*Moore for Nothing Dept: The ever-useful 4ColorHeroes has started up a brand-new project that will be of interest to most readers of this site: an online archive of Alan Moore’s work for the weekly UK music publication Sounds. Moore, working under the pseudonym of ‘Curt Vile,’ provided material for the paper as a writer/artist from 1979-83, including two extended features (Roscoe Moscow and The Stars My Degradation - the latter featured Steve Moore as an occasional co-writer), and none of the stuff is currently in print. But now forty individual episodes are online, and 4ColorHeroes plans to upload new ones as soon as they’re discovered. Keep checking back.

*Another avalanche of manga at the local chain bookstore snuck up on me over the last few weeks, from what I saw today. I guess that makes it a slow avalanche? Or am I just a climber that likes excuses? VIZ in particular is determined to bury me - not only have I not gotten around to picking up Death Note Vol. 6 yet, but now the fourth volumes of Golgo 13 and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster are on the shelves. And just to add insult to injury, my particular store was - gah - all sold out of Golgo (although actually I should probably be thankful that people seem to be buying it).

Del Rey also did its part in bringing about my doom, bringing not only Love Roma Vol. 3 to the table, but also the debut installment of Ueda Hajime’s Q-Ko-chan, somewhat misleadingly advertised as “From the creator of FLCL.” I’m sure that by ‘creator of FLCL,’ Del Rey actually meant ‘writer/artist of the official FLCL manga adaptation from a story by a corporate body and produced concurrently with its parent anime of the same title that was conceived by entirely different people.’ Doesn’t quite fit on the back cover, that. Still, Hajime’s spin on FLCL was batshit insane in a mostly good way (and we’re talking about an anime here that wasn’t quite the model of stability itself), so Q-Ko-chan wound up being one of the two books I actually bought.

The other? Yet another VIZ title, the debut of their latest VIZ Signature series. I did not regret the purchase.

The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 (of 11)

This is a great comic. Sure, it might be best enjoyed by those with a yen for breathless, over-the-top fever dream plotting and big, loud satire and LOTS AND LOTS OF SCREAMING. But here, finally, every English-speaking reader can truly understand the appeal of manga legend Kazuo Umezu; he’s done it all in Japan, having become by his current age of 69 an acclaimed manga creator, television personality, music star (his band’s hit single was titled Diarrhea Pants Rock), and general all-encompassing multimedia sensation. He has awards and theme park attractions named after him. He’s had only three series released in the US: Orochi: Blood (VIZ, the final part of a much larger horror series), Scary Book (Dark Horse, a mishmash of miscellaneous horror shorts), and this, the 1972-74 hit that’s remained one of his most enduring achievements. It's often classified as 'survival horror,' and that fits, though its black-humored verve and willingness to dive right into the puberty-soaked perspective of a 12-year old makes the gore and yelling all the more fantastic(al). And I strongly doubt you will encounter better pure cartooning in anything other new releases you look at this week.

Like I mentioned before, this is loud comics. Umezu starts the book off by cranking things up to booming, even if the details of his plot don’t initially seem to warrant such intensity – young Sho Takamatsu is an active young sixth grader, prone to bouts of childish fancy and entirely longing to be treated as an adult. He pines for a “Future Car” toy (everybody ‘says’ the quotes around the term), but decides to buy his mother a lovely new watch instead, to demonstrate his maturity. Ah, but the young man’s butterfingers and the uncaring roar of city traffic make short work of the gift, plunging Sho and his mom into a wonderfully overheated war of words for the next evening and morn. “I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EAT NOW!!” screams Sho, knocking all the dishes off the kitchen table! “H-HOW DARE YOU?!” retorts Mom, but the clash is far from over.

Mom, have you seen my marbles!?

I threw them out!!

WHAT!? H-how could you!!

But nothing could prepare them for the climax:


"WH-WHAT DID YOU SAY?! How dare you talk to your mother like that?"

"You're not my mother! You had no right to go through my desk!"




