From the stack: JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY

August 26, 2006

There are times when a terrific idea for a graphic novel doesn’t result in a terrific comic. I think Journey into Mohawk Country (First Second Books) is one of those instances, though the book has a lot going for it.

George O’Connor has illustrated a journal written by Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert, a Dutch trader setting off from Fort Orange (now Albany, N.Y.) into Iroquois territory. Van den Bogaert and his two companions are on something of a goodwill mission, hoping to expand fur trade with the Iroquois and gather information on French expansion into the region.

I love the concept behind the book – translating a primary historical source into a contemporary visual format. Obviously it’s not the only current project to take this approach, and it certainly isn’t the one with the highest profile. But it is an intriguing addition to the roster of ways graphic novel creators are re-conceiving non-fiction content.

I’m a big fan of books in this category. I love the energy and goofy wit of the Action Philosophers books (Evil Twin). The morbid precision of Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series is always good, shivery company. Ande Parks and Chris Samnee were audacious with Capote in Kansas, their graphic novelization of the creation of a non-fiction novel. And Jim Ottaviani assembled a who’s who of creators for Dignifying Science to tell the stories of groundbreaking women scientists.

But with Journey into Mohawk Country, my interest in the concept outweighs my interest in the content. Van de Bogaert did not seem to be writing for posterity, providing instead a somewhat dry recounting of the events of his travels. Pieces like this – letters, legers, maps, journals – contribute to the tapestry of history, but the interest for me is their context, or what they say about a point in time.

O’Connor resists the urge to contextualize Van de Bogaert’s experiences, which is both admirable and problematic. He’s respecting his source material, contributing only slight embroideries to Van de Bogaert’s account in the form of little grace notes of feeling. But that respect also leaves the narrative shapeless. It’s odd to be levying criticisms at a writer who never intended for his words to be purposed in this particular way, but that’s the conundrum of the book.

I like O’Connor’s illustrations, which are generally lively and expressive. They’re not so exaggerated or stylized that they contradict the source material, nor are they so static that they seem like illustrations accompanying a text. They create a solid sense of place, and O’Connor doesn’t entirely resist the urge to indulge in some visual flights of fancy. (I did find myself distracted by one bit character design, though it could just be me. I think the illustrated Van de Bogaert bears an uncanny resemblance to Zonker Harris.)

Colors by Hilary Sycamore serve the book well. She captures the wintry palette of the countryside and the fireside glow of the Mohawk communities. It runs towards the monochromatic at times, but that might reflect the reluctance to embroider on the reality being portrayed. As with all First Second books, Journey into Mohawk Country is beautifully designed.

In the final analysis, I’m of two minds about the book. The narrative doesn’t really engage me, but I want to see more books in this vein based on more gripping source material. As an individual graphic novel, I think Journey into Mohawk Country has tremendous potential value as an educational tool. Not only does it provide a specific and personal window into a period of history, it’s an exciting example of imaginative ways to communicate history.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


Upcoming 1/6/2010

January 5, 2010

2010 hits the ground running, at least in ComicList terms. I hope you got cash for Christmas or are fit enough to supplement your income by shoveling the driveways of neighbors.

It’s been available in English for a few years, but that doesn’t stop me from making the hardcover collector’s edition of Fumiyo Kouno’s glorious Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Last Gasp) my pick of the week. In my opinion, this is still one of the finest comics from Japan ever to be licensed. Don’t believe me? Check out reviews from Lorena (i ♥ manga) Nava Ruggero and Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey.

I only know what Drawn & Quarterly tells me about Imiri Sakabashira’s The Box Man, but I do know that they’ve got excellent taste in comics from Japan (and everywhere else). What does the publisher promise? An “absurdist tale in a seamless tapestry constructed of elements as seemingly disparate as Japanese folklore, pop culture, and surrealism. Within these panels, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate, the real and the imagined, a tension that adds a layer of complexity to this near-wordless psychedelic travelogue.”

Quick, something a little more undemanding! CMX to the likely rescue! They debut The World I Create, written and illustrated by Ayami Kazama. It’s about students with the ability to create virtual realities, and it looks kind of charming.

