Shipping, shopping

February 27, 2007

There’s ample interesting reading arriving via Diamond this week, from classics to award-winners to fresh installments of favorites.

I got Aya (Drawn & Quarterly) last week and reviewed it here. It’s got charm to spare, and I’m glad to hear (via Jog) that a sequel has already been published in France.

Vertical unleashes the first volume of its translation of Keiko Takemiya’s science-fiction classic To Terra… I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far, and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

New volumes of two of my favorite Del Rey series arrive: the fifth of quirky romantic comedy Love Roma and the fourth of intelligent, character-driven sci-fi ES: Eternal Sabbath.

The demented scholars at Evil Twin keep coming up with great names for installments in their Action Philosophers series. Number eight answers to Senseless Violence Spectacular.

And The Comics Journal delivers its “Best of 2006” edition, which is always worth a look.


Whither and yon

December 18, 2006

A Comics Journal reader stops by the magazine’s message board to ask:

“[D]oes anybody else find it disheartening that Michael Dean’s opening shot (in which he discussed the possible futures of comics in general and the Journal in particular) failed to even hint that manga exists? Michael talked a lot about the pros and cons of covering super-hero comics, and even promised a new super-hero column, but there was at best, only a single, oblique reference to shoujo and its (relatively) enormous audience.”

Dirk Deppey first suggests that the reason TCJ’s manga coverage hasn’t expanded since the shoujo issue isn’t due to a lack of interest on the magazine’s part, but owes instead to finding writers who combine ability, knowledge, and availability. But he comes back to point out another conundrum for some comics pundits: that manga often manages to be both commercially and creatively successful:

“The contradiction that writers will need to overcome is the fact that the better manga are simultaneously populist yet still well-constructed and even literate. We’re conditioned by American comics history to assume that most genre comics are created (at best) under assembly-line conditions by creators using comics as a way station until better, more legitimate work comes along, or (at worst) hacks with low standards who genuinely think they’re the soul of the medium. This isn’t true in Japan — its better creators approach genre work as the fulfillment of their worth as creators, strive hard to be worthy of such fulfillment, and it often shows.”

It’s an interesting thread, and a nice palate cleanser for another recent conversation in that forum.

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And speaking of commercially successful (at least in the context of comics specialty shops), Brigid sifts through ICv2’s November graphic novel sales figures for the manga and finds the usual suspects: comics for boys and young men, and comics about boys and young men falling in love with each other. Not that those two categories suggest mutually exclusive audiences, obviously.


Art and commerce

December 8, 2006

At his (probably not work-safe) blog, Simon Jones pointed to this thread at The Comics Journal message board. As usual, Jones insists on making sense:

“Art comics, by their nature, holds art/self above all else, while the priority for most manga published here is the audience… it’s a very commercial product. Manga is going to be no more, and no less, relevant to the alt comix crowd as superhero comics.”

The TCJ thread is covers familiar, stereotypical territory from those who adopt the “All manga is cookie-cutter girly crap” position. (Would they quail if they knew their critical assessment of manga is identical to some spandex aficionados on other, undoubtedly lesser message boards?) On the bright side, Shaenon Gaerrity is around to provide a slightly different perspective.


Quality dark chocolate is also always a good choice

December 1, 2006

There’s a special feature in this month’s Previews: a Valentine’s Day Merchandise Checklist, compiling “a host of titles that are perfect to share with a loved one.” Okay, there’s more than a whisper of Team Comix to it, and some of the choices are a little odd, but many of them do provide extra exposure for some great books up at the front of the catalog, so I won’t complain.

The one that makes me happiest is the inclusion of Rebecca Kraatz’s House of Sugar from Tulip Tree Press (p. 344). I guess when Diamond reconsiders a rejection, they go all the way. That’s a good thing, as I like this book a lot.

ALC’s books (Yuri Monogatari 3 and 4 and Works, p. 208) make the cut. I thought the third YM book was kind of a mixed bag, but I do find the work of Rica Takashima hard to resist, and she brings her characters from the charming Rica ‘tte Kanji back in the fourth, so I might have to cave. Works, a collection of romantic shorts by Eriko Tadeno, sounds appealing as well.