Little Sho runs away, vowing never to return. We've all been there, though the sequence is so filtered through Sho's active emotions that it becomes the biggest, most melodramatic event in the sum total of human history. It's funny, even farcical, yet understanding, relatable.

All of this is enlivened greatly by Umezu’s artwork, those early ‘70s character designs almost uncanny in their generic semi-realist suppleness, yet absolutely made to work as much as possible, faces contorting just enough to achieve comedic grotesquerie and bodies flying around as if yanked by strings – I love the way Umezu draws running kids, both feet off the ground at all times with a sort of horizontal waterfall of speed lines trailing behind. It’s no surprise to discover that Umezu first found great fame as a humor cartoonist, his chops most immediately evident when he turns toward making the reader laugh, though the secret of this book is how such comedy is matched up with moments of queasy understanding as to how children perceive BIG SCREAMING MATCHES with parents, and this marriage of brash spirit and gnawing horror will provide much of the impact of the pages to follow.

You see, Sho arrives at school following his morning skirmish with Mom, and the building apparently explodes. The double-page splashes in this book are some of the best I’ve seen recently, the first one of them depicting a gargantuan “BOOM” obscuring an entire street (and the upper ¾ of the page), and the second acting as the finale to a long ‘pull-back’ from an amazed child’s eyes, as the enormity of the disaster literally fills the book. Soon, we skip back in time to view the event from inside the school with Sho, the laughter of his classmates literally vibrating around his nervous, sparkly eyes to signify the subtle build of a quake, the bit leading into one double-page splash of nervous kids (each and every one lavishly and individually caricatured), then immediately another depicting the same scene as affected by the actual explosion, a massive “RMMRRMB” bearing down on desks and causing children to tumble. Needless to say, the use of English sound effects by VIZ’s Kelle Han is excellent.

Without explanation, the who school seems to have been teleported to a strange desert dimension, though few of the campus' actual inhabitants actually know what's going on. Nuclear anxiety runs high. Teachers try to keep the kids calm, but while the first graders are more than willing to keep singing songs in the face of madness, the older children begin to riot, and the teachers learn of the horror inherent to hundreds of lil' folks suddenly gone wild with desperation. They storm the school gates, trample their fellows, kick deep, bloody grooves into an instructor's face in their hurry, and generally prove impervious to the orderly pull of good society. All that calms them down is a teacher holding a child high, and gashing the boy's arm open with broken glass.


What follows, and there's still just under half the book left, is a bombastic procession of scenes depicting the failure of social graces, and the utter inability of the adults, the authority in the building to control anything that's going on. All is witnessed by Sho: one teacher's helpless seizures, the principal's bloodied and disoriented countenance, everyone's inability to grasp what's going on, and their interest in telling lies to calm down the mob. Poor Sho is dragged into the lies as well, a situation that leads not only to physical harm, but the stinging psychological scars of learning for the first time that authority isn't always something to rely on. Sho misses his Mom, but surely her authority doesn't ring nearly as true anymore; he and the other kids may have to repeat Sho's opening disobedience over and over, just to survive.

But even holding teachers hostage at scissorpoint can't control the weird power of the alien dimension, its attributes eerie and deadly in equal measure.

It's easy to see why this work got so popular - truly, Umezu is writing directly to young minds eager to have their suspicions about authority validated, even in the midst of shocking, explicit horror (needless to say, Umezu has no qualm with killing or injuring little kids in often nasty ways - yet a scene with a little girl tumbling from the school roof is shocking mostly for its natural build, the whole thing an easy climax to what's been happening, and hardly gratuitous). I turned these pages faster than anything else I can remember, as much as I wanted to stop and admire the beauty of Umezu's craft (and never has his work looked so good, from what we've gotten over here). The book also contains valuable bonuses: a concise biography of the author by Patrick Macias, and a heavily illustrated partial bibliography that not only puts the current work into context, but even doles out information on one of the stories Dark Horse published (and if anything needs the backing of additional info, it's the context-free hodgepodge of Scary Book).

A lovely package. VIZ has got me down for another. Don't miss this when it's in any type of shop near you.