I was crazy about godly pantheons as a kid, particularly the Greek. It never translated into a particular love for comics versions of characters like Hercules, but I was always fascinated, probably because the mythology was so much like a soap opera with extra smiting. As I really admired George O’Connor’s abilities as a cartoonist in Journey into Mohawk Country as well, I’ll definitely give First Second’s Zeus: King of the Gods a good long look.

I’m apparently not supposed to call them “pamphlets” any more, though I thought that was the preferred term over “floppies.” “Flimsies” it is. There are two such publications out this week that show much promise: the fourth issue of Brandon Graham’s King City (Image) and the second issue of Stumptown (Oni), written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Matthew Southworth, and colored by Lee Loughridge. Thanks again for making my browser crash, Image.

Now, for the costliest portion of our program: the new shôjo, which I will simply list in alphabetical order because there’s so much of it:

  • Happy Café vol. 1, written and illustrated by Kou Matsuzuki, Tokyopop: I love romantic comedies set in restaurants, so I’ll certainly pick this up at some point.
  • Nana vol. 20, written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa, Viz: More awesome rock-and-roll drama.
  • Natsume’s Book of Friends vol. 1, written and illustrated by Yuki Midorikawa: I thought this supernatural series got off to a strong start.
  • Sand Chronicles vol. 7, written and illustrated by Hinako Akihara: Oh, the beautiful ache of growing up.
  • V.B. Rose vol. 7, written and illustrated by Banri Hidaka, Tokyopop: Awesome stuff about wedding dress designers and their impulsive apprentice.
  • So what looks good to you?

    Update: I forgot to mention this one, but Marvel does a really quick turnaround on producing a trade paperback of its Marvel Divas mini-series, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Tonci Zonjic. I enjoyed it very much in flimsy form, though I’m sad to see that they apparently use that hideous J. Scott Campbell cover for the collection. You’ll understand if I don’t illustrate this paragraph with a thumbnail, won’t you?


    Previews review November 2009

    November 12, 2009

    There aren’t very many debuts in the November 2009 Previews catalog, but there are plenty of new volumes of excellent ongoing series. Let’s start with the new arrivals, though:

    OkimonoKimonoDark Horse releases Okimono Kimoni, written and illustrated by Mokona with assistance from the rest of CLAMP. “a fun and lavishly illustrated book full of drawings and illustrations, interviews (including an interview with Ami of the J-pop duo Puffy AmiYumi!), and even short manga stories from the CLAMP artists.” So that’s your “eye-popping-ly pretty” alert for the month. (Page 43.)

    OlympiansZeusI like Greek Mythology, and I thought George O’Connor’s Journey Into Mohawk Country had a lot of strong points. So I’ll definitely give O’Connor’s Olympians Volume 1: Zeus, King of the Gods (First Second) a look. “In OLYMPIANS, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures, with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.” (Page 232.)

    AliceCountryHearts1Alice in the Country of Hearts (Tokyopop), written by QuinRose and illustrated by Hoshino Soumei (Tokyopop) is triggering my “weird but crack-y” sensors: “Alice, who has fallen asleep in her garden, wakes up to find a white rabbit wearing clothes?! The rabbit forcefully drags Alice into the rabbit hole, where he turns into a young man with rabbit ears and leads her into a frightful world where the fairytale-like citizens wield dangerous weapons for an insidious cause… Unable to return home, will she be able to find happiness in a world full of danger and beautiful young men?” (Page 263.)

    bokuranoI can’t say that Mohiro Kitoh’s Bokurano: Ours is my favorite title in Viz’s SIGIKKI initiative, or even in the top five, but I’m always glad to see these titles see print, since it reassures me that the ones I really enjoy will follow sooner or later. “One summer, fifteen kids innocently wander into a nearby seaside cave. There they meet a strange man who invites them to play an exciting new video game. This game, he explains, pits one lone giant robot against a horde of alien invaders. To play the game, all they have to do is sign a simple contract. The game stops being fun when the kids find out the true purpose of their pact.” (Page 273.)

