I. As usual, I didn't wake up until I was 45 minutes out of bed, and then I panicked on the highway, and of course I got to the station too early.

II. So there were two teenage girls sitting next to me on a station bench. One of them was looking at her feet, swinging to and fro in flip-flops. The other had a streak of hot bottled near-purple plunging vertically down her head, and a polite if mildly ironic smile on her lips.

"It's okay," she cooed, "lots of fun. C'mon, fun!"

A nice scene; good to see kids still urge friends to see them off on the train, going to god knows where. A job interview in Philadelphia? Relatives in Trenton? Did she have a new minicomic ready for the MoCCA festival in New York, and she forgot to alert the internet, and suddenly she's uncertain as to the very fact of her existence?

"Fun! Fun!" chanted the streaky girl, unable to grant such high-functioning clichés their suggested book value. It's hard being 17 these days.

Me, I was serious as high mass in a blackout at the sounding of trumpets. It was the first comics show I'd ever attended without any friends traveling along, and indeed my first trip to New York City entirely alone. It's a dangerous place, Manhattan; my 8th grade teacher always told us not to look up at the skyscrapers, or someone nearby would steal our wallets before we peered back down. I guess there's daily prizes, tokens in exchange, etc. All I saw last time were small town girls and beaming families purchasing items.

But the dangers I knew of were real, if different: I'm talking hipsters. That's right, the insidious, KAOS-like force that's been not-so-secretly behind every sub-par comic book, overrated movie and unappealing book design of the last decade, not counting superhero stuff, although maybe they're just especially stealthy with those.

And it's more than that! Hipsters are like locusts, terrorists and postmodernism combined; last year someone from Adbusters declared them literally the end of Western civilization, and I could just imagine what they'd do to a lonely boy like me. God, they'd surround me in their shirts and pants, politically unmotivated, forcing me to listen to music I find unappealing and not inviting me places. Usually I'd have Chris Mautner around to ward them off with silver crosses and other Capcom merchandise, in the event they somehow appeared, possibly in the form of shades or multi-headed dragons in tight pants.

Not this year. It looked like it was just me and my Beretta 92FS. I patted it under my shirt and it whispered "comics" in my head. Too bad I wasted all my ammunition last night during that dream about people lining up to use my apartment toilet.

Hey, no problem: MoCCA's in an armory this year. There's gotta be some bullets somewhere.

III. Alright, no, I'm joking; I didn't really bring a gun on the train. That's silly. And dangerous too.

I mean, someone's gotta to be selling one somewhere in NYC.

IV. It was overcast as the train pulled in, but omens were good; that house in Newark with three doors and no steps was still standing, unchanged, like the Statue of Liberty, only made in America and better. Fuck the subway, I was walking.

Not to MoCCA; not yet. Living in a hollow pumpkin in a field of weeds instills certain feelings about large metropolitan areas. There's a thrill in discovering anonymity by virtue of overwhelming human traffic. It's not just that the architecture affects you -- the old buildings and the tourist places and the franchise restaurants and the shitty shops and all -- but that it absorbs you, so that you're part of some fanciful abstraction, the 'will' of the city itself, supplicant and sure. To vanish there is to fade from labor, from worry, from a kid driving by on the way to the ice cream place and firing an air pistol and plugging the guy in front of you instead.

Fucking ecstatic is what I'm saying. I wanted it. So what if strolling down Madison Avenue doesn't mean a thing these days? If I'm there, I might as well. Let the noise have me, alone and absorbed!

First, however, I needed to shop for some comics, in anticipation of shopping for comics later.

V. And what better place to go than Kinokunya Books? I might have missed it last year, and I totally couldn't find it on Google Street View because I kept turning my guy in the wrong direction and my supervisor was yelling something about expedition, but old fashioned 'writing important things down on a post-it note and putting it in my pocket' served me well, just like when making small talk.

I was pretty impressed walking in off 6th Avenue; Kinokunya is a lot bigger inside than it looks from the street, with a 'general Japanese publication needs' level right from the door, a specialty concerns floor downstairs, and a big ol' escalator to nerd heaven planted way in the back. Those ink drawings Takehiko Inoue did on the walls? One's at the top of the up escalator, and the other's on the way down.

Quickly, I found myself lost in the Japanese-language manga section, which is slightly larger than a well-stocked Borders' English-language comics corner (and there's a ton of English-language stuff too). Did you know that color Yoshitoshi ABe serial from Robot has a trade collection out? Or that Japanese art books start at $55.00 or so? I opted to start feeling around by recognition, getting the hang of the place.

