From the stack: Set to Sea

After the announcement of one of my favorite annual award programs, the Great Graphic Novels for Teens, I decided it might be fun to look at all of the books in the top ten this year. Since the list is always interesting and varied, it’s less of a homework assignment than a usefully structured pleasure.

I wish I could claim some metaphorical design in my first choice, but it was made at random. There’s nothing random about Drew Weing’s Set to Sea, though, which publisher Fantagraphics describes as “part rollicking adventure, part maritime ballad told in visual rhyme.” If that last part sounds a little pretentious, don’t worry. Fantagraphics’ solicitations always sound a little pretentious, even when they’re absolutely true.

Weing’s story does have the shapeliness of a poem, and it has the careful structure of a three-act play. It follows a would-be poet as he becomes an unwilling participant in the kind of seafaring adventures he tries to set to verse. In spite of his imposing size, he’s a tentative sort, and the brutality of life at sea takes a while to penetrate. When it does, he still maintains his artist’s viewpoint, and Weing neatly persuades us that art of any sort is better with some life experience to inform it.

That may seem to be a little ironic, given that Set to Sea is Weing’s debut graphic novel. He’s an experienced creator of webcomics, though, and that’s where this book was born. Consequently, each page is a single panel, but each of those panels is so attractively detailed and evocative that the storytelling structure never feels rigid. Instead, it comes across as economical and precise while still filled with event and emotion. It’s a quick read, but it’s very satisfying, and it just invites you to revisit the story again.

You could read it online, obviously, but the physical package is very handsome and worth the investment. In dimension, it’s like a diary or sketchbook that a traveler would carry, appropriately enough. Kevin (Robot 6) Melrose listed its cover as one of the best of 2010, and he’s quite right. The book itself wound up on a number of Best of 2010 lists, including Andrew Salmond’s and Martin Steenton’s at Forbidden Planet International, Brigid Alverson’s at Robot 6, and the Vulture blog of New York Magazine, and Glen Weldon of NPR’s Monkey See counted it among his most memorable comics and graphic novels of the year.

Set to Sea offers a wonderful beginning to this little project of mine. It’s artistically successful on every front, but Weing’s substantial craftsmanship never overwhelms the simple, heartfelt story he’s telling.

Other reviews in this intermittent series:

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.


License request day: Umimachi Diary

It’s award season, and while I should theoretically devote the next few license requests to some of the current honorees and nominees, I find myself distracted by the first set of nominees for the Manga Taisho Awards. I’m not distracted because of the bounty of titles yet to be licensed; it’s the volume of nominees we already have at our fingertips, and what fine comics they are.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Flower of Life, Moyasimon, Yotsuba&! … We can go into a store and buy all of these, and they’re terrific, terrific books. I’ve already mentioned another of the nominees in this feature (Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, and how fabulous is an awards program that nominates Yoshinaga three times in one year?), but I felt I had to dig deeper into the other contenders.

Oh, geez, you guys, the creator of Banana Fish is doing a josei series.

It’s called Umimachi (Sea Town) Diary, written and illustrated by Akimi Yoshida, and it’s running in Shogakukan’s Monthly Flowers. It’s about three sisters who learn of the death of their long-absent father and the existence of a fourth sister. From what I can determine, the publisher describes it as “ardent” and “raw,” and I have no resistance to those adjectives. Or those covers. It basically sounds like an observant drama about complicated women dealing with stressful new circumstances and old family issues. And it’s set in a town by the sea.


Sorry. I lost the thread there for a minute. I’m better now.

It was nominated for the 2008 Taisho (losing to Shinichi Ichizuka’s Gaku, which I’ll get to later) and the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize twice, losing to Moyasimon in 2008 and Ôoku in 2009, which is perfectly respectable, and it received an Excellence Prize in the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival. Three volumes have been released so far.