    Swan15And now for the new volumes and new editions:

  • Black Jack vol. 9, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical. (Page 272.)
  • Little Nothings Volume 3: Uneasy Happiness, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim, NBM. (Page 249.)
  • Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei vol. 5, written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, Del Rey. (Page 222)
  • Swan vol. 15, written and illustrated by Kyoko Aryoshi, CMX. (Page 119.)
  • Hardcover edition of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kouno, Last Gasp. (Page 248)

  • But if I did…

    July 21, 2007

    I won’t be attending the San Diego Comic-Con this year. Let’s face it. I probably won’t be attending it any year. I’m extremely reluctant to fly anywhere, for a number of reasons. (I’m not afraid of the experience. I’m just ceaselessly irritated by almost every aspect of it.) And I can’t quite picture myself getting on a plane specifically to attend a comic convention. I’ll drive to one, or better still, take a train, but neither of those options is really practical when your starting point is West Virginia and your destination is Southern California.

    A dislike of being herded and anxiety over my carbon footprint don’t necessarily constitute a condemnation of the con itself, and if I were to go, I’d find plenty of interesting panels to occupy my time. So here’s what I wouldn’t want to miss:

    Read the rest of this entry »


    From the stack: First in Space

    April 4, 2007

    Sad animal stories are my undoing. I can’t be in the room when a certain tenor of music or tone of narration kicks in on Animal Planet. I can watch dozens of expendable humans fall in the face of fictional mayhem, but damn it, if that loyal dog or cat doesn’t make it to the end of the movie or the last chapter of the novel, the book or movie is a wash.

    So I viewed the imminent arrival of James Vining’s First in Space (Oni) with some trepidation. It has a fascinating premise – all about the chimpanzees sent into space to pave the way for NASA astronauts. But the prospect of a tale of animals being shot into space to further the curiosity and ambition of humans made me anxious.

    I’m glad Oni sent me a preview copy, because Vining’s restrained, intelligent approach to the material gives it balance and sensitivity. The portrayal of chimpanzee Ham and the people who train him poses difficult questions, but Vining generally refrains from answering them.

    The approach is similar to that used by George O’Connor in Journey into Mohawk Country (First Second), meticulously researching and documenting historical events. Like O’Connor, Vining barely imposes on the historical narrative, but Vining really doesn’t need to. It’s pretty much a “duh” statement to suggest that space chimps are naturally more dramatic than Dutch fur traders, and Vining’s editing of Ham’s story is funny, sad, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.

    I think both Journey and First in Space could function similarly as teaching tools as well. Both provide snapshots of history and employ imaginative means of retelling it. First in Space has the added advantage of being a fine, mostly even-handed starting point for discussion and debate about the use of animals as research subjects.

    And like O’Connor, Vining (who was awarded a grant from the Xeric Foundation) is a real find. His cartooning style is clean, lively and precise in its emotional effect. The material could lend itself to shameless heartstring tugging and Disney-esque anthropomorphism, but Vining plays it straight for the most part. He doesn’t push because, again, he doesn’t need to.

    I’ll never be first in line for entertainments about animals in peril. It’s just not what I look for when I open a comic or novel or turn on a television. But First in Space avoids the cheap manipulations endemic to that category, simply telling a fascinating story and with sincerity and intelligence.

    (This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. First in Space ships on April 25.)


    Random thoughts

    August 5, 2006

    What’s that you say? I can enjoy another comic about the settlement of North America? Why, thank you! This time around, it’s George O’Connor’s Journey into Mohawk Country from First Second, profiled in the latest Publishers Weekly Comics Week. It sounds like the perfect companion reading for Scott Chantler’s excellent Northwest Passage from Oni. (I wonder if Oni is planning an omnibus edition for after the three-volume series concludes this month? That would be a very library-friendly gesture.)

