Upcoming 12/2/2010

November 30, 2010

This week’s ComicList is dominated by the one and only Osamu Tezuka.

I’ve been reading Tezuka’s Ayako (a review copy provided by the publisher, Vertical), and it’s intriguing. Tezuka is viewing the turbulent, post-World War II period in Japanese history through the lens of a troubled family of landed gentry trying to hold onto their resources, if not their dignity. As the publisher notes, the book is “[u]nusually devoid of cartoon premises yet shot through with dark voyeuristic humor.”

Of the crazy Tezuka available in English, it’s the most realistic in terms of the events it portrays. The narrative certainly relies on extremities of human cruelty, greed, and depravity, but people don’t turn into dogs or display implausible aptitudes for disguise and sexual irresistibility or scheme to destroy all men. Admirable as Tezuka always is, even when modeling relative restraint, I’m finding I miss the extremities… the moments when I ask myself if I really just read that and going back a few pages to make sure. I suspect Ayako is a book that will require a couple of readings to really absorb what it’s trying to convey.

It ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic from January 1972 to June 1973.

Elsewhere in comics, Brandon Graham’s terrific King City (Image) reaches its conclusion with its 12th issue. It looks really great in pamphlet form, I have to say.

What looks good to you this week?


Upcoming 9/1/2010

August 31, 2010

It’s an interesting week in ComicList terms. Let’s go right to the pick of the week, shall we?

That would be Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the first result of the Fantagraphics-Shogakukan team-up that’s being curated by Matt Thorn. It’s a deeply glorious book that brims with Hagio’s psychological and emotional insights. I plan on posting a review on Thursday. You can order a signed copy from the publisher.

If that doesn’t slake your appetite for classic manga, Vertical is kind enough to offer Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song in two paperback volumes. It’s an example of deeply crazy Tezuka, with the added bonus of lots and lots of sex. If you can resist that description, you’re stronger than I am.

One of last year’s big books is now available in paperback. David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) offers a beautifully rendered and stunningly bleak look at a miserable childhood. It’s a really great graphic novel.

There are also new issues of three very different and very entertaining pamphlet comics. First is the second issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, following the Young Avengers as they search for the Scarlet Witch to the dismay of most of the rest of the residents of the Marvel universe, who seem happy to assume that the longtime heroine is evil and crazy. Next is the penultimate (I think) issue of Brandon Graham’s King City from Image, whose website is so terrible that I won’t even bother trying to find a link to additional information on the comic. And last is the fourth issue of Stumptown, a smart tale of a down-on-her-luck private investigator from Oni.

What looks good to you?

Updated: I forgot one big pamphlet offering, the arrival of Veronica 202 (Archie Comics) and Riverdale’s first openly gay resident, Kevin Keller. I hope I can find a copy so I can be appropriately derisive when conservative groups condemn the comic.


Birthday book: Underground

May 19, 2010

It’s Steve Lieber’s birthday, and if you’d like to mark the occasion while scoring a really good mini-series in the process, I recommend you pick up the collection of Underground (Image), illustrated by Lieber and written by Jeff (Agents of Atlas) Parker. Lieber and Parker tell the tale of a principled park ranger trying to protect a cave system from greedy developers and trigger-happy thugs, and it’s a nifty bit of genre entertainment that doesn’t usually get much play in comic-book form, unless someone folds in vampires or werewolves. Here’s my review of the first issue. The series held up nicely throughout, and I’d love to read a sequel.


Upcoming 5/5/2010

May 4, 2010

It’s time for our weekly look at the ComicList.

Topping the list is the eighth volume of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles (Viz). This installment marks the conclusion of the main story, which began with our heroine, Ann, as an 11-year-old moving to the countryside and ends with her as a 20-something working woman making tough life choices and evaluating the highs and lows of the years that have passed. That long-view approach to a character’s development would be reason enough to spark interest in Sand Chronicles, but it’s Ashihara’s sensitive approach to sometimes melodramatic material that really makes this series a treasure. I’m assuming that Viz will publish the ninth and tenth volumes, which apparently feature side stories about the supporting cast. I can’t wait to read them.

Sensitivity is generally kept to a minimum in Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey), when it isn’t actually called out as a target for mockery. That’s part of the charm. And really, everything is a target for mockery in this rapid-fire satire of contemporary culture, now up to its sixth volume.

The eighth issue of Brandon Graham’s King City arrives courtesy of Image and Tokyopop. We’re into the previously unpublished material at this point, and it’s very enjoyable stuff. The twelfth issue will be the last, at least according to the solicitation in the new Previews.

I can’t say enough good things about the first volume of Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (Vertical), so I’ll point you to someone who says them better. That would be Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey, who offers a lovely assessment of the volume here.