Beyond the fact that it sounds like a lovely series, there’s the not inconsiderable fondness for Yoshida’s Banana Fish to factor into the equation. For starters, the inimitable Shaenon Garrity featured it in her Overlooked Manga Festival, which is definitely a badge of honor. Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi has assembled a murderer’s row of manga critics to break down the series volume by volume. And Banana Fish is over 30 years old. Can you imagine what Yoshida is capable of now?

Yes, this has been a great week for license announcements. Yes, one should occasionally take a moment to bask in what they have or will soon have rather than what’s not yet within their grasp. Neither of those things alters the fact that I want Umimachi Diaries, and I want it soon. Viz… Fantagraphics… it’s in your court.

A look at the Shogakukan winners

Anime News Network lists the winners of the 56th Shogakukan Manga Awards. Only one of the slate is available in English, Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz), which won in the Girls’ Category and has also previously shared the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarteroy), won the Tiptree Award, and made the top 10 in 2010’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.

Natsumi Matsumoto’s Yumeiro Pâtissière won in the Children’s Category. It’s about an enthusiastic young baker who enters an elite pastry school in spite of her clumsiness. She meets cute boys and is helped by a magical spirit named Vanilla. You can’t make a good dessert without a little Vanilla. It’s running in Shueisha’s Ribon. Viz has published Matsumoto’s St. Dragon Girl.

Takeshi Sasaki’s King Golf won in the Boys’ Category. It’s about a delinquent whose life changes when he takes up golf. I’m now picturing its chances for commercial success in the United States, which conjures images of middle-aged white men discussing the latest volume over highballs at the country club. Yeah. It’s being serialized in Shogakukan’s Shonen Sunday.

The General Category is split between two titles, the first being Shohei Manabe’s Ushijima the Loan Shark. Unsurprisingly, it’s a manga about the seedy criminal underbelly of loan sharks, the black market, and other unsavory activities, and I’d guess that it’s somewhat episodic in nature. It’s running in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits. Tokyopop published some of Manabe’s Smuggler and all of Dead End, though it lost the licenses when Kodansha reclaimed their properties.

It tied with Chûya Koyama’s Uchû Kyôdai, which was nominated for a Manga Taisho Award last year. It looks very promising.

But which of the unlicensed titles look good to you?

Browsing through this year’s Taisho nominees

Thanks to Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney for tweeting the news that the nominees for the 2011 Manga Taisho Awards have been announced. (Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on the awards with lists of nominees and winners from previous years.) Khursten (Otaku Champloo) Santos has already taken a look at the nominees, but I’m totally obsessed with this awards program, so I can’t resist mentioning them here at possibly ridiculous length.

I Am a Hero, written and illustrated by Kengo Hanazawa, seinen, serialized in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits, also nominated last year. It’s about a mangaka whose working and personal lives are disrupted by a possibly delusional, sinister conspiracy.

A Bride’s Story, written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori, seinen, serialized in Enterbrain’s Fellows!, due for publication in English from Yen Press. Mori is already much loved by English-language manga readers for Emma and Shirley (both from CMX). A Bride’s Story “tells the tale of a beautiful young bride in nineteenth-century Asia,” as she prepares for an arranged marriage with a much-younger man.

Omo ni Naitemasu, written and illustrated by Akiko Higashimura, seinen, serialized in Kodansha’s Morning. It’s a comedy about the mistress and muse of an artist. Higashimura seems to be something of a favorite with the Taisho panel, having been nominated for Kuragehime (from Kodansha’s Kiss) last year, Mama ha Tenparist (from Shueisha’s Chorus) in 2009, and Himawari (from Kodansha’s Morning) in 2008. She hasn’t won a Taisho yet, but it seems like it’s only a matter of time.

Kokkoku, written and illustrated by Seita Horio, seinen, serialized in Kodansha’s Morning Two. I can’t find much information, other than that it’s an action-mystery story. It also seems to be Horio’s debut ongoing.

Sayonara mo Iwazu ni, written and illustrated by Kentarô Ueno, seinen, serialized in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam. Again, I’m somewhat at a loss, but the title loosely translates to something like “Silent Goodbye.” “Without Even Saying Goodbye.” (Thanks, Travis!)