    *

    Greg McElhatton has a review of Ueda Hajime’s Q-Ko-Chan: The Earth Invader Girl (Del Rey) up at iComics.com. I picked this book up this week and found it to be visually arresting but a little hard to follow. It looks amazing, and the character design is stunning. It’s also only two volumes long, so I’ll definitely give it a closer read after I plow through some of the backlog of books that are sitting there in a pile and judging me.

    *

    I should have learned by now not to assume that even great comic shops will have precisely what I want all the time. I had planned to do a lot of shopping at Alternative Reality during a recent trip to Las Vegas, but all of the books on my list (the first issue of the new Castle Waiting series from Linda Medley and Get a Life from Drawn and Quarterly, among others) were sold out. So I guess I have good taste and bad timing.

    *

    The main reason behind the Vegas jaunt was to see Cirque du Soleil’s at the MGM Grand. It was amazing, but I was surprised to be bothered by some of the same issues of design versus functionality that I’ve found with some publishers’ web sites. It’s a masterpiece of technical theatre, with this phenomenal turntable that goes in every conceivable direction, but the flourishes eventually overwhelm the narrative completely. It’s too bad, because the story started extremely well. Still, if you’re a fan of “we did that because we could” showmanship, go for it. (After looking through the gift shop and laughing at the prices, we decided that Cirque is probably working on a sequel called CHÏNG.)

    But if you’re in Vegas and want to feed a Cirque jones, I’d recommend Mystère at Treasure Island. If you want to feed a Cirque jones and don’t feel like dealing with the Vegas fracas (and who could blame you?), just wait until Quidam comes to a city near you. It’s still my favorite of their productions.

    *

    If you’re in Vegas, are a Top Chef fan, and feel like sampling some of Tom Colicchio’s cooking, I’d recommend stopping by ‘wichcraft at the MGM Grand. The sandwiches are great, and the prices are pretty reasonable for celebrity chef casino food. (I’d love to have the kind of money to be a shameless, fame-whoring foodie in Las Vegas, but who can afford it?)

    *

    My approach to gambling in Las Vegas is to spend as little money as possible for the longest possible period of time. I never assume I’m going to win anything beyond the cost of a cup of coffee. The best spot for that kind of play was Sam’s Town, which is way off the Strip, but that only makes it more appealing to me. If we ever go back, we might just have to stay there, as it’s a lot cheaper, seems friendlier than most of the mid-range Strip options, and has undergone a serious renovation in the last few years.


    :01 thoughts

    March 8, 2006

    In my trawl through the latest Previews, I overlooked one of the books from :01 (First Second). I though Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat was brilliant, so I’m looking forward to Vampire Loves.

    I think I might be in some kind of denial over :01’s line. Almost all of it looks really good to me, and the last thing I need is another reason to overspend. The volume of Sfar’s material alone is daunting, though damned near irresistible. Ah, well.

    Tom Spurgeon provides cover images for :01’s fall line of books (and thanks for the reminder to Ed, who has never come down on the side of restraint even once), with links to more information from the publisher. Klezmer looks particularly wonderful, as does Journey Into Mohawk Country.


    Guest review: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

    December 2, 2010

    By Erica (Okazu) Friedman

    A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
    Written and illustrated by Moto Hagio

    Every genre, whether it is based on content (horror, romance, action) or age and gender, (shoujo, shounen) develops tropes. Tropes do not develop overnight. They are created by the creators – who use their training, their inspiration and the input of mentors, peers and editors to inform their work. Tropes are also driven by tension from the marketplace. Fans get used to certain things, or those who do the buying require certain conventions. Tropes that are successful are measured by sales – if Book A sells a lot of copies and it has Vampires, you can be sure that Book B and C will have Vampires too (or Zombies, or whatever the hot meme of the day is.) And publishers create tropes, when costs allow or don’t allow for certain things. If the market is doing well, then you might see extras packaged with a title. After three volumes of that title with extras, you can be sure that fans will start to expect extras with that next volume.

    One of the fascinating qualities of fandom is that when fans have been around a long time, and still love a genre to death, they become dismissive of the tropes and start looking – in that same genre – for something more. I’m guilty of this myself and have created a nickname for stories that fit neatly within the boundaries of the most typical tropes of Yuri. I call those stories “Story A,” and yes, I absolutely mean it dismissively.