Back with Viz, we have the debut of Flower in a Storm, written and illustrated by Shigeyoshi Takaka. It’s about a super-rich guy who falls in love with a super-athletic girl and tries to hound her into falling in love with him. She can hold her own, and he’s lovable in a stupid sort of way (as opposed to a princely, know-it-all way), so the dynamic isn’t as gross as it could be (and has been). I read a review copy courtesy of Viz, and it’s not bad. I’ll probably read the second volume, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of title that will reside forever in my shôjo-geek heart. This is in spite of the fact that it was originally published in Hakusensha’s LaLa and LaLa DX, which almost always generate titles I love.

And it’s time for another tidal wave of One Piece (Viz), written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. We get volumes 44 through 48 and the omnibus collecting volumes 10 through 12. I plan on writing a full entry on the omnibus sometime in the next week, because I’m tragic that way, so I’ll just note that lots of important things happen in this omnibus. This being Oda, the milestones pass much more efficiently than they would in other shônen series so that he can fixate on what seems like a side story and turn it into an epic. I’ll also note about the series in general that it reminds me of a really good Avengers run. The cast is a great mix of heavy hitters and try hard-ers, each with their own moving, consequential back story, and they’re together because they want to be. Unlike even the best Avengers runs, the cast of One Piece actually helps people rather than just responding to attacks from people who hate them. (There’s plenty of that kind of material too.)


Upcoming 4/7/2010

April 6, 2010

Perhaps looking through this week’s ComicList will distract me from the fact that I have a perfectly miserable cold. Perhaps not, but I should at least write this up before I start self-medicating.

Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases the fourth volume of The Times of Botchan, written by Natsuo Sekikawa and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. Here’s what the publisher has to say about the series:

“The Meija Era (1868-1912) was probably the most defining period in Japanese history. It was a time of massive change from the more traditional; Takugawa era to a positioning of Japan in the modern world. Contemporary writer, Soseki Natsume, suffered due to all the social and cultural changes and expressed his feelings through his character Botchan, a classic in the vein of Mark Twain or Charles Dickens.”

I believe the seventh issue of Brandon Graham’s King City (Image) marks the start of material that hasn’t been previously published by Tokyopop, so if you were waiting for the new stuff, tomorrow is the day. Of course, if you’ve been waiting, you’ve missed the handsome pamphlet packaging. I won’t judge either way.

And, since it’s the first week of the month, Viz will try to crush us all with new arrivals.

New on the shôjo front is Rinko (Tail of the Moon) Ueda’s Stepping on Roses, which is being serialized in Shueisha’s Margaret magazine. It’s about a desperately poor young women who agrees to marry a snotty aristocrat so that he can snag an inheritance. Viz sent me a review copy, and, while it’s got aggressively attractive art, it’s one of those stories about a powerless girl who gets yanked around by a jerky guy. It’s not as distasteful as Black Bird, but my attention quickly drifts from punching-bag romances unless the creator does something really interesting and self-aware.

Much more to my liking, at least based on the first volume, is the second installment of Yuki Midorikawa’s Natsume’s Book of Friends, which is currently being serialized in Hakusensha’s LaLa magazine. Generally speaking, I prefer Hakusensha’s shôjo to almost anyone else’s. For bonus points, this one’s about a kid who can see supernatural creatures. It’s executed very well, which makes up for the fact that none of the stories are particularly groundbreaking. (For example, a group of kids sneak into a haunted school in this volume, which has been done a million times. That doesn’t mean no one should ever do it again, of course.)

Last, and certainly not least, is the latest wave of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, volumes 39 to 43. These have been out in bookstores for a while, so I already own them and have read them, because I’m addicted. Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney tweeted that “if you could only save 5 One Piece volumes from a fire, these would be [his] choice.” I haven’t read all of the available volumes yet, so I don’t know if I’d agree, but I can say that these volumes represent Oda in very fine form – big, crazy action, surprisingly wrenching, character-driven drama, and lots of laughs.


Upcoming 3/24/2010

March 23, 2010

Depending on your tastes, it’s a relatively lean week for comics arrivals, but there are still some appealing options.

NBM releases the third in a series of graphic novels created in collaboration with the Louvre in Paris. It’s On the Odd Hours by Eric Liberge, and the preview pages are quite striking. Johanna (Comics Worth Reading) Draper Carlson has posted a favorable early review. NBM is offering a bargain if you purchase On the Odd Hours along with Nicolas De Crécy’s gorgeous Glacial Period.

Those of us who’ve been itching to see some of Eisner Hall of Fame nominee Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s early, pulpy dramas will have our itch scratched when Drawn and Quarterly releases Black Blizzard. D&Q doesn’t seem to have a permalink for the book yet, but scroll down a bit on this page and you can see some preview pages.

