I'm all over the place.

*UPDATE (10/29/05 1:47 PM): Now look at that; I was so all over the place that I forgot to link to this week's column, a consideration of Dave Sim's place in comics history and contract negotiations. It'd be good to check out.

*First things first (er, sort of) - I’ve gotta recommend a book I’d not heard of until I saw a stack of copies sitting around in Borders today. It’s called Manga: Masters of the Art, it’s by Timothy Lehmann, and it’s devoted entirely to ‘in the studio’ type chats with a dozen of Japan’s finest, with photographic tours of every subject’s work environment and scads of art samples. And the subjects are quite nice: readers of this site will be delighted to learn more about Jiro Taniguchi (The Walking Man, Benkei in New York), Erica Sakurazawa (Between the Sheets, Angel), Usamaru Furuya (Short Cuts, Palepoli), and especially Suehiro Maruo (Ultra-Gash Inferno, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show), though there’s plenty of other talents on display, like CLAMP and Kia Asamiya.

Maruo proves to be the most interesting interviewee, if only through his reluctance to share; he rarely offers any answers more than two sentences long, and the interviewer is ultimately forced to note that his work ‘speaks for itself.’ We do discover that Maruo is a fan of David Lynch and Luis Buñuel, loves to collect ‘60s ephemera, and titled his porno manga debut after Osamu Tezuka’s beloved Princess Knight. Furuya’s chat is also fascinating; he’s uniquely defensive about his most recent output (apparently fans don’t like it as much as his earlier stuff), he expresses an admiration for David Mazzucchelli’s work on City of Glass, and he confesses that he wrote and drew the entire 170+ page manga adaptation of Suicide Club in a single month.

A complete, untranslated manga story by Mafuyu Hiroki (a near-unknown in the US) is also included, guaranteed to put him on your personal list of manga talents to watch out for. There’s color galleries for each subject, and selected Japanese and English bibliographies all around. It’s just a lovely book, and I recommend looking through it for yourselves.

*Richard (of the brilliantly titled Richard’s Twilight Lament for Lost Buckaroos) provided me, via yesterday’s comments section, with the perfect analogy for last evening’s theatergoing experience. I saw Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046; it’s kind of a sequel to his much-loved 2000 feature, In the Mood for Love, and if that earlier work was a perfect pop single of a film, then I see 2046 as a double-decker prog rock concept album, loaded with design splendor and fantastic studio polish, the songs alternately dazzling and ponderous, a long series of vignettes half-coalescing into a single unit, themes buzzing in and out of audibility. The pretension is thick enough to spread on toast, but it makes for a fairly tasty dish, even if you've got a bellyache by the end.

This is a swaggering, overstuffed mass of a movie, bouncing around much of the 1960’s in sort-of chronological order, following the self-destructive anti-romantic lethargy of Tony Leung’s newspaper reporter/pulp fiction hack, as he bunkers down in the shabby Hong Kong-based Oriental Hotel, next to room 2046, the number carrying all sorts of symbolic weight. It’s the site of a long-lost romantic memory. It’s the final year before mainland China absorbs Hong Kong. It’s the title of a book Leung is writing, an erotic sci-fi epic that encodes his entire emotional life. It’s a mystic CGI realm where memories can be held forever, and nothing ever changes. All of these notions float around as the story vaguely organizes itself around Leung’s relationships with a quartet of women: Zhang Ziyi’s classy, hot-blooded prostitute, Gong Li’s Singapore-based master gambler (who shares the same name as Maggie Cheung’s character from In the Mood for Love), Faye Wong as the landlord’s daughter who eventually becomes Leung’s apprentice, and Carina Lau, apparently reprising her role from Kar-Wai’s 1991 Days of Being Wild, which itself later fit into In the Mood for Love. I think.

You don’t really need to have seen any of these prior films to understand 2046; for all its dreamy ambling through time and space, it’s a fully self-contained meditation on sex and solitude and the venom-tipped claws of the past, romantic heroes left but victims of a Medusa’s gaze. It’s gorgeously designed, from the swooningly lavish period costumes right down to Leung’s flawless mustache. There’s artfully poetic intertitles, ironically peppy narration, and lengthy voyages into Leung’s interior sci-fi imaginings, which can best be described as Stanley Kubrick rising from the grave to direct an R-rated adaptation of one of Osamu Tezuka’s futuristic manga about human/robot relations on a limited budget.

And as bloated as the whole thing appears to be (and, indeed, occasionally feels like), it’s largely successful in getting its points across in a consummately elegant manner. Every new encounter adds an extra dimension to Leung’s tragic wastrel, with even those initially kitschy sci-fi bits revealing themselves as an impressively potent allegory, revealing things about our narrator that he the author doesn’t seem to realize, a neat trick. And reality is purposefully glossy and numbing; Kar-Wai loves his repeating visual motifs (want a fun and creative way to shuffle off this mortal coil? down a shot every time someone takes a drag off a cigarette in slow-motion or sheds a close-up tear - the paramedics will never arrive in time) and audio cues, years blowing by to the sounds of Nat King Cole.

I’m glad I got to see thins on a big screen. Might as well fall into it, you know? It’s a handsomely mounted, artistically ambitious picture, demanding of itself both sweeping tragedy and personal contemplation, though its effect wavers between hypnosis and drowsiness. But it’s the kind of stew only a major talent can cook up, I’ll concede that.

*On the other hand, there’s a certain kind of film I can watch forever and ever, without the slightest weariness - the sort of thing that wonderful dvds are made from. Be sure you watch the trailer for some fine samples of comics’ influence on the American cinema. “Let us now make Love.”

*Mainstream Respectability Dept: You know you’ve hit it big when your style is recognizable enough to be paid homage by political activists, so surely this animated short, designed in a Sin City style, is yet more evidence of Frank Miller's continuing charge through the halls of widespread recognition. The words 'Frank Miller' may not automatically equate to 'perscription medication discounts' in my mind, but let's not underestimate the power of sequential art, or the popular films based thereon.

*The most interesting thing to me about the recent 'Stephen King to work with Marvel' announcement is Joe Quesada’s apparent admission that the book will be produced in something resembling the classic Mighty Marvel Manner (note the very careful wording in Marvel’s press release: “The comic series will mark the first time Stephen King has produced original content for an ongoing comic book project.”) - basically, Stephen King creates something resembling an original story, collaborator Robin Furth transfers the raw matter into issue-by-issue chunks, Joe Q. streamlines each of those into page outlines, Jae Lee and Richard Isanove produce the art as based on those outlines, and then a still-unnamed party adds narration and dialogue to the finished art, with King acting in a supervisory capacity. A very structured and workmanlike approach for Marvel’s surefire ‘Graphic Fiction’ (as the ads are already calling it) hit; gotta get those edges smoothed out! Still, this does put Jae Lee on the cusp of becoming one of the more visible comic artists around, which is certainly neat for longtime fans.