    So, when people who have read a million shoujo stories look at the genre, they tend to be very offhand about it. “Spunky young heroine who makes friends easily. Hot older guy she falls instantly in love with. Sullen and withdrawn guy her own age who she’s clearly going to end up with in the end. And of course a tragic past full of secrets. But again, shoujo is not where you go for originality.” (With apologies to Sean Gaffney who is not at all dismissive of these things – in fact, he embraces them with fervor.)

    What this means is that anyone who does NOT read the genre, is likely to read all these jaded, dismissive accounts of the genre (often by people for whom the genre is not intended) and assume that that’s just the way it is. Couple this with the natural tendency of the “critic” to pretend their condescension is in some way objective and …yes, I’m going to say it…the unrelenting, aggressively clueless sexism of about 80% of the men involved in the comics industry and their less creative, but no less vociferous male counterparts in comics criticism…you get a world of upturned noses and sniffiness at anything created by, or worse – for – females.

    Shoujo manga is aimed at girls. Young girls are casteless in the world of entertainment. Basically no one gives a crap about them. The color pink is regurgitated at them endlessly as if being 9 and female means that one is essentially color blind to any other color. And heaven forefend that anyone, anywhere, that makes books for girls should EVER be taken seriously.

    Except Moto Hagio. Her work, we are told sniffily, is NOT LIKE those other, pinker, sparkle-pony-er kinds of shoujo. This is *serious art,* that we are meant to take very seriously. You can tell it’s serious and important, because male critics deign to look at it at all.

    Humility, thy name is shoujo manga.

    Moto Hagio is a woman who drew manga for girls. Young girls – girls of the age where it is perfectly acceptable for many people to eroticize them, but not to take them seriously as people, with their own requirements, fantasies and interests. She took them seriously. No surprise, as she had been one herself. As hard as this is to believe I also was a young girl once. Moto Hagio’s works talked *directly* to the young girl I had once been.

    I began this review noting that fans have a tendency to dismiss what they are already familiar with. The first story of this collection, “Bianca,” is exactly that kind of story. It’s been done, we say with a handwave, many times. True. But never have I seen it done this well. In 12 pages, Moto Hagio tells me a story I’ve read any number of times before – and tells it to me in a way that makes my heart feel like it’s so *full* of something that it might explode. Art, I’m told, should evoke a reaction. Is gripping my chest and taking heaving breaths enough of a reaction to call this ‘Art?’ Or is my reaction supposed to be more objective? Then… It called to mind the reaction I had when first encountering Stonehenge and realizing that I was in the presence of something masterful, precisely because it was not meant to be so when it was created. (I have always thought that Stonehenge was a Public Works Project – meant to keep people productive and busy so they felt like they earned their food at the end of the day.)

    This collection may, in fact, not be the best way to encounter Moto Hagio’s work. Collections have an agenda, and fans are not typically subtle thinkers. I’ve seen a number of reviews that fall prey to the belief that the stories in this collection beat the same drum over and over. There are certainly themes that repeat, some more than others; Being Different; Perception; Family

    Family is something that is addressed repeatedly in Moto Hagio’s work. She talks frankly about the tension between her and her parents, especially her mother. This is a theme she explores from many different angles – family as the obstacle to a life, rather than a support; family that you create for yourself being as powerful, even more powerful than blood relatives. Call me typical, but as a girl, something like “Iguana Girl” would have rendered me into a sobbing heap of sympathy. Of course I understood *exactly* what Rika was feeling! No one I know wouldn’t. We’re all Outsiders, we’re all Different. For those young readers who might be LGBT, can you imagine the power of this story? Different? You don’t know that half of it….! And for those readers, the idea that Family is something you create for yourself will still resonate as a powerful message.