Saru, written and illustrated by Daisuke Igarashi, seinen, serialized in Shogakukan’s IKKI. It’s about a supernatural war between the physical and mental sides of an ancient and powerful being of some sort, so it sounds like it’s very much in Igarashi’s wheelhouse. You may be familiar with Igarashi from his wonderful Children of the Sea, which Viz is serializing on its SigIKKI site.

March Comes in Like a Lion, written and illustrated by Chica Umino, seinen, serialized in Hakusensha’s Young Animal, also nominated in 2009. It’s a slice-of-life story about a gifted but antisocial shogi player. You may be familiar with Umino from her wonderful Honey and Clover (Viz).

Un chocolatier de l’amour perdu, written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, josei, serialized in Shogakukan’s Flowers and Rinka, published in French as Heartbroken Chocolatier by Kazé. It’s about a lovelorn candy maker with a possibly unfaithful girlfriend. You may be familiar with Mizushiro from X-Day (Tokyopop), After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), or from previous license requests.

Shingeki no Kyojin, written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama, shônen, serialized in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shônen. It’s about the fight of a human race fighting back against the violent giants who have been terrorizing them for centuries.

Drifters, written and illustrated by Kouta Hirano, seinen, serialized in Shônen Ganosha’s Young King OURs. It’s an historical fantasy about a samurai who’s transported to a mysterious world. You may recognize Hirano from Hellsing (Dark Horse).

Don’t Cry Girl, written and illustrated by Tomoko Yamashita, shôjo, serialized in Libre Shuppan’s Kurofune Zero. I can’t find much information on the series, but you may recognize Yamashita from Black-Winged Love and Dining Bar Akira (Netcomics).

Hana no Zubora-Meshi, written by Masayuki Kuzumi, illustrated by Etsuko Mizusawa, published by Akita Shoten. I have no idea what it’s about, but the cover is cute, and it’s in the josei category.

Mashiro no Oto, written and illustrated by Marimo Ragawa, shônen, serialized in Kodansha’s Monthly Shônen Magazine. It’s about an aimless young man who finds purpose in playing the Shamisen, a traditional Japanese string instrument. You may recognize Ragawa from Baby & Me (Viz) or from N.Y.N.Y., a seminal but as-yet-unlicensed boys’ love title.

So, what are your thoughts? Any of the above titles look particularly enticing to you? Do you have any more details on any of the above? There are some terrific, established creators in the mix, along with some promising-looking newcomers.

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Un chocolatier de l’amour perdu, written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, josei, serialized in Shogakukan’s Flowers and Rinka, published in French as Heartbroken Chocolatier by Kazé. It’s about a lovelorn candy maker with a possibly unfaithful girlfriend. You may be familiar with Mizushiro from X-Day (Tokyopop), After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), or from previous license requests.

Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2011

They just announced the results of one of my favorite awards programs, the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Here’s the full roster. Here are the top ten from that pool.

The number of Japanese comics in the top ten has dropped from three last year to one this year (Hisae Iwaoka’s Saturn Apartments from Viz), and I suspect this is simply a reflection of the fact that the indigenous young-adult comic market seems to get stronger every year.

I’m very fond of a lot of the Japanese comics on the list: Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves and not simple, Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, Yuki Midorikawa’s Natsume’s Book of Friends (all from Viz), and Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles and Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (both from Vertical), and Kaoru Tada’s Itazura na Kiss (Digital Manga). I’ve also really enjoyed what I’ve read of JiUn Yun’s Time and Again (Yen Press), the only Korean title on the list.

Since I’m always looking for things that give a little structure to blogging, I think I’ll use the top ten list as an impetus. Just for fun, I think I’ll read and review everything on it that I haven’t already read and reviewed. Any suggestions as to where I should start?

And what are your thoughts on the list overall? Are you delighted by any particular inclusions or aghast at any omissions?

