For your 2011 Eisner consideration

December 16, 2010

Submissions are being accepted for the 2011 Eisner Awards! I enjoyed cobbling a list of suggested manga nominations last year, so I thought I’d try again.

There could be a number of Japanese works that make it into the Best Short Story category, as both Fantagraphics and Top Shelf published highly regarded collections of short manga. If forced to pick just one story from Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, I think it would have to be “Hanshin/Half-God.” There’s a lot of terrific work in Top Shelf’s AX anthology, but the one that keeps coming to mind would have to be Akino Kondo’s “The Rainy Day Blouse & the First Umbrella.”

Whether or not any Japanese titles show up in the Best Continuing Comic Book Series category is always kind of a crap shoot. If one shows up, there’s a good chance it’s probably by Naoki Urasawa, so I wouldn’t be surprised or at all displeased if we saw 20th Century Boys or Pluto (Viz) in this roster. I would be surprised and delighted if we saw that stalwart, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, take a slot. The same goes for Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz), which experienced a big push this year and put Oda’s multifaceted gifts on flattering display.

The Best New Series category is tricky for similar reasons. You never know how they’ll define the category, and, hey, it’s not like the rest of the comics industry is hurting for good new titles. But if they want to mix it up with some newly launched (here, at least) manga series, here are four they might consider:

  • Twin Spica (Vertical), Kou Yaginuma’s heartfelt examination of a school for astronauts
  • Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Yumi Unita’s observant take on single fatherhood
  • House of Five Leaves (Viz), Natsume Ono’s alluring tale of an unemployed samurai who falls in with the right/wrong crowd
  • Cross Game (Viz), Mitsuru Adachi’s coming-of-age baseball drama.
  • Technically speaking, neither of the following titles was originally conceived of for kids, but I have no problem putting them forward as likely candidates for the Best Publication for Kids category. Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical) is charming and funny, and it offers a point-by-point run-through of the responsibilities of pet ownership, which is a great thing to hand a kid. Very few people don’t like Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! (Yen Press) for the simple reasons that it’s hysterically funny and wide open to just about anyone who cares to read it. It’s the kind of book that I think people want to read with the kids in their lives, which is certainly an enticement for voters.

    If there’s a category that’s hard to pin down, it would probably be Best Publication for Teens, partly because I don’t think teens really like being told “We know you’ll like this.” So I’ll go with two that are rated “Teen,” because I’m lazy like that. Cross Game has pretty much everything you could ask for from a coming-of-age novel: joy, sorry, confusion, comedy, great characters, and completely recognizable slices of life. Yuki Midorikawa slices up a more supernatural life with Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), but it has hearts and smarts in common with Adachi’s baseball comic.

    Not much has changed as far as my Best Humor Publication recommendations go, at least in relation to Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey). The aforementioned Yotsuba&! is routinely one of the funniest comics I read, and Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) has a lot of vulgar high points.

    Unless there’s some utterly arcane bit of rules of which I’m unaware, there’s no reason on Earth for AX not to snag a Best Anthology nomination. It’s everything an anthology or collection is supposed to be, isn’t it? Purposeful, varied, significant, with bonus points for being frequently entertaining and nicely produced.

    Nominees in the Best Archival Collection apparently need to focus on work that’s at least 20 years old, so I suspect that might disqualify A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, but there’s plenty of material to choose from. Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako (Vertical) is perhaps not my favorite of his works, but there’s always Black Jack from the same publisher. There’s also Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly), which offers a worthwhile glimpse into his earlier, long-form works.

    Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material — Asia opens its own can of worms for me in terms of recommendation, because what I’d suggest would depend on what’s nominated elsewhere. I’m always for spreading the wealth, if possible. Assuming there’s an absence of comics from Japan in the other categories, I’d say these five are essential, though: A Drunken Dream an Other Stories (Fantgraphics), AX (Top Shelf), Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Twin Spica (Vertical), and Cross Game (Viz).

    It’s unfortunate that the Best Writer/Artist categories are divided into Humor and Drama, because the greats balance both. I would love to see Fumi Yoshinaga nominated, possibly in the humor side of the equation. Still, her year included All My Darling Daughters (Viz), new volumes of Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz), and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy (Yen Press), which seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to nominate her for an award she’s deserved for years. I’d feel fairly secure in placing Moto Hagio in the Drama category, since that is the essential nature of the short stories collected in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. They aren’t entirely void of humor, but…

    Chi’s Sweet Home’s qualifications for Best Publication Design may not be immediately obvious, but the care with which its reading orientation was flipped and color was added to each page are worth noting, especially in the ways that they opened the book up to a larger audience. There seem to be a lot of gorgeous, immense package jobs this year, slip-cased volumes that you could use as an ottoman, and there’s some snazzy design for books that doesn’t really enhance the actual comic in question, but the design for Chi’s Sweet Home served the product and was subtly beautiful at the same time. [Update: I’m reliably informed that the book was in color before it was flipped and translated.] The cover designs for 7 Billion Needles were perhaps less cumulative work, but their style and texture are real winners.

