Personal best

Sorry for the radio silence, but the day job has been kicking my ass lately. It’s not bad, just busy. To stave off charges of neglect, I thought I would share my contribution to The Hooded Utilitarian International Best Comics Poll, all of the posts of which are listed here:

I clearly had no influence on the top ten, and I think I barely had any influence on the top 115, but I’ve still enjoyed reading all of the lists people submitted, and I stand by my choices, even though they lean as much to “favorite” as they do “best.” And really, if you’re going to be totally honest, aren’t your favorite things the best things at the end of the day? These are all comics that I can read over and over, so they win.



Upcoming 8/10/2011

I have no idea who sells this wonderfully horrifying thing, but they are doing the work of the angels. Kate Dacey very kindly tweeted this in my direction with her customary perfect timing, as my ComicList pick of the week — the 15th volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack from Vertical — relies heavily on the participation of creepy little Pinoko for some of its spectacular highs. I discussed some of those heights in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs.

And that’s really the best that Diamond has to offer this week, so why not take a look at what some people think is the best the whole comics medium has to offer? The Hooded Utilitarian continues to populate its International Best Comics Poll index, and there’s a delightful piece by Shaenon Garrity on what she deems “The HU Lady List.” Over at the Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi ponders the process and discusses her choices.


License request day: Prix Asie 2011

This week, we have less of a license request than a round-up of likely candidates. Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon shared this year’s nominees for the Association des Critiques et Journalistes de Bande Dessinée’s Prix Asie award, so let’s learn more!

We’ll start in the Philippines with Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer, published in French by Editions Çà et Là. This is a family drama set in a world where chickens have achieved (or downgraded to) a human-equivalent level of sentience and emotional complexity. That’s a really neat premise, and the preview pages at the publisher’s site are gorgeous and odd. Alanguilan has worked on some high-profile franchise properties in the U.S., but I’d much rather read about the neurotic chickens.

Sanpei Shirato’s Kamui-Den, published in French by Kana, offers more from the gekiga category. This time, it’s a period piece about a young ninja fighting against dehumanizing caste systems during the Edo period. I think Viz published at least some of this a while back as The Legend of Kamui. It ran for 21 volumes in Garo. I love the cover designs, which is kind of an emerging theme.

I’m already kind of in love with Kazuo Kamimura’s La plaine du Kantô (published in French by Kana), based almost entirely on the covers, but I always thought Kamimura’s art was always the most interesting thing about Lady Snowblood (Dark Horse). This seems to be an autobiographically informed story of cross-cultural understanding set in Japan just after the end of World War II.  I have no idea who originally published it, but it sounds interesting.

Shotaro Ishinomori’s Le voyage de Ryu (published in French by Glénat) features a young man who travels a bit father in space and time than he’d intended. He wakes from suspended animation to find that his ship has crashed onto a bizarre and hostile planet. It seems like there should be more of Ishinomori’s work in print, though some publishers have made stabs in the past. I mean, he did kind of help define the super-hero for Japanese comics fans, didn’t he?

Last, but certainly not least, is Makoto (Planetes) Yukimura’s Vinland Saga, published in French by Kurokawa, which has been lurking near the top of my license wish list for years. YEARS.

Which of these do you find most enticing?

License request day: Takemitsu Zamurai

You all know I can’t resist an awards program as fodder for a license request, so I’ve greeted the announcement of the Tezuka Cultural Prize (written up by Asahi Shimbun) with predictable eagerness. Unfortunately, I’ve already requested that someone publish the winning title (Motoka Murakami’s Jin). Fortunately, this year resulted in a not-uncommon tie for first place. (Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Fumi Yoshinaga tied in 2009.) Even more fortunately, Taiyo Matsumoto is involved.

The gifted Matsumoto, of TekkonKinkreet and GoGo Monster fame, has done illustration duties on the other winning title, Takemitsu Zamurai, which was written by Issei Eifuku. The esteemed panel of judges noted that the book was “the most advanced work in terms of the level of illustration techniques.” That shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s looked at Matsumoto’s pages.

It’s about an out-of-work samurai who retires to teach in one of the tenements of Edo-era Japan. Apparently, it’s not a peaceful retirement for a swordsman-turned-educator. In spite of his efforts to leave violence behind, he’s a suspect in a murder, and an investigator starts digging into his past. His presence brings unwelcome visitors to the neighborhood, along with a number of other complications. It sounds like a more muscular House of Five Leaves, and anything that I can favorably compare to House of Five Leaves piques my interest about as much as anything with Matsumoto’s name on the cover.

The eight volume-series was originally published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits. As you might expect, it’s being published in French (by Kana, in this case). While I’m inclined to take the word of judges like Keiko Takemiya and Go Nagai, I’m drooling to see some of the interior pages, because the covers are sickeningly gorgeous.

Seriously, Viz, you have like one month to announce this title. It’s only eight volumes long, it’s finished, it won the most prestigious manga prize Japan has to offer, and it was practically minted for your Signature imprint. Do your part to liven up San Diego for manga fans.

Making 2011 Eisner book

There’s just under a month left for eligible voters to cast their ballots for the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, so I thought I’d take another stab at evaluating the odds of this year’s nominees in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia. First, here’s a list of winners in this category from the last few years:

  • 2010: A Drifting Life, written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn & Quarterly
  • 2009: Dororo, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical
  • 2008: Tekkonkinkreet, written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz
  • 2007: Old Boy, written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi, Dark Horse

And here are some manga titles that have won the Best U.S. of International Material before it split into two categories:

  • 2005: Buddha, written and illustrated by Tezuka, Vertical
  • 2004: Buddha
  • 2002: Akira, written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo, Dark Horse
  • 2001: Lone Wolf and Cub, written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima, Dark Horse
  • 2000: Blade of the Immortal, written and illustrated by Hiroaki Samura, Dark Horse
  • 1998: Gon Swimmin’, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka, Paradox Press

The last three years indicate a leaning towards stand-alone or shorter series, but looking at the history of the category shows that lengthy, sprawling series aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage. Voters have a perfectly understandable appreciation of the work of Tezuka. Given that all of the honored comics are by men and were originally published in magazines that targeted a male demographic, one might also indicate a certain leaning in that direction. One can also detect a leaning toward series that have loyal readerships in comic shops. It seems less true in recent years, perhaps partly because of a seeming contraction of manga sales in those venues.

Now, on to this year’s contenders:

Ayako, written and illustrated by Tezuka, Vertical: If we add the fondness for Tezuka with the recent leaning toward done-in-one titles, we would be very foolish indeed to discount the odds on Ayako. That said I don’t consider it one of Tezuka’s best works. I found it too bleak and too literal, but bleakness and literalism has never discouraged Eisner voters in the past, and the automatic (and deserved) prestige of a Tezuka title is considerable. Even voters who don’t read any comics from Asia likely know who Tezuka is, and name recognition is sometimes the voter’s best friend. Odds: 2 to 1.

Bunny Drop, written and illustrated by Yumi Unita, Yen Press: Marvelous as it is to see a josei title garner a nomination, I think the outcome here will be that it’s an honor just to be nominated. That’s in no way a qualitative evaluation of Bunny Drop, which is easily one of my favorite ongoing series currently in release. I just doubt that it has much of a crossover audience between readers who primarily enjoy comics from Japan or Asia and the Eisner voting pool at large. If the nomination has encouraged more people to read the series, then that’s as good as a win, in my opinion. Odds: 25 to 1.

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, written and illustrated by Moto Hagio, Fantagraphics: Ask a pool of manga pundits which mangaka suffers most from a shortage of work in translation, and I would wager that Hagio would be very close to the top of the list that emerges from that discussion. Like Tezuka, I think there’s a general level of awareness of and reverence for Hagio, even among people who may not have read her work. She’s a quality brand, in other words, and that standing has a certain force. Fantagraphics is also a quality brand, even among people who don’t read much that they produce, so an endorsement of Hagio in the form of publishing a handsome collection of her work, combined with Hagio’s own qualities as a creator and her well-received 2010 visit to the home convention of the Eisners may well work in her favor. Odds: 5 to 1.

House of Five Leaves, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, Viz: I’m never quite sure how much my assessment of Ono as an emerging presence among the comic cognoscenti is accurate and how much is an experiment in the power of positive thinking, but I’m very pleased to see her nominated in this category, even if I don’t think she’ll win. House of Five Leaves is one of those titles that are intriguing at their beginnings but really gain in strength and force as they go along. If a voter was basing his or her choice on the first volume, I don’t know how that sampling would hold up against the other nominees. It’s not a flashy or immediately arresting series, lovely as it is. As noted above, ongoing series shouldn’t be discounted, but ongoing series that rely on cumulative artistic effect may not fare as well. Odds: 20 to 1.

20th Century Boys, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz: Urasawa has three nominations this year (the others being in the Writer/Artist category and Best Ongoing Series for this title), which is about standard for him since Viz started releasing his work through its Signature imprint. He has yet to win. Perhaps the multiple nominations split the sentiment in his favor. Perhaps voters don’t like his work as much as nominating committees do. Given the sheer volume of nominations he’s received over the last five years or so, he should clearly have cemented standing as a quality brand by now, and his smart thrillers are as comic-shop friendly as anything in this year’s slate. I personally like 20th Century Boys best of any of Urasawa’s licensed works, so I would have no objection whatsoever to its winning. History suggests to me that it probably won’t. Odds: 10 to 1.

What do you think? If you could vote, which title would you choose? (In my perfect world, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories and Bunny Drop would tie.)



Over at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda, Kate and I discuss the manga and manhwa titles nominated in various categories of the 2011 Eisner Awards. Here are the books I recommended to the nominating committee, though I stopped short of taking out big print ads in the trades.


Readers’ choices

Deb (About.Com) Aoki has announced the winners of the 2011 Manga Readers’ Choice Awards, with top honors going to the intermittently (possibly accidentally) fascinating Bakuman (Viz). I personally think Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz) is better in every meaningful particular, which just means that not enough people are reading Cross Game. Bakuman also beat Cross Game in the shônen category.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first volume of Dengeki Daisy (Viz), but its win in the shôjo category makes me wonder if I should give it a second chance. The second– and third-place nominees are spectacular, so maybe I judged Daisy too quickly. It just didn’t grab my attention and seemed like a less ambitious version of The Name of the Flower (CMX) with more text messages.

Much as I love House of Five Leaves (Viz), I actually voted for All My Darling Daughters (Viz) in the best new drama/action category. I happen to think that asking a person to choose between Natsume Ono and Fumi Yoshinaga is kind of cruel.

On the new comedy/slice of life front, my horse (Bunny Drop from Yen Press) won. Strong as the field was, I love Bunny Drop a whole lot. (Only two weeks until the third volume is out!)

I also voted with the majority in the all-ages tourney. I would have been perfectly happy if the second-place finisher had won, though.

What matters most about the results in the international manga category is that the James Patterson Literary Sweatshop came in last. Okay, that’s not true. I’m a big fan of both There’s Something About Sunyool (Netcomics) and Nina (Yôkaiden) Matsumoto, so I’m pleased that they shared the top spot, but I voted for Felipe Smith’s excellent Peepo Choo (Vertical).

I’ve read so little yaoi of recent vintage that I didn’t even vote in that contest. It does give me a start on a to-read list, though.

The winner of the one-shot category is exactly what it should have been.

I’m not a big consumer of supplemental collections or art books, so I cast my vote for AX (Top Shelf) in the anthology or art book category. It didn’t win, but it’s an acquired taste (and a mixed bag), so its loss doesn’t come as a complete surprise.