I’m much more interested in Dark Horse’s omnibus editions of CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the first volume of the manga super-group’s Chobits is due on Wednesday. It’s about a struggling nerd who finds a computer shaped like a beautiful girl. It was originally licensed for English publication by Tokyopop until original publisher Kodansha withdrew its titles from Tokyopop and handed the relevant CLAMP titles over to Dark Horse, perhaps as a consolation prize for the fact that Kodansha yanked Akira and Ghost in the Shell from Dark Horse to sort-of launch its own comics-in-translation imprint. Next week on All My Licenses

Speaking of properties that used to call Tokyopop home, Image releases the sixth issue of Brandon Graham’s King City. I’m not going to bother trying to link to this one, but I’ve been enjoying this series very much in pamphlet form, and the individual packages are very handsome things.

Viz has only one book to offer, and I bought it a couple of weeks ago at a bookstore. It’s the third omnibus edition of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, collecting volumes seven, eight and nine. I’m of the opinion that all of Oda’s gifts as a creator really, truly come together in the ninth volume, but I’ll get into that in more detail at a later date, possibly Sunday, since that’s the day I seem to devote to my pitiful One Piece geek-outs. We now enter an unfortunate fallow period before the release of new volumes and the fourth omnibus. I may have to pick up the tenth, eleventh and twelfth volumes individually, though I may maintain my resolve to stick with the cheaper omnibuses.


Upcoming 3/3/2010

March 2, 2010

An interesting mix of books will be arriving at comic shops this week.

First and foremost is Vertical’s soft-cover version of Osamu Tezuka’s MW. This is one of my favorite comics by Tezuka, as you could probably guess from my really long discussion of it with Tom Spurgeon. Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey is giving away four copies of the book, and she takes the opportunity to revisit her review.

Staying with the classics, CMX releases the 15th volume of Kyoko Ariyoshi’s peerless ballet drama, Swan. In a weird coincidence, I’ve also written about this one at length.

Underground (Image), a nifty mini-series written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Steve Lieber with colors by Ron Chan, concludes with its fifth issue. I can’t seem to find a cover image, but you can go visit the title’s site and see some sample pages. I’ve enjoyed this cave-bound tale of rangers versus no-good developers quite a bit.

Marvel gathers a whole lot of talent for its three-issue Girl Comics mini-series, which debuts Wednesday. It’s got a kind of unfortunate name, but what’s new about that? The participation of Colleen Coover will probably meet the price of admission, at least for me. You can take a look at several preview pages over at Comics Alliance.

Or you could just dump all of your comics budget on new volumes of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece from Viz, specifically the 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th, and 38th. I won’t lie; I’d almost entirely support that decision, because I’ve developed a seriously unhealthy addiction to this tale of dimwitted pirates and the out-there friends and foes they meet as they pursue big dreams.

But if you did that, you’d be denying yourself the pleasure of the ninth volume of Chica Umino’s Honey and Clover, so my support for an Oda-centric purchasing strategy must be at least partly qualified. And really, after five volumes of nutty high-seas adventure, won’t it feel nice to decompress with some quirky, art-school drama?


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?


    Elsewhere in 2009

    December 30, 2009

    This isn’t really a “Best of 2009” list, as I don’t feel like I read enough comics from places other than Japan to make that kind of list with a sufficient degree of authority, but I didn’t want to neglect books that I really enjoyed this year. I’m not going to say that all of these books are equally entertaining or good in the same ways; I’m not shooting for an equivalent level of quality. I’m just saying that these are the books that lingered in my memory and that I’ll return to again in the future. I’ll subdivide the books into “New Stuff” and “Continuing Stuff.”

    New Stuff:

    The Adventures of Blanche, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, Dark Horse. Comics by Geary are always a cause for celebration, and this collection of stories about a feisty musician traipsing through genre-based dangers was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

    Asterios Polyp, written and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, Pantheon. I’m always a little surprised when someone describes this book as technically brilliant but cold. I thought it had a very solid emotional core beyond the astonishing level of craft.

    Johnny Hiro, written and illustrated by Fred Chao, AdHouse Books. This book didn’t do nearly as well as it should have in pamphlet form, so let me extend my heartfelt thanks to AdHouse for collecting the existing issues plus unpublished material. It’s simultaneously a winning genre mash-up and a warm, grown-up romance, and it’s a treat.

    Masterpiece Comics, written and illustrated by R. Sikoryak, Drawn & Quarterly. What do you get when you combine great works of literature with classics of comic books and strips? In Sikoryak’s case, you get breezy, inspired work that displays great versatility, intelligence, and a sense of fun.

    Mijeong, written and illustrated by Byung-jun Byun, NBM. It’s not as good as Run! Bong-Gu, Run!, but this collection of short stories is never short of very, very good and is often brilliant.

