License request day: Sazae-San

October 2, 2009


Today’s license request is a little unusual for a couple of reasons. First, a chunk of it has already been made available in English, but it’s out of print. Second, it’s a newspaper strip, which I don’t think I’ve asked for before. It’s Machiko Hasegawa’s Sazae-San, a long-running, much-loved, four-panel comic about an endearing woman and her extended family.

According to Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Chic Young’s Blondie made quite an impression on Japanese readers when it debuted in 1946, “instilling in its readers the desire to share in the middle-class American dream.” Blondie got bumped in 1951 for home-grown Sazae-San. Gravett’s description offers a compelling explanation for that:

“For decades Hasegawa’s affectionate, unglamorized portrayal of an everywoman’s good humor and quiet strength (based on the mangaka’s own life) conveyed the sot of feminine insights that would have probably escaped most male cartoonists altogether.”

According to Wikipedia, it ran from 1946 to 1974, mixing contemporary issues, particularly feminism, with the lighthearted domestic comedy.


In the late 1990s, Kodansha International published a dozen volumes of the strip in its bilingual comic line under the title The Wonderful World of Sazae-San. Though out of print, several of the volumes are available on Amazon.Com, and, better still, lots of the entries include sample pages, including the first, second, third, and fourth, among others.

The strips look charming, and I guess it wouldn’t be that expensive to track down the Kodansha volumes, but in this era of handsome collections of classic strips, I’d love to see a new printing of the material. To my way of thinking, the obvious choice would be Drawn & Quarterly with its demonstrated fondness for classic comics from Japan and wonderful comic strips by women.

Gravett calls Hasegawa “Japan’s first successful woman comic artist,” which seems like reason enough to have her work in print. Her work’s charm and universal themes of family life, combined with a three-decade glimpse into daily life in Japan, make the prospect of new English-language publication seem both entertaining and important.


Birthday Book: Doonesbury

July 21, 2009

mayjuneThe Comics Reporter notes that today is the 61st birthday of Garry Trudeau, creator of the essential, still-vibrant Doonesbury. I don’t talk about comic strips as much as I probably should, but I’ve loved them longer than I’ve loved comic books, and Doonesbury is one of my all-time favorites.

It’s hard to point to a specific Doonesbury collection, because all of them have something significant to recommend them. I’m disappointed to see how much of the Doonesbury catalog seems to be out of print. I remember a visit to my older sister’s house during my teen-aged years when I saw a neat row of slim Doonesbury paperbacks like Ask for May, Settle for June, As the Kid Goes for Broke, Do All Birders Have Bedroom Eyes, Dear? and lots of others.

The strip has always struck just the right blend of topical satire and ongoing, multi-generational soap opera for me. Trudeau can deal with challenging subjects – war, AIDS, divorce, unemployment, you name it – with grade, humor, and a wonderfully consistent tone. There’s really no such thing as a “very special Doonesbury.” They’re all pretty much special because of the affection and intelligence Trudeau applies, regardless of specific subject matter.

As I said, it’s said to me that there doesn’t seem to be a big, hulking Doonesbury collection that spans the strip’s history. The closest to that seems to be the Flashbacks: Twenty-Five Years of Doonesbury (Andres and McMeel), but it’s 15 years old and only 331 pages, so I’m not sure how comprehensive it can be. The publisher also lists it as “out of stock.” Why are some these great, ambitious strips so intermittently available in collected form?

The Congresswoman from California

November 22, 2008

I always enjoy Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, and the last couple of weeks (Nov. 10 to 22) have been a real treat. Trudeau is digging into some of my favorite parts of the strip’s history, doing a mini-retrospective on the late, lamented Lacey Davenport, a Republican legislator from California. If I were ever to put together a list of Great Women Characters of Comic Strips, Lacey would be right at the top. She embodied a lot of the things I like about the series — its ability to be topical and personal at the same time, the philosophical diversity of its cast, the handling of the passage of time, and the way it always managed to mix and match a sprawling cast of characters for thoughtful comic effect.

Here’s a great sequence of strips where liberal, newly minted lawyer Joanie Caucus (who campaigned for Lacey’s opponent) goes to work for Lacey.

Fabulous prizes

August 24, 2007

The winners in Lambda Legal’s “Life Without Fair Courts” cartoon contest have been announced via a press release from Prism Comics. Entries can be viewed here. All of the finalists are solid, but I think I probably would have given the prize to Ted Rall.

The full press release is after the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

God (of manga) complex

July 3, 2007

Before getting on to regular Right Turn Only business, Carlo Santos ponders the publishing fate of Osamu Tezuka in the world of licensed manga:

“How is it that the most dependable producer of Tezuka’s work (in America) is a boutique literary publisher that’s targeted way above the heads of the kids who SHOULD be reading his stuff?”

It’s a reasonable question, and it leads Chloe at Schuchaku East to suggest the following:

“Granted, Princess Knight, Pheonix, Kimba- these are classics, why aren’t they making it to the masses? Well, for one, they’re a bit aged, and second, as thrilled as manga commentators would be to get their hands on a copy, manga remains a mass market industry aimed largely at preteens and teens.”

It is a weird conundrum. On the one hand, Tezuka was constantly exploring different genres and reaching out to different audiences, so his stuff for older audiences is as much a part of his legacy as his stuff for kids. I don’t think it necessarily does a disservice to his legacy to make the mature-audience stuff available and package it for that audience. Tezuka was all about comics for people at every stage of life, and I don’t think that means he was all about grandparents reading manga for kids.

At the same time, I’d like someone to pick up Princess Knight because the snippet Viz published was a lot of fun. (Would it be more accurate to call it a suspicion or a hope to say that I think Viz published that excerpt to test the waters and see what kind of demand for more they got from the Shojo Beat audience?) I honestly don’t think his work has aged all that badly, and I wonder if its original target audience – kids – would actually find it dated or kind of weird and cool. (I wouldn’t necessarily want to see it given the ivory tower treatment, though. Just put it in the customary paperback form with the rest of the Shojo Beat line, if it’s going to be done at all.)

It leads me to wonder who these high-end collections of stuff like Peanuts and Moomin and Dennis the Menace are supposed to reach. Obviously, comics connoisseurs enjoy them, but I certainly hope that kids are spending rainy afternoons with them too. I don’t know any kids to ask, and they may look at those tomes and roll their eyes. (Well, I can’t let myself believe they’d do that with Moomin.)

Strip creep

April 19, 2007

King Features will be getting into the manga-influenced comic strip business, according to this piece at Editor and Publisher.

“‘My Cage’ is co-created by manga graphic novelist Melissa DeJesus and her writing partner, Ed Power.

“The strip — whose name spoofs the ‘MySpace’ social-networking site’s name — focuses on a group of mostly 20-something and 30-something anthropomorphized animals.”

Here’s a link to the King Features press release, and here, appropriately enough, is the creators’ MySpace page. DeJesus was the illustrator for “fan-service spectacular” Sokora Refugees.


March 8, 2007

Does anyone else remember the series of Doonesbury strips where Duke died? And there were semi-serious obituaries in newspapers and people talking about the end of an era and stuff like that? And then it turned out that he’d just been zombified and placed in the service of an exiled Haitian dictator?

I love Doonesbury.