If you missed it the first time, Diamond humbly suggests you consider the one-volume edition of Jeff Smith’s Bone (Cartoon Books) as a Valentine’s Day gift. Heck, just keep it, because you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

Moving on to the romantically unsanctioned, I’m taken with the premise of Keiko Yamada’s Go Go Heaven!! (CMX, p. 98). After her untimely death, an unhappy teen gets “49 days to relive her life and resolve unfinished business.” Sounds morbid, but fun!

What’s this I see on the Featured Items page? A collection of the intriguing Elk’s Run from Villard Books (p. 347)? It started out self-published, got picked up by a publisher who went bust, and never got to finish its run as a mini-series, despite general critical acclaim. Now, Villard’s offering the whole shebang, and high time, I think.

Juné lures me with the promise of more Fumi Yoshinaga in the form of The Moon and the Sandals (p. 264).

Marguerite Abouet and Clément Ouberie’s Aya (Drawn & Quarterly, p. 270) offers intriguing subject matter (the everyday life of young women in the Ivory Coast) and an excellent pedigree (the 2006 Best New Album award from Angoulême).

The Comics Journal devotes #281 to the best of 2006 (Fantagraphics, p. 275). I’m a sucker for lists.

My favorite bit of solicitation text in the catalog is found in the blurb for Cantarella Vol. 6 (Go! Comi, p. 280). Young Chiaro “finds comfort and warmth within the confines of a monastery.” Oh, I’ll just bet he does.

It’s nice to see a full-page ad for Viz’s Signature line, especially one that focuses on Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix. Given the well-deserved attention Vertical’s production of Ode to Kirihito has received, it’s smart, too.

So what looks good to you?


Edited

November 29, 2006

ComiPress offers a translation of an interview with Naoki Urasawa of Monster fame, focusing largely on the role of the editor in manga creation. It’s an interesting reminder of the strong role editors play and some of the associated problems:

“Although the relationship is like collaboration, ‘Manga artists don’t realize the importance of editors.’ Urasawa insisted. ‘If I build a good relationship with an editor who is in charge of me, the editor will be transferred away in the future. I have felt it odd that a companies’ convenience should affect the art of manga.’”

It’s an interesting companion piece to the recent interview with Clamp in the New York Times, since the group seems largely free of editorial influence aside from the group’s producer-director, Ageha Ohkawa.

And even legends like Moto Hagio have both bristled at and benefited from the influence of an editor, as demonstrated in this interview that ran in The Comics Journal. On Kodansha:

During that time they gave me a new editor [25], but both editors followed company policy, which was not to let artists do whatever they want, but to have artists do something that fits the theme of whatever project they are currently doing.”

Hagio had a happier relationship with Junya Yamaoto, who attained his own legendary status for his work with Hagio and the other members of the Year 24 Group of innovative shôjo manga-ka.


“Vixen” was taken

November 26, 2006

Remember that advertising campaign that NBC had for its reruns, cheerfully suggesting that “It’s new to you!”? I’m often reminded of that when The New York Times covers comics. This time it’s about DC’s new line of graphic novels for teenaged girls, the horribly named Minx.

As Johanna Draper Carlson and Chris Butcher have already noted, DC is rather late to the party (and already showed up in a different outfit), but they’ve previously managed to convince the Times that Identity Crisis represented the maturation of the graphic novel, so it’s not surprising that they’ve passed this initiative off as innovative instead of belated.

It’s always mildly irritating when a comics publisher gets away with it, though, and frankly odd in this case. Draper Carlson noted at her blog that she mentioned Scholastic’s year-old Graphix line when interviewed, and she could just have easily brought up Tokyopop’s significant output of girl-friendly global manga, but the article sticks to the impression that DC is breaking ground.