    My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud, illustrated by Émile Bravo, Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Gloriously sad and sharply observed, this book offers one of the freshest looks at childhood and grief you’re ever likely to find.

    Nightschool: The Weirn Books, written and illustrated by Svetlana Chamkova, Yen Press. A comic featuring vampires and teenagers that doesn’t make me roll my eyes until they water? What strange magic is this? It’s actually just Chamkova fulfilling her prodigious promise as a graphic storyteller.

    Stitches: A Memoir, written and illustrated by David Small, W.W. Norton and Company. Aside from being strikingly drawn, I think this is a beautifully shaped memoir, functioning perfectly as a story in its own right. The fact that the terrible things Small relates actually happened just adds a layer of disquiet.

    Underground, written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Steve Lieber, colored by Ron Chan, Image Comics: There should be more snappy genre comics like this, you know? It’s a smartly executed thriller set in the perilous depths of a cave in the Appalachians.

    Continuing Stuff:

    Aya: The Secrets Come Out, written by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, Drawn & Quarterly. I was briefly afraid that this was the final volume of this wistful, multigeneration soap opera about life in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Fortunately, there seem to be at least two more volumes still to come of Aya and her unmanageable friends and family.

    Empowered, written and illustrated by Adam Warren, Dark Horse. I’m so glad that Dark Horse released a pamphlet chapter of this ongoing series of graphic novels, as that might help to build the audience it deserves. Smutty and sweet in equal measure, it’s as sharp a parody of super-heroics as you’re ever likely to find.

    Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson, Drawn & Quarterly. This is a golden age of reprints of quality comic strips, and this is my absolute favorite of the bunch.

    Salt Water Taffy, written and illustrated by Matthew Loux, Oni Press. Two brothers embrace the weird on a seaside vacation. This is my go-to all-ages recommendation, by which I mean I’m as strident in suggesting adults buy it as I am in suggesting that kids will like it.

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press. As long as this book is releasing new volumes, it will be on any list of this nature that I write.

    Yôkaiden, written and illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey. This witty fantasy-adventure got even better with the second volume. Now we have to wait for the third.


    Upcoming 12/16/2009

    December 15, 2009

    I was right. There have been a number of great new manga series this year. A cursory glance at some of the new volumes included in this week’s ComicList proves it.

    The founder of the feast this week’s is Viz’s Signature imprint, which leads things off with the second volume of Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea. It’s easily one of the most beautiful comics you’ll read this year, and Igarashi seems to be building an interesting contemporary fable about mysterious children and disappearing fish. You can read it online for free at Viz’s SIGIKKI site, but I like holding the actual object. Also, if lots of people buy Children of the Sea, we might get Igarashi’s Witches sometime in the future.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I think Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto is a fine comic in every respect, easily one of the best of the year. It’s a wonderfully constructed thriller with a higher-than-average number of important things on its mind. I admire it tremendously, I really do. But I love Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys with its twists and turns, healthy doses of humor and wistfulness, and its energetic quirkiness. I also think it’s one of the best comics of the year, and the fact that it’s more… well… fun than Pluto pushes it just a note higher on my personal scale. The sixth volume of 20th Century Boys arrives this week.

    I’m still not entirely sure why the phrase “Fumi Yoshinaga’s most ambitious work to date” doesn’t make people lift their heads like deer becoming aware of a mighty predator crashing through the forest. Even her lighthearted comics have an enduring quality that’s kind of rare in mainstream entertainment. So I’m a little disappointed that Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers hasn’t cast a wider net among critics. Yes, bits of the translation are awkward, but for my money, there are few finer working cartoonists than Yoshinaga, and the opportunity to enjoy the acclaimed apex of her career to date is just so damned cool. The second volume of Ôoku graces better comic shops on Wednesday.

    I’m finally getting used to actually looking at Image’s listings, since they’re publishing some comics I’m really enjoying. (I thought I’d never have to do that again after they gave up on Glister. Who knew?) This week, it’s the fourth issue of spelunking thriller Underground, written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Steve Leiber, and colored by Ron Chan. A determined ranger tries to protect a pristine cave from an unscrupulous developer and his well-armed minions.

    Oh, and while I’m not following the series myself, manga karma points must go to Del Rey for its rescue of Akimine Kimiyo’s Samurai Deeper Kyo. For those of you who don’t remember, Tokyopop had reached the thirty-fourth volume of this thirty-eight volume series before Kodansha reclaimed rights to all of its properties from Tokyopop. Lest its fans become profoundly (and understandably) embittered by that turn of events so close to the finish line, Del Rey is publishing two-volume collections of the final six volumes, the first of which arrives Wednesday.