Behind me, two girls in costumes discussed how kids today were ruining manga. A camera crew set up to record a show by the cafe. Everything was in shrink wrap. No problem.


Takemitsuzamurai Vol. 5 (Issei Eifuku & Taiyō Matsumoto)

This was the most recent Matsumoto stuff I could find, a collection from his current ongoing series, the title of which translates roughly to Bamboo Blade Samurai. It's noteworthy for having won an Excellence Prize at the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival; a sixth volume came out in Japan in April, but I didn't see it around.

As you can see, this stuff's a definite departure from the Matsumoto work currently available in English (Tekkonkinkreet, Blue Spring, those ultra-successful big money editions of No. 5); the characters are stylized in a manner evocative of various woodblock prints, while their environment is sliced and ripped into striking panel organization. This is a samurai comic through and through, from the art, and it seems the content has prompted Matsumoto to adopt a subtler poise.

Well, not entirely subtle, no. I don't know anything about writer Eifuku, and I wonder how the process of collaboration has affected Matsumoto's approach; it seems no less 'free,' but distinctly more self-controlled, if you get what I'm saying. There might be an interesting give and take between the writing and the art; the visuals seem heavy on artifice, self-evidently built up in places from strips and scraps of texture, almost like collage. It's lovely, but playful, and an entirely on-the-level script could draw some special power from that.

Lord knows when we'll find out for ourselves, aboveground. VIZ still has Matsumoto's solo Gogo Monster set for November, and I reckon they'll feel it out from there.


Tesoro (Natsume Ono)

Ono is probably best known (if at all) for her 2005-06 series Ristorante Paradiso, a Rome-set romantic drama from the pages of the beloved Manga Erotics F (motto: "Standards Up, Pants Down"); a television anime adaptation just began airing this past April. Her newest series is an NYC police project called Coppers, serialized in Kodansha's monthly Morning 2 anthology, aka: the one that's free online (click the purple orb; Coppers doesn't seem to be around this month, though).

This, however, was published under the auspices of Shogakukan's 'alternative'-flavored magazine IKKI (the extremely fresh and alternative spelling of comix is employed!), which VIZ recently launched in English-speaking environs as a source for online serialization of VIZ Signature offerings. The English IKKI will eventually get around to serializing Ono's ongoing Edo period drama House of Five Leaves (six volumes thus far), while VIZ preps a January 2010 all-in-one print release of her 2004-05 webmanga series not simple, from the now-defunct online magazine Comic Seed!

Tesoro, however, is not on tap for a North American release at the moment, although it gives a nice overview of Ono as a visualist. As the cover indicates, it's a collection of short stories produced over the course of 10 years; some of them are featured on her homepage, while others hail from parts unknown to monolingual prats like myself.

Nonetheless, it's clear that Ono is an appealing visualist, fine with the subtleties of facial expression while cartooning human forms broadly. Some works are inky and composed in squat, almost superdeformed style, while others veer away into doodles.

Many additional drawings are included, suggesting an extensive variation in style. She's done some BL stuff too, if I'm not mistaken, and samples I've seen online from other projects suggest a more 'realist' approach in her arsenal. I find a lot of this stuff to be really appealing on a visceral level -- very warm and sweet -- so I'm looking forward to witnessing the push VIZ is preparing for her.


Golgo 13 Vol. 150 (Takao Saito & Saito Production)

Alright, yes, I'm a nerd. I bought vol. 150 of Golgo 13, I guess because I figured Wolverine might show, being an anniversary issue and all. There's a whole G13 section at Kinokunya, going up to the most recent vol. 152. This thing's been going on so long the dust jacket flaps do nothing but list the names of prior volumes, in teeny tiny type.

Someone out there has all this shit memorized. Someone hit on the head in 1969.

Anyway: Duke Togo. I love him, you love him, we all love him, and his comics are just as much fun in Japanese as they are in English.

Aw hell, you can forget that stuff. Duke is a man of action, after all, and there's three huge stories in here, 2002-03. This book came out in 2008. Golgo 13 the serial is half a decade ahead of its collected editions. All praise the Saito Pro assembly line!

Story #1 is your typical extensive Top Secret Mission, this time seeing Duke hired to destroy some Very Important CIA Documents by carrying a huge weapon around and shooting his way through a fireworks display.

Exciting stuff, but not nearly as excellent as Our Man's natty dress sense! Yep, it's the 21st century and G13 is rocking the ascot under his black vampire jacket.

Better still: that's an art error. The ascot only appears in that particular panel, one presumes because some mad, beautiful fool at Saito Pro decided that this particular scene simply could not pass without proper gekiga action hero attire coming into view at least once. I salute you, HERO.