    What did I miss? What books and creators would you recommend for Eisner consideration?


    Upcoming 11/10/2010

    November 9, 2010

    It’s one of those neat ComicList weeks where all kinds of interesting comics from throughout the space-time continuum are due to land.

    Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney tweeted about this book, and it has a definite allure for me as a person who read a lot of Archie comics in the back seat of the station wagon on long drives to various vacation destinations during his childhood. It’s Dark Horse’s Archie Firsts collection, which promises “first issues, first appearances, and other milestones, collected for the first time in one hardcover volume!”

    I was a huge fan of Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni Press), so it would stand to reason that I should pick up a copy of his Two Generals (McClelland and Stewart), which promises “poignant graphic memoir that tells the story of World War II from an Everyman’s perspective.” I’m not a history buff, per se, but Chantler is phenomenally talented.

    The first volume of Lars Martinson’s Tōnoharu (Top Shelf) was very intriguing, so I’m looking forward to Martinson’s second look at a fish out of water teaching English in rural Japan.

    Erica (Okazu) Friedman is crazy about Hayate X Blade (Seven Seas), written and illustrated by Shizuru Hayashiya, and that’s reason enough to seriously consider the purchase of the first omnibus collection of the series.

    And I am crazy about Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (Vertical), and I would never consider delaying in the purchase of the fourth volume. This is easily one of the great series debuts of 2010.

    What looks good to you?


    Upcoming 10/27/2010

    October 26, 2010

    It’s time for another look at the week’s ComicList!

    Tokyopop has a bunch of titles coming out, and my pick of that lot would be the tenth volume of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose, a romantic comedy about a budding designer of accessories working in a high-end bridal shop.

    Random House’s Del Rey manga imprint may be on its last legs, but it’s releasing a healthy volume of titles all the same. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first volume of Akimine Kamijo’s Code Breaker, so I’ll be looking for the second.

    I’ve also been surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying Marvel’s Secret Avengers series, so I’ll also grab a copy of the sixth issue, which features a visit from the Master of Kung Fu.

    I have no excuse for not yet sampling Beasts of Burden from Dark Horse, and perhaps the Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot isn’t the best introduction to the series, but I think I’ll grab it all the same, just because I know my comic shop will probably have a copy handy.

    What looks good to you?


    Upcoming 10/20/2010

    October 19, 2010

    Goodness, but it’s a dense ComicList this week!

    Dark Horse continues to work its way through some of CLAMP’s most-loved back catalog. This week, it’s the first omnibus volume of Cardcaptor Sakura, originally published in English by Tokyopop and with an associated, legendarily butchered anime dub, if I remember correctly.

    I liked the first volume of Chigusa Kawwai’s Alice the 101st (DMP) quite a bit. It’s about kids at a music school in Epcot Europe, and the second volume arrives Wednesday.

    I’m also very fond of Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical), a slice-of-life tale about an orphaned kitten settling in with her new family. The third volume is due, and I’m working on a review of the series for later this week.

    March Story (Viz), written by Hyung Min Kim and illustrated by Kyung-il Yang, is more interesting to me conceptually than it is for its individual merits. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Sunday GX, and it’s by Korean creators, so that’s kind of unusual. Other than that, it’s very well-drawn but kind of average comeuppance theatre. It’s a big week for Viz’s Signature imprint with new volumes of 20th Century Boys, Kingyo Used Books, and Vagabond.

    Yen Press is releasing a lot of product this week, but my clear favorite is the fourth volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool, a complex, polished supernatural adventure about a school for mystical types.

    What looks good to you?


    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?


    From the stack: Satsuma Gishiden vol. 1

    May 3, 2010

    I don’t know if thoughtful ultra-violence happens as often as its creators think it does. In fact, I generally think that imposing deep-think-y stuff on splatter usually has the effect of making the think-y stuff look dumb while taking the air out of the splatter. When I do run across brainy splatter, it tends to have come from Japan.

    The latest example in this (for me) narrow field is Satsuma Gishiden (Dark Horse), written and illustrated by Hiroshi Hirata. It opens with a group of samurai playing some feudal version of rugby that involves trying to extract the liver from a criminal. It’s a morale-building exercise, you see. And while it’s muscularly drawn – snorting horses, thrusting spears, blood splatter that would keep the casts of five hour-long crime procedurals busy for a week – it’s also got a purposeful grimness that suggests to me that Hirata isn’t going to be blindly celebrating the samurai’s path.