    Perception of self is another unavoidable theme in this collection and I think it’s probably fair to say in her body of work as a whole. What characters see themselves as, what others see and what “reality” is are three entirely distinct things. In most stories, the lines between these are blurred enough that the reader might not be able to clearly differentiate which they are perceiving at any moment. “A Drunken Dream” is titled well. We have no “reality” to hang on to, no idea if any portion of the story is real or not. In “Autumn Journey” the truth of Johann’s “reality” completely changes the Luise’s life and we’re left not really knowing how things will turn out for either of them (albeit, we’re left hopeful that it will all turn out well.) “Hanshin Half-God” and “Iguana Girl” are clearly the vanguard in this theme, with altered perceptions presented as both real and false at the same time. And in the “Child Who Came Home,” the reality we’re presented is nothing more than a desperate delusion. Through all the stories, there is a very strong emphasis on individual perception being at odds with the consensus perception of the people around them – something that would have resonated deeply – or jarred horribly – for the Japanese audience. “Girl on Porch With Puppy” is an object lesson of what happens to people who fail to conform in a society that values the group over the individual.

    Shoujo manga is (often dismissively) summed up as stories of the heart. But shoujo manga is not just about romance – it is about emotional interplay. Where shounen heroes gain physical power, shoujo heroines gain emotional power. Shounen heroes beat their enemies to make them their friends – shoujo heroines love their enemies until they love them back. Th characters here are lovable – which is a risk we take with these stories. We’re not sure that the heroine will be plucky or that everyone will love them back. But like most contemporary shoujo, A Drunken Dream contains stories of emotional interaction, and emotional growth that comes from communication.

    Moto Hagio is, like all other “classic” writers, doomed to be over-thought by adults, when if you just handed the average teen her work without making an assignment out of it, it would probably go over well. (Better yet, make is slightly forbidden, like Death Note.) Fantagraphics has done a lovely job with the book and in doing so has all but guaranteed the separation of Moto Hagio from her *actual audience* – teen girls.

    I think there’s a real risk, though, in over-analyzing this volume. Moto Hagio’s stories are, as I said at the beginning, masterful largely because she did not set out to be so. She wrote from the heart, stories that girls could understand, enjoy, identify with. She was the Stephanie Meyer of her time and only now, when we look back on a body of literature that spans decades, we see that it’s a little silly to dismiss it (or glorify it) because it’s shoujo manga. What A Drunken Dream offers is as much or as little as we want to see. If we stare too hard past the cute girl looking back at us in the mirror, we might in fact see the deathly crone behind her…but why would we want to do that? Can’t we just take the cute girl at face value? Isn’t she “important” enough on her own?

    Moto Hagio is a woman, who draws stories for girls. She is a Master of her Craft. She is a groundbreaker in her field. None of these statements are contradictory.

    A Drunken Dream is a must-read for any serious student of manga. While you’re getting a copy, buy one for a niece or friend – and don’t tell them it’s “important.” This way they’ll be free to just enjoy it, tropes and all.


    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.

    *


    Finale thoughts

    June 14, 2010

    Even if the rest of Glee‘s final episode of the season had been entirely intolerable, and one should never rule that out as a possibility when Ryan Murphy is involved, I loved the Journey medley so much that it’s almost indecent. I’m sure Hulu is wondering who in West Virginia keeps watching that clip over and over again. I had never fully realized how much I love Journey in spite of the fact that they were basically the soundtrack to my high school years. Seriously, there weren’t many traumatic experiences that weren’t scored by “Open Arms.” If that hasn’t demolished my musical credibility completely, I would like to admit that I would totally pay to see a musical constructed on the song catalog of Air Supply.

    I might have loved “To Sir, with Love” more if Quinn had been given a few solo lines. I’m always delighted to see Kurt and Santana get some of the vocal spotlight, but this song seems very much the right style for Dianna Agron’s sweet but not especially powerful singing voice, and the sentiment tracks with Quinn’s character arc. I love Santana, don’t get me wrong, but she didn’t learn anything this year, much less right from wrong.

    The show can make that minor failing up to me next year by giving Quinn and the Cheerios a crack at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” which would also give Heather (Brittany) Morris some awesome solo dance opportunities. I always smile when she’s on screen, particularly when she’s dancing.