Half measures

September 25, 2008

Hope Larson hits the nail on the head regarding DC’s recently discontinued Minx line:

“Minx could have been good, and important. I really believe that, and I’m sorry to see them go, but most of the books they published are not very good. They have suspect artwork and dull, predictable plots, and would probably seem pandering to anyone over the age of 12. They’re safe. To quote some ad copy from the back of Marjorie Dean, College Junior, a girls’ series published in the ’20s: ‘These are clean, wholesome stories that will be of great interest to all girls of high school age.’ I don’t think kids in the ’20s believed that, and neither would kids today. (Although, haha, their parents might.)”

My strongest impression of the Minx books I’ve read (all of the books in the first wave and some of the subsequent ones) is that they felt incomplete, that they were at least two rigorous edits away from being a finished piece of entertainment. Whether DC was assuming lower standards among the books’ target demographic or not, I have no idea, but all of the marketing in the world really shouldn’t excuse generally mediocre product. It does all the time, I know, but I always prefer it when rigorous marketing is applied to a product that matches in merit the effort expended to sell it.

Listen, every demographic group needs to settle at least a little. “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” and so on, whether you’re talking about movies or television or mystery novels or video games or what have you. But it strikes me that girls who like to read don’t have to settle as much. The television shows aimed at them may be moronic, the movies rare as hens’ teeth, the cartoons nonexistent, but the books that respect their taste and intelligence seem relatively abundant. The books that don’t respect their taste and intelligence but do so with polish and verve are even more abundant, so why should this audience go outside of its comfort zone from prose to graphic storytelling when the return isn’t all that hot?

And while it might only demonstrate my own biases, even girls who like graphic novels don’t need to settle for half-hearted efforts. Even if 90% of shôjo manga is crap, the remaining 10% is readily available and dwarfs Minx’s line in volume. Even if Minx had made its best possible creative effort, it still would have faced an uphill battle, and I really don’t think DC devoted its best editorial efforts to Minx.

Bumper crop

June 17, 2008

Enough with the shadowy portents for a bit. Let’s see what lurks in the current Diamond Previews catalog, shall we?

Dark Horse offers the fourth volume of Adam Warren’s brilliant Empowered about the ups and downs of a good-hearted super-heroine with a singularly unreliable costume and a loyal band of friends. The third volume got a little dark for my tastes, but it was hardly enough to keep me from reading more. (Page 30 and 31.)

Do I owe it to myself to see if any of the plot points so irritatingly left dangling in The Plain Janes (Minx) are addressed in the sequel, Janes in Love? Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg revisit their group of art guerillas and promise that the teens “discover that in art and love, the normal rules don’t always apply.” I thought they already knew that. (Page 113.)

Someday I’ll get around to writing about Rutu Mordan’s Exit Wounds (Drawn & Quarterly), which I thought was very good. (I don’t know if I would have put it on my “Best of 2007” list, whatever that might have looked like, but I’d certainly recommend it.) D&Q is following up with a collection of Mordan’s short works, Jamilti and Other Stories, and I’m looking forward to it. I love short stories, and I’m eager to see what Mordan does with that kind of flexibility. (Page 288.)

Many people, myself included, have written nice things about Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, due from Fanfare. Anything from this publisher is worth a look, and this book offers an intriguing if slippery look at the low points in the life of the manga-ka. (Page 297.)

I’ve been having a hard time finding a copy of Jason Shiga’s widely acclaimed Bookhunter (Sparkplug Comic Books) in my retail wanderings, so I’m glad to see it being offered again. (Page 349.)

Weirdness alert: people are tracking the fates of Tokyopop’s various global titles, and here’s one more to add to the tally. The publisher is offering a prestige collection of one, Boys of Summer: The Complete Season. The solicitation of the Chuck Austen/Hiroki Otsuka baseball comic indicates that the unpublished third volume will appear for the first time here, along with the first two. I’m not recommending, because I’ve read too many comics by Austen as it is, but I thought it was interesting to note. (Page 353.)

I thought Top Shelf had already solicited Ulf K.’s Heironymus B, but maybe it got delayed. I’ve heard good things about it, so I’ll just gently remind the local shop owner that I’d like a copy. (Page 362.)

Takehiko Inoue’s much-loved basketball manga Slam Dunk gets another bite at the apple courtesy of Viz in its $7.99 Shonen Jump line. (Page 384.) The publisher is maximizing its Death Note profits with a new series of collector’s editions that offer “color art… premium packaging… new cover art on the dust jacket” and other bonuses. (Page 386.) I’m not quite certain about the plot of Ayumi Komura’s Mixed Vegetables, which seems to be about using marriage to further professional ambitions, but I can’t turn my back on shôjo cooking manga. (Page 387.)