Meanwhile, in Story #2, Duke encounters trouble in a more casual manner.

This one's a jungle thriller, in which various competing factions struggle over a cache of valuable materials. It's also the kind of story where Duke is the only one left alive at the end, and he couldn't care less about the folly of man's greed. A Swiss account's all a real man needs.

Finally, Story #3 pits Golgo 13 against this excellent dude:

Amazingly, that's exactly how I looked that day in the Kinokunya bookstore, albeit without the gun, and fearful because of it. From what I can make out, the plot has something to do with timing and hitting targets with just the right delay; two characters draw a chart for the reader at one point. I appreciate the gesture, but I'm nonetheless confident that the most vital motif beams through regardless of tongue or culture.

Duke is Awesome. And everyone knows it.

As a special bonus, colorful advertising slips fall out while you flip through your book. I think this one's some cell phone dating service, which is great, since Golgo 13 readers are probably too busy catching up on tens of thousands of pages of back issues to manage face-to-face contact anyway.

Thanks, Golgo 13 - looks like you've pulled off the impossible hit of love into my heart.


VI. I spent way too long in that store. Way too long, and I didn't care.

It was almost 1:00, and the sun had gotten to blazing. I'd bought a lunch at the Kinokunya cafe: a chicken-themed bento box and a supermarket-quality spicy tuna onigiri, with a green tea frap that actually tasted like a milk tea. I sat in Bryant Park and ate. A parade went by - seriously. All of my books went into my handy gym bag, over my shoulder. Easy.

I'd go up Broadway, over to Park Avenue. Down to Madison Square, in the way a tourist can be led.

Before all that, though, there was Times Square. Everyone's made a hundred jokes about that place, naturally; how it's Disney World, how it's all garish and fake and dumb. They don't let you out of the womb without making a few of those, I think.

I'm not sure about all those jokes, but I am sure Spongebob Squarepants and Elmo were standing in the fucking middle of Times Fucking Square that particular afternoon, along with an expansive score of tourists sitting in color-coded folding chairs, right out in the street. Was it seat day? Was a concert happening? I was confused. So many

Oh my god.

My mind raced. Think, Jog - this is 42nd Street. A former nexus of trash entertainment and porno pleasure collected from all over the globe. Cultural resistance against the prevailing American mainstream, a subversive bulwark of minority, countercultural expression veiled as titilation for the bourgeois bold. And all these people, sitting here, in this place... awash in a tradition of good sleaze, sitting and staring, smiling and inactive, some of them dancing in an unappealing manner...

Jesus Christ, they ALL must be HIPSTERS!!

I flew into a blind panic, thrusting my hands under my shirt and wishing Bethany (my gun) was there so I could shoot my way out. Someone had to help me. Someone trustworthy. Bright, successful, respectful of people.

"Elmo! Elmo! I need a handgun, Elmo! A handgun! A handgun! A handgun! A handgun! Elmo, a handgun for protection! Elmo! Elmo... Elmo like handgun? Er, bullets nom nom danger vanish? Elmo? Elmo?!"

He looked at me then, but Elmo's face was full of sadness. I was immediately overcome with shame, even though I'd sincerely believed that Elmo's World placed a premium on personal security. No matter; I was being ridiculous, and everyone knew except me. My eyes began to water.

Then Elmo vigorously rubbed a bald guy's head and it was so funny we laughed and laughed, staggering and grabbing our sides, tears of anxiety chased by broiling streams of revelry and I fell right to the ground laughing and so many people were there with me, grown adults grasping each other just howling and curled in sandals and t-shirts into fetal positions and then ribs literally started exploding from laughter, pop pop popping hard in writhing pockets of flesh like unventilated microwave suppers, dozens of bodies bursting piece by piece in peals of hysteria in rhythmic procession like music and young children started dancing, actually dancing in the streets, 10, 12-year old kids to the beat of their parents' sides erupting like champagne corks under a tablecloth up and down Times Square, New York City, skin melting in chuckles through the folds of a hundred chairs on asphalt and souls rising to the sky and then a hurricane of pigeons from seven blocks around whirled upward into a cyclone shitting cherry blossoms, perfumed pink petals commemorating the ephemeral grace of the formless, shameless, bodiless hilarity that engulfed us all and Elmo, oh oh Elmo, oh yes my Elmo, you're no Grover, no, but today you'll do.


(forward to part 2)

(random images taken from Rakia, by Masao Yajima & Boichi, running wild in Kodansha's Morning)