    The orgy of violence is part of a social studies lesson, you see, illustrating a strangling caste system and its consequences on individuals and their culture. The full-time samurai look down on the citizen soldiers, who can barely eke out a living. The citizen soldiers resent their apparent betters, and the highest tiers are oblivious to the strife. The system of education is designed to prop up the caste system and promote a dehumanizing form of patriotism.

    Hirata shifts between displays of physical prowess and the ways it can be brutally applied and less moist passages that provide the context – the whys and wherefores of how liver soccer became a sport. The history and sociology lack the sleekness and force of the bloodshed even more than you might normally expect, but they serve the useful purpose of making that bloodshed seem less like an end in and of itself. I say “less like” because there’s too much relish in those sequences and they’re too protracted for anyone to believe that they’re entirely essential to the plot.

    Still, evident as the relish for a well-drawn impaling can be, choppy as the political maneuverings can read, there’s genuine feeling here. These things matter intensely to the characters, as they should. And sometimes the pondering and the splatter work in perfect conjunction. In one sequence, the lower-class samurai take ruthless revenge on their oppressors. To call these pages beautiful is probably deeply wrong, but they work like you would not believe. They have gruesome visual fascination and substantial narrative force.

    Unfortunately, Dark Horse has published only three of the six volumes of Satsuma Gishiden. They’re keeping it in print, as I picked this up via an “offered again” listing in Previews. Maybe a second bite at the apple will generate enough interest to get the rest into our hands. I know I’m going to read as much of it as I can.


    Previews review May 2010

    May 2, 2010

    There aren’t very many debuting titles in the May 2010 edition of the Previews catalog, but there are lots of new volumes of slow-to-arrive titles that are worth noting.

    First up would have to be the omnibus collection of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (Del Rey), offering volumes eight through ten. (It seems appropriate, since this is the title’s week in the Manga Moveable Feast spotlight.) These volumes were fairly meaty individually, and getting three in one for $24.99 seems like a really good value. (Page 292.) Edit: The tenth volume is the final one of the series, so this will conclude Mushishi in English.

    Also on the “good manga for relatively cheap” front is the third volume of Kaoru Tada’s Itazura Na Kiss (Digital Manga). What mishaps will befall our dumb heroine Kotoko in pursuit of the smart boy of her dreams? (Page 295.)

    I’m just going to come out and say that A Distant Neighborhood was my second favorite Jiro Taniguchi title of 2009. Topping that category was The Summit of the Gods, written by Yumemakura Baku. The second volume is due from Fanfare/Ponent Mon. (Page 304.)

    A new volume of Adam Warren’s super-smart, addictive satire, Empowered (Dark Horse), is always good news. It seems like Warren gets around to dealing with the rather loose definition of mortality among the spandex set, and I’d much rather read his take than something like Blackest Night. (Page 35.)

    Is it ungrateful of me to be really eager to see what Bryan Lee O’Malley does next? It’s not that I’m indifferent to the conclusion of the Scott Pilgrim saga (which arrives in the form of the sixth volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour from Oni Press), which I’m sure I’ll love as much as the previous five. But O’Malley’s been working on Scott for a long time. (Page 233.)

    Before we jump fully into the “all-new stuff” department, I’ll bypass quickly to Dark Horse’s release of an omnibus edition of CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth. You can get all three volumes of this magic-girl shôjo classic from the manga superstars. (Page 53.)

    CMX publishes a lot of excellent shôjo from Hakusensha, but they branch out this month with Rika Suzuki’s Tableau Gate. It originally ran in Akita Shoten’s Princess Gold, and it’s about a guy who must help a girl capture some escaped tarot cards. I’m sort of a sucker for comics with tarot imagery, and I trust CMX’s taste in shôjo. (Page 129.)

    I’m always game for a new graphic novel drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, and First Second is kind enough to provide one. It’s called Brain Camp, and it’s about oddballs dealing with mysterious forces, which is right in Hicks’s wheelhouse. The script is by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan. (Page 305.)

    It’s coming! It’s coming! Top Shelf’s 400-page collection of alternative manga, AX, finally hits the solicitation phase, and it should be very exciting to see. (Page 342.)

    Vertical continues to branch out of classic manga mode with the English-language debut of Felibe Smith’s Peepo Choo. For those who’ve forgotten, Smith has been creating the series for Kodansha’s Morning Two magazine. It’s about a kid from Chicago who gets mixed up with a model from Tokyo and a lot of underworld mayhem. (Page 346.)

    I don’t get a particularly good vibe off of Kaneyoshi Izumi’s Seiho Boys’ High School!, due out from Viz. It’s about the student body of an isolated, all-boys’ high school. Anyone who’s read more than one boys’-love title would know how these lads could deal with their isolation, but Izumi apparently decided to take a different approach. The series originally ran in Shogakukan’s Betsucomi.