DC VP Karen Berger’s first quote, “It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” reminded me of Dirk Deppey’s “She’s Got Her Own Thing Now” from The Comics Journal #269:

“It has now been conclusively demonstrated that the young female reader is, in fact, quite willing to buy comics. She just doesn’t want yours.”

I wonder if another quote from Berger isn’t an indirect (and reductive) swipe at available shôjo:

“Teenage girls, Ms. Berger said, are smart and sophisticated and ‘about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.'”

But perhaps I’m overly cynical. And what better name to express assertiveness, individuality, and a focus on more than mating rituals than Minx?

Admittedly, this bid for that sector of the audience seems likelier to succeed than any of their previous efforts. I like a lot of the creators involved, listed at Butcher’s blog, and I’m pleased to note that, for the most part, they’re talented and versatile graphic novelists, even if they haven’t written specifically for this audience before. Mike Carey is the closest thing to a “house DC writer” in evidence, but the prospect of him reuniting with My Faith in Frankie partners Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel is welcome news, no matter who’s publishing them or under what imprint.

Andi Watson is a versatile writer, and I’ve liked a lot of his comics, whether he’s worked as a writer-illustrator or just provided the script. (He also had the good sense to stand out of the way and let Simon Gane wow everyone in Paris from Slave Labor.) And the world needs more comics from Derek Kirk Kim, so First Second will just have to share.

Butcher notes the manga-esque packaging and pricing, which are eminently sensible, as it increases the likelihood of the target audience finding these books in places where they’re already going for their manga fix. (In my experience, bookstores tend to shelve by size when it comes to graphic novels. If it’s shaped like manga, it’s shelved with manga.)

I don’t know if I can really take issue with his assessment of CMX, DC’s manga line, as “designed to fail,” though I do think they’ve been making conscientious efforts to improve their product. They’ve spruced up the trade dress considerably (though it could hardly have been more generic at the outset) and are publishing intriguing titles like Emma, though marketing in general could be much stronger. (I’ll always be steamed by the fact that the wonderful Chikyu Misaki seemed to have to rely entirely on word of mouth.)

Given recent claims about DC’s corporate culture, neatly summarized at the Newsarama blog, it would be easy to view this as a cynical cash grab. It probably is, but at least it’s targeted at a burgeoning audience that’s still underserved by traditional U.S. publishers instead of another bid to shake more money out of dedicated spandex fans. And it seems likely to produce some good books, so count me in the “cautiously optimistic” column.


Something for everyone

October 2, 2006

At ¡Journalista!, Dirk Deppy wants to introduce you to the best in scanlations:

“It occurs to me that there are any number of Japanese comics floating around in scanlated form that might not appeal to the average manga teenybopper, but might well be appreciated by indy-comics fans.”

Deppey, who wrote an excellent article on scanlations for The Comics Journal, starts off with the likes of Naoki (Monster) Urasawa and Iou (Sexy Voice and Robo) Kuroda.

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At Love Manga, David Taylor delivers an excellent interview with Simon Jones of Icarus Publishing, leading purveyor of ero-manga in translation. Jones offers, among other things, his view on fan-created translations:

“I certainly believe that the benefits of scanlations have been overstated, and most general arguments for them have been little more than rationalizations. But one thing I don’t question is their passion… they truly love the manga they work on.”

And just because I love it, this quote:

“There will always be a stigma around porn, because porn is supposed to push the boundaries of mainstream taste. As the boundary widens, porn will push even harder against it. In other words, our books will always be the kind you hide under your bed.”

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MangaNEXT is coming up this weekend, and MangaCast has details on panels. It looks like an interesting mix of publishers, from biggies like Dark Horse and Del Rey to more targeted houses like ALC and DramaQueen. (Somebody ask Vertical if they’ve ever considered doing a high-end treatment of Rose of Versailles.)

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At Comics-and-More, Dave Ferraro devotes Manga Monday to Hikaru No Go and Hideshi Hino’s The Red Snake.

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Seeing dead people makes me smile in this week’s Flipped, with reviews of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Dokebi Bride.