I swear this had a cooler name when it was first announced, but the first issue of Yen’s anthology magazine, Yen Plus, arrives in August. It features a mix of original and licensed work, and if you ever wondered what hack thriller author James Patterson would do with sequential art, this is your moment. It’s also got Svetlana Chmakova’s follow-up to Dramacon (Tokyopop), Nightschool, so that’s certainly a point in its favor. (Page 390.)

The year in fun (2007)

January 1, 2008

From a fun comics standpoint, 2007 was absolutely awesome. You know how I know? I had a hard time keeping the list below to 26 items. Okay, it’s an arbitrary number, and I could have just listed everything, but I thought I would make a stab at some pretense of discernment.

I’m not saying these are the best comics of 2007, though I’d put several in that category. I’m never entirely comfortable with that label, because I haven’t read everything and worry that my tastes are too narrow to make a reasonable stab at such a project anyways. But I have no trouble telling which comics I had a lot of fun reading, so here they are.

(Doesn’t the jump create a breathtaking level of suspense? Well, doesn’t it?)

(Updated because I can’t keep my years straight.)

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Rambling and linking

December 3, 2007

No, I won’t be needing a gift receipt: Whenever I set my mind to getting a start on holiday shopping, I always end up buying a lot of stuff for myself. I’m not proud of this, obviously, but there it is. I did manage to resist towels from Macy’s Hotel Collection, which are about as hot as linens can get, because they’re cripplingly expensive.

Survey says: I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but based on anecdotal experience, the best manga selection to be found in Pittsburgh is probably at the Borders in South Hills.

Weaponized baking: I always thought those cookie guns were among the stupidest kitchen gadgets imaginable until my partner bought one over the weekend. We made cheese crackers, and they are unimaginably delicious. And it really is fun to fire perfectly shaped drops of dough onto a baking sheet. I think my arteries are trembling in fear at this point.

So I don’t have to: I can move the second volume of Kazuhiro Okamoto’s lovely Translucent (Dark Horse) out of my “to review” pile, because Katherine Dacey-Tsuei has perfectly summed up the book’s merits in the latest Weekly Recon.

Minx links: J. Caleb Mozzocco takes an interesting qualitative/quantitative look at the Minx line to date over at Every Day Is Like Wednesday. The Washington Post names The Plain Janes one of the ten best comics of 2007. I don’t even think The Plain Janes is the best Minx book of 2007, but the inclusion of Aya delights me to no end.

One year later

December 1, 2007

At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson contemplates the first year and future of DC’s Minx imprint:

“Is the line a success? I don’t pay attention to sales figures much, so I don’t know how well the books are selling either in the direct market or in the bigger bookstore field. That they’re doing a second year says to me that they still are optimistic about the idea. I’m guessing the books are most popular among schools and libraries, since they’re classically styled stories (teenage girl learns life lesson) that are easy to justify for purchase. I have yet to hear anyone really excited about them, though, in any market.”

I’ve kind of been wondering about that too, so I took a quick look around. Here’s what Paul Levitz had to say in this September interview with ICv2:

“[ICv2:] We wanted to talk a little bit about Minx, the new DC imprint, which was another event since the last time we talked. It looked to us from the first numbers we saw that the direct response was stronger than the bookstores which was sort of the opposite of what I would’ve expected. Can you comment on whether you’re finding that the case and what the overall response is on Minx?

“[Levitz:] I don’t think the direct absolute numbers were larger than the bookstore numbers, but we certainly had an enormous enthusiasm in the direct market that was above and beyond what we were initially expecting which was great. There was a lot of passion for reaching out to the other audiences. We got some good support in the bookstores for the launch.

“It’s a challenging project. You’re reaching out to a very different kind of audience. There’s not a natural connection immediately there day one that says these people are walking past this shelf, put it out and make it happen, but we’re nurturing it, we’re doing ok, and we think the material is very strong, and we’re optimistic that it will continue to build from here.”

I can understand the desire to quash the notion that the books actually sold better in specialty comic shops than bookstores, because that certainly couldn’t have been the desired outcome. I don’t know if I’ll ever be clear on exactly who constitutes the “different kind of audience.” I’m sure there is a constituency of girls who might like graphic novels but aren’t interested in anything manga has to offer, though I don’t know if I’d think it was large enough to throw a lot of money at it. (We went to a play last night, and there was a tween a couple of rows in front of us who had a library volume of Guru Guru Pon-Chan. I don’t really like the series, but the play was so boring that I would have gladly given her ten dollars to borrow it.)

