for The Hooded Utilitarian called “Twilight and the Plight of the Female Fan.” Here’s a key paragraph:

“I’m also bothered by the strong implication that manga for girls is antithetic to solid stories and strong characters. “However, do not allow shoujo manga to intimidate you,” she says. ‘Although it is aimed primarily at young women, there are plenty of good, solid stories that are considered shoujo that I believe most people can enjoy.’ If even women feel they need to make these kinds of excuses while recommending manga written for (and primarily by) women and girls, how can we expect any of that work or the fans who read it to be respected by the larger fandom?”

This is something that’s been on my mind as it relates to critical reaction to Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). It’s not universally true, and, again, I recognize the fact that I might be overreacting or sniffing out dismissal where none is intended, but it is nagging at me. Here are a couple of examples of things that rankle, at least a little.

Chris (Robot 6) Mautner frames his generally positive review with this:

Dream, on the other hand, has both feet firmly planted in the world of shojo manga. The ten tales that make up this book all consist of overly sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve-style work. There’s very little ironic distancing and self-effacing humor here, although it does peep its head out occasionally. Mostly though, that’s been ignored in favor of heightened melodrama and earnest heart-tugging. While it avoids the sort of contrived, romantic, situation-comedy type plots that mark a lot of the shojo manga that has been translated into English over the past decade, there can be little doubt that Dream has more in common with Fruits Basket and Boys Over Flowers than Red Colored Elegy or Abandon the Old in Tokyo.”

Now, I could go the rest of my life without seeing Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop) used as the poster child for middlebrow romantic fiction, but I recognize that it might just be me who feels that way. And while there’s a lot to appreciate in Seiichi Hayashi’s Red Colored Elegy (Drawn & Quarterly), I’m more taken with its historical importance than its relative quality as an effective piece of fiction. I’ll appropriate a quote from Glenn (Monkey See) Weldon’s review of Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (Vertigo):

“An Important book is one you appreciate. A Good book is one you care about.”

Since I happen to be of the opinion that Hagio’s work is both Important and Good, I may not be in the best position to evaluate the particular merits of Mautner’s argument above.

I feel like there’s a more successful set of generalizations in David (Newsarama) Pepose’s review of A Drunken Dream (it’s at the end of the post):

“With all of the spectacle of the Big Two — and believe me, I don’t knock it, it’s what helps give the industry some of its enthusiastic character — I think sometimes people overlook the sheer potential that human conflict can give. Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream, if nothing else, is a reminder of that, giving a plethora of all-too-human situations under the occasional sci-fi or fantasy trope.”

It doesn’t diminish shôjo in comparison to the critic’s usual tastes, taking a refreshingly neutral approach. I wish I could say the same of this review in Publishers Weekly:

“Unlike current shojo manga, Hagio’s sentiment is more restrained, recounting a calmer account of destructive sibling rivalry, a quieter portrayal of a romance destined for failure, a subtle unraveling of a young woman in mourning.”

Admirable sentiments about Hagio aside, the suggestion that there’s nothing restrained or elevated to be found in current shôjo (or josei or yaoi) is just lazy, and it’s unnecessary. It’s like the author feels the need to discredit shôjo to be taken seriously.

Again, I have to admit the possibility that I’m too generally fond of shôjo and of Japanese comics created by women to eliminate the possibility that I’m overreacting. I might be too steeped in the stuff to have any distance. But I do note that this kind of discussion has also extended to books without pictures. Back at Monkey See, Linda Holmes rounds up and adds to discussion on whether or not book critics at the New York Times take work by women seriously:

“And then you get into the questions Weiner has raised about why it is that genre or ‘commercial’ fiction should be ignored anyway. The New York Times doesn’t limit itself to art-house movies; why should it limit itself to literary fiction? That’s not necessarily a question of gender bias; that’s a matter of philosophy.”

This passage presents the possibility that this discussion might be less about gender than about commercial appeal, which is entirely fair. But even in largely commercial categories, there’s significant artistic achievement.