This year, next year

The indefatigable Deb (About.Com) Aoki has rounded up and ranked critics’ choices for the Best Manga of 2010, and it’s a fine and varied list. I’d also like to point you to Deb’s picks for Best Continuing Manga of 2010, since there’s a lot of overlap between her favorites and mine. I’m particularly pleased by her inclusion of Kaoru Tada’s Itazura na Kiss (Digital Manga); I did some catch-up reading on that one over the weekend, and it just gets better as it goes along.

Looking at Deb’s previews of promising manga due in 2011, I can’t help but pick the five that sound best to me, even if some of them counted as my most anticipated in 2010:

and one that wasn’t on Deb’s list, but I’m very eager to read:

Did some of your favorites from this year not make the critics’ round-up or Deb’s list of ongoing series? What about exciting books due in 2011?

Upcoming 12/29/2010

I’m still decompressing upon reentry to normal world as opposed to holiday sparkle world, and, to be honest, looking at this week’s ComicList is roughly akin to trying to read something written in ancient possum. My brain just isn’t there yet. I’ll rely instead on two trustworthy souls, and take their recommendation to seek out a copy of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanako (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Ririko Tsujita. I’ve been excited about this since Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi discussed it with Michelle Smith in a recent Off the Shelf column. And Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney points out that it’s from Hakusensha’s LaLa DX, which is a fine font of manga even by Hakusensha’s generally excellent standards.

I’m coherent enough to enjoy the writing of other bloggers, even if I can’t yet conjure the mental acuity to formulate a shopping list. First up are the new inductees to Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s Manga Hall of Shame. And, as usual, there’s a lot of overlap between my favorites and the Best Manga of 2010 list at Manga Worth Reading.

For your 2011 Eisner consideration

Submissions are being accepted for the 2011 Eisner Awards! I enjoyed cobbling a list of suggested manga nominations last year, so I thought I’d try again.

There could be a number of Japanese works that make it into the Best Short Story category, as both Fantagraphics and Top Shelf published highly regarded collections of short manga. If forced to pick just one story from Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, I think it would have to be “Hanshin/Half-God.” There’s a lot of terrific work in Top Shelf’s AX anthology, but the one that keeps coming to mind would have to be Akino Kondo’s “The Rainy Day Blouse & the First Umbrella.”

Whether or not any Japanese titles show up in the Best Continuing Comic Book Series category is always kind of a crap shoot. If one shows up, there’s a good chance it’s probably by Naoki Urasawa, so I wouldn’t be surprised or at all displeased if we saw 20th Century Boys or Pluto (Viz) in this roster. I would be surprised and delighted if we saw that stalwart, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, take a slot. The same goes for Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz), which experienced a big push this year and put Oda’s multifaceted gifts on flattering display.

The Best New Series category is tricky for similar reasons. You never know how they’ll define the category, and, hey, it’s not like the rest of the comics industry is hurting for good new titles. But if they want to mix it up with some newly launched (here, at least) manga series, here are four they might consider:

  • Twin Spica (Vertical), Kou Yaginuma’s heartfelt examination of a school for astronauts
  • Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Yumi Unita’s observant take on single fatherhood
  • House of Five Leaves (Viz), Natsume Ono’s alluring tale of an unemployed samurai who falls in with the right/wrong crowd
  • Cross Game (Viz), Mitsuru Adachi’s coming-of-age baseball drama.
  • Technically speaking, neither of the following titles was originally conceived of for kids, but I have no problem putting them forward as likely candidates for the Best Publication for Kids category. Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical) is charming and funny, and it offers a point-by-point run-through of the responsibilities of pet ownership, which is a great thing to hand a kid. Very few people don’t like Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! (Yen Press) for the simple reasons that it’s hysterically funny and wide open to just about anyone who cares to read it. It’s the kind of book that I think people want to read with the kids in their lives, which is certainly an enticement for voters.

    If there’s a category that’s hard to pin down, it would probably be Best Publication for Teens, partly because I don’t think teens really like being told “We know you’ll like this.” So I’ll go with two that are rated “Teen,” because I’m lazy like that. Cross Game has pretty much everything you could ask for from a coming-of-age novel: joy, sorry, confusion, comedy, great characters, and completely recognizable slices of life. Yuki Midorikawa slices up a more supernatural life with Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), but it has hearts and smarts in common with Adachi’s baseball comic.