As far as critical response goes, I haven’t seen much outside the blogosphere, and almost none from the target audience. (I could probably look a little harder, but I suspect that would lead me to the valley of MySpace, and I’d rather not.) There have been a few reviews in some newspapers, which I suspect was a result of the formidable PR push the imprint got at the outset. Some of the books have been nominated for the Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, so the imprint is on librarians’ radar.

None of the Minx books that I’ve read have been bad, and one (Re-Gifters) was actually great. But I do get the sense that the line could benefit from more editorial rigor at the story phase.

From the stack: Kimmie66

November 17, 2007

Most of the books DC’s Minx imprint has published to date have felt like drafts to me, one or two serious edits away from seeming really finished. The notable exception is Re-Gifters, one of my favorite books of this year. Now it’s been joined by Aaron Alexovich’s Kimmie66. I’m not saying that it’s a great book, but it at least feels like a completed graphic novel.

First of all, it’s got a proper story, with a beginning, middle and end, and enough sidelines and flourishes to keep it from feeling too mechanical. It never goes off the narrative rails, and it executes its premise with welcome coherence and diligence.

It follows Telly, a 23rd Century, 14-year-old girl who spends most of her time in virtual reality. Lest you think she’s too much of a geek, this is a common, even pervasive pastime in the future. There are niche environments for just about every taste, and Telly favors the goth pastures of Elysium. The pleasures of online escapism are tainted when one of her closest virtual friends, the titular Kimmie, sends Telly a suicide note. So why does Kimmie keep popping up in various virtual neighborhoods?

Alexovich takes good advantage of the vagaries of online friendships as the mystery unfolds. Is Kimmie really dead? Should Telly violate her privacy by trying to match a real person to the avatar? Telly’s investigation is constructed well, and she doesn’t demonstrate any skills or insights that tax credibility.

Not all of it works perfectly. There’s apparently a ban of some sort on frequenting more than one niche community, though I’m never really sure why. Kimmie is never really a vivid presence, so the revelations about her on- and offline lives don’t have as much weight as they seem like they should. The characters generally have distinct voices, but some of the invented future slang is a little clumsy. And there are some weird little things that stand out. (Anyone can sink into an immersive VR environment but they still wash dishes by hand? “Homo” is still a slur 200 years in the future? The work of Patrick Swayze has survived the test of time?)

But it does hang together when all is said and done, and Alexovich is a very talented illustrator. His character designs are particularly appealing, and the virtual landscapes are interesting.

It sounds like I’m damning the book with faint praise, and I have to admit that’s partly true. Noting that a book seems ready for publication isn’t that big of a compliment, and it might not seem particularly noteworthy from another publisher or imprint. But it does seem to buck the trend of the current roster of Minx books, and it’s perfectly competent work on its merits.

Upcoming 9/12

September 11, 2007

This is one of those weeks at the comic shop that doesn’t look especially overwhelming at first glance, but becomes a buffet upon closer scrutiny.

In fact, I couldn’t really select a Pick of the Week, though I think I’d have to give DC the Publisher of the Week. How do they accomplish this, you ask? Variety.

First there’s a new volume of Kaoru Mori’s Emma, which is a bit late but no less welcome for it. Then there’s the first release in the second wave of Minx books, Confessions of a Blabbermouth by Mike Carey, Louise Carey, and Aaron Alexovich. M. Carey contributed the script for the excellent Re-Gifters, easily my favorite book in the line, so this will definitely merit a read. And while I found DC’s last effort at reviving the franchise completely incomprehensible, John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad stands as one of my favorite super-hero team books ever (though it rarely featured any actual heroes). I don’t see any obvious deterrents to coherence in the solicitation for the new mini-series featuring Ostrander’s cast, so I might have to give it a try.

That said, DC has Viz hot on its heels, and the manga publisher seems to be going for the “massive show of force” technique. Yes, lots of Naruto is on the way, but there are also new volumes of excellent ongoing series like Beauty Pop and Gin Tama, and a really, really lovely treatment of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet, with three volumes of weirdness packed into a satisfyingly hefty package. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s pretty amazing.

If the Suicide Squad thing tempts me sufficiently, I’ll be picking up three whole floppies this week. The other two are the eighth issue of the second volume of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics) and the fifth issue of the endearing Maintenance (Oni).

And last but not least, Tokyopop reminds me that I don’t need to lead a life void of Meca Tanaka manga just because Omukae Desu is done. The third volume of Pearl Pink is out, which puts me only one volume behind. (I know. That’s how it starts.) Because I’m not reading enough quirky comedies about would-be teen idols.

From the stack: Good as Lily

August 19, 2007

I wish I could say that I liked Good as Lily, the final book in the first wave of books from DC’s Minx imprint. But I can’t, and I don’t think I can even say it’s very good.