So I throw the topic out to you. What do you think? Does work by women manga-ka, especially work primarily conceived for an audience of women, get less critical respect than perhaps it should?

Update: Chris Mautner comments to clarify his intent with the piece, which I certainly appreciate:

“I was trying to talk about reader expectation. The fact that Fantagraphics is publishing this, plus Hagio’s high status, both here and in Japan, means that folks (especially those who prefer the type of manga D&Q publishes over the kind Tokyopop does) are likely going to come to the book with a series of expectations that aren’t going to be necessarily met because of the audience Hagio was writing for and the particular genre she was working in. Is that fair? Hell no. Will it happen. I’d put good money on it.”

Over at Robot 6, Brigid (MangaBlog) Alverson looks at shôjo as a whole and reaches some conclusions I just don’t agree with at all:

“If you are a fan, that changes—you read the books carefully, you know the different creators and the different worlds, you see a hierarchy in terms of literary quality. But a genre is a genre is a genre, and you simply can’t write a shoujo manga in which the girl is, for instance, a lesbian, or the hero is a boy because by definition that isn’t shoujo manga.”

The Seinen Alphabet: H

September 8, 2010

“H” is for…

High School Girls, written and illustrated by Towa Oshima, originally published by Futubasha and published in English by the defunct DrMaster. This one was subject to a lot of jokes, mostly along the lines of “Isn’t that what all manga is about?” But it’s a favorite of Ed (MangaCast) Chavez, so it deserves a place of honor.

Hayate X Blade, written and illustrated by Shizuru Hayashiya, serialized in Shueisha’s Ultra Jump and published in English by Seven Seas. It’s a favorite of Erica (Okazu) Friedman.

House of Five Leaves, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, serialized in Shogakukan’s IKKI and on Viz’s SigIKKI site. It’s a favorite of… well… mine. And of lots of other people, I’m sure.

Lest you think that all seinen published in English has been created by women, there’s Hellsing, written and illustrated by Kouta Hirano. Hellsing is about a secret organization that protects England from various supernatural threats. Published in Japanese in Shonen Gahosha’s Young King Ours, it’s published in English by Dark Horse.

Hakusensha is best known in my neck of the woods as the publisher of terrific shôjo, but they also publish seinen in magazines like Young Animal, home to comics like Detroit Metal City and Berserk. There’s also Houbunsha, with seinen magazines like Weekly Manga Times and lots of four-panel stuff in the Manga Time family.

There are several fine-sounding series in the unpublished category.

Hataraki Man, written and illustrated by Moyoco Anno, recently resumed publication in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning.

Historie, written and illustrated by Hitoshi (Parasyte) Iwaaki, runs in Kodansha’s Afternoon. It’s about life in ancient Greece and Persia. Jason (King of RPGs) Thompson wrote about it for ComiXology.

I’d never heard of Human Crossing before, but it sounds kind of great. It was written by Masao Yajima and illustrated by Kenshi Hirokane, and it ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Original, winning a Shogakukan Manga Award. Another update: It seems strangely remiss of me not to specifically note that Hirokane is the godfather of salaryman manga, having created white-collar wonder Kôsaku Shima.

There’s something about the cover and concept of Hanamaru Kindergarten that I find perfectly terrifying, but perhaps this is because I’ve been listening to Ed Sizemore and Erica Friedman’s delightful podcast on moe. It’s written and illustrated by Yuto and published in Square Enix’s Young Gangan. I readily admit that I have no idea if where it falls on the cute-creepy spectrum. Updated yet again: A commenter informs me that this is very likely just cute instead of possessed of any leering intent.

What starts with the letter “H” in your seinen alphabet?

Updated to add some other titles mentioned in the comments and on Twitter by various kind folks:

  • Homonculus, written and illustrated by Hideo Yamamoto, originally published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits, which Scott Green describes as “the only manga to make [him] feel physically ill”
  • Hen, written and illustrated by Hiroya (Gantz) Oku, originally published in Shueisha’s Young Jump
  • Happy! written and illustrated by Naoki (Monster, 20th Century Boys, Pluto) Urasawa, originally published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits