Ahhh, back to updating at 11:46 at night - it's like home again!

*Hey, if the comics are gonna be a day late, I'll be a day late with


Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (written in 1996, and still on of the most valuable, info-intensive manga examinations available in English - as the power continues to grow, we need books like this more than ever)

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #3 (in short: no satire, no industry comment, and it's not broadly parodic, not in my mind - it's perfectly straightforward, loose and snappy superhero fun, filled with eccentric yet oddly compelling storytelling tics and an infectuiously giddy attitude)

Solo #8 (very good issue, all but certain to impress anyone who thought they knew what Teddy Kristiansen can do, not to mention everyone who's never heard of him - check this out)

Strangeways #1 (coming soon - cowboys and werewolves from Matt Maxwell and Luis Guaragna, and it works pretty nice)

And a film review of Syriana, with troubling decesions made onscreen.

Not to mention the old Top Ten List for 2005, where I stumble around and make excuses for myself. Good times!

*Easily the most interesting thing about Taschen’s Manga Design book in the dvd that’s included. The book itself is a nice-looking thing, with lots of art and some decent (if uniformly fawning) artist biographies; granted, it’s also marred by the occasional nasty error (misattributed images, repeating images, blank spaces), but there’s probably some good stuff to discover in there regardless. As a wide-view primer, it mostly works.

But the dvd offers some much-needed depth, and I’m not counting the gallery of 900 manga covers (many of which seem taken from the book anyway upon first glance, and I know I’m never going to look at them all to check). There’s some pretty great interviews with artists that’ll be familiar to readers of this site: Usamaru Furuya (Short Cuts, Palepoli) and Naoki Urasawa (Monster, Pluto), plus Reiko Okano (Fancy Dance, Onmyoji), an artist who seems to show up in every English-language book on manga (this, Manga: Masters of the Art, and Dreamland Japan, and that’s just my recent reading), despite the fact that almost none of her work is available in English (then again, it’s not like Furuya and Urasawa are exactly flooding the North American market with releases either).

One of the more interesting things I took from the interviews is that, despite the wide reach of manga as a cultural force in Japan, none of the subjects were particularly big readers of popular manga in their youth. Actually, Urasawa is the only one who seemed terribly interested in manga at all in as a kid, and he says he was more interested in the Garo/COM area of alternative comics. Furuya probably has the most colorful pre-manga background, having been active in the ‘fine’ arts prior to his manga debut; apparently, he worked on sculptures made of beeswax and tin pans, performed mime, and experimented with a form of butoh dance in which one simply stands still and raises one of their arms as gradually as possible over the course of an hour (Furuya says he eventually cut out the arm-moving bit and simply stood still for his dances - he didn't appear to be joking). But a chance illustration job lead him into the freedom of manga creation; he says he created the gag-based Palepoli both because it allowed for greater experimentation, and the format would be easier for him to grasp, since he had no idea how to write for comics.

He comes off as a very willing, even politic talent. He says he doesn’t see editorial content restrictions as trouble, but as signposts for story development, an attitude which allows him to work in both mainstream and alternative venues. He’s also indulged in some interesting experimentation with explicit stories; certain pages of some of his more extreme shorts (compiled into the book Garden, I believe) are left uncut - literally. As in there’s no way to turn the pages and read certain nasty portions of the story without taking a knife to the book and cutting through. Furuya seems perfectly straightforward in presenting this as a handy way of preserving his artistic vision in the wake of skittish venues, but I can’t help but see the obvious symbolic implications of forcing the reader to physically do violence to the book in accessing greater explicitness in stories that are, if I’m not mistaken, about violence toward young girls. Not to mention the kick of it as pure exploitation gimmick - David F. Friedman would be delighted.

Urasawa is also pretty fascinating too, especially in that he confesses that he’s not quite as interested in ‘drama’ as creating visuals. He seems keenly aware of matters of form and international differences in comics design (he notes that while a manga artist will spend pages building up to a man kicking a ball, a western artist will often just show the man kicking it, with a narrative caption filling in the gaps via text - clearly, he’s not plugged into the decompression debate among English-language fans!), and speaks well of the rhythm of stories, saying that he keeps a general idea of how long a story is going to be, and focuses on beats, though he sometimes switches around specific plot points when he gets tired of the story’s direction. He loves immediacy (apparently, his work hits the stands only ten or so days after he’s done with it) and improvisation, and resists genre labels. He’s also the only one who’s spotted on-camera with his assistants (three of them - at least, that’s what I presume they are, since they’re all young guys working along with him on pages at a desk), a guitar propped up in the corner, I guess in case anyone feels the need to rock out while polishing off the latest chapter of 20th Century Boys. And hey, semantic note - Urasawa appears to use the terms ‘manga’ and ‘komiksu’ interchangeably.

Okano’s interview is quite technical, focusing heavily on her artistic approach, especially as to her application of tones to her pages. Apparently, she has six or seven assistants (working on two series at the same time), and there’s sometimes trouble in exploring copy machine effects (the closest she gets to a computer in manga creation, it seems). She speaks a lot about how she views pages as a three-dimensional sense, with the spatial areas behind the characters and between the reader and the characters (the surface of the page, if you will) kept distinct for tone application. She certainly has a lush style, as the above link indicates, though I wonder if the uniqueness of her character designs might keep her from really landing in the current US market. I don’t know.

Also included are tours of four manga specialty stores, including one Shibuya (big Tokyo shopping district) based site where the management talks about how well Taiyo Matsumoto (Blue Spring, No. 5) and Moyoko Anno (Flowers and Bees, Happy Mania) sell. That’s not the norm, and gender make-up of each store's clientele varies, as each store seems to target particular demographics; notably, two out of four shops specifically cite shounen ai (boy love, generally taken in US terminology as a rung below yaoi in explicitness, though the term might have a different, more generic meaning in this context) as big draws for returning female customers. Fascinatingly, one manager makes reference to the mid-list of manga sales making a recent return after a period of increased polarization between big hits and everything else (the dvd contents are dated 2004). And if you want to gawk, check out the visit to the famed Manga no Mori chain, an 8-location manga supercenter, the primary site of which has an attached manga café and a 100-seat auditorium for lectures and events, plus a free monthly minicomic/interview newsletter and an annual self-produced anthology reprinting obscure works by popular artists.

So yeah, nice dvd.

*But enough of this! Let’s refocus our attentions on the here and about-to-be!


Again, nothing until Thursday. Remember.

New Recruits: A while ago, Dark Horse released an open call for submissions from new creators (I think that was the ad campaign with Mike Richardson dressed as Uncle Sam?). This anthology is a result of that effort, although one of the five featured stories has already appeared in Dark Horse’s earlier Stripsearch collection. Press release with full contributor info here, as well as the original release date from nearly four months ago.

Billy the Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities: Yeah, I actually rather liked issue #1 of this four-issue miniseries, but I guess it didn’t hold my attention firmly enough to keep me on it. Writer Eric Powell (of The Goon) presents a somewhat darker vision of freakish action here, at least from what I’ve seen, and Kyle Holtz’s art was effective (and affectingly different from anything Powell’s presented in his better-known series). I admired how much of an asshole the title character was, and I kind of wonder what happened. Anyway, here’s the trade, $13.95, might be worth it.

Interiorae #1: Another of Fantagraphics’ Ignatz books, this one from Gabriella Giandelli, an Italian creator of some repute. I can’t say I’m familiar with her work, but there’s much ghostly antics promised, and the cover looks nice and omnious.

Masters of Horror #1 (of 12): Plenty of multimedia flips here in this new series from IDW - it’s comics based on episodes of the Showtime television series featuring directors adapting short stories. This debut kicks off a two-part adaptation of the Don (Phantasm) Coscarelli episode, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, adapting a Joe R. Lansdale story. Sequential adaptation by IDW EIC Chris Ryall (who did an able job adapting prose stories to comics form in IDW’s Doomed magazine) with art by Jeremy Haun. Could be something.

Gødland #6: Soon to be followed by the initial trade, which will hopefully increase the velocity of those small jumps in sales from issues #3 to #4 to #5; it’s a fun book, and really doesn’t deserve to be selling as little as it does. Then again, I could probably repeat that for a lot of books I like, though at least this one is climbing upward in the present.

The Exterminators #1: “Six Feet Under with cockroaches,” as Vertigo’s hype goes. Finally, something to make up for my lack of HBO! Yeah, so this is the new ongoing from Vertigo, with art by Tony Moore of The Walking Dead and story by neophyte Simon Oliver. According to the previews, there is much profanity, and scenes of people driving around having conversations. I suppose there will later be dramatic complications of some sort, though the initial solicitation also promises ancient mysteries and sacred scarabs, which I’m not sure were part of Six Feet Under, at least not in the early seasons where people I knew were talking about it. Might give it a look.

Iron Man #5: I just realized upon scanning this list that I’m currently buying and enjoying two Iron Man titles at once (the other being the perfectly pleasant Iron Man: The Inevitable), when I don’t think I’ve otherwise purchased an issue of the book before in my life. Sure, it’s only two at once because this primary title is late to a farcical degree, but it still hit me right between the eyes. I had to lay down, I did.

The Punisher MAX #29: Guttings.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #2 (of 4): In which Our Hero visits the site of some of the background ideas tossed out in the middle of Klarion. More connections will be drawn, no doubt, as we’re in the connections-drawing phase of the project, but I hope the ruthless sense of fun from issue #1 is maintained.

Astonishing X-Men Saga #1: Providing a helpful synopsis of the first 12 issues of this book, which I know you’ve all heard of. Contrary to some of the snark going around, I don’t think releasing a 48-page summary of the story thus far is any sort of admission of rampant padding or anything - that line of thinking suggests that a series' worth is tethered to plot complexity (or simply a multitude of storytelling curves and feints), when it’s absolutely possible that the true entertainment value of a series can stem from character interactions, energetic visual storytelling, satisfying subtext, or any number of elements that can’t easily be contained by any synopsis book - thus, the mere presence of such a book is hardly any indication of a series' quality, as by its nature it only focuses on a certain facet of a series' potential impact. Of course, this is all rather academic here, since Astonishing X-Men hasn’t had a good issue on anylevel since #8, save for some intermittent flashes of power in John Cassaday’s art (which is not a boon, it’s the very least we ought to expect). But still, if Marvel wants to release a blatant cash-in like this to fill in those schedule gaps, I don’t see it reflecting badly on the series on its own.