It’s written by Derek Kirk Kim, creator of the marvelous, deservedly award-winning Same Difference and Other Stories (Top Shelf). Maybe my appreciation for that book left my expectations unfairly high, but Good as Lily is clunky in just about every respect.

It’s about an 18-year-old girl named Grace whose birthday is slightly marred by a conk on the head from a piñata. After she comes around, she finds herself surrounded by variously aged versions of herself at six, 29, and 70. How will she manage this wacky development and keep the school play alive?

(Spoilers after the cut.)

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Random happy linkblogging

August 2, 2007

NPR is really getting its geek on lately. First they do that piece on the Eisner Awards for All Things Considered, and then they cover not just anime, but a really specific niche of anime fandom on today’s Morning Edition.


I know that it’s kind of irksome when a publisher is specifically created to be a movie property shop, but since Tokyopop established itself as a comic publisher first, I’ll give them a pass and not get too cynical about their new deal with the William Morris Agency.

And who would have ever guessed that Princess Ai would be one of their first in-development properties?

(I said I wouldn’t get too cynical. I didn’t say I wouldn’t get cynical at all.)


It’s impossible for me to be cynical at all about the news of the strong sales for Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of Tove Jansson’s Moomin strips, because I love them. I also squealed a little bit when I saw the second volume listed in the current Previews catalog.


It’s very kind of John Jakala to suggest coping strategies for people who will be a little discombobulated by the slower release schedule for Bleach. From a purely selfish perspective, this means it will be easier for me to catch up. (Has anyone else seen that tacky Cartoon Network commercial for the Bleach anime starring Orihime’s rack?)


Regarding the next wave of Minx books, I’m so delighted to see that Joelle Jones is drawing one of them. I think she’s just incredibly talented. I’m also happy that Andi Watson is following up on his Clubbing character. (Is Josh Howard drawing it? If not, I won’t mind too much, as I thought his illustrations were kind of serviceable.)

Brian Wood isn’t the first creator that would come to my mind when lining up people to create for Minx, but that’s neither here nor there.

From the stack: Clubbing

July 20, 2007

Clubbing, the third offering in DC’s Minx line, is a sneakily ambitious mash-up that almost works. Writer Andi Watson has taken bits from Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and even Rider Haggard and put them into the hands of a very contemporary young protagonist. It’s not really the heroine’s fault that it ends up being a bit too much and too little at the same time.

Lottie Brooks is a goth fashionista party girl (if such a creature can exist) who’s gone a tiny bit too far. An ill-conceived fake ID has led her to be shipped off to her country bumpkin grandparents for the summer. It could be a ghastly homage to The Simple Life or something equally vapid and distasteful, or Watson could guide her to Learn a Valuable Lesson About Simplicity and its Wisdom, but Lottie, for all of her affectations, isn’t a hopeless brat or snob, and Watson isn’t given to preach. Instead of trying to remake the village in her image, she decides to go along for the ride for the duration of her exile from London.

Lottie’s a surprisingly appealing character in spite of her egregious fashion choices and occasional tendency to pout. She gets in the spirit of things, and she’s reasonably gracious to her new neighbors. That’s a good thing, because Watson hasn’t resorted to portraying them as cookie-cutter yokels. They’re pleasant folks, and city-girl condescension would be lethal. She’s better than that, reserving her tarter remarks for private narration.

Then a body turns up on her grandparents’ golf course. What better distraction could there be for a stranded city girl than a provincial murder? And if she finds romance with the groundskeeper’s hunky, nerdy, golf-loving son, all the better, right?

Not really, unfortunately. The plot is a hash, when you get right down to it. As social satire goes, it’s pleasant enough, but anyone expecting something along the lines of Cold Comfort Farm will be disappointed. The murder mystery consists of Lottie making a string of incorrect assumptions until the climax, which no sane person could have predicted. (Well, no sane fictional person. It struck me as fairly obvious, if not at all reasonable.)

Part of the problem might be illustrations by Josh Howard, which are competent but not soaring. Some sequences, particularly those that hinge on the promise of romance or adventure, never really come across. The conclusion begs for a bravura approach if it’s going to come across at all, and it’s not there. Howard does provide some interesting compositions, and I like his character design for the most part.

Watson certainly gets points for effort here. The whole idea of this kind of mixture of story types seems so right that it gives off a pleasant buzz, and I have a pronounced fondness for this kind of thing. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Amelia Peabody Emerson novels by Elizabeth Peters? Probably.) Clubbing doesn’t live up to its potential, though I’d like to see more of Lottie’s adventures.