What are your reactions to the winners?


From the stack: The Zabîme Sisters

I’m working my way through the top ten books on the 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, one of which is the late Aristophane’s The Zabîme Sisters (First Second). It follows three girls from Guadeloupe through their first day of summer vacation, and it does so with a degree of clarity, honesty, and restraint that’s quite surprising and very refreshing.

Bossy M’Rose wants to watch a fight between the school bully and one of his targets. Attention-hungry Célina wants to hang out with some girlfriends. Timid Ella just seems to want as pleasant and peaceful a day as she can manage. They cross paths with classmates who have their own agendas and concerns. Manuel is trying to figure out what to do about his father’s broken pipe. Euzhan has smuggled some rum out of the house to share with her girlfriends. Some things go well, some go badly, and some just go.

Aristophane’s approach to slice of life is meticulously subdued. His narrative never overpromises, maintaining a steady pace of event but never inflating those moments into more than just moments. It’s a day, not an epic, and there’s comfort and familiarity in the string of anticlimaxes. The pleasure of The Zabîme Sisters is in its simplicity and candor.

Part of that candor comes in the form of sharp little bits of exposition that Aristophane sprinkled throughout the narrative. When Célina joins her family for breakfast, Aristophane offered this narration:

“Célina got up after making them beg her. She took particular pleasure in being pleaded with and in feeling indispensible. When she got this attention first thing in the morning, she felt especially content.”

These bits of omniscience are frank and illuminating, but they’re never intrusive. They add wonderful layers to the events, and they rarely flatter their subjects. Aristophane isn’t mocking his characters, per se, but his assessments are unsparing. But they reveal the emotional complexity of the characters, too, and they add weight and clarity to their actions. It’s a terrifically successful technique, and it lifts the book to a higher level.

The art has the same kind of chunky, inky beauty that I find so appealing in the work of Iou (Sexy Voice and Robo) Kuroda. Just about every panel is absorbing in its own way, with shifting perspectives and an eye-catching haziness. There’s a blend of precision and abstraction that adds interest; you’re always sure of what you’re seeing, but the rendering has enough oddity and expressionism to keep refreshing the way you see it. (Publishers Weekly ran several preview pages from the book.)

I’m actually kind of embarrassed that this book largely escaped my attention before making it onto the top ten list. It’s the kind of thoughtfully inventive work that always excites me, and its unique elements and techniques cohere in really admirable ways.

Other reviews in this intermittent series:

  • Set to Sea, written and illustrated by Drew Weing, Fantagraphics

You can nominate titles for the next Great Graphic Novel for Teen List, and you can take a look at the current batch of contenders.


Lean week linkblogging

The ComicList is sufficiently lean that I don’t really have anything to add beyond what was covered in the Pick of the Week over at Manga Bookshelf. If you’re still hankering for something new to try, why not check out the Manga Monday hashtag over on Twitter?

If you’d like to focus your attention on a single title, keep your eyes on the link archive for the current Manga Moveable Feast, featuring Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen (Last Gasp). It’s being hosted by Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek.

And if you feel like throwing your favorite titles some love, you’ve got plenty of time to vote in the 2011 Manga Readers’ Choice Awards. Genial host Deb Aoki provides a breakdown of the nominees.

And if you just feel like reading comics instead of reading about them, there’s always Viz’s SigIKKI site with new chapters of a wide range of titles. The most recent chapter of Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books is all about a series that also inspired a license request.

Update: Just missed this one, but I always enjoy Erica (Okazu) Friedman’s looks at various Japanese magazines for MangaCast. This time around, she considers Shogakukan’s Big Comic and its confidently mature pursuits.

Democracy in action

Deb Aoki has launched the 2011 Manga Readers’ Choice Awards:

The nominees were selected by readers in January 2011. The top five nominees in 10 categories were chosen as finalists, and now it’s your turn to vote for the winner. The voting period runs from Friday, February 11 through Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

You can probably guess where my votes went. Go cast yours!