    Not much has changed as far as my Best Humor Publication recommendations go, at least in relation to Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey). The aforementioned Yotsuba&! is routinely one of the funniest comics I read, and Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) has a lot of vulgar high points.

    Unless there’s some utterly arcane bit of rules of which I’m unaware, there’s no reason on Earth for AX not to snag a Best Anthology nomination. It’s everything an anthology or collection is supposed to be, isn’t it? Purposeful, varied, significant, with bonus points for being frequently entertaining and nicely produced.

    Nominees in the Best Archival Collection apparently need to focus on work that’s at least 20 years old, so I suspect that might disqualify A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, but there’s plenty of material to choose from. Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako (Vertical) is perhaps not my favorite of his works, but there’s always Black Jack from the same publisher. There’s also Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly), which offers a worthwhile glimpse into his earlier, long-form works.

    Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material — Asia opens its own can of worms for me in terms of recommendation, because what I’d suggest would depend on what’s nominated elsewhere. I’m always for spreading the wealth, if possible. Assuming there’s an absence of comics from Japan in the other categories, I’d say these five are essential, though: A Drunken Dream an Other Stories (Fantgraphics), AX (Top Shelf), Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Twin Spica (Vertical), and Cross Game (Viz).

    It’s unfortunate that the Best Writer/Artist categories are divided into Humor and Drama, because the greats balance both. I would love to see Fumi Yoshinaga nominated, possibly in the humor side of the equation. Still, her year included All My Darling Daughters (Viz), new volumes of Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz), and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy (Yen Press), which seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to nominate her for an award she’s deserved for years. I’d feel fairly secure in placing Moto Hagio in the Drama category, since that is the essential nature of the short stories collected in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. They aren’t entirely void of humor, but…

    Chi’s Sweet Home’s qualifications for Best Publication Design may not be immediately obvious, but the care with which its reading orientation was flipped and color was added to each page are worth noting, especially in the ways that they opened the book up to a larger audience. There seem to be a lot of gorgeous, immense package jobs this year, slip-cased volumes that you could use as an ottoman, and there’s some snazzy design for books that doesn’t really enhance the actual comic in question, but the design for Chi’s Sweet Home served the product and was subtly beautiful at the same time. [Update: I’m reliably informed that the book was in color before it was flipped and translated.] The cover designs for 7 Billion Needles were perhaps less cumulative work, but their style and texture are real winners.

    What did I miss? What books and creators would you recommend for Eisner consideration?

    Upcoming 12/8/2010

    After a shônen-heavy week, rewarding as it was, it will be nice to spare a little attention for shôjo and even josei in this week’s ComicList:

    Viz debuts Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss, about a girl who unwittingly becomes a local goddess. It happens. The series originally ran in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume, which is a good sign, and Suzuki also created Karakuri Odette (Tokyopop), a well-liked series that will be the subject of the next Manga Moveable Feast, to be hosted at Manga Report.

    On the josei front, there’s the fifth volume of Yuki Yoshihara’s smutty, ridiculous, and endearing Butterflies, Flowers (Viz). In this volume, our completely insane protagonists go furniture shopping, which will surely devolve into madness. The series originally ran in Shogakukan’s Petit Comic.

    That’s not a very substantial shopping list, but other bloggers are willing and able to help you part ways with your discretionary income:

  • First up is Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi, who offers this excellent gift guide with many useful categories.
  • And if I were to write a Best of 2010 list, it would look very much like Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s, except mine wouldn’t be written as well. Still, book for book, I can’t find many points of disagreement. Maybe the order of a couple of items?
  • Besties

    The folks at Flashlight Worthy asked me to contribute a title to their “Best Graphic Novels of 2010” list, and I was happy to do so, as I was in 2009. As always, reading these lists makes my shopping list a little bit longer, but that’s a good thing.